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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Vulgate

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a very ancient Latin translation of the Bible; and the only one the church of Rome acknowledges to be authentic. The ancient Vulgate of the Old Testament was translated almost word for word, from the Greek of the Septuagint. The author of the version is not known. It was a long time known by the name of the Italic, or old version; as being of very great antiquity in the Latin church. It was the common, or vulgar version, before St. Jerom made a new one from the Hebrew original, with occasional references to the Septuagint; whence it has its name Vulgate. Nobilius, in 1558, and F. Morin, in 1628, gave new editions of it; pretending to have restored and re-collated it from the ancients who had cited it. It has since been retouched from the correction of St. Jerom; and it is this mixture of the ancient Italic version, and some corrections of St. Jerom, that is now called the Vulgate, and which the council of Trent has declared to be authentic. It is this Vulgate alone that is used in the Romish church, excepting some passages of the ancient Vulgate, which were left in the Missal and the Psalms, and which are still sung according to the old Italic version. St. Jerom declares that in his revisal of the Italic version, he used great care and circumspection, never varying from that version but when he thought it misrepresented the sense. But as the Greek copies to which he had access were not so ancient as those from which the Italic version had been made, some learned authors have been of opinion that it would have been much better if he had collected all the copies, and, by comparing them, have restored that translation to its original purity. It is plain that he never completed this work, and that he even left some faults in it, for fear of varying too much from the ancient version, since he renders in his commentaries some words otherwise than he has done in his translation. This version was not introduced into the church but by degrees, for fear of offending weak persons. Rufinus, notwithstanding his enmity to St. Jerom, and his having exclaimed much against this performance, was one of the first to prefer it to the vulgar or Italian. This translation gained at last so great an authority, by the approbation of Pope Gregory I, and his declared preference of it to every other, that it was subsequently brought into public use through all the western churches. Although it was not regarded as authentic, except by the council of Trent, it is certainly of some use, as serving to illustrate several passages both of the Old and New Testament.

The two principal popish editions of the Vulgate are those of Pope Sixtus V and Clement VIII: the former was printed in 1590, after Pope Sixtus had collected the most ancient MSS., and best printed copies, summoned the most learned men out of all the nations of the Christian world, assembled a congregation of cardinals for their assistance and counsel, and presided over the whole himself. This edition was declared to be corrected in the very best manner possible, and published with a tremendous excommunication against every person who should presume ever afterward to alter the least particle of the edition thus authentically promulgated by his holiness, sitting in that chair, in qua Petri vivit potestas, et excellit auctoritas, [in which the power of Peter lived, and his authority excelled.] The other edition was published in 1592, by Pope Clement VIII; which was so different from that of Sixtus, as to contain two thousand variations, some of whole verses, and many others clearly and designedly contradictory in sense; and yet this edition is also, ex cathedra, [from the chair,] pronounced as the only authentic one, and enforced by the same sentence of excommunication with the former. Clement suppressed the edition of his predecessor; so that copies of the Sixtine Vulgate are now very scarce, and have long been reckoned among literary rarities. Our learned countryman, Dr. James, the celebrated correspondent and able coadjutor of Archbishop Usher, relates, with all the ardent of a hard student, the delight which he experienced on unexpectedly obtaining a Sixtine copy; and he used it to good and effective purpose in his very clever book, entitled "Bellum Papale," in which he has pointed out numerous additions, omissions, contradictions, and glaring differences between the Sixtine and Clementine editions. All the popish champions are exceedingly shy about recognizing this irreconcilable conflict between the productions of two such infallible personages; and the boldest of them wish to represent it as a thing of nought. But it is no light matter thus to tamper with the word of God.

The Romanists generally hold the Vulgate of the New Testament preferable to the common Greek text; because it is this alone, and not the Greek text, that the council of Trent has declared authentic: accordingly that church has, as it were, adopted this edition, and the priests read no other at the altar, the preachers quote no other in the pulpit, nor the divines in the schools. Yet some of their best authors, E. Bouhours for instance, own, that among the differences that are found between the common Greek and Vulgate, there are some in which the Greek reading appears more clear and natural than that of the Latin; so that the second might be corrected from the first, if the holy see should think fit. But those differences, taken in general, only consist in a few syllables or words; they rarely concern the sense. Beside, in some of the most considerable, the Vulgate is authorized by several ancient manuscripts. Bouhours spent the last years of his life in giving a French translation of the New Testament according to the Vulgate. It is probable that at the time the ancient Italic or Vulgate version of the New Testament was made, and at the time it was afterward compared with the Greek manuscripts by St. Jerom, as they were then nearer the times of the Apostles, they had more accurate Greek copies, and those better kept, than any of those used when printing was invented.

"Highly as the Latin Vulgate is extolled by the church of Rome," says Michaelis, "it was depreciated beyond, measure at the beginning of the sixteenth century by several learned Protestants, whose example has been followed by men of inferior abilities. At

the restoration of learning, when the faculty of writing elegant Latin was the highest accomplishment of a scholar, the Vulgate was regarded with contempt, as not written with classical purity. But after the Greek manuscripts were discovered, their readings were preferred to those of the Latin, because the New Testament was written in Greek, and the Latin was only a version; but it was not considered that these Greek manuscripts were modern in comparison of those originals from which the Latin was taken; nor was it known at that time, that the more ancient the Greek manuscripts and the other versions were, the closer was their agreement with the Vulgate. Our ablest writers, such as Mill and Bengal, have been induced by F. Simon's treatise to abandon the opinion of their predecessors, and have ascribed to the Latin

Vulgate a value perhaps greater than it deserves."


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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Vulgate'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wtd/v/vulgate.html. 1831-2.

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