St. Jerome

Epistulae ad Paulinum, 385-419 A.D.

Jerome was one of the most important figures to have lived in Bethlehem, in the place of the Nativity. Here he retired in 386 where he was to translate the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate) at the request of Pope Damasus.

His devotion to these sites made of him a witness to the tradition of this place, to which he felt himself linked by his profound and intimate reflections on the incarnation of Our Lord Jesus.

Place of the Incarnation

But as everyone praises most what he possesses, let us now speak of the cottage which sheltered Christ and Mary. With what words, with what speech can we describe for you the cave of the Savior? And the manger where he cried as a babe which is best honored with silence rather than inadequate words, where are the spacious porticoes? Where are the gilded ceilings? Where are the mansions decorated by the sufferings and labors of condemned wretches? Where are the church halls built by the wealth of private men on the scale of palaces, so that the vile body of man may walk among more costly surroundings, as if one could wish to see any roof more ornate than heaven?

Behold, in this poor crevice of the Earth the Creator of the heavens was born; here he was wrapped in swaddling clothes; here he was beheld by the shepherds; here he was pointed to by the star; here he was adored by the Magi.

This place is holier, I believe, than the Tarpeian Rock, which by its having been frequently struck by lightning has shown that it displeases God.

Epistle 46

Veneration of Jupiter at the time of Hadrian, in the Holy Place

From the time of Hadrian to the reign of Constantine, a period of about one hundred eighty years, a statue of Jupiter stood on the site of the Resurrection, while a marble status of Venus was placed by the pagans on the rock of the Cross and became an object of worship.

The authors of this persecution thought that by defiling the Holy Places with idols, they could take away our faith in the Resurrection and the Cross. And as for Bethlehem, now our most sacred place, and that of the whole world, of which the psalmist sings “Truth will spring from the earth”, it was overshadowed by the grove of Tammuz, that is of Adonis; and in the cave where the infant Christ had cried the lover of Venus was mourned.

Epistle 58 (end of 4th century AD)

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