On the feast of St. Jerome, at least very short post is in order. We are all well aware of the fact that St. Jerome was the greatest Scripture scholar of the early Church. He knew many languages, he translated the Bible, he worked with manuscripts. He was also the most respected commentator – until the most recent years, St. Jerome was the Church Father most often read in the Divine Office. It is arguable that St. Jerome was the most intelligent man in the world during his time, he certainly had an incredible capacity for learning new things and remembering even the smallest details of things he had learnt long ago.
It strikes me, then, as particularly interesting that this Father most closely associated with the Bible got some of the most important biblical questions wrong! St. Jerome did not consider much of what the Protestants now call the deuterocanonical books to be part of the Canon of Scripture. The great scholar, at the time when the Canon was being formed, took the wrong side – favoring the late Judaic Hebrew Canon over the Judaic Greek Alexandrian Canon (which is very close to the one we now accept).
It was not St. Jerome who led the Church through this most difficult crisis, but St. Augustine. Though a bishop, St. Augustine did not know Greek well and he didn’t know anything of Hebrew. St. Jerome was far superior to the Bishop of Hippo when it came to biblical theology, knowledge of the Bible, and knowledge of languages…yet God chose St. Augustine to be the Father most instrumental in giving the Canon of Scripture to the Church.
Perhaps, behind the historical facts, there is a deeper lesson to be learned. Though less “scholarly,” St. Augustine was a bishop; St. Jerome was only a priest. St. Augustine was entrusted by God and the Church with the care of the flock and was given the particular charism of teaching the faith. This historical event is a good example of the way in which God guides his people through the pastors of the Church – that is through the bishops in union with the Pope.
I do not say any of this to detract from St. Jerome – in fact, the friendship which developed between Sts. Jerome and Augustine is a great witness to the humility and sanctity of the often ill-tempered scholar. May this example of humble submission to the teaching authority of the Church inspire the scripture scholars of our day!
St. Jerome, pray for us!