What judgment must be passed upon the Latin of the Vulgate of St. Jerom, which have not the Text of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
WERE we so happy as to have the Manuscripts of the Bible which had pass’d under St. Jerom’s eyes, or only the Manuscripts which had been made very near the time that ancient Clergyman was upon his revise, we might clear up very many passages, which have given place for several Criticisms. We should see whether the passage they dispute with us was originally in that Version. But all the Manuscripts which are preserv’d fall far short of the time when it was made, the most ancient scarce come within four or five hundred years of it; since F. le Long reckons for the most ancient that of Theodulphus, made in the year 790. and consequently more modern by half a Century than the quotation of Ambrose Ansbert. But suppose they should find, if they will, some other yet more ancient, let it be a thousand years old, and the Text of St. John’s Epistle not read in it; will this be any more than an omission, a fault of the transcriber, like many others of the same nature? The more ancient this shall have been, the more it may have been copied by others since, in which the same fault shall have escap’d thro’ the inadvertency of the transcribers: as we have often seen the faults of an impression to pass from one edition to another, in the very printing of the sacred Books, where the revisers and correctors, of the press ought to use all possible care to prevent such mistakes. The helps of Correctors, which are fixed in every Printing-house, being wanting to the generality of transcribers, the faults which escap’d their pen remain’d in their Manuscripts; this Manuscript came into the hands of the buyer, who sometimes was a man less careful in reading, than in forming a Library for pomp and shew: nothing is more frequent in the world than this, and we must not imagine that it was ever otherwise. When such a Manuscript met with a buyer who us’d it, and read it for devotion, he might either not perceive the omission, or leave it there without giving himself the trouble to correct it; either because he could not write, (for that art was not always so common as it is in our days;) or if he could, thro’ negligence in correcting it; or because of an over curious niceness he was afraid of spoiling the beauty of his Book. There are at present men of all these Characters, the negligent, the indolent, and the affectedly neat; and men who liv’d a thousand years ago were form’d no otherwise than those who have come after ’em. The omissions thus remaining in one Manuscript which has been preserv’d for many ages, of what weight can this Manuscript and others of the same sort be in a matter which owes its first original to the carelessness of a transcriber, and which is preserv’d only by a like carelessness, or ignorance, or the laziness and negligence of the persons into whose hands it shall have pass’d successively? It even happens, that when such an omission is grown old in a Manuscript, the ages which have pass’d upon it without making any alteration in it, have gain’d it on the other hand a sort of venerable prescription; so that the older a Manuscript is, the more venerable it grows, even ’till the very faults of it sometimes hold the place of law and determination.
When a transcriber looking over his copy happen’d to observe something forgot, if he was a man who had the perfection of the Text of the sacred Author more at heart, than the neatness or beauty of his Manuscript, he himself inserted the passage he had omitted in the margin; and this is what Mr. Simon and others have observ’d concerning the passage of St. John, that not being in the very Body of the Epistle, ’tis found written in the margin, by the same hand, and with the same ink as the rest. In other Manuscripts where this Text is not in the body of the Epistle, some of those who had possess’d this copy from that time, or a little after, having perceiv’d that the Text of the three witnesses in heaven was wanting to it, had wrote it in the margin over against the place where it ought to have been.
All these wise and pious precautions, as well of the transcribers of the sacred Scripture, as of the buyers, or religious readers, are so many condemnations brought against the other Manuscripts in which this passage is found wanting; and are a certain proof that this defect must be look’d on but as a mere omission, and consequently as a matter, which is of no consideration against the authentickness of this Text.
This reasoning, which is so evident and natural, and lets us see of how little moment it is with regard to the passage we are upon, that it is not found in some Manuscripts of seven or eight hundred years old, and which are very few; this reasoning, I say, is confirmed and render’d insuperable by the quotations, which I have produc’d in the foregoing Chapter. The Authors of ’em were not mere transcribers, transcribers unknown, who got their bread by writing, as Printers do now-a-days; they are men of letters, and for the most part of a venerable character in the Church, learned Divine; who wrote upon religious Subjects, who had the Bible at hand, and who, in the same age, (from which they offer us some Manuscripts unknown otherwise than from their single quality of Manuscripts in which this passage of St. John is not found,) come to us by their Works, each with his Bible, and upon opening ’em lay before our Eyes in the Epistle of St. John the Text they have quoted. ‘Tis then with regard to this Text quite as much, as if we had their very Copy, as it is with regard to all the other passages, which are set down in their quotations. I see there five of the most ancient Manuscripts they have, I know from what hand they come to me; those from whom I receive ’em assure me by the use they have made of the passage in St. John’s Epistle, that it really belongs to the Epistle of that Apostle. Have they the same assurance of any Manuscripts in which this passage is not seen; and is there the least comparison to be made betwixt the one and the other?
They will be confirm’d in this thought, if, placing on one side the few Manuscripts in which this Text is wanting with the innumerable multitude of those which have it, (since they are forced to own that within these seven or eight hundred years ’tis generally found in the Manuscripts) they attend to the regard which was anciently paid to one and the other. If before the eighth Century there were some Copies in which this passage of St. John was wanting, they must necessarily have been but little known in publick; or if they were, they gave themselves no more trouble about ’em, than we do now about the faults of a printed Book, and even of the Bible; all that is done in this respect is to avoid the same faults in another Edition. And ’tis thus the Ancients were wont to act in what Concerns the passage of St. John; the fault or omission remain’d where it was, and they took care not to let it pass into other Copies.
They went farther, when, at the close of the eighth Century, they made by order of Charles the Great that excellent revise of the Copies of the New Testament, of which so much has been said. The learned men who were chosen to make a judgment of the Copies and the faults to be corrected, either met with none of these Manuscripts which wanted this passage, (which would be a sign of their scarceness,) or if they had some of ’em before their eyes, among the great number of others which were necessary to their design, they plac’d the omission of this Text among the faults that were to be corrected; otherwise, one cannot conceive why they should have plac’d it themselves in the Epistle of St. John, as has been prov’d. Unless they had directly explain’d themselves against the omission of this Text, they could not better make it known to be a fault of the transcribers, than by following themselves the quite opposite Manuscripts, and inserting from them this forgotten Text. This was all that belong’d to their design, and the nature of their work; critical remarks upon particular Texts, whether they were omitted in some Copies, or were found faulty in some of their expressions, would have gone too far, and not have been necessary for the use of the faithful, which is what Charles the Great had solely proposed: a good revise, and an exact and faithful correction: that was all.
They acted no otherwise in the Correctorium of the Sorbonne, in the tenth Century. Always the Manuscripts in which the Text of the three witnesses in heaven was not, were rejected, as defective in this point; and the only ones in which it is found were follow’d in these Correctoria. If then they they had no regard to the Copies, which have not this sacred Text, upon the occasions of a regular correction, what esteem do they deserve six or seven hundred years after, unless an error is chang’d into truth by tract of time?
Lastly, the constant and universal use the Church has made of the Version and Copies in which this Text was read, without having ever gainsay’d those, in which it was not found, is the most certain approbation they can have of the former, and an indisputable disowning of the latter. Let these Manuscripts make, as much as they will, one of the curiosities in Libraries; they may be valuable in other respects, but the esteem must never be extended so far as to their faults.