St. Jerome, whose feast is today, was a scripture scholar who made the bible accessible to the western church through his translations from the original languages of Greek and Hebrew. Born in 340 in Stridon a small town on the eastern Adriatic coast, Jerome received his early education in Rome and was baptized there in 360 by Pope Liberius.
Brilliant and hungry for knowledge, Jerome traveled extensively. In Antioch in Syria he had a dream in which he saw himself judged by Christ who rebuked him for wasting his time on worldly knowledge. Touched deeply by the dream, Jerome withdrew into the Syrian desert where, he later recalled, he was beset by temptations and “threw himself at the feet of Jesus, watering them with prayers and acts of penance.”
Among his penances, Jerome began the study of Hebrew under a Jewish teacher, which prepared him for his later work of translating and commentating on the Bible.
Ordained a priest, Jerome went to Constantinople around 380 to study the scriptures under St. Gregory of Nazianzen. Two years later, he returned to Rome where Pope Damasus gave him the monumental task of translating the bible from Greek into Latin, called the Vulgate. His translations, 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 teachings of the bible.
Quick to take offense and quick to respond, Jerome drew critics who resented his biting tongue and caustic comments on Roman society. Stung by their attacks, he left Rome in 385 for the Holy Land where he established a community at Bethlehem near the cave where Christ was born and continued his study of the scriptures. Nearby was the great Christian library in Caesarea Maritima with its extensive biblical resources. He was joined by friends from Rome, among them the noblewoman Paula and her daughter Eustochia, who founded a monastic community of women in Bethlehem devoted to prayer and reflection on the bible.
“Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” he said. But Jerome also continually engaged in the church controversies of the day, sometimes dealing harshly and unfairly with others.
In 410 Alaric and his warriors sacked Rome and a shocked Jerome arranged to shelter 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 are buried in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. He is a doctor and teacher of the church, who frankly recognized his need for God’s mercy. Jerome is an example that saints are not perfect people.
“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.”