CHURCH FATHERS (35) – Saint Jerome

In the 4th century, as we have observed, we have a flourishing of great Church Fathers, probably unique in the whole history of the Church. Another example of this is given by Saint Jerome (346? – 420). When he was 20, he was sent to Rome to improve his studies on the classics. He was baptized in Rome by Pope Damasus, who would care for him thereafter. He would study the Bible with great. But at a certain point he wanted to live and study in an hermitage: it was in the year 372. After this time, he would study Hebrew carefully to be able to translate the Bible into Latin with great faithfulness.  As we have seen, Arianism, a dangerous heresy, was strongly affecting the Catholic Church. Pope Damasus convened a Roman council in 382 and wanted Jerome near to him, as his secretary. Of course Jerome could not resist the will of the Pope. After this he would also return go to Bethlehem, to continue his studies and in correspondence with many disciples.

He is considered nowadays as the greatest Doctor of the Church in reference to Biblical studies. And there is a very good reason for this: he was the translator of the Bible from the originals to Latin. Among his other works are De viris illustribus, De custodia virginitatis, De laudibus Asellae and others.

In the Janiculum, a hill in the western part of Rome, there is a pretty church that was named after Saint Onuphrius. This church was originally an hermitage created by a congregation named after Saint Jerome in the 15th century. This was probably the reason why some of the paintings in the Renaissance portico are about our great Saint Jerome. The paintings were by the great Domenichino and are really a very strong example of the strong impact that this Saint and his teachings has had for centuries to come.

In his letter to Eustochium about virginity, we can find some of the most interesting (and controversial) thoughts of Jerome: “I write to you thus, Lady Eustochium (I am bound to call my Lord’s bride lady), to show you by my opening words that my object is not to praise the virginity which you follow, and of which you have proved the value, or yet to recount the drawbacks of marriage, such as pregnancy, the crying of infants, the torture caused by a rival, the cares of household management, and all those fancied blessings which death at last cuts short. Not that married women are as such outside the pale; they have their own place, the marriage that is honorable and the bed undefiled. Hebrews 13:4 My purpose is to show you that you are fleeing from Sodom and should take warning by Lot’s wife. Genesis 19:26 There is no flattery, I can tell you, in these pages. A flatterer’s words are fair, but for all that he is an enemy. You need expect no rhetorical flourishes setting you among the angels, and while they extol virginity as blessed, putting the world at your feet.”

In another famous passage he admitted and remembered the temptations he had in the desert: “How often, when I was living in the desert, in the vast solitude which gives to hermits a savage dwelling-place, parched by a burning sun, how often did I fancy myself among the pleasures of Rome! I used to sit alone because I was filled with bitterness. Sackcloth disfigured my unshapely limbs and my skin from long neglect had become as black as an Ethiopian’s. Tears and groans were every day my portion; and if drowsiness chanced to overcome my struggles against it, my bare bones, which hardly held together, clashed against the ground. Of my food and drink I say nothing: for, even in sickness, the solitaries have nothing but cold water, and to eat one’s food cooked is looked upon as self-indulgence. Now, although in my fear of hell I had consigned myself to this prison, where I had no companions but scorpions and wild beasts, I often found myself amid bevies of girls. My face was pale and my frame chilled with fasting; yet my mind was burning with desire, and the fires of lust kept bubbling up before me when my flesh was as good as dead. Helpless, I cast myself at the feet of Jesus, I watered them with my tears, I wiped them with my hair: and then I subdued my rebellious body with weeks of abstinence. I do not blush to avow my abject misery; rather I lament that I am not now what once I was. I remember how I often cried aloud all night till the break of day and ceased not from beating my breast till tranquillity returned at the chiding of the Lord. I used to dread my very cell as though it knew my thoughts; and, stern and angry with myself, I used to make my way alone into the desert. Wherever I saw hollow valleys, craggy mountains, steep cliffs, there I made my oratory, there the house of correction for my unhappy flesh. There, also — the Lord Himself is my witness— when I had shed copious tears and had strained my eyes towards heaven, I sometimes felt myself among angelic hosts, and for joy and gladness sang: because of the savour of your good ointments we will run after you. Song of Songs 1:3-4.”

Great saints also had to struggle with their weakness and this struggle is the same one for everyone trying to live a good Christian life.

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