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The Vulgate

The Latin version of the Bible, derived from the work of Jerome, declared by the Council of Trent* in 1546 the only authentic Latin text of the Scriptures. In 382 Pope Damasus commissioned from Jerome a revision of the Latin gospels. He proceeded to revise the Psalms (“Romanpsalter) and other Old Testament books, perhaps of his own accord. In 386 he settled in Bethlehem, where he engaged in patristic translation and commentary work: he revised more thoroughly the Old Latin psalter (“Gallican” psalter), and continued to revise further OT books on the basis of the Septuagint, but with reference to the Hebrew and Origen's Hexapla. Little remains of this: Job and prefaces to Chronicles and works of Solomon. Increased knowledge of Hebrew and Aramaic made him convinced that a version on a Hebrew basis was necessary, and to this he applied himself from about 390; the end of 404 saw its completion. The different parts of the Old Testament differ much in execution. For the New Testament, there are good reasons for denying to Jerome any part in the revision of any books other than the gospels.

The translation did not meet with acceptance at first, especially the Old Testament. Even two centuries later we find some divergent opinions, and Old Latin biblical manuscripts continued to be copied for centuries in some areas. It was thus inevitable that by transcriptional error and by contamination Jerome's work should become obscured and in need of purification. The medieval process of edition, recension, and correction produced a complex history. The most significant names in this are as follows, although the part ascribed to some by earlier scholarship is not necessarily correct: Victor* of Capua, and Cassiodorus (Italy, late sixth century); Peregrinus and Isidore of Seville (Spain, fifth and seventh centuries); Ceolfrid (England, early eighth century); Theodulf and Alcuin (court of Charlemagne, ninth century); and a number of Cistercian, Dominican, and Franciscan scholars of the late Middle Ages. Although neither Greek nor Hebrew was widely known in the West, some knowledge was from time to time found, and this with the additional influence of exegetical interests and traditions left its mark on different recensions.

After the invention of printing, a number of impressions appeared, the Clementine Vulgate (1592-98) at length emerging as the authorized version. Modern philology has produced much advance in knowledge on both Old Latin and Vulgate. Two critical editions are outstanding. The New Testament was edited by a succession of British scholars between 1898 and 1954. Meanwhile, in 1908 Pius X commissioned an international group headed by Aidan Gasquet to revise the Vulgate text of the whole Bible. Centered in the Benedictine Abbey of St. Jerome in Rome publication began in 1926, and in 1969 had reached the thirteenth volume, Isaiah. A hand edition edited by R. Weber appeared in 1969, containing the whole Bible with Apocrypha and some spuria such as the Epistle to the Laodiceans.

Bibliography and Further Reading

  • S. Berger, Histoire de la Vulgate (1893)
  • Novum Testamentum Latine (ed. J. Wordsworth et al., 1898-1954); Biblia sacra iuxta latinam vulgatam versionem (1926- ); Biblia sacra vulgata (2 vols., 1969)
  • H.J. Vogels, Vulgatastudien (1928); Cambridge History of the Bible (1963-70), vol. I, chap. 16; vol. II, chap. 5; vol. III, chap. 6
  • B. Fischer, Bibelausgaben des fruehen Mittelalters (1963), pp. 520-704.
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