September 30 – Gregory the Illuminator; Jerome

Gregory the Illuminator (257–332) was the son of a regicide, but that’s not his fault. When his father Anak killed the king of Armenia in a land swap conspiracy, the outraged Armenians slaughtered all his relatives they could find. Fortunately little Gregory had been smuggled into exile, where he was raised in the Christian faith, married and buried a Christian woman, and raised their two sons as only a single Christian dad can. (Okay, I’m not sure what that means.) Later the sons became a priest and a monk, respectively.

Feeling guilty about his father’s foul deed, Greg presented himself as a servant to the dead king’s son, who didn’t mind Gregory’s service, but wasn’t crazy about his Christianity. One thing followed another (the customary progression), and soon Gregory was being tortured in various ways, including “a stinking smoke” (probably Swisher Sweets™). When none of this worked, he was tossed into a pit, where he lived for fourteen years. Meanwhile the king had martyred a number (ca. 35) of Christian virgins, in punishment for which his face became disfigured (I like to think his nose was turned upside down because I like the mental picture). When Greg was unpitted, he began to evangelize the Armenians. A large church was eventually built, and there he interred the relics of the virgin martyrs. When the king saw all this he repented and converted, his face was disdisfigured, and he proclaimed Armenia a Christian country, the first such in the world. Thus is Gregory called the Enlightener of Armenia, and Equal to the Apostles. He is the patron saint of . . . guess where.

Jerome (ca. 347–420) was a naughty schoolboy in Rome. On Sundays he would wander the catacombs penitently, vividly pondering the fires of Hell; the rest of the week he would go out and sin wickedly (alas, my sources have no juicy details). In short, he was human. On a journey east, he became gravely ill, and while recouping in Antioch, decided to devote his life to God. He gave up studying the classics, and turned to the Bible. After a brief stint in the desert, during which he started to learn to read and write Hebrew (and may or may not have drawn a thorn from a lion’s paw), he was bishopified, studied under Gregory Nazianzen, then returned to Rome. There he worked for Pope Damasus I doing various odd jobs, but most importantly, translating the New Testament from the Greek.

While in Rome he converted a number of noblewomen away from the lasciviosity of noble Roman society (still no details), seeing them safely ensconced in various convents. This, and his criticism of the secular clergy (nobody could criticize like Jerome), brought him to the attention of the higher-ups. He was even accused of having an affair with the rich widow Paula. When his disciple Blaesilla’s over-zealous asceticism led to her death, he was forced to flee east. He and his disciples toured the holy places, and landed in Bethlehem.

There he (and Paula and her daughter) began his (their) great work: the translation of the Bible into Latin—the great Vulgate, the Bible of medieval Europe. (Bible-buying decisions were much easier then.) He translated the Old Testament directly from the Hebrew, arguing that works not in Hebrew should be stricken from the canon. The Church disagreed, so the Latin versions of the so-called “deuterocanonical” books in the Vulgate are actually from the earlier, inferior translation the Vulgate was meant to replace. (Ironically, complete or fragmentary Hebrew versions of four of them were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. If only Jerome had found those, Protestant Bibles might have four more books!) He also wrote polemics against various heretics, one of which angered the local Pelagians so much they tried to burn down his monastery. He is the patron saint of archivists, Bible scholars, and schoolchildren (naughty or otherwise).