St. Jerome, whose feast is September 30, was a scripture scholar who made the Bible better understood by western Christians through his translations from the Greek and Hebrew. “Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” he said.
He was born in 340 in Stridon, a small town on the eastern Adriatic coast, and received an early education in Rome where he was baptized in 360 by Pope Liberius.
Brilliant and eager for knowledge, Jerome traveled extensively. In Antioch in Syria he had a dream in which he saw himself rebuked by Christ for wasting his time on worldly knowledge. Moved by the dream, Jerome withdrew into the Syrian desert. There he said he was beset by temptations and “threw himself at the feet of Jesus, watering them with prayers and acts of penance.” The picture above portrays him praying to be delivered from temptation.
For penance Jerome threw himself into the study of scripture. He began studying Hebrew under a Jewish teacher, which later helped him translate and comment on the Bible. We usually think of penance as giving up things; Jerome reminds us it can also be taking on things.
Ordained a priest, Jerome arrived in Constantinople about 380 where he studied the scriptures under St. Gregory of Nazianzen. Two years later, he returned to Rome and was given the monumental task of translating the bible from Greek into Latin by Pope Damasus. His translation, called the Vulgate, along with his learned commentaries and sermons, sparked a flowering of spirituality in the western church. Jerome won a devoted following, especially among Rome’s prominent Christian women eager to understand the bible.
Jerome had a biting tongue and was quick to find enemies. Some in Rome resented his caustic criticism and abrasive style. Because of their opposition, he left Rome in 385 for the Holy Land where he established a community at Bethlehem near the cave where Christ was born to continue studying the scriptures. Besides Jewish scholars, he utilized the great Christian library nearby at Caesarea Maritima. Friends from Rome joined him, among them the noblewoman Paula and her daughter Eustochia, who founded a monastic community of women in Bethlehem.
Besides scripture studies, Jerome continued to engage in controversies going on in the church, sometimes harshly.
In 410 Alaric and his warriors sacked Rome. Jerome, shocked by the invasion, provided shelter for Roman Christians fleeing to the safety of the Holy Land. “I have put aside my studies to help them,” he wrote. “Now we must translate the words of scripture into deeds, and instead of speaking holy words we must do them.”
He died in Bethlehem in 420. His remains were taken to the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. A doctor and teacher of the church, he recognized in himsel need for God’s mercy. Jerome is an example that saints are not perfect.
Here are excerpts from his writings:
“Lord, show me your mercy and gladden my heart.
I am like the man going to Jericho, wounded by robbers.
Good Samaritan, come help me.
I am like a sheep gone astray.
Good Shepherd, come seek me and bring me home safe.
May I dwell in your house all my days and praise you forever.”
Let us glorify Christ In whatever sufferings are ours in this life.
O God, you yourself are both our crown and our shield: May we always follow only you and never depart from you!
Do not put your trust in your sword, or in your own strength; but rather, put your trust in the Lord!
Every day Christ stands at the door to our hearts, longing to enter. Let us open wide our hearts to him, then, that he might come in, and dwell with us always.
God can only speak peace to his people when they hope in him with all their hearts.
God protects us as a Father, and as a hen guarding her chicks, lest a hawk snatch them away.
The shield with which God protects us is spherical, for it keeps us safe on all sides.
All Creation serves God as God ordains: all in Heaven obeys, all on earth obeys, but it is only unhappy man who alone who disobeys.
Every day Christ is crucified in us, for we are crucified to the world. And so Christ is crucified in us.
Happy are those in whose hearts Christ rises from the dead daily. And he will rise in us every day, if we who are sinners will but repent.
Happy the soul in whom God is always enthroned!
Let us never trust in ourselves, but rather, let us always trust In the mercy of the Lord.
Greater by far are the wounds Inflicted by the tongue than those by the sword.
When we give to the poor, let us give thanks to Christ. More than the poor man gives thanks to us, for the poor unknowingly do us a great service. Almsgiving atones for sins.
Quotations selected by Brent Cruz, Confraternity of the Passion.