St. Jerome, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Feast Day: September 30th

Saint Jerome, the priest, monk and Doctor of the Church renowned for his extraordinary depth of learning and translations of the Bible into Latin in the Vulgate, is celebrated by the Church with his memorial today, September 30.

Besides his contributions as a Church Father and patronage of subsequent Catholic scholarship, Jerome is also regarded as a patron of people with difficult personalities—owing to the sometimes extreme approach which he took in articulating his scholarly opinions and the teaching of the Church. He is also notable for his devotion to the ascetic life, and for his insistence on the importance of Hebrew scholarship for Christians.

Born around 340 as Eusebius Hieronymous Sophronius in present-day Croatia, Jerome received Christian instruction from his father, who sent him to Rome for instruction in rhetoric and classical literature. His youth was thus dominated by a struggle between worldly pursuits –which brought him into many types of temptation– and the inclination to a life of faith, a feeling evoked by regular trips to the Roman catacombs with his friends in the city.

Baptized in 360 by Pope Liberius, Jerome traveled widely among the monastic and intellectual centers of the newly Christian empire. Upon returning to the city of his birth, following the end of a local crisis caused by the Arian heresy, he studied theology in the famous schools of Trier and worked closely with two other future saints, Chromatius and Heliodorus, who were outstanding teachers of orthodox theology.

Seeking a life more akin to the first generation of “desert fathers,” Jerome left the Adriatic and traveled east to Syria, visiting several Greek cities of civil and ecclesiastical importance on the way to his real destination: “a wild and stony desert … to which, through fear or hell, I had voluntarily condemned myself, with no other company but scorpions and wild beasts.”

Jerome’s letters vividly chronicle the temptations and trials he endured during several years as a desert hermit. Nevertheless, after his ordination by the bishop of Antioch, followed by periods of study in Constantinople and service at Rome to Pope Damasus I, Jerome opted permanently for a solitary and ascetic life in the city of Bethlehem from the mid-380s.

Jerome remained engaged both as an arbitrator and disputant of controversies in the Church, and served as a spiritual father to a group of nuns who had become his disciples in Rome. Monks and pilgrims from a wide array of nations and cultures also found their way to his monastery, where he commented that “as many different choirs chant the psalms as there are nations.”

Rejecting pagan literature as a distraction, Jerome undertook to learn Hebrew from a Christian monk who had converted from Judaism. Somewhat unusually for a fourth-century Christian priest, he also studied with Jewish rabbis, striving to maintain the connection between Hebrew language and culture, and the emerging world of Greek and Latin-speaking Christianity. He became a secretary of Pope Damasus, who commissioned the Vulgate from him. Prepared by these ventures, Jerome spent 15 years translating most of the Hebrew Bible into its authoritative Latin version. His harsh temperament and biting criticisms of his intellectual opponents made him many enemies in the Church and in Rome and he was forced to leave the city.

Jerome went to Bethlehem, established a monastery, and lived the rest of his years in study, prayer, and ascetcism.

St. Jerome once said, “I interpret as I should, following the command of Christ: ‘Search the Scriptures,’ and ‘Seek and you shall find.’ For if, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

After living through both Barbarian invasions of the Roman empire, and a resurgence of riots sparked by doctrinal disputes in the Church, Jerome died in his Bethlehem monastery in 420.

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St. Peter Canisius


An important figure in the Catholic counter-reformation that responded to the 16th century spread of Protestantism, the priest and Doctor of the Church Saint Peter Canisius is remembered liturgically on Dec. 21.

His efforts as a preacher, author, and religious educator strengthened the Catholic faith in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and parts of Central Europe during a period of doctrinal confusion.

Writing about St. Peter Canisius in 1897, Pope Leo XIII noted similarities between the late 19th century and the saint’s own lifetime, “a period when the spirit of revolution and looseness of doctrine resulted in a great loss of faith and decline in morals.”

More recently, in a 2011 general audience, Pope Benedict XVI taught that the Jesuit saint found success in ministry by living as “a personal witness of Jesus and an instrument at his disposal, bound to him closely by faith in his Gospel and in his Church.”

Peter Kanis – his name later Latinized to “Canisius” – was born in the Netherlands during May 1521. His father Jacob was a wealthy public official, but his mother Aegidia died soon after his birth. Peter began his university studies in Cologne around age 15, and obtained his master’s degree before he turned 20. His friends during this period included several men who held to the Catholic faith in opposition to the Protestant doctrines then gaining ground in Germany.

Despite his father’s preference that he should marry, Peter made a decision in 1540 to remain celibate. Three years later he entered the Society of Jesus under the influence of Blessed Peter Faber, one of the first companions of Saint Ignatius Loyola. He founded the first Jesuit house in Germany, became a priest in 1546, and was involved in a successful effort to force the resignation of Cologne’s Archbishop Hermann of Wied after the archbishop’s shift from the Catholic faith to Protestant teachings.

Only one year after his ordination, Peter accompanied the Bishop of Augsburg to the Council of Trent as a theological adviser. He spent a portion of his time in Italy working directly with Saint Ignatius Loyola, before leaving for Bavaria where he would serve as a university professor as well as a catechist and preacher. This combination of academic and pastoral work continued at Vienna from 1552, allowing him to visit and assist many Austrian parishes which found themselves without a priest.

During the mid-1550s Peter’s evangelistic journeys took him to Prague, where he eventually founded a Jesuit school along with another in Bavaria, and later a third in Munich. The year 1555, in particular, was a landmark for Canisius: St. Ignatius promoted him to a leadership position within the order, which he held until 1569, and he published the first and longest version of his Catholic catechism. This work, and its two shorter adaptations, went through hundreds of printings and remained in use for centuries

Involved in discussions with Protestants during 1557, Peter made a strong case for the Church by showing how the adherents of Protestantism could not agree with one another in matters of doctrine. Meanwhile, he maintained his commitment to religious instruction on the popular level – teaching children, giving retreats, and preaching carefully-crafted, doctrinally-rich sermons to large crowds.

Canisius’ service to the Council of Trent continued during the early 1560s, though mostly from a distance. He kept up a demanding schedule of preaching and establishing universities, while also working to ensure that the council’s decrees were received and followed in Germany after it concluded. His tireless efforts over the next two decades contributed to a major revival of German Catholicism. In the 1580s, he shifted his focus to the Swiss region of Freibourg, spearheading a similar revival there.

A mystical experience in 1584 convinced Canisius that he should cease his travels and remain in Switzerland for the rest of his life. He spent his last years building up the Church in Fribourg through his preaching, teaching, and writing. Peter suffered a near-fatal stroke in 1591, but recovered and continued as an author for six years. The Dutch Jesuit saw writing as an essential form of apostolic work, a view supported by the continued use of his catechism long after his death on Dec. 21, 1597.

St. Peter Canisius was simultaneously canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI in 1925. In a famous saying, the Jesuit priest revealed the secret behind the accomplishments of his energetic and fruitful life: “If you have too much to do, with God’s help you will find time to do it all.”

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St Bob


On Sept. 17, the Catholic Church celebrates the Italian cardinal and theologian St. Robert Bellarmine. One of the great saints of the Jesuit order, St. Robert has also been declared a Doctor of the Church and the patron of catechists.

Robert Bellarmine was born on October 4, 1542 in the Tuscan town of Montepulciano. His uncle was a cardinal who later became Pope Marcellus II. As a young man, Robert received his education from the Jesuit order, which had received written papal approval only two years before his birth.

In September of 1560, Robert entered the Jesuit order himself. He studied philosophy for three years in Rome, then taught humanities until 1567, when he began a study of theology that lasted until 1569. The final stage of his training emphasized the refutation of Protestant errors.

Robert received ordination to the priesthood in Belgium, where his sermons drew crowds of both Catholics and Protestants. In 1576, he returned to Italy and took up an academic position addressing theological controversies. The resulting work, his “Disputations,” became a classic of Catholic apologetics.

Near the end of the 1580s, the esteemed theologian became “Spiritual Father” to the Roman College. He served as a guide to St. Aloysius Gonzaga near the end of the young Jesuit’s life, and helped produce the authoritative Latin text of the Bible called for by the recent Council of Trent.

Around the century’s end Robert became an advisor to Pope Clement VIII. The Pope named him a cardinal in 1599, declaring him to be the most educated man in the Church. Robert played a part in a debate between Dominicans and Jesuits regarding grace, though the Pope later decided to appoint and consecrate him as the Archbishop of Capua.

The cardinal archbishop’s three years in Capua stood out as an example of fidelity to the reforming spirit and decrees of the Council of Trent. He was considered as a possible Pope in two successive elections, but the thought of becoming Pope disturbed him and in the end he was never chosen.

In the early years of the 17th century, the cardinal took a public stand for the Church’s freedom when it came under attack in Venice and England. He also attempted, though not successfully, to negotiate peace between the Vatican and his personal friend Galileo Galilei, over the scientist’s insistence that not only the earth, but the entire universe, revolved around the sun.

Cardinal Bellarmine retired due to health problems in the summer of 1621. Two years before, he had set out his thoughts on the end of earthly life in a book titled “The Art of Dying Well.” In that work, the cardinal explained that preparing for death was life’s most important business, since the state of one’s soul at death would determine the person’s eternal destiny.

St. Robert Bellarmine died on September 17, 1621. Pope Pius XI canonized him in 1931, and declared him to be a Doctor of the Church.



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Saint Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor

Athanasius was born in Alexandria, in northern Egypt, in 293. He was a theologian, Patriarch of Alexandria, a Church Father, and a noted Egyptian leader of the fourth century. He is best remembered for his role in the conflict with Arius and Arianism. At the first Council of Nicaea in 325, Athanasius argued against Arius and his doctrine that Christ is of a distinct substance from the Father, in other words that was not divine. He is chronologically the first Doctor of the Church as designated by the Catholic Church and counted as one of the four Great Doctors of the Eastern Church.

Athanasius received his philosophical and theological training at Alexandria and was ordained a deacon by Alexander of Alexandria, the patriarch of the time in 319. In 325, he served as Alexander’s secretary at the First Council of Nicaea. As a recognised theologian and ascetic, he was the obvious choice to replace Alexander as the Patriarch of Alexandria on the latter’s death in 328, although the Arians were opposed to his appointment. 

In the first years he visited the people in his diocese and also the desert monks and hermits. Soon after, however, he became much involved in disputes with the Byzantine Empire and Arians and these would occupy much of his life.

In 335 he was deposed by the Arians at a meeting of bishops in Tyre. Later, he was exiled by Emperor Constantine I to Trier in the Rhineland. On the death of the emperor Athanasius he returned to Alexandria only to be banished again by the new emperor, Constantius II. He went to Rome but kept in contact with his people through his annual ‘Festal Letters’. Efforts by Pope Julius I for Athanasius’ reinstatement proved fruitless but in 346 he was able to return to Alexandria. His return was welcomed by the majority of the people of Egypt, who saw him as a national hero.

This was the start of a “golden decade” of peace and prosperity, during which time Athanasius assembled several documents relating to his exiles and returns from exile in the Apology Against the Arians. However, in 350 Athanasius was once again banished and took refuge in desert monasteries. During this time he wrote a number of important works attacking the Arians.

In 361, he was able to return again to Alexandria and made appeals for church unity but in 362 there began another series of expulsions for him. Altogether he spent 17 of the 46 years of his episcopate in exile.

After long years of struggle he died peacefully 2 May 373. He left behind a large corpus of writings and was hailed as “the pillar of the Church” by Gregory of Nazianzus. He is now numbered as one of the Doctors of the Church. 

Athanasiua was originally buried in Alexandria but his body was later transferred to Italy. During Patriarch Shenouda III’s visit to Rome in 1973, Pope Paul VI gave him the relics of St. Athanasius. They are now preserved in the new St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Deir El-Anba Rowais, Abbassiya, Cairo, Egypt.

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St Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop and Doctor

Here is how one of the Fathers of the Church, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in the fourth century, describes the sacrifice of the Mass:

Then, having sanctified ourselves by spiritual hymns (the trisagion) we call upon the merciful God to send His Holy Spirit upon the gifts lying before Him (the unconsecrated species of bread and wine), that He may make the bread the Body of Christ and the wine the Blood of Christ for whatsoever the Holy Ghost has touched is sanctified and changed. Then after the spiritual sacrifice is perfected… we entreat God for the peace of the Church, for the tranquility of the world… in a word for all who stand in need of succor we all supplicate and offer this sacrifice… We commemorate also those who have fallen asleep… believing that it will be a very great advantage to the souls…When we offer to Him our supplications for those who have fallen asleep… we offer up Christ, sacrificed for our sins, propitiating our merciful God both for them and for ourselves.

From Living Spaces:

Little is known of the life of Cyril before he became bishop. It is believed he was born about the year 313 or 315. He was raised in Jerusalem and given a good education, especially in the Scriptures.About 335 he was ordained deacon by St Macarius of Jerusalem and ordained priest about eight years later by Bishop St Maximus. He was given the task of catechising during Lent those preparing for Baptism and during the Easter season the newly baptised. His catechetical texts remain valuable as examples of the ritual and theology of the Church in the mid-fourth century.
Then about the year 350 he succeeded St Maximus as Bishop of Jerusalem.
By nature of a conciliatory disposition, while opposed to Arianism, he was not quite ready to accept the uncompromising term homoousios (consubstantial) [indicating that Jesus shared the same divine nature with the Father].
But he distanced himself from his archbishop, Acacius of Caesaraea, who favoured the position of Arius, and favoured the so-called Eusebians who were anti-Arian. This displeased Acacius and a council held under Acacius accused Cyril of insubordination and selling church property to help the poor. He was forced to retire to Tarsus. Then in the following year, the Council of Seleucia, at which Cyril was present, deposed Acacius.
In 360 Acacius was again in control and Cyril was sent away for another year, until the accession of the emperor Julian allowed him to come back. In 367, the Arian emperor Valens banished him again. But Cyril was able to return with the accession of the emperor Gratian and returned to find Jerusalem torn with heresy, schism and strife, and wracked with crime. Even St. Gregory of Nyssa, sent to help, left in despair.
They both went to the (second ecumenical) Council of Constantinople, where the amended form of the Nicene Creed was promulgated. Cyril now accepted the word consubstantial. Some said it was an act of repentance, but the bishops of the Council praised him as a champion of orthodoxy against the Arians. Though not friendly with the greatest defender of orthodoxy against the Arians, Cyril may be counted among those whom Athanasius called “brothers, who mean what we mean, and differ only about the word [consubstantial].”
He remained in his post until his death in 386.
In 1883, St. Cyril was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII.

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