Prescriptions from the Doctors of the Church: Saint Jerome (c. 347-419/20)

Saint Jerome is one of the thirty-six saints who are Doctors of the Church. The Doctors of the Church are renowned for their holiness and also for their important teachings. Using the doctor metaphor, we can say that in a sense each Doctor of the Church gives us a “prescription” for spiritual growth. Saint Jerome’s particular prescription for holiness can help us in our daily fidelity in doing God’s will.

Jerome was born in Dalmatia and later went to Rome for studies. He converted to Christianity at about the age of eighteen and was baptized by Pope Liberius. Attracted by the ascetical life, Jerome traveled widely and was ordained to the priesthood in Antioch. He also studied for about two years under Saint Gregory Nazianzen in Constantinople. Back in Rome, Jerome became a secretary to Pope Damasus. The pope supported him despite Jerome being an unpopular ascetic who stirred up opposition with his acerbic wit and criticisms of lax clergy. When the pope died, Jerome decided to travel to the Holy Land.

Eventually, around 386, Jerome took up residence in a cave in Bethlehem. There he focused on his writing and on Scripture studies. An expert linguist, he translated the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek into Latin. This translation, known as the Vulgate, became standard in the Church for many centuries. Jerome wrote extensive commentaries on the Bible and answered biblical questions from the entire Catholic world. He also directed a group of women ascetics and helped those in need. But for the most part, this brilliant man lived out his last years in quiet solitude, meditating on and translating the word of God.

Jerome’s Prescription: Read the Bible!

While Jerome wrote widely on many topics, he is outstanding for his work on the Bible, which is where we learn what God has revealed to us over many centuries. Jerome taught that the Bible is the Word of God and was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The human authors wrote according to their natural talents, but were inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that what they wrote is truly the Word of God. Through this Word we come to know the saving truth that leads us to salvation.

No matter what you think is wrong with the world today, the Bible is the answer because it gives us the basic, foundational truth about humanity and God. If people read the Bible and put what they read into practice, many problems would disappear. Just think of the Ten Commandments, for instance. Take merely one commandment, “You shall not steal.” Imagine what the world would be like if we could feel assured that no one was going to steal what we own. No fraud, no stealing, no forgeries, etc. Not only would society be a much safer place, but people would also be able to trust each other more.

On a personal level, reading the Bible brings us into relationship with God and in particular with Jesus. Jerome famously wrote that “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” (From the Prologue of a commentary on Isaiah). (See Alba House book p. 121)

 If we want to know Jesus better, we need to soak ourselves in Scripture, especially the four Gospels.

How to read the Bible

Get a good Catholic study Bible and start to read it. It may be easier to start with the New Testament, which is already somewhat familiar to Catholics who listen carefully to the Mass readings each Sunday. If you read three chapters a day and five on Sundays, you can finish the whole Bible in about a year.

If your parish has a Bible study group, join it! It’s always easier to learn something together with others. Catholic online resources can also help you learn to read and understand the Bible better. For example, check out the Saint Paul Center online: https://stpaulcenter.com/ It’s best to stick with Catholic resources so you can be sure that what you are learning is according to Catholic teaching.

Some practical things to do:

  • Learn about lectio divina, a time-honored way of praying with Scripture.
  • Buy a Bible if you don’t have one. Read it!
  • Read one Gospel in one month.

Prayer

Saint Jerome, you devoted many years to studying the Bible and giving the fruits of your study to others. Pray for us that like you we may have a deep devotion to the holy Scriptures and let them illumine our path through life.

Feast: September 30

Patron: archaeologists, librarians, students, translators, Bible scholars

Selection from Saint Jerome:

On the benefits of reading Sacred Scripture:

Tell me whether you know of anything more sacred than this sacred mystery, anything more delightful than the pleasure found herein? What food, what honey could be sweeter than to learn of God’s Providence, to enter into his shrine and look into the mind of the Creator, to listen to the Lord’s words at which the wise of this world laugh, but which really are full of spiritual teaching? Others may have their wealth, may drink out of jeweled cups, be clad in silks, enjoy popular applause, find it impossible to exhaust their wealth by dissipating it in pleasures of all kinds; but our delight is to meditate on the Law of the Lord day and night, to knock at his door when shut, to receive our food from the Trinity of Persons, and, under the guidance of the Lord, trample underfoot the swelling tumults of this world.

Letter to Paula, 30, 13 as quoted in Pope Benedict XV: On Saint Jerome (Spiritus Paraclitus), no. 59. https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=3865

by Sr Lorraine Trouvé, FSP

Image Credit: Caravaggio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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