Vulgate, The


Vulgate, The
   by Saint Jerome
(ca. 405)
   The Vulgate (meaning “common language”) is the Latin version of the Bible produced mainly by St. JEROME. It was the text that became the standard version of the Christian Scriptures in western Europe from the fifth century until the time of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th, and therefore had a profound and widespread influence on European culture for the entire medieval period. During the fourth century, a number of older Latin translations of Scripture were in circulation throughout Europe, but these were for the most part unreliable and manifested great discrepancies. At the request of Pope Damasus, Jerome undertook the creation of a new, scholarly, and accurate rendering of the Christian Bible into Latin, the common language of the entire western Roman Empire.Within two years, Jerome had completed a new translation of the four Gospels from their original Greek.
   Moving to the Old Testament after 384, Jerome began with the Psalms, significant because of their regular use in the Christian liturgy. Jerome completed what became known as the Gallican Psalter in about 392. As his source, he used the text of the Septuagint (named for the “70 elders”), a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures made in Hellenic Alexandria that had been in circulation since the third century B.C.E. and had been the version most familiar to the early church. But as Jerome continued his work on the Old Testament over the next 15 years, he came to believe that for a true translation he needed to work directly from the Hebrew texts of the Scriptures. This decision was controversial at the time, since the church had from its beginning relied on the Septuagint, which many believed to be divinely inspired, and Jerome’s revision of the Psalms, called the “Hebrew Psalter,” never gained the popularity that his Gallican Psalter had. But the rest of his Old Testament, on the basis of its undeniable excellence, gradually became the standard version used in the West. It was not until (most likely) the early seventh century that the Vulgate as we now know it was assembled into a single text, comprising Jerome’s Old Testament, the Gallican Psalter, Jerome’s Gospels, and newly revised translations of the remainder of the New Testament by an unknown author who followed Jerome. The text also contained Jerome’s translations of the Apocryphal books of Judith and Tobit, as well as older Latin versions of the rest of the Apocrypha.
   Jerome’s Vulgate became the first mass-produced printed book in Europe when Gutenberg printed it in 1454. Over the centuries, many errors had crept into Jerome’s text as it was copied and recopied by scribes, and a critical edition of the Vulgate was published in 1528. At the height of the Counter-Reformation in 1560, the Council of Trent declared the Vulgate the authoritative text of Bible. A corrected edition (purging some 3,000 textual errors) produced under Pope Clement VIII in 1592 (known as the “Clementine edition”) became the standard Catholic Bible. It was the Vulgate version that Martin Luther translated into German at the beginning of the Reformation, and it is the Vulgate version that remains the text on which today’s standard Catholic Douay-Confraternity English translation of the Bible is based. Even contemporary Bible translators look at Jerome’s Vulgate text as an important authority, because they realize that he had access to manuscripts in the original Hebrew that predate most surviving Hebrew texts by nearly 1,000 years.
   Bibliography
   ■ Kamesar, Adam. Jerome, Greek scholarship, and the Hebrew Bible: A Study of the Quaestiones Hebraicae in Genesim. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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