St Jerome (c. 347–420)

Patron of scholars and students

One of the four Doctors of the Latin Church, and probably the greatest biblical scholar in history after Origen, St Jerome was born to a pagan family in Dalmatia (modern-day Croatia) and distinguished himself early as a man of letters. Jerome soon became convinced of the truth of the Christian religion, but remained powerless to lift himself by his own strength to make a profession of faith. Trying to read the scriptures, he would quickly put them aside for the works of pagan writers such as Ovid and Cicero, for whom he had a reverential preference.

The decisive moment came when he dreamt that he stood before the judgement seat of God, Who was ready to condemn him to an eternity in Hell for his obstinacy in sin and error. The terrified Jerome heard all the angels and saints in Heaven imploring the Almighty, by the merits of His divine Son, to give the poor sinner a little more time to repent. Their prayer was granted.

After his conversion, he spent five years in a monastery in Chalcis, where he perfected his knowledge of Greek, distinguishing himself among the intellectuals of his days for mastering the languages of both the eastern and western empire. He later left Greece for Palestine, where he also perfected his knowledge of Hebrew with the help of a former rabbi who had converted to Christianity.

Called to Rome, he was commissioned by St Pope Damasus to translate the whole of holy scripture into Latin — a translation which would form the basis of the Latin Vulgate, the authoritative Latin version of the entire Bible. Jerome set about translating first the New Testament from the original Greek, then the whole of the Old Testament from Hebrew; this included two translations of the Book of Psalms — one from the Greek version of the Septuagint and another “Juxta Hebraeos” — and translations of the books of Esther and Tobias, each done in a single night, from Aramaic manuscripts forbidden to removed from the synagogue where they were preserved.

Of a passionate and choleric temperament, St Jerome nonetheless managed to tame the wilder aspects of his character through prayer, penance and assiduous intellectual labour. He spent his final years in Bethlehem, close to the crib of his Saviour, where he occupied himself with works of scholarship, which include the biblical commentaries with which St Pope Damasus and his successors begged him to enrich Christian literature, and many of his letters, including those to St Augustine, to St Paulinus of Nola and to his friend and patroness, St Paula. Much of the latter correspondence treats on the education — both spiritual and temporal — of St Paula’s daughter, St Eustochium, both of whom St Jerome instructed not only in the religious life but in Hebrew, in which they could chant the Psalms fluently and by heart.

God, who in Thy blessed confessor Jerome wast pleased to provide Thy Church with her greatest teacher in the interpretation of holy scripture, we pray Thee let his merits plead with Thee to help us practise what he taught by word and deed: through our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost God, world without end. Amen.

Collect of the Mass of St Jerome (30 September)