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:
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:
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).