The sixteenth installment of this mega-part series on the History of the Mass and Holy Mother
Church continues dealing with the Arian threat in the West which included all of Italy and Gaul. As we wrote in the fourteenth chapter, while the
Greeks were ripe for the Arian heresy of challenging the concept of the Trinity, the Romans were
blessed with two saints Saint Jerome and Saint Ambrose who contributed much in strengthening
the true faith in the west and defending the true teachings against the cancer of Arianism. In the last chapter we covered the Ambrosian influence. Today we cover the holy Doctor of the Church Jerome's global influence.
Born of wealthy parents in Dalmatia, which is today the former Yugoslavia, Jerome was given the
opportunity to study at the great universities. He chose Rome, studying the languages. Through his
intellectual curiosity towards literature, Christian writings and Scripture, he came to realize the Truth
and was baptized in 360 by Pope Saint Liberius himself. Jerome, yearning for more, gave up the pagan
culture and the social trappings and sought the life of a hermit for four years where he studied
Hebrew which he later called "the language of hissing and broken-winded words." A fitting conclusion to the religion which the Apostle Paul signaled its completion with his words in Hebrews 8: 13, "Because I will be merciful to their iniquities, and their sins I will remember no more. Now in saying a new, he hath made the former old. And that which decayeth and groweth old, is near its end." Soon after that Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. and the Israelites forever scattered. It would be set as dogma that the New Testament had totally replaced the Old at the Council of Florence
At the conclusion of Jerome's seclusion, he became a priest around 379 and journeyed to Constantinople where he studied
Scripture with Saint Gregory Nazianus as his tutor. When Gregory retired as Bishop of
Constantinople and left for Asia Minor, Jerome was drawn to Rome where, accompanied by
Bishop Paulinus, he was introduced to Pope Saint Damasus I. So taken was the pontiff that he
appointed Jerome as his secretary and commissioned him to undertake his greatest contribution:
translating the Greek and Hebrew texts of Sacred Scripture into Latin. At that time the language of
the common people of the empire in the west was Latin, yet most of the writings had been in Greek,
Hebrew and Aramaic and thus understandable only to the learned. Urged on by Pope Damasus,
Jerome accepted the tremendous task of translating the entire bible into Latin to which we are all
grateful for the Latin Vulgate Edition of St. Jerome. It took great skill and discernment to
express the meaning of the Word of God in Latin and to know which words to choose. Jerome was
given another gift, that of being able to express the Word in the simplest and most meaningful way
and honing in even more on the true essence of all that was written by the prophets and evangelists.
Within a short time the people were able to read and understand the "Good News" of the New
Testament. This played a major role in the people rejecting the heresy of Arianism in the West for
they could now read first hand the truth.
While he was working on this massive project, Jerome had
also become spiritual director to three holy women who had come from nobility but wanted more
than the world offered. Many believe these ladies - Marcella, Paula and Eustochia were the first
religious nuns. Because of her wealth and strong faith, Paula built a monastery in Bethlehem for the women to live and when Damasus died in 384 Jerome graciously declined Pope Saint Siricus'
offer to stay on as secretary, opting instead to become full time spiritual director at the Bethlehem
monastery where he could also devote more time to translating the greater part of the Old Testament
from Hebrew to Latin.
During the end of St. Siricus' papacy and throughout Pope St. Anastasius I's's pontificate many Arian clergymen sought to discredit him and cast scandal on Jerome, the sisters, and the Church. The Pope could do little for he was embroiled in settling the schism between Rome and the Church of Antioch. In addition Anastasius had to fend off the vicious onslaught of immoral marauders who who were into witchcraft and that the divinity was hidden in many material things, trying to justify the unjustifiable. Thus Anastasius, who passed away on December 19, 401, was of no help to Jerome. but Jerome, through his faithfulness and
the grace of God, withstood these attacks and staunchly defended the orthodox doctrine of his faith, though it lasted for three more years after St. Anastasius' death.
He had intended to return to Rome at the urging of Pope Saint Innocent I who was elected the
40th successor to Peter on December 22, 401 but in 404 two events occurred. First, Sister Paula
died, saddening Jerome and, after much prayer, decided to stay on at the monastery; and secondly,
he received the terrible news that Rome was being sacked by the Goth Alaric and he prayed
intensely for the Holy Father's safety and all of the Roman people, some of whom, in 410, had
sought shelter at the monastery when the Saracens invaded Palestine. Jerome interrupted his work
on Ezekiel to take the Roman refugees in, taking the opportunity to teach them all he knew during
the decade they were together.
Pope St. Innocent died on March 12, 417 replaced by Pope St. Zosimas whose pontificate a year and a half. Zosimas, who was of very strict morals decreed that illegitimate boys could not be priests. His strong personality again stood up for the rights of the Church in the face of foreign meddling in Church affairs. He had as one of his priorities the Christianization of the Franks, having sent the Apostolic Vicar to Gaul. It would be serveral centuries before Pipin would be baptized and the elder daughter of the Church would emerge.
Zosimas passed away on December 26th, 418 and two days later Pope St. Boniface I became the 42nd successor of Peter. He would reign for four years, passing away on September 4, 422. Boniface's consecration was delayed several months because of the interference from Charles of Ravenna and the antipope Eulalius. As much as Zosimas had sought to keep civil powers out, during Boniface's reign marked the beginning of secular interference that would plague Rome for centuries to come.
During this time in the Holy Land, Jerome grew more in wisdom and love. In 405, Jerome began a series of scriptural commentaries which helped explain some of his discernment of the Latin Vulgate. Ten years later, he soundly denounced Pelagianism in his work Dialogi contra Pelagianos and faced the wrath of the heretics when a band of armed Pelagian monks bearing torches burned down several monasteries in Bethlehem. Through the grace of God Jerome escaped and the Pelagians were left to fight amongst themselves in abject poverty for in their fury they destroyed all means for survival as well. Shortly after they departed Bethlehem in failure, Jerome returned and began helping to rebuild the monastery. In 420 he died near the age of 90 on what is believed to be September 30th which remains the day of his feast in the universal Church. He was buried in the monastery which had now also become a hospice for many and would soon be the site for the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Throughout his priestly life Jerome wrote countless theses and letters exhibiting a tremendous knowledge of history, sociology and geography, not to mention prose. Many call him the "Father of the Mother Tongue" for he promoted Latin more enthusiastically than anyone before him. Jerome is also renowned for his bibliography of ecclesiastical writers, chronicled in his work De viris illustribus.
Jerome's masterful translation of the Latin Vulgate, passed down by the monks and Fathers of the Church served as the Word in all of Christendom until the Faith was fractured with the Protestant Revolution in the 16th century. That same century saw the Counter-Reformation and the Council of Trent which made the Latin Vulgate the official Bible of Holy Mother Church. This stood for nearly 500 years until 1979 when that, too, was shelved by the New Order church in the takeover and auto-demolition of all that was held sacred and holy for so many centuries with the "New Vulgate" - the translation of which, sadly was a return to the vulgar from which Jerome had sought so to enlighten the world.
It's interesting to note that during this period in history when Jerome translated the bible into Latin,
Ufila, the Bishop of the Western Goths, was doing the same. Translating the Latin into Gothic.
In the next installment we will treat the contributions and influence of one of the greatest Doctors of the Church, the holy Archbishop of Hippo Saint Augustine.