Vatican City, Sep 30, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis Wednesday highlighted the life and figure of St. Jerome in an apostolic letter for the 1,600th anniversary of the Doctor of the Church’s death.
St. Jerome “emerges as a model of uncompromising witness to the truth that employs the harshness of reproof in order to foster conversion,” the pope wrote Sept. 30. “By the intensity of his expressions and images, he shows the courage of a servant desirous not of pleasing others, but his Lord alone … for whose sake he expended all his spiritual energy.”
Pope Francis’ 6,800-word letter, Scripturae sacrae affectus, detailed the life, work, and personality of the saint, and how Catholics can learn from him today.
The anniversary of the saint’s death, Francis said, “can be seen as a summons to love what Jerome loved, to rediscover his writings and to let ourselves be touched by his robust spirituality, which can be described in essence as a restless and impassioned desire for a greater knowledge of the God who chose to reveal himself.”
“How can we not heed, in our day, the advice that Jerome unceasingly gave to his contemporaries: ‘Read the divine Scriptures constantly; never let the sacred volume fall from your hand’?” the pope asked.
He also made a particular appeal to young people, challenging them to explore their intellectual and spiritual heritage as Christians.
“Christianity makes you heirs of an unsurpassed cultural patrimony of which you must take ownership,” he urged. “Be passionate about this history which is yours.”
According to his letter, one of the problems of today is a lack of religious literacy; that “the hermeneutic skills that make us credible interpreters and translators of our own cultural tradition are in short supply,” he argued.
Young people, he said, should be given the opportunity to learn “how the quest of religious truth can be a passionate adventure that unites heart and mind; how the thirst for God has inflamed great minds throughout the centuries up to the present time; how growth in the spiritual life has influenced theologians and philosophers, artists and poets, historians and scientists.”
Pope Francis said there are two dimensions which characterize St. Jerome and help his personality to be understood: one is his “absolute and austere consecration to God” and the other is his “commitment to diligent study, aimed purely at an ever deeper understanding of the Christian mystery.”
St. Jerome also serves as a model for monks and for scholars, “who should always keep in mind that knowledge has religious value only if it is grounded in an exclusive love for God, apart from all human ambition and worldly aspiration,” Francis noted.
Jerome lived from around 345 to 420. He spent much of his life in Rome or in the Holy Land, where he died.
The Doctor of the Church translated, among many other works, the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin, giving the Church what is known as the “Vulgate.” He also wrote numerous letters on Scripture and is known to have used somewhat polemical language.
Pope Francis explained that “if, as a true ‘Lion of Bethlehem,’ he could be violent in his language, it was always in the service of a truth to which he was unconditionally committed.”
He added that the polemical dimension of the saint’s writings can be best understood if read in light of the authentic prophetic tradition of the time.
Jerome studied Scripture because it “led him to know Christ,” the pope also noted. “Jerome saw his studies not as a pleasant pastime and an end unto itself, but rather as a spiritual exercise and a means of drawing closer to God.”
The pope’s letter also urged Catholics to rediscover Scripture with St. Jerome as a guide, because “he leads every reader to the mystery of Jesus.”
In his writings, the saint did this, he stated, by “responsibly and systematically providing the exegetical and cultural information needed for a correct and fruitful reading of the Scriptures.”
St. Jerome had many skills, the pope said: “competence in the languages in which the Word of God was handed down, careful analysis and examination of manuscripts, detailed archeological research, as well as knowledge of the history of interpretation… This outstanding aspect of the activity of Saint Jerome is also of great importance for the Church in our own time.”
Pointing to Dei verbum, one of the central documents of the Second Vatican Council, dedicated to Divine Revelation, he said if “the Bible constitutes as it were ‘the soul of sacred theology’ and the spiritual support of the Christian life, the interpretation of the Bible must necessarily be accompanied by specific skills.”
“Sadly, the richness of Scripture is neglected or minimized by many because they were not afforded a solid grounding in this area,” he said.
“Together with a greater emphasis on the study of Scripture in ecclesiastical programmes of training for priests and catechists, efforts should also be made to provide all the faithful with the resources needed to be able to open the sacred book and draw from it priceless fruits of wisdom, hope and life.”