The Vulgate

This fourth-century text became the official promulgated Latin translation for the Catholic Church of the 16th century. Originally considered the “common edition” of the Septuagint, its popularity burgeoned in early Western Christendom after its translation into the Old Latin (“popular edition”) having been pronounced “authentic” by the Council of Trent. It is this composite form of the Vulgate that is essentially the work of Jerome (see below).

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Portion of a parchment ms. leaf from a Vulgate Bible [Image per User:POP, flickr]

January 1, 381

Even before Jerome, an increasing number of Latin-speaking Christians saw the bible translated (probably in North Africa) into Latin, the first of which was completed around A.D. 200. No manuscript of this era exist today. Two centuries later (382 AD), Pope Damasus I commissioned a scholar, Jerome, to produce the first comprehensive translation of the Bible into Latin as a standard text from which the church could promote universal doctrine. Jerome used the available Greek manuscripts (there were too many inconsistencies in the various available Latin texts) firstly to revise the gospel while revising the Old Testament by using the Septuagint as well as a separate unsanctioned translation based on the Hebrew text. It was completed by AD 400. By the 13th century the translation was referred to as the verssio (or editio) vulgata, the “commonly used translation”, because of the use of the common (or vulgar) language of early medieval times.

The Vulgate contains elements which belong to every period of its development, including those considered apocrypha, books of Jewish origin which lie outside the canon of the Old Testament:

  1. unrevised Old Latin text of the Book of Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and Baruch
  2. Old Latin form of the Psalter, which Jerome corrected from the Septuagint
  3. Jerome’s free translation of the books of Job and Judith
  4. Jerome’s translation from the Hebrew Old Testament excluding the Psalter
  5. Old Latin revision of the Gospels from Greek manuscripts
  6. Old Latin New Testament, revised

The Vulgate’s influence on Christendom can be gauged from this Wikipedia excerpt:

For over a thousand years (c. AD 400–1530), the Vulgate was the definitive edition of the most influential text in Western European society. Indeed, for most Western Christians, it was the only version of the Bible ever encountered. The Vulgate’s influence throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance into the Early Modern Period is even greater than that of the King James Version in English; for Christians during these times the phraseology and wording of the Vulgate permeated all areas of the culture. Aside from its use in prayer, liturgy and private study, the Vulgate served as inspiration for ecclesiastical art and architecture, hymns, countless paintings, and popular mystery plays.

A modern revision, incorporated into Catholic liturgies by 1977, was performed at behest of the Second Vatican Council.


Further Reading

Featured Image: Domenico Ghirlandaio – St Jerome in his study [Wikimedia Commons]


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And of them was the whole earth overspread