The Vatican’s Vulgate never was

It is a sign of our times that theological scholarship, as far as the use of Holy texts goes, has drifted away almost completely from the worship traditions that the Church, both in East and West, Catholic and Protestant, used to have well into the twentieth century. While for Greek Bible editions, the text is a mix of committee preferences for eccentric and much edited manuscripts without worship tradition in the Church, at least these decisions are based on manuscripts, and largely accountable. From a worship and tradition perspective, however, this still leaves much to be desired.

From a text critical point of view, things are much worse for the Latin Bible, the Vulgate. Textual criticism in this field lacks accountability. Serious Vulgate scholars would be ill advised to rely on the text of the United Bible Societies or the alleged Vulgate on the Vatican’s website.

Unbelievably, for the New Testaments readings there often isn’t one Latin manuscript to support the Vatican’s Vulgate, but the editors give their own Latin for what they suppose the original Greek text must have looked like. And claim, together with the Vatican, that this should be regarded as the Vulgate text!  Of course all of this is covered in small print for the careful reader, who discovers that it is actually called “Nova Vulgata”, but a lot more than a new edition, like in Nova Scotia. It is a new text that is presented as the new standard. For outsiders this resembles the Bill Clinton approach: “because he could”. Original sin, exclusive power and opportunity.

These days, the Nova Vulgata is the official Vatican and universal Bible for Roman rite. What is the background of this Latin Bible that isn’t Jerome’s Vulgate at all?

The NV has its origins in the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), non-surprisingly, which put forth the mandate for a revision of the Latin Psalter in order “to bring it in line with modern text-critical research”. In 1965, Pope Paul VI established a commission to expand the revision to cover the entire Bible. The revised Psalter was completed and published in 1969, followed by the New Testament in 1971, and the entire Bible was completed in 1979.  That is why you will see its copyright go back to 1979. In 1985 Kurt Aland and his wife Barbara published the textcritical edition for the Nova Vulgata, which shows, for the handful of people that do understand the textcritical aparatus, that many of the choices have no basis in Latin texts at all.

It had been more straightforward, had the Vatican commissioned a new Latin translation fully on the basis of Biblia Stutgartensia for the Old Testament, on Rahlf’s Septuagint for the Deutorocanonicals and on the UBS text for the New Testament.

Today’s Nova Vulgata, however, is for the New Testament part a product of revisionism and reconstruction of a supposedly original Latin text that probably never existed, while wishful scholars or church leaders think it should have. In other respects it is a mixed bag. With devastating consequences for the historical continuation of liturgy and prayer. For instance, the ancient Gallican Psalter that believers chanted for ages, which Latin was based on the Septuagint, has been replaced by a new translation of the Jewish Masoretic text.

So objectively speaking, the Vatican’s Vulgate is not the Vulgate, and never was in the history of the Church. No Catholic has ever used this Bible before 1979. Hopefully my Roman friends will wake up to this. It wasn’t much of an issue in the days when Latin rite was prohibited, only for Latin scholars, but since the reintroduction of Roman rite 1962 under Pope Benedict this could become relevant for traditional believers.

All of this is sad for science and scholarship, but worse for the Church, as it deprives postmodern people from the religious anchors that unite them with their history and the communio sanctorum. Let me mention Jung & archetypes and even KJV reading atheists will appreciate this notion.

Rome and Reformation

Consequently, believe it or not, go check it out for yourself,  Jerome’s Bible and the Byzantine text have much more in common than with the Vatican’s Nova Vulgata.

At least from a bird’s eye view, Renaissance Rome and Reformation, plus Eastern Christianity are finally coming together!

For a better Vulgate (which has at least a basis in actual manuscripts), go to:

Clementine Text Project

They also have a download that allows you to compare with the Douay Rheims translation. This is not a wonderful translation by any means, but as a quick guide it will do, less time consuming than travelling to and fro with a dictionary.

While in the Western Church Jerome’s Vulgate gradually overtook the use of Greek and Old Latin versions of Scripture, the eastern Church settled on what is these days known as the Byzantine text.

Here are some useful sources:

Byzantine Greek Bible (PDF)

Interlinear Bible for Textus Receptus

This interlinear is very useful for Reformation and Puritan scholars as well, as the text displayed is not only that of the Greek, but includes parallel versions of the selected verse from the Genevan Bible, Coverdale  and Wycliffe (1382, Vulgate translation).



4 thoughts on “The Vatican’s Vulgate never was

  1. Are you familiar with the ORIGINAL Douay-Rheims Bible (printed in 1582 & 1635) which Bishop Challoner used as a basis for his revision, which many Catholic biblical scholars in his own time found to be problematic. This is the original version of the DRB in early English (as it was spoken in 1535) and it is not widely known. (There is another version by Dr. William von Peters that has been re-typeset…) I purchased a copy of this DRB New Testament for study. I would be interested in your opinion about this…


    1. Thank you for your comment. I am not sufficiently familiar with the 1582 text to provide a definite view on this.
      When I use Douay Rheims, it is in the usual edition of Challoner 1752, and you would have noticed that I mentioned that I don’t consider this a wonderful translation. I base this, among other things on my use of the Latin Psaltery and comparing this with Douay Rheims.
      That being said, Challoner seems to have had a high regard, both for the real Vulgate and for the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures and worship traditions these were based on and part of. He therefore particularly appreciated the KJV (which unlike the Nova Vulgata at least translates ancient worship traditions instead of an inconsistent mix of committee votes) and sought to be faithful to the literal meaning of the text of Scripture.
      Many of the differences between DR1752 and the earlier versions would be due to Challoner’s appreciation of the KJV. This doesn’t make his DR an unfaithful translation, just a less literal one. Unlike the Nova Vulgata, his Douay Rheims edition is still a translation of Jerome’s Vulgate.


  2. For not trusting the Seat of Peter you are inducing everybody to error!

    The New Vulgate was proclaimed by St. John Paul II, Magnus

    For instance, let’s check this verse:

    19 Formatis igitur Dominus Deus de humo cunctis animantibus agri et universis volatilibus caeli, adduxit ea ad Adam, ut videret quid vocaret ea; omne enim, quod vocavit Adam animae viventis, ipsum est nomen eius.

    There is only one little difference: agri vs. terrae
    formatis igitur Dominus Deus de humo cunctis animantibus terrae et universis volatilibus caeli adduxit ea ad Adam ut videret quid vocaret ea omne enim quod vocavit Adam animae viventis ipsum est nomen eius

    Agri is better since Paradise was like in another dimension as explained by Bl. Anna Katharina Emmerick.

    The New Vulgate is a better version:
    The Nova Vulgata does not contain some books found in the earlier editions but omitted by the canon promulgated by the Council of Trent, namely the Prayer of Manasses, the 3rd and 4th Book of Esdras (sometimes known by different names: see naming conventions of Esdras) and the Epistle to the Laodiceans.

    With respect to the Epistle to the Laodiceans
    Jerome, who wrote the Latin Vulgate translation, wrote in the 4th century, “it is rejected by everyone”.[17]

    Read the full analysis:

    Now read what the Douay Rheims version says wrongly:
    [16] Read that which is of the Laodiceans: What this epistle was, is uncertain, and annotators have given different opinions concerning it. Some expound these words of an epistle which St. Paul wrote to the Laodiceans, and is since lost, for that now extant is no more than a collection of sentences out of the other epistles of St. Paul; therefore it cannot be considered even as a part of that epistle. Others explain that the text means a letter sent to St. Paul by the Laodiceans, which he sends to the Colossians to be read by them. However, this opinion does not seem well founded. Hence it is more probable that St. Paul wrote an epistle from Rome to the Laodiceans, about the same time that he wrote to the Colossians, as he had them both equally at heart, and that he ordered that epistle to be read by the Colossians for their instructions; and being neighbouring cities, they might communicate to each other what they had received from him; as one epistle might contain some matters not related in the other, and would be equally useful for their concern; and more particularly as they were equally disturbed by intruders and false teachers, against which the apostle was anxious to warn them, lest they should be infected by their pernicious doctrine.

    It’s like saying use tents made like in Jesus times instead of modern ones, just because they were built like that by Saints like Saint Paul.

    Blessings in JMJ


  3. Thanks kindly for this expression of your view, I value the opportunity to respond to this.

    The Catholic standard to measure whether one is actually leading people into error, would be truth.
    Even the Holy See is not a rule unto itself, but is only effective and infallible in as much as she is faithful to God’s truth as expressed in the Canon of Scripture and to the teachings of the Apostles.

    My problem is twofold: the Vatican’s version is presented as a Vulgate, which it isn’t, and it constitutes a break with 1600 years of worship in the Western Church.

    The Nova Vulgata is not a new Vulgate. When one searches the Vatican website, one is served with the NV, which is not a new version of the Vulgate at all, but merely a new Bible translation, based on a varied mix of selections from many manuscripts and not even remotely based on the Latin. To call this Vulgate, I consider off the mark, if not misleading. It would have been more straightforward had it been presented as “Vatican II’s new authorized Bible translation into Latin”. It is a new translation, fully depending on a consensus of liberal scholarship per text and verse, and not even remotely based on the Latin Vulgate.

    I very much doubt that John Paul II proclaimed the Nova Vulgata ex cathedra, but it was ill-advised to make this the new authorized Latin Bible for worship purposes. This constituted a break with Western worship, the community of saints, and refutes the Vulgata Clementine, the closest thing available to a real Vulgate, which to the best of my knowledge, was proclaimed ex cathedra.

    Either Pope Clement was in error for affirming the Scriptures and the West’s historical practice of worship, or John Paul 2 was in error by setting all of this aside.

    So yes, it is my considered view that Pope John Paul was in error. But even then, also saints make mistakes, no guarantees there. Wasn’t St Peter rebuked for his inconsistency, even after Pentecost? Doesn’t Pope John Paul’s correspondence reveal an intimate relationship with another man’s wife, which lasted for 32 years? Didn’t he willingly preside over several anniversaries of the head of the Legionnaires of Christ, one of the worst pedophiles and sodomizers of the twentieth century? (While the Vatican had evidence of his activities as early as the 1970’s.) Didn’t John Paul II protect countless child abusing priests, or promote a disgraced bishop from Boston to the Vatican to vote on the next Pope? While victims were generally stalled and bullied, and convincing evidence was ignored. Just listen in to the Australian Royal Commission into child abuse; and the Catholic Church presently affirming that Yes, JP was in error many times, if only by sins of omission and neglect.

    As to Gen 2:19, I do think that Jerome’s terrae better reflects the Hebrew and the LXX (γῆς, earth) than the Nova Vulgata’s agri. Ager is in the first place a field or farmland, which presupposes human cultural activity.
    This Nova Vulgata translation “agri” might well be on purpose, as John Paul II departed from the anti-modernist oath and the Papal Bible Commission’s requirements on Genesis 1 and 2, evidencing a modernist approach in his sermons. The Vatican has since openly embraced a Neo-Darwinist view of history, which presupposes millions of years with generations of humanoids before Adam arrived on the scene. So God using soil from the fields of one of those to start up creation as we know it, and only then creating Adam, would fit in marvelously with a modernist reinterpretation of Scripture. It betrays an evil consistency with medieval thoughts on torture as a legitimate tool for church discipline on members of the Body of Christ. The Logos set the example by creating by means of millions of years of sickness, pain and death to produce something that the Lord calls “very good”. The church fathers understood this very differently and the present sentiments in the Vatican might be many things, but the facts indicate that they are quite different from those of Apostolic Christianity.

    The prayer of Manasseh I consider to be a legitimate part of the Apocrypha. If we start praying it again and actually change our lives, like Manasseh did, this world will be a better place for it.

    Gratia et pax,


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