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The Vulgate Bible is an early 5th century translation of the Bible into Latin made by St. Jerome on the orders of Pope Damasus I. It takes its name from the phrase versio vulgata, "the common (i.e., popular) version" (cf. Vulgar Latin), and was written in an everyday Latin used in conscious distinction to the elegant Ciceronian Latin of which Jerome was a master. The Vulgate was designed to be both more accurate and easier to understand than its predecessors. It was the first, and for many centuries the only, Christian Bible translation that translated the Old Testament directly from the Hebrew original rather than indirectly from the Greek Septuagint.


Different versions

Jerome was responsible for at least three slightly different versions of the Vulgate. The Romana Vulgate was the first, but it was soon replaced by later versions except in Britain, where it continued to be used until the Norman Conquest in 1066. Next was the Gallicana Vulgate, which Jerome produced a few years later. It had some minor improvements, especially in the Old Testament. This became the standard Bible of the Roman Catholic Church a few decades after it was produced. The Hispana Vulgate is largely identical to the Romana except for the Book of Psalms, which Jerome re-translated from the Hebrew for this version. (In the other Vulgates the Psalms were mostly translated from Greek, but were checked against Hebrew and Aramaic sources; this was done since they were already very familiar to the worshippers in this form and a completely new translation of the Psalms was felt to be too radical a change.)

Relation with the Old Latin Bible

The Latin Bible used before the Vulgate and usually known as the Vetus Latina, or "Old Latin", was not translated by a single person or institution, nor even uniformly edited. The individual books varied in quality of translation and style -- modern scholars often refer to the Old Latin as being in "translationese" rather than standard Latin. Jerome did not completely re-translate the original Greek and Hebrew and exactly how much revision he did is unclear. He certainly translated the Old Testament from the Hebrew and the Gospels from the Greek. Whether he translated other parts of the New Testament or just revised them from Old Latin translations is not known with certainty. At first, Jerome did not want to include the Deuterocanonical books. However, Augustine of Hippo argued for their inclusion, and Pope Damasus insisted on it, so these books were included and the Old Testament canon of the Vulgate was mostly the same as that of the Septuagint, which was at that time the translation most widely used by Greek-speaking Christians. However, since Jerome regarded the Deuterocanonical books of secondary importance to the books found in the Hebrew canon, he left most (except for Tobit and parts of Judith) unrevised and untranslated from the Septuagint. After Jerome passed away however, these less than polished Old Latin renderings of the deuterocanonical books crept back into the officially sanctioned Vulgate, where their style can still be markedly distinguished from Jerome's.

The Clementine Vulgate

This edition of the Vulgate is the one most familiar to Catholics who have lived prior to the reforms of Vatican II (which greatly reduced the role of Latin in liturgy). Over the course of the Middle Ages, the original Vulgate of Jerome had succumbed to the inevitable changes wrought by human error in the countless copying of the text in monasteries across Europe. No one copy was the same as the other as scribes added, removed, misspelled, or erroneously "corrected" verses in the Latin Bible. There were efforts to purify the corrupted text, notably by Alcuin of York in the early 9th century during the reign of Charlemagne. This correction was the basis for the Paris edition that was widely disseminated among the clergy in northwestern Europe. Though the advent of printing greatly reduced the potential of human error and increased the consistency and uniformity of the text, even the Vulgate as produced by Gutenberg was not entirely without mistakes as the several editions of the first printed work varied one from the other. After the Reformation, when the Church of Rome strove to counter the attacks and refute the doctrines of Protestantism, the Vulgate was reaffirmed in the Council of Trent as the sole, authorized text of the Bible. To reinforce this declaration, attempt was made to standardize the spelling and overall text of the Vulgate out of the countless editions, written and printed, produced during the Middle Ages. The actual first manifestation of this authorized text was sponsored by Pope Sixtus V (1585-90), known as the Sistine Vulgate, but was soon repudiated with the advent of the next pope, Clement VIII (1592-1605) who immediately ordered a new edition. This "Clementine" Vulgate of 1592 became the standard Bible text of the Catholic Church until the 1960's, when worship in vernacular languages was permitted.

Nova Vulgata

This is another version of the Vulgate, called the Nova Vulgata which is currently the official Latin version published and approved by the Roman Catholic Church. It was commissioned in 1907 by Pope Pius X of the Benedictine Monastery in Rome, though many decades would pass before it would be completed. The main difference between the Nova Vulgata and the Vulgata Clementina is that it takes account of the modern textual criticism of recent years and in places reflects the changes in such texts as the United Bible Society 's critical text. There are also a number of changes where the modern scholars felt that Jerome had failed to grasp the meaning of the original languages. The Nova Vulgata does not contain those books, found in some editions of the Vulgate, that are considered apocryphal by the Roman Catholic Church -- for example the 3rd and 4th Book of Ezra. Its spelling also reflects a more Classical leaning than the Renaissance spelling of the Clementine edition. The Nova Vulgata has not been widely embraced by conservative Catholics, as it sounds unfamiliar comapared to the Clementine, a fact common in the history of the Bible as new translations attempt to supplant older, more familiar ones.

The Stuttgart Vulgate

A final mention must also be made of an edition of the Vulgate published by the German Bible Society (Deutche Bibelgesellschaft), based in Stuttgart. This edition, Biblia Sacra Vulgata ( ISBN 3438053039 ), seeks to reproduce the original, pure Vulgate text that Jerome himself would have produced 1,600 years ago. The Stuttgart Vulgate is mainly a scholarly work, as it provides variant readings from the diverse manuscripts and printed editions of the Vulgate and comparison of different wordings in its footnotes.It attempts, through critical comparison of important, historical editions of the Vulgate, to achieve the original text, cleansed of the errors of a millennium and a half's time. The main critical source for the Stuttgart Vulgate is Codex Amiatinus, the highly-esteemed 8th century, one-volume manuscript of the whole Latin Bible produced in England, regarded as the best medieval witness to Jerome's original text. An important feature in the Stuttgart edition for those studying the Vulgate is the inclusion of all of Jerome's prologues to the Bible, the Testaments, and the major books and sections (Pentateuch, Gospels, Minor Prophets, etc.) of the Bible. This again mimics the style of medieval editions of the Vulgate, which were never without Jerome's prologues (revered as much a part of the Bible as the sacred text itself). In its spelling, the Stuttgart also retains a more medieval Latin orthography than the Clementine, using oe rather than ae, and having more proper nouns beginning with H (i.e., Helimelech instead of Elimelech). Though closer than the New Vulgate to the Clementine edition, the Stuttgart Vulgate still has enough divergence from the Clementine text to render it unfamiliar to accustomed Catholics. In addition, its sparse, unpunctuated text can be difficult to read, especially in verses with multiple clauses. Still, this edition's importance rests in the fact that it is the one most disseminated on the Internet, usually presented with Jerome's third version of the Psalms translated from the Hebrew, and often containing only the first three chapters of Daniel (stopping at the point where the deuterocanonical Song of the Three Holy Children would begin.)

Issues of translation

Jerome had a Greek model for both the Old and the New Testaments: the New Testament was written in Greek and the Old Testament, originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic, was used by Christians, as noted above, in a Greek translation called the Septuagint made by Jews during the three centuries before Christ. The linguistic separation between Hebrew and Latin is nearly as vast as the linguistic separation between Latin and Greek is narrow, and the Vulgate New Testament, in particular, sometimes follows the Greek model word for word. Latin and Greek are both highly inflected languages with very flexible word-order, but the attempt to render such things as the richer array of Greek participles sometimes resulted in clumsy Latin that was preserved in the English of the King James Bible. We can see this in Luke 2:15, for example:

Greek: Και εγενετο ως απηλθον απ' αυτων εις τον ουρανον οι αγγελοι και οι ανθρωποι οι ποιμενες ειπον προς αλληλους: Διελυωμεν δη εως Βηθλεεμ και ιδωμεν το ρημα τουτο το γεγονος ο ο κυριος εγνωρισεν ημιν.
(Literal translation: And it-happened that they-withdrew from them into the heaven the angels and the men the shepherds said to each-other: let-us-go-over then to Bethlehem and see the thing that [demonstrative pronoun] the happened which the Lord has-declared to-us.)
Latin: Et factum est ut discesserunt ab eis angeli in caelum, pastores loquebantur ad invicem: transeamus usque Bethleem et videamus hoc verbum, quod factum est, quod fecit Dominus et ostendit nobis.
(Literal translation: And it-happened as they-withdrew from them into heaven angels, shepherds said to each-other: let-us-go-over to Bethlehem and see this thing which has happened which the Lord has-done and has-declared to-us.)
English: And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

Influence on Western Culture

In terms of its importance to the culture, art, and life of the Middle Ages, the Vulgate stands supreme. Through the "Dark Ages" and onto the Renaissance and Reformation, St. Jerome's monumental work stood as a last pillar of Roman glory and the bedrock of the Western church as it strove to unite a fractured Europe though the Catholic faith. As the version of the Bible familiar to and read by the faithful for over a thousand years (ca. 400 AD - 1530), the Vulgate exerted a powerful influence, especially in art and music as it served as inspiration for countless paintings and hymns. Early attempts to render translations into vernacular tongues were invariably made from the Vulgate, as it was highly regarded as an infallible, divinely inspired text. Even the translations produced by Protestants, that sought to replace the Vulgate for good with vernacular versions translated from the original languages, could not avoid the enormous influence of Jerome's translation in its dignified style and flowing prose. The closest equivalent in English, the King James Version, or Authorised Version, shows a marked influence from the Vulgate in the homely, vigorous rhythm of its prose and poetry.


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