The Office hymn given for Lauds and Vespers in the Liber Hymnarius and in the Liturgia Horarum for today’s feast of Saint Jerome, Doctor of the Church, was composed by the Benedictine hymnographer Dom Anselmo Lentini (+1989). It offers an enchanting portrait of the saint of Rome and Bethlehem. My translation makes no pretense of attempting to be literal; I sought only to give the sense of the hymn, and then reflect on each strophe.
1. Festiva canimus laude Hieronymum,
qui nobis radiat sidus ut eminens
doctrinae meritis ac simul actibus
vitae fortis et asperae.
With festive praise we sing of Jerome;
radiant as a star he shines forth
by the merits of his teaching as well as by
the fortitude and austerity of his life.
The first strophe encapsulates all that one really needs to know about Saint Jerome: he is deserving of a festal day of gladsome praise; he is a light in the Church, not only by his incomparable teaching, but also by his resolute and rigorous monastic life. Sacred learning and asceticism go hand in hand, or as Dom Jean Leclercq put it, “the love of letters and the desire for God.”
2. Hic verbum fdei sanctaque dogmata
scrutando studuit pandere lucide,
aut hostes, vehemens ut leo, concitus
acri voce refellere.
Scrutinizing the Word and the holy dogmas of the faith,
he strove to cast them into light;
terrible as a lion to his enemies,
with the roar of his voice he refuted them without delay.
I love the word scrutando here. One can picture Saint Jerome bent over his precious manuscripts, attentive to every jot and tittle of the sacred text. More often than not, when he lifts his head from his work, it is to roar like a lion, ready to rip apart the errors of the enemies of the Word. Saint Jerome knew where to invest his passions!
3. Insudans alacer prata virentia
Scripturae coluit caelitus editae;
ex his et locuples dulcia protulit
cunctus pabula gratiae.
By the sweat of his brow, he cultivated
the green meadows of the heaven-inspired Scriptures;
enriched by them, he brought forth for all
the sweet nourishment of grace.
Dom Lentini is a genius. The “sweat of the brow” is an allusion to Genesis 3,19: “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” or, as Msgr. Knox puts it, “thou shalt earn thy bread with the sweat of thy brow.” The “green meadows” allude, of course, to Psalm 22, 2: “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” Nourished by the Word of God, Saint Jerome offers all Christians the food of grace, that is, Christ Himself in the Scriptures.
4. Deserti cupiens grata silentia
ad cunas Domini pervigil astitit,
ut carnem crucians se daret intime
Patri munus et hostiam.
Yearning for the desert’s refreshing silence,
he kept watch close to the manger-cradle of the Lord,
that by crucifying his flesh, he might become deep within
an offering and a sacrificial victim to the Father.
This is my favourite strophe. Jerome yearns for the tranquil stillness of the desert, far from “the strife of tongues” (Psalm 30, 20). Close to the manger of the Infant Christ, he discovers the humility and poverty of spiritual childhood and, as crèche and cross are fashioned from the same wood, he enters into the mystery of the suffering and crucified Jesus, and so identifies with Him, that Jerome’s whole life becomes a Eucharistic oblation. With Jesus, he becomes an offering (munus) and a sacrificial (victim) to the Father.
The youngest Doctor of the Church, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, of the crèche and of the cross, died on the evening of the feast of Saint Jerome, September 30, 1897; she also shared the older Doctor’s love for the Word of God. On October 19, 1997, declaring Saint Thérèse a Doctor of the Church, Pope John Paul II wrote:
Despite her inadequate training and lack of resources for studying and interpreting the sacred books, Thérèse immersed herself in meditation on the Word of God with exceptional faith and spontaneity. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit she attained a profound knowledged of Revelation for herself and for others. By her loving concentration on Scripture – she even wanted to learn Hebrew and Greek to understand better the spirit and letter of the sacred books – she showed the importance of the biblical sources in the spiritual life, she emphasized the originality and freshness of the Gospel, she cultivated with moderation the spiritual exegesis of the Word of God in both the Old and New Testaments. Thus she discovered hidden treasures, appropriating words and episodes, sometimes with supernatural boldness, as when, in reading the texts of St Paul (cf. 1 Cor 12-13), she realized her vocation to love (cf. Ms B, 3r-3v). Enlightened by the revealed Word, Thérèse wrote brilliant pages on the unity between love of God and love of neighbour (cf. Ms C, 11v-19r); and she identified with Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper as the expression of her intercession for the salvation of all (cf. Ms C, 34r-35r).
5. Tanti nos, petimus te, Deus optime,
doctoris precibus dirige, confove,
ut laetas liceat nos tibi in omnia
laudes pangere saecula.
We pray you, O God of all goodness,
by the prayers of so great a doctor, direct us and surround us with your tender care,
so that we might be given leave to pour forth your joyful praises
unto the ages of ages.
The hymn ends, as do nearly all the hymns of the Church, with a doxological élan. We pray to walk in the path of righteousness and of doctrinal rectitude and ask, at the same time, that the warmth of the Father’s tenderness envelop us so that one day in heaven, our lips might be opened to sing His praises eternally.