St. Jerome, whose feast is September 30, was a scripture scholar who made the bible accessible to Christians of the western church through his translations from the original languages of Greek and Hebrew. He was born in 340 in Stridon, a small town on the eastern Adriatic coast, and received his early education in Rome. He was baptized there in 360 by Pope Liberius.
Brilliant and searching for knowledge, Jerome traveled extensively. While in Antioch in Syria he had a dream and saw himself judged by Christ, who rebuked him for wasting his time on worldly knowledge. Moved by the dream, Jerome withdrew into the Syrian desert where, 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 began studying Hebrew under a Jewish teacher, which led him to his later work of translating and commentating on the Bible.
Ordained a priest, Jerome arrived in 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,. His translation, called the Vulgate, and 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.
His biting tongue and caustic comments on Roman society drew critics, who resented his criticism. 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 studying the scriptures, utilizing the nearby Christian library 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.
“Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” Jerome said, but besides his scripture studies he 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 provided 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. A doctor and teacher of the church, he frankly recognized his need for God’s mercy. Jerome is a reminder that saints are not perfect.
“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.”