Inside the Cave in Bethlehem , next to where Jesus was born, where Saint Jerome lived and translated the Bible.
Saint Jerome was a very learned man who loved the scriptures. He is the one who said, “Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ”. We celebrate his memorial on September 30th every year. Let us take a look at this very interesting man.
St. Jerome, was born Eusebius Hieronymous Sophronius in the year 342, in the small town of Stridonius at the head of the Adriatic Sea. His father was a Christian and made sure that Jerome received the best education possible, both in classical studies and in religion. His father eventually sent him to Rome to study under some of the best teachers available. Jerome became fluent in Latin and Greek. Initially he was overtaken with the hedonistic pleasures offered by the city, but in the year 360 he was baptized by Pope Liberius. Saint Jerome said, “it was my custom on Sundays to visit, with friends of my own age and tastes, the tombs of the martyrs and Apostles, going down into those subterranean galleries whose walls on both sides preserve the relics of the dead.” Here he enjoyed deciphering the inscriptions that were found on the walls.
Jerome spent about three years in Rome and then set out to see other parts of the world. He continued to be an avid reader and intellectual and lover of scripture. There really were no uniform selections of the scriptures then. During his travels Jerome made a whole hearted decision to dedicate himself to God. Because of his intellect, and love of reading, he started assembling a library of Christian writings. After several years of scholarly study, Jerome decided to head to Syria for solitude and prayer. Even in this solitude and prayer, his hedonistic desires that were set off in Rome began to surface again. He said, “In the remotest part of a wild and stony desert, burnt up with the heat of the sun, so scorching that it frightens even the monks who live there, I seemed to myself to be in the midst of the delights and crowds of Rome…. In this exile and prison to which through fear of Hell I had voluntarily condemned myself, with no other company but scorpions and wild beasts, I many times imagined myself watching the dancing of Roman maidens as if I had been in the midst of them. My face was pallid with fasting, yet my will felt the assaults of desire. In my cold body and my parched flesh, which seemed dead before its death, passion was still able to live. Alone with the enemy, I threw myself in spirit at the feet of Jesus, watering them with my tears, and tamed my flesh by fasting whole weeks. I am not ashamed to disclose my temptations, though I grieve that I am not now what I then was.”
To help with his growth away from passion and towards Jesus, Jerome began to study Hebrew. He said, “When my soul was on fire with wicked thoughts, as a last resort, I became a pupil to a monk who had been a Jew, in order to learn the Hebrew alphabet. What labor it cost me, what difficulties I went through, how often I despaired and abandoned it. I thank our Lord that I now gather such sweet fruit from the bitter sowing of those studies.” This new knowledge of Hebrew allowed him to later translate the Hebrew Scriptures.
Jerome moved to Bethlehem where he opened a free school and also a hospice for pilgrims. Now Jerome had some years of peaceful activity. He describes Bethlehem as a place of peace where travelers come from all over the world. He said, “They come in throngs and set us examples of every virtue. The languages differ but the religion is the same; as many different choirs chant the psalms as there are nations…. Here bread and herbs, planted with our own hands, and milk, all country fare, furnish us plain and healthy food. In summer the trees give us shade. In autumn the air is cool and the falling leaves restful. In spring our psalmody is sweeter for the singing of the birds. We have plenty of wood when winter snow and cold are upon us. Let Rome keep its crowds, let its arenas run with blood, its circuses go mad, its theaters wallow in sensuality….”
While in Bethlehem, living in a cave right next to where Jesus was born, Jerome began translating the Hebrew Scriptures in to Latin. He also had to learn a new language, Chaldaic, because parts of the Old Testament were written in that. He strived to have the most authentic translation that was possible. He also worked with many Church leaders and scholars to put together the full text of the Bible as we have it today. It should be noted that in the sixteenth century, the Council of Trent, affirmed St. Jerome’s Vulgate Bible as the most authentic and authoritative Latin text of the Church. Besides his translation of the Bible, St. Jerome produced many biblical commentaries. He was a great preacher and fought many heresies that were springing up. St. Jerome’s love for scripture has given all of us a gift that we must give thanks to God for. He did so much to bring the Word of God to Life, so that people could read and understand it. May he always help us to love and devour God’s Word.