The Lord has often used people in church history whom we may not have liked had we lived during their days. Jerome, for example. He possessed a brilliant mind, a sharp tongue, hot blood, and thin skin. He was a contrarian, remembered as one of the church’s most irritable scholars and among the first of the great Bible translators who have spread the gospel abroad.
Jerome was an Italian, born about 330, who early fell in love with women and books. After indulging in the former, he joined an ascetic group to enjoy the latter; but his sandpaper personality caused the group to disintegrate. As Jerome struggled to control his sexual energy, he began advancing the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. He believed that after Jesus’ birth, Mary continued to live a virgin’s life; and his own Herculean efforts to remain celibate led to his so exalting virginity that he considered marriage beneficial only because it brought virgins into the world.
Perhaps the answer for him was a hermit’s life in the desert, practicing severe self-disciplines. It didn’t work. He still dreamed of Roman dancing girls. Returning to Rome, he faced the temptations head-on and avoided the dancing girls. But he didn’t avoid Paula, a young widow who became, not a sexual partner, but a lifelong soulmate. In Rome in the early 380s he discovered his life’s work. Pope Damasus suggested he prepare a new Latin version of the Gospels and Psalms. Jerome set to work on it, and for the next 22 years he labored tirelessly as a Bible translator.
His sharp tongue made trouble in Rome, so he and Paula moved to Bethlehem in 386. Near the birthplace of Jesus, they established separate monasteries for men and women where Jerome balanced his need for companionship with a corresponding need for solitude, study, and asceticism. He poured himself into the Latin translation of the Bible, his life’s crowning achievement. He died, white-haired and wrinkled, on September 30, 420.
With my whole heart I agree with the Law of God. But in every part of me I discover something fighting against my mind, and it makes me a prisoner of sin that controls everything I do. What a miserable person I am. Who will rescue me … ? Thank God! Jesus Christ will rescue me. (Romans 7:22-25a)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Sept. 30.