Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary, 1859 edition.

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A translation of the New Testament into English from the ancient Latin version, was made by some Catholic Divines in the University of Douay, two hundred and thirty years ago, and published by them at Rheims, anno 1582. By the date, that translation was made before the amendments and corrections under Sixtus V. and Clement VIII. to reduce the Latin Vulgate to its former purity. Yet the differences betwixt that Douay translation and the present Latin Vulgate, are so few and inconsiderable, that they must have followed a very correct Latin edition.

The authors of that translation are to be commended for their endeavours to give us a true and literal translation, not a Paraphrase, as most of the French translations seem to be. This liberty of a Paraphrase would indeed have rendered this laborious work much easier, but less exact, and with no small danger of mistaking and misrepresenting the true sense of the word of God. In this I have endeavoured to follow them.

They followed with a nice exactness the Latin text, which they undertook to translate, at the same time always consulting and comparing it with the Greek, as every accurate translator must do, not to mistake the true sense of the Latin text. They perhaps followed too scrupulously the Latin, even as to the placing of the words; but what chiefly makes that edition seem so obscure at present, and scarcely intelligible, is the difference of the English tongue as it was spoken at that time, and as it is now changed and refined: so that many words and expressions both in the translation and annotations, by length of time, are become obsolete, and no longer in use.

It must needs be owned that many places in the Holy Scriptures are obscure, and hard to be understood: dusnoeta, says St. Peter, 2 Peter chap iii. ver. 16. They must be obscure in a literal translation, as they are in the original. These places, as St. Peter there tells us, the unlearned, by their own false interpretations, turn and wrest, as also the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. Nor yet is it lawful even to prevent such fatal mistakes, to make any alterations or additions that are not contained in the literal sense of the text. If the reader, in this edition, find sometimes a word or two in a different character, it is merely because though they are not expressed in the very letter of the text, yet they seem necessary to represent to the reader the true and literal sense and construction of such places, and so cannot be looked upon as any alteration or addition.

I am by no means for changing that simplicity of style, and that plain manner of relating and expressing these divine truths, in which the sacred writers, inspired by the Holy Ghost, have delivered to us these oracles of the word of God. I am of the opinion of M. Godeau, the learned bishop of Vence, who would not in his Paraphrase change thou into you, even when the words were addressed to God himself. He says that to speak to God by thou and thee, is to pay greater honour and veneration to the grandeur and majesty of God. And yet it is certain they sound more awkwardly in the French language than in the English; for hitherto, both Catholics and Protestants have used them in their English Scriptures and Prayer-Books, though the French not so frequently: we have also another reason for retaining them in the Scripture; for the change of thou into you, would very often make the sentence of a doubtful signification, as I could shew by many examples.

I have also retained such phrases, and ways of speaking, which may be called either Hebraisms or Grecisms, as taken from the idioms of those languages, but yet may be well enough understood in English. Nor did I think it necessary to change many words and expressions which, though coming from Hebrew and Greek derivations, are sufficiently understood by a long ecclesiastical use and custom, at least by those who are acquainted with the style of the sacred writers.

But notwithstanding the obscurity in the Holy Scriptures, and the simplicity and plainness of the style and phraseology, these sacred penmen are falsely accused of barbarisms and solecisms in many places in the Greek: and though they have sometimes neglected the ordinary rules of grammar, (which the Latin interpreter has also done) yet in them we may discover not only more sublime thoughts, but even a true, natural, and solid eloquence, far surpassing the studied and artificial rhetoric of the most celebrated profane classics. Of this see the judicious critic, and eloquent Dr. Blackwall, in his book entitled, The Sacred Classics Defended, &c. An. 1728.

I know English Protestants are apt to blame us for translating from the Latin Vulgate rather than from the Greek. Is not the Greek, say they, the fountain? Were not the originals of all, or almost all, the New Testament, written in Greek? They were so. But then we desire first to know where they, or we, may find this Greek fountain pure, clear, and unmixed, as it was in the beginning? where we may be able to meet with those originals, or Greek: autographa, written by those divinely inspired authors? It is certain they are not now extant, nor have been seen or heard of for many ages.

But they will tell us, though the originals are lost, we may meet with many copies, and Greek manuscripts some of them, perhaps written a thousand years ago, as the most learned critics conjecture. We must desire of them, secondly, to know whether any one of these manuscript copies agree in all, or almost all places, one with another, or with the Greek Testaments printed from them, and from which the Protestants have made their translations into vulgar tongues? It is evident to a demonstration, that no such authentic manuscripts can be found.

The immense labours, and almost incredible pains, which many Protestants, as well as divers Catholics, have taken for two hundred and eighty years, to turn over, read, and compare the best and most ancient manuscripts in all the most famous libraries in the world, have made it evident to all mankind in how many thousand places they differ one from another.

The Greek edition of the New Testament, printed at Oxford, E. Theatro Sheldoniano, An. 1675, has given us out of divers manuscripts about twelve or thirteen thousand different readings, as they have been numbered by a Protestant[1] author, G. D. T. who published a neat edition of the New Testament at Amsterdam, Ex Oficina Westeniana, An. 1711. And when, in his Prologom. he gives an account of the indefatigable labours of the learned Dr. Mills, he tells us, that out of about 120 manuscripts he published An. 1707 about thirty thousand different readings; and moreover, that the said Dr. Mills, in his Prologom. owns that he looks upon above two thousand of these to be the true and genuine readings, according to which all printed copies ought to be corrected, and the present readings cast out, which, says he, would occasion no small changes in our books.

This said critic, in the same place, blames Dr. Mills for not attending to the consequences and advantages which, he apprehends, the Papists may pretend to draw from thence, who always cry the fountains are corrupted; 2ndly, the Cocinians; 3rdly, the Atheists, and all they who make a jest of all revealed religion.

I am sorry to find any of our adversaries so ill-natured, and so unjust to us, as to join us in such ill company as that of Socinians, Deists, Atheists, &c. We detest not only their errors, but also the consequences which they bring against the authority of the Holy Scriptures, from the different readings, either in the Greek or Latin manuscripts and copies, of which I may say, with a Protestant critic, that they seem more for pomp[2] and shew than for use and profit; a great number, especially of Dr. Mills's, being frivolous, and of no moment, like those of Mr. James, in his book, to which he thought fit to give the title of Bellum Papale, setting forth those small differences betwixt the amendments of Sixtus V. and Clement VIII.

It is true, the Catholics, from such a multitude of differences, even in the most ancient manuscripts now extant, (which, as M. Simon shews, differ as much one from another, and from the printed Greek copies, as those of a later date) may draw these inferences:

I. That the Protestants set too great a value, and lay too great stress upon the Greek text, such as it now is, from which they have made so many different translations into vulgar languages; so that even Luther,[3] Calvin, Beza, and King James I. when he ordered a new translation, made loud and just complaints, that by them was shamefully corrupted the purity of the word of God. For, as St. Jerome[4] said, that which varies cannot be true; especially, when it must remain doubtful which readings ought to be preferred, and when every translator follows, and sets down that reading which, in his private opinion, he judges best, or rather which agrees best with the principles of his sect; by which liberty, says Dr. Walton[5] in his Prolog. they have often followed Lesbiam regulam, that is, by endeavouring to make the word of God conformable to their creed, not their creed to the word of God.

II. From such a multitude of various readings, and differences in all these manuscripts it must needs follow that the Greek fountain has not run clear and unmixed for many ages.

III. For the same reason, the present Greek text cannot be accounted authentic in such a manner as they would have people believe. By an authentic writing, deed, or testament, is often understood the very original itself, written, made, or signed by the author of it. No Greek manuscript nor any part of the New Testament, can now be called authentic in this sense. A writing may be also esteemed authentic in a less degree, when, though it be not the original itself, it can at least be proved to be a copy agreeing exactly, and word for word with that writing that was the original: this again cannot be pretended of the Greek manuscripts now extant, because of such a number of differences, even in the most ancient copies that can be met with. The Protestants, therefore, must needs allow that writings, in a true sense, may be looked upon as authentic, when there are sufficient grounds and authority to believe, and to be convinced, that notwithstanding many small changes which have happened in seventeen or eighteen hundred years, they still contain, in all things of moment, the sense of the originals; so that whether they be copies in the same primitive language, or ere faithfully translated, credit may be given to them as to the originals. Can our adversaries shew any other sense in which the present Greek can be called authentic?

They need not, therefore, quarrel with the Decree of the Council of Trent, (Session 4) which, without deciding any thing concerning the Hebrew or Greek Scriptures, and without denying them to be authentic, declared the Latin Vulgate to be received, and made use of as authentic, ordering a correct edition of it to be published, and to be preferred before all other Latin translations and editions. And that this is the true sense of that Decree, see Pallavicino, who wrote the History of the Council, Salmeron, who was there present, Bellarmin, and divers other learned Catholic writers, cited for this purpose by Dr. Walton in his 10th Prolomenon. The same Catholic writers allow and teach that recourse may be had, even to the present Hebrew and Greek, to find, and prove the true sense of the Scriptures. See Bellarmine, lib. ii. de verbo Dei. chap. 11.

But the Protestants will still pretend that translations of the New Testament ought rather to be made from the Greek, being the language in which it was written, and therefore the Greek must certainly have more of the original than translations into Latin, Syriac, &c.[6] Yet this only shews that the Greek manuscripts and copies, as we have them at present, have indeed more of the original, as to the words, but does not prove that they have more of the original, as to the true sense, than a faithful and exact translation, taken from the originals soon after there were written, if such a translation hath been always kept with equal or with greater care. For it is certain that many times one word, or one letter, added or omitted, quite changeth the sense of a whole sentence; and such changes, when they come to be very numerous, alter the sense of a large writing or book. This may happen to any book, to any deed, to any last will and testament, of which a number of copies have been taken, though in the same language. Put the case, that when St. Jerome undertook a new translation into Latin of the Old Testament, he could meet with no Hebrew text but what was full of faults and changes, and that the Greek version of the Septuagint had been faithfully translated, and more carefully preserved, it is certain that though he might still find in the Hebrew more of the original as to the very words, yet not more of the true sense. Many who opposed St. Jerome's new translation from the Hebrew, and were for sticking to the former version taken from the Septuagint judged this to be the very case; especially, finding that Christ himself, and his apostles, cited the places of the Scriptures as they were in the Septuagint.

To apply this to the question we are about, and give reasons for translating from the Latin Vulgate: It is not to be doubted but that a Latin translation of all the New Testament was made, either in the apostle's time or very soon after. No doubt but this translation was not only read by particulars, but in all churches and meetings where the Latin tongue was spoken. It is this translation that St. Jerome and St. Augustine sometimes called vetus, and communis, sometimes vulgata, and Italia, or Italica. And St. Augustine speaking of the Latin versions, of which there had been very many before his time, says, Itala cœteris prœferatur. (lib. ii. de Doct. Christ. chap. 15.)

This common and Vulgate edition of St. Jerome corrected, by order of Pope Damasus, from the Greek manuscripts which doubtless were not so different as those now to be met with in our days: yet he tells us what caution he used in correcting it, only from the best manuscripts and such as seemed true ones. This Latin Vulgate, with St. Jerome's amendments, was much approved by the learned men; yet it was not generally used in the churches till two hundred years after; they still retained in their public Liturgy, and read in their Church meetings, the common ancient Vulgate, and then by degrees St. Jerome's corrections were received, at least for the most part, though in some places the New Testament was still retained, according to that ancient and common Italica.

The learned Cassiodorus, in the 6th age, took great pains to have the Scriptures corrected from the faults that had happened by the ignorance or negligence of transcribers, and placed manuscripts as correct as possible, both of the ancient Vulgate and with St. Jerome's amendments, in his library.

The emperor Charles the Great, who was both learned himself and a great encourager of learning, employed Alcuin, and divers learned men, to correct those frequent faults, which, by such a multitude of written copies, were found in the Latin Scriptures. He tells us he corrected in this manner all the Books[7] of the Old and New Testament.

The Latin writers and interpreters in every age, and also the scholastics from the 12th and 13th century, have much contributed to make us able to discern the true readings from the changes and faults of transcribers, before printing was invented.

The learned men in most universities, and in all parts of the western church, were consulted, who having compared the Latin with the Greek copies, sent their remarks to Rome, where, after examining and advising with men that were judged the most capable in this kind of learning, were published the correct editions of the Latin Vulgate, by Sixtus V. and Clement VIII. Can it be said that greater care, or equal care, has been taken as to any edition of the Greek Testament?

It may be also observed that neither St. Jerome, nor any of the Fathers, thought it convenient to make new translations from the Greek manuscripts They contented themselves with correcting those faults which inevitably happened in the manuscript copies. They had a due veneration for that version which had been made use of from the beginning of the Christian religion in all the Latin churches. Erasmus was the first who undertook a new translation from the printed Greek, published by Cardinal Ximenes, and by Robert Stephen. Beza blames Erasmus for abandoning in many places the Latin Vulgate, which, says he, is more comformable to many Greek manuscripts which Erasmus wanted. The learned Protestant, Mr. Bois,[8] prebend of Ely, at the request of Launcelot, bishop of Winchester, in his book entitled Veteris Interpretis cum Beza aliisque recentiorbus Collatio, commended by Dr. Walton, defends the old Latin translation, where it was changed by Beza, and others. See what he says on the 4th chapter of St. Matthew p. 5. And what heavy complaints the author of the preface makes, not only of new readings, but of all kind of novelties in matters of religion, introduced without necessity.

Dr. Walton,[9] in his Prolog. and other learned Protestants, own that the Latin Vulgate ought to be held in great esteem, and that it ought not to be changed by any private persons, having been authorized and used in the Church for so many ages; especially, saith Walton, since it belongs to the Church to judge of the sense of the Scriptures, and to recommend this sacred Depositum to the faithful. The Church, in a General Council, has declared the ancient Latin Vulgate authentic; but we do not find any Greek copy or edition, such as we come meet with at present, recommended to us by the Church.

As to the annotations in this edition, I have not followed those in the Rheims Testament. They chiefly insisted on the controversies occasioned by the late changes of religion in England. I have made it my endeavour to expound also the literal sense. I am persuaded that aiming at brevity, these notes may seem obscure to those who have not read any other commentary; but I hope they may be useful, both for the preventing of false interpretations, and for a more easy understanding of the word of God, especially in the Epistles of St. Paul. I am not conscious to myself that I have omitted to examine the greatest difficulties, nor those passages that have been perverted by false expositions: nor yet have I used any harsh language, or reflections on those who have fallen into the greatest errors and mistakes. I have always been mindful of that excellent admonition of the apostle to his disciple, St. Timothy, as spoken to every minister of the gospel: Be mild towards all men ... patient, admonishing with modesty them who resist the truth, in hopes that God will at some time give them repentance to know, and acknowledge the truth, 2 Timothy ii. 24. If I have not been acquainted with the Scriptures from my very infancy, as St. Paul witnesseth of the same St. Timothy, my inclinations, at least, led me very early to take the greatest delight in searching the sense of the Holy Scriptures, the commentaries, and interpretations of the ancient Fathers, especially on the New Testament, in their own works, and in the language in which they wrote; in citing of which, I have never trusted any eyes but my own, which I soon found very necessary; not omitting, at the same time, what I could learn from later authors and critics.

But as I am conscious to myself, so I freely own to the public, that I do not look upon myself sufficiently qualified to make a new translation, which therefore I have not pretended to do. I am far from being so perfect in Greek as I could wish, and of Hebrew I know nothing. I have consulted, on the most difficult places, those whom I thought best able to assist me. I have been always cautious not to expound the Scriptures by my own private judgment, nor to follow a blind guide, nor to split upon the same dangerous rock as all heretics have done, rashly wresting the Scriptures to their own destruction, 2 Peter iii. 16. I submit all to the judgment of the Church, and of the head of the Church, the successor of St. Peter, to those pastors and bishops whom Christ left to govern his Church, with whom he promised to remain to the end of the world, Matthew xxviii. 20.

I shall only add, that I have not published this translation and notes, that every one, though ever so ignorant, might read and put his own construction on the sense of these sacred writings. The dangerous and pernicious consequences of reading the Scriptures without humility, and an entire submission to the Church, I have elsewhere taken notice of. I beg leave to conclude with this charitable advice, that whosoever takes the Holy Scriptures in hand to read them, first make this, or the like prayer, to the Father of Lights.


Come, O holy Spirit, fill the hearts and minds of thy faithful servants, and inflame them with the fire of thy divine love.


O God, who by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, didst instruct the hearts of thy faithful servants; grant us in the same Spirit, to discern what is right, and enjoy his comfort for ever: Through our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth one God, with thee and the same Spirit, world without end. Amen.


[1] Ne posset ingens ista farrago prœjudicare atque obesse Testamento . . . Pontificii ubique corruptos esse fontes clamant; Sociniani Christum et Spiritum Sanctum ex novo Testamento erasum et eliminatum vellent; Athei et irrisores totum deletum desiderant; quique cuncti ex tanta multitudine lectionum contra sacratissimum codicem argumenta mutuari possunt, et sœpius mutuati sunt, et adhuc mutuantur. In the preface, p. 26.

[2] In pompam magis quam in usum. Dr. Mills in Prolog. p. 137.

[3] See Simon in his Critiques on the New Testam. chap. ult. citing the words of Grotius, Lutherus dixit per tot versiones incertiores fieri lectores quam antea fuerunt. Beza vero tot esse interpretes, qui non tam convertunt quam pervertunt: ut, nisi audaciœ eorum occurratur futurum sit inter paucos annos, ut ipsarum quoque rerum possessione depellamur. See Simon on the New Testam. chap. 24.

[4] St. Hieron. [St. Jerome] prœfat. In Evang. verum non esse quod variat.

[5] Walton Prolog. 6. p. 37. pro norma fidei Lesbiam regulam haberemus, nec jam verbum Dei ultra esset, sed aliorum qui hoc sibi temer[] promitt[]t.

[6] The question is not, says a learned Prelate, between a version and an original in ordinary circumstances. But here is a version partly made and partly corrected by the first biblical scholar, and one of the greatest and most holy men who ever lived, St. Jerome. He corrected the old Latin version of the New Testament from the Greek, and translated the Old from the Hebrew, in consequence of an order from Pope Damasus, under the eye of the great St. Augustine, and of that constellation of illustrious Doctors, who adorned the Church at the commencement of the fifth century. A version which was made when the best and purest copies of the Hebrew, Chaldaic, Greek, and Latin, together with the Polyglots of Origen, &c. were in existence; a version, which has been constantly in the hands of the Western Church in all its extent during fifteen centuries, and which in the mean while has been transcribed a million times. Hence no material error could creep into the whole, or even into any comparatively great number of copies. On the other hand, the Hebrew and Greek originals having been during many ages chiefly in the hands of wandering Jews, and divided oppressed Asiatics, the Church cannot answer for what changes they may have undergone. Hence the Church recommends to her children the Latin Vulgate, but says nothing of the other texts.

[7] Universos ad amussim correximus. See Simon on the New Testam. chap. ix.

[8] Nova nunc spiramus, suspiramusque omnia, nova lumina, Angliam novam, novum. ... Evangelium, ac si abjuratis Orthodoxorum partibus, in Castra concesseramus Novati, Novatoresque rectius audiremus, quam reformati --- Davidicos numeros, vernaculo sermone nostro, rythmis pessimis, sensu, pejori redditos, &c.

[9] Magni faciendam. Non sollicitandam a privatis.


Go to Part III of General Preface.