St. Jerome, whose feast is September 30, was a scripture scholar who brought the bible to western Christians through his translations from the Greek and Hebrew. He was born in 340 in Stridon, a small town on the eastern Adriatic coast, and received an early education in Rome. He was baptized there in 360 by Pope Liberius.
Brilliant and eager to know, 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 began studying Hebrew under a Jewish teacher, which later helped him translate and comment on the Bible.
Ordained a priest, Je 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, 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’s comments on Roman society drew critics who resented his biting tongue and caustic remarks. 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. 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 reminds us 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.”