Saint Jerome (c. 347-September 30, 420) (Formerly Saint Heirom) (Latin: Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus) was a Christian priest and apologist best known for translating the Vulgate. He is recognized by the Catholic Church as a canonized saint and Doctor of the Church, and his version of the Bible is still an important text in Catholicism. He is also recognized as a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church, where he is known as St. Jerome of Stridonium or Blessed Jerome. He is presumed by some to have been an Illyrian.
In Western art, he is often represented as one of the four Latin doctors of the Church along with Augustine of Hippo, Ambrose, and Pope Gregory I. As a prominent member of the Roman clergy, he has often been portrayed anachronistically in the garb of a cardinal. Even when he is depicted as a half-clad anchorite, with cross, skull and Bible for the only furniture of his cell, the red hat or some other indication of his rank as cardinal is as a rule introduced somewhere in the picture. He is also often depicted with a lion, due to a medieval story in which he removed a thorn from a lion's paw,and less often with an owl, the symbol of wisdom and scholarship. Writing materials and the trumpet of final judgment are also part of his iconography. He is commemorated on 30 September.
Jerome was born at Stridon, on the border between Pannonia, Dalmatia, and Italy, close to Aquileia.
Jerome was possibly an Illyrian, born to Roman Catholic parents, but was not baptized until about 360 or 366, when he had gone to Rome with his friend Bonosus (who may or may not have been the same Bonosus whom Jerome identifies as his friend who went to live as a hermit on an island in the Adriatic) to pursue rhetorical and philosophical studies. He studied under the grammarian Aelius Donatus. There Jerome learned the Greek and Latin languages.
After several years in Rome, he travelled with Bonosus to Gaul and settled in Trier where he seems to have first taken up theological studies, and where he copied, for his friend Tyrannius Rufinus, Hilary of Poitiers' commentary on the Psalms and the treatise "De synodis." Next came a stay of at least several months, or possibly years, with Rufinus at Aquileia, where he made many Christian friends.
Some of these accompanied him when he set out about 373 on a journey through Thrace and Asia Minor into northern Syria. At Antioch, where he stayed the longest, two of his companions died and he himself was seriously ill more than once. During one of these illnesses (about the winter of 373-374), he had a vision that led him to lay aside his secular studies and devote himself to God. He seems to have abstained for a considerable time from the study of the classics and to have plunged deeply into that of the Bible, under the impulse of Apollinaris of Laodicea, then teaching in Antioch and not yet suspected of heresy.
Seized with a desire for a life of ascetic penance, he went for a time to the desert of Chalcis, to the southwest of Antioch, known as the Syrian Thebaid, from the number of hermits inhabiting it. During this period, he seems to have found time for study and writing. He made his first attempt to learn Hebrew under the guidance of a converted Jew; and he seems to have been in correspondence with Jewish Christians in Antioch. Around this time he became interested in the Gospel according to the Hebrews, which he would later write was the true Gospel of Matthew.
Returning to Antioch in 378 or 379, he was ordained by Bishop Paulinus, apparently unwillingly and on condition that he continue his ascetic life. Soon afterward, he went to Constantinople to pursue a study of Scripture under Gregory Nazianzen. He seems to have spent two years there; the next three (382-385) he was in Rome again, attached to Pope Damasus I and the leading Roman Christians. Invited originally for the synod of 382, held to end the schism of Antioch, he made himself indispensable to the pope, and took a prominent place in his councils.
Among his other duties, he undertook a revision of the Latin Bible, to be based on the Greek New Testament. He also updated the Psalter then at use in Rome based on the Septuagint. Though he did not realize it yet, translating much of what became the Latin Vulgate Bible would take many years, and be his most important achievement.
In Rome he was surrounded by a circle of well-born and well-educated women, including some from the noblest patrician families, such as the widows Lea, Marcella and Paula, with their daughters Blaesilla and Eustochium. The resulting inclination of these women to the monastic life, and his unsparing criticism of the secular clergy, brought a growing hostility against him among the clergy and their supporters. In August 385, he returned to Antioch, accompanied by his brother Paulinianus and several friends, and followed a little later by Paula and Eustochium, who had resolved to end their days in the Holy Land. In the winter of 385, Jerome acted as their spiritual adviser. The pilgrims, joined by Bishop Paulinus of Antioch, visited Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the holy places of Galilee, and then went to Egypt, the home of the great heroes of the ascetic life.
At the Catechetical School of Alexandria, Jerome listened to the catechist Didymus the Blind expounding the prophet Hosea and telling his reminiscences of Anthony the Great, who had died 30 years before; he spent some time in Nitria, admiring the disciplined community life of the numerous inhabitants of that "city of the Lord", but detecting even there "concealed serpents", i.e., the influence of Origen of Alexandria. Late in the summer of 388 he was back in Palestine, and spent the remainder of his life in a hermit's cell near Bethlehem, surrounded by a few friends, both men and women (including Paula and Eustochium), to whom he acted as priestly guide and teacher.
Jerome died near Bethlehem on September 30, 420. The date of his death is given by the Chronicon of Prosper of Aquitaine. His remains, originally buried at Bethlehem, are said to have been later transferred to the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, though other places in the West claim some relics - the cathedral at Nepi boasting possession of his head, which, according to another tradition, is in the Escorial.
Image: Icon of St. Jerome from St. Meletios Monastery in Oinoi, Greece