Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
St. Jerome on the Bible
"Love Sacred Scripture and Wisdom Shall Love You"
H.H. Benedict XVI
November 14, 2007
Dear brothers and sisters!
Today we continue with the presentation of Saint Jerome. As we said last
Wednesday, he devoted his life to the study of the Bible, for which he
was acknowledged as "eminent doctor in the interpretation of sacred
Scripture" by one of my predecessors, Pope Benedict XV.
Jerome underlined the joy and importance of familiarizing oneself with
the biblical texts: "Don't you feel, here on Earth, that you are already
in the kingdom of heaven, just by living in these texts, meditating on
them, and not seeking anything else?" (Ep. 53,10).
In truth, to converse with God and with his word means to be in heaven's
presence, that is to say in God's presence. To draw close to the
biblical texts, above all to the New Testament, is essential for the
believer, because "ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." This
is his famous sentence, also quoted by the Second Vatican Council in the
constitution "Dei Verbum" (No. 25).
Truly "enchanted" by the Word of God, Jerome asked himself: "How could
we live without the science of Scriptures, through which we learn how to
know Christ himself, who is the life of the believer?" (Ep. 30,7). Hence
the Bible, the instrument "with which God speaks to the faithful every
day" (Ep. 133,13), becomes catalyst and source of Christian life for all
situations and for everyone.
To read Scripture is to converse with God: "If you are praying," he
writes to a noble young lady from Rome, "you are speaking with the
Groom; if you are reading, it is He who is speaking to you" (Ep. 22,25).
The study and meditation of Scripture makes man wise and at peace (cf.
In Eph., prol.). Certainly, to penetrate more deeply the word of God, a
constant and increasing practice is necessary. This is what Jerome
recommended to the priest Nepoziano: "Read the divine Scriptures with
much regularity; let the Holy Book never be laid down by your hands.
Learn there what you ought to teach (Ep. 52,7)."
To the Roman matron Leta he gave the following advice for the Christian
education of her daughter: "Make sure that every day she studies some
passages of Scripture. ... That she ensues from reading to praying and
from praying to reading. ... Instead of loving jewelry and silk
garments, may she rather love the divine books" (Ep. 107,9.12). With the
meditation and the science of the Scriptures one "maintains the balance
of the soul" (Ad Eph., prol.). Only through a deep spirit of prayer and
the help of the Holy Spirit are we able to understand the Bible: "For
the interpretation of sacred Scripture we always need the help of the
Holy Spirit" (In Mich. 1,1,10,15).
A passionate love for Scripture pervaded all of Jerome's life, a love
that he sought to also awaken in the faithful. To a spiritual daughter
he recommended: "Love sacred Scripture and wisdom shall love you; love
it tenderly, and it will protect you; honor it and you shall receive its
caresses. Let it mean to you as much as your necklaces and your earrings
mean to you" (Ep. 130,20). And again: "Love the science of Scripture,
and you shall not love the vices of the flesh" (Ep. 125,11).
A fundamental criterion Jerome used to interpret Scripture was to be in
tune with the magisterium of the Church. Alone we are not able to read
Scripture. We find too many closed doors and we are easily mistaken. The
Bible was written by the people of God, for the people of God, with the
inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Only in communion with the people of God
can we truly enter the core of the truth that God intends to convey us.
For him an authentic interpretation of the Bible always had to be in
harmony with the faith of the Catholic Church. This is not an external
requirement imposed on the book. The book itself is the voice of the
people of God in pilgrimage, and only in the faith of these people we
find the right frame of mind to understand sacred Scripture. Hence
Jerome warned: "Stay firmly attached to the traditional doctrine that
has been taught to you, so that you can preach according to the right
doctrine and refute those who contradict it" (Ep. 52,7).
In particular, given that Jesus Christ founded his Church on Peter, he
concluded that every Christian has to be in communion "with the chair of
St. Peter. I know that on this stone the Church is built" (Ep. 15,2).
Consequently, he declared: "I am with whoever is united to the chair of
St. Peter" (Ep. 16).
Jerome obviously does not neglect the ethical side. Rather often he
recalls the duty of reconciling life with the divine word, and that only
by living it we manage to understand it. Such coherence is necessary for
every Christian, especially for the preacher, to ensure that his actions
are not a source of embarrassment when conflicting with his speech. So
he urges the priest Nepoziano: "Let not your actions deny your words, so
that when you preach in church someone won't be able to say: 'Why don't
you act this way?' Interesting is the teacher who, with his belly full,
preaches about fasting -- even a thief can condemn greed -- but for the
priest of Christ the mind and word have to match" (Ep. 52,7).
In another letter Jerome confirms: "Even when mastering a wonderful
doctrine, he who is condemned by his own conscience will be shamed" (Ep.
127,4). Always in terms of coherence, he observes, the Gospel has to
translate into attitudes of true charity, because in every human being
Christ is present. For instance, when addressing Paolino (who became
bishop of Nola and then a saint), Jerome advises: "The true temple of
Christ is the soul of the faithful: adorn this sanctuary, embellish it,
put your offerings in it and receive Christ. To what purpose do you
adorn walls with precious stones, if Christ starves in the person of the
poor?" (Ep. 58,7).
Jerome continues: It is necessary "to dress Christ among the poor, to
visit him among the suffering, to nourish him among the starving, to
host him among the homeless" (Ep. 130,14). The love for Christ, fed with
study and meditation, makes us overcome any difficulty: "We love Jesus
Christ, we always search the union with him: then all that is difficult
will seem easy" (Ep. 22,40).
Jerome, defined as "a model of conduct and a master of the human kind"
by Prosper of Aquitaine ("Carmen de Ingratis," 57), also left us a rich
teaching on Christian asceticism. He reminds us that a courageous
engagement toward perfection requires a constant alertness, frequent
mortifications, even if with moderation and caution, an assiduous
intellectual or manual work to avoid idleness (cf Epp. 125.11 and
130,15), and above all obedience to God: "Nothing … pleases God as much
as obedience. ... That is the most outstanding and the sole virtue" (Hom.
De oboedientia: CCL 78,552).
The practice of pilgrimages can be included in the ascetic path. In
particular, Jerome gave impulse to pilgrimages to the Holy Land, where
pilgrims were welcomed and accommodated in the buildings built near
Bethlehem's monastery, thanks to the generosity of the noblewoman Paola,
Jerome's spiritual daughter (cf Ep. 108,14).
Finally, we have to mention Jerome's contribution to Christian pedagogy
(cf Epp. 107 and 128). He proposes to form "a soul that has to become
the temple of the Lord " (Ep. 107,4), a "most precious gem" to the eyes
of God (Ep. 107,13). With deep intuition he suggests to protect the soul
from evil and from sinful events, to exclude equivocal or wasteful
friendships (cf Ep. 107.4 and 8-9; cf also Ep. 128,3-4).
Above all he urges parents to create an environment of serenity and joy
around the children, to encourage them to study and work, also through
praise and emulation (cf Epp. 107,4 and 128,1), to encourage them to
overcome difficulties, to nurture in them good habits and protect them
from bad ones because -- here he quotes a phrase that Publilius Sirus
had heard as a schoolboy -- "you will barely succeed to correct those
things that you are getting used to do" (Ep. 107,8).
Parents are the primary educators for children, their first life
teachers. By addressing to the mother of a girl and then to her father,
with much clarity Jerome warns, as to express a fundamental requirement
of every human creature that is brought to existence: "May she find in
you her teacher, and may her inexperienced childhood look at you with
wonder. May she never see, neither in you nor in her father, any actions
that, if imitated, could lead her to sin. Remember that ... you can
educate her more with the example than with the word" (Ep. 107,9).
Among Jerome's main intuitions as a pedagogue we must underline the
importance attributed to a healthy and complete education since infancy,
as well as the special responsibility acknowledged to parents, the
urgency of a serious moral and religious education, and the need of
study for a more complete human formation.
Moreover, a vital aspect retained by the author but disregarded in
ancient times is the promotion of the woman, to whom he acknowledges the
right to a complete education: human, academic, religious, professional.
We actually see today that the true condition to any progress, peace,
reconciliation and exclusion of violence is the education of the person
in its entirety and the education in responsibility before God and
before man. Sacred Scripture offers us the guidance of education and of
We cannot conclude these rapid notes on the great Father of the Church
without mentioning his effective contribution to the safeguard of the
positive and valid elements of ancient Israeli, Greek and Roman cultures
in the rising Christian civilization. Jerome recognized and assimilated
the artistic values, the rich feelings and harmonic images of the
classics, which educate heart and fantasy to noble feelings.
Above all, he put the word of God at the center of his life and actions,
a word that shows to man the paths of life and discloses the secrets of
holiness. Today we can't be but deeply grateful to Jerome for all this.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in six
languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In this week's catechesis we continue our reflections on Saint Jerome,
the priest and scholar who was responsible for the Latin translation of
the Bible known as the Vulgate. Convinced that "ignorance of the
Scriptures is ignorance of Christ", Jerome everywhere urged the daily,
prayerful study of the word of God. He insisted that the correct
interpretation of the Scriptures demands not only the interior
assistance of the Holy Spirit but also conformity to the Church's
authoritative teaching. Jerome stressed the importance for all
Christians, but especially for preachers, of ensuring that their lives
accord with the ethical teaching offered in the sacred texts. Devotion
to the word of God also shaped Jerome's ascetic doctrine, which
emphasized the virtue of obedience and encouraged the pious practice of
pilgrimage, particularly to the Holy Land. Finally, by his spiritual
counsel, especially to parents, he emphasized the importance of a broad
and disciplined Christian education for the young, including women.
Jerome's integration of the enduring values of classical civilization
and the wisdom of the inspired word of God made him one of the great
figures of the emerging Christian culture of late antiquity.
I am pleased to greet the English-speaking visitors present at today's
Audience, especially those from England, Denmark, Japan, Canada and the
United States of America. I greet especially the Sisters of Saint Anne
of Tiruchirapalli, who are preparing to celebrate the one hundred and
fiftieth anniversary of their foundation. Upon all of you I cordially
invoke an abundance of joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.
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