St. Jerome

  • G73 Apse Spire
  • 30 Sep Patron Saint of: archaeologists, translators, librarians, scholars Skull, Lion
S. Gerolamo
St. Jerome is one of the Doctors of the Church who placed the Bible at the centre of his life: he translated it into Latin, commented on it in his works and above all strived to actually live according to it in his long life on earth, despite the well-known difficult and fiery character he had received from nature. Jerome was born in Stridon around 347 AD in a Christian family, who provided him with a thorough education, also sending him to Rome to finish his studies. As a young man he was attracted to worldly life (cf Ep. 22,7), but the desire and interest for the Christian religion prevailed in him. After being baptised towards 366, he turned to the life of an ascetic and, going to Aquileia, he joined a group of fervent Christians, defined by him as almost “a choir of blessed souls” (Chron. Ad ann. 374) who gathered around Bishop Valerianus. He then left for the East and lived as a hermit in the desert of Chalcis, south of Aleppo (cf Ep. 14,10), devoting himself earnestly to study. He perfected his knowledge of Greek, began learning Hebrew (cf Ep. 125,12), transcribed codices and patristic works (cf Ep. 5,2). Meditation, solitude, contact with the Word of God developed his Christian sensitivity. He felt the bitter weight of the errors of his youth (cf Ep. 22,7) and keenly perceived the contrast between the pagan mentality and Christian life: a contrast made famous by his dramatic and vivid "vision", of which he left us an account. In it, he thought that he was being flogged before God, as a “follower of Cicero and non-Christian” (cf Ep. 22,30). In 382, he moved to Rome: here Pope Damasus, knowing his fame as an ascetic and his authority as a scholar, he employed him as his secretary and advisor and encouraged him to undertake a new Latin translation of the bible texts for pastoral and cultural purposes. Some members of the Roman aristocracy, above all noblewomen like Paola, Marcella, Asella, Lea and others, wishing to commit themselves to the path of Christian perfection and to increase their knowledge of the Word of God, chose him as their spiritual guide and teacher n the methodical approach to the Holy Scriptures. These noblewomen also learned Greek and Hebrew. After the death of Pope Damasus, Jerome left Rome in 385 and went on a pilgrimage, initially to the Holy Land, silent witness of the earthly life of Christ, then to Egypt, the land of choice of many monks (cf Contra Rufinum 3,22; Ep. 108,6-14). In 386 he arrived in Bethlehem, where, due to the generosity of the noblewoman Paola, he supervised the building of a monastery, a nunnery and a hospice for pilgrims arriving in the Holy Land, “thinking that Mary and Joseph had not found anywhere to stay” (Ep. 108,14). He remained in Bethlehem until his death, continuing to conduct a busy life: he commented the Word of God, defended the faith strenuously opposing various heresies, urged the monks to strive for perfection, taught classical and Christian culture to young pupils, welcomed the pilgrims visiting the Holy Land with pastoral spirit. He died in his cell, close to the cave of the Nativity, on 30 September 419/420. His literary background and vast erudition permitted Jerome to revise and translate many biblical texts: valuable work for the Latin Church and western culture. Based on the original Greek and Hebrew texts and comparison with the previous versions, he revised the Latin translation of the four Gospels, then the Book of Psalms and much of the Old Testament. Taking into account the original Hebrew and Greek of the Septuagint, the classic Greek version of the Old Testament dating from pre-Christian times as well as the previous versions, Jerome, later aided by other helpers, was able to offer a better translation: it is the so-called "Vulgata", the "official" text of the Latin Church, which was recognised as such by the Council of Trent and which, after the recent revision, still remains the "official" Latin text of the Church. It is interesting to note the criteria that this great Biblical scholar followed in his work as a translator. He himself reveals them when he states that he even respects the order of the Holy Scriptures, because in them, he says "even the order of the words is a mystery" (Ep. 57,5), that is, a revelation. He also stresses the need to use the original texts: “If a discussion arises amongst the Latins on the New Testament, due to the conflicting readings of the manuscripts, we must go back to the original, that is the Greek text in which the New Covenant was written. Likewise, for the Old Testament, if there are differences between the Greek and Latin texts, we must have recourse to the original text, in Hebrew, “thus, we shall be able to find in the streams all that flows from the source” (Ep. 106,2). Jerome also commented many biblical texts. For him the commentaries have to offer numerous opinions, “so that wise readers, after reading the various explanations and after learning the numerous opinions – either accepting them or rejecting them – may judge which is most credible and, like an expert money changer, refuse the conterfeit coin” (Contra Rufinum 1,16). He strenuously and vivaciously confuted the heretics who challenged the tradition and faith of the Church. He also demonstrated the importance and validity of Christian literature, which had by then become a real culture that deserved to be compared with classical literature: he did so by composing his De viris illustribus, a work in which Jerome presented the biographies of over one hundred Christian authors. Further, he wrote biographies of monks, comparing among other things their spiritual itineraries as well as monastic ideal. In addition, he translated various works by Greek authors. Lastly, in the important Epistulae, a masterpiece of Latin literature, Jerome emerges with the profile of a man of culture, an ascetic and a guide of souls: “What can we learn from St. Jerome? It seems to me, this above all: to love the Word of God in the Holy Scriptures. St. Jerome says: "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." It is therefore important that every Christian live in contact and in personal dialogue with the Word of God given to us in the Holy Scriptures. This dialogue with the Scriptures must always have two dimensions: on the one hand, it must be a truly personal dialogue, because God speaks to each of us through the Holy Scriptures and has a message for each of us. We must read the Holy Scriptures not as a message from the past, but as the Word of God that speaks to us too and try to understand what it is that the Lord wants to say to us. However, to avoid falling into individualism, we must bear in mind that the Word of God has been given to us precisely in order to build communion and to join forces in the truth on our journey towards God. Thus, although it is always a personal Word, it is also a Word that builds community, that builds the Church. We must therefore read it in communion with the living Church. The privileged place for reading and listening to the Word of God is the liturgy, in which, celebrating the Word and making Christ's Body present in the Sacrament, we actualize the Word in our lives and make it present among us. We must never forget that the Word of God transcends time. Human opinions come and go. What is very modern today will be very antiquated tomorrow. On the contrary, the Word of God is the Word of eternal life, it bears within it eternity and is valid for ever. By carrying within us the Word of God, therefore, we carry eternity, eternal life within us. And so I conclude with a passage from a letter by St. Jerome to St. Paulinus of Nola. In it the great exegete expressed this very reality, that is, in the Word of God we receive eternity, eternal life. St. Jerome says: “Seek to learn on earth those truths which will remain ever valid in Heaven” (Ep. 53,10)” (Pope Benedict XVI - General Audience, 14 November 2007). Culture and Christians of all time owe much to this intractable man. He argued with the gullible, the learned, saints and sinners; he was admired and detested. Yet he remains a benefactor of keen minds and the Church venerates him as one of its greatest fathers.