There are people, O Paula and Eustochium, who take offence at seeing your names at the
beginning of my works. These people do not know that Olda prophesied
when the men were mute, that while Barak trembled,
Deborah saved Israel, that Judith and Esther delivered from
supreme peril the children of God. I pass over in silence Anna and
Elizabeth and the other holy women of the Gospel, but
humble stars when compared with the great luminary, Mary. Shall I speak now of the illustrious women among the
heathen? Does not Plato have Aspasia speak in his dialogues? Does
not Sappho hold the lyre at the same time as Alcaeus and Pindar?
Did not Themista philosophize with the sages of Greece? And the
mother of the Gracchi, your Cornelia, daughter of Cato, wife of
Brutus, before whom pale the austere virtue of the father and the
courage of the husband --are they not the pride of the whole of Rome?
I shall add but one word more. Was it not to women that Our Lord appeared after His resurrection? Yes, and
the men could then blush for not having sought what women had found.
- Saint Jerome
Although St. Jerome is generally remembered as a bit of a
curmudgeon, it is clear that he had people in his time who loved him and saw his gentler side. Could any modern champion of women be more eloquent and chivalrous?
It is no exaggeration to say that, for better or worse, Jerome bears a
great responsibility for the Bible as most of us have experienced it.
As Bede translated the Gospel of John into Old
English, Jerome (at the urging and with the help of his
"students," Paula and Eustochium) translated much of the
Bible into Latin, a work called the Vulgate which is still in use
Jerome was born at Stridon around 340 A.D. to wealthy pagan
parents. At the age of 20, he went to Rome, where he was
baptized and developed a keen interest in ecclesiastical
matters. From Rome he went to Trier, which was famous for its
schools, and there he began his theological studies. After finishing his education, he settled in Antioch. He spent
several years in the desert southwest of the city, living the
ascetic life of a hermit. When he had had enough of solitary
life for a while, he traveled to Constantinople to study with Saint Gregory of
Nazianzus (who was, at the time, the bishop of that city).
In those days, the church at Antioch was greatly disturbed by various
doctrinal disputes. After two years in Constantinople,
Jerome returned to Rome to attend a council held by Pope Damasus in
order to deal with the schism. Jerome was appointed secretary of
the council, and Damasus was so impressed with him that he kept him in
Rome for a while as his personal secretary. At the Pope's request,
Jerome prepared a revised version, based on the Greek, of the Latin
New Testament. He also revised the psalter.
When Pope Damasus died in 384, Jerome lost his protector in Rome. His
abrasive manner had earned him quite a few enemies, and Jerome was
compelled to leave Rome lest those enemies ruin him. In 386, he
reached Bethlehem and settled in a monastery near a convent founded
by his friends, Paula and her daughter Eustochium. There he lived an ascetic life again, and
became Paula and Eustochium's spiritual director and intellectual love
In his travels, he had become fluent in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.
Paula and Eustochium begged him to read with them, in Hebrew, the
entire Bible, and to explain to them the difficult bits. Jerome
was reluctant, but finally Paula prevailed. The reading of the Bible
only made Paula and Eustochium hungry for more study, especially of
the epistles of Saint Paul. They searched in vain for commentaries
on his perplexing missives, finding nothing in Latin and only a few
Greek texts. Somehow Paula convinced the still-reluctant Jerome to
translate and comment on of Paul's letters. And so, with a
lot of help from his friends, Jerome ended up translating most of the
Bible, both Old Testament and New, into Latin from its original
John was dealt a heavy blow in 404, when Paula died. In 410, he was
stunned by the news of the sacking of Rome by the Goths. He wrote
of the Roman refugees flooding Bethlehem, "I cannot help them
all, but I grieve and weep with them, and am completely absorbed in
the duties which charity imposes on me. I have put aside my commentary
on Ezekiel and almost all study. For today we must translate the
precepts of the Scriptures into deeds; instead of speaking saintly
words, we must act them."
He eventually returned to his scholarly work, only to be interrupted
again a few years later by an army of Pelagian heretics who came to
destroy the monastery from which Jerome had been opposing them with
his typical vehemence. The next year, Eustochium died. Jerome, who
was by then quite elderly, fell ill. He died two years later, around
420, and was buried under the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
In the thirteenth century his relics were moved, and now reside
somewhere in the Sistine Chapel of the basilica of Santa Maria
Maggiore at Rome.
His memorial is September 30, and he is the patron of
archeologists, archivists, biblical scholars, librarians,
libraries, students, and translators.