Latin Vulgate usage


Was the Latin Vulgate used only in the West? Did any of the Eastern churches use it before the split took place?


Pretty much yes.

The Vulgate didn’t even become a universal translation in the West until the last half of the early Middle Ages. It took some time for it to completely displace earlier Latin translations (Vetus Latina).

In fact, technically, contrary to what we might imagine St. Jerome didn’t translate the biblical books with the express view that they’d become the only translation to be used in the Latin West.

What Pope Damasus asked him to do in 382 was to check the Latin translation of the gospels and Psalms used at that time in Rome against the best Greek texts available to them. (At this time, local churches in the Latin West pretty much each had their own local or regional translations; there wasn’t one, universal Latin version of the Bible yet.)

As for the 39 protocanonical OT books (and at least four of the deuterocanonicals: Tobit, Judith, the Greek parts of Esther and Daniel), he translated those years later as a private project - Damasus was already dead and Jerome driven out of Rome by this point - at the request of some friends of his, who pretty much wanted to know how the Hebrew version of the Old Testament (which most early Christians by then were not familiar with, since most of them used (translations of) the Greek Septuagint) went.

The rest were likely not his translations, but a hodgepodge of earlier Latin translations that someone else revised and totally unrevised earlier versions. These were combined with Jerome’s actual translation work to complete the collection, so to speak.


Do you thinks it is accurate to call the Latin Vulgate the “first compiled Bible” with the correct Canon? Was Vetus Latina considered a Bible? Was it the Confirmed Canon of 382?

Wiki states this about Vetus:

There was no single “Vetus Latina” Bible; there are, instead, a collection of biblical manuscript texts that bear witness to Latin translations of biblical passages that preceded Jerome’s.


Well, first off, the term ‘Vetus Latina’ is a very broad term. It refers to any Latin rendition of scriptural books that were made before Jerome’s Vulgate - in fact, just about any ancient Latin translation of Scripture that was not the Vulgate. It doesn’t refer to a specific Latin translation or version. So it’s really not like “the Revised Standard Version” or “New American Bible.”


Well, first off, the term ‘Vetus Latina’ is a very broad, general term. It just refers to any Latin rendition of scriptural books and/or passages that were made before St. Jerome; in fact, just about any ancient (pre-medieval) Latin translation of Scripture that’s not the Vulgate. It doesn’t refer to a specific Latin translation, version or collection. So it’s really not like “the Revised Standard Version” or “New American Bible.”

Another thing is, when we talk about the canonization of Scripture I think that you have to shake off modern preconceptions first. When Scripture was canonized, the decrees didn’t extend to particular versions; it is the ‘books’, the documents themselves that were declared Scripture, not any particular version or rendition of them. So in other words, what is deemed canonical is say, the book of Tobit or the gospel of Matthew, not so-and-so version of Tobit or so-and-so translation of Matthew.

Re. the term “Bible:” you’re using the word in what sense here? A physical book containing all the writings deemed inspired, or a concept (a collection of inspired writings)?


Yes, i understand all you are bringing into my questions.

I mean bible in the latter understanding. IOWs, was the Latin Vulgate connected to the Canon? Was it considered a bible in that sense? I am not necessarily referring to a “bound book” such as Códex Vaticanus.


Based on what Patrick said, it would be true IF that particular codex of the Latin Vulgate contained all of the Books of the Canon of 382. But the Latin Vulgate as a concept was a correction of the Old Latin. It was a way to bring all of the various readings (and books) into unity with the Latin Church and her liturgy. So it would take time for the Vulgate to spread across the Latin West and supplant the Old Latin bibles that already were in place (and used in Liturgies) There was some resistance at first too. It is known that St. Augustine had issues with it, and exchanged letters with St. Jerome over the various changes, and readings. I believe the Old Latin persisted in the outlying areas of the Latin West for a good long time.

I don’t know if that answers your question though. :shrug:


Thanks. I’m trying to understand if the LV was associated with the Canon of the Council of Rome. Did it have a direct relation to the Canon?


Okay. I think you’re sort of confusing things a bit here.

The Vulgate as a whole wasn’t really “a correction of the Old Latin.” In fact, there was no ‘Vulgate as a whole’ until well after Jerome’s death. You have to consider that the Vulgate as we know it now is essentially a combination of different projects by Jerome - his revision of earlier Latin translations of the four gospels, his translation of the protocanonical OT books from the Hebrew, his translation of at least four deuterocanonicals from Aramaic and Greek - with Latin translations of other books that he did not work on.

Strictly speaking, within the Vulgate only the Latin translation of the gospels was “a correction of the Old Latin” that was made by Jerome. (There are other books that seem to be revisions of Vetus Latina translations - for example, the rest of the NT or the book of Baruch - but the reviser probably wasn’t him.)

In 382 (just two years before his death) Pope Damasus asked his secretary Jerome to check the Latin translations of the gospels that was then being used in Rome against the best Greek manuscripts that were available to them, which Jerome did, although Damasus seems to have also asked Jerome to be conservative in his work - to retain as much of the old wording as possible. That explains why the word archiereus ‘high priest’ is princeps sacerdotum in Vulgate Matthew and pontifex in Vulgate John; Jerome didn’t change much and apparently kept much of the original wording intact, even when they render differently the same Greek word.

Now this was originally just a local, Roman thing; Damasus wasn’t planning to impose Jerome’s revision of the gospels throughout all the Latin-speaking churches (which as mentioned pretty much all had their own local translations).

Damasus died two years later, and Jerome left Rome (many of the Roman clergy were hostile towards him; without Damasus to defend him, he’s now pretty much fair game for them), and settled in Bethlehem by 388, where he stayed until his death in 420. It was during his Bethlehem years that Jerome translated the Hebrew OT plus four deuteros (Tobit, Judith, Daniel, Esther) into Latin; it took him about fifteen years (390 to 405-407).

As mentioned, his translations at this point were private and ‘unofficial’: he translated not because the pope ordered him to, but because various friends of his asked him to. They wanted to know how the Hebrew Old Testament (unfamiliar and unknown to most Christians of the time) read, how it differed from the Greek Septuagint which was by then the default OT text for most Christians. And Jerome was pretty much the only one who was close to a Hebrew expert that they had.

Of course, Jerome also originally didn’t intend for his OT translations to become the ‘standard’ text of Scripture across the Latin-speaking world - it was just a personal thing of his.


Thanks bro!
So just like the Canon of Scripture, the Latin Vulgate was a process. But once finished, it would be considered the first bible, right? Even though other churches had translations of many parts, the Vulgate was most likely the first complete collection of Scripture?


A little timeline.

This is the correspondence between Jerome and Augustine.


Thanks for the “little timeline”…

I notice, in the Decretum Gelasianum, the epistle of Jude is called “Judas the zealot”. Is this just an optional translation of the name?

And this quote from it also:

After*all these [writings of]*the prophets and the evangelical and apostolic scriptures which we discussed above, on which the catholic church is founded by the grace of God, we also have thought necessary to say what, although the universal catholic church diffused throughout the world is the single bride of Christ, however the holy Roman church is given first place by the rest of the churches without [the need for] a synodical decision, but from the voice of the Lord our saviour in the gospel obtained primacy: ‘You are Peter,’ he said, ‘and upon this rock I shall build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it; and to you I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you shall bind upon Earth shall be bound also in heaven and whatever you release upon Earth shall also be released in heaven’.

I’m confused whether this is supposedly from the Council of Rome? Is this part of the Council that was later referred to at a different council?


[quote=patrick457]Okay. I think you’re sort of confusing things a bit here.

The Vulgate as a whole wasn’t really “a correction of the Old Latin.” In fact, there was no ‘Vulgate as a whole’ until well after Jerome’s death. You have to consider that the Vulgate as we know it now is essentially a combination of different projects by Jerome - his revision of earlier Latin translations of the four gospels, his translation of the protocanonical OT books from the Hebrew, his translation of at least four deuterocanonicals from Aramaic and Greek - with Latin translations of other books that he did not work on.

Ooops! :o Sorry. Thanks for the clarification. :slight_smile:

The only thing I would doubt would be the idea that there was no sort of understanding that Jerome’s correction of the Old Latin, was intended to be a standard in more than a confined area of Rome. (Even though it was the Gospels alone, more than likely for the sake of the Liturgy.)

Also by being appointed by the Pope for this task, I believe St. Jerome became the “go to” person for many in the Latin West (not just in Rome) regarding Scripture, both in translation and in interpretation.

Also, by the momentum that Jerome’s translation acquired in the Latin West, from the days of Pope Damasus, it was on a trajectory of becoming the de facto standard, even if there was no orchestrated direction from Rome.


What were the eastern churches using during all of this? Was it a version in Greek? Remember, today they have additional OT books books.


The Greek-speaking churches used the Greek Septuagint (well, a recension of the Septuagint) plus the Greek New Testament (the so-called Byzantine text-type became the standard version by the Byzantine period).

The Syriac churches used the Peshitta, a combination of a 2nd century translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew (the protocanon) and Greek (most of the deutero’s), plus a translation of 22 out of 27 books of the New Testament that date from somewhere before the early 5th century.

Before Jerome’s translation, Syriac-speaking Christians were unique in using a distinct translation of the OT, BTW: most other churches - including the Latin churches - used derivative translations of the Greek versions of OT books.

So basically, every language group had its own version (or versions) of Scripture. Syrian Christians had Syriac, the Byzantines had Greek, Arab Christians had Arabic, Egyptians (Copts) had Coptic, Slavs had Slavonic, Armenians had Armenian, etc.


I intend no offense here, but the bolded above made me snicker :smiley:

Back on topic, Patrick, that timeline is very useful – thanks! :thumbsup:


Before I go on, a little bit more about the Vulgate.

First off, the Vulgate exists in a number of versions and recensions. As with the Greek NT manuscripts, as St. Jerome’s translations became popular and widely copied, soon enough various parts of Latin Europe began developing their local versions of the text.

The three main versions of the Vulgate are the Italian, the Spanish and the Irish versions.

Out of the three, the Italian version is considered to be the ‘purest’, the closest one to Jerome’s originals relatively free of ‘contamination’ by older, Vetus Latina readings. It is also sometimes called the Northumbrian version, because the text also endured for a long time in England, specifically in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. Codex Sangallensis 1395 and Codex Fuldensis (two of the earliest manuscripts of the Vulgate text; both manuscripts are from Italy BTW, so no surprise that they’ll represent the Italian text) and two English (Northumbrian) manuscripts, Codex Amiatinus (the earliest manuscript of the (almost) complete Vulgate Bible) and the Lindisfarne Gospels are four representatives of the Italian text.

The Spanish version is just as old as the Italian text, but is not considered as good as the Italian. Jerome is said to have supervised Spanish scribes who came to copy his works in 398* (Jerome had not completed his final revision by then), but by the time of our earliest manuscripts the text had developed many peculiarities, usually Vetus Latina readings or marginalia that crept into the text. (The “three heavenly witnesses” text of 1 John 5:7-8 is an example of such a reading.) Codex Cavensis is an example of a manuscript of the Spanish text (technically, Cavensis shows an Italian text with Spanish characteristics).

Jerome once claimed that bishops from Italy and Gaul were sending scribes to him in Bethlehem to copy his writings. His claim seems to be a little exaggerated, but a wealthy Spanish layman, Lucinus of Baetica, had done precisely that: he sent six servants of his to Jerome’s place to copy all of the works that he had produced, which they did in papyrus books (in chartaceis codicibus). Lucinus did not live long after this, however; soon enough Jerome found himself writing to Lucinus’ widow Theodora giving his condolences and some details about the books and the copying process.

As an aside, Lucinus seems to have had a rather exaggerated impression of Jerome: he apparently thought that Jerome had also translated the works of Josephus and the writings of St. Polycarp and Papias (which he didn’t).

The Irish or Celtic text, meanwhile, is marked by beautiful manuscripts (the Book of Kells, Lichfield Gospels, the Book of Armagh, to name a few*). However, the Irish is not so much a version of the Vulgate per se as it is a mixed version of the Vulgate and earlier Latin translations, with the Vulgate element predominating. At least one scholar had even theorized that the Irish text was not so much a Vulgate text that was infiltrated by Vetus Latina readings but a Vetus Latina source that was infiltrated by Vulgate readings.

One characteristic of the Irish text is the inversion and alteration of word order, breaking them down probably to make reading and understanding the text easier. (After all, it was the Irish scribes who made word spacing popular in a time when word dividers were not common.) Another thing Irish scribes tended to do is to copy the same passage or phrase or word twice from different versions (or include the variant reading as an interlinear gloss - which could end up being copied alongside the text), producing what is called a ‘doublet reading’. The Book of Kells is (in)famous for its doublet readings in particular: in Matthew 6:16 (“they disfigure their faces”), Kells gives the reading demuliuntur exterminant, combining the reading demoliuntur (‘disfigure’) with the variant the reading exterminant (‘wipe out’).

They are also known to harmonize and insert details from one gospel into another gospel, so for example, the description of the veil being torn from Matthew and Mark is inserted after John 19:30; details from the catch of fish in Luke 5 is conflated with the one in John 21, and so on. Some of the manuscripts are even thought to have been corrected from a Greek text. (Some scribes seem to have liked showing off what they know of Greek: the scribe of the Book of Armagh had a rather weird penchant for transliterating some Latin words like Amen into Greek letters: he had even written the entire Latin Our Father in Greek letters in Matthew 6. It was a sort of thing among the Irish at that time.)

(Note: the Cathach of St. Columba and the Book of Durrow - two of the oldest biblical manuscripts in Ireland - do not exhibit the Irish text, but a rather ‘pure’ form of the Vulgate Psalms (Gallican) and gospels, respectively. However, they - especially Durrow - seems to have had no influence over the later Irish manuscripts.)

Aside from these three, there are also other local versions. The French is one of them, which is often considered to be the ‘worst’ - since it is pretty much a combination of the Celtic text (brought in by Irish missionaries) and the Spanish.


Yeah. As I noted by the last post, St. Jerome claimed that bishops in Europe kept sending scribes to copy his works (which may include the translations he was doing); we know at least one lay fan of his, Lucinus of Baetica, did so. And then there’s that controversy in Tripoli regarding his translation of Jonah from the Hebrew.

At least for the OT, I think then Jerome’s translations were still pretty much a form of curiosity: something that allowed Christians to access and read for themselves what the Jews had in Hebrew. Up to this point, most Christians were ignorant of the Hebrew (proto-Masoretic) text; for all intents and purposes, the Septuagint (and derivatives) was their Old Testament. Those who did know about the Hebrew text either did not care (after all, they had the Septuagint) or even held it in disdain (cf. the old canard about Jews systematically altering the OT on purpose to obscure prophecies that pointed to Jesus).

In a way, Jerome with his love (sometimes to a fault) of Hebrew and Jewish interpretation was a sort of unique figure among Christians at that time. He ran against the grain. He was essentially the one that dealt the death blow to the Septuagint in the West. (Origen started the process, Jerome finished it. You might say that the ‘back to the Hebrew and Greek’ mentality the Reformers had is a sort of protracted extension of that.)


I was talking more about .Decretum Gelasianum Supposedly that was from the 382 Council of Rome, but given the questionable ascription of the Decretum as a whole, we aren’t totally sure. (That’s why I never listed the Council of Rome in the timeline.) It’s also likely that this was a later pseudepigraphal production inspired by the decrees of Hippo and Carthage.

Re. “Judas the Zealot:” he’s an old variant. In some Vetus Latina manuscripts of Matthew, Iudas zelotes appears in the list of the apostles (the name might be a conflation of Simon the Zealot and Judas/Jude) in place of “Thaddaeus.” Thaddaeus is one apostle whose name is different across different manuscripts: some give his name as ‘Lebbaeus’, and then there’s this ‘Judas the Zealot’ reading.

In the 2nd century apocryphal work Epistula Apostolorum, “Judas the Zealot” is also listed as one of the Eleven Apostles (which the work gives as “John, Thomas, Peter, Andrew, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Nathanael, Judas Zelotes, and Cephas”).


I see. But it has credibility, no? Since Hippo and Carthage refer to the Canon as already determined/fixed?

Re. “Judas the Zealot:” he’s an old variant. .


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit