Jerome: The ancient saint who's still inspiring Bible reading

Today (30 September) marks the feast day of St Jerome, one of the most influential figures in all Christian history.  

Jerome was born in around AD 347 in Stridon, in what's now the north east of Italy, and died in AD 420. He was a theologian and teacher whose greatest achievement was the translation of the Bible into Latin, the language of the Roman Empire. It is known as the Vulgate, because it was designed for the use of ordinary or 'vulgar' people. 

Jerome was originally only asked to revise an existing Latin translation. However, his great contribution to Christian scholarship came because he was determined to translate the Old Testament not from Greek, but from the original Hebrew. Jewish scholars had translated the Old Testament into Greek as Hebrew passed out of use as a living language, and this 'Septuagint' translation was regarded as authoritative by Christians. But Jerome believed that only the original Hebrew was truly the word of God, and learned Hebrew in order to translate it into Latin. He had to overcome some official resistance to do so, but his translation became the authorised version used by the Roman Catholic Church to this day.

As well as translating from Hebrew, he also corrected translations from the Greek New Testament based on what he believed were the best versions available. 

Having travelled widely, Jerome spent the last decades of his life working in a cave near Bethlehem, supported by a group of followers including a wealthy widow, Paula. He wrote copiously, producing translations, letters, histories and commentaries. 

He is often portrayed in classical paintings as living in a desert, and a famous story tells of how he tamed a lion by healing its injured paw; there's often a lion in these paintings. 

Jerome carried on working into old age, though he was hindered by his deteriorating vision. He wrote: 'My eyes are growing dim with age and to some extent I share the suffering of the saintly Isaac: I am quite unable to go through the Hebrew books with such light as I have at night, for even in the full light of day they are hidden from my eyes owing to the smallness of the letters.' 

The Catholic Church honours Jerome as one of the four great Latin Doctors of the Church, with Augustine, Ambrose and Pope Gregory I. He is the patron saint of translators and librarians. 

Because of his association with translating the Bible to make it accessible to ordinary people, the Church has chosen today (30 September) to launch its new initiative aimed at encouraging Catholics to read and engage with the Bible. In partnership with Bible Society, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales has begun a 15-month campaign, 'The God who Speaks: The Year of the Word'.

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