Article about D-R from 1897: Our English Catholic Bible


An article by Rev. Sydney F. Smith in the Month (a Catholic magazine and review) vol. 89, June, July 1897

At no time should it be necessary to apologize for an article on the history of our English Catholic Bible. There is, however, a particular reason which suggests the subject as likely to be welcome at the present time. The Delegacy which regulates the Oxford Local Examinations has kindly agreed to accept in future from its Catholic candidates a knowledge of the Douay instead of the Anglican Authorized Version, and has even appointed a Catholic examiner to set and read through their papers. Thus the principal difficulty which till now has stood in the way is removed, and our teachers may be expected to present their pupils for the Scripture examination in greater numbers. It is such teachers and their pupils that we have chiefly in view in the two articles we are proposing to write. The result of the new arrangement must necessarily be to direct their attention more minutely to the special features of the Douay version, and they may be glad to read a simple account of the facts relating to its origin and the revisions through which it has passed, together with an appreciation of the merits and demerits which belong to its different forms.

Perhaps to some it will be news that this version has ever existed in another form than the present, still less that the present text is other than uniform. The original Rheims version is, however, notably different from the present, and if any one will compare the present text, say in Messrs. Burns and Oates’ sixpenny Testament, with that in Messrs. Duffy’s duodecimo Testament bearing Cardinal Cullen’s imprimatur, he will notice variations between the two which, though too slight in their character to be of practical consequence from a Local Examination point of view, are sufficiently numerous to be of interest and require explanation. The present article will deal with the old Rheims and Douay text as it issued from the hands of its first translators. In a second article we shall deal with the same text in the modern form, or forms, which it has assumed since the days of Bishop Challoner.

The University of Oxford was a special sufferer by the accession of Elizabeth. Its best men remaining faithful to the old religion were driven into exile, and took away with them a large portion of the culture of the country. A select body of those who were thus exiled collected in course of time at Douay, where an English Seminary was established in 1568, for the purpose of training priests for the English Mission who might carry on the work of the Marian priests then fast dying out. This Douay Seminary was destined, as we know, to live, and to play an important part in the preservation of English Catholicism; but very soon after its establishment it fell suddenly into such disfavour with the townspeople (amongst whom Elizabeth’s agents had apparently been making mischief), that it was necessary to transfer it for a while from the Spanish to the French dominions. Hence, in 1576, eight years after its foundation at Douay, the community withdrew to Rheims, nor was it till 1593 that a return to their original home became possible. It was during their sojourn at Rheims, that the task of providing an English version of the Bible was taken in hand, and there is an entry in the Douay Diary which marks as nearly as possible the exact day when Martin first set pen to paper. In a marginal note opposite the entries for October, 1578, we read: “On October 16, or thereabouts, Mr. Martin, the licentiate, commenced his translation of the Bible into English, . . . and that a work from which much utility is expected may the more quickly appear, he does two chapters a day, he himself translating; but that the work may also be done as well as possible, our President, Dr. Allen, and our master, Dr. Bristow, read them (the chapters) through, and in their wisdom faithfully correct whatever seems to them to need it.” Five names in all are recorded as of those who co-operated in it—Dr., afterwards Cardinal Allen, Dr. Gregory Martin, Dr. Richard Bristow, John Reynolds, and Thomas Worthington. All five were Oxford graduates, Allen having been the Principal of St Mary’s Hall, and Bristow a fellow of New, to which College Reynolds had also belonged. Gregory Martin, to whom, as the Douay Diary has told us, the most important part was assigned, was one of the original students of St John’s, and seems to have been a scholar of some distinction. Wood speaks of his “incredible industry,” and of his “great learning and knowledge, especially in the Greek and Hebrew tongues, and the extraordinary modesty and moderation in his behaviour.” It is also recorded that when the Duke of Norfolk visited the University, shortly after 1569, the fellows of St John’s, in a Latin address, spoke of their master—at that time tutor to the Duke’s son, the Venerable Philip Howard, who died in the Tower, a prisoner for the faith—as the Hebraist, the Grecian, the poet, the honour and glory of the College. These qualifications must have served him in good stead whilst he was engaged with his translation, and, indeed, the evidence of them are visible on its face. But what will make his memory still more precious to many of us is the knowledge that he gave up the prospects of a brilliant career so soon as the pressure of the penal laws made it necessary for him to choose between earth and Heaven, and that he was the special Oxford friend of Blessed Edmund Campion—and, indeed, the friend whose exhortations brought Campion out of Oxford and all its temptations, for a Catholic, and started him on the career which ended in a martyr’s crown. “If we too can live together (he wrote to him) we can live for nothing; if this is too little, I have money; but if this also fails, one thing remains; they that sow in tears, shall reap in joy.” Biographical Dictionary of English Catholics, s.v. Gregory Martin.

Martin, as has been said, made the translation, the others revising, whilst Allen and Bristow wrote the notes on the Old Testament, and Worthington those on the New. For so extensive a work a period of many years might have seemed necessary, but, thanks to Martin’s great industry, it was ready by 1582, although the larger portion of the manuscript had still to “lay by” for some years longer before the means were at hand to pass it through the press. Thus the New Testament was published at Rheims in 1582, the Old Testament not till twenty-seven years later (1609-10), and after the return to Douay.

The principles which these translators followed are explained by them in their Preface to the New Testament, and if they sometimes push the application to extremes, the principles were at least thoroughly sound in themselves. This article is not intended to be a learned disquisition, but only a simple explanation. We may, therefore, content ourselves with a summary account of these principles, and the grounds on which they were based.

First, the translation was to be from the Latin Vulgate, not immediately from the Greek. This was a necessity imposed on the translators by the law of the Church, for the Council of Trent declared the Vulgate to be her authentic text, which involved that all translations into the vernaculars of the different countries, intended for general use, should be made from it That did not mean that no versions at all might be made directly from some one or other of the Greek texts. For purposes of scholarship such translations are, and are recognized to be, legitimate and necessary. But it meant that for use in her public worship, in her religious instructions, and theological discussions, the Church desired the Vulgate text to be the one employed.

Thus to adopt an ancient version instead of the original text, and to require the authorized translations into the vernacular to be made from the former, not the latter, may at first sight appear peculiar, but the arrangement rests on a very reasonable basis. No autograph manuscript, even of a single book of the Old or New Testament, has been preserved to us, and we have in consequence to depend only on copies, or rather, on copies of copies. But in the process of repeated copying, errors, mostly unintentional but sometimes intentional, can enter in and have entered in, and these errors, although too few in number, and too confined in their range, to disturb our confidence in the general accuracy of the text, are still sufficiently numerous to raise doubts or controversies as to the true reading of many individual words or phrases. In this manner different “texts” have arisen, and the problem for those who have to authorize a text for use in the Church, or any part in it, is the problem how to determine which text is the purest Moreover, textual purity may be estimated from a doctrinal stand-point only, or from a critical stand-point as well; in other words, it may be considered whether in any case textual corruption has gone so far as to introduce false or doubtful doctrine, or how far it has altered the phraseology of the original.

It is doctrinal corruption about which the Church is most solicitous, and the necessity of guarding against this was specially felt in an age when the appeal to Scripture as the final authority was being persistently made, whilst at the same time continual wrangles were going on as to the doctrinal purity of the texts used. Nor can a wiser method of dealing with the evil be conceived than that adopted by the Church in authorizing the ancient Latin text called the Vulgate. As the Rheims translators say:

It is so ancient that it was used in the Church of God about 1,300 years ago [i.e., counting back from 1582] as appeareth by the Fathers of those times.

It is that (by the common received opinion and by all probability) which S. Hierom afterwards corrected according to the Greek, by the appointment of Damasus then Pope, as he maketh mention in the Preface before the Four Evangelists. . . .

It is that which for the most part ever since hath been used in the Churches service, expounded in sermons, alledged and interpreted in the commentaries and writings of the ancient Fathers of the Latin Church. … It is the gravest, sincerest, of greatest majestie, least partialitie, as being without al respect of controversies and contentions, specially these of our time, as appeareth by those places which Erasmus and others at this day translate [from the Greek] much more to the advantage of the Catholic cause.

It is so exact and precise according to the Greek, both the phrase and the word, that delicate heretics therfore reprehend it of rudeness. And that it followeth the Greek far more exactly than doth the Protestants’ translations, beside infinite other places we appeal to these: Tit. 3:14, Curent bonis operibus proesse (προίστασθαι), Engl. Bib. 1577, to mainteine good workes; and Heb. 10:20, Viam nobis initiavit (ἐνεκαίνισεν), Engl. Bib. be prepared. So in these words, Justifications, Traditions, Idola, etc. In all which they come not near the Greek, but avoid it of purpose.

The contention of this last paragraph needs to be particularly noticed. The Vulgate version, though not itself a Greek text, represents a Greek text, which, as it renders it so rigidly to the very letter, we can, by translating back, reproduce to ourselves from it And the Greek text thus obtained, being so ancient as it must have been to be the original to the Vulgate, is a text of the highest value. In other words, the Catholic Church, by authorizing the Vulgate text, has had respect to the requirements of textual as well as of doctrinal purity.*

*As the Rheims translators expound their principles in their Preface to the New Testament, they make reference only to the Greek as the original language; but their principles apply and were applied equally to Old Testament translation. Until the time of Jerome the Western Church used a translation from the Septuagint, a Greek version of the Old Testament. St. Jerome translated direct from a Hebrew text independent of and, in some respects, differing from the Masoretic, or “traditional” Hebrew text. This translation from the Hebrew, except in the case of the Psalms (in regard to which the people resisted all change), forms the Vulgate version of the Old Testament, which from St. Jerome’s time has been in use in the Western Church.

The Rheims translators having undertaken to translate from the Vulgate, next determined to follow the precedent it set them in its renderings from the Greek, and to make their version rigidly literal. They had sad experience of the dangers incident to the contrary system. It is a translator’s duty to render from the original in all fidelity. He should strive to give to each word and statement its exact meaning without importing anything of his own. In the majority of passages this is easy, but the difficulty and temptation for the translator comes when the language of the original is open, legitimately or illegitimately, to a variety of interpretations. His duty then is, as far as possible, to leave the ambiguity open, so that the commentators may discuss it, or else, whilst adopting one alternative in the translation, to call attention to the other or others in the margin. But the Protestant translators had been sadly neglectful of these duties of their office. Not to speak of continental Protestant versions, the English Protestant versions which had preceded theirs, although of much merit from a literary point of view, and in some respects faithful, gave in many important passages distinctly prejudicing translations; and, to draw attention to the evil, shortly before the appearance of his New Testament (in the first edition of which it is also incorporated), Martin had published a collection of such mistranslations, under the title of, Discovery of the manifold corruptions of the Holy Scripture by the heretics of our days, specially the English sectaries, and of their foule dealing herein by partial and false translations to the advantage of their heresies, in their English Bibles used and authorised since the time of the schism.

For instance, though ἐκκλησία and πρεσβύτερος were recognized ecclesiastical terms having their recognized English equivalents Church and priest, the Protestant translators had rendered them by Congregation (in Matt. 16:16; Eph. 1:25, 32; 1 Tim. 3:10) and senior, or elder (in Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5; James 5:14, etc.). They defended themselves on etymological grounds, but obviously what they wanted was that untrained readers should think the Bible knew nothing of Churches and priests. Ἔιδωλα, as likewise the Hebrew Pesel and its congeners, are words which no doubt etymologically signify anything carved or graven, but usage had restricted them to the meaning of “idols,” that is, the images of false gods. Yet the Protestant translators in a multitude of instances (1 Cor. 5:11; 10:7; 2 Cor. 6:16; Col. 3:5, etc.), gave as the English equivalent of these terms, the term “images,” the current name for the statues of the saints set up in Catholic churches. By this means the uninstructed were the more easily induced to take all the denunciations of idol-worship for denunciations of image-worship.

So too in 2 Cor. 2:10, they translated “in the face of Christ” (i.e., “in the presence of Christ”) instead of, “in the person of Christ.” It is at least more probable that ἐν προσώπῳ is there used in its derived sense of “person,” and not in its literal sense of “face,” but to allow the phrase this force in the translation would have been to acknowledge that the Apostles claimed to exercise authority as our Lord’s representatives, which was just what the Reformers denied. And in Acts 14:23, they translated χειροτονήσαντες—a word which etymologically means “stretching out hands,” but which in ecclesiastical usage signifies “imposition of hands,”—by “ordained them elders by election in every church,” a show of hands being one of the methods of taking votes at an election.

In other places they went to the opposite extreme, deserting the literal sense for the figurative because it was the former which was at variance with their beliefs. Thus in 1 Cor. 9:5, there can be no doubt that ἀδελφὴν γυναῖκα should be translated, “a woman who is a sister” (i.e., a Christian woman). But the Protestant translators could not resist the chance of making the Bible seem to pronounce against priestly celibacy, and so, on the plea that γυνή sometimes means “wife,” they translated here, “a wife being a sister.”

Or again, they translated the same word now in one way, now in another, according to the exigencies of their peculiar doctrines. Thus, in St. Mark 7:3, 5, 8, 13; Coloss. 2:20; 1 St. Peter 1:18, they translated παραδόσεις by “traditions;” but in 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6, by “ordinances;” the reason for the difference being that in the former case the traditions referred to are evil traditions, but in the latter good traditions.

The verb δικαιοῦν, the adjective δίκαιος, and the noun δικαιοσύνη, are corresponding forms, and should be translated by the corresponding forms “justify,” “just,” “justice.” But the Protestant translators shrunk from the words “just” and “justice,” particularly in the Epistles to the Romans, feeling that they savoured too much of that doctrine of “inherent justice” for which the Reformation had substituted the doctrine of an imputed righteousness. Hence in the vast majority of places they translated δίκαιος and δικαιοσύνη by “righteous” “righteousness,” although they were constrained always to translate δικαιοῦν by “justify.”

Such illustrations might be multiplied, but those given suffice to show how possible it was to prejudice simple readers in favour of a particular interpretation, by giving adroit turns to the translations. It must be understood, however, that they are illustrations not drawn from the present Anglican Authorized Version, which was of later date than the Rheims version, and which, in deference to the latter’s protest, largely though not entirely remedied the evil. During the Tudor period the principal versions in use in the country were four in number— Tyndale’s, published in 1526; Coverdale’s, commonly called the Great Bible, and sometime Cranmer’s, which was first published in 1539, and took the place of Tyndale’s during the reigns of Henry and Edward; the Geneva Bible, so called because it was translated at Geneva by the exiled Reformers who betook themselves there after the accession of Mary; and the Bishops’ Bible, which was prepared and brought out under the direction of Archbishop Parker in the reign of Elizabeth, appearing for the first time in 1568. From then until after 1613, when the Authorized Version began gradually to supersede it, the Bishops’ Bible was the one used in the churches, under the sanction of royal authority; but the Geneva Bible, which abounded in marginal notes mainly aimed at Catholic doctrine, was during all that period a much greater favourite with private readers, who were mostly Puritan in their proclivities. It was these four versions which the Rheims translators had in view, and justly branded for the infidelity of so many of their renderings.

The Rheims translators resolved to follow a fairer plan, and we may allow them to state it in their own words.

In this our translation [they say in their Preface to the New Testament], because we wish it to be most sincere, as becommeth a Catholike translation, and have endeavoured so to make it; we are very precise and religious in following our copie, the old vulgar approved Latin, not only in sense, which we hope we alwaies do, but sometime in the very words also and phrases: which may seem to the vulgar reader and to common English eares not yet acquainted therewith, rudenesse or ignorance; but to the discret reader that deeply weigheth and considereth the importance of sacred words and speaches, and how easily the voluntary translatour may misse the true sense of the Holy Ghost, we doubt not but our consideration and doing therein, shal seem reasonable and necessarie; yea and that al sorts of Catholike readers wil in short time thinke that familiar, which at the first may seem strange, and wil esteeme it more, when they shal otherwise be taught to understand it, than if it were common knowen English.

Such is their statement of principle, and declaration of upright intentions, and a little before in the same preface they had used words which testify still more distinctly to their endeavours to be impartial:

We have used no partialitie for the disadvantage of our adversaries, nor no more licence than is sufferable in translating of holy Scriptures, continually keeping ourselves as neer as is possible to our text to the very words and phrases which by long use are made venerable, though to some prophane or delicate eares they may seem more hard or barbarous, as the whole style of Scripture doth lightly to such at the beginning; acknowledging with St. Hierom, that in other writings it is enough to give in translation, sense for sense, but that in Scriptures, lest we misse the sense, we must keepe the very words. (Ad Pammach. ep. 10, 1, cap. 2, in principio.)

Next they give some well-chosen examples of what they mean:

For example, we translate often thus, “Amen, amen, I say unto you;” which as yet seemeth strange, but after a while it wil be as familiar as Amen in the end of all praiers and psalmes, [which is desirable, seeing that] it is the solemne and usual word of our Saviour to express a vehement asseveration, and therefore is not changed, neither in the Syriake, nor Greek, nor vulgar Latin Testament, but is preserved and used of the Evangelists and Apostles themselves. . . . Again, if Hosanna, Raca, Belial, and the such like be yet untranslated in the English Bibles, why may we not say Corbana and Parasceve, . . . for Parasceve is as solemne a word for the Sabboth eve, as Sabboth is for the Jewes seaventh day, and now among Christians much more solemner, taken for Good Friday only. . . . Such are also these words, the Pasch, the feast of the Azymes, the Bread of Proposition, which they translate the Passe-over, the feast of Sweet Bread (So the phrase stood till it was removed by King James’s Revisers), the Shew Bread. But if Pentecost, Act. 2, be yet untranslated in their Bibles, and seemeth not strange, why should not Pasch and Azymes so remaine also, being solemne feasts as Pentecost was. . . . And as for Azymes, when they English it the feast of Sweet Bread it is a false interpretation of the word, and nothing expresseth that which belongeth to the feast, concerning unleavened bread. And as for their term of Shew Bread, it is very strange and ridiculous. . . . And how is it possible to express evangelizo, but as we do, “evangelize”? For evangelium being the Ghospel, what is evangelizo, or to “evangelize,” but to show the glad tydings of the Ghospel, of the time of grace, of al Christ’s benefits? Al which signification is lost, by translating as the English Bibles doe, “I bring you good tidings” (Luke 2:10). Therefore we say “depositum” (1 Tim. 6), and “he exinanited himself” (Phil. 2), and “you have reflorished” (Phil. 4), and “to exhaust” (Heb. 5:28), because we cannot possibly attaine to expresse these words fully in English; and we thinke much better that the reader, staying at the difficultie of them, should take an occasion to .. . aske the ful meaning of them, than by putting some usual English words that expresse them not, so to deceive the reader. Sometime also we do it for another cause. As when we say ” the Advent of our Lord,” and “imposing of hands,” because one is a solemne time, the other a solemne action in the Catholike Church; to signifie to the people that these and such like names come out of the very Latin text of the Scripture. So did “penance,” “doing penance,” “chalice,” “priest,” “deacon,” “traditions,” “altar,” “host,” and the like (which we exactly keepe as Catholike terms), proceed even from the very words of Scripture.

The contention of this last clause is very important. The words in question are the technical terms of the Catholic Church which have come down to her with a definite sense attached to them from time immemorial. Let those who will take upon themselves the burden of contesting the legitimacy of this traditional sense. But meanwhile the terms and their traditional sense are in possession, and should be kept in all authorized instruments. No one in writing secular history would wish to abolish the terms “senators” or “mayor” and substitute “elderly men” or “greater person,” and it is just as unreasonable to substitute “elders” or “cup” for such time-honoured terms as “priests” or “chalice.”

In the foregoing, the Rheims translators have been defending their mode of dealing with difficult terms. They proceed next to defend their mode of dealing with difficult phrases.

Moreover, we presume not in hard places to mollifie the speeches or phrases, but religiously keep them word for word, and point for point, for feare of missing or restraining the sense of the Holy Ghost to our phantasie. As Eph. 6, “against the spirituals of wickedness in the celestials,” and John 2, “What to me and to thee, woman,” whereof see the annotation on this place,* and 1 Pet. 2, “As infants even now born, reasonable, milke without guile desire ye,” we doe so place “reasonable” of purpose, that it may be indifferent both to “infants” going before, as in our Latin texts, or to “milke” that followeth after, as in other Latin copies and in the Greek. . . .

*Witnessing as it does to the fairness as well as to the sound scholarship of the translators, this annotation is worth quoting: “What is to me and to thee?” Because this speach is subject to divers senses, we keepe the wordes of our text, lest by turning it into any English phrase we might straiten the Holy Ghost’s intention to some certaine sense either not intended, or not only intended, and to take away the choice and indifference from the reader, whereof (in Holy Scripture especially) al translatours must beware. It thus may meane here, ‘What is that, woman, to me and thee, being but strangers, that they want wine?’ as some interpret it. Or (which is the more proper use of that kind of speache in holy writ), ‘What have I to doe with thee?’ that is, ‘Why should I have respect to thy desire in this case? In matters touching my charge and the commission of my Father for preaching, working miracles, and other graces, I must not be tied to flesh and blood.’ Which was not a reprehension of our Lady, or significative that he would not heare her in this or other things pertaining to God’s glorie or the good of men, for the event sheweth the contrarie. But it was a lesson to the companie that heard it, and namely to His disciples, that respect of kindred should not draw them to doe anything against reason, or be the principal motion why they doe their duties, but God’s glory.”

As the Rheims and Douay version is not in the hands of many, a few specimens of its style will be desired. Here are three excellent examples of its extreme literalism :

And a certaine young man followed him clothed with sindon upon the bare; and they tooke him; but he casting off the sindon fled from them naked. (Mark 8:51.)
For I thinke that the passions of this time are not condigne to the glory to come that shal be revealed in us. (Rom. 8:18.)

For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against Princes and Potestates, against the Rectours of the world of this darknes, against the spirituals of wickednes in the celestials. (Eph. 6:12.)

O Timothee, keep the depositum, avoiding the profane novelties of voices, and oppositions of falsely called knowledge. (1 Tim. 6:20.)

To one of these translations the authors have referred in the citation already given, and in defence of each of them they had their solid reasons, in view of their chosen principles, for employing language which to our ears sounds so grotesque.

Nor does this harsh phraseology affect more than a comparatively small portion of the whole. One may read page after page without encountering it. Indeed, the main substance of the Rheims and Douay version is in a clear and forcible English, which will not suffer seriously even when compared with the version of King James, to which indeed it bears a resemblance too close to be accidental. The following passage taken at random may serve to illustrate both its merits and its defects.

16. Nobody putteth a peece of raw cloth to an old garment. For he taketh away the peecing thereof from the garment [tollit enim plenitudinem ejus a vestimento (Vulg.)], and there is made a greater rent. 17. Neither do they put new wine into old bottels. Otherwise the bottels breake, and the wine runneth out, and the bottels perish. But new wine they put into new bottels; and both are preserved together.

18. As he was speaking this unto them, behold a certain Governour approached, and adored him, saying: Lord, my daughter is even now dead; but come, lay thy hand upon her, and she shal live. 19. And Jesus rysing up, followed him, and his disciples. 20. And behold a woman which was troubled with an issue of blood twelve yeares, came behind him, and touched the hemme of his garment. 21. For she said within herself: If I shall touch only his garment, I shal be safe.

22. But Jesus, turning and seeing her, said: Have a good hart, daughter: thy faith hath made thee safe. And the woman became whole from that houre. 23. And when Jesus was come into the house of the Governour, and saw minstrels and the multitude keeping a sturre, 24. He said: Depart, for the wench is not dead but sleepeth. And they laughed him to skorne. 25. And when the multitude was put forth, he entered in, and held her hand. And the maid arose. 26. And this bruit went forth into al that countrie. (Matt. 9:18—31.)

We are now in a position to judge of the merits of this version. An occasional tendency to depreciate its worth manifests itself even among Catholics, and a well-known nobleman once went so far as to style it “the obscure work of a few well-meaning divines.” Nothing could be less in accordance with the facts than this. The Rheims translators were, as we have seen, men who had received and profited by the best training of their day, and the evidences both of their scholarship and of their literary power are conspicuous in the preface from which some quotations have been made. In the translation itself, too, scholarship is discernible in every line, and if fault can be found with its style, or rather with the style of certain portions of its text, this must not be set down to incapacity, for it was the outcome of principles deliberately and intelligently applied. It was because in their love of truth and accuracy they were prepared to sacrifice the graces of style wherever these higher interests were at stake. And even as regards their style, if we are to judge of it aright, we must bear in mind their expectation that words and phrases which would at first sound strange, might in the course of time become familiar and pleasing. If circumstances prevented this anticipation from being fulfilled in regard to their version as a whole, it is at least noteworthy that among the words and phrases which they foresaw would be distasteful for the time, some were afterwards adopted in the version of King James, and in these no one would now be conscious that there was anything objectionable. Who, for instance, would nowadays suspect that the charge of uncouthness lay at the time when the Rheims Testament first employed them, against such terms as these— acquisition, advent, adulteration, allegory, cooperate, evangelize, eunuchs, holocausts, paraclete, prescience, resuscitate, victim?

And here, lest our own judgment should be suspected as partial, we may support it by the judgment of so competent a critic as Bishop Westcott, who, in his History of the English Bible, has written thus of the Rheims version:

The servility of the version is not always without advantage. . . . They frequently reproduced with force the original order of the Greek which is preserved in the Latin, and, even whilst many unpleasant roughnesses occur, there can be little doubt that the version gains on the whole by the faithfulness with which they endeavoured to keep the original form of the Sacred Writings. . . . The same spirit of fidelity to the letter of their text often led the Rhemists to keep the phrase of the original where other translators had unnecessarily abandoned it; e.g., Matt, 28:1, “hour;” ib. 6, “it is expedient;” ib. 9, “hell of fire;” 20:20, “the Sons of Zebedee;” 22:2, “likened;” ib. 44, “the footstools of thy feet;” 26:25, “Is it I, Rabbi?” (contrasted with verse 22.)

When the Latin was capable of guiding them the Rhemists seem to have followed out their principle honestly; but wherever it was inadequate or ambiguous, they had the niceties of Greek at their command. The treatment of the article offers a good illustration of the care and skill with which they performed this part of their task. . . . The central function of scholarship is dealt with more satisfactorily by them than by any earlier translator. And it must be said that in this respect the revisors of King James were less accurate than the Rhemists, though they had their work before them. (Westcott cites in illustration of this the rendering by the two versions of St. Matt. 4:5; 6:25; 14:22; 25:30; 28:16; St. John 5:35; 1 Cor. 10:5; Galat. 3:25; Apoc. 7:13.)

The last sentence of this quotation reminds us of another very striking testimony to the excellence of the Rheims version. In spite of the abuse with which it was received by Fulke and Cartwright, it exercised a considerable influence on the composition of the Anglican authorized text which was undertaken shortly after its appearance. Possibly its superiority in point of scholarship over their own current versions was among the inducements which caused the necessity of this new Protestant version to be felt. But at all events the Rheims version was diligently consulted by King James’ revisers, and many of its readings together with some of its principles were borrowed. “The Rhemish version of the New Testament,” says Westcott in the work already cited,” supported by Martin’s attack on the English Bible [in his Discoverie of Corruptions] had once again drawn attention to the importance of the Latin Vulgate, before the revision of King James was undertaken.” And the Preface to the Revised Version of the New Testament (1881), after citing the rule given to the revisers—that they “should take the Bishops’ Bible as their basis, only altering it where really necessary, and in such cases seeking to improve it from Tindale’s, Matthew’s, Coverdale’s, Whitchurch’s, Geneva”—points out that in fact, though they borrowed from the Geneva version a good deal, they disregarded the other four altogether, whilst “on the other hand, their work shows evident traces of the influence of a version not specified in the rules, the Rhemish, made from the Latin Vulgate, but by scholars conversant with the Greek original.” With such recommendations in its favour, surely our Rheims version is not one of which we have need to be ashamed.

S. F. S.

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2 responses to “Article about D-R from 1897: Our English Catholic Bible

  1. Pingback: Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible (D-R) (best navigation with Direct Verse Jump) « OSNOVA

  2. Pingback: Soon to Be Published: Kindle Catholic English-Latin Diglot Bible (with Direct Verse Jump) « OSNOVA

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