Oxford Dictionary of Saints: St. Jerome
Jerome (Hieronymus) (c.341–420), monk and Doctor of the Church. Born at Strido, near Aquileia, in Dalmatia, Jerome was well educated, first by his father, then by the grammarian Donatus at Rome. After this he studied rhetoric with such success that it is evident in all his writings. Meanwhile he used to visit the churches and especially the catacombs of Rome and was baptized some time before 366. He travelled in Gaul, Dalmatia, and Italy. While at Trier he decided to become a monk; this he did with like-minded friends in Aquileia until, after a quarrel caused by some real or supposed scandal, Jerome left for Palestine. He reached Antioch in 374: two of his companions died, Jerome too was seriously ill. In this state he dreamt that he appeared before God’s judgement-seat and was condemned for being a Ciceronian rather than a Christian. For several years he took this experience very seriously. He became a hermit in the desert of Chalcis in Syria for five years, gave up the classics he knew and loved so well, and learnt Hebrew instead to study Scripture in its original language. Already he had learnt Greek, so that, with his mastery of style and rhetoric, he was equipped for his future achievements as writer and translator. Unfortunately Jerome also had a difficult, cantankerous temperament and a sarcastic wit which made him enemies.
After being ordained priest in Antioch, although he had no wish for orders and in fact never said Mass, he studied in Constantinople under Gregory of Nazianzus; no doubt Jerome found himself more at home in the sophisticated capital than among the rustic Syrian monks. There he translated Eusebius’ Chronicle from Greek into Latin, and a number of Origen’s homilies; to these he added his first original Scriptural work on the Vision of Isaiah, addressed in its later form to Damasus. He returned to Rome to act as interpreter to Paulinus, one of the claimants to the See of Antioch.
Once there, he was retained as his ‘secretary’ by Damasus, then a very old man; he produced other scriptural opuscula, mainly translations. He then embarked on the enormous task of producing a standard Latin text of the Bible, revised according to the meaning of the original texts, but not, apparently, an entirely new translation. He began on the Gospels and the Psalter; eventually he produced all, or nearly all, the Bible in what was later called the Vulgate version. He also wrote a number of influential commentaries on particular books such as the Prophets and the Epistles; that on Matthew’s Gospel became a standard work.
Pope Benedict XVI on St. Jerome
What can we learn from St Jerome? It seems to me, this above all; to love the Word of God in Sacred Scripture. St Jerome said: "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 Sacred Scripture. This dialogue with Scripture must always have two dimensions: on the one hand, it must be a truly personal dialogue because God speaks with each one of us through Sacred Scripture and it has a message for each one. We must not read Sacred Scripture as a word of the past but as the Word of God that is also addressed to us, and we must try to understand what it is that the Lord wants to tell 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 other hand, the Word of God is the Word of eternal life, it bears within it eternity and is valid for ever. By carrying the Word of God within us, we therefore carry within us eternity, eternal life.
I thus conclude with a word St Jerome once addressed 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 said: "Seek to learn on earth those truths which will remain ever valid in Heaven" (Ep. 53, 10).
More about St. Jerome
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- Doctors of the Catholic Church: St. Jerome
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