One of the greatest Biblical scholars of Christendom, Saint Jerome was born of Christian parents at Stridon in Dalmatia around the year 345. Educated at the local school, he then studied rhetoric in Rome for eight years, before returning to Aquilea to set up a community of ascetics. When that community broke up after three years Jerome went to the east. He met an old hermit named Malchus, who inspired the saint to live in a bare cell, dressed in sackcloth, studying the Scriptures.
He learned Hebrew from a rabbi. Then he returned to Antioch and was reluctantly ordained priest. With his bishop he visited Constantinople and became friendly with Saints Gregory Nazianzen and Gregory of Nyssa. And then in 382 he went again to Rome, to become the personal secretary of Pope Damasus. Here he met his dearest friends, a wealthy woman called Paula, her daughter Eustochium and another wealthy woman named Marcella.
Here too he began his finest work. Commissioned by the pope, he began to revise the Latin version of the psalms and the New Testament, with immense care and scholarship. Jerome eventually translated the whole of the Bible into the Latin version which is known as the Vulgate. But when Damasus died, his enemies forced the saint to leave Rome.
Accompanied by Paula and Eustochium, Jerome went to Bethlehem. There he lived for thirty-four years till his death in 420, building a monastery over which he presided and a convent headed first by Paula and after her death by Eustochium. The saint set up a hospice for the countless pilgrims to that place. His scholarship, his polemics, his treatises and letters often provoked anger and always stimulated those who read them. ‘Plato located the soul of man in the head,’ he wrote, ‘Christ located it in the heart.’
Excerpted from A Calendar of Saints by James Bentley