Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Feast of St. Jerome

The Last Day of September, 2010
One of the first Doctors of the Church, St. Jerome  (c. 347 – 420) is widely known as the translator of the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate), but he was also the author of many other works.  He penned many letters and theological treatise, chiefly in defense of the Faith, arguing against the Arian heresy, rampant in his time, and defending the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Mother, as well a attacks against Christian pious practices, the cultus of martyrs and relics, the vow of poverty, and clerical celibacy.  After St. Augustine, St. Jerome is the most prolific writer of the ancient Christians. 

We most often see St. Jerome in art pictured in his ascetic monastic cell or in the desert, and he was very much attracted to the ascetic life, but spent a good part of his life in more courtly places, while continuing always to lead a simple monastic life.  He was ordained a priest in 378, but only received the honor with the stipulation that he not be appointed pastor of a church, as he felt his calling was to be a recluse, to live a monastic life.   He was a counsellor of Pope Damasas (Chair of Peter 366-384), serving as secretary of the council deciding over the problem of the schism in Antiochin the 380s.  Jerome aquitted his duties so well that the pope kept him in Rome as his own secretary, and set him in charge of "cleaning up" the copies of the New Testament and the Psalms which had suffered already by poor copying and translation. This was the beginning of St. Jerome's work on the Vulgate. 

In the 1890s, Pope Damasus having died, and having had enough of city life, St. Jerome moved to the Holy Land, making for himself a monastic cell outside of Bethlehem.  By the early 400s, he had completed his translation of the Bible, making his way through the Old Testament, even learning a new language (Chaldaic) in his scholarly pursuit of perfection.  By the time he had finished, St. Jerome had translated or "corrected" all the books of the Old and New Testament except the Books of Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, and the two Books of the Maccabees.    Leading always a life of purity and prayer, St. Jerome's God-given gift for languages and his knowlege and understanding of Sacred Scripture made him the ideal candidate for this undertaking of the Blessed Trinity.

*  St. Jerome is very often depicted with a lion and is associated with the medieval story in which the saint's charity in pulling a thorn from a lion's paw makes a pet of the lion.  In art, this Doctor of the Church usually has a lion reclining at his feet as he writes with a feather in a big book, indicating the Bible. Ther is, however, no mention of a pet lion in any of the multitudinous letters St. Jerome wrote in his lifetime, nor any other documentation of such an alliance.  It's believed that this story was transferred to St. Jerome from the tradition of St. Gerasimos, a monk also of the fifth century.  The confusion is easily forgiven, though, because a lion seems such an appropriate symbol for as strong and unflinching a champion of the Faith as St. Jerome.

St. Jerome died on September 30th, 420.  His relics lie in the Sistine Chapel in St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome.

St. Jerome, Confessor, Doctor of the Church, Father of the Vulgate, Pray for us!

* Here's a coloring page from a Durer Albrecht engraving -- and here's another one, same artist .

* You can find super instructions for making a lion cake to celebrate St. Jerome's feast here or here.  Or you could make a book cake to symbolize the Bible -- instructions here or here (video).  Or you could make an owl cake, as an owl is sometimes used to indicate the wisdom and scholarship of St. Jerome.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like my name even more after reading your article. My mother named me after a priest named Jerome in Ludington MI. He was the priest who married my parents. Good to know all these facts about the saint, I will remember September 30 now for certain.