Saint Jerome: Priest and Doctor, Father of Biblical Science
Let us, with St. Jerome, embrace the Catholic Church as a guiding, guarding and nurturing mother whose concern is that we receive truth.
St. Jerome died in 420, but his profound influence still works among us.
St. Jerome was born into a Christian family, most likely in 342. At a young age, he was sent to Rome for his education and studied the classical authors, from which he developed a love for literature; at about the age of thirty, he spent five years as a monk in the desert of Calcis. He was ordained a priest in the East by Bishop Paulinus, and became the secretary of Pope Damasus. St. Jerome did not actively exercise his priestly office, instead preferring to remain a monk and scholar. As the Holy Spirit led him into deeper love for Christ, he directed his love for literature toward an intense study of Scripture.
"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ" – St. Jerome
While he is most frequently remembered for his Vulgate, St. Jerome was a prolific writer, and wrote many commentaries on Scripture. His whole life became focused on the Word, seeking truth, and defending that truth. Through his life of prayer, St. Jerome grew wise and insightful, gifts which he shared in his writings. In St. Jerome's famous letter to St. Eustochium (letter 22), he shows his understanding of the true value of voluntary celibacy and consecrated virginity as a self-giving act directed at obtaining the highest love: "How very difficult it is for the human heart not to love something! Of necessity, our minds and wills must be drawn to some kind of affection. Carnal love is overcome by spiritual love. Desire is extinguished by deeper desire. Whatever is taken from carnal love is given to the higher love."
As a defender of the Church and her teaching, St. Jerome refuted the objections of Helvidius in regards to the perpetual virginity of Mary. Among such false objections, as are common even today, were those based on scriptural references to "the brothers" of the Lord, the "carpenter’s son," and Mary’s "firstborn son" (see Mt 13:55; 1:24-25).
St. Jerome responded: "Every only-begotten son is a firstborn son, but not every firstborn is an only-begotten. By firstborn we understand not only one who is succeeded by others, but one who has had no predecessors." In reference to the Lord’s "brothers," St. Jerome tells us: "In Holy Scripture there are four kinds of brethren – by nature, race, kindred, love." Certainly we still associate the word "brother" with those same "kinds of brethren" today. St. Jerome explained that, as our holy Church teaches presently, the brothers of Jesus were his cousins and the nephews of the Virgin Mary. Showing both his usual yet wonderful bluntness, which often surfaced due to his love of truth, St. Jerome tells Helvidius: "You neglected the whole range of Scripture and employed your madness in outraging the Virgin."
If we learn nothing else from St. Jerome, let us learn the wise art of obedience to the Church’s authority, and, certainly, to the supreme earthly authority of the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ. For St. Jerome frequently showed his reliance on the authority of the pope, as well as the extreme importance of Church teaching for guidance on matters of doctrine.
In an appeal to Pope St. Damasus in order to decide a dispute, St. Jerome wrote: "My words are spoken to the successor of the Fisherman, to the disciple of the Cross. As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but Your Blessedness, that is, with the Chair of Peter. For this I know is the rock on which the Church is built. This is the house where alone the Paschal Lamb can be rightly eaten. . . "
St. Jerome, of course, understood that it is within the Catholic Church alone that we receive the true body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ as we receive the Eucharist under the signs of consecrated bread and wine. Yet St. Jerome’s understanding of how the "Paschal Lamb can be rightly eaten" was not based on Scripture alone, which, as he knew very well, can lead to error through a misguiided subjective interpretation not informed by Sacred Tradition.
His understanding of the nature of the Eucharist descended from On-High; that is, the truth of the Eucharist descends from Christ to the Church he founded, which is then transmitted to future generations through the apostles and their successors. Therefore St. Jerome arrived at the truth of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist through not only his intense study of Scripture, but also in combination with Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium of the ...
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