“Let holy reading be always at hand. Sleep may fall upon thee as thou lookest thereon, and the sacred page meet the drooping face.”—St. Jerome
What Brought Me to St. Jerome
Today is the feast of St. Jerome, a priest and Doctor of the Church who is most famous for his great work on the Vulgate. And while St. Jerome is rightly celebrated for his long-enduring work on scripture, I admit I was drawn to him for another reason. I was drawn to St. Jerome because of his reputation for anger.
Fr. Joseph Esper sums it up rather well, “When it comes to a reputation for anger, few would argue that St. Jerome deserves anything other than first place.” In an era of social media and internet trolls, I’m not sure that Jerome would still be number one. However, his clashes with the saints of his own time speak to his reputation for hot-headedness.
St. Jerome was aware of his temper and often did penance. As Fr. Esper notes:
It should be noted on Jerome’s behalf, however, that in addition to being gentle with the poor and downtrodden, he was well aware of his weaknesses and performed great acts of penance (such as living in a cave) because of them.—Fr. Joseph M. Esper, Saintly Solutions to Life’s Common Problems
Aside from living in a cave, the great saint was known to beat his breast with a stone and sleep on a rock-pillow. These penances, along with his great work for the Church, are likely the reason St. Jerome was canonized. It was even reported that a pope, upon seeing a painting of Jerome grasping his penance stone, remarked, “You do well to carry that stone, for without it the Church would never have canonized you.”
God can do so much with our emptiness and shortcomings. In St. Jerome, we find that God can even redeem an angry fourth century priest and, through his work, change the whole world.
The Familiar Times of St. Jerome
St. Jerome was born in the Roman Province of Dalmatia (modern Croatia) in 347. By the time of his death in 420, the Roman Empire was on a sharp decline, with the Western half arguably already destroyed by 410 with the Sack of Rome.
The collapse of the Western Roman Empire is often thought to be the beginning of a dark age in Europe. Yet, during this time you had saints, artists, and scholars contemplating the new age that was slowly dawning.
At this time, St. Augustine created his hefty volume, The City of God. As well, many churches and monasteries were established, with many barbarians already accepting the Christian faith.
With all this going on, St. Jerome undertook the challenge of translating Holy Scripture into Latin. At this time, Latin was the language of the West and having a full, faithful translation was needed for the Latin Church. It was thanks to the theological and linguistic genius of Jerome that the Church could rely on his translation, the Vulgate, for centuries.
“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ,” St. Jerome declares. Through the work of St. Jerome, more souls over countless centuries got to know about Christ and His healing words.
I often think about how St. Jerome set out with this task while the world was falling and changing around him. Much like our time, it was probably tempting to give into the spirit of the age and despair at the long-past glories. And given his weakness to anger, I am sure St. Jerome often wondered if the path to holiness was worth it.
A Saint for Today
St. Jerome performed heroic acts of penance. Today, we can see that his penance was part of his desire to be united with Christ. This is why we don’t merely remember him as an angry monk.
In our day, anger is the currency of media. Algorithms introduce us to new controversies, stupid opinions, and a thousand heresies. We might often give into this culture of anger, as I do, but we can move beyond that anger to build something great for Jesus.
Once, St. Jerome encountered the Christ Child and told Him that he had given Jesus everything he could think of: his life, his work, his possessions, etc. Jesus responded, “I want still more from you.”
After St. Jerome exhausted every possibility he could conjure, he said to Jesus, “All that’s left is my misery.” Jesus replied, “That’s what I want from you – your misery.”
We too have to give Christ our everything, including our miseries and mistakes. Because, in Christ, our bitter miseries and be redeemed and can even inspire others to become your siblings in Christ.
As we consider our chaotic time, contemplate St. Jerome and how he shined the light of God’s word onto a dark time, despite his shortcomings. We may not be called to translate Holy Scripture, but we can still find a way to enlighten these dark and frightening times.
St. Jerome, Pray for Us!
image: The Fresco of Saint Jerome in cupola of church Basilica di San Prospero by C. Manicardi, G. Ferrari and A. Lugli (1884-1885) via Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com