Feast Day: September 30th | Patron of Archaeologists, Bible Scholars, Librarians, Students
His full name was Eusebius Hieronymus. This precocious child, born to Christian parents at Stridon (modern day Ljubljana, Slovenia) in 347 AD made his way as an adolescent to Rome to complete his schooling, and there found himself moved by the catacombs and stories of the heroism of the martyrs and received baptism. He spent several years traveling throughout the empire: to Germany in the North, to Antioch in the East, and elsewhere. But it was in 375 AD that he began the fight that would make him a saint. It was during Lent, in Antioch, and he came down with a deathly fever. During the health crisis he had a dream:
Many years ago, when for the kingdom of heaven’s sake I had cut myself off from home, parents, sister, relations, and-harder still-from the dainty food to which I had been accustomed; and when I was on my way to Jerusalem to wage my warfare, I still could not bring myself to forego the library which I had formed for myself at Rome with great care and toil. And so, miserable man that I was, I would fast only that I might afterwards read Cicero. After many nights spent in vigil, after floods of tears called from my inmost heart, after the recollection of my past sins, I would once more take up Plautus. And when at times I returned to my right mind, and began to read the prophets, their style seemed rude and repellent. I failed to see the light with my blinded eyes; but I attributed the fault not to them, but to the sun. While the old serpent was thus making me his plaything, about the middle of Lent a deep-seated fever fell upon my weakened body, and while it destroyed my rest completely-the story seems hardly credible-it so wasted my unhappy frame that scarcely anything was left of me but skin and bone. Meantime preparations for my funeral went on; my body grew gradually colder, and the warmth of life lingered only in my throbbing breast.
Suddenly I was caught up in the spirit and dragged before the judgment seat of the Judge; and here the light was so bright, and those who stood around were so radiant, that I cast myself upon the ground and did not dare to look up. Asked who and what I was I replied: “I am a Christian.” But He who presided said: “Thou liest, thou art a follower of Cicero and not of Christ. For `where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.'” Instantly I became dumb, and amid the strokes of the lash-for He had ordered me to be scourged-I was tortured more severely still by the fire of conscience, considering with myself that verse, “In the grave who shall give thee thanks?” Yet for all that I began to cry and to bewail myself, saying: “Have mercy upon me, O Lord: have mercy upon me.” Amid the sound of the scourges this cry still made itself heard. At last the bystanders, failing down before the knees of Him who presided, prayed that He would have pity on my youth, and that He would give me space to repent of my error. He might still, they urged, inflict torture on me, should I ever again read the works of the Gentiles. Under the stress of that awful moment I should have been ready to make even still larger promises than these.
Accordingly I made oath and called upon His name, saying: “Lord, if ever again I possess worldly books, or if ever again I read such, I have denied Thee.” Dismissed, then, on taking this oath, I returned to the upper world, and, to the surprise of all, I opened upon them eyes so drenched with tears that my distress served to convince even the incredulous. And that this was no sleep nor idle dream, such as those by which we are often mocked, I call to witness the tribunal before which I lay, and the terrible judgment which I feared. May it never, hereafter, be my lot to fall under such an inquisition! I profess that my shoulders were black and blue, that I felt the bruises long after I awoke from my sleep, and that thenceforth I read the books of God with a zeal greater than I had previously given to the books of men. [Letter 22, To Eustochium: The Ciceronian Dream]
It was this dramatic encounter with the Lord that would catapult him into the desert as a hermit (a miserable experience for him as he didn’t know Greek yet, couldn’t tolerate the food, and was continuously tempted towards impurity) but it was from there that he embarked on the studies and translation-work that would make him famous. He was shortly thereafter ordained a priest and became the secretary for Pope Damasus. Many of his letters are for the formation of consecrated widows and virgins in the Eternal City. Eventually some of them would go with him to found religious communities for men and women in the Holy Land, where Jerome would spend the rest of his days and complete his Latin translation of the Bible.
Often forgotten, Jerome was assailed by temptations to anger, impurity, and worldliness throughout his life. He flung vitriol at heretics, and saints (Ambrose and Augustine both receiving his attack at times), and literally carried a rock with which to knock himself out of his fits of fury or impurity. The Vulgate did not make him a saint; his life-long repentance and turning to Christ’s mercy did!
– Fr. Dominic Rankin