Thursday, March 15, 2012

St. Jerome


St. Jerome was born at Stridon, a town of Dalmatia which is part of the Kingdom of Croatia about the year 340 to 342. He was baptized in Rome, probably about 360. There, his interest grew in ecclesiastical matters. He pursued his theological studies at Trier which is known for its schools. Afterwards, he journeyed to Aquilea and by 373 headed towards the East. He lived as a hermit in the desert of Chalcis, south of Allepo where he devoted himself in studying. He perfected his knowledge of Greek, began learning Hebrew and transcribed codices and Patristic writings. He grew in spiritual maturity due to his constant meditation, solitude, and reflection of the word of God. He bitterly regretted the indiscretions of his youth where he was so attracted to earthly life. In Antioch, he heard Apollinaris of Laodicea, one of the early exegetes, who was not yet condemned by the Church during that time. He led an ascetical life in the desert of Chalcis, south-west of Antioch from 374 to 379. There in Antioch, he was also ordained before he proceed to Constantinople by 380 to 381 where he met St. Gregory of Naziansus who also became his close friend. He went back to Rome in 382 to engage himself to Pope Damasus who recognized his brilliance and employed his service as secretary and counselor. The Pope encouraged him to translate the biblical text into Latin for pastoral reason. Aside from translating the Bible, he also served as spiritual directors of some renowned noble women of Rome where they also learned from him Greek and Hebrew. Sadly, his protector, Pope Damasus died on December 11, 384. Since he was involved in controversies wherein his harsh criticism earned him vengeful enemies who wanted to ruin him, he was forced to leave Rome in 385.

After a year of travelling as a pilgrim, to Holy Land and then to Egypt, he finally sought refuge in Bethlehem in 386. He stayed in a monastery founded by two Roman ladies, Eustochium and Paula, who followed him to Palestine. Jerome and his companions, especially Paula, chose the peace and quiet and peace of Bethlehem for their solitude. With money from the sale of his patrimony, and with the help of Paula, Jerome built a monastery that was completed in 389.

From then on he led a life of ascetism and study. He continued to do a large amount of work from making commentaries on the Word of God; by defending the faith opposing various heresies; he urged the monks to live a holy life; he taught classical and Christian culture to young students; he welcomed with a pastor’s heart pilgrims who were visiting the Holy Land.

Jerome was a prolific writer as exhibited by his literary output from 386 to 420. His native tongue is Syriac though he mastered Hebrew, Greek and Latin. He was constantly immersed in study and in books. He was continually occupied in reading and writing. He permitted himself not to rest day and night. He dedicated his life to studying the Bible and recognized by Pope Benedict XV as ‘an outstanding doctor in the interpretation of the Sacred Scripture. For Jerome, we could know Jesus Christ himself through the Scripture, thus, anyone could not leave without the knowledge of Scripture. The Bible for Jerome is an instrument by which God speaks every day to the faithful. He advises to one of his directee-- to one of his spiritual daughter, to love the Sacred Scripture so that she could be loved by wisdom.

His major works include his revision of the four Gospels in Latin. Between 389 to 395, he dedicated himself to the mission of translating the entire Bible from the original Hebrew and Aramaic which lasted until 405 to 406. The first book which he translated were Samuel and Kings, followed by the sixteen prophets. After which, he then revised the Psalter and many other parts of the Old Testament. He produced the Vulgate which is a better Latin translation of the Bible and becomes the official text of the Latin Church and up to the present. Further, aside from the Bible, he also translated the thirty nine-homilies of Origen on the Gospel of St. Luke.

As a translator, he laid a criteria which he personally applied to his works. Harmony with the Church’s Magisterium was his fundamental criterion of the method for interpreting the Scriptures. According to him, he respects even the order of the words of the Sacred Scriptures. Authentic interpretation must always be in harmonious with the faith of the Catholic Church. In reading the Bible, he advises not to read it alone because there are many dead ends and any lone reader might fall into the pit of error. He explained that the Bible has been written by the People of God and for the People of God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Jerome’s early serenity suffered a gradual but definite decline which was evident to many of his letters and especially in his devastating replies to heretics: “I have hated them with a perfect hatred.” The Saint would be considered a “hate monger” today for his treatment of a heretic.

He is against the heresy of Pelagius which is an ally of naturalism which exalts nature to the detriment of supernatural order — the order of grace. It is also has a tendency to rationalism in that it denies the mysteries of faith which transcend all reason. The Pelagians denies original sin. For them, the sin of Adam harmed only himself, that it doesn’t affect the entire humanity. According to them, babies are born now in identically the same condition in which Adam was before the fall; unbaptized babies are saved without baptism, and adults can be saved by practicing the natural virtues without faith or grace. St. Jerome’s battle Pelagianism was resolved in favor of him and to the concern of the Church, he was continually by his opponents, the Pellagians, up to the very end of his life.
Jerome’s arduous intellectual labor was subject to constant interruption by his frequent illnesses and his duties as a faithful spiritual director to many monks and nuns. Constant visitors and letters reached him from all parts of the Christian world.

Though a harsh man in his exterior, being hot-tempered in character with which nature has endowed him, he was a sensitive and responsive soul. He has a high regard for tiny creatures by his many descriptions with of minute plants and animals whose perfection and beauty filled him with awe and wonder. He has a heart for the young. He has patience for the inexperienced. He had always been in sympathy with the work of the great founder of monastic or cenobitical life, St. Pachomius, whose rule he later translated.

As an abbot of his monastery, every day when he’s not studying, he preached, he expounded the Septuagint Bible to his monks, especially the psalms, to arouse the quarrelsome to do well and to inspire all with zest and courage. Jerome and his disciples chanted the psalms at the regular hours. He often looked with envy upon the humble work of the brethren who found in such labor, like gardening and fruit culture, as great ascetical help, but in his case he never do this. Jerome chides the brethren for quarrelling over a pen after having given up all their worldly possessions. With tenderness and constancy, he exhorts his monks to virtue; urges them to show themselves worthy of their profession. He spoke of fasting from food as a necessary practice to be charitable and pure. To help the poor for him is already a prayer. Although, preoccupied by his studies, he, nevertheless, disregard the needs of his monks. With the help of some of his monks, Jerome prepared catechumens for baptism. He even prepared special program of Christian education for the youngs in their tender years.

With regards to his retreats, there is no documentary evidence on the various daily observances. From among the places sanctified by the Redeemer, Jerome chose Bethlehem, where he could contemplate in rapture the tiny Man-God. From the constant thought of the crib and the poverty of the Infant Jesus and of the rejection of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, came the generous hospitality exercised by Jerome and his companion, Paula, for an extraordinary number of strangers and pilgrims.

A man of Church he was, he gave all that he had. He died in his cell close to the Grotto of the Nativity on September 30, 419-20.

(Based on St. Jerome, The Fathers of the Church: Volume 48, Homilies on the Psalms, ed. Roy Joseph Deferrari et. al, Trans. Sister Liguori Edwald, I.H.M. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Press, 1964)

Let me now discuss the his collections of his homilies about the psalms, most of the homilies were have been rejected first from the writings of St. Jerome because of the many defects that can by no means escape the experienced critic. These homilies had been excluded from critical editions since the sixteenth century and ascribed to Jerome’s apocryphal writings. But Morin, reminds that no matter how great or learned man Jerome was, nevertheless, he was still a man and fallible. The inferiority of style, the many lapses of memory, inexact citations, occasional lack of good taste, the socialistic attitude towards wealth, the constant preoccupation with allegory, are also so many evidences of their impromptu nature. Not destined for publication, they were intended for simple monks—their tone as would expect from such circumstances, is almost colloquial.

To summarize the whole collection of homilies: First, these were preached in a church during liturgical services, as mentioned in Homily 45 on Psalm 132. Second, many were preached on Sundays, but the one on Psalm 6, it was postponed until Wednesday because of the illness of the preacher. There are sermons for Christmas day, the feast of the Dedication, the feast of the dedication, the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, and a series for Lent. Third, it reflects that the preacher is a monk and his hearers are also monks to whom he speaks frankly of their faults against fraternal charity, as in Homily 41 on Psalm 119. Fourth, the homilies reflect that the preacher is a Westerner who delivered his sermons in both Greek and Latin which he usually delivered at Bethlehem, or at other times at Jerusalem. His love and preference for is undistinguished, as in Homily 44 on Psalm 131. Fifth, throughout, St. Jerome has used familiar phrases and expressions and there’s a flair for allegorical phrases and expressions. Sixth, The preacher gives evidence a thorough knowledge of the Hebrew and the Greek versions of Scripture.

There’s one thing about St. Jerome that keeps on reverberating in my mind, his remark that says: “Ignorance of the Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Like his disciples, upon reflecting his works and deeds, I am inspired to know more about God through His own living words.


Pope Benedict XVI, Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine. San Francisco:
Ignatius Press, 2008.

St. Jerome, The Fathers of the Church: Volume 48, Homilies on the Psalms, ed. Roy Joseph
Deferrari et. al, Trans. Sister Liguori Edwald, I.H.M. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Press, 1964.

Br. Dennis DC. Marquez, sSSS

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