The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 28, 2001 Issue
Saint of the Day

A man of fiery words and faith

St. Jerome went to the desert to temper his faith


By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

Anyone with a sharp tongue or a fiery temper can look with relief to St. Jerome. He had both -- though he criticized himself at least as sharply as he criticized others. Despite all that he was even declared a Doctor of the Church for his writings, which include a translation of the Bible that served as the "gold standard" for 1,500 years.

St. Jerome (Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius) was born in about 342 in Dalmatia. As a youth, he was trained in the faith and then sent to Rome where he was baptized and studied Latin and Greek.

One day, sick with a fever, Jerome had a dream where he was asked at the Last Judgment what he was. He said he was a Christian, but the voice said he really was a disciple of the orator Cicero.

That realization led Jerome to go the desert in Syria to pray and fast. To combat frequent sexual temptation, he studied Hebrew. After about five years, he allowed himself to be ordained a priest, but only under the condition that he could live as a monk. It is believed that he never celebrated Mass.

Next, he moved to Constantinople to study the Bible under St. Gregory Nazianzen. He went to Rome with Bishop Paulinus to attend a church council called by Pope Damasus. Because of Jerome's knowledge of languages and Scripture, the pope asked him to write an updated Latin version of the Bible, which he did over the next several years by going back to the original languages.

Jerome also served as the spiritual director for a community of noble women that included Ss. Paula, Marcella and Eustochia.

After the death of Pope Damasus in 384, Jerome left Rome because his blunt attacks on pagan life and his arguments for celibacy had angered several influential people, including some clerics. Some struck back by spreading vicious rumors about his relationship with the community of St. Paula.

He left and went to Palestine, Egypt and Nitria before settling at Bethlehem. Eventually, Paula and her followers joined him. She built a monastery for men near the basilica of the Nativity and three convents for the women. Jerome served as their spiritual advisor and opened a free school and a hospice.

Primarily, he devoted himself to translating the Old Testament, starting with Kings. He also defended church teachings, including that Jesus was Mary's only child. He condemned those who he said were misrepresenting the work of Origen -- a leading third century theologian and scripture commentator -- and he and St. Augustine argued over the meaning of one of St. Paul's letters.

Paula assisted Jerome in his work -- she is the lion in paintings of Jerome -- until her death in 404. He was distressed when he heard in 410 of the sacking of Rome. Later, he had to defend from persecution the men and women under his direction.

Jerome died in 420. His relics were buried under the church of the Nativity, but later were moved to St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome. His feast day is Sept. 30.


(Sources: All Saints, Butler's Lives of the Saints, Dictionary of Saints, Saint of the Day, Saints for Our Time, Saints of the Roman Calendar, 365 Saints and Voices of the Saints.)


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