Saint Jerome
Prominent Istrians



Woman’s Work In Bible Study And Translation 

By A.H. Johns, A.M. 

This interesting article recounts the story of Sts. Jerome, Marcella, Paula and her daughter Eustochium and the role the women played in the translation of the Latin Vulgate.

During the past year much has been said and written regarding the King James version of the Bible—a version which, fortunately for our glorious English speech, was made when England, as has happily been expressed, was "a nest of song birds." The celebration of the tercentenary of the completion of this notable undertaking was, among other things, a tribute to the memory of those who builded a monument of literature that will endure as long as the imperishable creations of Milton and Shakespeare. But, while the Protestant world recalls the labors of those whose purpose, three centuries ago, was to bring the Word of God to the knowledge of the masses, and who, in doing so, fixed for all time the vigorous and solemn character of "English undefiled," let us not forget those who, twelve centuries before, were engaged in similar labors, and whose efforts, notwithstanding all kinds of handicaps, were crowned with even more signal success. 

I refer to the Latin translation of the Bible, usually known as the Vulgate. In the opinion of most people, this stupendous work was wholly and solely the work of one man—the famous father and doctor of the Church, St. Jerome. In a certain sense this opinion is well founded; in another it is entirely erroneous. Most of the actual work of translation, it is true, was performed by St. Jerome, but, had it not been for three Roman women of noblest patrician birth, it is safe to say that the Vulgate, as we now know it, would never have been completed, and most probably never have been begun.

The story of this Herculean task reads more like a romance than veritable history. It is the story of genius overcoming untold difficulties, of energy and perseverance in the face of the seemingly impossible. But it is above all a story of the value of woman's cooperation in a noble cause, of the far-reaching effects of woman's influence . . . . Indeed, it may safely be said that we have not in all history a more extraordinary instance of the paramount importance of feminine collaboration in things of the mind, or of the efficacy of her benign influence, when guided by affectionate zeal and by keen and lofty intelligence, than in the production of the Vulgate. 

The chief characters in our story are Jerome, Marcella, Paula and her daughter Eustochium, all four of whom are honored as saints in the Catholic Church. 

The Church of the Household is notable in Church history, for the lectures and instructions on Scripture and cognate subjects, which Jerome, after his return from the desert of Syria, gave in it for a period of three years. Never before had Rome witnessed such ardor in the study of Scripture, and never before or since was there assembled for such study so distinguished and so intelligent a group of women of every age. So great progress in the knowledge of Scripture had some of them made—notably Marcella, a woman of remarkable mentality—that they were consulted by laity and clergy alike on difficult passages of Holy Writ. But such was the modesty of Marcella that she never gave an opinion as her own. She always said she but repeated what she had learned from her master. 

After the death of his friend and protector, Pope Damasus, Jerome was unable to resist any longer the lure of the Orient, where he had spent so many happy years. The desert and a life of solitude had, during his sojourn in Rome, lost none of its attractions for him. Accordingly, in May, 385, he set sail from Ostia for Antioch, accompanied by the regrets and the tears of the inmates of his loved school on the Aventine. They had all learned to revere him as their father and master in the spiritual life, and for them his departure was regarded as little less than a calamity. 

But Jerome was not the only one who had felt the lure of the desert, or who had been impressed by the charms of the life led by the solitaries of the Thebaid. After the death of her husband, and still more after the death of her cherished daughter, the brilliant Blesilla, Paula determined to flee from the distractions and commotions of Rome, and seek peace and tranquillity where it had been found by so many thousands of others—in the wilderness of Syria or Egypt. Years previously a noble Roman matron, Melania by name, and a friend of Paula's, and descended from the same gens as herself, had, with a number of women friends, sought and found peace and happiness in the Thebaid, where they spent ten years. After this Melania built a convent for herself and companions on the Mount of Olives, whence they wrote such glowing accounts of the delights of monastic life, away from the noise and turmoil of the world, that many were induced to follow their example. 

It was only a few months after Jerome's departure from Rome, when Paula and Eustochium, accompanied by a large number of consecrated virgins and widows, set sail from Portus Romanus, at the mouth of the Tiber, for Cyprus, where Paula received a cordial welcome from her old friend, St. Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis. After a short visit here, the travelers continued their voyage, and soon arrived at Antioch where they were met by their father and friend, Jerome. 

So eager was Paula to see the holy places in Palestine, and to visit the monasteries in Egypt, about which she had heard so much through her friend Melania, that she made preparations to continue without delay the rest of the journey by land. She induced Jerome to accompany the party, in order that all might profit by his knowledge of the places visited, and of the history and traditions in which the countries to be visited were so rich. They could not have had a better guide, or one more competent to make their pilgrimage interesting and profitable. Their journeyings in the Holy Land and Egypt, in both of which countries, under the guidance of Jerome, they investigated everything with the keen interest and thoroughness of trained Scriptural students, lasted a whole year. The Holy Land first engaged their attention, after which they went to the land of the Nile. So fascinated was Paula with the lives of the anchorets, whom she visited in their desert homes in Nitria and Arsinoe, that she wished to spend the remainder of her days in Egypt in a life of penance and contemplation. Jerome, however, was averse to this, and persuaded her to establish a home for herself and companions in Bethlehem, near the grotto of the Nativity. Returning then, from Egypt to Bethlehem, Paula had two monasteries erected, one for women—two more were subsequently constructed—over which she presided, and one for men, under the direction of Jerome. 

Paula and Eustochium lost no time in resuming those studies, interrupted by their long voyage from Rome. While their monasteries were being built they begged Jerome to read with them, in Hebrew, the entire Bible from the beginning to the end, and explain all difficulties as they presented themselves. They had hitherto studied the Sacred Books according to their special attraction at the time, now one, now another. Jerome tried, but in vain, to decline this delicate and laborious task. But, as in Rome, he was finally forced to yield to the entreaties of Paula and Eustochium. Writing of Paula many years afterwards, he says, "She compelled me"—compulit me" to read, with explanations, the Old and the New Testament to her and her daughter." 

This reading of the Bible together excited in the two women a desire to make a still more profound study of each of the books of the Sacred Text—especially the epistles of St. Paul. In searching for commentaries on the perplexing letters of the Apostle of the Gentiles, they discovered that there was practically nothing in Latin, and that, in Greek, only Origen had written a few authorized tracts. Commentators had hitherto recoiled before the attempt to explain writings that bristled with such countless difficulties. Paula then begged Jerome to undertake an exegesis of the great apostle, but he shrank in terror from so gigantic a task. Unable to overcome his objections directly, Paula tried to secure by address what she so much desired. She accordingly besought him to interpret the short epistle to Philemon, which consists of but a single chapter. In this wise Jerome found himself committed, in spite of himself, to the great work which the noble matron had so much at heart. For, after the exegesis of St. Paul was once begun, she would no longer accept any further excuses from the reluctant master, and thus she obtained one commentary after another on all the books of the Bible. 

From this time dates that holy and happy influence which Paula and Eustochium began to exercise over the genius and the labors of St. Jerome, an influence which persisted until the time of their death; an influence which, as we shall soon see, ripened in the most abundant and beautiful fruitage. 

Jerome—and shall we not say the same of Paula and Eustochium?—was at last fairly started on his great life-work—the work that has won for him the admiration and the gratitude of all succeeding ages. All that he had previously accomplished was but a preparation for the grand achievements that were to follow, under the inspiration of the two peerless women that were always at his side to assist and encourage him in times of difficulties and trials. It was now that his studies in Rome, his travels and researches in Gaul, Italy, Greece and Syria, Egypt and Palestine stood him in good stead, and enabled him to achieve what would otherwise have been impossible, and what would have been far beyond the strength and ability of any of his contemporaries. 

Jerome was now fifty-five years of age, in the zenith of his magnificent intellect, in the full vigor of a mind stored with the accumulated learning and wisdom of a life devoted to unremitted study and contemplation. But what was incomparably more to him and to the world, he had near him two extraordinarily gifted and sympathetic souls, who thoroughly understood him, and who knew how to direct his prodigious energy and stimulate his genius to the loftiest flights. Most of his work was undertaken at their instance, and completed through their enthusiastic co-operation. Their wish was his pleasure; their request a command which he made haste to execute. This is evidenced everywhere in his letters, and especially in the prefaces to his many translations and commentaries. 

On one occasion Paula desired to have a translation of Origen's commentaries on St. Luke for the use of the inmates of her convent. Although Jerome was then engaged in a work by which he set great store, he at once interrupted it in order to comply with Paula's desire. "You see," he writes her, "what weight a wish of yours has with me, for I have, without hesitation, discontinued my great work on Hebraic Questions to assume, at your request, the dry and ungrateful role of translator." On another occasion, when, in spite of his ardor, he seemed on the point of losing courage on account of the magnitude of the difficulties which confronted him, he was prevailed on by the incessant entreaties of Eustochium—Quia tu, Eustochium, indesinenter, flagitas—to complete one of the great works which had been begun at the request of herself and her mother. On still another occasion, he was on the point of leaving a peculiarly difficult task unfinished, but after listening to Paula's arguments against such a proceeding, he ended by gratifying her wish, remarking, "Obsequar igitur voluntati tuae—I shall submit to your will." 

The intellectual activity of Jerome, while working under the inspiration of his two incomparable friends, was marvellous, and the amount of work, which he accomplished under their benign influence, and with their efficient co-operation, was enormous. There were commentaries on the Old and New Testament, translations from the noted Greek doctors, and letters innumerable to all points of the compass. From all parts of the Roman Empire Jerome was appealed to as an oracle on all matters pertaining to Scripture, or to traditions and doctrines based on Scripture. Besides this, he found himself engaged in the violent controversies concerning the teachings of Origen and Pelagius—controversies, which demanded much of his time, and withdrew him from his more congenial work on the Bible. But Paula and Eustochium saw to it that these interruptions did not interfere with their plans for an undertaking on which they had so long set their hearts—a work which was to be the culmination of the master's achievements. This was nothing less than a complete Latin version of the Old Testament from the Hebrew original. All Jerome's previous labors, before the inception of this colossal task, had paved the way for this supreme effort, and nothing, after the task was actually begun, was permitted for long to retard its progress or to militate against its ultimate termination. 

At the urgent request of Paula, Jerome had, shortly after the completion of the monasteries in Bethlehem, made what was partly a new Latin translation of the Bible from the Septuagint, and partly a revision of the old Italic version, which was in many respects seriously defective. This great work, however, which, unfortunately, has been almost entirely lost, was but a prelude to the more difficult and more important translation from the Hebrew. 

M. Ozanam does not hesitate to declare that this version of the Bible from the original text was one of the most daring, as well as one of the greatest, projects ever conceived. It was also one of the most important to the western or Latin Church, for as yet it had no direct translation from the Hebrew, while the Greek Church had no less than three, besides the Septuagint. The old Italic version, as well as Jerome's revision of it, and version from the Septuagint, was nothing more than a translation of a translation. The time had come, however, when a Latin version from the original Hebrew was an imperative necessity. Jerome, with his vast encyclopedic knowledge, was the only man who was then sufficiently versed in Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Chaldaic to attempt such a work. But no one realized more clearly than he did the magnitude of such a bold and difficult enterprise. Nevertheless, stimulated and encouraged by Paula and Eustochium, he set himself to work with his usual energy, and with all the ardor of one in the bloomy flush of early manhood. 

This is not the place to recount the part, which Paula and Eustochium had in this huge undertaking, but it can be truthfully said that its history is intimately woven with their own history, and that the great fecundity of their lives in Bethlehem, or rather their providential mission in the Church, is exhibited at its best in Jerome’s version of the Bible, long known as the Vulgate. 

When Jerome began actual work on his opus majus, he was in his sixtieth year—at an age when, according to certain modern pseudo-economists, men should be retired from the sphere of active life. He was also in delicate health, but his intellect was as clear and his mind as active and as vigorous as ever. But neither weight of years nor impaired health could restrain his impetuous nature, or render him less eager to comply with the wishes of his perfervid friends, respecting a work before which any other man of his age and infirmities would have recoiled as before the impossible. 

The version from the Hebrew was not made in the usual sequence of the Sacred Books, beginning with the first and ending with the last, but according to the demands of the polemic of the time, or the expressed preferences of Paula and others, to whose wishes he cheerfully deferred. 

The part of the Bible first translated was the first Book of Kings. No sooner had he completed this portion of his work than Jerome submitted it to Paula and Eustochium for their criticism, so great was his confidence in their capacity and judgment. "Read my book of Kings," he writes. "Yes, my book, for it is truly ours which has been produced by such profound study and such arduous toil. Read also the Latin and Greek editions and compare them with my version." 

And they did read and compare and criticise. And more than this, they frequently suggested modifications and corrections, which the great man accepted with touching humility and incorporated in a revised copy. It may indeed be confidently asserted that no two persons since their time have more thoroughly and more lovingly studied and compared the Latin, Greek and Hebrew texts of the Scriptures, or have more completely made this occupation the work of their lives, than did Paula and Eustochium. And it would be difficult to name any other two persons that possessed a greater mastery of the three languages required, all of which they spoke with precision and fluency. Even that eminent doctor of the Church, St. Augustine, who devoted so much of his life to the study and interpretation of Scripture, was far from being proficient in Greek, and knew practically nothing of Hebrew. 

But the service which Paula and Eustochium rendered to the venerable hermit was not limited to their criticism, advice and encouragement, to which he attached so much importance, and on which he so greatly relied for the perfection of his work. Far from it. It was Paula, who procured for him at her own expense, the books and rare manuscripts, which were essential to the successful execution of his work. This was no small assistance; for in those days the books and manuscripts that Jerome most needed—like Origen's Hexapla for instance—were exceedingly rare, and were worth their weight in gold. 

Yet more. Much as has already been said of the share of these noble women in the great scholar's translations and commentaries, the most remarkable fact—a fact almost unknown—remains to be told. Under Jerome's direction, they undertook the delicate and important work of copying and revising Biblical manuscripts, in which they were aided by the inmates of Paula's convent. This was particularly true in the case of the Psalms, for, wonderful to relate, the Psalter which has been adopted in our Vulgate, is not the translation made by Jerome from the Hebrew, but a corrected version of the Septuagint executed by Paula and Eustochium. 

While reading of these arduous labors of Jerome's illustrious friends and collaborators, one loves [writes Armedee Thierry] to picture them seated before a large table on which are spread numerous manuscripts in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin; here the Hebrew text of the Bible, there the different editions of the Septuagint, the Hexapla of Origen, Theodotion, Symmacus, Aquila, and lastly the Italic Vulgate; to observe these learned women controlling, comparing, copying with their own hands—and with piety and joy—this Psalter…which we still chant, at least in great part, in the Latin Church today. The mind is then involuntarily carried back to their palaces in Rome, their ceilings of marble and gold, the army of eunuchs, servants and clients, and to their life there, surrounded with all the delicacies of fortune and all the pomps of rank. Like Mary, the sister of Martha, they believed they had chosen the better part, and they rejoiced in all the fullness of their hearts. 

It was thus in Paula's convents, which were likewise schools of theology and languages, and in which every one of her religious was obliged to study Scripture, where originated that important occupation of copying manuscripts, which became a universal practice in all the monasteries of succeeding ages—an occupation to which we are indebted for the preservation of the treasures of Greek and Roman letters and science, as well as of the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and an occupation, which, when we consider what it has saved for us, was probably one of the most useful which was ever instituted. 

The mind dwells with pleasure on the work accomplished during medieval times in the scriptoriums of the Benedictines, Franciscans and Dominicans, and on those presided over by Hroswitha, St. Hildegarde, and the princess-abbess of Whitby, St. Hilda, the inspirer and patroness of Caedmon, who was the precursor by a thousand years of the author of Paradise Lost, but when recalling what we owe to these noble institutions, let us not forget that the origin and exemplar of all of them was the one that owed its existence to Paula and Eustochium in their famous convent in Bethlehem. 

So highly did Jerome value the assistance given him by his two devoted co-workers, that he dedicated nearly all his works to them. Those that were not dedicated to them were inscribed to his old friend, Marcella, who, from her convent on the Aventine, kept up a constant correspondence with her friends in Bethlehem, and exhibited an unabated interest in the study of Scripture, and as well as in the labors of her former teacher, in whose achievements she gloried as much almost as did Paula and Eustochium. 

The Pharisees of the time reproached Jerome with his persistence in dedicating his books to women, and denounced the aged hermit's action as a scandal. His reply to his accusers, in his preface to the commentary on Sophonias, reveals the character of the man and his nobility of soul so well that I reproduce from it the following paragraph: 

There are people, O Paula and Eustochium, who take offence at seeing your names at the beginning of my works. These people do not know that Olda prophesied when the men were mute, that while Barak trembled, Deborah saved Israel, that Judith and Esther delivered from supreme peril the children of God. I pass over in silence Anna and Elizabeth and the other holy women of the Gospel, but humble stars when compared with the great luminary, Mary. Shall I speak now of the illustrious women among the heathen? Does not Plato have Aspasia speak in his dialogues? Does not Sappho hold the lyre at the same time as Alcaeus and Pindar? Did not Themista philosophize with the sages of Greece? And the mother of the Gracchi, your Cornelia, daughter of Cato, wife of Brutus, before whom pale the austere virtue of the father and the courage of the husband —are they not the pride of the whole of Rome? I shall add but one word more. Was it not to women that Our Lord appeared after His resurrection? Yes, and the men could then blush for not having sought what women had found. 

Could any modern champion of woman be more eloquent and more chivalrous than this roused "Lion of Bethlehem?" 

Paula did not live to see the completion of the version from the Hebrew, of which she had been the chief inspirer and promotor. Little, however, remained to be done after her death. This Jerome, although almost crushed by the loss of one who had been his consolation and support in countless trials and difficulties, and persecutions, hastened, under the gentle but unceasing stimulation of Eustochium, to bring to a happy termination. When, finally, the last page was finished, he placed it, as it were, on the tomb of his sainted friend as a pious tribute to her memory. "Now," he writes in the preface of this great work, "now that the blessed and venerable Paula has slept in the Lord, I have not been able to refuse you, Eustochium, virgin of Christ, these books which I promised to your mother." 

Thus, then, after fifteen years of the most strenuous toil, was finally completed, about the year 405, this first and unique version of the Scriptures from the Hebrew into Latin—a version, which, under the name of the Vulgate, was adopted by the Council of Trent as the "authorized version" for the entire Catholic Church. It was a marvellous achievement, which, all things considered, is without a parallel in the annals of letters. 

When Johnson's dictionary was published, "the world," Boswell informs us, "contemplated with wonder so stupendous a work achieved by one man, while other countries had thought such undertakings fit only for whole academies." The statement is no doubt warranted, but with how much greater truth could it be made of the Vulgate—a work involving incomparably more preparation and labor, and requiring much greater equipment and a much higher order of genius. 

The English "Authorized Version" of the Bible was the joint work of six committees, composed of forty-seven of the most noted scholars of England, who labored nearly five years on a translation which was, in reality, little more than a revision of previous versions. 

Compared with the translation of Jerome, a noted Scriptural authority in the Encyclopaedia Britannica writes as follows: "It"— The Authorized Version—whose genealogy is to be traced up in a direct line through every stage of Biblical revision to the Latin Vulgate—"stands pre-eminent for its accurate representation of the original Hebrew and Greek, and may challenge favorable comparison in this respect… with the Latin Vulgate." Could more be said of the transcendent excellence of Jerome's work, or give a clearer idea of its magnitude than these two statements? But then the translator of the Vulgate had the supreme advantage of laboring under the benign influence of a twin-star—Paula and Eustochium— the most brilliant luminary of the kind that ever appeared in the ecclesiastical firmament during the long course of the Church's history. 

Jerome was seventy-five years of age when the Vulgate was given to the world. But his labors were not yet ended. He had promised Paula, during her life, to write commentaries on all the prophets. A part of this task had been completed, but the most difficult part of it still remained untouched. But the weight of years, failing eyesight, and broken health, did not deter him from making good a promise made long years before. With the assistance of Eustochium, who was always near him to sweeten his task and alleviate his sufferings, he labored on with amazing ardor. Paula in the tomb still animated him no less than when she was alive, and acted as his inspiring guardian angel. Under the magic of her name and ever-persisting influence, under the spell of her sweet and cherished memory, his indomitable energy never flags, and his wonted activity never abates. 

Paula had dreamed of a monument of exegesis in which should be embalmed all the knowledge accumulated by the venerable solitary during his long and busy life, a monument that should forever endure to the glory of the Church and to his own glory. "And shall this monument," queried, with anxious mien, the gentle, ardent Eustochium, "remain unfinished?" "No," exclaimed, in the language of Virgil, the high-minded old man, "dum spiritus hos regit artus—while the breath of life remains—I shall remain faithful to my promise." 

The day was not long enough for him, so, by the aid of the flickering light of a small lamp, he continued his labors far into the night. Finally enfeebled by his great age, his eyes refused to serve him any longer, and he was unable to decipher his Hebrew manuscripts without the aid of some of his brethren in the monastery. They read to him the interpreters he could no longer read himself, and he dictated to them his commentaries. At last, in his eightieth year, his task was finished, and he was able to say to Eustochium, who, after her mother's death, had been his unfailing support and comforter: "You force me, O virgin of Christ, Eustochium, to pay you the debt which I owe to your sainted mother. My affection for her is not greater than that which I have for you. But you are present; in obeying you, I acquit myself of the debt I owe both of you." The picture of the venerable octogenarian handing this final volume to Eustochium, Paula's heiress and executrix, and thus acquitting himself of what he considered the most sacred of obligations, is one of the most touching spectacles in the history of letters and sanctity. 

Shortly after seeing all of Paula's dreams realized and her own as well, the gentle, ardent, gifted Eustochium, the first of patrician maidens to make the vow of virginity, followed her mother to another world. Jerome's only consolation after her death was the granddaughter of Paula, who, some years previously, had come from Rome and who, like her aunt and grandmother, had the ineffable happiness of studying Scripture under the same master, who, thirty years before, had inaugurated a course of Bible study in the Ecclesia Domestica on the Aventine, and who had there, under the inspiration of those who were nearest and dearest to her, as well as to him, begun that brilliant career which issued in his being ranked among the most eminent fathers and doctors of the Church. 

Young Paula, who was now a maiden of twenty years, and inheriting all the rare qualities of mind and heart, which so distinguished the other members of her family, was the light and life of the venerable and venerated patriarch during the year which he survived the death of his devoted daughter in Christ, Eustochium. And when the end came, after his long and faithful service in the cause of Biblical science, it was young Paula who closed his eyes in death, and who had his precious remains laid away near the grotto of the Nativity—not far from those of the two exalted souls 

"in goodness and power pre-eminent" 

—who, for more than a third of a century, had watched over him with the most tender solicitude, and who by developing to the utmost all the resources of his matchless intellect, had converted the retiring and diffident monk of Chalcis into the brightest luminary in Christendom. 

Jerome is usually characterized as a man of exceedingly austere, almost savage, nature. He was indeed an implacable foe to idleness, frivolity and luxury, but the foregoing pages regarding his relations towards his friends and pupils in Rome and Bethlehem exhibit him in a different light. He may not have been of the effusive and demonstrative disposition of his illustrious friend and contemporary, St. Augustine, as portrayed in Ary Scheffer's splendid painting of St. Monica and her son, but he was nevertheless a man of a deeply affectionate nature, of rare generosity and nobility of soul, and, above all, a man of unswerving loyalty to his friends. 

No man, probably, was ever so completely under the sublime inspiration of the "eternal womanly" as was this exemplar of penance and mortification. From the time he came under the potent influence of Marcella and her gifted friends in the convent on the Aventine, until he gave young Paula her last lesson in Scripture, it was this inspiring force that kept him on the highest plane of intellectual effort. We admire "the eternal womanly" in St. Hilda, who unsealed the lips of Caedmon and made him the first of English bards; we admire it in Vittoria Colonna, who stimulated Michelangelo in his sublimest conceptions; we admire it in St. Clare, who sustained St. Francis, the poverello of Assisi, in his great, world-embracing work of charity and reform; we admire it in Aspasia, who was the inspiration of the most brilliant geniuses of Attica in the golden age of Greece; we admire it in Beatrice, the sovereign influence in the production of Dante's immortal Divina Commedia, but in none of these inspirers of great things do we find that long-continued, ever-present, all-dominating, supremely effective power of the "eternal womanly" that so distinguished Paula and Eustochium, and which has forever identified them with Jerome's masterpiece, the Vulgate. 

Dante, at the conclusion of his New Life, in referring to his great work—the Divina Commedia, which he then had in contemplation—writes concerning Beatrice, the lady of his heart, "I hope to say of her what was never said of any woman." Jerome, in addressing his last farewell to Paula, in his famous funeral eulogy, expresses himself to the same effect, but in a different manner. In words broken by sobs and tears, the grief-stricken old man exclaims, "Vale, O Paula, Adieu, Paula—sustain by thy prayers the declining years of him who has held thee in such veneration and affection. Thy faith and thy works unite thee to Christ. In His presence thy petitions will readily be granted." Then, recalling his life-work, a work which he is always pleased to regard as her work, as well as his own, he is comforted in his deep affliction, for he feels that her memory will endure as long as men shall be moved by the deeds of heroic lives or stirred by the records of pre-eminent merit and achievement. And giving a beautiful turn to a well-known sentiment of Horace and Ovid, he rejoices even in his sorrow, for he can say in the language of solemn prophecy, "Exegi monumentum tuum aere perennius, quod nulla destruere possit vetustas—I have raised to thee a monument more durable than bronze, which time shall never destroy." 

What a wonderful prophecy, and what a marvellous fulfillment of it has been witnessed during the ages, which have elapsed since these words were pronounced! Paula's monument was Jerome's life-work—his letters, his doctrinal treatises, his commentaries, but above all, his Latin version of the Hebrew Scriptures—the Vulgate. And what a unique monument it is! 

All the Anglo-Saxon translations, not to speak of others, were made from it, as was also the English version of Wyklif, while its influence in Tyndale's and subsequent English versions was most profound. It was the first book to come from the press of Gutenberg, a copy of which Bible is the most prized volume in the world today. But a still more signal honor awaited it, for it was decreed by the Council of Trent, that "the old and Vulgate edition," approved "by the usage of so many ages," should be the only Latin version used in "public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions." And so far-reaching has been its influence through the centuries that the religious terminology of the languages of Western Europe has in great part been derived from or colored by the Vulgate. 

Nor is this all. As is well known, most of the modern languages of Europe have been formed under the influence of, and as the result of the fecundity of, the ancient Latin. But the Latin from which these languages have been fashioned was not the language of Cicero, or of Virgil, popular as he was during the Middle Ages, but the language of the Church and of the Bible—the language of the Vulgate—which was created by Jerome acting under the inspiration of Paula. It is the Vulgate, which was the first book of which the nascent languages of medieval times essayed a translation, the first book of which an attempt at translation was made in the French of the twelfth century, and in the German of the eighth century. It is the Vulgate, with its admirable narratives, with the fascinating simplicity of Genesis, with its charming pictures of the infancy of the human race that supplied the needed language in which to address the barbarians from the North, when they first came under the beneficent influence of Christian civilization. 

Our fathers were wont to cover the Vulgate with gold and precious stones. And they did more. When a council was assembled, the Sacred Scriptures—that is the Vulgate—were placed upon the altar in the midst of the assembly which it, in a certain sense, dominated, while, on the occasions of great and imposing outdoor processions, the Bible was carried in triumph in a golden reliquary. 

Our ancestors had good reasons to carry the Vulgate in triumph and covered with gold. For this first of ancient books, is, as Ozanam truly observes, also the first of modern books. It is, as it were, the source of modern books, because from its pages have sprung all the languages, all the eloquence, all the civilization of the later centuries. 

St. Jerome was right. The monument he erected to Paula, or rather to Paula and Eustochium—for mother and daughter may not be separated—is imperishable. And the glory of their work, far from diminishing with the passing ages, becomes, on the contrary, greater as the world grows older and wiser. Who, then, that has read the story of the labors of the Dalmatian monk, and of the heiresses of the Scipios and the Gracchi, can any longer question the supreme importance of woman's influence in every sphere of human endeavor, or seriously contend that inspiration, of the kind noted in the preceding pages, is of lesser moment than execution? And who can fail to see that Goethe expressed a profound and beautiful truth when, in the closing verses of Faust, he declared it is "The eternal womanly that leads us on"— 

Das Ewig-Weibliche Zieht uns hinan? 

Source:

  • PetersNet.net - "Woman's Work in Bible Study and Translations", from A.H. Johns, A.M., The Catholic World, The Catholic World (July 1912), "The Story of St. Jerome, St. Marcella, St. Paula and St. Eustochium and the Latin Vulgate", p. 463-477. Copyright 2002 Trinity Communications - http://www.petersnet.net/research/retrieve.cfm?RecNum=2945.

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