Crossed The Tiber

An Evangelical Converts to Catholicism

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I was born into the Catholic faith. At 14, I was "born again" and found Jesus personally but lost His Church. After thirty years as an evangelical protestant, I have come full circle to find that He has been there all the time, in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I wish others to find the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith as I have found.

Friday, September 30, 2011

St Jerome and the True Story of the Latin Vulgate Translation

On this feast of Saint Jerome who is best known for his love of scripture and his oft-quoted comment: "Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ,"  I re-present an old blog post from 4 years ago.

The True Story of The Vulgate Translation


St. Jerome translated the Vulgate Bible from copies of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts in the late fourth century. It was one of the most important accomplishments in his lifetime. This was not the first Latin translation of Scripture but it quickly became the accepted version used by the Church and all of Christendom. Before his translation there were many versions of the Old Latin or Vetus Latina manuscripts floating around, (approximately 27) and a more readable accessible version was needed.

So, St. Jerome translated the Bible (both New and OT) into the common Latin, the vulgate, the language of the people of the ancient world.

As he neared completion of this monumental task, he came to the second chapter of the book of James and read this in the original Greek manuscript he was translating from:
"Ye see then how that by works a man is not justified, and by faith only." (Jam 2:24)

He was troubled by this verse because it didn’t express what he felt was James true intention of the spirit of the chapter. Perhaps he thought, the original Greek manuscript had an error! St. Jerome, being a theologian knew what the Catholic Church stance was regarding faith and works. He knew that the Catholic Church believed that faith alone was not part of their doctrine. He knew that Catholic soteriology expressed that good works done in this life were an important aspect of final salvation. So he pondered , prayed and researched. He was beside himself because this manuscript was stating the opposite of what he knew to be true Catholic doctrine. His first thought was to just declare this book "un-inspired" and place it in the same category of the deuterocanonicals he struggled with. (thereby relegating it to an apocryphal status.) Finally, he decided that it would be in the "spirit of St. James" to add the word “not” before we are justified by faith alone. He merely had to take the not (ouk) from in front of justified (dikaiontai) and place it in front of the word faith. Just a simple transposition of a single word. After all, he was a theologian which much more learning than the average person and he felt that he had the authority to do this, given his tremendous education and position of responsibility in the Church. He even went up against the pope at one point trying to convince him the deuterocanonicals weren't inspired, (but he was corrected and submitted to the authority of the Church) He felt that he knew what James was trying to express here and thought he could make it clearer by switching the words around a bit. In a more quiet moment, St. Jerome pondered whether anyone else in salvation history would ever consider making this same bold decision to add or subtract from the Word of God. When he finished his translation of the Greek NT into the Vulgate Latin the "translated" verse read like this:
"Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only."
This small alteration of the original text would hardly be noticed by anyone and would be more in keeping with the Catholic view of faith and works. As a matter of fact, the Vulgate translation of St. Jerome was recognized as the "official" Bible translation of the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent. It had been used and accepted by the Church since the fourth century and three other councils had already approved it but this was stated at Trent in response to the reformer's attempts to discredit the canon of the Catholic bible. Most importantly it contained that pivotal verse in James that the Catholic theologians so often use to defend their soteriology against the sola fide of the reformer.

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This is a tongue-in-cheek post, just in case anyone didn't realize it by now.
St. Jerome would not have presumed to know the mind of the writer of Scripture and would have never attempted to add or subtract words in order to make scripture express his view more clearly. In his own life, he had strong opinions regarding which books of Scripture were inspired but ultimately submitted his will to the Church, the pillar and foundation of Truth.  Contrast the actions of Saint Jerome to those of Luther 1,100 years later regarding adding his own interpretation when translating Romans 3:28.

"You tell me what a great fuss the Papists are making because the word alone in not in the text of Paul…say right out to him: 'Dr. Martin Luther will have it so,'…I will have it so, and I order it to be so, and my will is reason enough. I know very well that the word 'alone' is not in the Latin or the Greek text..." (Stoddard J. Rebuilding a Lost Faith. 1922, pp. 101-102; see also Luther M. Amic. Discussion, 1, 127).

4 Comments:

Blogger Just another suburban mom. said...

Oh phew! I was hoping there was a punchline because I was starting to get worried LOL.
But I guess protestants would have used this argument a long time ago to justify their faith alone position if it actually happened that way.

September 30, 2011 3:59 PM  
Blogger Russ Rentler, M.D. said...

thanks for reading all the way through!
Hope it makes a point that Saint Jerome obeyed the Church, but the father of Protestantism removed himself from any authority. A very scary position to be in!

September 30, 2011 5:58 PM  
Blogger George @ Convert Journal said...

Count me as gullible too. I was getting quite concerned, envisioning a lot of focused exploration of this "issue".

Good relief at the end, but it is relief like the doctor telling you that you have 1 week to live... then saying "just kidding"!

OK, everything is in order. Back to my regularly scheduled reading...

October 01, 2011 11:16 AM  
Blogger Russ Rentler, M.D. said...

Sorry bout that George. Maybe I need to put a disclaimer at the beginning of the post. ;)

October 01, 2011 11:39 AM  

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