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Papal Library

Spiritus Paraclitus

by Catherine Frakas 17 Mar 2021

Spiritus Paraclitus Encyclical of Pope Benedict XV on St. Jerome September 15,1920 To all the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops, and Ordinaries in Union with the Apostolic See. Since the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, had bestowed the Scriptures on the human race for their instruction in Divine things, He also raised up in successive ages saintly and learned men whose task it should be to develop that treasure and so provide for the faithful plenteous consolation from the Scriptures.(1) Foremost among these teachers stands St. Jerome. Him the Catholic Church acclaims and reveres as her Greatest Doctor, divinely given her for the understanding of the Bible. And now that the fifteenth centenary of his death is approaching we would not willingly let pass so favorable an opportunity of addressing you on the debt we owe him. For the responsibility of our Apostolic office impels us to set before you his wonderful example and so promote the study of Holy Scripture in accordance with the teaching of our predecessors, Leo XIII and Pius X, which we desire to apply more precisely still to the present needs of the Church. For St. Jerome-strenuous Catholic, learned in the Scriptures,(2) teacher of Catholics,(3) model of virtue, world's teacher(4)-has by his earnest and illuminative defense of Catholic doctrine on Holy Scripture left us most precious instructions. These we propose to set before you and so promote among the children of the Church, and especially among the clergy, assiduous and reverent study of the Bible. 2. No need to remind you, Venerable Brethren, that Jerome was born in Stridonia, in a town on the borders of Dalmatia and Pannonia;(5) that from his infancy he was brought up a Catholic;(6) that after his baptism here in Rome(7) he lived to an advanced age and devoted all his powers to studying, expounding, and defending the Bible. At Rome he had learned Latin and Greek, and hardly had he left the school of rhetoric than he ventured on a Commentary on Abdias the Prophet. This youthful piece of work(8) kindled in him such love of the Bible that he decided-like the man in the Gospel who found a treasure-to spurn any emoluments the world could provide,(9) and devote himself wholly to such studies. Nothing could deter him from this stern resolve. He left home, parents, sister, and relatives; he denied himself the more delicate food he had been accustomed to, and went to the East so that he might gather from studious reading of the Bible the fuller riches of Christ and true knowledge of his Savior.(10) Jerome himself tells us in several places how assiduously he toiled: An eager desire to learn obsessed me. But I was not so foolish as to try and teach myself. At Antioch I regularly attended the lectures of Apollinaris of Laodicea; but while I learned much from him about the Bible, I would never accept his doubtful teaching about its interpretation.(11) 3. From Antioch be betook to the desert of Chalcis, in Syria, to perfect himself in his knowledge of the Bible, and at the same time to curb youthful desires by means of hard study. Here he engaged a convert Jew to teach him Hebrew and Chaldaic. What a toil it was! How difficult I found it! How often I was on the point of giving it up in despair, and yet in my eagerness to learn took it up again! Myself can bear witness of this, and so, too, can those who had lived with me at the time. Yet I thank God for the fruit I won from that bitter seed.(12) 4. Lest, however, he should grow idle in this desert where there were no heretics to vex him, Jerome betook himself to Constantinople, where for nearly three years he studied Holy Scripture under St. Gregory the Theologian, then Bishop of that See and in the height of his fame as a teacher. While there he translated into Latin Origen's Homilies on the Prophets and Eusebius' Chronicle; he also wrote on Isaias' vision of the Seraphim. He then returned to Rome on ecclesiastical business, and Pope Damasus admitted him into his court.(13) However, he let nothing distract him from continual occupation with the Bible,(14) and the task of copying various manuscripts,(15) as well as answering the many questions put to him by students of both sexes.(16) 5. Pope Damasus had entrusted to him a most laborious task, the correction of the Latin text of the Bible. So well did Jerome carry this out that even today men versed in such studies appreciate its value more and more. But he ever yearned for Palestine, and when the Pope died he retired to Bethlehem to a monastery nigh to the cave where Christ was born. Every moment he could spare from prayer he gave to Biblical studies. Though my hair was now growing gray and though I looked more like professor than student, yet I went to Alexandria to attend Didymus' lectures. I owe him much. What I did not know I learned. What I knew already I did not lose through his different presentation of it. Men thought I had done with tutors; but when I got back to Jerusalem and Bethlehem how hard I worked and what a price I paid for my night-time teacher Baraninus! Like another Nicodemus he was afraid of the Jews!(17) 6. Nor was Jerome content merely to gather up this or that teacher's words; he gathered from all quarters whatever might prove of use to him in this task. From the outset he had accumulated the best possible copies of the Bible and the best commentators on it, but now he worked on copies from the synagogues and from the library formed at Caesarea by Origen and Eusebius; he hoped by assiduous comparison of texts to arrive at greater certainty touching the actual text and its meaning. With this same purpose he went all through Palestine. For he was thoroughly convinced of the truth of what he once wrote to Domnio and Rogatian: A man will understand the Bible better if he has seen Judaea with his own eyes and discovered its ancient cities and sites either under the old names or newer ones. In company with some learned Hebrews I went through the entire land the names of whose sites are on every Christian's lips.(18) 7. He nourished his soul unceasingly on this most pleasant food: he explained St. Paul's Epistles; he corrected the Latin version of the Old Testament by the Greek; he translated afresh nearly all the books of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin; day by day he discussed Biblical questions with the brethren who came to him, and answered letters on Biblical questions which poured in upon him from all sides; besides all this, he was constantly refuting men who assailed Catholic doctrine and unity. Indeed, such was his love for Holy Scripture that he ceased not from writing or dictating till his hand stiffened in death and his voice was silent forever. So it was that, sparing himself neither labor nor watching nor expense, he continued to extreme old age meditating day and night beside the Crib on the Law of the Lord; of greater profit to the Catholic cause by his life and example in his solitude than if he had passed his life at Rome, the capital of the world. 8. After this preliminary account of St. Jerome's life and labors we may now treat of his teaching on the divine dignity and absolute truth of Scripture. You will not find a page in his writings which does not show clearly that he, in common with the whole Catholic Church, firmly and consistently held that the Sacred Books-written as they were under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit-have God for their Author, and as such were delivered to the Church. Thus he asserts that the Books of the Bible were composed at the inspiration, or suggestion, or even at the dictation of the Holy Spirit; even that they were written and edited by Him. Yet he never questions but that the individual authors of these Books worked in full freedom under the Divine afflatus, each of them in accordance with his individual nature and character. Thus he is not merely content to affirm as a general principle-what indeed pertains to all the sacred writers-that they followed the Spirit of God as they wrote, in such sort that God is the principal cause of all that Scripture means and says; but he also accurately describes what pertains to each individual writer. In each case Jerome shows us how, in composition, in language, in style and mode of expression, each of them uses his own gifts and powers; hence he is able to portray and describe for us their individual character, almost their very features; this is especially so in his treatment of the Prophets and of St. Paul. This partnership of God and man in the production of a work in common Jerome illustrates by the case of a workman who uses instruments for the production of his work; for he says that whatsoever the sacred authors say Is the word of God, and not their own; and what the Lord says by their mouths He says, as it were, by means of an instrument.(19) 9. If we ask how we are to explain this power and action of God, the principal cause, on the sacred writers we shall find that St. Jerome in no wise differs from the common teaching of the Catholic Church. For he holds that God, through His grace, illumines the writer's mind regarding the particular truth which, in the person of God, he is to set before men; he holds, moreover, that God moves the writer's will-nay, even impels it-to write; finally, that God abides with him unceasingly, in unique fashion, until his task is accomplished. Whence the Saint infers the supreme excellence and dignity of Scripture, and declares that knowledge of it is to be likened to the treasure(20) and the pearl beyond price,(21) since in them are to be found the riches of Christ(22) and silver wherewith to adorn God's house.(23) 10. Jerome also insists on the supereminent authority of Scripture. When controversy arose he had recourse to the Bible as a storehouse of arguments, and he used its testimony as a weapon for refuting his adversaries' arguments, because he held that the Bible's witness afforded solid and irrefutable arguments. Thus, when Helvidius denied the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God, Jerome was content simply to reply: Just as we do not deny these things which are written, so do we repudiate things that are not written. That God was born of a Virgin we believe, because we read it. That Mary was married after His birth we do not believe because we do not read it.(24) 11. In the same fashion he undertakes to defend against Jovinian, with precisely the same weapons, the Catholic doctrines of the virginal state, of perseverance, of abstinence, and of the merit of good works: In refuting his statements I shall rely especially on the testimony of Scripture, lest he should grumble and complain that he has been vanquished rather by my eloquence than by the truth.(25) 12. So, too, when defending himself against the same Helvidius, he says: He was, you might say, begged to yield to me, and be led away as a willing and unresisting captive in the bonds of truth.(26) Again, We must not follow the errors of our parents, nor of those who have gone before us; we have the authority of the Scriptures and God's teaching to command us.(27) Once more, when showing Fabiola how to deal with critics, he says: When you are really instructed in the Divine Scriptures, and have realized that its laws and testimonies are the bonds of truth, then you can contend with adversaries; then you will fetter them and lead them bound into captivity; then of the foes you have made captive you will make freemen of God.(28) 13. Jerome further shows that the immunity of Scripture from error or deception is necessarily bound up with its Divine inspiration and supreme authority. He says he had learnt this in the most cele

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