St. Jerome is remembered as a hermit, a priest and a doctor of the Church. If you are wondering how those vocations meshed, the answer is that they did not. Jerome was by nature a hermit, and by gifts and training, a scholar, one of the greatest the Church has ever produced.
The child of Christian parents, Jerome studied in Rome for eight years and then went into the Syrian desert where he spent some years praying and studying Hebrew with a Jewish rabbi. From Syria he went to Constantinople where he studied with St. Gregory of Nazianzus. In the midst of all that prayer and learning Jerome was ordained to the priesthood, but it was against his wishes. He submitted out of obedience, but he never served as a presbyter. And that’s probably a good thing. It is said that when Pope Sixtus V saw a painting of Jerome in which he was shown beating his breast with a stone, Sixtus quipped, “You do well thus to use that stone: without it you would never have been numbered among the saints.”
Jerome gave them the scriptures in the vernacular.
Jerome was the secretary for Pope St. Damasus I in Rome, but he didn’t last long in a position requiring diplomatic skills. Jerome was more comfortable engaging heretics than entertaining the papal court. After three years Jerome left Rome and went to Bethlehem. There he continued the task Damasus had given him, to translate the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin.
A group of devoted followers went to Bethlehem with Jerome, among them a wealthy Roman woman, Paula, who herself became a Biblical scholar and who helped fund the life of Jerome and his disciples. Working under Jerome’s guidance and at his direction, the community translated nearly all the scriptures into the Latin masterpiece known as the Vulgate, from a word meaning “the common people.” Since Latin was the language of the people of the Roman empire, Jerome gave them the scriptures in the vernacular. His translation was used for centuries.
It is said that Jerome was the first person to read silently. Until that time, those who could read, read aloud. Around your dinner table tonight honor Jerome by handing out short pieces of text, a different one for each person. At a signal, have all the people at the table begin reading aloud. The resulting cacophony will help us remember and be grateful for this brilliant and prickly saint.
And, it should be remembered, Jerome could be a kind and generous man to those in need. When Rome was attacked in 410, refugees flooded into Bethlehem. Then raiding armies began to attack his houses of study and prayer. Jerome did what he could to help and heal saying, “Now we have to translate the words of scripture into deeds; instead of talking of holy things we must enact them.”
When the table grows quiet ask all present to reflect on the ways we can enact holy things.