Saint Jerome, to whom Christ appeared tell him that he was more of Cicero than of Him

Who is St. Jerome? He is the man chosen by God to make the Bible more understandable.

St Jerome- by Pedro Torrigiano, 1625 - fine arts museum - Seville, Spain
St Jerome- by Pedro Torrigiano, 1625 – fine arts museum – Seville, Spain

Newsroom (October 12, 2020 12:15 pm Gaudium Press)  Who is St. Jerome? To say that God chose a man to make the Bible more understandable is no small thing.

St. Jerome was born in 342, in the city of Stridon, Dalmatia. His family was noble and wealthy but above all Christian.

His father, noticing the ability of the young man, sent him to Rome with a small fortune. Jerome used the money to instruct himself very well. He began by studying grammar, rhetoric, and Latin, the latter with a pagan scholar named Donatus.

He also studied Greek.

Obsessed with the classics

Cicero, Virgil, Homer, Tacitus, and the Latin classics found plenty of room in his mind; and so did Homer and Plato. He also learned parts of their books by heart and even made copies of some of them by hand. But these writers consumed all his time, withdrawing him from more pious readings.

He mingled with the decadent Roman society Rome of his time, mostly because of worldliness rather than anything else. Jerome had not entirely forgotten God, and little by little, the grace continued shaping his soul until he became a catechumen.

He started visiting the catacombs in the capital of the empire, revered the relics of the martyrs, and pondered about their lives.

Pope Liberius baptized him, and during a study trip to Gaul in Trier, he decided to devote himself to the service of God. He then went to a desert region near Antioch, where he lived for three years in complete solitude.

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There he studied Hebrew with a Jewish convert, as he already had a fascination to go deeper into the Scriptures in their original language. He focused his immense capacity for studying in that direction.

But it was not easy either: “This caused me so much fatigue and effort; only God knows. How many times I gave up, I went back and started again out of a desire for knowledge. That, I know, and those who lived with me know it. Now I thank the Lord because I collect the delightful fruits from the bitter roots of studying.” 

God allowed the devil to torture him. Some historical paintings depict him as being tempted, particularly against the sixth commandment. Fasting and prayer were his weapons then: “Sometimes, after crying a lot and contemplating the sky, I was taken into the choirs of angels. Full of joy, I sang”. God was holding him and would not abandon him.

Used to the pompous style of the classical Greeks and Romans, he found the reading of the Bible bland and difficult. His soul did not yet penetrate in the depths of divine wisdom.

But then, while he was in Antioch, he had a vision. He was brought before the Court of the Supreme Judge. Jesus Christ asks him about his faith:

-‘I am a Christian’, Jerome answers.

-‘A lie’, says the Lord. ‘You are not a Christian but a Ciceronian’.

So the judge ordered that he should be whipped. Those present asked for mercy, claiming that he was still very young and could mend his ways.

Then, Jerome felt forgiven: “From that moment, I gave myself with so much diligence and attention to read the divine things, as I had never done with human things.”

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He then went to Chalcis, in the desert of Syria, where he spent four years.

Next, Jerome went to Constantinople to meet Saint Gregory Nazianzus. There, he studied with him for three years, and he also befriended another great man: St. Basil.

The Pope’s Secretary

He was over 30 years old when he became a priest.

The Pope called for a council, whose secretary should be St. Ambrose. However, St. Ambrose became ill, so he chose the wise Jerome as secretary. Once the council was over, the Pope did not want to let him go and made him his secretary.

The Pope wanted a translation of the Scriptures more in accordance with the original texts. And the man cut for this task was Jerome. Thus, the Vulgate was born, the Bible translation for the ordinary people who knew Latin at that time. Later, Pope Clement VIII declared that the Holy Spirit had assisted Jerome in that job.

When Pope Saint Damasus died, many people were against him, and so he went to Jerusalem, where he lived in the Grotto of the Manger. Saint Jerome’s zeal gave birth to two monasteries, one male and one female.

One afternoon, while he prayed the Liturgy of the hours with other monks, everyone ran away, except him. A lion had entered. The big animal was limping. Its paw had an infected wound, full of thorns. Along with a less fearful monk, Jerome cared for that wound. From then on, the thankful lion would walk beside Saint Jerome like a meek little dog.

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These are facts of the extraordinary life of a great man; a great saint who will be remembered throughout the centuries.

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