The Authenticity of the Vulgate

In Doctrine of Scripture, Francis Turretin, Turretin's 21 Questions by Chris ThomasLeave a Comment

Question 15: Is the Vulgate version authentic? Negative, against the Roman Catholics

I. It is not to be asked whether the Vulgate has value, and frequently presents the truth very effectively.  No one denies this. Nor is it to be asked whether it was in past times and over a long period used in the church; this is understood by all. But it must be asked whether it is of authentic truth and to be given equal authority with the sources, and given precedence over all other translations, which we deny. The Roman Catholics affirm this on the basis of the canon of the Council of Trent, session 4, decree 1: “If anyone does not accept these books in their entirety, with all their parts, as they have customarily been read in the Catholic church, and as they are found in the old Vulgate edition, let him be anathema”; and again, “This same holy synod, knowing that no small gain will accrue for the church it among all the Latin versions of the sacred books that are in circulation, one be recognized as authentic, understands, commands, and decrees that that old and Vulgate edition, which, by the usage of so many centuries, has been approved in the church, be held authentic for public reading, preaching, and teaching, and that no one dare or presume to reject it for any reason.”

II. It is true that Roman Catholics differ as to the meaning of this canon. Some, like Bel1armine, Serarius, Salmeron, Mariana, and others, hold that it does not contrast this version with sources, but only with the other Latin translations in circulation, and they believe that it can be emended and corrected from the sources. Others say that it has been ruled absolutely authentic, so that it cannot be improved and is to be preferred to all other editions, and even the original manuscripts can be corrected from it, as if they were corrupted; such is the teaching of Cano, Valentia; Gordon, Gretserus, Suarez, and others. Anyone who studies the language of the canon will readily understand that the canon inclines toward the latter opinion. For if

[the Vulgate] cannot be rejected for any reason, then it cannot be rejected because of the Hebrew text. . . .

III. However, although we hold the Vulgate in high esteem as ancient, we deny that it is authoritative. (1) Because it was produced by human effort; it does not have an inspired author, which an authoritative version requires. For whether the author was Jerome, as the Roman Catholics maintain, or some earlier person who had prepared the version called “Itala” and “Vulgate,” or Sixtus V and Clement VIII, who corrected the old usage of the church at many points, none of them was inspired.

IV. (2) Neither before the decree of the council, nor later, was it authoritative. Not before, because it contained numerous errors, as many Roman Catholics–Nicholas of Lyra, P. Burgensis, Driedo, Jerome of
Oleastro, Cajetan, and others, notably Isidore Clarius, who stated that he had found eight thousand errors in the Vulgate-freely admit. It cannot be called authoritative after the council, because the council cannot make that which was not authentic into something authentic, just as it cannot make a noncanonical book canonical, but only declare it to be such; this [privilege] belongs to God alone, who can confer divine authority on any writing that he wishes, but [a council] can only declare that a version is faithful and conforms to its source, or, if faults have crept in, it can correct them and require the use [of the corrections] in the public services of worship.

V. (3) Because in many places it differs from the sources, as Clement VIII recognized in the case of the
redaction of Sixtus V. Although the Sixtine version was called authoritative by the council, and had been
carefully corrected on the authority of Sixtus, yet Clement undertook its revision, restored many readings
that Sixtus had rejected, and changed and corrected others, as is evident from the collection of examples
by Thomas James, who besides many other variants, found about two thousand readings whose truth was
confirmed against the Hebrew and Greek on the apostolic authority of Sixtus which Clement revised and
corrected on the basis of the sources, by the same authority. This cannot, as Clement urges, be ascribed
to the fault of the press. Who can believe that a thousand errors entered through the fault of the press, when Sixtus labored so diligently? That the Clementine edition, which, following the Sixtine, Clement
declared authoritative, is full of errors, its own preface admits: “Receive, therefore, Christian reader, with
the approval of that same pontiff, a Vulgate edition of the Holy Scriptures corrected with whatever care
could be given; although it is difficult to call it final in every part, on account of human weakness, yet it
cannot be doubted to be more corrected and purer than all the others which have been published up to
now.” If it is truly difficult to call it final in every part, but only purer than all that have been published up
to now, it cannot be denied that correctors may appear later, nor can it be said that the council has
completely corrected it…. Bellarmine, who was one of the editors, does not conceal this fact. He wrote to
L. Brugensis, “The Vulgate Bible was not fully corrected by us; for good reasons we left much undone
which seemed to call for correction.”

VI. (4) Many Roman Catholics–Erasmus, Valla, Pagninus, Cajetan, Jerome of Oleastro, Forerius, Sixtus
Senensis–formerly recognized numerous errors in the Vulgate, and today well-known interpreters, who
commonly appeal from it to the sources, do the same–Salmeron, Bonfrerius, Serarius, Masius, Muisius,
and many others.

VII. (5) There are many places which have faulty rendering with grave error, in circumstance or tendency.
Genesis 3:15 reads, “she will crush,” as if it referred to the blessed virgin, while the source reads “it,” that
is, the seed. Genesis 14:18 [reads,] “he was indeed a priest,” for “and he was,” and Genesis 48:16 has
“let my name be invoked over them,” for “let my name be named among them. . . .”

VIII. (6) Whatever this version is, which they hold was prepared in part from that old one that is called
“Itala” by Augustine, and the Vulgate itself by Jerome, and partly from the new one of Jerome, it cannot
be authoritative, for the [old] Vulgate was not inspired. If it had been, it would have been improper for
Jerome to revise it. Nor can the new [Vulgate], which, by Jerome’s own statement, he revised from the
older, be so regarded.

IX. The Council of ‘Itent canonized a version that was not yet in existence, but which appeared forty-six
years later, for the decree was made in 1546, and in 1590 the work was completed and published by
Sixtus V; two years later by Clement VIII. But what council could approve and declare authentic an
edition which it had not seen and which in its time had not been made?

X. Although the Hebrews and Greeks have their authentic texts, it does not follow that the Latins deserve
theirs, because the situation is not the same for them. It is agreed that the Hebrew text of the Old
Testament and the Greek of the New came from prophets and apostles who were inspired by the Holy
Spirit, but no one would say that the authors and advocates of the Vulgate were inspired in the same
way.

XI. The use of a version over a long period of time can properly support its authority, but cannot give it
such authenticity as would make it wrong to depart from it for any reason. Such authenticity depends on
divine inspiration, not on long usage. Further, whatever was the use of this version, it was so used only in
the Latin church, not in the Greek and Eastern.

XII. The true and proper cause of the authenticity of a version is not the witness of the Fathers, or the
practice of the church, or the decision of a council. For Bellarmine himself points out that the church does
not make books authentic, but declares them to be so (De Verbo Dei 1.10). So a version that is not
authentic in itself cannot be declared so by the church.

XIII. It is not necessary for a person who is ignorant of Hebrew and Greek to hold the Vulgate as
authoritative in order to know whether he is reading Scripture or not. For he can recognize the truth of
Scripture in the vernacular versions which he reads and understands no less than in the Vulgate which he
does not understand. An understatement of a kind quite common in Turretin, and one to which Latin idiom lends itself, in such expressions as non semel, non pauca, non sine numine, as well as this non minus.

Leave a Comment