Today, the Universal Church celebrates the liturgical Feast of St. Jerome, the priest and monk renowned for his extraordinary depth of learning and translations of the Bible into Latin. Besides his contributions as a Church Father and the guiding light he has provided to subsequent Catholic scholarship, St. Jerome is also regarded as a patron of people with difficult personalities—owing to the sometimes extreme approach which he took in articulating his opinions and the teaching of the Church.
Born around 340, in present-day Croatia, St. Jerome received Christian instruction from his father, who sent him to Rome for instruction in rhetoric and classical literature. His youth was thus dominated by a struggle between worldly pursuits and the inclination to a life of faith, a feeling evoked by regular trips to the Roman catacombs with his friends in the city.
Baptized in 360, he eventually sought a life more akin to the first generation of “desert fathers.” St. Jerome’s letters from Syria vividly chronicle the temptations and trials he endured during several years as a desert hermit. Although raised with and educated by pagan literature, he eventually saw it as a distraction. He undertook to learn Hebrew and, somewhat unusually for a fourth-century Christian priest, he also studied with Jewish rabbis, striving to maintain the connection between Hebrew language and culture, and the emerging world of Greek and Latin-speaking Christianity. St. Jerome spent 15 years translating most of the Hebrew Bible into its authoritative Latin version.
His harsh temperament and biting criticisms of his intellectual opponents, however, made him many enemies in the Church and in Rome and he was forced into a sort of exile. St. Jerome once said, “I interpret as I should, following the command of Christ: ‘Search the Scriptures,’ and ‘Seek and you shall find.’ For 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 Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
St. Jerome is officially the patron saint of librarians, Biblical scholars, and archeologists. He is unofficially the patron saint of people who are hard to get along with!
Let us pray. “Dear Lord, we thank you for giving us St. Jerome as an example of both holiness and human frailty. Help us to imitate the love he showed you after his conversion, when he devoted himself to studying your Word and to pursuing spiritual things. May he intercede for us, that we may always be eager to learn more about your Way, O Lord. By your grace, may we be ready to devote ourselves to your path, in a new way each day. In your Holy Name we pray. Amen.”