Today, September 30th, we celebrate another great church father, a pillar of our faith. This is the feast day for Saint Jerome, who was born in northern Italy. Jerome was born into a wealthy Christian family circa 342 A.D. at Stridon on the borders of Dalmatia and Pannonia. From the earliest of memories, he recalled being taught the Catholic doctrines. Eventually he renounced the world, his secular career path, and journeyed to Rome to be baptized by the Bishop of Rome – Pope Liberius—sometime before the year 366 A.D.—which is when that pope died.
Around 373 A.D., Jerome left the civilized world for the Old Testament world and the deserts. He spent parts of this time devoted to traveling, studying, and living as an ascetic in the wilderness. Determined to subdue his passion and longing for bodily and worldly pleasures, he made himself ill on several occasions. During one of the very worst of these, he had a vision to forego all of his secular learning and he vowed to never again pick up a secular book. However, his memory was well instilled with quotes and the thinking of those great Greek and Roman authors. So in many of his later works, we see these flavors. Yet as hard as he fought against these worldly urges, they fought back equally as hard. While undergoing extreme corporal punishment, Jerome also found a Jew—who had converted to Christianity—and threw himself entirely into learning the Hebrew language.
Circa 379 A.D. Jerome left the desert and returned to Antioch. Here the Bishop Paulinus ordained him into the priesthood, but Jerome insisted that he should not be bound to any particular church’s service. He enjoyed his life of travel, study, and ultimately solitude and felt he could better serve in these capacities than in the direct ministrations to a particular congregation.
This took place before 380 A.D. For in 380, Jerome was in Constantinople with Saint Gregory of Nazianzus. Here Jerome came into contact with many men who were solid in the Catholic doctrines, yet were no strangers to heresy and were even excellent in refuting heresies. It was here that Jerome also learned how to establish the true faith in the hearts and minds of the people, who were unfortunately subject to the Arian heresy in particular. This stay in Constantinople was short, for Saint Gregory of Nazianzus abdicated his Episcopacy in 381 A.D. and Jerome then left for Rome. He remained there till 384 or 385 when the pope died.
While in Rome, he spent time with many faithful Christian women. Encouraging celibacy—for virgins and widows alike—there were disputes about Jerome’s counseling of eligible ladies to abstain from marriage or remarriage. These accusations did not stop the guidance and tutelage Jerome gave these ladies. He mainly studied Biblical language and the Scriptures with the faithful women, also engaging in prayer and singing of Psalms—in their original language—instead of theorizing about various doctrines.
After making a tour of the Holy Lands, including Egypt, Jerome settled in a cave—not some nasty hovel type, but a monastery of sorts—in Bethlehem, near the area where tradition says Christ was born. Here he lived out his days in Biblical scholarship, translating the Holy Texts, and corresponding with other fervent Christians. He died on the 30th of September, 420 A.D.
Jerome is known for being a great scholar and an advocate for living a moral and godly life. During the fourth and fifth centuries, Jerome was one of three famous saints working to further glorify of the church; the others were Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine. Jerome was of a more fiery nature than these others. While fiercely upholding the Catholic dogma against those who would corrupt or destroy it, Jerome did not use his time philosophizing into the mysteries of the faith. He was known to have passionate outbursts and even angry, resentful thoughts. Therefore he was neither meek, like Ambrose, nor gentle, like Augustine; rather, when he felt an opponent of the Scriptures needed chastisement, his tongue was always read with a terribly violent outburst. As a great scholar, Jerome had an intellectual capacity that earned him a place as a lauded saint. He organized and ordered scriptural criticism and exegesis. A master of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Chaldaic, he used his critical thinking and exegetical ability to further study the Holy Scriptures. He also translated many of the Old and New Testament books into various languages.
Thank you for stopping by to read this short history of this beloved Saint. If this interests you, I recommend reading the biographical account, Saint Jerome, by Augustin Largent.
~Nihil Sine Deo~
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Largent, Augustin. Saint Jerome. London, England: Forgotten Books, 2015.
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