St. Jerome, Priest and Doctor of the Church

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St. Jerome by Carravagio

Today, September 30, is the Memorial of St. Jerome.

“If, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” St. Jerome

St. Jerome had a long and productive life. Born at Stridon in Dalmatia in 340, he went to Rome to study the classics. There he lived a life indulging the human passions. But, it was also in Rome that he was baptized after converting to Christianity sometime in the decade of the 360s. From Rome he went to Gaul, where he studied theology in Trier. In 373, he and some friends traveled through Thrace and Asia Minor to Syria, where two of his friends died and he himself became very ill. During his illness, he had a vision that inspired him to set aside his secular studies and devote himself entirely to Christ, beginning to seriously study the Scriptures in Antioch.

Jerome was drawn to the ascetic life and took up residence in the desert of Chalcis, where he studied Hebrew and translated part of the Gospel from Hebrew to Greek. Around 378, he returned to Antioch and was ordained a priest by Bishop Paulinus, under the condition that he could return to his ascetic life. He stayed Constantinople for three years, studying the Scriptures under St. Gregory Nazianzen. While there, he was invited to a synod in Rome to address a schism in Antioch where two rivals both claimed the patriarchate of Antioch. Jerome supported Paulinus, and accompanied him to Rome to speak on his behalf. He apparently so impressed Pope Damasus I during the synod that he became the Holy Father’s personal secretary.

While in Rome, Jerome began his most important work: translating the Scriptures from their original languages into Latin, a work that became known as the Vulgate. Eventually, the Vulgate became the official translation of the Scriptures for the Catholic Church even as late as into the 20th century, and it remains the standard text by which the orthodox faith of the Church is measured.

Also while in Rome, Jerome became associated with a group of prominent women who desired to live the ascetic life under his instruction. But, Jerome did not only win the affection of pious women. He also won the animosity of many of the clergy of the Eternal City by his criticism of their less than pious lifestyles. When his patron, Pope Damasus I, died, he was forced out of his position and falsely accused of having had an inappropriate sexual relationship with Paula, one of the women who followed his teachings. As well, Jerome lost they sympathy of many when Paula’s daughter, Blaesilla, died only four months after adopting Jerome’s ascetical instructions. Many in Rome blamed Jerome for the death of the young woman, and accused him of being cold-hearted when he remonstrated Paula for what he regarded as excessive mourning.

Jerome returned to Antioch in 385, where he was joined by Paula and others, and where they began a pilgrimage of the Holy Land with Jerome as spiritual director. After the Holy Land pilgrimage, Jerome and company moved on to Egypt and then Nitria. Returning to Palestine, he spent the rest of his life living in the cave in Bethlehem where Jesus was born where, supported by Paula’s material resources, he dedicated himself to his priesthood, his studies, and his writings. It was here that he completed his translation of the Old Testament and wrote many of his commentaries on Scripture. It was also here that he wrote condemnations of the heresies associated with Origen and also against Pelagianism. In 416, his writings against Pelagianism incited the heretics so that they broke into Jerome’s monastery, set it ablaze, and killed a deacon. Jerome himself was forced to flea to a nearby fortress.

Jerome died in Bethlehem on September 30, 420. He was originally buried in the city of Jesus’ birth, but his remains were later transferred to the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. The cathedral in Nepi in central Italy boasts possession of Jerome’s head.

Few ancient scholars were so accomplished and prolific in their works as St. Jerome. Even fewer were as dedicated to the ascetical life as he was. He is condemned by some for the harshness of his rule and tradition tells of his fiery temper, verified by his sharp criticism of those he regarded as dissolute or heretical. Nevertheless, by virtue of his life dedicated entirely to Christ, his translation of the Scriptures, his Scriptural commentaries, and his theological writings, Jerome was recognized in 1298 as one of the four original Latin Doctors of the Church, along with St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Augustine of Hippo, and Pope St. Gregory the Great.

Father, you gave Saint Jerome delight in his study of holy scripture. May your people find in your word the food of salvation and the fountain of life. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.

St. Jerome, pray for us.


Liturgy of the Hours, Memorial of Jerome, Priest and Doctor

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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