By Fr. Joy Prakash, OFM –
Monk and doctor of the Church. St Jerome is considered to be one of the greatest Biblical scholars. Born of Christian parents, at Strido in Dalmatia around 348, after being educated at his local school he went to Rome to study rhetoric for eight years. He then set up a community of ascetics in Aquilea. When the community broke up, he travelled east where he met a hermit called Malchis who inspired him to live in a bare cell, dressed in sackcloth and studying the Scriptures.
St Jerome learned Hebrew from a rabbi and then returned to Antioch where he was ordained priest. He travelled to Constantinople and became friends with St Gregory of Nazianzen and St Gregory of Nyssa. He became personal secretary of Pope Damasus and struck up a lifelong friendship with a widow called Paula, her daughter Eustochium and another woman called Marcella.
He began his finest work at this time, revising and translating the Bible into the Latin version which is known as the Vulgate. But when the Pope died, his enemies forced him to leave Rome.
He travelled to Bethlehem with Paula and Eustochium and lived there for 24 years, establishing a monastery and convent and hostel for the countless pilgrims who came to see the birthplace of Christ.
St Jerome was immensely learned and a prolific writer, matched only by St Augustine. His views were often considered controversial. He said: “Plato located the soul of man in the head. Christ located it in the heart”.
He died at Bethlehem in 420 and was buried in the Church of the Nativity next to Paula and Eustochium.