“God is the author of Sacred Scripture,” and “God inspired the human authors of the sacred books.” These catechetical truths are brought to life in a masterpiece painting titled, “Saint Jerome and the Angel,” from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Completed around 1625, this ethereal image is the work of the French Baroque painter, Simon Vouet. His masterful use of color, light, and line offers a visual catechesis on the power and beauty of God’s Word in the life of Saint Jerome, revered saint and Doctor of the Church.
“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” These words attributed to Saint Jerome direct our gaze to the person of Jesus Christ, who stands at the heart of Sacred Scripture. And in this masterpiece image we are given a glimpse into the witness of a saint whose life was devoted entirely to Christ, present and active in his Word. As the Church concludes the celebration of a Jubilee Year of Mercy, this image also invites us to feast on the riches of God’s merciful Word, in imitation of the holy witness of Saint Jerome.
Vouet places the aging Saint Jerome seated at a well-used writing table. An open book filled with words lies in front of him, while a scroll on which he is about to write unfolds at the center of the desk. His lean, muscular frame reminds us that his scholarly work was the fruit of many years of saintly asceticism. For Saint Jerome completed most of his contemplation of God’s Word and his scholarly works as a simple ascetic. An ink well, and an hour glass, on the desk suggest that the saintly scholar has labored for many years with prayerful dedication and love of God’s Word. These items together with the skull on his desk are also meant to remind us of the transience of earthly life and the promise of immortal life in the power of Christ’s resurrection.