Saint Jerome and the Importance of Sacred Scripture
Do you need to be familiar with Scripture or even to read it regularly? Saint Jerome would likely say “yes.” Not due to a Sola Scriptura biblicism that is contrary to Catholicism but because of the unique role that the Scriptures play in the life of the Church. Let us consider the importance of Scripture on the memorial of Saint Jerome. First, who was Saint Jerome?
Saint Jerome was born in Dalmatia (Croatia) in 345 A.D. and was baptized in Rome. He received a classical education. He was drawn to both the Christian ascetical life and the study of Scripture. Jerome was eventually ordained a priest and even served as Pope Damasus’ secretary. First initiated by the pope, Jerome undertook the translation of the Scriptures into Latin; we refer to this as the Vulgate. He lived for decades in Bethlehem until his death in 420 A.D. His memorial is celebrated on September 30th. Saint Jerome is the patron saint of bible studies and Scripture scholars.
Pope Francis (2020) teaches in Scripturae Sacrae Affectus,
The distinctive feature of Saint Jerome’s spirituality was undoubtedly his passionate love for the word of God entrusted to the Church in sacred Scripture. All the Doctors of the Church – particularly those of the early Christian era – drew the content of their teaching explicitly from the Bible. Yet Jerome did so in a more systematic and distinctive way.
Exegetes in recent times have come to appreciate the narrative and poetic genius of the Bible and its great expressive quality. Jerome instead emphasized in sacred Scripture the humble character of God’s revelation, set down in the rough and almost primitive cadences of the Hebrew language in comparison to the refinement of Ciceronian Latin. He devoted himself to the study of sacred Scripture not for aesthetic reasons, but – as is well known – only because Scripture had led him to know Christ. Indeed, ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.
This concluding line of the excerpt is the most known quotation from Saint Jerome: “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” While Tradition and Magisterium are essential gifts bestowed by Christ, Scripture is unique because it alone is inspired. It is not only the word of God but God’s words in human form. This is why the Second Vatican Council and Pope Benedict XVI spoke so highly of Sacred Scripture, although not apart from its integrated relationship with Tradition and Magisterium.
In Sacred Scripture we have the opportunity to discover Salvation History, to which Scripture and Tradition testify too, but also to hear the voice of the living God in a unique way. This encounter can enrich theological studies, but it also enriches prayer and discernment. It can and it must. It is here that a key distinction needs to be made. Christianity is not a religion of the book but of a person. Scripture must never become an idol, the center of one’s life. Scripture is a gift and a tool for encountering the person of Jesus Christ, the way to the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit. This means that my familiarity with and regular prayer with Scripture can enrich my encounter with God at Mass, in the confessional, during prayer, and in serving others. To put it another way, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Deus Caritas Est 1).
There are so many ways we can honor and celebrate the life of Saint Jerome and his “yes” to God. I recommend the intentional increase of reading Scripture on your own. Try it for a month. If you do not read Scripture at all, you can begin by reading from one of the gospels for a few minutes a day. If you are already familiar with Scripture, read for a greater length of time and/or from sections of the bible less familiar to you. After one month of this new item in your spiritual diet, discern any differences you have noticed in your experiences at Mass, in prayer, and in the moral life. As you sit down to read from Scripture begin with a simple request: “Saint Jerome, pray for us.”