On Wednesday, September 30, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Jerome, a towering figure in the Western Church. Born in 347 AD in the city of Stridon, he was at first dubious of the Christian faith, and indulged in many of the “extravagances” prevalent among the young people of his time. He was also a polyglot who mastered a number of ancient languages and their literature, including Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. The sufferings of the Christian martyrs aroused within Jerome a sense of remorse for his youthful excesses, and also a deep desire to become closer to the Lord Jesus. He adopted an ascetical life that, while heroic, was difficult for those who attempted to imitate it. Ordained to the priesthood against his better judgment, he worked in Rome as an assistant. After studying under some of the great masters of Biblical interpretation in Alexandria, he retired to Bethlehem, living in a cave near the birthplace of Jesus, where he completed his translation of the Bible from its original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. For all his seclusion, Jerome kept up a voluminous correspondence with Popes, bishops, government officials, and ordinary people who sought his spiritual advice. He also weighed in on theological controversies at the time, for which he suffered severe repercussions.
Whether or not we are aware of him, St. Jerome has greatly influenced our lives as Catholics, both in his writings and in his personal example. The enormous undertaking of translating the Bible into the common language, which resulted in the Vulgate, is the product of a heart absolutely on fire with love for Christ and the desire to know him. For him, the Scriptures are the power of God, which introduce us to Jesus. And so, for him, “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” The sacred writers did not just invent fables about God. According to Jerome, “It was not the air vibrating with the human voice that reached their ears, but rather it was God speaking within the soul of the prophets…”
Seclusion did not hamper St. Jerome’s contact with the people of his time, and his unique brand of self-denial did not prevent him from understanding the human condition. His retreat from the world to find Christ in the scriptures was fortified by knowledge of secular learning, to which he often referred, especially in his letters. He could, as a good scribe (Mt 13:52), bring out both old and new wisdom to help others find their way to Christ.
We do well to pray for the zeal that inspired St. Jerome to search for Christ the best way he could. Quoting the Scriptures, he writes: “I shall listen to what the Lord God says within me.”