The Catholic Church has St. Jerome to thank for the Latin version of the Bible that was its standard text for fifteen hundred years. Taking its name from vulgus the Latin word for ordinary people, Jerome’s Bible was known as the Vulgate.
Jerome, a very bright young man, came to Rome from Dalmatia (where Albania is today.) While engaged in classical studies, he became attracted to the monasteries founded on the Egyptian model. (People who didn’t care for Jerome said he only sought Baptism as an entry ticket for a monastery.) Pope Damasus took him from the monastery to help him in administrative work, giving Jerome to think he would succeed him as pope. But at the death of Pope’s Damasus Jerome found he had made so many enemies that he would do well to flee from Rome. He settled in the Holy Land where he worked translating the Bible. In 1954 Phyllis McGinley wrote a poem about Jerome’s temper.
God’s angry saint, his crotchety scholar
Was St. Jerome, the great name caller.
He couldn’t stand Romans, he couldn’t stand Greeks,
He couldn’t stand women for their painted cheeks.
He couldn’t stand pagans for their pagan ways,
But he doted on Cicero all his days.
As I remember it, the poem concluded with:
But he filled the world wit a Christian leaven,
It takes all kinds to make a heaven.
After translating the New Testament from Greek into Latin, Jerome laid aside that translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek known as the Septuagint. That is the Latin word for seventy, and it got that name from being the work of seventy Jewish scholars working in Alexandria in 200 B.C.. Jerome felt his direct translation from Hebrew texts was an improvement on the Septuagint, but all scholars do not back him on that.
Jerome was in Jerusalem in 410 when he heard that Alaric, king of the Visigoths, had sacked Rome. He wrote:
When the bright light of the world was put out, or rather
when the Roman Empire was decapitated, the whole
world perished in one city.
Everything, however long, has its end; the centuries that have passed
never return, and its true to say that all that begins must perish.
But Rome! Who would believe that Rome would have collapsed?