In his Apostolic Letter Scripturae Sacrae Affectus, published today, 16 centuries after the death of the author of the Vulgate, Francis emphasises the great relevance for 21st century Christians of a text that “leads every reader to the mystery of Jesus.” Thanks to the anniversary, Christians turn “to the extraordinary missionary vitality expressed by the fact that the word of God has been translated into more than three thousand languages.”
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis today issued an Apostolic Letter, Scripturae Sacrae Affectus, to mark the 1,600th anniversary of the death of Saint Jerome, author of the Vulgate.
In it, the Pope calls on the faithful to carry a pocket-size Bible, on public transit for example, so that they can “Read the divine Scriptures constantly” and “never let the sacred volume fall from your hand”.
For the pontiff, the translator of the Old Testament from ancient Hebrew into Latin remains a “figure of enduring relevance for us, the Christians of the twenty-first century” because “he leads every reader to the mystery of Jesus” in a age of illiteracy, not only about religion but also because of a lack of “hermeneutic skills that make us credible interpreters and translators of our own cultural tradition”.
Jerome was a fine interpreter of Biblical texts, and during his lifetime, he “consciously chose the desert and the eremitic life for their deeper meaning as a locus of fundamental existential decisions, of closeness and encounter with God.”
“To understand Saint Jerome’s personality fully, we need to unite two dimensions that characterized his life as a believer: on the one hand, an absolute and austere consecration to God, renouncing all human satisfaction for love of Christ crucified (cf. 1 Cor 2:2; Phil 3:8.10), and on the other, a commitment to diligent study, aimed purely at an ever deeper understanding of the Christian mystery.”
Ordained a priest in Antioch around 379 AD, Jerome went first to Constantinople and then Rome, where in 382 AD he became a close aide to Pope Damasus. Upon the latter’s death, Jerome left the city for Bethlehem, the city where Jesus was born. There he established two monasteries, one for men and one for women, with homes to welcome pilgrims. “This was yet another sign of his generosity, for he made it possible for many others to see and touch the places of salvation history, and to find both cultural and spiritual enrichment.”
“Jerome’s years in Bethlehem, to the time of his death in 420, were the most fruitful and intense period of his life, completely dedicated to the study of Scripture and to the monumental work of translating the entire Old Testament on the basis of the original Hebrew. At the same time, he commented on the prophetic books, the Psalms and the letters of Paul, and wrote guides to the study of the Bible.”
“Jerome’s scholarly activity can serve as an example of synodality for us and for our own time. It can also serve as a model for the Church’s various cultural institutions, called to be ‘places where knowledge becomes service, for no genuine and integral human development can occur without a body of knowledge that is the fruit of cooperation and leads to greater cooperation’.”
“Jerome can truly be called the ‘library of Christ’, a perennial library that, sixteen centuries later, continues to teach us the meaning of Christ’s love, a love that is inseparable from an encounter with his word. This is why the present anniversary can be seen as a summons to love what Jerome loved, to rediscover his writings and to let ourselves be touched by his robust spirituality, which can be described in essence as a restless and impassioned desire for a greater knowledge of the God who chose to reveal himself.”
Through the Vulgate, Jerome succeeded in “inculturating” the Bible in the Latin language and culture. His work became a permanent paradigm for the missionary activity of the Church.”
“With the celebration of this anniversary of the death of Saint Jerome, our gaze turns to the extraordinary missionary vitality expressed by the fact that the word of God has been translated into more than three thousand languages. To how many missionaries do we owe the invaluable publication of grammars, dictionaries and other linguistic tools that enable greater communication and become vehicles for “the missionary aspiration of reaching everyone”! We need to support this work and invest in it, helping to overcome limits in communication and lost opportunities for encounter”.
Finally, “I would like to pose a challenge to young people in particular: begin exploring your heritage. Christianity makes you heirs of an unsurpassed cultural patrimony of which you must take ownership. Be passionate about this history which is yours. Dare to fix your gaze on the young Jerome who, like the merchant in Jesus’ parable, sold all that he had in order to buy the ‘pearl of great price’.”