St. Jerome – Humanist, Scholar, and Saint
St. Jerome (331-420) was a man steeped in classical learning who produced the first Latin translation of the Bible. His feast day is September 30. Leslie J. Hoppe, OFM, in his article on St. Jerome, “The Perils of a Bible Translator,” shows that this vocation is not for the faint of heart.
In the first place, understanding and translating the scriptures requires a secular knowledge of languages, history, and culture that can challenge faith. St. Jerome had a nightmare in which he came before Christ on Judgment Day and was found not to be a Christian but a Ciceronian. (This was a nightmare that became a reality for centuries of Christian students who had to master Classical Ciceronian Latin.)
Sometimes the translator or the Christian scholar finds things that might be better left alone. For example, what if some of the books appear to not be part of the original collection?
Today we often get upset if a translator changes the phrasing of passages which we love. When St. Jerome came out with his translation in the everyday language of the people, enough of them got so upset that there were riots in Tripoli. St. Augustine and other major teachers were very critical.
It is all very modern if it weren’t so ancient.
Portraying St. Jerome with a lion appears to have come from a medieval legend in with the saint pulls the thorn out of the paw of a lion and lives to tell the tale. Even if it is not true, it presents a very good picture of what it means to be a scripture scholar and translator.