How St. Jerome Translated the Bible for the Masses

St Jerome, by Garofalo (1481-1559).
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St. Jerome, born Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus (Εὐσέβιος Σωφρόνιος Ἱερώνυμος) in Stridon, Dalmatia circa 347, is best known for making the Bible accessible to the masses. A theologian and scholar, he translated the Bible into the language ordinary people could read. At that time, the Roman Empire was in decline, and the public primarily spoke Latin. Jerome's version of the Bible, which he translated from Hebrew, is known as the Vulgate—the Catholic Church’s Latin form of the Old Testament.

Widely considered the most learned of the Latin Church Fathers, Jerome achieved fluency in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, with knowledge of Aramaic, Arabic, and Syriac, according to St. Jerome: Perils of a Bible Translator. In addition, he made available to Westerners other Greek texts. Jerome once dreamt about facing criticism for being a Ciceronian, which he interpreted to mean he should read Christian material, not the Classics. Cicero was a Roman orator and statesman contemporary with Julius and Augustus Caesar. The dream led Jerome to change his focus.

He studied grammar, rhetoric, and philosophy at Rome. There, Jerome, a native speaker of the Illyrian dialect, became fluent in Latin and Greek and well read in literature written in those languages. His teachers included “the famous pagan grammarian Donatus and Victorinus, a Christian rhetorician,” according to Catholic Online. Jerome also had a gift for oration.

Although raised by a Christian, Jerome reportedly had difficulty resisting worldly influences and hedonistic pleasures in Rome. When he decided to travel outside of Rome, he befriended a group of monks and decided to devote his life to God. Beginning in 375, Jerome lived for up to four years as a desert hermit in Chalcis.

Even as a hermit, he faced trials.

Catholic Online reports Jerome wrote:

“In this exile and prison to which through fear of Hell I had voluntarily condemned myself, with no other company but scorpions and wild beasts, I many times imagined myself watching the dancing of Roman maidens as if I had been in the midst of them. My face was pallid with fasting, yet my will felt the assaults of desire. In my cold body and my parched flesh, which seemed dead before its death, the passion was still able to live. Alone with the enemy, I threw myself in spirit at the feet of Jesus, watering them with my tears, and tamed my flesh by fasting whole weeks.”

From 382 to 385, he served in Rome as secretary to Pope Damasus. In 386, Jerome moved to Bethlehem where he set up and lived in a monastery. He died there at about the age of 80.

“His numerous biblical, ascetical, monastic, and theological works profoundly influenced the early Middle Ages,” according to Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Jerome translated 39 sermons of Origen on Luke, whom he opposed. He also wrote against Pelagius and the Pelagian heresy. Additionally, Jerome had disagreements with the North African Christian theologian (Saint) Augustine (354-386) of City of God and Confessions fame, who died in Hippo Regia during the siege by the Vandals, one of the groups blamed for the Fall of Rome.

Also Known As: Eusebios Hieronymos Sophronios

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