By his letter, “Francis is reiterating the call of Dei Verbum, the great Vatican II document on Revelation, that there should be a revival of Biblical study in the life of the Church,” Bishop Barron said.
In the letter, Pope Francis said that the anniversary of the saint’s death “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.”
“How can we not heed, in our day, the advice that Jerome unceasingly gave to his contemporaries: ‘Read the divine Scriptures constantly; never let the sacred volume fall from your hand’?” the pope asked.
Jared Staudt, an associate professor of theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colorado, told CNA that the pope's letter recognizes an important saint for contemporary Christians.
“I’m very happy to see Pope Francis highlighting the 1600th anniversary of Jerome’s death. There are certain personalities that rise above the ebb and flow of history. Jerome truly stands as a man for all times, and has much to teach us about learning, culture, and holiness. A feisty personality, who could enter into a strong disagreement, he remained above all a faithful man of the Church,” Staudt said.
“Francis has called for greater literacy of the Gospel and the great heritage of Catholic culture. Following St. Jerome, Catholics should enter more deeply into the study of the Bible, as well as the great works of classical and Christian literature, overcoming our culture’s lack of substance to be able to serve as ‘credible interpreters and translators of our own cultural tradition,’” the theologian added.
In his letter, Pope Francis made a particular appeal to young people, challenging them to explore their intellectual and spiritual heritage as Christians.
“Christianity makes you heirs of an unsurpassed cultural patrimony of which you must take ownership,” he urged. “Be passionate about this history which is yours.”
The pope's letter said that many people in contemporary society lack religious literacy; that “the hermeneutic skills that make us credible interpreters and translators of our own cultural tradition are in short supply,” he argued.
Young people, he said, should be given the opportunity to learn “how the quest of religious truth can be a passionate adventure that unites heart and mind; how the thirst for God has inflamed great minds throughout the centuries up to the present time; how growth in the spiritual life has influenced theologians and philosophers, artists and poets, historians and scientists.”
Staudt affirmed the pope's recognition of the intellectual life.
“The intellectual life remains a crucial element of the Christian apostolate. Christ is the Word and our own minds must become attuned to his truth. St. Jerome reminds us in Catholic education of the importance of understanding words and meaning so that we can enter into the revelation of the Word of God. Attention to the words of Scripture requires effort and is meant to lead us into an encounter of prayerful contemplation,” Staudt explained.
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“St. Jerome used his extensive classical learning, purified by years of fasting and penance, at the service of the Church. With the huge spike in classical education in recent years, Jerome provides a model of integrating a robust intellectual life with an ardent pursuit of holiness,” the theologian explained. “His grasp of grammar and rhetoric were profound, yet he used them in humble service of the Gospel.”
Pope Francis said there are two dimensions which characterize St. Jerome and help his personality to be understood: one is his “absolute and austere consecration to God” and the other is his “commitment to diligent study, aimed purely at an ever deeper understanding of the Christian mystery.”
St. Jerome also serves as a model for monks and for scholars, “who should always keep in mind that knowledge has religious value only if it is grounded in an exclusive love for God, apart from all human ambition and worldly aspiration,” Francis noted.
Jerome lived from around 345 to 420. He spent much of his life in Rome or in the Holy Land, where he died.
The Doctor of the Church translated, among many other works, the books of Scripture into Latin, giving the Church what is known as the “Vulgate.”
“Francis points out that Jerome’s Vulgate stimulated the development of Christian culture. As Catholics return more and more to the study of Scripture, we can hope that this will reorder our minds, imaginations, and hearts to guide us in our own needed work of rebuilding. Like Jerome, we must translate and transmit the Gospel to our generation, allowing the Word of God to shape our efforts in the New Evangelization,” Staudt said.