Pope Francis on love for Scripture

30th September 2020 marks 1600 years since the traditional date of the death of St Jerome, one of the early Church’s most fascinating and learned characters.

Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ (St Jerome)

Born around 340AD in Dalmatia (the western part modern Croatia), he studied in Rome, was baptised and – after a number of years travelling Eurpoe and the Middle East, and discovering the monastic and ascetical life, he was ordained a priest. Having returned to Rome around 382AD and spent some time there as secretary to Pope St Damasus, he travelled to the Holy Land where he spent many years in Bethlehem, frmo about 386AD until his death in 420AD), studying the Greek and Hebrew texts of the Bible in order to produce a translation into the contemporary language of the time, the common version of Latin, called the “lingua vulgata”, or “language of the people”. His aim was to make the riches of the Word of God accessible to the people of his time. The mammoth work which came frmo his long labours and researches is known to us today as the Vulgate version of the Bible, and it has had an immense influence on how we understand the biblical texts. For many centuries, it has been the “official” or “authoritative” version of the Scriptures in the Latin-rite Church.

To mark the occasion (and the 10th anniversary of Pope Benedict’s Exhortation on Scripture, Verbum Domini), Pope Francis has written an “Apostolic Letter” called “Scripturae Sacrae Affectus” (“the Love of Sacred Scripture”) encouraging us to follow St Jerome’s example of devotion to the Sacred Scriptures, to go to them regularly for prayer and study. As Pope Francis writes, St Jerome saw the study of Scripture not as an academic or purely intellectual endeavour but as “a spiritual exercise and a means of drawing closer to God”. Indeed, St Jerome “devoted himself to the study of sacred Scripture not for aesthetic reasons, but – as is well known – only because Scripture had led him to know Christ.” For this reason, it is St Jerome who gave us the famous dictum: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”

In this Letter, Pope Francis speaks of scripture scholars and biblical experts; he speaks to priests and bishops who must go to the Scriptures regularly for nourishment in prayer and for preaching, encouraging them to be guides to their fellow-Christians who seek to enter into the Bible’s riches but are sometimes overwhelmed by its ‘strangeness’. He speaks of the importance of translation and the important work of mission which resides in the effort to interpret and translate biblical language and images into the language of people. He invites families to rediscover the place of the Scriptures in their lives and to be more familiar in reading the Bible.

And he speaks very directly to young people, that they might discover the beauties of their heritage and take up the search for beauty, meaning and truth, looking to Jerome as an example of one who discovered Christ, the pearl of great price.

To read the document, click here or on the famous picture of St Jerome by the artist, Caravaggio, which Pope Francis mentions in the Letter.

May we develop and deepen that “living and tender love” for Sacred Scriptures that inspired St Jerome and which Pope Francis now invites us all to rediscover!

St Jerome by Caravaggio (Borghese Gallery, Rome)

I often think of the experience a young person can have today entering a bookshop in his or her city, or visiting an Internet site, to look for the section on religious books. In most cases, this section, when it exists, is not only marginal but poorly stocked with works of substance. Looking at those bookshelves or webpages, it is difficult for a young person to understand 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. One of the problems we face today, not only in religion, is illiteracy: the hermeneutic skills that make us credible interpreters and translators of our own cultural tradition are in short supply. I would like to pose a challenge to young people in particular: begin exploring your heritage. 

Pope Francis, Scripturae Sacrae Affectus