The eighth Doctor in this chronological series on the Doctors of the Church was the wise and talented translator of the Holy Bible into the Latin Vulgate. Born of wealthy parents anywhere from 329 to 342 in Dalmatia, which is today the former Yugoslavia, Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius had the benefit and opportunity to study at the great universities. We know him by his Christian name Saint Jerome. He chose Rome, studying the languages under the great pagan grammarian Donatus. Through his intellectual curiosity towards literature, Christian writings and Scripture, he came to realize the Truth and was baptized in 360 by Pope 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." At the conclusion of this seclusion, he became a priest around 379 and journeyed to Constantinople where he studied Scripture with St. Gregory Nazianzus 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 Siricusí 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.
For nine years from 393 to 404 many Arian clergymen sought to discredit him and cast scandal on Jerome, the sisters, and the Church just as is happening today with the post-conciliar Modernists who are discrediting the Church by their cover-ups and embracing heresies. Jerome, through his faithfulness and the grace of God, withstood these attacks and staunchly defended the orthodox doctrine of his faith just as faithful Roman Catholics are seeking the Truths and Traditions of Holy Mother Church today in the face of fierce subterfuge and open opposition.
St. Jerome 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 Fatherís 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.
It's also interesting to know that Jerome began in 405 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, the same site that was under an intense five-week siege that thankfully ended in early May.
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 newChurch 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 is more vulgar than Vulgate.
Itís 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 into Gothic, but it was the Latin version that would last the test of time and become the standard for all of Christendom until man decided he knew the Word better than those inspired by the Holy Ghost. Thanks to God's Providence we have the essence of what the Advocate truly handed down and infused in this exceptional priest and outstanding Doctor of the Church - St. Jerome.
Next Monday: Saint John Chrysostom
Note: [editor's bold, brackets and italicized for emphasis]