Saint Jerome, Priest, Confessor, and Doctor of the Church

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Saint Jerome, Priest, Con­fess­or, and Doc­tor of the Church

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Fri­day, Septem­ber 302016

Saint Jerome, Priest, Con­fess­or, and Doc­tor of the Church

White Double
I know not Vital­is, I reject Mele­tius, I pass by Paul­inus; he that cleaveth to the Chair of Peter, he is mine.” Thus, about the year 376, when the whole East was dis­turbed by the com­pet­i­tions for the epis­copal See of Anti­och, wro­te an unknown monk to Pope St. Dam­as­us. It was St. Jerome, a nat­ive of Dal­ma­tia, who implored light for his soul redeemed by the Blood of our Lord.”
Far from Stridoni­um, his semi-bar­bar­ous nat­ive place, whose aus­ter­ity and vig­or he nev­er lost; far from Rome, where the study of lit­er­at­ure and philo­sophy had not had suf­fi­cient ascend­ency to with­hold him from the seduc­tions of pleas­ure — the fear of God’s judg­ments had led him into the desert of Chal­cia. There, under a burn­ing sky, in the com­pany of wild beasts, he for four years tor­men­ted his body with fear­ful macer­a­tions; and then, as a yet more effic­a­cious rem­edy, and cer­tainly a more mer­it­ori­ous mor­ti­fic­a­tion for one pas­sion­ately fond of clas­sic­al beau­ties, he sac­ri­ficed his cicero­ni­an tastes to the study of the Hebrew lan­guage. Such an under­tak­ing was far more labor­i­ous then than in our days of lex­icons and gram­mars and sci­en­ti­fic works of every descrip­tion. Many a time was Jerome dis­cour­aged and almost in des­pair. But he had learned the truth of the max­im he after­wards incul­cated to oth­ers: Love the sci­ence of the Scrip­tures, and you will not love the vices of the flesh.” So he took up his Hebrew alpha­bet again, and con­tin­ued to spell those hiss­ing and pant­ing syl­lables until he had so mastered them as even to spoil his pro­nun­ci­ation of Lat­in. For the rest of his life, all the energy of his spir­ited nature was spent upon this labor.
God amply repaid the homage thus rendered to his sac­red word: Jerome hoped to obtain by his toil the cure of his mor­al sick­ness; he moreover attained the lofty holi­ness that we now admire in him. Oth­er her­oes of the desert remain unknown: Jerome was one of those to whom it is said: You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world; and God willed that in due time that light should be set upon a can­dle­stick that it might shine to all that are in the house.
The once bril­liant stu­dent returned to Rome an altered man; for his holi­ness, learn­ing, and humil­ity, he was declared by all to be worthy of the epis­copal dig­nity. Pope Dam­as­us, the vir­gin Doc­tor of the Vir­gin Church, com­mis­sioned him to answer, in his name, the con­sulta­tions sent from East and West; and caused him to begin, by the revi­sion of the Lat­in New Test­a­ment upon the ori­gin­al Greek text, those great Scrip­tur­al works which have immor­tal­ized his name and entitled him to the undy­ing grat­it­ude of the Chris­ti­an world. Mean­while Helvidi­us dared to call into ques­tion the per­petu­al vir­gin­ity of the Mother of God: Jerome’s refut­a­tion revealed that tal­ent for polem­ics, of which Jovini­an, Vigil­an­ti­us, Pela­gi­us, and oth­ers were also to feel the for­ce. Mary rewar­ded him for thus aven­ging her hon­or by bring­ing to him a num­ber of holy souls whom he was able to lead in the paths of vir­tue, and instruct in the mys­ter­ies of holy Scrip­ture.
Here was a phe­nomen­on inex­plic­able to the infi­del his­tor­i­an: at the very time when Rome of the Cæsars was per­ish­ing, sud­denly around this Dal­ma­tian were gathered the fairest names of ancient Rome. They were thought to have died out when the lower classes made them­selves supreme; but at the crit­ic­al moment, when Rome was to rise again pur­i­fied from the flames kindled by the Bar­bar­i­ans, they reappeared to claim their birth­right and refound the City for its true etern­al des­tiny. The com­bat was of a new kind; but they were at the head fo the army that was to save the world. Four cen­tur­ies earli­er, the Apostle had said there were not many wise and power­ful and noble; Jerome declared that, in his day, they were numer­ous, numer­ous among the monks.
The mon­ast­ic army in the West was, at its ori­gin, chiefly recruited from the patri­cians, whose char­ac­ter of ancient grandeur it ever after­wards retained; its ranks included noble vir­gins and wid­ows; and some­times hus­band and wife would enlist togeth­er. Mar­cel­la was the first to inaug­ur­ate the mon­ast­ic life at Rome, in her palace on the Aventine. She obtained St. Jerome’s dir­ec­tion for her priv­ileged com­munity; but after his depar­ture, she her­self was con­sul­ted by all, as an oracle, on the dif­fi­culties of holy Scrip­ture. She was joined in her retreat by Furia, Fabio­la, and Paula, worthyp des­cend­ants of Cam­il­lus, of the Fabii, and of the Sci­pi­os. But the old enemy could ill brook such losses to his power: Jerome must be forced to leave Rome.
A pre­text was soon found for rais­ing a storm. The Treat­ise on Vir­gin­ity, addressed to St. Paula’s daugh­ter Eustochi­um, and writ­ten in Jerome’s fear­less and poin­ted style, evoked the anim­os­ity of false monks, fool­ish vir­gins, and unworthy cler­ics. In vain did the prudent Mar­cel­la pre­dict the tem­pest: Jerome would make bold to write what oth­ers dared to prac­tice. But he had not reckoned on the death of Pope Dam­as­us at that very junc­ture; an event for which the ignor­ant and the envi­ous had been wait­ing, in order to give full vent to their stifled hatred. Driv­en away by the storm, the lov­er of justice returned to the desert; not this time to Chal­cis, but to the peace­ful Beth­le­hem, whither the sweet recol­lec­tions of our Savior’s infancy attrac­ted the strong ath­lete. Paula and her daugh­ter soon fol­lowed him, in order not to fore­go the les­sons they prized above all else in the world; their pres­ence was a con­sol­a­tion to him in his exile, and an encour­age­ment to con­tin­ue his labors. All hon­or to these vali­ant women! To their fidel­ity, their thirst for know­ledge, their pious impor­tun­it­ies, the world is indebted for a price­less treas­ure, viz: the authen­tic trans­la­tion of the Sac­red Books, which was neces­sit­ated by the imper­fec­tions of the old Italic Ver­sion and its num­ber­less vari­ations, as also by the fact that the Jews were accus­ing the Church of falsi­fy­ing the Scrip­ture.
Paula and Eustochi­um, may the labors of my poor life be pleas­ing to you, use­ful to the Church, and worthy of pos­ter­ity; as for con­tem­por­ar­ies, I care but little for their judg­ment.” So said the holy sol­it­ary; yet he felt the envi­ous attacks of his bit­ter enemies more keenly than he would own to him­self. Hand­maids of Christ,” he said, shield me with the buck­ler of your pray­ers from those who malign me.” Every book he trans­lated brought upon him fresh cri­ti­cisms, and those not only from enemies. There were the tim­id, who were alarmed for the author­ity of the Sep­tuagint, so sac­red both to the Syn­agogue and to the Church; there were the pos­sessors of pre­cious manu­scripts, writ­ten on purple vel­lum and adorned with splen­did uncials, and with let­ters of sil­ver and gold, all which would now lose their value. Well, let them keep their pre­cious metal, and leave us our poor papers,” cried Jerome, exas­per­ated. And yet, it is you,” he said to the fair inspirers of his works, who for­ce me to endure all this folly and all these injur­ies; to put an end to the evil, it were bet­ter you enjoined silence on me.” But neither the mother nor the daugh­ter would hear of such a thing, and Jerome yiel­ded to con­straint. Find­ing that the text of his first revi­sion of the Psal­ter upon the Greek Sep­tuagint had become cor­rup­ted through care­less tran­scrip­tions, they induced him to under­take a second. This ver­sion is inser­ted in our present Vul­gate, togeth­er With his trans­la­tion of the oth­er Books of the Old Test­a­ment from Hebrew or Chalda­ic. In all these works the Saint appealed to Paula and Eustochi­um as guar­an­tees of his exactitude, and begged them to col­late his trans­la­tions word for word with the ori­gin­al.
All his old friends in Rome took part in this learned inter­course. Jerome refused to none the light of his know­ledge, and pleas­antly excused him­self for giv­ing one half of the human race a pref­er­ence over the oth­er: Prin­cipia, my daugh­ter in Jesus Christ, I know that some find fault with me for writ­ing to women; let me say, then, to these detract­ors: If men ques­tioned me on the Scrip­tures, they should receive my answers.”
There was great joy in the mon­as­ter­ies at Beth­le­hem when news arrived that another Paula was born in Rome. Eustochi­um brother had mar­ried Læta, the Chris­ti­an daugh­ter of the pagan pontiff Albinus. They had vowed their child to God before her birth; and now they rejoiced to hear her lisp into the ear of the priest of Jupiter the Chris­ti­an Alle­lu­ia. On hear­ing of her grand­mother bey­ond the seas, and of her aunt con­sec­rated to God, the little one would beg to go and join them. Send her,” wro­te Jerome delightedly. I will be her mas­ter and foster-father; I will carry her on my old shoulders; I will help her lisp­ing lips to form her words; and I shall be prouder than Aris­totle; for her indeed edu­cated a king at Mace­don, but I shall be pre­par­ing for Christ a hand­maid, a bride, a queen pre­destined to a throne in heav­en.” The child was, in fact, sent to Beth­le­hem, where she was destined to solace the last hours of the aged Saint, and to assume, while yet very young, the respons­ib­il­ity of car­ry­ing on the work of her holy rel­at­ives.
But Jerome had still more to suf­fer, before leav­ing this world. The eld­er Paula was the first to be called away, singing: I have chosen to be an abject in the house of my God, rather than to dwell in the tab­er­nacles of sin­ners. So great a lan­guor then took pos­ses­sion of St. Jerome that it seemed his end was approach­ing. Eustochi­um, though broken-hearted, repressed her tears, and implored him to live and ful­fill his prom­ises to her mother. He there­fore aroused him­self, fin­ished his trans­la­tions, and took up again his com­ment­ar­ies on the text. He had com­pleted Isai­as, and was engaged upon Ezech­iel, when the most awful calam­ity of those times came upon the world: Rome is fallen; the light of the earth is extin­guished; in that one City the whole uni­verse has per­ished. What can we do, but hold our peace and think upon the dead?”
He had, how­ever, to think about the liv­ing also, for num­ber­less fugit­ives, des­ti­tute of all things, made their way to the holy Places; and the uncom­prom­ising wrest­ler was all ten­der­ness to these unfor­tu­nates. Lov­ing the prac­tice of the Holy Scrip­ture no less than its teach­ing, he spent his days in dis­char­ging the duties of hos­pit­al­ity. In spite of his fail­ing sight, he gave the night hours to his dear stud­ies, where­in he for­got the troubles of the day, and rejoined to ful­fill the desires of the spir­itu­al daugh­ter God had given him. The pre­faces to his four­teen books on Ezech­iel bear wit­ness to the share taken by the vir­gin of Christ in this work under­taken des­pite the mis­for­tun­es of the times, his own inform­it­ies, and his last con­tro­ver­sies with heretics.
Heresy seemd indeed to be profit­ing of the troubled state of the world, to rise up with renewed auda­city. The Pela­gi­ans, sup­por­ted by Bish­op John of Jer­u­s­alem, assembled one night with torches and swords, and set fire to the mon­as­tery of St. Jerome, and to that of the sac­red vir­gins then gov­erned by Eustochi­um. Man­fully seconded by her niece Paula the young­er, the Saint ral­lied her ter­ri­fied daugh­ters, and they escaped togeth­er through the mid­st of the flames. But the anxi­ety of that ter­rible night was too much for her already exhausted strength. Jerome laid her to rest beside her mother, near the Crib of the Infant God; and leav­ing his com­ment­ary on Jeremi­as unfin­ished, he pre­pared him­self to die.
The fol­low­ing is the Litur­gic­al account of his life.
Hieronymus, Euse­bii fili­us, Stridone in Dal­ma­tia Con­stan­tio imper­atore natus, Romæ adoles­cens est bap­tizatus, et in lib­er­alibus dis­cip­lin­is a Domato et aliis vir­is doc­tis­sim­is eru­dit­us. Tum dis­cendi stu­dio Gal­li­am per­agrav­it: ubi pios ali­quot, et in divin­is lit­ter­is eru­d­itos viros coluit, mul­tosque sac­ros lib­ros sua manu descrip­sit. Mox se in Græ­ciam con­fer­ens, philo­sophia et elo­quen­tia instruc­tus, sum­mor­um theo­lo­gor­um con­su­etudine floruit: in prim­is vero Gregorio Nazi­an­zeno Con­stantino­poli operam ded­it: que doctore se sac­ras lit­teræ didi­cis­se profitetur. Tum reli­gion­is causa vis­it Christi Domini incun­ab­ula, tot­am­que lus­trav­it Palæsti­n­am: quam per­eg­rin­ationem, adhib­it­is Hebr&aeligorum eru­di­tis­sim­is, ad sac­ræ Scrip­turæ intel­li­gen­tiam sibi mul­tum pro­fuis­se test­atur.
Jerome, son of Euse­bi­us, was born at Stridoni­um in Dal­ma­tia, dur­ing the reign of the emper­or Con­stantine. He was bap­tized while still young at Rome, and was instruc­ted in the lib­er­al arts by Donatus and oth­er learned men. His love of know­ledge led him to travel to Gaul, where he made the acquaint­ance of sev­er­al pious men learned in divin­ity, and copied many sac­red books with his own hand. He then pro­ceeded to Greece, to study elo­quence and philo­sophy. Here he won the friend­ship of some great theo­lo­gians; in par­tic­u­lar of Gregory Nazi­an­zen, under whom he stud­ied at Con­stantinople, and whom he calls his mas­ter in sac­red learn­ing. Drawn by reli­gious motives, he vis­ited the Crib of Christ our Lord, and the whole of Palestine: and he tells us that this pil­grim­age, made in the com­pany of some learned Jews, was of the greatest ser­vice to him for the under­stand­ing of holy Scrip­ture.
Deinde seces­sit in vast­am Syr­iæ solitud­inem: ubi quad­rien­ni­um in lec­tione divinor­um lib­ror­um, cœlestisque beatitu­d­in­is con­tem­pla­tione con­sump­sit, assid­ua se abstin­en­tia, vi lac­rym­ar­um, et cor­por­is afflicta­tione dis­cru­cians. Pres­by­ter a Paul­ino epis­co­po Anti­ochiæ fac­tus, Romam de con­tro­ver­siis quor­um­dam epis­co­por­um cum Paul­ino et Epi­phanio ad Dam­asum Pon­ti­ficem pro­fect­us, ejus eccle­si­ast­i­cis epis­tol­is scribendis adjutor fuit. Ver­um cum pristinæ solitu­din­is desid­erio tenere­tur, in Palæsti­n­am reversus, Beth­le­hem ad Christi Domini præsepe in mon­as­terio, quod a Paula Romana extructum erat, cœlestem quam­dam vitæ rationem institu­it: et quam­quam var­ie mor­bis dol­oribusque tentare­tur, tamen cor­por­is coin­m­moda piis laboribus et per­petua lec­tione ac scrip­tione super­a­bat.
After this Jerome retired into the lonely desert of Syr­ia, where he spent four years in read­ing the holy Scrip­ture, and in the con­tem­pla­tion of heav­enly beatitude, afflict­ing his body by abstin­ence, weep­ing, and every kind of pen­ance. He was ordained priest by Paul­inus, bish­op of Anti­och; in whose com­pany and that of Epi­phanius, he came to Rome, to settle the dis­putes that had aris­en between cer­tain bish­ops. Here Pope Dam­as­us engaged him to assist in writ­ing his eccle­si­ast­ic­al let­ters. But yearn­ing for his former solitude, he returned to Palestine, and settled at Beth­le­hem in a mon­as­tery built by the Roman lady Paula, near our Lord’s Crib. Here he led a heav­enly life; and though much afflic­ted with sick­ness and suf­fer­ings, he devoted him­self, in spite of his bod­ily weak­ness, to works of piety and to cease­less study and writ­ing.
Tam­quam ad oracu­lum, ex omni­bus ter­ræ par­ti­bus, ad ipsum divinæ Scrip­turæ quæs­tiones explic­andæ ref­ere­ban­tur. Illum Dam­as­us Pon­ti­fex, illum sanc­tus Augustinus de locis Scrip­turæ dif­fi­cil­lim­is sæpe con­su­luit, prop­ter ejus sin­gu­larem doc­tri­n­am, et lin­guæ non solum lat­inæ et græcæ, sed heb­ra­icæ etiam et chalda­icæ intel­li­gen­tiam: et quod omnes pene scriptores, ejus­dem Augustini testi­mo­nio, leger­at. Hæreticos acer­rim­is scriptis exa­gitavit: pior­um et cath­olicor­um patro­cini­um sem­per sus­cepit. Vetus Test­a­men­tum ex hebæo con­ver­tit: novum, jus­su Dam­asi, Græcæ fidei red­did­it, mag­na etiam ex parte explicavit. Mul­ta præterea lat­ine red­did­it scripta doc­tor­um viror­um, et ipse aliis pro­prii ingenii monu­mentis chris­ti­anam dis­cip­li­n­am illus­trav­it. Qui ad summam senec­tutem per­veni­ens, sanc­tit­ate et doc­trina illus­tris, Hon­orio imper­atore migrav­it in cœlum. Cujus cor­pus ad Beth­le­hem sepul­tum, postea Romam in basilicam sanc­tæ Mar­iæ ad Præsepe trans­latum est.
Fromall parts of the world he was referred to as an oracle for the decision of ques­tions con­cern­ing the sac­red Scrip­tures. Pope Dam­as­us and St. Augustine often con­sul­ted him on dif­fi­cult pas­sages of Holy Writ, on account of his remark­able learn­ing and his know­ledge not only of Lat­in and Greek but also of Hebrew and Chalda­ic. Accord­ing to St. Augustine, he had read almost every author. In his writ­ings he severely cen­sured heretics; but always lent his sup­port to faith­ful Cath­ol­ics. He trans­lated the Old Test­a­ment from the Hebrew; and at the com­mand of Pope Dam­as­us, revised the New Test­a­ment, col­lat­ing it with the Greek; he also com­men­ted the great­er part of holy Scrip­ture. Besides this, he trans­lated into Lat­in the writ­ings of many learned men, and enriched Chris­ti­an sci­ence with oth­er works from his own pen. At length, hav­ing reached extreme old age, and being renowned for learn­ing and holi­ness, he passed to heav­en in the reign of Hon­ori­us. His body was bur­ied at Beth­le­hem; but was after­wards trans­lated to Rome and laid in the Basilica of St. Mary ad Præsepe.
Thou com­pletest, O illus­tri­ous Saint, the bril­liant con­stel­la­tion of Doc­tors in the heav­ens of holy Church. The latest stars are now rising on the sac­red Cycle; the dawn of the etern­al Day is at hand; the Sun of Justice will soon shine down upon the Val­ley of Judg­ment. O mod­el of pen­ance, teach us that holy fear which restrains from sin, or repairs its rav­ages; guide us along the rugged path of expi­ation. His­tor­i­an of great monks, thy­self a monk and father of the sol­it­ar­ies attrac­ted like these to Beth­le­hem by the sweet­ness of the divine Infant, keep up the spir­it of labor and pray­er in the mon­ast­ic Order, of which sev­er­al fam­il­ies have adop­ted thy name. Scourge of heretics, attach us firmly to the Roman faith. Watch­ful guard­i­an of Christ’s flock, pro­tect us again­st wolves, and pre­serve us from hire­lings. Avenger of Mary’s hon­or, obtain for our sin­ful world that the angelic vir­tue may flour­ish more and more.
O Jerome, thy spe­cial glory is a par­ti­cip­a­tion in the power of the Lamb to open the mys­ter­i­ous Book; the key of Dav­id was given to thee to unclose the many seals of holy Scrip­ture, and to show us Jesus con­cealed beneath the let­ter. The Church, there­fore, sings thy praises today and presents thee to her chil­dren as the offi­cial inter­pret­er of the inspired writ­ings which guide her to her etern­al des­tiny. Accept her homage and the grat­it­ude of her sons. May our Lord, by thy inter­ces­sion, renew in us the respect and love due to his divine word. May thy mer­its obtain for the world oth­er holy doc­tors and learned inter­pret­ers of the sac­red Books. But let them bear in mind the spir­it of rev­er­ence and pray­er with which they must hear the voice of God in order to under­stand. God will have his word obeyed, not dis­cussed; although, among the vari­ous inter­pret­a­tions of which that divine word is sus­cept­ible, it is law­ful, under the guid­ance of the Church, to seek out the true one; and it is praise­worthy to be ever sound­ing the depths of beau­ty hid­den in that august doc­trine. Happy is he who fol­lows thy foot­steps in these holy stud­ies! Thou did­st say: To live in the mid­st of such treas­ures, to be wholly engrossed in them, to know and to seek noth­ing else, is it not to dwell already more in heav­en than on earth? Let us learn in time that sci­ence which will endure forever.”
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