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A LIFE OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS!

Father Francis's picture
Saint Jerome

As the patron saint of librarians artists have often depicted Jerome as a dedicated scholar working quietly and untroubled by the outside world. This tranquil picture tells only half the story. Jerome looked for peace but trouble followed him. His circumstances and his own impetuous nature led him into conflict, scandal and danger.

Born in 342 in what is now part of Bosnia, he went to Rome after his early education at home and spent three years mastering Latin, Greek and Hebrew. It was also in Rome that he was baptised and began his long spiritual journey. He spent some time in Germany and then decided to go to the Holy Land to make himself familiar with the places Jesus knew. He settled in Antioch for a time but felt that he needed somewhere to meditate and for four years he lived alone in the desert, enduring ill-health and numerous temptations. On leaving the desert he was ordained.

Jerome next travelled to Constantinople in order to study the Scriptures and he became one of the greatest biblical scholars of his age. In 382 he accompanied Bishop Paulinus of Antioch to a council in Rome where Pope Damasus asked him to stay on as his secretary. He held this post for two years until the pope's death. Respected for his learning and honesty, he was constantly condemning heresy and false teaching but this angered the pagans and many Christians who resented his harsh words and sarcastic wit. He was also notorious for his quick temper.

During his time in Rome, Jerome also had become spiritual director to a group of noble ladies. This gave his opponents an opportunity to spread scandalous gossip about him. After the pope's death he retreated to Antioch and the Roman ladies moved to the Holy Land: they founded a free school, a monastery and a hospice in Bethlehem. Under Jerome's guidance they formed the very first female religious community to be run on monastic lines.

The home Jerome chose for himself was a cave near to the birthplace of Jesus: there he completed his greatest work, the translation of the Bible into colloquial Latin, known as the Vulgate, which was of immense importance because it brought the scriptures to people who were not scholars and could not read Hebrew or Greek. He also wrote biblical commentaries which are still in use today.

The last years of his life were far from peaceful. Among the refugees who fled to the Holy Land after the sacking of Rome in 410 were followers of the heretic Pelagius who had been so vehemently rebuked by Jerome. They took vengeance by attacking the monks and nuns in Bethlehem and setting fire to the monasteries. Jerome died on 30 September 420, aged 78. His body was buried in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, but was later removed to St. Mary Major in Rome.

He was fiercely loyal to the Catholic faith, and he was not afraid to speak out angrily against anyone who taught error. His love of learning, and the knowledge he shared, earned him the title of Doctor of the Church. May Jerome encourage us to love and study the Scriptures as he did. How can he not help us to obtain this grace?

Saint Jerome … pray for us.