ST. JEROME’S OPUS MAGNUS, TRANSLATING THE BIBLE INTO LATIN
Aware that today is the feast day of St. Jerome, one of the Church’s greatest saints and a Doctor of the Church, I wanted to share one of my experiences related to this 4th-5th century saint.
I well remember visiting and taking photos of what today, in Bethlehem, is known as St. Jerome’s Cave, the place where he spent over 30 years translating the Bible into Latin, what is known as the Vulgate. I could see the photos in my mind’s eye as if I had taken them an hour ago. However, I could not remember on which of my trips to the Holy Land I took the photos, and thus spent considerable time this afternoon going through my tens and tens of thousands of photos. Patience paid off and I am posting a few of those with Jerome’s story. You can see how moved our pilgrimage group was by being in these caves, in St. Jerome’s Cave, adjacent to the cave of the Nativity!
I found my blogs from that trip but did not given an extended description of St. Jerome’s Cave, so, along with my photos, I offer some brief descriptions from a website about the Cave:
After many years in Rome and what today we call Turkey, St. Jerome, late in the summer of 388 was back in Palestine, and spent the remainder of his life working in a cave near Bethlehem, the very cave where Jesus was born, surrounded by a few friends, both men and women (including Paula and Eustochium), to whom he acted as priestly guide and teacher.
From a cave beneath the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem came the most enduring version of the Bible ever translated.
In this underground study — pleasantly cool in summer but chilly in winter — St Jerome spent 30 years translating the Scriptures from Hebrew and Greek into Latin.
The scholarly Dalmatian priest had begun his task around AD 386. The text he produced in St Jerome’s Cave was the first official vernacular version of the Bible. Known as the Vulgate, it remained the authoritative version for Catholics until the 20th century.
This version, asserts the historian G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville, was “assuredly heard by more Christians than any other”.
St Jerome (also known as Hieronymus, the Latin version of Jerome) spent more than 36 years in the Holy Land. He was well-known for his ascetic lifestyle and his passionate involvement in doctrinal controversies.
Access to St Jerome’s two-room cave is from the Church of St Catherine. On the right hand side of the nave, steps lead down to a complex of subterranean chambers. At the end, on the right, are the rooms where Jerome lived and worked.
The adjacent caves have been identified as the burial places of Jerome (whose remains were later taken to Rome), his successor St Eusebius, and Sts Paula and Eustochium.
Jerome died in 420. His body was later transferred to Constantinople and then to Rome, where his bones rest today in the Basilica of St Mary Major.
POPE FRANCIS INSTITUTES “SUNDAY OF THE WORD OF GOD”
With the Apostolic Letter “Aperuit illis” – Opened to Them” – Pope Francis has instituted Sunday of the Word of God to be celebrated annually on the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time. This Sunday will be dedicated to the celebration, reflection and spreading of the Word of God.
Given in Rome, at the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, on 30 September 2019, the liturgical Memorial of Saint Jerome, on the inauguration of the 1600th anniversary of his death. FRANCIS
The full Letter was made public this morning in 7 languages. St. Jerome is known for having translated the whole of the Bible into the Latin version which is known as the Vulgate.
POPE ESTABLISHES SUNDAY OF THE WORD OF GOD
Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Letter, Motu proprio “Aperuit illis”, published today by the Vatican, established that “the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time is to be devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the Word of God”. Following I the report by Vatican News.
The timing of the document is significant: September 30 is the Feast of Saint Jerome, the man who translated most of the Bible into Latin, and who famously said: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ”. This year also marks 1600 years since his death.
The title of the document, “Aperuit illis”, is equally important. They are its opening words, taken from St Luke’s Gospel, where the Evangelist describes how the Risen Jesus appeared to His disciples, and how “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures”.
A response to requests
Recalling the importance given by the Second Vatican Council to rediscovering Sacred Scripture for the life of the Church, Pope Francis says he wrote this Apostolic Letter in response to requests from the faithful around the world to celebrate the Sunday of the Word of God.
An ecumenical value
In the Motu proprio (literally, “of his own initiative”), Pope Francis declares that, “the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time is to be devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the Word of God”. This is more than a temporal coincidence, he explains: the celebration has “ecumenical value, since the Scriptures point out, for those who listen, the path to authentic and firm unity”.
A certain solemnity
Pope Francis invites local communities to find ways to “mark this Sunday with a certain solemnity”. He suggests that the sacred text be enthroned “in order to focus the attention of the assembly on the normative value of God’s Word”. In highlighting the proclamation of the Word of the Lord, it would be appropriate “to emphasize in the homily the honour that it is due”, writes the Pope.
“Pastors can also find ways of giving a Bible, or one of its books, to the entire assembly as a way of showing the importance of learning how to read, appreciate and pray daily with Sacred Scripture”.
The Bible is for all
The Bible is not meant for a privileged few, continues Pope Francis. It belongs “to those called to hear its message and to recognize themselves in its words”. The Bible cannot be monopolized or restricted to select groups either, he writes, because it is “the book of the Lord’s people, who, in listening to it, move from dispersion and division towards unity”.
The importance of the homily
“Pastors are primarily responsible for explaining Sacred Scripture and helping everyone to understand it”, writes Pope Francis. Which is why the homily possesses “a quasi-sacramental character”. The Pope warns against improvising or giving “long, pedantic homilies or wandering off into unrelated topics”.
Rather, he suggests using simple and suitable language. For many of the faithful, he writes, “this is the only opportunity they have to grasp the beauty of God’s Word and to see it applied to their daily lives”.
Sacred Scripture and the Sacraments
The Pope uses the scene of the Risen Lord appearing to the disciples at Emmaus to demonstrate what he calls “the unbreakable bond between Sacred Scripture and the Eucharist”. Since the Scriptures everywhere speak of Christ, he writes, “they enable us to believe that His death and resurrection are not myth but history, and are central to the faith of His disciples”.
When the sacraments are introduced and illumined by God’s Word, explains the Pope, “they become ever more clearly the goal of a process whereby Christ opens our minds and hearts to acknowledge His saving work”.
The role of the Holy Spirit
“The role of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures is primordial”, writes Pope Francis. “Without the work of the Spirit, there would always be a risk of remaining limited to the written text alone”. The Pope continues: “This would open the way to a fundamentalist reading, which needs to be avoided, lest we betray the inspired, dynamic and spiritual character of the sacred text”. It is the Holy Spirit who “makes Sacred Scripture the living word of God, experienced and handed down in the faith of His holy people”.
Pope Francis invites us never to take God’s Word for granted, “but instead to let ourselves be nourished by it, in order to acknowledge and live fully our relationship with Him and with our brothers and sisters”.
The Pope concludes his Apostolic Letter by defining what he describes as “the great challenge before us in life: to listen to Sacred Scripture and then to practice mercy”. God’s Word, writes Pope Francis, “has the power to open our eyes and to enable us to renounce a stifling and barren individualism and instead to embark on a new path of sharing and solidarity”.
The Letter closes with a reference to Our Lady, who accompanies us “on the journey of welcoming the Word of God”, teaching us the joy of those who listen to that Word – and keep it.