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Bible Source Texts

The Latin New Testament

Origin and revision of the Latin manuscripts of the New Testament

A. The Old Latin Manuscripts and their Classification

The origin of the Latin Bible has been discussed elsewhere, but certain points of special interest for the criticism of N.T. must be touched on here.

The Latin manuscripts (MSS.) of the New Testament (N.T.) may be divided into two classes: the Old Latin, or pre-Hieronymian, versions and the Vulgate, or Hieronymian, editions. The Old Latin text of the Gospels has been preserved for us in a more or less fragmentary manner in the following MSS., which are distinguished by the small letters of the alphabet; the Roman numerals signify the century to which they are probably to be assigned:

Codex Vercellensis, a, iv. or v. [1]
Codex Veronensis, b, v. or vi. [2]
Codex Colbertinus, c, xiii.
Codex Bezae, d, vi., i.e. the Latin text of the famous Codex Cantabridgiensis, also known as Codex Bezae. [3]
Codex Palatinus, e, v.
Codex Brixianus, f, vi. [4]
Codex Bobbiensis, k. v. (?). [5]

The Acts of the Apostles are preserved in:

Codex Laudianus, e, vi., viz. the Latin text of a bilingual MS. used by the Ven. Bede, also in various fragments. [6]

For St. Paul's Epistles we have:

Codex Claromontanus, d, vi. (?), viz. the Latin text of this bilingual MS.[7]

The other bilingual MSS. for the Pauline Epistles are late in date, e.g. Codicies Sangermanensis, Augiensis, Baernerianus, though they have their use.[8]

The importance of these Old Latin manuscripts is twofold: (a) the rendering they give is sometimes illuminative; and, of far greater importance, (b) it is possible to discover the Greek text on which they are based. We have no manuscripts of the Greek Testament earlier than the fourth century, though of course these same MSS. are derived from parent MSS. of a much greater antiquity. The fact, then, that the Old Latin version dates certainly from the second century A.D., and that we have MS. copies of it dating from the fifth century, and, like the great Greek Uncials, derived from still earlier copies, compels us, if we would arrive at sound conclusions regarding the primitive Greek text, to take into account the Greek text witnessed to by these versions, whether Latin, Syriac, or Coptic.

In the case of the Old Latin manuscripts, tabulation of the results shows us that they may be grouped in several "families," according to certain more or less clearly marked features, which appear in some and not in others. Westcott and Hort proposed three groups, or "families," of Old Latin MSS., viz. the African, the European and the Italian.[9] Under the African group come such MSS. as Bobbiensis, k, and Palatinus, e, which present a text of a very independent character and agreeing with that found in the writings of St. Cyprian.[10] The European family embraces such Codices as Veronensis, b, and Vercellensis, a. The text in these MSS. approaches that found in the Vulgate of St. Jerome [11] and in the works of Novatian, St. Cyprian's contemporary at Rome. The Italian family includes such texts as that preserved in Codex Brixianus, f, and in Codex Monacensis, q. These Italian texts are thought to show signs of a revision of the existing Latin text so as to make it accord with the then prevalent Greek text.[12] It is termed Italian because it presents a type of text often found in St. Augustine and therefore thought to be identical with the "Itala" text of the Old Latin which he so eulogized.[13]

Having once established this grouping, the question of the mutual relation subsisting between these different types of text becomes of primary importance. Wiseman held [14] that there was originally but one Latin version, and that its home was in Africa. Recent study of the question tends to confirm the first part of his conclusion, viz. that there was but one original version; but it is now maintained that its home is to be sought rather in Syria than in Africa, and that this text was variously affected as it passed on into Alexandria, Africa and Italy.[15]

As for the terminology employed by Westcott and Hort, it must be remarked that the terms Italian and European seem to overlap, and that there is no such hard and fast line of demarcation between these two families as between them and the African family.

It would be a mistake to regard the Latin MSS. as presenting phenomena apart. The differentiation of "families" in the Latin MSS. is but the first step; the next is to see how these "families" can be co-ordinated with the evidence afforded by other Versions and MSS.[16] This can be tested by particular "readings" common to them. Thus, while on the one hand in the African family, k, or Codex Bobbiensis, shows a marked affinity with Codex Beza, D, and with א and B, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, on the other hand, e, or Codex Palatinus, agrees indeed with D and א; but with A, or Codex Alexandrinus, rather than with Vaticanus. But a much more satisfactory method of testing these affinities lies in the respective relation of these families to the well-known additions to the ordinary text, which are witnessed to by certain MSS. and Versions. Thus, to take but four of these, we have in Matt. 16:2-3 a passage on which St. Jerome remarks: Hoc in plerisque codicibus non habetur;[17] in Luke 22:43-44, the sweat of blood; in John 5:3-4, the descent of the Angel; in 7:53—8:11, the story of the woman taken in adultery. Now, while these passages are omitted by B, they are to be found as a general rule not only in the Old Latin MSS., but also in the Old Syriac, and particularly in Codex Bezae, D, which is so remarkable, especially in Acts, for its long additions to the ordinary Greek text. Similarly there is a series of lesser additions which are not so familiar, e.g. in Mark 9:24, "with tears," 9:29, "and fasting," 14:68, "and the cock crew"; Luke 9:54, "as Elias also did"; John 3:13, "Who is in heaven." It is remarkable that while the greater additions are supported in the main by the African family of Old Latin MSS. as opposed to the European family, the converse is the case with these lesser additions they find support in marked fashion in the European family as contrasted with the African.[18] Now the importance of these facts will be evident when we reflect on the antiquity of these Old Latin texts as well as of the Old Syriac, and of the famous Codex Beza. If we are to adhere to the principles laid down by Westcott and Hort, we shall have to throw overboard all these "additions" on the ground that they are not endorsed by the great Greek Uncials א and B, or by the so-called "Neutral" text. But, as we have stated above, these Old Latin and Old Syriac MSS. are exceedingly ancient, and derived from still earlier MSS. They afford evidence as ancient as that of the more famous Greek MSS. to the Greek text at an early date; their evidence cannot be neglected in any scientific inquiry.

B. The Vulgate Manuscripts of the New Testament

Elsewhere we gave a sketch of the history of St. Jerome's work on the Latin text and of the subsequent history of his edition. As there stated, St. Jerome translated the proto-canonical Books of O.T. from Hebrew. But at an earlier period of his life he "corrected" the New Testament Latin version by the earliest MSS. of the Greek he could find.[19] This distinction he sets forth in his own account of himself and his works: "Novum Testamentum Graecae fidei reddidi: Vetus juxta Hebraicum transtuli."[20] But it is a remarkable fact that whereas he there speaks of the New Testament, in his Preface to Pope Damasus he only names the Gospels as thus "corrected." It is customary of course to speak of the entire New Testament as corrected by Jerome, but we have no proof whatsoever that this correction extended beyond the Gospels and possibly the First Epistle to the Corinthians. It is at any rate undeniable that the Latin text which he repeatedly repudiates in his Commentaries on the Epistles to the Ephesians, Galatians, Titus and Philemon, is that given in our present Clementine Vulgate; whereas in his Commentary on Matthew he uses, without condemning it, the same Latin text as that in the Clementine Vulgate.[21] Whether the above conclusion is proved or not, the fact remains that if we could be sure of having the text of the Latin Gospels as it left St. Jerome's hands we should have an invaluable witness to what St. Jerome held to be the best Greek text after his " Codicum Graecorum emendata collatione, sed veterum."[22]

But the difficulties in the way of arriving at St. Jerome's text as it left his hands are immense, especially in the case of the New Testament. His translation of the Old Testament superseded to a great extent the Old Latin versions, though MSS. of these continued to be reproduced for several centuries. But his correction of the New Testament still left a flavor of the Old Latin, and this led to the insertion by copyists of their reminiscences of that version; hence the speedy corruption of Jerome's text, to which Cassiodorus seems to refer when he urges his monks "ut ... in codicibus emendatis jugi exercitatione meditentur."[23] Indeed Cassiodorus has left us a most interesting account of his endeavours to supply his monks with exact copies of Holy Scriptures and of Patristic Commentaries:
"Quos ego cunctos novem codices auctoritatis divinas (scil. Holy Scripture) (ut senex potui) sub collatione priscorum codicum, amicis ante me legentibus, sedula lectione transivi . . . nee libros sacros temeraria praesumptione lacerarem."[24]
It is possible that in the famous Codex Amiatinus we have a tolerably faithful copy of Cassiodorus work.[25]

We can trace the course of two distinct streams of Vulgate MSS. from Italy: those which went to Spain and those which went owing to St. Augustine of Canterbury's mission into England and into Ireland. It is tempting to associate the Spanish type of MSS. with that Lucinius who obtained copies of some portions of St. Jerome's translation of the Old Testament, and who may well have had copies of his correction of the New Testament.[26] Nor did the flow of Bibles into the British Isles cease with St. Augustine. St. Benet Biscop and the Abbot Ceolfrid were most diligent in their search for the best available texts; to them we owe such MSS. as Amiatinus and the Lindisfarne Gospels, which were copied from MSS. brought from Italy by these patrons of learning. By a curious chance France was the country which ultimately profited. For the Irish missionaries who labored on the Continent took with them copies of Bibles made in Irish Scriptoria, and at the same time Spanish texts came over the Pyrenees into France. The meeting-place for these MSS. may be said to be Tours. Here it was that in the eighth century Alcuin made his famous revision of the Latin text for Charlemagne, whence the Alcuinian type of text. At the same time Theodulf, Bishop of Orleans, 787-821, was occupied with a similar revision, whence the Theodulfian type of text.

The number of MSS. of the Vulgate is legion, over eight thousand are supposed to exist. Many of these are, of course, comparatively worthless and late; but there remains a residue of MSS. which are priceless as presenting evidence for an underlying Greek text, and this evidence must be taken into account if we would arrive at a knowledge of the primitive text of the New Testament. In Wordsworth and White's Oxford Vulgate [27] some twenty-nine MSS. are used; in White's Editio Minor [28] of the same work nine MSS. form the basis. A brief account of some of the better known amongst these will prove useful.

1. The Italian type of Vulgate Text:

Codex Fuldensis.
This Codex, preserved at Fulda, is of extraordinary interest. On the fifteenth or sixteenth-century binding is inscribed the legend: Sanctus Bonifacius prasenti libra functus est dum vixit,[29] and a gloss in an Anglo-Saxon hand on the Epistle of St. James is traditionally said to be in the handwriting of St. Boniface.[30] The text is a good Vulgate one, but in the Gospels we have a Diatessaron, or harmony. The Codex has a Preface by St. Victor of Capua, Bishop of that See from A.D. 541-554; in this Preface Victor tells us that he had stumbled on a volume containing unum ex quatuor Evangelism composition, and that after examination he came to the conclusion that it was a copy, apparently in a Greek dress, of Tatian's Diatessaron.[31] He does not tell us that he translated it into Latin, though this may be implied in one passage. Two notes by Victor in the Codex show that he read it through twice, for these notes are dated April 19, 546, and April 12, 547.[32] On the supposition that Victor was not content merely to copy his "find," but desired to present it in a Latin dress, it would seem that he marked in a Vulgate text the passages used by Tatian, and thus reconstructed according to the Vulgate Latin a Latin version of Tatian's Harmony.[33] In the Epistles of St. Paul the text of Fuldensis is Old Latin.[34] It seems probable that the original MS. was brought from Italy to Northumbria by St. Benet Biscop, and thence to Fulda by St. Boniface.[35] From the point of view of textual criticism, the main interest of all this lies in the recovery of a Vulgate text dating hardly more than a hundred years after St. Jerome's death.
The Harley Gospels, vi. or vii., Z.
This MS. was stolen from the Royal Library at Paris, and passed into the possession of Harley, Earl of Oxford, thence to the British Museum.[36]

2. The Spanish texts:

Codex Cavensis, ix., C.
For more information, see here. (Vol. I., p. 112)
Codex Toletanus, viii. (?), T.
For more information, see here. (Vol. I., p. 112)
Codex Gothicus Legionensis, x.
This was collated for the Sixtine revision; the order of the Books of N.T. is peculiar, viz. Gospels, St. Paul, Catholic Epistles, Acts, Apocalypse[37]

3. Italian MSS. transcribed in England:

Codex Amiatinus, vii. or beginning of viii., A.
This MS. was written at Wearmouth or Jarrow, see Vol. I., p. 112. In the Gospels especially it has a very pure Vulgate text, which has served as practically the base of the Oxford Vulgate, as it presumably will also do for the revised Benedictine Vulgate Gospels when they are published.[38]
The Stonyhurst St. John, vii., 5.
This MS. is said to have been found in the coffin of St. Cuthbert, and was preserved in Durham Cathedral till the time of Henry VIII.; it closely resembles Amiatinus.[39]
The Lindisfarne Gospels, vii. or viii., Y.
This MS. was written by Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne, A.D. 698-721; its intimate connection with Naples has been worked out by Dom Chapman.[40] The text is that of Amiatinus.
The Corpus Christi College Gospels, vii., X.
This MS. originally belonged to St. Augustine's, Canterbury. According to a doubtful tradition it formed one of the MSS. sent over to St. Augustine by St. Gregory the Great. Its text was early corrected on the model of Amiatinus.[41]

4. Irish and Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts:

The Book of Armagh, ix., D,
has a text like Amiatinus; it is used in the Editio Minor by White.
The Book of Kelts, vii. or viii., Q;
similar to the preceding, and like Amiatinus.
The Lichfield Gospels, vii-viii., L;
originally at Llandaff, but brought to Lichfield in the tenth century.
The Rushworth Gospels, ix., R,
with an interlinear Anglo-Saxon version. The Egerton Gospels, ix., E, from Marmoutier, yet an Irish text.

5. Manuscripts written on the Continent but by Irish Scribes:

The Echternach Gospels, viii. (?), ƎP .
This MS. has an inscription stating that in A.D. 558 the copyist corrected his work by a MS. de Bibliotheca Eugipi praespiteri quem ferunt fuisse sancti Hieronymi. But the MS. is at least two centuries later than this date. Eugipius is undoubtedly the well-known Abbot of Luculanum, near Naples, who lived in the first half of the sixth century. The note must, then, refer to the original MS. which the scribe copied. Chapman has given substantial reasons for thinking that it was Cassiodorus himself who penned the note.[42] This famous Senator was a cotemporary of St. Benedict and lived throughout practically the whole of the sixth century. Chapman further adduces arguments to show that the archetype of Codex Amiatinus probably had this note, and that Amiatinus itself represents the text so diligently preserved by Cassiodorus.[43] Codex Sangermanensis, ix., G.
This MS. has a very mixed text, combining the characteristics of various families of MSS. The text in Matthew is Old Latin.[44]

6. Texts of the Alcuinian type:

Codex Vallicellanus, see Vol. I. p. 112;
perhaps the best specimen of Alcuin's revision.
Codex at San Paolo fuori muri, Rome, ix.;
very similar to the foregoing.

7. Texts of the Theodulfian type:

The Theodulfian Bible, ix., 9,
This and a Codex preserved at Puy, viii. or ix., may have both been written at the order of Theodulf, Bishop of Orleans. [45]


1 - This Codex, as well as Codices Veronensis, Brixianus, and Corbeiensis ii., was published by Bianchini under the title Evangeliarium Quadruflex, a work reprinted by Migne, P.L. XII. 131-848. Card. Gasquet has recently re-edited Cod. Vercellensis.

2 - Cf. preceding note.

3 - How far the Latin text of these MSS. has been assimilated to the accompanying Greek text is not certain, cf. Westcott and Hort, II. p. 82, and Miller's Scrivener, I. p. 176. An exceedingly handy edition of Codex Bezae was published by Scrivener, Cambridge, 1864, and can often be obtained.

4 - Cf. note 1. The text of Brixianus is given in extenso in the Oxford Vulgate beneath the Vulgate text, Novum Testamentum D. N. J. C. sec. ed. St. Hieronymi, ed. Wordsworth and White, Oxford, 1889-1898.

5 - This text has also been published by Wordsworth and Sanday, Old Latin Biblical Texts, II. Oxford, 1888.

6 - See Miller's Scrivener, I. 170, which should be consulted for further information touching the Old Latin MSS.

7 - Miller's ed. of Scrivener, I. 173-6.

8 - Ibid., I.e. I. 177-188; Kennedy in H.D.B. III. 52.

9 - The New Testament in Greek, II. pp. 78-80.

10 - See Burkitt, The Old Latin and the Itala, Texts and Studies, IV. 3, 1896; H.D.B. III. 55,60.

11 - Burkitt, I.e. p. 15.

12 - Westcott and Hort, I.e. p. 79.

13 - Burkitt has shown, The Old Latin and the Itala, l.c., that whereas St. Augustine used an Old Latin text in his earlier works, e.g. in his Contra Faustum, the Church of Hippo made use, after A.D. 400, of St. Jerome's Vulgate for the Four Gospels while retaining a Cyprianic text for Acts. This appears to have been the opinion of Sabatier as well. But when Burkitt argues that the "Itala" text which St. Augustine praises, De Doctrina Christiana, II. 22, is really St. Jerome's Vulgate, I.e. pp. 61-65. his conclusion, though seductive, seems somewhat wider than his premisses. It is hardly credible that Jerome's version could already have won the title of "Itala"; indeed, if it had acquired any geographical title at all this would probably have been Romana." Had Augustine been referring to Jerome's version, it is more probable that he would have made use of some such expression as in De Doct. Christ. IV. vii. (15), where he says that he does not quote the LXX. version of Amos vii. 14-15 "sed sicut ex hebraeo in Latinum eloquium, presbytero Hieronymo utriusque linguae perito interpretante, translata sunt." P.L. XXXIV. 96.

14 - Two Letters on Some Parts of the Controversy concerning i John. v. 7 in The Catholic Magazine, 1832-1833, reprinted in .Essays on Various Subjects, 1853; cf. vol. i. h.l. pp. 90-91.

15 - Kennedy, H.D.B. III. 54, 56. etc.

16 - See Burkitt, I.e. pp. 11-14 J Kennedy, H.D.B. III. 60.

17 - Comment, in Matt., P.L. XXVI. 112.

18 - For a tabulated list of these additions and the MSS. evidence for them see Burkitt, l.c. pp. 46-53.

19 - Praefatio ad Damasum, P.L. XXIX. 527.

20 - De Viris Illustr. CXXXV., P.L XXIII. 719.

21 - See a paper by the present writer in the Irish Theological Quarterly for October, 1914.

22 - Praef. ad Damasum, P.L. XXIX. 528.

23 - De Institutione Divinarum Literarum, Prafatio, P.L. LXX. 1107; cf. XV. 1127 and 1130.

24 - L.c. Pvaf. 1109.

25 - See White, H.D.B. IV. 878; Chapman, Early History of the Vulgate Gospels, Clarendon Press, 1908, p. 5, etc.

26 - St. Jerome, Ep. LXXI. 5; P.L. XXII. 671 : "Opuscula mea ... desiderare te dicis; ad describendum hominibus tuis dedi, et descripta vidi in chartaceis codicibus; ac frequenter admonui ut conferrent diligentius, et emendarent ... Unde si paragrammata repereris, vel minus aliqua descripta sunt, quae sensum legends impediant, non mihi debes imputare, sed tuis, et imperitiae notariorum librariorumque incuriae, qui scribunt quod non inveniunt, sed quod intelligunt, et dum alienos errores emendare nituntur, ostendunt suos."

27 - Novum Testamentum D.N.J.C. Latine, Quatuor Evangelia, Oxford, 1889-1898.

28 - Idem., Editio Minor, Oxford, 1911.

29 - Chapman, O.S.B., Notes on the Early History of the Vulgate Gospels, Clarendon Press, 1908, p. 157.

30 - Ibid.

31 - As a matter of fact Victor writes Diapente instead of Diatessaron. See the note in Migne, P.L. LXVIII. 253, whore the whole text of this Preface is given as well as the Harmony of the Gospels.

32 - Chapman, l.c. p. 30 and p. 78.

33 - Chapman, I.e. pp. 79-80.

34 - L.c. p. 137.

35 - L.c. pp. 157 and 188.

36 - Miller's Scrivener, II. p. 76, No. 68.

37 - L.c. II. p. 72, No. 40.

38 - See a careful study of this MS. by White in Studia Biblica, II., 1890. The text was published separately by Tischendorf, Novum Testamentum ex celeberrimo Codice Amiatino omnium et Antiquissimo et Prastantissimo, Leipsic, 1850; this edition can often be picked up.

39 - Chapman, I.e. p. 7.

40 - L.c. pp. 8-14.

41 - White in H.D.B. IV. 887.

42 - Chapman, / c. p. 31.

43 - L.c.

44 - Scrivener-Miller, II. 47.

45 - Ibid., pp. 69, 70, Nos. 18 and 24.

Hugh Pope, O.P., S.T.M., D.S.ScR.
Professor of New Testament Exegesis
The Collegio Angelico, Rome

Nihil Obstat
F. Thomas Bergh, O.S.B.,

Edm. Can. Surmont,