Vulgate Textual Traditions


This is a very broad question, and I apologize if I can’t make it as clear as I would like to.

But put very basically: the Douay-Rheims and various modern translations differ considerably in various places in the “Deuterocanon.” The book of Tobias, for example, is very different from the RSV’s book of Tobit. Ecclesiasticus contains various readings which Sirach does not.

For many months now, I’ve wondered about all of this, and I hope some of you could point me in the right direction. My question: in parts of the Deuterocanon, is the underlying Latin textual tradition of the Douay-Rheims viewed by modern scholars as poorly reflecting the autographs?


Some of those Deutroconical books were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and those were used for modern versions for critical texts, which have variants from the Septuagint version used by the Vulgate.


I’d recommend a past thread of mine on this. Simply speaking, Tobit exists in different wildly different versions. Bits of five manuscripts of Tobit were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (four in Aramaic, one in Hebrew), all of them exhibiting some difference from each other.

There are two or three Greek versions (the source text of the RSV and pretty much most modern versions), of which one - the longer version found only in its complete form in one manuscript, the 4th-century Codex Sinaiticus - is very close to the DSS Tobit manuscripts. (Note: the RSV - just like every translation made before the 1950s-60s - uses the other, shorter version, which is found in most Greek manuscripts.)

Vulgate Tobit is a translation of a Hebrew translation of a late Aramaic version/paraphrase of Tobit (St. Jerome for some reason had the Aramaic text translated in Hebrew, from which he made his translation.) The Latin translations of Tobit made before Jerome, meanwhile, were all ultimately derived from a version close to the longer Greek version and the DSS Tobit manuscripts. (In fact, in a number of cases, they’re more closer to the DSS Tobit than the longer Greek text is.) The text of Tobit in the Nova Vulgata isn’t the translation made by Jerome, but a revised version of one of these pre-Jerome translations.

In addition, you have ancient translations of Tobit in various languages as well as medieval Hebrew and Aramaic versions.

To sum, you have the following versions:

Shorter Greek version (Greek I): KJV, RSV (Pretty much every translation made before 1950s-60s),
Longer Greek version (Greek II): NAB, NRSV, New Jerusalem Bible (Pretty much most translations made after 1966*)
Late Aramaic version: Vulgate, Douai-Rheims
Vetus Latina (pre-Jerome) version: Nova Vulgata

  • There are a few exceptions to this, of course.

There are a number of good litmus tests to determine which version of Tobit you’re reading, but here’s two easy ones.

First, look at Tobit 1:21 and see how many days elapsed before Sennacherib was killed by his own sons. In the shorter Greek I, it’s “fifty days.” In the longer Greek II, it’s “forty days.” In the Vetus Latina versions and the Vulgate, it’s “forty-five days.” (The one DSS manuscript of Tobit which preserves this relevant portion would agree with either Greek II or the Latin versions in giving forty or forty-five - it’s hard to tell which exactly because the manuscript has a gap or lacuna where the number should be - days.)

A second test is to check the specified age when Tobit became blind (14:1). If in your text, Tobit is said to become blind at fifty-eight, you’re reading Greek I. If he becomes blind at sixty-two, it’s Greek II you’re reading. If he becomes blind at fifty-six, you’re reading the Vulgate version.

(Here’s the funny thing: the DSS Tobit manuscripts generally exhibit a text closer to the longer Greek version. Nowadays scholars think that the shorter text (Greek I) is a condensed epitome or summary, while the longer version (Greek II) is a faithful translation of a Semitic text close to the DSS versions. But the thing is, there are places where the DSS manuscripts can give a reading different from that found in Greek II. Case in point, the one Hebrew manuscript of Tobit which preserves the text of 14:1 agrees with Greek I against Greek II in giving Tobit’s age when he became blind as fifty-eight, but at the same time it agrees with Greek II against Greek I in specifying that Tobit died at age 112.)


I should add: generally speaking, deuterocanonical books exhibit far more textual diversity than the protocanonical books do. There’s Tobit as I mentioned earlier. Sirach for the record also exists in two versions in Greek: there’s the shorter version, the translation made by Ben Sira (Sirach)'s own grandson (Greek I), and an expanded version (Greek II).

The Vulgate text of Sirach isn’t Jerome’s (the only deuteros St. Jerome did actually translate are Tobit, Judith, and the ‘extra’ parts of Esther and Daniel): it’s a Vetus Latina version, one which has affinities with Greek II text. And just like Tobit, you have ancient versions of the text in other languages like Syriac or Coptic or Ethiopian. (Scholars prefer the readings of the Syriac version at times.)

As for the Hebrew text of Sirach, we have two-thirds of the book extant in Hebrew. Most of our Hebrew witnesses to Sirach are 11th-12th century manuscripts found in the storeroom of the Cairo synagogue. In addition, we have bits and pieces of Sirach from the DSS: two small fragments of a late-1st century BC manuscript of Sirach from Qumran Cave 2 (6:14-15, 20-31), and a larger 1st century AD fragment from Masada (39:27-44:17). Sirach 51:13-20, 30b is preserved in the Psalms Scroll from Qumran Cave 11. These DSS fragments, the Masada manuscript in particular, confirmed that the medieval Cairo texts substantially preserve the original Hebrew version of Sirach.

Now that being said, Hebrew Sirach also exists in two recensions (it’s very complicated, yes): the shorter version (Hebrew I) and a longer one (Hebrew II). To sum, it seems that the longer Greek II version is a revision of Greek I based on the text of Hebrew II, which itself is an expanded version of Hebrew I. The Latin version is ultimately based on the text of Greek II. Now the Syriac Peshitta version of Sirach has affinities with all of these Hebrew and Greek versions. :wink:


That was very useful information, Copland and Patrick, thank you very much.

Patrick, you made the following observation:

I’m the type who thinks that all the different versions of the same book are inspired, in that they convey more or less the same things: I don’t hold to the idea of one version being ‘more inspired’ than the others.

Could you expand on that a bit? You would say that the version of Tobit in the Douay-Rheims is just as inspired as the version that exists in, say, the RSV-CE?

I suppose that that question is really the crux of the issue. I wonder how to understand the fact that certain deuteros have been apparently poorly preserved to the point that we can’t know what the autographs looked like. I wonder if such a situation would insinuate that we don’t have very good knowledge of which version of a particular detero book is inspired, and what the implications of that would be.

While such a question doesn’t keep me up at night, your theory that all the different versions are inspired would answer the question. I wonder, then, about the specifics of that understanding, and why you arrived at it.


Well, the way I see it, it is the work itself and the (gist of the) contents thereof that matters, not any particular version or recension of said work. So yeah, I’ll hold that all those different versions of Tobit and the translations made from them are inspired, just as I hold the so-called Alexandrian text-type of NT books to be just as inspired as the Byzantine text-type.

I mean, yeah, the different versions of Tobit do show great variety in the specifics of the story (I mean, just as I noted, the different recensions even contradict each other on certain details like Tobit’s age when he became blind), but I’d say that all those variances in detail is not what makes or breaks the work. It is the story itself and the lessons we can glean from it is that’s important. All the minor details - numbers of days and ages of people, etc. - are secondary.

It’s kinda like in the gospels, in the story of the paralytic lowered down the roof. In Mark’s gospel, the people who lowered the paralytic are said to have ‘dug through’ the roof (2:5) - implying the flat-roofed, thatched and mud-plastered houses common in the Holy Land at that time. In Luke’s gospel, however, the people are said to have removed tiles from the roof (5:19), which implies a sort of Greco-Roman house. You could attempt to posit some kind of harmonization here, but I think that even if these two gospels [size=]did ‘contradict’ each other in this detail, this isn’t the kind of major contradiction that would threaten the inspiration of the gospels. Scholars think that Mark’s version reflects the historical reality of 1st-century Palestine, while Luke was adapting the story for his Greco-Roman audience by turning the house into something they are more familiar with: a house with tiles on the roof. That process of retelling doesn’t make Luke a liar or his gospel uninspired; the actual construction of the house isn’t what’s important here.[/size]

  • Here’s the thing. Many people think of textual transmission by imagining a ‘single’ original text (what scholars would call the urtext), from which variants sprung up. But that’s actually an oversimplification of the actual picture. Instead of thinking of one, single autograph, perhaps it’s better to imagine a number of original ‘Urtexts’. Again, shameless plug here, but I’d recommend these posts:


Patrick, I agree 100 percent. I think in recent times that KJV only folks and similar people have impacted the mindset of “one inspired version and everything else is not” idea. As every debate often goes, eventually both side get trapped in a box.


Speaking of which, I think KJV-onlyism is itself a mere reinvention of the wheel. The whole process which leads to the birth of a ‘(insert particular version here)-only’ movement is something that pops now and again ever since the beginning of the Church. Really, throughout Church history we’ve continually shifted from one version or translation of the Scriptures to another: from the Septuagint to the Vulgate, from the Vulgate to vernacular versions and the Nova Vulgata, from the Masoretic Text and the ‘Majority’ (Byzantine) text-type to more eclectic critical texts, from the Douai-Rheims and the KJV to the RSV or the NAB or the NIV. And that process of change is always controversial (why wouldn’t it?)

You’re familiar with the Septuagint being ‘the’ Bible for most early Christians (well, except for Syriac Christians), right?

I mean, you had the same thing going on back then and now: people were using a single translation of the Bible for years (the Septuagint / the KJV), and then suddenly, new versions (the Vulgate / modern English translations) appear. Now these translations prove controversial, mainly because they don’t say the exact same thing as the old versions do (in fact, they sometimes say something different - cf. that controversy about Jerome’s decision to render the plant Jonah stayed under as cucurbita ‘gourd’, which went against the traditional hedera ‘ivy’). Some people feel that these differences in the text is a threat to their faith, and so as a result, they get on the defensive and in the process of upholding the ‘established’ version (which is usually now ascribed a special - even sacred/inspired - status), condemn the ‘newfangled’ ones. You know, the old conservative reflex.

That being said, there were people who recognized the value of having different (even conflictingly different) versions and interpretations. St. Augustine was one.

Accordingly, when anyone claims, “Moses meant what I say,” and another retorts, “No, rather what I find there,” I think that I will be answering in a more religious spirit if I say, “Why not both, if both are true?” And if there is a third possibility, and a fourth, and if someone else sees an entirely different meaning in these words, why should we not think that he was aware of all of them? (Confessions 12.31.42)

[T]his circumstance would assist rather than hinder the understanding of Scripture, if only readers were not careless. For the examination of a number of texts has often thrown light upon some of the more obscure passages … Each of these in turn confirms the other. For the one is explained by the other … When now the meaning of the two translators is compared, a more likely sense of the words suggests itself … Now which of these is the literal translation cannot be ascertained without reference to the text in the original tongue. And yet to those who read with knowledge, a great truth is to be found in each. For it is difficult for interpreters to differ so widely as not to touch at some point. (On Christian Doctrine 2.16-17)

In fact, our obsession with the original autographs is a modern anxiety. Many early Christians did not worry when they saw the differences between the text of the Greek OT and the Hebrew OT (some did of course and explained it away: “Those nasty Jews altered the Scriptures!” :rolleyes:), and they didn’t worry about not having the ‘original’; they welcomed it as an opportunity to learn more. They recognized that God can, and does, speak in many, different voices.

I think we need to relearn that. If God does speak polyvocally (I believe He does), wouldn’t it be foolish to stifle and smoothen all those different voices?


[quote=patrick457]I think we need to relearn that. If God does speak polyvocally (I believe He does), wouldn’t it be foolish to stifle and smoothen all those different voices?

Wouldn’t that suggest that translations ARE inspired?

I believe that God speaks with one voice, although it may be in many different languages. (Maybe this is what you meant, but put differently.) :wink:

For the Scripture scholar, (like St. Augustine) it does make sense to compare various texts and translations. But for devotional reading, I would suggest that the reader stick with the version that connects him with the Word best. So, for some, it may be perfectly valid for them to read only the KJV, the D/R, the NRSV-CE, the Knox, the Jerusalem/Grail, even shudder the NAB.

So a lot depends on why the reader is reading.

It may be helpful for the reader to have an open mind though, as suggested. Sometimes trying a new translation helps connect one to the Word in NEW ways. :slight_smile:


Well, some Jews and the early Christians thought the Greek translations were inspired…:wink:

I believe that God speaks with one voice, although it may be in many different languages. (Maybe this is what you meant, but put differently.) :wink:

What I mean is, the Bible isn’t in a way, a single book. It is a collection / library of different books. All those books have their own voice, and are in conversation with each other, at times these voices may somewhat clash with others.

Sure, we have this tendency to harmonize all those variants or conflicting details, or maybe even pretend they don’t exist, but sometimes I wonder if that act often leads to us imposing ourselves upon God. I mean, I believe all these differences are there for a reason: it’d be unwise - maybe foolhardy even - to simply handwave them and ‘make the rough places smooth’ in this case.

I personally believe in that adage by philosopher Jacques Derrida: “impoverishment by univocality.” In other words, when we try to make a text univocal, “one-voiced,” we deprive it of its richness. IMHO the Bible - the Scriptures, rather - is rich precisely because it is - they are - polyvocal. That’s the beauty of it. That’s why I don’t really subscribe to the idea of some people out there that the Text has only to have a single meaning, or that divine inspiration rests on whether two books say the same thing or not. (Y’know, that argument that runs like: “Hey look! Jesus’ last words are different in the gospels! That must mean the gospels contradict are not reliable/inspired!”) And that’s why I think the Church has it right when it speaks of the ‘senses of Scripture’.

Personally, I believe it’s pretty telling that Marcion, the guy who believed in only a single gospel (Luke) and a single apostle (Paul), is a heretic. :smiley:

For the Scripture scholar, (like St. Augustine) it does make sense to compare various texts and translations. But for devotional reading, I would suggest that the reader stick with the version that connects him with the Word best. So, for some, it may be perfectly valid for them to read only the KJV, the D/R, the NRSV-CE, the Knox, the Jerusalem/Grail, even shudder the NAB.

So a lot depends on why the reader is reading.

It may be helpful for the reader to have an open mind though, as suggested. Sometimes trying a new translation helps connect one to the Word in NEW ways. :slight_smile:

That’s what I think too. A person can have his/her one preferred translation, but at the same time, he/she must understand that that translation isn’t going to be complete in and of itself. It can capture only one facet of the original text. Something’s gonna be inevitably lost in the translation.


I personally believe in that adage by philosopher Jacques Derrida: “impoverishment by univocality.” In other words, when we try to make a text univocal, “one-voiced,” we deprive it of its richness. IMHO the Bible - the Scriptures, rather - is rich precisely because it is - they are - polyvocal. That’s the beauty of it. That’s why I don’t really subscribe to the idea of some people out there that the Text has only to have a single meaning, or that divine inspiration rests on whether two books say the same thing or not.

Agreed. In fact that is sometimes the major weakness of a given translation. It frames an agenda for itself, and translates everything according to that agenda. So your point is well taken! :thumbsup:


Just to go back to the topic:

To sum, St. Jerome translated both Tobit and Judith using late Aramaic versions/paraphrases of the two works. The ‘extra’ bits of Esther and Daniel were translated from the Greek (Daniel from Theodotion’s Greek version, which had become the standard among Christians). He never really translated Sirach, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon and Baruch; the Vulgate versions of these five books are Vetus Latina translations.


One quick clarification and then a long note:

You actually mean the reverse right (traditional gourd for ivy)? I’m almost positive I read an earlier impressive post of yours going into great detail on this particular translation and you had it the other way around.

With that out of the way:

Well, some Jews and the early Christians thought the Greek translations were inspired…

With respect to this discussion, I have two points

First, the translation a person uses doesn’t matter if a person is also not availing themselves of the long tradition of Catholic exegesis. If they are, for example. reading the Gospels but have not already (or are not simultaneously with their reading) referring to something along the lines of S. Thomas Aquinas’ Catena Aurea (of which a fine English translation is available online) or at a minimum referring to the extensive annotations in most Catholic Bibles as they read, then the translation doesn’t matter because they will unvaryingly interpret the difficult passages incorrectly (as I write this it occurs to me that asking questions of this site could be a valid third option as well, I am not familiar with the average level of knowledge available here to those with exegetical questions, but you certainly seem quite knowledgeable of the history). As I’m sure everyone on this site knows already, and as my favorite modern Catholic exegete, Valentin Tomberg, has said, the Commandment to Honor your Mother and Father is (in addition to all its other meanings and purposes) there for our benefit: to remind us to respect the wisdom of the Church, and the Church’s Early Fathers and Doctors. Exegesis is extraordinarily difficult and the greatest ongoing sin of Protestantism is the rejection of the Church’s two-thousand year old exegetical tradition and continued propagation of the belief that “anybody can understand the Bible.”

Second, I think the devolvement of multiple texts into one text is reflection of the Holy Spirit working over the arc of time to present to us a truer version of Scripture.
What do I mean by “truer” version? I don’t know if the following is a teaching of the Magisterium of the Church, and feel free to correct me if it isn’t, but I hold that there is perfect version of the Bible in Heaven, and over the arc of time, with the help of the Holy Spirit working through writers, copyists, and translators, we slowly get our imperfect version a little closer to that version. However, just as these people are working to the good, others are working to the bad, or, being human, make mistakes thus sacred books can become more or less corrupted accidentally or intentionally. At which point, we need, and get, an inspired work like S. Jerome’s translation. Not just correcting mistakes that have crept in, but also through the act of translation creating a more perfect work.

However more perfect does not equal perfect (I think you’ve presented sufficient evidence that his Vulgate was not). Jerome was an extraordinary man, but still a man and no perfect thing can ever come from man (Virgin Mary giving birth to Christ being the sole exception). But more perfect does mean “generally better” than the underlying Hebrew and Greek texts, thus in my humble and unscholarly view, the Council of Trent was absolutely correct (and perhaps itself inspired by the Holy Spirit) in its declaration that the (mostly by) Jerome Vulgate was “authentic.”

With respect to the Septuagint: I don’t read Greek, and thus have only looked at the English translation of the Septuagint, but, it is in my admittedly, limited, biased and unscholarly view sufficient to accept S. Jerome’s rejection of the Septuagint as the primary basis for his translation as a reason to reject the Septuagint as inspired, all due respect to the Greek Orthodox Church. Alternately, and out of respect for the Greek Orthodox Church, one could argue that the Septuagint was an inspired translation, but that S. Jerome’s version was (for want of a better phrase) more inspired, coming as it did after the birth of Christ, with the availability of the lens of the New Testament through which to view the Old, and thus more perfect.

With respect to the Nova Vulgate, I find the replacement of ipsa with ipsum /it in Genesis 3:15 troublesome, and the general feeling I get that it’s purpose was to hew to the letter of Divino Afflante Spiritu rather than to its spirit. Thus I have strong doubts as to whether this translation was inspired. But it isn’t something I worry about, uninspired works will, in time, fall by the wayside. I like to think (hopefully not blasphemously) that the Holy Spirit is something like gravity, at times when viewed on a microscopic level, it seems to work slowly or weakly, or not at all, but it is everywhere, it connects everything, and is what moves the Universe.

With respect to other possibly inspired translations there is only one translation that I’ve read (in small part, certainly not in whole) that might also be inspired (though again, truly inspired still means far from perfect) and that is Gregory Martin’s translation of Jerome’s Vulgate into English (the original Douay-Rheims) (I hope this is not read as in derogation of translations of the Jerome or Clementine Vulgate into other languages, I simply know very little about the very many translations into very many languages that are out there). This is for reasons that go beyond the scope of this post ( so I’ll pass over most of them except to note one: that the Douay-Rheims remains more popular than ever after almost 425 years, and it was a heavy influence on the KJV, which remains the most popular protestant Bible after more than 400 years.



I actually came into the forum today specifically to ask about this but it was more out of frustration than curiosity. I have been going over my notes from when I used the KJV with the apocrypha in order to compile all the very obvious New Testament quotations of the apocrypha because I finally switched to the Douay Rheims bible.
I began double checking my quotations and the parallel verses and was chagrined to realize that the quotations are much closer and more obvious in the Protestant KJV than in the DR. It’s ludicrous how different and useless my proof texts are in the DR because oftentimes, the part of the apocryphal verse quoted in the New Testament is completely absent! It’s so frustrating.
I want to love the Douay Rheims version but it’s disappointments like this that make me doubt it’s accuracy. I really do feel like I should just work harder at becoming fluent in Hebrew Greek and Latin and just use the original language versions because there isn’t a reliable, time tested, Catholic bible in English.
Not to hijack your post but if anyone has any advice for me on this it’d be greatly appreciated too.


I’ll reply to your post backwards. :smiley:

You do know the version commonly called the ‘Douai-Rheims’ today isn’t the original version, right? It’s really a ‘revision’ (I put the word in quotation marks for reasons I’ll divulge below) of the original Rheims NT and the Douai OT by Bishop Richard Challoner. It was actually Challoner’s version that made the ‘Douai-Rheims’ popular: up to then apparently not even many Catholics found the translation too practical to use, because it was too Latinate, too stiltedly literal that it just doesn’t sound like English. (Intentional on the part of the original translators: “we presume not in hard places to mollifie the speaches or phrases, but religiously keepe them word for word, and point for point, for feare of missing or restraining the sense of the holy Ghost to our phantasie.”)

Bishop Challoner ‘revised’ the text of the DR to make it more (in his view) stylistic and readable: he was a convert from Anglicanism, so he used the (arguably more stylistically beautiful) KJV - which he was familiar with - as a base for his ‘revision’. But it’s really questionable whether the end product was a mere ‘revision’, because it’s pretty much a new version by itself: his version departs from the original DR the most when it is at its most stilted/literal/awkward, and not infrequently, Challoner’s version closely matches the sense (if not the wording) of the KJV.

And it was the original Rheims NT that had a sort of influence on the KJV (the Douai OT appeared too late to influence it). The original Rheims-Douai itself was influenced by Protestant versions like Miles Coverdale’s or the Geneva Bible or Wycliff’s Bible (which is also a literal translation of the Vulgate and a version that was used by English Catholics in a redacted form - i.e. stripped of the heretical prologue; the translation itself was okay).

(P.S. I should note: it is Challoner’s version that’s based on the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate. The original Rheims NT and Douai OT were made before they were even published.)


Yes. And, if you’re wondering, no, I certainly don’t view Challoner’s revisions or those few annotations of his that I’ve read as inspired, though his version certainly seem to be popular. I’d cite that as a perfect example of how a potentially inspired translation (Martin’s) is corrupted; in this case, by someone who I have no doubt, had the best of intentions, to make the book much easier to read, especially given competition from the KJV.

With respect to influence, I’m in the middle of a shooting war on Wikipedia over that factoid. It seems that most of the academic folks saying that the Douay was heavily influenced by early Protestant Bibles are Protestants, but more importantly polemical protestants, I just cited three academic reviews noting that Danvid Daniell’s “History of the English Bible” which seems to be the basis for the influence section on Wikipedia is, sadly, quite anti-Catholic and sections of his book on the Douay are based in part on a much earlier study that was written by and equally anti-Catholic academic. Two Bibles both interpreting from the Vulgate would presumably have similar phrasing in many places, but I don’t think you can say the earlier influenced the former, particularly when the motivations behind the translators are so different.

Which brings us back to translation from the Greek/Hebrew. It’s been years since the couple of theology classes I took back in school, but as I dimly remember, the impetus for the 15th Century till now revival of the idea that the only good Bible is one that’s directly translated from the oldest Greek/Hebrew we can find was Protestantism, seeking justifications for rewriting the Vulgate into a form more pleasing to their theology and less supportive of the Church. Please correct me if I’m wrong, as I’m sure this is your bailiwick. But basically the Protestants were determined to out Jerome St. Jerome. I think they failed, KJV was their best effort and that relied on an inspired Catholic translation based on Jerome; as you know KJV was working from the 1582 Rheims, no Challoner in site to mess things up for a hundred plus years.

Anyway, not to go on and on, but while I think the old stuff is very interesting, and I wish I could read it (sadly only six months of Hebrew years ago, mostly forgotten now, and less Latin, also mostly forgotten, though I’m planning on taking Latin again soon) because the history of the Bible is fascinating, I’m not convinced that older is better.

With respect to the Church I think it’s a mistake to move away from Jerome and produce a new Bible that relies on direct translation instead of the Jerome Vulgate (and thus an English Bible that is not based on the Vulgate, Original DR or Challoner).

Of course I recognize you can argue inspiration either way: that the Holy Spirit is working over time to create a more perfect Bible through inspired translations, or the Holy Spirit is working over time to recover past texts that can be re-incorporated into the modern bible to create a more perfect text. The latter just makes more sense to me, but then I’m just some guy on the internet :smiley:

/Quick Aside
Since this is something you probably know a lot more about than I do, so quick quiestion: I’m aware that Challoner claims to have based his revisions on the Clementine. Others have suggested it was more based on the KJV. Yet Harvard/Dumberton Oaks has produced an alternate Vulgate based off the Challoner that supposedly differs from the Clementine and is closer to the Vulgate that was used by Martin. Was a comparison ever made between Challoner’s DR revisions and the Clementine Vulgate? I’m not suggesting he didn’t refer to the Clementine, I’m wondering whether that was in pieces or in whole.


[quote=Trevor Dewey]Since this is something you probably know a lot more about than I do, so quick quiestion: I’m aware that Challoner claims to have based his revisions on the Clementine. Others have suggested it was more based on the KJV. Yet Harvard/Dumberton Oaks has produced an alternate Vulgate based off the Challoner that supposedly differs from the Clementine and is closer to the Vulgate that was used by Martin. Was a comparison ever made between Challoner’s DR revisions and the Clementine Vulgate? I’m not suggesting he didn’t refer to the Clementine, I’m wondering whether that was in pieces or in whole.

I believe that Bishop Challoner referred to the Clementine whilst he was revising the old D/R of Gregory Martin. Fr. Ronald Knox makes a case that he was very much a collaborator with Fr. Blythe (in the 1737 revision of the NT done by them.) But getting back to the Clementine, it has been stated that Gregory Martin used a Vulgate text, which, fortuitously, was VERY much in agreement with the Clementine. which was issued some dozens of years after the completion of his translation. Fr. Knox has also made a case that after centuries of hearing the KJV, while at the same time influencing to a high degree the evolution of modern English, the English Catholics were more comfortable (for better or worse) with certain phrases or phraseology than would be found in the much more literal D/R. So it would have been perverse if Challoner had chosen NOT to use some of the King James version phraseology. It is interesting to consider that NOW, in light of the NAB, the KJV appears to be MORE Catholic than the NAB Catholic Bible. (When one considers the old arguments of Ward’s Errata that is. :wink: ) That is why the RSV-CE is probably the THE Bible of choice for American Catholics! Although I have ordered the New Catholic Bible from an English source, which is the Jerusalem translation with the Grail Psalms. That Bible is approved for liturgical use in England and the UK.

Getting back to your question: I don’t think anyone did a serious scholarly comparison between the Clementine version of the Vulgate and Challoner’s revision, since presumably they are in agreement as much as two different languages can agree! :smiley:

However, Cotton did compare Challoner’s revision with the original D/R, as well as Cardinal Wiseman and Newman weighing in on this subject.

Fr. Knox has criticized Challoner more for inconsistency than anything else. Although as he says himself, everyone is a critic! Fr. Knox had a committee which oversaw his own translation. And I am skeptical myself of translations by committees. :wink: Still, the Knox translation, which is a translation of the Clementine Vulgate (and approved for Liturgical Use when it appeared) takes the Greek (and Hebrew) variants very seriously and even overrides the Latin in some instances.) E.g.: Alma overrides virgo in Isaiah 7:14.


From the Introduction to the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library edition of the (Challoner) Douai-Rheims (it’s very lengthy, but worth quoting that way, so I’ll divide it into two to three posts):

Many factors complicate analysis of the modifications that the Douay-Rheims Version has undergone over the past four centuries. The most significant is the doctrinal conservatism of the Catholic Church. Owing to both the primacy of Jerome’s Vulgate (another inadequate label, since Jerome hardly produced the Latin text by himself), recognized at the Council of Trent (1545-1563), and the desire of the Church to exert some control over access to scripture, the translation of the Bible into vernacular tongues was discouraged. Yet after Protestant churches made the text of the Bible available to speakers of English and German, it became easier for reformist thinkers to disseminate their teachings. Some English-speaking Catholics then sought to produce their own translation, but since the point of this work was to regulate the message read by the flock, the translation required authorization to insure that it was appropriate. A letter of 1580 from William Allen, the president of the English College at Douay, to a colleague, Professor Jean de Vendeville, expresses the need for papal sanctioning of the translation: “We on our part will undertake, if His Holiness shall think proper, to produce a faithful, pure, and genuine version of the Bible in accordance with the version approved by the Church.” The printed version was approved not by the pope but by three professors in Allen’s own college (Douay-Rheims 1609, Approbatio).

Conservatism demanded the Church’s approbation and made revision difficult. How could a reviser supplant something that had already been declared acceptable to the Church? Revisions required approval of their own, yet they could not directly contradict previously approved editions. For this reason, the only reference to a difference between Challoner’s 1750 edition and the printings of 1582, 1609 and 1610 comes on the title page, which describes the work as “Newly revised and corrected, according to the Clementine Edition of the Scriptures.” As the phrasing shows, Challoner was careful to note that his version derived from the Latin Bible first authorized by Pope Clement VIII in 1592, ten years after the Rheims New Testament, but he obscured the extent of his revisions. Despite the popularity of Challoner’s revision and of the Bibles still in print that descend from it, the English translations and revisions of scripture were not created under a directive from the Vatican. There is no single, indisputably “official” translation of the Latin Bible into English. All the translations lay claim to official status without criticizing other Catholic versions, and none of them has clear primacy.

This confusing (and confused) climate has misled modern readers into believing precisely what the editors and translators of English Catholic Bibles from the sixteenth through the nineteenth century wanted them to think: a single standard English translation of the Bible existed, and the reader in question was holding a copy of it. One well-respected medievalist cautioned against using the King James Version for medieval studies (because it lacks a close relationship to the Vulgate text), implying that the Douay-Rheims Version is preferable. While correct about the King James Version, he shows himself to be unaware of the Douay-Rheims’s own modern tradition, writing, “The English translation of [the Vulgate] is the one known as the ‘Douai-Rheims’ translation . . . one also available in many modern editions,” and later quoting the translation of Ct 2:4 in the Douay-Rheims as “he set in order charity in me.” This quotation comes from Challoner’s revision of the translation from 1750; the 1610 translation reads, “he hath ordered in me charitie.”



The particular case of Ct 2:4 does not perfectly illustrate the danger of using Challoner’s revision of the Douay-Rheims translation, because his rendering still matches the Vulgate text (“ordinavit in me caritatem”). But in many places (italicized in this edition) Challoner strayed from the Latin, usually to revise some particularly awkward phrasing in the older Douay-Rheims edition. For example, at Gen 6:13, he changed “the earth is replenished with iniquitie from the face of them” to “the earth is filled with iniquity through them.” Four points are important about this revision. The first is that Challoner updated the spelling of “iniquitie.” Second, here, as elsewhere, he translated very logically an ordinary Latin word (repleta) with an equally common English one (“filled”), rather than a cognate (“replenished”). Thus, he followed a policy that contrasts with the Latinate qualities that pervade the earlier translation. Third, “through” is not found in any Latin edition; while the meaning of “from the face of them” is obscure in English, it is a literal rendition of all the transmitted Vulgate texts of this verse. The fourth point is the trickiest one to address: the preposition “through” instead of “from the face of” is in fact found in the King James Version, which was in Challoner’s day the more or less official Anglican (and of course Protestant) Bible.

Gen 6:13 illustrates how Challoner revised the Douay-Rheims Bible on literary grounds. One peculiarity of Bible studies is that many areas of interest are plagued with partisanship, and it can be difficult to make any argument without seeming to side with one religious (or secular) establishment against another. In trying to articulate the relationship between the King James and Douay-Rheims Versions, many otherwise useful sources emphasize the effects of one on the other according to the publisher’s disposition: that is to say, Catholic sources underscore the similarities between the 1582 New Testament and the 1611 King James text, while Protestant reference works point to Challoner’s alleged indebtedness to the King James Version. A notable exception is the anonymous article quoted above, which in its passionate call for a responsible, authorized translation of the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate rightly commented on a difference between the 1582 New Testament and Challoner’s revision: “This correction is taken verbatim from the Protestant version.” Without delving into the differences in the theological programs of the editors of the Douay-Rheims and King James Versions or calling one preferable to the other, one could argue convincingly (as many have done) that the King James Bible has far greater—or at the very least, more enduring—literary merit than the original Douay-Rheims Version.

To understand the relative qualities of these English Bibles, compare, for example, the translations of Dt 30:19. The Douay-Rheims reads: “I cal for witnesses this day heauen and earth, that I haue proposed to you life and death, blessing and cursing. Choose therefore life, that both thou mayest liue, and thy seede.” The King James Version has “I call heauen and earth to record this day against you, that I haue set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may liue.” Significantly, the King James Version is more natural and memorable; we should also note that the most awkward phrasing in the Douay-Rheims translation (“proposed to”) has, in Challoner, been replaced by “set before,” the King James reading.

The literary superiority of the King James Version is worth bearing in mind, because Challoner (whose schoolboy nickname, we are told, was Book) revised the Douay-Rheims text primarily on the basis of literary sensibilities. His version significantly departs from the Douay-Rheims when that text is most stilted, and not infrequently in such instances, Challoner’s revision closely matches the sense or wording (or both) of the King James Bible.

A word of caution should be issued to those who would accept the implication of the subtitle of Challoner’s Bible: “Newly revised and corrected, according to the Clementine Edition of the Scriptures.” This description suggests that Challoner updated the Douay-Rheims translation in light of the standard text of the Bible that had not been available to the translators at the English College. Through oversight, however, his revision skipped a few phrases that the Douay-Rheims translators had missed as well (mostly when similar Latin words appeared on different parts of the page, causing leaps of the eye). These omissions suggest strongly that Challoner’s primary task was to make the English of the Douay-Rheims version more readable; it was not a revision on textual grounds. Otherwise, a careful collation of the Douay-Rheims Version with the Sixto-Clementine Bible would have been essential. More often than not, Challoner appears simply to have read the Douay-Rheims and fixed the poor or awkward style, occasionally turning to the King James, Latin, Greek or possibly Hebrew texts for help. He does not seem to have compared the Douay-Rheims systematically with the Latin (or any other version).


Thanks! Fascinating stuff. Any notes by Dumberton on which phrases were skipped? I’m wondering if it was because they were missing from the Vulgate copy that Gregory Martin was working from. I’m surprised at the skips as I’m given to understand that Martin’s translation was reviewed by at least two other people, so it seems more probably that the copyist of the underlying Vulgate. Though as you, or someone has noted, there was a set of corrections to the Rheims NT in hand in 1585 that apparently never got printed. If the skips aren’t in Wycliff or Tyndale, I think that’s good evidence that (per the Wikipedia) Martin wasn’t basing his translation on anything but the Vulgate.

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