Douay Rheims/Modern Translations Question

Hi All!
I am brand new to the forum to please forgive me if this has been asked before (i’m sure it has!).

But I tend to read a lot of ‘bashing’ of modern Catholic translations (NJB, NABRE, RSV, etc…). But I also read much support for them. I find this very confusing.

Why would Catholic translators create translations that are ‘questionable’ in terms of Catholic doctrine or tradtion? If the Douay Rheims never seems to fall into the ‘questionable translation’ column, why do Catholics use all these different modern translations that seem to be inferior in many ways to the Douay Rheims? Why has the Douay Rheims been all but abandoned if it has produced so much Catholic fruit over the last few centuries?


~ RadicalPilgrim

Divino Afflante Spiritu encouraged translation from original languages, while the Douay-Rheims is a translation from the Latin Vulgate.

Dei Verbum encouraged the critical study of Scripture.

There is a nice (albeit dated) summary here.

Welcome to the CA Forums. You will find a ton of threads on this issue, with people stating all kinds of things, not all true unfortunately, about the various translations. There is, of course, no perfect translation out there. Each one, from the Douay to the RSV to the NABRE, has good points and bad. My advice is to find a Church approved translation that you like in an edition that you enjoy reading from. Read it everyday, using it for both study and prayer. I tend to read from the NRSV and the Knox Bible, both which are very distinct from each other. I know where they are deficient and where they excel, yet I really appreciate the types of editions I can find them in.

If you are interested in looking into different editions, feel free to stop by my site:

hey Bible Reader,
thanks for your response! A few follow ups if i may?

  1. I am not quite sure where in Dei Verbum it states to abandon the Douay Rheims? What does critical study of scripture have to do with the abondonment of the DR?

  2. How do we not know that somewhere in the Church’s future we may see a return to the Vulgate or a return to the DR? In other words, how do we know for sure that we may not see a proclomation of “Divino Afflante Spiritu” moved the church in the ‘wrong direction’ and we are now going to correct that direction with a new one (or a return to the prior one)?" Follow?

Hi Mccorm45… thanks for your response!

A follow up if i may?

  1. Agreed, most translations have good points and bad, but when the bad seem to outweigh the good, don’t we owe it to ourselves to reevaluate?

  2. In the case of the DR, aside from the ‘archaic language’ concern (although I have to ask, how hard is it really to look up a few ‘archaic words’ and find their definition?), what are the other ‘bad points’ of the DR? However, when we see the NRSV or the NABRE, we are able to find quite a number of ‘bad points’. Follow?

HI all…just to clarify…I am NOT here to ‘bash’ the new translations or run around as a DR-Only advocate… i am humbly and sincerely trying to find clarity on this issue as it’s a confusing one to me.

I guess I’m just finding myself a little out of step with the modern Catholic church and it’s really a struggle for me… :frowning:

  1. In a time when most Catholics, including ‘scholars and theologians’ don’t take the Bible literally, i still do.

  2. In a time when Catholic Bible translations and study notes/guides are rife with liberalism, anti-miracles, doubt-mongering, and borderline apostasy, i still hold to more traditional/orthodox Catholic teachings.

  3. In a time when it’s now acceptable to be at Mass drinking water bottles, smacking/cracking gum, and so on, I still feel a deep & humble reverence for what takes place at Mass and try to give it my utmost attention, respect, and devotion. (I know we can’t focus on others… Christ should be our focus at Mass, but it does make one wonder - just what is creating this ho-hum, critical spirit in the Church? Is it the constant faith-shaking translations and notes we read in our modern Bibles? Is it Satan? Just what… is… it???)


  1. Simply put, if the church says a particular translation is approved for study and/or liturgical use that is all I need. With that said, I find translations that include textual notes indicating alternative translations (or manuscript evidence) to be invaluable. That is why I like the NRSV. One can argue with a particular translation it goes with, but more times than not there is a note giving the alternative. The Knox is like this too, showing the differences between the Latin and the Greek/Hebrew.

  2. There is more to it than the archaic language, which is neither here nor there to me. There is also textual issues relating to following the Latin, as opposed to the original languages. I don’t necessarily think the Latin is wrong in all the cases where it differs from the Greek or Hebrew, but I also believe we have a ton of manuscript evidence, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, which should be consulted in any modern translation of the Bible. I would love to see a parallel Knox-NRSV in the future. It will never happen, but I think it would be an amazing study tool for Catholics.

Hmmmm… this part is interesting to me. I see your points, but i also have to wonder… where you say “we have a ton of manuscript evidence”… However, if Jerome translated the Vulgate in 300’s AD, VERY close to the time of Christ, is it possible that he had access to older/more reliable manuscripts that are no longer in existence? Possibly better ones than we have today?

Again i really need to state that i am not decided either way… but as someone who has spent enough time in more modern translations, who is recently discovering the DR, the DR seems to be emerging as a more reliable English translation to me. It doesn’t cast doubt on my faith. It doesn’t dive into borderline heresy. It’s has phraseology that is familiar. So perhaps your first point earlier on is the best approach - pick a church approved translation that you like and use it for reading and study. :slight_smile:

It is of course difficult to say what Jerome had access to, so it is difficult debating that point. The more manuscripts the better.

Yeah, go for the DR if you like it. Baronius Press publishes some wonderful editions. Saint Benedict Press has some more modern editions for sale as well.

I am not aware that Dei Verbum said to “abandon” D-R, but it fairly clearly encourages translations be made from original languages. From paragraph 22:

But since the word of God should be accessible at all times, the Church by her authority and with maternal concern sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books.

I mention critical studies because one complaint about some translations such as the NABRE and NJB is that the notes make mention of modern critical theories.

It is within the realm of possibility, although it is a bit hard for me to imagine this happening during our lifetimes, given the way that Catholic Biblical scholarship has developed. For example, the Vatican has released its own revised vulgate (Nova Vulgata) based in part on modern critical principles. This, in turn, replaced the four different translations known as the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate. The Douay-Rheims was based on a Vulgate translation even older than the Sixto-Clementine. And, arguably, the prospects of Latin as a vernacular language do not look particularly good.

I would say yes. Jerome was scholarly in Greek and Hebrew, and had 2014 English been around in the 4th century, it is possible that any translations into it would have been entirely different than Bibles are today from whatever’s left of the Greek and Hebrew. In that sense Jerome’s Latin makes sense. Latin through the genius of Cicero et al doesn’t change.

English changes and translations into it probably need to be updated as well. In any case, you will never be able to capture the ancient Greek, Hebrew, or Latin nuances and inflections into English or other modern languages. Serious Bible study would need to involve oneself in those ancient languages.

It really wasn’t designed to be vernacular (the average Roman probably didn’t know third declension or much else about grammar) and subject to changes normally associated with normal street languages. So it’s good in a way that it is not a native language of anyone’s.


The problem, of course, is that we do not possess original manuscripts of Jerome’s translation. What we have are numerous much later manuscripts that purport to be later copies of Jerome’s translation – and those later manuscripts disagree with each other

There have been scholarly attempts to reconstruct Jerome’s translation, but those depend on (in part) the very same manuscripts that are the basis on translations of our time. Among the major reconstructions are the Quentin Vulgate; the Weber-Gryson Vulgate; the Wordsworth-White Vulgate; the San Girolama Vulgate; etc. If you consult the critical apparatuses of these editions, you will see the large number of variations included. As Prof. Joseph Fitzmeyer, S.J. wrote about one of these reconstructions: "A cursory comparison of this text with the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate will convince the student that many readings have been going erroneously by the name ‘Vulgate.’ "

Latin changes. Ask anyone who spoke it in Spain between 600 A.D. and 1200 A.D.

You’re talking about Vulgar Latin, the street language which would have been the basis of the Romance languages we have today. Yes, that would have changed; we know that. Classic Latin, which was Christianized by the Church, did and does not change in its grammar and word meanings. Only words are added along the way.

As for Spanish, like Italian, up until the 16th century they were basically Latin without the grammar, or so I’ve read. Spanish, though, had added a lot of Arabic words to their vocabulary.

Here’s an interesting tidbit of information I picked up from Quora.

According to Mario Pei , linguist (for however accurate his study was), this was the percentages of distance “removal” from Latin:
Sardinian: 8% removed from Latin;
Italian: 12% removed;
Spanish: 20% removed;
Romanian: 23.5% removed;
Occitan: 25%;
Portuguese: 31%;
French: 44%.

My thoughts on Catholic translations…

No approved translation is heretical. I’ll use Isaiah 7:14 as an example. Some translations use ‘virgin’ in Isaiah because Christians see this verse as a prediction of the virginal birth of the messiah, and it was translated that way in the Septuagint. Others use ‘young woman’ , which is a valid translation of the Hebrew, usually with a note about how Christians interpreted it.

For some, using ‘young woman’ is anti-Christian because they see it as an implicit denial of the virgin birth, even though it doesn’t. But, using virgin makes the reference between Matthew 1 and Isaiah more clear.

The same goes for notes. In the NAB, notes indicate that the Magnificat may not have actually been uttered by Mary as is, but may have been an early Christian psalm inserted by Luke. Luke wrote half a century later, based on what he learned from other Christians (she may have sung a hymn of thanksgiving, and this one seemed to fit the context best.

Ultimately, whether the details are considered perfectly accurate quotes or approximations, the truth of the words remains. But, for some, the older traditions are better because they stick to the traditional interpretation, while others are junk because they don’t. None cross the line from Catholicism to heresy.

I’m not sure I follow. Are you arguing for the English translation of the Greek translation of the Hebrew or the English translation of the Hebrew (original, I presume)? It seems like Anglophones think everything translated into English must be one and only one, not allowing for multiple meanings, etc.

As for being heretical, I don’t think either would qualify as heresy, but as far as something being approved can’t be heresy, consider Archbishop Cranmer, who I’m sure approved a lot of things, eventually being burned at the stake for being a heretic himself.

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