Honor St. Jerome and read your Bible!

"Saint Jerome" by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1607 (Public domain).

"Read the divine Scriptures constantly; never let the sacred volume fall from your hand.”

By Kimberly Bruce

One of the most prolific writers in the history of the Church, St. Jerome (whose feast we celebrate on Sept. 30) is also one of the four original Doctors of the Church, along with Sts. Augustine, Ambrose, and Pope Gregory the Great, all declared in Pope Boniface VIII in 1298.

In 2020, on the 1,600th anniversary of St. Jerome’s death, Pope Francis said that the saint “continues to teach us the meaning of Christ’s love, a love that is inseparable from an encounter with his word.” 

Bible translator
Saint Jerome is most notably remembered for his revision and translation of parts of the Bible from Hebrew to Latin that had been commissioned by Pope Damasus, creating an edition later known as the Latin Vulgate. Before this, only the Hebrew and Greek (Septuagint) translations were in existence. 

A Hebrew scholar, St. Jerome spent decades translating and writing biblical commentary. All the while, he was also sending personal letters to those seeking spiritual counsel.

Saint Jerome was born to Christian parents circa 342 A.D. in Stridon (present-day Croatia). He was not baptized until later in life, a common practice of his day. 

At 12, he was sent to study in Rome where he studied grammar, rhetoric, the humanities, and dialectics (that is, using reason and discussion to discover truth). There, he began transcribing many Latin books for his own personal library.

Monastic life
By age 30, he chose to live a monastic life in the desert. In the year 375, he had a dream which caused a major conversion in his life to deeper faith. As retold by Pope Francis, St. Jerome “saw himself dragged before the Judge.” Questioned about his state in life, he responded that he was a Christian. The Judge, however, retorted, “You lie! You are a Ciceronian, not a Christian.” 

Saint Jerome sought Baptism following his dream. In 379, he was ordained to the priesthood and began studying under St. Gregory Nazianzen.

After his conversion, Pope Francis said that St. Jerome became “a servant of the word of God, in love, as it were, with the ‘flesh of Scripture,’” striving “to make the divine writings increasingly accessible to others.”

Deeper understanding
Pope Francis said St. Jerome’s life possessed two distinct dimensions that need to be realized to understand the saint: He possessed “an absolute and austere consecration to God, renouncing all human satisfaction for love of Christ crucified,” and he had “a commitment to diligent study, aimed purely at an ever deeper understanding of the Christian mystery.” 

These two dimensions of the life of St. Jerome figure prominently even in iconographic paintings of the saint. Some representations of him (above), said Pope Francis, “can be described as primarily monastic and penitential, showing Jerome with a body emaciated by fasting, living in the desert, kneeling or prostrate on the ground, in many cases clutching a rock and beating his breast, his eyes turned towards the crucified Lord.” 

In others, he is seen, “in the garb of a scholar, seated at his writing desk, intent on translating and commenting on the sacred Scriptures, surrounded by scrolls and parchments, devoted to defending the faith through his erudition and his writings.”

Explore your heritage
Saint Jerome gives us an important reference point by which to analyze ourselves. Said Pope Francis: 

One of the problems we face today, not only in religion, is illiteracy: the hermeneutic skills that make us credible interpreters and translators of our own cultural tradition are in short supply. I would like to pose a challenge to young people in particular: begin exploring your heritage. Christianity makes you heirs of an unsurpassed cultural patrimony of which you must take ownership. Be passionate about this history which is yours. Dare to fix your gaze on the young Jerome who, like the merchant in Jesus’ parable, sold all that he had in order to buy the “pearl of great price” (Mt 13:46).

Saint Jerome died on Sept. 30, 420, in Bethlehem, where he had founded two monasteries and lodgings for the holy city’s visitors. He is buried in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. 

Named by Pope Benedict XV as “Doctor maximus explanandis Scripturis” (the greatest teacher of interpreting the Scriptures), Jerome is patron saint of librarians, archaeologists, biblical scholars, students, and translators.

May we remember St. Jerome’s instruction to “Read the divine Scriptures constantly; never let the sacred volume fall from your hand.”

Saint Jerome, Doctor of the Church, pray for us!
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UNST

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