History of the Catholic Bible
The Douay-Rheims Bible
Foundational English translation of the Catholic BibleThe original Douay-Rheims Bible, which is the foundation on which nearly all English Catholic versions were based, owed its existence to the religious controversies of the sixteenth century. Many Protestant versions of the Scriptures had been issued and were used largely by the Reformers for polemical purposes. The rendering of some of the texts showed evident signs of controversial bias, and it became of the first importance for the English Catholics of the day to be furnished with a translation of their own, on the accuracy of which they could depend and to which they could appeal in the course of argument. The work of preparing such a version was undertaken by the members of the English College at Douay (Douai), in Flanders, founded by William Allen (afterwards Cardinal) in 1568. The chief share of the translating was borne by Dr. Gregory Martin, formerly of St. John's College, Oxford. His text was revised by Thomas Worthington, Richard Bristowe, John Reynolds, and Allen himself—all of them Oxford men. A series of notes was added, designed to answer the theological arguments of the Reformers; these were prepared by Allen, assisted by Bristowe and Worthington.
The object of the work was, of course, not limited to controversial purposes; in the case of the New Testament, especially, it was meant for pious use among Catholics. The fact, however, that the primary end was controversial explains the course adopted by the translators. In the first place they translated directly, not from the original Hebrew or Greek, but from the Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome. This had been declared authoritative for Catholics by the Council of Trent; but it was also commonly admitted that the text was purer than in any manuscripts at that time extant in the original languages. Then, also, in the translation, many technical words were retained bodily, such as parch, parasceve, azymes, etc. In some instances, also, where it was found difficult or impossible to find a suitable English equivalent for a Latin word, the latter was retained in an anglicized form. Thus in Philippians 2:8, we get "He exinanited himself", and in Hebrews 9:28, "Christ was offered once to exhaust the sins of many". It was considered that an ordinary reader, finding the word unintelligible, would pause and inquire its meaning, and that this was preferable to satisfying him with an inadequate rendering. In other cases latinisms seem to have crept in unawares, as in Luke 10:1, "Our Lord designed also other seventy-two"; or in Philippians 2:10, "In the name of Jesus, every knee bow of the celestials, terrestrials and infernals". The proper names are usually (though not always) taken from the Vulgate; but the word Dominus is rendered throughout Our Lord. The general result was a version in cumbersome English, so full of latinisms as to be in places hardly readable, but withal scholarly and accurate.
In the year 1578, owing to political troubles, the college was temporarily transferred from Douay (which was then in the dominions of the King of Spain) to Rheims, and during its sojourn there, in 1582, the New Testament was published, and became consequently known as the "Rheims Testament". It contained no episcopal imprimatur, but a recommendation was appended signed by four divines of the University of Rheims. The Old Testament was delayed by want of means, until the whole Bible was eventually published in two quarto volumes, in 1609 and 1610, by which time the college had returned to Douay (Douai), and the recommendation was signed by three doctors of that university. Thus the New Testament appeared nearly thirty years before the Anglican "Authorized Version", and although not officially mentioned as one of the versions to be consulted, it is now commonly recognized to have had a large influence on the King James Version (see Preface to R. V., i, 2; also, Carleton, "Rheims and the English Bible"). The Rheims New Testament was reprinted twice at Antwerp—in 1600 and 1621—and a fourth edition was issued at Rouen in 1633. Then it was allowed to rest for over a century, before a fifth edition appeared, with some slight changes, dated 1728, but without any place of publication stated. It is believed to have been printed in London and was edited by Dr. Challoner (afterwards Bishop), and Father Blyth, a Carmelite. The Douay Bible was never after this printed abroad. A sixth edition of the Rheims Testament was printed at Liverpool in 1788, and a seventh dated Dublin, 1803, which was the last Catholic edition. Several Protestant editions have appeared, the best known being a curious work by Rev. William Fulke, first published in 1589, with the Rheims text and that of the Bishops' Bible in parallel columns. A Protestant edition of the Rheims Testament was also brought out by Leavitt of New York, in 1834.
Although the Bibles used by the Catholics of England and Ireland became popularly styled the "Douay-Rheims Version," they were most improperly so called; they were founded, with more or less alteration, on a series of revisions undertaken by Bishop Challoner in 1749-52. His object was to meet the practical want felt by the Catholics of his day of a Bible moderate in size and price, in readable English, and with notes more suitable to the time. He brought out three editions of the New Testament, in 1749, 1750, and 1752 respectively, and one of the Old Testament in 1750. The changes introduced by him were so considerable that, according to Cardinal Newman, they "almost amounted to a new translation". So also, Cardinal Wiseman wrote, "To call it any longer the Douay or Rheimish Version is an abuse of terms. It has been altered and modified until scarcely any Verse remains as it was originally published." In nearly every case Challoner's changes took the form of approximating to the Authorized Version, though his three editions of the New Testament differ from one another in numerous passages. The best known Catholic Bible published in England in modern times is perhaps Haydock's, which was first issued at Manchester in fortnightly parts in 1811-12. The Irish editions are mostly known by the names of the bishops who gave the imprimatur: as Dr. Carpenter's New Testament (1783); Dr. Troy's Bible (1791); Dr. Murray's (1825); and Dr. Denvir's (1836)—the last two of which were often reprinted, and circulated largely in England as well as in Ireland. Near the turn of the century, the issue of the sixpenny New Testament by Burns and Oates of London had by its large circulation made the text adopted therein—the same is adopted in Dr. Murray's and Dr. Denvir's Bibles. In America an independent revision of the Douay Version by Archbishop Kenrick (1849-59) became much used.
Monsignor Bernard Ward
President of St. Edmund's College
Remy Lafort, S.T.D.,
† John M. Farley
Archbishop of New York
Remy Lafort, S.T.D.,
† John M. Farley
Archbishop of New York