29 September 2016

St. Jerome the Irritable


Most saints are remembered for some outstanding virtue or devotion which they practiced, but Jerome is frequently remembered for his bad temper! It is true that he came across as a bit of a grouch and could use a vitriolic pen, but his love for God was extraordinarily intense. St. Jerome considered that anyone who taught error was an enemy of God and truth, and he went after such a person with his mighty and sometimes sarcastic pen.

He was above all a Scripture scholar, translating most of the Old Testament from the Hebrew. He also wrote commentaries which are a great source of scriptural inspiration for us today. He was an avid student, a thorough scholar, a prodigious letter-writer and a consultant to monk, bishop and pope. St. Augustine said of him, "What Jerome is ignorant of, no mortal has ever known."

His love for scripture lead him to the Holy Land – he wanted to see the places of scripture.  He began work on his greatest achievement, which was the Latin Vulgate version of the scriptures.

He took up residence in Bethlehem, and the cave in which he lived was in close proximity to the cave in which Jesus was born.  It was where he studied and worked for many years, eventually dying there.  His body is now in St. Mary Major in Rome.

Here are some quotes from the inimitable Jerome:

On the study of Hebrew he wrote, “From the judicious precepts of Quintilian, the rich and fluent eloquence of Cicero, the graver style of Fronto, and the smoothness of Pliny, I turned to this language of hissing and broken-winded words.”

On worldly women, he railed against those who “paint their cheeks with rouge and their eyelids with antimony, whose plastered faces, too white for human beings, look like idols; and if in a moment of forgetfulness they shed a tear it makes a furrow where it rolls down the painted cheek; women to whom years do not bring the gravity of age, who load their heads with other people's hair, enamel a lost youth upon the wrinkles of age, and affect a maidenly timidity in the midst of a troop of grandchildren.”

Even the clergy of Rome didn’t get a break. He said, “All their anxiety is about their clothes.... You would take them for bridegrooms rather than for clerics; all they think about is knowing the names and houses and doings of rich ladies.”

No wonder he ended up living in a cave.


St. Jerome's Cave in Bethlehem,
where we have celebrated Mass according to the Anglican Use on a few occasions.



O God, who hast given us the holy Scriptures for a light to shine upon our path: grant us, after the example of thy servant Saint Jerome and assisted by his prayers, so to learn of thee according to thy holy Word; that we may find in it the light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.