Here’s a comforting thought. When we think of the word “saint” we often expect to read about people who were almost, if not totally, perfectly holy. Today is the feast of St. Jerome, the great scholar and Doctor of the Church who translated most of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin but was known also for his bad temper! Think of that on the days when you feel as if you’ll never make it into the community of saints. Then smile and relax into God’s loving heart.
There is a book that I would always carry with me – except that it is almost too large and heavy for me to lift! It is called The Jerome Biblical Commentary, a title given it, not for the author but in honor of the man who, in the 4th century, translated the Bible into Latin, the scholarly and universal ecclesial language until the 20th century. “The Jerome” (as many fondly call the book) is the most commonly used commentary in the Catholic Church today, the work of many Scripture scholars, gratefully received by students like myself and others always willing to go deeper in finding meaning in scriptural texts.
Jerome was a traveler, leaving his birthplace of Stridon in Dalmatia in the Middle East to travel to Rome, Germany and Palestine where he settled at the end of his life, choosing to live a life of prayer, penance and study in Bethlehem. His travels remind me of the life of St. Paul. I am always amazed at those early seekers whose passion for knowledge or the desire to share God’s word led them to travel far distances regardless of difficulty or danger. In addition, the fact that Jerome spoke five languages (Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Chaldaic in addition to his own), learned no doubt for the purpose of understanding the ancient texts which he was to translate, is a feat I do not expect from the people of his time. The greatest surprise to me in what I read of Jerome this morning, however, was that Jerome was plagued by having a terrible temper! How does that square with the personality of such a saint?! Was it that passion that allowed him to complete such a work as a translation of the entire Bible?
Once again, I am reminded that God calls us all – no matter our character flaws – to the service of love. So even in days of torrential rain, like this morning, I am compelled to get up, get dressed and get going!
Today my Church celebrates St. Jerome who is the patron of librarians. I always knew he was the person who first translated the Bible into Latin but was astonished by a few facts that I learned as I checked on his birth date. I knew he lived quite early in the days of Christianity and found that his life span was from 345 to 420. What astonished me was that in order to do such a monumental work as the translation to Latin, he studied Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Chaldaic – this over 1,000 years before the invention of the printing press! He did this by studying in his birthplace, Dalmatia (in the former Yugoslavia), Rome and Germany – where all the best teachers were. After this preparation he traveled all over Palestine, “marking each spot of Christ’s life with an outpouring of devotion” and spent five years in the desert of Calcis in prayer, penance and study. He finally settled in Bethlehem, where he lived in the cave believed to be the birthplace of Christ. This biography would be remarkable even in today’s world, but think what it must have entailed to accomplish what he did as well as the difficulty of travel in the century in which he lived!
We often hear or see the adage, “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” Today I would add thanks to librarians who dedicate themselves to facilitating our search for knowledge every day and to Jerome, tireless disciple of the Word of God, who gave himself totally to opening access to the Scriptures to so many people in the Western world in his day and in ours.