September 24, 2010

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

The wisdom of the saints: St. Jerome

John F. Fink“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”

If there is just one statement for which St. Jerome is known, that is probably it.

The Church celebrates St. Jerome’s feast next Thursday, Sept. 30. He is one of the 33 doctors of the Church, and is most recognized as the one who translated the Bible into Latin, the language of the people in his day. He began to do that while he was secretary to Pope Damasus. He also wrote commentaries about the biblical books.

After Pope Damasus’ death, Jerome moved to Bethlehem, where he lived next to the cave where Jesus was born. He died in the year 340.

Jerome was a friend of another great doctor of the Church, St. Augustine. They corresponded through letters between Bethlehem and Hippo in northern Africa.

Augustine wrote about Jerome, “What Jerome is ignorant of, no mortal has ever known.”

The quotation at the beginning of this column was in Jerome’s commentary on his translation of the Book of Isaiah. Here is the full quotation: “If, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”

The Catholic Church has always esteemed Isaiah as the premier prophetic book of the Old Testament and, after the Psalms, the most valuable Old Testament book for the New Testament. St. Jerome explains why. He says that we should look at Isaiah not only as a prophet, but as an evangelist and an Apostle as well.

Isaiah was an evangelist, Jerome says, because he preached Good News, as did the other evangelists. And an Apostle? The word “apostle” means one who is sent, and in the Book of Isaiah God says to him, “Whom shall I send, who will go to my people?” And he answers, “Here I am; send me” (Is 6:8).

The Book of Isaiah, Jerome says, contains all the mysteries of the Lord. Indeed, the Church uses readings from the book when it celebrates the various feasts of Christ.

Here are some of the prophecies that Jerome says are in the Book of Isaiah: “It prophesies that Emmanuel is to be born of a virgin and accomplish marvelous works and signs. It predicts his death, burial and resurrection from the dead as the Savior of all men.” He goes on to say that, “Whatever is proper to holy Scripture, whatever can be expressed in human language and understood by the human mind, is contained in the Book of Isaiah.”

The Church assigns St. Jerome’s commentary on the Book of Isaiah to the Office of Readings for his feast day. It includes three other commentaries during other parts of the year: on Ecclesiastes on Wednesday of the seventh week in Ordinary Time when the first readings are from Ecclesiastes; on Psalm 41 on Thursday of the 13th week of Ordinary Time; and on the prophet Joel on Friday of the 21st week of Ordinary Time. †

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