Wednesday, November 14, 2007

General Audience: St. Jerome

Pope Benedict XVI arrives to lead his weekly general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican November 14, 2007. REUTERS/Dario Pignatelli (VATICAN)

Pope Benedict XVI, left, shares a word with his personal secretary Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, during the weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2007. (AP Photo / Plinio Lepri)

Pope Benedict XVI talks to relatives of the victims of a bomb attack against Italian forces in Nassiriya, Iraq four years ago, at the end of his weekly general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican November 14, 2007. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano (VATICAN)

~translated by Teresa Benedetta of Papa Ratzinger Forum

Dear brothers and sisters!

We will turn our attention today to St. Jerome, a Father of the Church, who placed the Bible at the center of his life: he translated it to Latin, he commented on it in various works, and above all, set out to live it concretely in his long earthly existence, notwithstanding the difficult and fiery nature for which he was also known.

Jerome was born in Stridone around 347 to a Christian family, who assured him of a thorough education, even sending him to Rome to complete his studies. As a young man, he felt the attractions of worldly living (cfr Ep. 22,7), but his desire for and interest in the Christian religion prevailed.

Baptized around 366, he was drawn to the monastic life, and going to Aquileia, he joined a group of fervent Christians, whom he described as almost 'a choir of the blessed' (Chron. ad amm. 374), who had gathered around the bishop Valerian.

Later, he left for the Orient and lived as a hermit in the desert of Calcide, south of Aleppo (cfr Ep. 14,10),dedicating himself to serious study. He perfected his knowledge of Greek, he began to study Hebrew (cfr Ep. 125,12), transcribed patristic codices and works (cfr Ep. 5,2), and became vividly aware of the contrast between pagan mentality and Christian living - a contrast made famous by the dramatic and vivid 'vision' which he recounted, in which he was flagellated in the presence of God because he was 'Ciceronian and not Christian' (cfr Ep. 22,30).

In 382, he moved to Rome where Pope Damasus, recognizing his fame as an ascetic and his competence as a scholar, took him on as secretary and adviser. He encouraged him to undertake a new Latin translation of Biblical texts for pastoral and cultural motives.

Some members of the Roman aristocracy, above all, noblewomen like Paola, Macella, Asella, Lea and others, who - desiring to commit themselves to the way of Christian perfection and to deepen their knowledge of the Word of God - chose him to be their spiritual guide and teacher in the methodical approach to sacred texts, for which these noblewomen learned Greek and Hebrew themselves.

After the death of Pope Damasus, Jerome left Rome in 385 and undertook a pilgrimage, first to the Holy Land, then to Egypt, a destination chosen by many monks (cfr Contra Rufinum, 3,22; Ep. 108,6-14).

In 386, he returned to Bethlehem, where the generous patronage of Paola had resulted in the construction of a monastery for males and another for females, as well as a hospice for pilgrims to the Holy Land 'in memory of Mary and Joseph who found no room to stay' (Ep. 108,14).

He was to remain in Bethlehem until his death, carrying on his intense activity. He commented on the Gospels; he defended the faith, vigorously opposing various heresies; he exhorted monks to perfection; he taught classical and Christian culture to young pupils; he welcomed pilgrims to the Holy Land like a pastor. He died in his cell near the Grotto of the Nativity on September 30, 419/420.

His literary preparation and vast erudition allowed Jerome to revise and translate many Biblical texts - an invaluable service to the Latin Church and Western culture. On the basis of original texts in Greek and Hebrew, and cmparing them to earlier translations, he realized the revision of the four Gospels in Latin, then the Psaltery, and a great part of the Old Testament.

Taking account of the original Greek and Hebrew texts, of the Septuagint (classic Greek version of the Old Testament dating back to pre-Christian times) and earlier Latin translations, Jerome - with the help of collaborators - could offer a better translation: the so-called 'Vulgate', considered the 'official' text of the Latin Church.

It is interesting to highlight the criteria that the great Biblical scholar used in his work as a translator. He revealed them himself when he stated that he respected even the order of words in Sacred Scripture, because, he said, "even the order of words is a mystery", that is, a revelation.

He also reiterated the need to turn to the original texts: "Whenever a question is raised among Latin readers about the New Testament because of discordant readings of the texts, we must turn to the original, that is, the Greek text in which the New Testament was first written. Likewise for the Old Testament, if there are divergences between the Greek and Latin texts, let us turn to the original text in Hebrew. In this way, everything that flows from the spring, we shall also find in its rivulets" (Ep 106,2).

Jerome also commented on several Biblical texts. For him, commentaries should offer many opinions "so that the astute reader, after reading different explanations and getting to know different opinions - to accept or to reject - may judge which one is most reliable, and like a currency expert, reject the counterfeit" (Contra Rufinum 1, 16).

With energy and liveliness, he refuted the heretics who contested the tradition and faith of the Church. He also showed the importance and validity of Christian literature which was now worthy to confront classical literature. He did this in De viris illustribus, a work in which he presented the biographies of more than a hundred Christian authors. He also wrote biographies of monks, illustrating the monastic ideal alongside other spiritual itineraries, and translated various works by Greek authors.

Finally, in the important Epistolary, a masterpiece of Latin literature, Jerome emerged with his most important characteristics as a man of culture, ascetic and spiritual guide.

What can we learn from St. Jerome? I think, above all, it is this: to love the Word of God in Sacred Scripture. St. Jerome said, "Not to know Scriptures is not to know Christ."

That is why it is important that every Christian live in contact and in personal dialog with the Word of God, given to us in Sacred Scripture. This dialog should be truly personal, because God speaks to each of us through Sacred Scripture and has a message for each of us.

We should read Sacred Scripture not as a word from the past, but as the Word of God addressed even to us, and we must seek to understand what the Lord is telling us. But in order not to fall into individualism, we must also keep in mind that the Word of God is given to us in order to build communion, to unite us in the truth along our way to God.

Therefore, the Word of God, while remaining a personal word, is also a word to build community, to build the Church itself. So we should read it in communion with the living Church.

The privileged place for reading and listening to the Word of God is the liturgy, in which, by celebrating the Word and rendering the Body of Christ present in the Sacrament, we actualize the Word in our life and make it alive and present among us.

We should never forget that the Word of God transcends time. Human opinions come and go. What is very modern today will be old tomorrow. But the Word of God is the word of eternal life, it carries eternity in itself ,and therefore is valid for always. Carrying the Word of God, we carry in us the eternal, life eternal.

So I conclude with a statement of St. Jerome to St. Paulinus of Nola, in which the great exegete expresses that fact, that in the Word of God, we receive eternity, life eternal: "Let us seek to learn on earth the truths that will remain valid even in heaven" (Ep. 53,10).

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