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The History of the Latin Vulgate

by John E. Steinmeuller, D.D., S.Scr.L.

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  • Description:
    The following two-part essay provides an excellent overview of the history of the Latin Vulgate, beginning with the life of St. Jerome, revisions and translations of the Bible by St. Jerome, and the qualities of St. Jerome's version of the Bible — three main characteristics — clarity of exposition, fidelity of translation, and elegance of diction. The second part deals mainly with the origin and history of the Vulgate text through the Council of Trent (1545) and then through to modern times.
  • Larger Work:
    Homiletic & Pastoral Review
  • Pages: 252 – 257
  • Publisher & Date:
    Joseph F. Wagner, Inc., New York, NY, December 1938

I. St. Jerome and the Latin Bible

In a previous article1 the pre-Jerome Latin Version was discussed. It was shown that in spite of the number and variety of the Latin manuscripts there were mainly two great families or types — namely, the African and the European, which is subdivided into the Italian and Gallican. The linguistic, critical and canonical value of this Latin version has long been recognized by scholars; its exegetical value, however, was small, and had gradually to cede to the important Latin translation of St. Jerome.

I. The Life of St. Jerome2

Eusebius Hieronymus or St. Jerome was born at Stridon in Dalmatia, but the year of his birth is uncertain. According to some it was 331, and according to others 340 or even 347. His father, a man of means, sent his son to Rome when his elementary education had been completed at home. In the Eternal City Jerome studied under the famous grammarian Donatus, and specialized in rhetoric. The fruits of this literary education can be seen in his writings. He was baptized about the year 366 by Pope Liberius (352-366), and became seriously interested in religion. He left Rome about the year 367.

The next year Jerome travelled to the court of Emperor Valentinianus I (364-375) at Treves. Here, where shortly before St. Athanasius of Alexandria had lived in exile and introduced monasticism into the West, Jerome made up his mind to embrace an ascetical life and became interested in theological studies. Later he settled at Aquileia, and, together with his boyhood friend Tyrannius Rufinus and a circle of young men, followed a life of virtue and study. Unknown circumstances brought this happy ideal to an end.

About the year 374 he left with some companions for the East. Jerusalem was his goal, but at Antioch he was stricken with fever and was unable to continue his journey. Upon recovery of his health he attended the exegetical lectures of Apollinaris of Laodicea, the intimate friend of St. Athanasius, and then later retired to the desert of Chalcis near Antioch to live the life of a hermit. Here he devoted himself to the study of ascetical writings and to manual labor, but his keen intellect gave him no peace. He, therefore, began to copy books, tried to perfect himself in Greek, and began seriously to study Hebrew under a converted Jew. After about three years, theological controversies among the monks drove him out of the desert. So he returned to Antioch and was ordained priest by Bishop Paulinus.

In 379-380 he set out for Constantinople, the Roman Capital of the East, to attend the lectures of St. Gregory Nazianzus. Finally, in 382 accompanied by Paulinus of Antioch and St. Epiphanius he went to Rome.

Because of his knowledge of the East, Pope Damasus had invited Jerome to Rome to help settle the Meletian schism. The Roman Synod did not accomplish its purpose, but this second Roman residence of Jerome was of the greatest importance for his literary activity. In these years he revised the Latin Gospels, and perhaps also the other books of the New Testament. Upon the death of Pope Damasus (December 10, 384) Jerome was forced to leave Rome. He now travelled to Antioch, visited the sacred shrines in Palestine, and before definitely settling in Bethlehem in the Fall of 386 made a hurried visit to Egypt. At Bethlehem, as superior of a monastery and the spiritual director of a convent, he led a life of asceticism and literary activity until his death on September 30, 420.

II. The Revisions and Translations of the Bible by St. Jerome

Jerome's activity as revisor and translator was threefold.

(1) Because of the many variant readings in the Old Latin text, Pope Damasus requested Jerome to revise the Latin translation of the Four Gospels. Hence, he did not give us a new translation, but about the year 383 revised the then current Latin text in accordance with some Greek MSS. Vogels has established that for Luke, xxii. 39-xxiv. 11 Jerome used a Latin text akin to the Old Latin MSS. — Veronensis (fifth century), Palatinus (fifth century), Corbeiensis (fifth century) and Vindobonensis (fifth-sixth century). It is still a matter of research what particular pre-Vulgate MSS. were used for the remaining parts of Luke, and for Matthew, Mark and John. The same may be said for the Greek MSS., though it is generally conceded that Jerome's text very frequently is allied to the Neutral Family, of which Codex Vaticanus is the chief representative. It has not yet been definitely established whether Jerome also revised the other books of the New Testament. The majority of scholars are inclined to favor such a revision.

At that time in Rome Jerome also revised the Psalter according to the Septuagint. It contains Lucian readings. This Psalter was called the Roman Psalter because of its use in the Liturgy in the City of Rome. It was used in Italy generally until Pius V (1566), in the Doge chapel of Venice until 1808, in the Ambrosian Liturgy at Milan until Pius X (1911), and is still being used in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome.3 Traces of it may still be found in the Invitatory (Ps. xciv) — excepting the third nocturn for Epiphany — of the Roman Breviary, and in the Introit, Gradual and Tract for Sundays and ancient feasts in the Roman Missal.

(2) While at Bethlehem in 387, Jerome became interested in the Hexapla of Origen (d. 254-255), which could be easily seen and studied at Cæsarea in Palestine. He therefore determined to revise the Latin text of the Old Testament according to the Hexaplarian Septuagint. He began with the Psalter about the year 387, and based its revision upon the fifth column of the Hexapla. This was his second revision of the Psalter. It was first used for divine services in Gaul, and thus came to be called the Gallican Psalter. By the end of the seventh century it was adopted by all churches, excepting Rome, Milan and Venice. Still later it was received in the official edition of the Vulgate text at Rome, and is now the text in the Breviary recited by priests of the Latin Rite.

All of the protocanonical books were revised according to the Hexapla. But of this immense work, which was either stolen or lost ("fraude cujusdam periit"), there are only extant the Psalter mentioned above, the Book of Job, the prefaces and a few fragments of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Canticles, and the preface of Paralipomenon.4

(3) About the year 390 Jerome began at Bethlehem a much larger project. It was the Latin translation of the Old Testament directly from the Hebrew (Hebraica veritas). His chief reason for doing so was the calumny of the Jews, hostile to the Christian religion, who continually declared that Christians lacked the genuine Scriptural text and that their theological arguments, based either upon the Latin or Greek texts, were not authentic or valid (Præfatio in librum Isaiæ). The following are the books and the approximate time of their translation:5

390 Samuel, Kings
? Tobias6
391 Psalter (Hebrew)7
392 Sixteen Books of the Prophets8
393 Job
395 Esdras, Nehemias
396 Paralipomenon
397 Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticles
398-404 Pentateuch
405- Josue, Judges, Ruth, Esther9
? Judith6

Thus, after sixteen years Jerome completed his translation of the Old Testament, with the exception of the deuterocanonical books of Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch and Machabees I and II.

Our modern Vulgate text is therefore composed of the following parts:

  1. The New Testament.
    1. Gospels revised according to the original Greek.
    2. The other books of the New Testament, which also were probably revised, but this is by no means certain.

  2. The Old Testament.
    1. The protocanonical books, excepting the Psalter, are directly from the Hebrew (the Gallican Psalter is according to the Hexapla).
    2. The deuterocanonical books.
      1. Tobias and Judith are from the Aramaic.
      2. Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch and Machabees I and II were not revised by Jerome, but taken from the Old Latin, which is based upon the Septuagint.
      3. Additions in Daniel from Theodotian and those of Esther from the Septuagint.

III. The Qualities of St. Jerome's Version

There were mainly three principles guiding the great Biblical scholar in his Latin translation from the Hebrew; namely, to make the text intelligible, to avoid slavish renderings, and to take cognizance of the elegance of diction. His translation, therefore, has various well-known characteristics.

  1. Chief among these characteristics is clarity of exposition. Generically speaking, no one of the ancient writers expressed the real meaning more accurately or better than Jerome, even though at times he missed a minor point9 or judged as a Christian theologian rather than as a textual critic (e.g., in some messianic passages).10 To render the meaning of the text very distinct he often added a word or phrase (Gen., xxxi. 47; Judges, xii. 6),11 translated Hebrew proper names into their etymological meaning (Gen., xli. 45; Prov., xxx. 1),12 used popular (I Kings, xv.12) or mythological expressions (Job, xxi. 33),13 or even Jewish fables (Jos., xiv. 15).
  2. Another quality of Jerome's version is fidelity of translation. He abhorred slavish renderings of the Hebrew lest the real meaning be lost. To obtain the faithful sense of the original text he often consulted other versions. Thus, he sometimes departed from the Hebrew in favor of the Septuagint (Zach., xiv. 20), its Lucian recension (II Kings, vi. 7), Aquila (Ex., xxxiv. 29), Symmachus (Gen., xiv. 1), or Theodotion (Dan., iii. 24 sgq.).14
  3. His translation shows a certain elegance of diction. Harsh Hebrew constructions were rendered according to the Latin syntax. Long Hebrew sentences were broken up. The same Hebrew word at times was rendered by various synonyms even in the same context. These main characteristics, however, are not everywhere prevalent to the same extent.


  1. Steinmueller, in The Homiletic & Pastoral Review, XXXVI (July, 1936), 1037-1041.
  2. F. Stummer, "Einführung in die Lateinische Bibel" (Paderborn, 1928), 77 sqq.; "Catholic Encyclopedia," VIII, 341-343, s.v., Jerome, Saint.
  3. J. Göttsberger, "Einleitung in das Alter Testament" (Freiburg im B., 1928), 451, note 3.
  4. A. Vaccari, "Institutiones Biblicæ" (4th ed.), 282.
  5. Vaccari, op. cit., 280; J. Vosté, "De Latina Bibliorum Versione quæ dicitur 'Vulgata'" (Rome, 1927), 10.
  6. The deuterocanonical books of Tobias and Judith were translated from the Chaldaic or Aramaic at the request of friends.
  7. The Psalter and the Prophets were translated into Greek by his friend Sophronius. This Psalter was never officially used by the Church, and is not found in many MSS.
  8. The deuterocanonical parts of Daniel (iii. 24-90, xiii, xiv) were translated from the Greek version of Theodotion, and those of Esther (Vulg., x. 4-16, 24) from the Septuagint.
  9. H. Hoepfl, "Introductio Generalis" (2nd ed., Rome, 1926), 297.
  10. Stummer, op. cit., 119 sq.; Hoepfl, op. cit., 297.
  11. Vaccari, op. cit., 283; Stummer, op. cit., 116 sq.
  12. Vaccari, op. cit., 283; Stummer, op. cit., 113 sq.
  13. Stummer, op. cit., 111 sq.
  14. Stummer, op. cit., 99-105.

The History of the Latin Vulgate
II. The Origin of Our Present Vulgate Text

Very little encouragement was given to St. Jerome during his lifetime for his translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew. It is true that Sophronius and Lucinius Bæticus1 welcomed this translation, but opposition to it was more prevalent. Not only an African community, which rioted against its bishop because of the introduction of the new text, but also Tyrannius Rufinus stubbornly resisted it.2 St. Augustine, considering the practical needs of the Church, would have preferred a revision according to the Septuagint, but towards the end of his life became very sympathetic towards it, though he did not use it publicly.3 In time opposition gradually abated. From the fifth century on, scholars of Gaul (France) and Spain for the most part preferred this translation to the Old Latin.4 Towards the end of the sixth century it acquired equal footing with the Old Latin in Italy, and St. Gregory the Great (d. 604) made use of both translations. In the following century St. Jerome's text was adopted by all the churches in Spain according to St. Isidore of Seville (d. 636). It was not, however, until the eighth and ninth centuries that it was universally adopted. St. Bede (d. 735) called it "nostra editio," but the name "Vulgata editio" was first applied to it probably by Roger Bacon (d. 1294),5 and this title was used and sanctioned by the Council of Trent.

(1) The History of the Vulgate Text to the Council of Trent (1545)

The simultaneous existence of the Old Latin and the Vulgate was not advantageous for the pure transmission of either textual form. In the course of centuries the Vulgate had lost its original purity. In the same codices some books taken from the Vulgate and others from the Old Latin were to be found. For example, Codex Monacensis (eighth-ninth century) has Job according to the Vulgate, but Tobias, Judith and Esther according to the Old Latin.6 Then, too, mixed readings are at times detected in some of the old MSS. This is especially true of some of the Spanish MSS., and in particular of Codex Cavensis (eighth century), representing the school of Peregrinus, a Spanish bishop living between 450 and 500.7 An interesting example of a blended reading still to be found in the official Vulgate edition is II Kings, i. 18-19: "Considera, Israel, pro his, qui mortui sunt, super excelsa tua vulnerati" is from the Old Latin, and "Inclyti, Israel, super montes tuos interfecti sunt" is from the Vulgate.

The harm caused by blended or mixed readings was recognized very early by scholars. Time after time attempts were made to re-acquire the true text of St. Jerome. Thus, there gradually arose definite families of MSS., distinct from one another either according to the regions where they were spread (Spain, England, France, Italy, etc.) or according to religious communities that preferred and fostered a certain textual type.

Among the first to recognize the need of a revision and to attempt to restore the original Vulgate text was Victor of Capua, Italy (d. 554). His chief work was a Gospel Harmony similar to Tatian's "Diatessaron," and for this he used St. Jerome's text instead of the Old Latin. His work is preserved in Codex Fuldensis, the oldest MS. of the entire New Testament, brought to Fulda by St. Boniface, the apostle of Germany. More important is the name of M. Aurelius Cassiodorus (d. 575) of Italy, who carefully collected very old manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments according to St. Jerome, and had them copied in one volume.8 It is noteworthy that one of the best Latin Vulgate codices, the Codex Amiatinus, has some relationship with the Cassiodorian text. This codex, so called because it once belonged to the monastery of Amiato near Siena, Italy, was copied about the year 700 near Jarrow, England, and intended as a papal gift by St. Ceolfrid.9 This codex played an important role at the time of the Sistine-Clementine revision in the sixteenth century, and is now acknowledged as the head of the Alcuin family of MSS by the Benedictine Commission for the revision of the Vulgate.

At the time of Charlemagne systematic attempts were made to revise the then current text. Bishop Theodulf of Orleans (d. 821), in trying to reacquire the text of St. Jerome, followed an eclectic method and was largely influenced by Spanish MSS.10 This revision exercised very little influence, and only a few codices preserve this recension. Emperor Charlemagne in 797 invited Alcuin of York, England, to edit an edition of the Vulgate according to the best MSS. With the aid of English codices this task was finished in 801. This Alcuin recension, akin to the Codex Amiatinus, was free from the Old Latin readings, and represented a fine edition of St. Jerome's Vulgate. It was widely spread throughout the Middle Ages and enjoyed great authority.

But this revision of Alcuin did not have permanent results. Due to such reasons as difficulties of international communication and a lack of a well-established book market, textual corruptions continued. Isolated attempts were made to correct these corruptions. Noteworthy among these revisers were: St. Peter Damian (d. 1072), Lanfranc, O.S.B., Archbishop of Canterbury (d. 1089), Stephen Harding, Abbot of Citeux (d. 1134), Nicolas Maniacoria, deacon of St. Damasus, Rome (d. 1145).11 Their influence, however, was locally restricted. In the twelfth century there were hardly two MSS. that were identical.12 The chief reason for textual corruptions in the Vulgate were threefold: additions, changes and omissions.

In the thirteenth century the Bible called the Biblia or Exemplar Parisiense and used at the University of Paris exercised great influence. It seems to have been derived from the Alcuin revision, but other textual forms also contributed to its contents. The most notable external qualities of this edition are the same order of books as in our modern Bibles and a convenient division of the books into chapters. This chapter division was introduced by Stephen Langton in 1214, and has been substantially retained in our present Vulgate. Its greatest critic was Roger Bacon, O.F.M. (d.1294), who wrote thus of it: "Textus est pro majori parte horribiliter corruptus in exemplari vulgato, hoc est Parisiensi."13 For this reason various "Correctories" were made by the Dominicans and Franciscans, in which the corrected readings were collected. These attempts to restore the original Vulgate text were indeed laudable, but because of their limited influence, private authority and at times the incompetency of some copyists, they contributed very little to the emendation of the Vulgate. The confusion increased.14

The history of the Vulgate in the latter part of the Middle Ages has not yet been carefully investigated.15 Yet, there is evidence that the need of a revised Vulgate text was recognized by Nicolas of Lyra (d.1340), Peter of Alliaco (d.1420) and the Congregation of Windesheim (early part of the fifteenth century), of which Thomas a Kempis was a member. According to Dom Quentin, O.S.B., the MSS. from the sixth-seventh century to the fourteenth century can be divided into three principal families: the Spanish, of which the best MS. is the Codex Toletanus (eighth century), the Alcuin, of which the best MSS. are Codex Amiatinus (eighth century) and the Codex Vallicellianus (ninth century), and the Theodulfian, of which the best is Codex Ottobonianus (eighth century). The MSS., such as Exemplar Parisiense, the Italian MSS., etc., are mere subdivisions and mixtures of these three great family types.

The invention of printing by Gutenberg at Mayence was of the greatest importance for the history of the Vulgate. About 1452 he printed the entire Vulgate in folio (two columns and forty-two lines) from some German MS. That represented the Exemplar Parisiense.16 Soon afterwards Bibles were being printed at Strassburg, Bamberg, Basle, Venice, and Rome. At the close of the fifteenth century about one hundred editions of the Vulgate had appeared. The greater number of them were reprints of the Parisian text.17

The art of printing did not immediately represent progress in the history of the Vulgate. At first, the most convenient MS. was taken and printed. The Vulgate, however, did obtain a very wide circulation, and with the appearance of the Hebrew Psalter in 1477 and the Greek Psalter in 1481 careful comparison was made between the various texts. Not only were the differences between the Vulgate texts themselves noticed, but also their relationship with the original languages and versions began to be studied, and thus many variant readings were discovered. Hence, many attempts were made to revise the Vulgate text or to edit independent Latin translations.

To appreciate the existing confusion due to the lack of a unified method and purpose, to understand the importance of the discussions of the Tridentine Fathers and the decisions of the Council of Trent, let us briefly review the more important editions of the Latin Bible, whether entire or partial, that appeared in the first half of the sixteenth century.

(a) Critical Editions of the Vulgate with Variant Readings from Latin MSS.

1504 Adrian Gumelli
1511 Albert Castellanus, O.P.
1520 Complutensian Polyglot
1528-1557 Robert Stephan (Robert Estienne)
1530 Gobelinus Laridius
1547-1583 John Henten, O.P.

(b) Corrections in the Vulgate according to Original Texts

1522 *Osiander (1527 reprinted by Catholic Rudelius)
1542-1557 Isidor Clarius, O.S.B.

(c) Entirely New Latin Translation from the Original Texts

1512 Faber Stapulensis (Jacques Lefèvre d'Etaples)18
1515 Felix Pratensis, O.S.Aug.
1516- Erasmus
1528 Santes Pagninus, O.P.
1530- Cardinal Cajetan, O.P.
1532-1540 *Conrad Pellicanus
1534-1546 *Sebastian Muenster
1542 *Michel Servetus
1543 *Leo Judæ
1551 *Sebastian Castellius

* Non-Catholic authors.

(2) The History of the Vulgate Text from the Council of Trent to the Present Day

On April 8, 1546, two Biblical Decrees were solemnly promulgated by the Tridentine Fathers. The first, called "Sacrosancta," declares the Catholic rule of faith in regard to the Sacred Scriptures by repeating the value of divine tradition, defining the inspiration of the Bible, and listing officially the books of the Canon. Then for the first time these books were formally canonized. This first Decree is a formal dogmatic definition of the Church.

The second Decree, called "Insuper," refers to the editing and use of Sacred Scripture. The words of this Decree making the Vulgate authentic and official for the Latin Rite are as follows: "The Holy Council, considering that it would be of no small advantage to the Church of God if it were clearly made known which of all the Latin editions of the Sacred Books in circulation is to be held as authentic, hereby declares and enacts that the same well-known Old Latin Vulgate edition, which has been approved by the long use of so many centuries in the Church, is to be held as authentic in public readings, disputations, preachings and expositions and that no one shall dare or presume to reject it under any pretense whatsoever."19 This same Decree also specifies that "Sacred Scripture, especially this well-known Old Latin Vulgate edition, shall be published as correctly as possible."

It is this disciplinary20 Decree "Insuper" that is of greatest importance for the history of the Vulgate. To understand it fully, we must take into consideration both the preliminary discussions as well as subsequent events.

(a) The Council of Trent in declaring the Vulgate to be authentic did not reject the original texts.

On March 8-9, 1546, two congregations of theologians met to prepare their material for the next general council meeting. The following is a resumé of their discussions. The Vulgate should be taken as the authentic text of the Bible (i.e., as the source for arguments in faith and morals). The direct reason for this is, not so much its conformity with the originals, but its usage for more than a thousand years in the Church, which guarantees that the Vulgate contains the written Word of God unfalsified.21 On March 17, 1546, this report in the form of the first abuse was presented to the Fathers of the General Council. It stated that there were various editions of the Sacred Scriptures being used as authentic in public readings, disputations, expositions and preachings. The remedy prescribed is to declare only the Vulgate as authentic, but not to detract from the authority of the Septuagint used by the Apostles, nor to repudiate other versions.22

On March 23, 1546, there was a discussion of this first abuse and its remedy. The mind of the Fathers of the Council is represented in the declaration of the Bishop of Fano: "The Council does not wish to reject all the texts of Sacred Scripture with the exception of the Vulgate. Such versions as the Septuagint, Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion are not to be rejected or frowned upon. Because of the variant readings the commission urged the acceptance of one translation as authentic and prescribed its use for the Church. The commission selected the Vulgate of St. Jerome, because it is better than the other translations and because of its long and continued usage in the Church."23

On April 1, 1546, there was a further discussion of the subject. Cardinal Pacheco demanded that all versions, save the Vulgate, be condemned. The Bishop of Fano replied that such an action would place too much of a restriction upon Christian freedom. Cardinal Pacheco's repeated demand two days later fell upon deaf ears. Cardinal Pole's request to have the Hebrew and Greek originals included among the authentic texts was also rejected, but indirect references to them were given in the final Decree of April 8 in the words: "Sacred Scripture, especially this well-known Old Vulgate edition, shall be published as correctly as possible."

It is therefore evident that the Council of Trent in declaring the Vulgate to be authentic did not prefer it to the original texts, nor to the ancient versions. On the other hand, the Vulgate in its relation to all the other Latin versions was declared authentic. The original texts needed no declaration of authenticity; they were so ipso facto.

(b) In declaring the Vulgate to be authentic, the Council of Trent does not exclude minor mistakes from it, but presupposes it to be free from substantial errors, at least in matters pertaining to faith and morals.

For practical reasons the Fathers made no mention in the official Decree of the minor textual corruptions in the Vulgate manuscripts, but had discussed the subject thoroughly and urged corrections to be made quietly to avoid scandal or casting suspicion on the Vulgate.24 In the report of the two congregations of theologians meeting on March 8-9, 1546, it was admitted that the Vulgate does not agree with the originals in all details, but that these differences are in minor details and not in matters of faith and morals. It was furthermore proposed that the Vulgate should be revised, and the errors that had crept into the text should be corrected.25 On March 17, 1546, this report in the form of the second abuse was presented to the Fathers of the General Council. It stated that there were in circulation many variant readings in the Vulgate manuscripts. To remedy this abuse it was suggested that the primitive Vulgate be restored, and that this task should be performed by the Holy See.26

On March 23, 1546, a long discussion was held on this subject. Cardinal Pacheco in particular raised the difficulty that it would be impossible to declare any version as authentic, and at the same time admit that it contains textual corruptions. The Bishop of Fano answered this objection by declaring that a distinction had to be made between the Vulgate as a version and the individual manuscripts or editions of the Vulgate. The Vulgate as a version is free from error, but the various manuscripts or editions of it are not necessarily free from error. The Vulgate may have some slight mistakes, but these have no bearing on faith and morals.

The word authentic used in the Council of Trent is to be taken in the juridical sense of worthy of belief, reliable, credible, truthful, trustworthy, authoritative. An authentic document is one that secures credence, one that merits faith so that it cannot be rejected or called into question. Since the autographic copies of the Scriptures are lost, the Church guarantees in general the fidelity and the trustworthiness, but not the philological accuracy, of the Vulgate. She guarantees its reliable argumentative force in matters pertaining to faith and morals. In other matters the Vulgate possesses no other authority than that of a good old translation.27

The Decree "Insuper," with the two points discussed above in (a) and (b), has been often misunderstood. It was used for a long time by Protestants as one of their stock charges against the Church. Likewise, many Spanish theologians under the influence of Cardinal Pacheco maintained that the Vulgate was the sole authentic text, and represented the originals even in minimis. Some of them even went farther and declared that the Vulgate text was directly inspired. St. Bellarmine, however, teaches us what was in the minds of the outstanding scholars of this century. He clearly proved that the Vulgate according to the intention of the Tridentine Fathers was authentic in regard to faith and morals, and that this was sufficient for the purpose of the Church. Furthermore, he stressed that the Hebrew and Greek originals are no less authentic than the Vulgate, and hence anyone who rejects the original texts should be reproved. In conclusion, he rightly adds that the Oriental Churches make use of texts and versions other than the Vulgate, and yet these must be recognized by us as authentic.28

(c) The Fathers of the Council recognized the lack of conformity existing between the various manuscripts and editions of the Vulgate. They therefore decreed that "Sacred Scripture, and especially this well-known Old Vulgate, shall be published as correctly as possible." They had also urged that this task be performed by the Holy See.

Before the first Pontifical Commission for the revision of the Vulgate was appointed in 1561, there were two large undertakings worthy of mention. At Rome Cardinal Marcello Cervini, the Papal Legate to the Council and uncle of St. Bellarmine, obtained good Greek and Latin manuscripts, and intended to publish not only the Vulgate but also the Greek and Hebrew texts. He entrusted the work of the New Testament to his protégé, William Sirleto, and that of the Septuagint to Nicholas Majoranus. It is unfortunate that Sirleto's Annotations to the New Testament, in which he severely criticized the inaccuracies of Erasmus' Latin translation, and his revised Greek New Testament were never published.29 Likewise, Majoranus' revision of the Greek Old Testament according to the Codex Vaticanus (B) was never published and no trace of his critical work remains. At Louvain the theological faculty entrusted John Henten, O.P., with the preparation of a critical edition of the Vulgate in accordance with the wish of the Tridentine Decree. In 1547 he published the Vulgate, which was based upon Robert Stephan's edition of 1540, and compared it with 28 manuscripts and 2 incunabula. Upon the death of Henten (1566), his critical work was continued by Francis Lucas of Bruges and frequently reprinted. The Louvain edition of 1583 was used by the Roman revisers. It is noteworthy that the Henten-Stephan Bible was based upon the Exemplar Parisiense, which is also the basis of our official Vulgate text.

In 1561 the first special commission was appointed by Pope Pius IV (1559-1565), who brought the Council of Trent to a close. Four Cardinals stood at the head of this commission, which was to publish the revision of the Vulgate and the writings of the Greek and Latin Fathers. The publication of the Vulgate, however, came to a standstill because they had no definite critical principles governing their revision.30

In 1569 the second commission for the revision of the Vulgate was appointed by Pope Pius V (1566-1572). At the head of the commission were five Cardinals, of whom the most noted were Sirleto and his pupil, Anthony Carafa. They were assisted by twelve consultors. The manuscripts of Rome, Italy and Europe were collated. At Florence the Benedictines collated twelve manuscripts, and a similar work of collecting thirty-four Biblical manuscripts was performed at Monte Cassino by the members of the same Order. This vast material was placed at the disposal of the commission. From April 28, 1569, to December 7, 1569, twenty-six plenary sessions were held. Again lack of definite critical principles brought the task to a standstill.

In 1586 the third commission was appointed by Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590). In the preceding period the Biblia Regia or Polyglot had been published at Antwerp (1569-1572) under the supervision of Arias Montanus. At Rome a special commission after ten years of intensive work published the Septuagint in 1587. This work of the Septuagint was of the greatest utility for the revision of the Vulgate. Cardinal Carafa was placed at the head of the new Vulgate commission. The members of the commission had at their disposal much collected material of variant readings, but especially the Codices Amiatinus, Vallicellianus, Legionensis, and Toletanus,31 and a 1547 Louvain Bible with the marginal readings of Cardinal Sirleto. After two years of intensive efforts the results of the commission were handed to the Pope. It was contained in a 1583 folio edition of the Louvain Bible with the textual emendations proposed by the commission in the margin. The emendated critical text differed so much from the then current text that the Pope did not give it his approval.

Pope Sixtus V now determined to revise the Vulgate himself with the aid of the Spanish Jesuit, Toledo, and the Augustinian, Angelo Rocca. The Pope, in rejecting for the most part the proposed emendations of the Carafa commission, returned to the Louvain text. Likewise, the conventional division of chapters into verses was altered by him. On November 25, 1589, the printing of the Vulgate was finished. The Bible was prefaced by the Bull "Æternus ille celestium" of March 1, 1590, which today is commonly recognized as not having been properly and canonically promulgated. On May 2 it was distributed to the members of the Curia and on May 31 to the Catholic princes. Copies were then also sold to the public. But Pope Sixtus was not content with his new work. He was prepared to print a separate copy of corrigenda so that each one could make his own corrections, but died on August 27, 1590, before completing his task. This Vulgate of Sixtus V was not well received, because it had rejected the advice of the Carafa commission, it had a very sloppy appearance with corrections made by erasures and slips pasted or words stamped over the text, and had changed the conventional order of verse division.32 On September 5, 1590, the sale of the Sistine Bible was forbidden and all available copies were destroyed.

In February, 1591, Pope Gregory XIV acting upon the advice of St. Robert Bellarmine appointed a fourth commission, but this time for the revision of the Sistine Bible. It consisted of Cardinal Colonna, prefect of the Index Congregation, six other Cardinals (including William Allen), and eleven consultors (including St. Robert Bellarmine). They were all agreed on the following principles of revision: (1) what had been taken away from the text should be restored; (2) what had been added should be removed; (3) what had been changed should be reconsidered or corrected; (4) attention should be paid to punctuation. In the beginning, the work of revision proceeded rather slowly, so that after forty days only the Book of Genesis was completed. A smaller commission, therefore, was entrusted with the completion of the task. The two Cardinals Colonna and Allen together with eight consultors, including St. Bellarmine, retired to Zagarola, the summer home of Cardinal Colonna, and after nineteen days finished the revision on June 23, 1591.33 Due to the untimely death of Pope Gregory XIV the revision could not be immediately published.

On January 30, 1592, Pope Clement VIII began his pontificate and approved the work of the Gregorian commission. This edition of the Vulgate appeared in folio on November 9, 1592. A second edition in quarto appeared in 1593, and a third edition in 1598. These editions appeared under the name of Sixtus V. There was no Bull as extensive as the "Æternus ille celestium," but only a short one entitled "Cum sacrorum" and dated November 9, 1592. In the year 1604 the name of Clement VIII was added by Robillius of Lyons to that of Sixtus V, and thus our Vulgate in time came to be called the Sistine-Clementine edition.34

Thus, we see that the Sistine Vulgate commission of Cardinal Carafa had as its principal purpose the publication of a critical text carefully edited according to the best manuscripts and original texts. On the other hand, Sixtus V preferred the textus receptus of his time. The Gregorian-Clementine commission sought the via media between the strictly critical and popular text.35

The editors of the Clementine Bible in their "Præfatio ad Lectorem,"36 which appeared in the first three editions, admitted in advance that their work was not by any means perfect, and this was also felt by learned scholars. Francis Lucas of Bruges (d. 1619) highly praised the Clementine edition, but published at Antwerp in 1603 and 1618 two correctories of variant readings that were to be utilized in future revisions of the Vulgate.37 For two centuries there was no one who, insisting upon the readings of Lucas, edited an emendated Vulgate text. About the middle of the last century the Roman Barnabite Ungarelli and his pupil and successor Vercellone collected and published (1860-1864) vast material on the variant readings of the Vulgate as far as the Fourth Book of Kings. Among the modern editions of the Vulgate there may be mentioned Fillion, Hetzenauer and Grammatica. In Protestant circles Wordsworth and White published at Oxford (1889-) a critical edition of the New Testament. Likewise worthy of mention is the Parisian Protestant theologian, Samuel Berger, who in 1893 published a very important work on the history of the Vulgate in the early part of the Middle Ages.

A new period in the history of the Vulgate began under Pope Pius X (1903-1914) of saintly memory. On April 30, 1907, Cardinal Rampolla, the president of the Biblical Commission, sent a letter in the name of the Holy Father to the Abbot Primate Hildebrand de Hemptenne, asking whether the various Benedictine Congregations would undertake this revision of the Vulgate. The abbots then assembled at Rome unanimously accepted the arduous task. In the autumn of the same year a small commission under the presidency of Cardinal Francis A. Gasquet began to organize the work. Their first step was the acquisition of manuscripts and the careful and accurate comparison of these with one another. The scope of their work is aptly and succinctly given by Cardinal Gasquet in his article on the Vulgate contained in the "Catholic Encyclopedia" (XV, 516a): "Substantially, no doubt, the present authentic Clementine text represents that which St. Jerome produced in the fourth century, but no less certainly it, the printed text, stands in need of close examination and much correction to make it agree with the translation of St. Jerome. No copy of the actual text is known to exist; and the corruptions introduced by scribes, etc., in the centuries posterior to St. Jerome, and even the well-intentioned work of various correctors, have rendered the labors of trying to recover the exact text from existing MSS. both difficult and delicate. This, however, is the work which must be done as the first step in the revision of the Vulgate. It is consequently the aim of the present commission to determine with all possible exactitude the Latin text of St. Jerome, and not to produce any new version of the Latin Scriptures. Of course, it is altogether another matter to determine how far St. Jerome was correct in his translation: to settle this will no doubt be the work of some future commission."

In the year 1922 D. H. Quentin, O.S.B., published the principles which would guide them in the publication of the Octateuch (Genesis to Ruth).38 All of the manuscripts are divided into three families: (1) the Spanish family, with as principal witness the Codex Turonensis; (2) the Theodulfian family, with as principal witness the Codex Ottobonianus; (3) the Alcuin family, with as principal witness the Codex Amiatinus. The two subsidiary families, the Italian and that of the Parisian University, being of secondary importance, are not taken into consideration. In cases of differences between the three families the "règle de fer," or democratic method of the majority ruling, is invoked.

Up to the present time the entire Pentateuch has been published. Genesis appeared in 1926 (a noteworthy correction is found in Gen., viii. 7, where the non is omitted in the sentence "corvum qui egrediebatur et non revertebatur"); Exodus and Leviticus in 1929, and Numbers and Deuteronomy in 1936.

This monumental work when once completed will be a great tribute to Catholic Biblical science and for the greater glory of our Holy Mother, the Church.


  1. H. Hoepfl, "Introductio Generalis" (2nd ed., Roma, 1926), 298.
  2. F. Stummer, "Einführung in die Lateinische Bibel" (Paderborn, 1928), 126.
  3. Stummer, op. cit., 126. For contrary view cfr. P. J. Renié, "Manuel D'Ecriture Sainte," I (2nd ed., Lyon-Paris, 1935), 171.
  4. Lusseau-Collomb, "Manuel d'Etudes Biblique," I (Paris, 1936), 456.
  5. J. M. Vosté, "De Latina Bibliorum Versione quae dicitur 'Vulgata'" (Rome, 1927), 11.
  6. Stummer, op. cit., 127.
  7. Stummer, op. cit., 133.
  8. Very rarely before his time was the entire Latin Bible to be found in one single volume. This accounts for MSS. having books of the Old Latin and Vulgate bound in the same volume. Cfr. Vaccari in "Institutiones Biblicæ:" (4th ed.), 287.
  9. Francis A. Gasquet, in "Catholic Encyclopedia," s.v., Vulgate.
  10. Stummer, op. cit., 142; Power (Biblica, V, 253-258) shows that in the Psalms the Theodulfian MSS. have made corrections according to the Hebrew texts.
  11. Vaccari, op. cit., 291-293. Cfr. also Van den Gheyn, "Nicola Maniacoria correcteur de la Bible," in Revue Biblique, VIII, 289-295.
  12. Stummer, op, cit., 148.
  13. Hoepfl, op. cit., 302.
  14. Vaccari, op. cit., 123; Vosté, op. cit., 18; Hoepfl, op. cit., 303.
  15. Stummer, op. cit., 157 sq.
  16. According to Lenhart (America, September 14, 1935), this was not the first book to be printed with movable type.
  17. Editions of the Bible independent of the Parisian text were published at Vicenza (1476) by Leonard Basileensis, and at Venice (1495) by Paganinus de Paganinis. Cfr. Vaccari, op. cit., 295.
  18. His Pauline Epistles were used by Luther.
  19. "Enchiridion Biblicum," n. 46; C. P. Grannan, "A General Introduction to the Bible," I (St. Louis, 1921), 140.
  20. The "Insuper" according to the more common opinion is a disciplinary decree based upon the dogmatic fact that the Vulgate conforms substantially with the originals, and therefore contains no errors in faith and morals.
  21. H. Hoepfl, "Beiträge zur Geschichte der Sixto-Klementinischen Vulgata," in Biblische Studien, XVIII, 1-3 (Freiburg im B., 1913), 3-11.
  22. Hoepfl in Biblische Studien, XVIII, 12. Cfr. also Grannan, op. cit., 156.
  23. Hoepfl, ibid., 13 sqq.
  24. Hoepfl, ibid., 17.
  25. Hoepfl, ibid., 3-12.
  26. Hoepfl, ibid., 12. Cfr. also Grannan, op. cit., 143.
  27. Hoepfl, ibid., 22 sqq.
  28. Hoepfl, ibid., 40 sqq.
  29. Hoepfl, ibid., 48-52. Cfr. also his "Kardinal Sirlets Annotationen zum Neuen Testament," in Biblische Studien, XIII, 2 (Freiburg im. B., 1908).
  30. Stummer, op. cit., 177 sq.
  31. Vaccari, op. cit., 298.
  32. Vaccari, op. cit., 299.
  33. Voste, op. cit., 30.
  34. Hetzenauer enumerates 4900 differences between the Sistine and Clementine versions. Cfr. Vosté, op. cit., 30.
  35. Hoepfl, in Biblische Studien, XVIII, 172 sq.
  36. The "Præfatio ad Lectorem," written according to the mind of St. Bellarmine, states among other things that Pope Sixtus V after his Bible had been printed and published decided and decreed that the entire work under print should be revised: "totum opus sub incudum revocandum censuit atque decrevit." This sentence has been described by some as a pious fraud and by others as objectively wrong. Under Benedict XIV St. Bellarmine's canonization was deferred on account of this sentence. This incriminating sentence in its present form did not originate exclusively from St. Bellarmine. His outline had received various modifications. It is evident that the redaction of a document urbi et orbi would not be entrusted to an individual person, holding only a minor position in the Church, as was the case with Bellarmine. He had suggested the new Vulgate to contain the names of Sixtus V and Gregory XIV, but his advice was not followed. It is true that no fully determined plan of Sixtus V to revise his Bible is known, but this does not exclude him from manifesting his desire both privately and orally. Cfr. Hoepfl, "Beiträge, etc.," 186-221.
  37. Hoepfl, in Biblische Studien, XVIII, 221 sqq.
  38. D. H. Quentin, "Memoire sur 1'Dtablissement du Texte de la Vulgate" (Rome, 1922).

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