Doctors of the Church: St. Jerome

caravaggio_-_san_gerolamo
San Gerolamo by Caravaggio

Next up on our list is another Western Doctor, St. Jerome. He was born in the Roman city of Stridon in the Western Balkans, around 347. He received a good education, even being sent to Rome to study under Rufinus, a great scholar at the time. It was there that learned mastery over Latin and Greek.

St. Jerome was baptized around 367, but still lived a pretty worldly life. We could say that he was “going through the motions” of being a Christian, and was still skeptical of his faith. He was invited to move to Trier to do some work for a friend, and it was there, as he was copying a commentary on the Psalms by St. Hilary of Poitiers (remember him?), that Jerome fell in love with Christ and with Scripture.

As with many of the other guys we’ve talked about, Jerome was inspired by the example of the monks, and withdrew to the deserts outside of Aleppo, Syria. He spent his days there praying, studying Scripture, and copying the writings of the Church Fathers. He also became well acquainted with the Jewish Christian community in Antioch, and convinced one of the newly-converted Christians to teach him Hebrew and Syriac.

After being ordained a priest in Syria, he moved to Rome, where Pope Damasus, who had been very impressed by his reputation as a scholar and monk, named him as the papal secretary. It was during this time that Jerome began his greatest work, the Vulgate.

In Jerome’s time, many people throughout the Roman Empire spoke Greek. The New Testament was mostly written in Greek, and the Old Testament had been translated into Greek as well in what became known as the Septuagint. Greek-speakers had access to almost the entire Bible. But not everyone spoke Greek, especially in the western part of the Empire, so many writers had taken it upon themselves to begin translating the Scriptures into Latin. The only problem was that most of them had very little command over Greek and Hebrew, so the translations tended to be pretty off. Pope Damasus wanted to have a standard translation for everyone to use, especially as Latin was gaining more popularity. Having received a very good education in Greek and Hebrew, Jerome was able to go back to the original sources and translate Scripture for all to use. This translation, called the Vulgate, was the standard translation of the Scriptures from its completion in 405 all the way up to 1979, when the New Vulgate was released.

After Damasus died, St. Jerome went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he founded several monasteries in Bethlehem. He also founded hostiles to help provide future pilgrims with a place to stay and pray. Jerome continued to write Scripture commentaries and treatises, and defended the faith against Pelagius, who argued that we as humans are equipped to achieve our salvation on our own without the grace of God. St. Jerome died in Bethlehem around 419.

St. Jerome wrote that “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Let us ask his intercession, that we might grow in our love for Christ as he is found in the Scriptures!

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