St. Jerome (Priest and Doctor of the Church) was one of the greatest scholars in the Church’s history. Thoroughly learned in languages and Scripture, he learned Hebrew in Antioch, from a Jewish rabbi. He then went to Constantinople, where he studied under St. Gregory of Nazianzus. Ordained a priest, from 382-385 he served as secretary to Pope St. Damasus in Rome.
The pope directed him to produce a Latin version of the Bible. Latin was the language of the common people. Jerome labored a long time on this project, translating the Old Testament from Hebrew and the New Testament from Greek. The finished version was known as the Vulgate — from the Latin vulgus, meaning common, or for common people — and it remained the Church’s official translation for well over a thousand years. He relished the Scripture’s and believed that “Ignorance of Scripture was ignorance of Christ.”
While in Rome, Jerome became the leader of a group of persons attracted to a penitential life, but his harsh and demanding nature made him many enemies as well as friends, and after Pope Damasus’ death, Jerome returned to the East, followed by St. Paula, St. Eustochium, and others of his disciples.
They established a religious community in Bethlehem, with a hospice for travelers and a school for children, in which Jerome himself taught Greek and Latin, even as he continued his scholarship. Jerome was uncompromising against heresy, and was known for his fierce temper. His writings were sometimes sarcastic or vitriolic, but at the same time he was gentle with the poor and downtrodden, and his awareness of his weaknesses prompted him to perform great acts of penance — such as living in a cave until his death. His contemporary St. Augustine said of him, “What Jerome is ignorant of, no mortal has ever known.”