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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The True Story of The Vulgate Translation

This is a re-post from November 2007, but I thought I would dredge it back up for the Feast of St. Jerome today.

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 with 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.


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.


Anonymous Nancy said...

LOL - great post TJ.

As an aside, I discovered this great app for iPhone/iPod touch called iPieta which has the complete Latin Vulgate and Douay-Rheims Bibles, as well as scores of prayers, chaplets and litanies, the OF and EF liturgical calendars until 2050, and a library of classic Catholic writing including the Summa Theologica, the Baltimore and Trent catechisms, Imitation of Christ, etc. For the Bibles and some of the prayers you can toggle the screen to read in English, in Latin or in English and Latin side by side. And all this for $2.99. What a treasure.

October 03, 2009 6:48 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Cool Nancy! Now I gotsta get me one of those I touch babies.
What a deal!

October 03, 2009 7:25 PM  
Anonymous Pius VII said...

The Vulgate: As the centuries after the resurrection unfolded, the dominant language spoken in the Roman Empire began to change. No longer was Greek the dominant language. In 382, Pope Damascus therefore commissioned Jerome (c. 347-420) to translate the Bible into Latin, a task which took him twenty years to complete. This Bible came to be known as the versio vulgata (common translation. In English, we call this Bible the Vulgate.

Jerome's earliest translations of the Hebrew Bible were based upon Origen's revisions of the Septuagint; however around 393 he turned to manuscripts written in the original Hebrew. Augustine argued that, by using Hebrew manuscripts, Jerome was driving a wedge between Byzantine and Roman Christians because the Greek-speaking Christians of the East were using the Septuagint.

Jerome’s translation did not achieve wide acceptance until centuries after his death.

The first book printed with movable type by Johannes Gutenberg was the Vulgate. A handful of copies of the compete original Gutenberg Bible (four on parchment and seventeen on paper) exist today.

The Vulgate as we know it today is not the one done by Jerome. He did not complete a translation of the New Testament. The Vulgate was created by assembling books from a variety of sources, including Jerome. SOURCE

October 15, 2009 11:59 PM  

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