Above: St. Jerome with Sts. Paula and Eustochium
Artist = Francisco de Zurbaran
Image in the Public Domain
SAINT JEROME (347-419)
Translator of the Vulgate
His feast transferred from September 30
SAINT PAULA OF ROME (MAY 5, 547-404)
Abbess at Bethlehem
Her feast transferred from January 26
SAINT EUSTOCHIUM (CIRCA 369-CIRCA 419)
Abbess at Bethlehem
Her feast transferred from September 28
SAINT BLAESILLA (CIRCA 363-383)
Her feast transferred from January 22
SAINT MARCELLA (325-AUGUST 410)
Her feast transferred from January 31
SAINT LEA OF ROME (DIED IN 384)
Her feast transferred from March 22
Among my purposes in the renovation of my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days is to emphasize relationships and influences. Hence I have created this post, in which I tell the stories of six saints with overlapping stories.
St. Jerome, born Eusebius Hieronymus Sophrinus, at Strido, Dalmatia, in 347, came from a wealthy pagan family. He studied in Rome and became an attorney. The saint, baptized in 385, had an actual conversion experience during his subsequent study of theology. St. Jerome became a monk and lived as a hermit in the Syrian desert. Eventually he became a priest. Then he studied under St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger (330-390). Starting in 382, St. Jerome served as the secretary of Pope St. Damasus I (reigned 366-384), who commissioned him to translate the Bible into Latin.
In Rome St. Jerome formed some consequential friendships. Among his friends was St. Paula of Rome (May 5, 347-404), of Roman noble origin. She was the widow (from 379, at the age of 32 years) of Senator Toxotius. She was also the mother of five children, including St. Eustochium (circa 369-circa 419) and Blaesilla (circa 363-383). St. Paula devoted her fortune and the rest of her life to helping the poor spiritually and physically. St. Blaesilla, married for a mere seven months before becoming a widow, consecrated the rest of her brief life to God. She studied the Hebrew language and died of a fever at the age of 20 years in 383. St. Eustochium became a student of St. Jerome in 382. She took a vow of perpetual virginity. She also spoke Greek and Latin and read Hebrew.
In Rome St. Jerome also befriended St. Marcella (325-August 410), of Roman noble origin. She, married for only seven months before becoming a widow, chose to remain single for the rest of her life. (In her society a single woman had more freedom than a married widow; Elaine Pagels taught me that in Adam, Eve, and the Serpent.) St. Marcella organized a group of Christian women at her mansion on the Aventine Hill; they served the poor. Among the members of this group was St. Lea of Rome (died in 384), a widow from a noble Roman family. She lived as an ascetic, a choice of which St. Jerome approved. He wrote favorably of her, in fact. St. Jerome was the spiritual director of the group. St. Marcella disagreed with St. Jerome from time to time and held her own ground. He was a frequently irascible man prone to speaking and writing invectives. As the biography of him in A Great Cloud of Witnesses: A Calendar of Commemorations (2016) concludes,
A militant champion of orthodoxy, an indefatigable worker, and a stylist of rare gifts, Jerome was seldom pleasant, but at least he was never dull.
He also retained close friendships, held high ideals, and condemned Arianism, Origenism, and Pelagianism.
St. Jerome’s friendships with Sts. Paula and Eustochium prompted much malicious gossip. After the death of Pope St. Damasus I he relocated to Bethlehem. There St. Jerome spent his final 34 years, completing the translation of the Vulgate, translating other works (including those of Origen), and composing original works. He also taught Greek and Latin to children. St. Paula, author of his biography, arrived in 396. She encouraged St. Jerome and build churches, a hospice, a monastery, and a convent. She also served as the first abbess of that convent. Her daughter, St. Eustochium, helped St. Jerome translate the Vulgate, worked as his housekeeper, and read and wrote for him when his eyesight began to fail. St. Paula died in 404. St. Eustochium succeeded her as abbess. She died circa 419, the same year St. Jerome died.
St. Marcella, who spent much time reading, praying, and visiting the shrines of martyrs, became a martyr herself. In 410, when the Visigoths, led by Alaric, attacked Rome, they captured and tortured her. They sought to force her to surrender her treasures, but were angered and disappointed to learn that she had given all her treasures to the poor. She died of the injuries the Visigoths had inflicted upon her.
The combination of these saints’ stories into a unified whole makes at least one point, which is that all kinds of people can be saints and glorify God with their lives. An irascible man can give the world an influential translation of the Bible. A widow can dedicate herself to the service of God in the poor and encourage others in their sacred vocations. A woman who has chosen never to marry can help translate the Bible.
Lesbia Scott (1898-1986) wrote “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” in 1929. The unaltered final stanza read:
They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still,
The world is bright with the joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
In a church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
For the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too.
The saints of God glorify and enjoy God as they struggle with their sinful nature. They persevere; that is what separates them from others. I intend to be a saint too. What about you, O reader?
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
NOVEMBER 24, 2016 COMMON ERA
THANKSGIVING DAY (U.S.A.)
THE FEAST OF WILLIAM COOKE AND BENJAMIN WEBB, ANGLICAN PRIESTS AND TRANSLATORS OF HYMNS
THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANDREW DUNG-LAC AND PETER THI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS IN VIETNAM
Almighty God, by your Holy Spirit you have made us one with your saints in heaven and on earth:
Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may always be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer,
and know your power and mercy.
We ask this for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom all our intercessions are acceptable through the Spirit,
and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 2:7-11
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
—Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 726