We have a number of subjects for thought and prayer right now. This Friday, for example, September 30, is the feast of Saint Jerome, one of the most influential doctors of the Church. It is also the last day of this quarter. Saturday begins the last quarter of the year and so we have the opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the service of God during these next three months which will bring our year to a close.
Then, today, my thoughts go back to New Orleans where Archbishop Philip Hannan died yesterday at the age of ninety-eight. He has been retired for some years, but was the ruling bishop of New Orleans during the nine years when I was pastor of Saint Dominic parish there in 1971 to 1980. I came to admire him, as did all who knew him. He was a quiet man, but a leader of great courage and determination. And the very model of a bishop who used all the means at his disposal to do the work of Our Lord in the archdiocese of New Orleans and in other areas where he could make his influence felt.
Now, back to Saint Jerome. He was born in 340 and died in 420. Thus his life span coincided with the rapid spread of the Church in the western empire governed from Rome and the eastern empire governed from Constantinople. The Church needed the sacred scriptures in languages that it could understand. The Old Testament was only available in Hebrew; the New Testament in Greek. But the people of Europe were speaking Latin. Not the splendid language of Cicero and Julius Caesar, but the Latin of the ordinary men and women of the time. The Pope, Saint Damasus, came to know of Jerome’s erudition and language skills and asked him to translate the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament into the common Latin of the time. This bible came to known as the Vulgate and was the version used by the western Church from Jerome’s time to our own. Thus Saint Jerome performed an immense service to the Church and we are all very much in his debt. Even though we now have more accurate translations of the Old Testament made since Jerome’s time, the Church still sees Jerome as the great model of scripture studies and of those who study and teach them.
If you ever go to the Holy Land and visit the basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, you will be shown several caves beneath the basilica. In one of them Our Lord is thought to have been born; in another, Saint Jerome made his home for years while working on his language studies and then his translation of the bible.
As we conclude our thoughts about Saint Jerome, we need to recall a famous saying of his: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.