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Vulgate n : the Latin edition of the Bible translated from Hebrew and Greek mainly by St. Jerome at the end of the 4th century; as revised in 1592 it was adopted as the official text for the Roman Catholic Church

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Extensive Definition

The Vulgate is an early Fifth Century version of the Bible in Latin, and largely the result of the labours of Jerome, who was commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382 to make a revision of old Latin translations. Its Old Testament is the first Latin version translated directly from the Hebrew Tanakh, rather than the Greek Septuagint. It became the definitive and officially promulgated Latin version of the Bible of the Roman Catholic Church, and ultimately took the name versio vulgata, which means "the published translation". There are 76 books in the Clementine edition of the Vulgate Bible: 46 in the Old Testament, 27 in the New Testament, and three in the Apocrypha.


The Vulgate is a composite work, only some parts of which are due to Jerome.

Relation with the Old Latin Bible

In Jerome's day, the word Vulgata was applied to the Greek Septuagint. The Latin Biblical texts used before the Vulgate are usually referred to collectively as the Vetus Latina, or "Old Latin Bible", or occasionally the "Old Latin Vulgate". (Here "Old Latin" means that they are old and written in Latin, not that they are written in Old Latin.)
The translations in the Vetus Latina accumulated piecemeal over a century or more; they were not translated by a single person or institution, nor uniformly edited. The individual books varied in quality of translation and style, and different manuscripts witness wide variations in readings. Jerome, in his preface to the Vulgate gospels, commented that there were "as many [translations] as there are manuscripts." The Old Testament books were translated from the Greek Septuagint, not from the Hebrew.
The older Latin version remained in use in some circles even after Jerome's Vulgate became the accepted standard throughout the Western Church. Some in Gaul continued to prefer the Vetus Latina version for centuries.

Jerome's translation

Jerome did not embark on the work with the intention of creating a new version of the whole Bible, but the changing nature of his program can be tracked in his voluminous correspondence. He had been commissioned by Pope Damasus in 382 to revise the Old Latin text of the four Gospels from the best Greek texts, and by the time of Damasus' death in 384 he had thoroughly completed this task, together with a more cursory revision from the Greek Septuagint of the Old Latin text of the Psalms. How much the rest of the New Testament he then revised is difficult to judge today, but little of his work survived in the Vulgate text. In 385 Jerome was forced out of Rome, and eventually settled in Bethlehem, where he produced a new version of the Psalms, translated from the Hexaplar Greek text. He also appears to have undertaken further new translations of other Septuagint books into Latin; but again, these are not found in the Vulgate text. But from 390 to 405 Jerome switched to translating directly from the Hebrew, and translated anew all 39 books in the Hebrew Bible, including a further, third, version of the Psalms, which survives in a very few Vulgate manuscripts.
In his prologues, Jerome described those books or portions of books in the Septuagint that were not found in the Hebrew as being non-canonical: he called them apocrypha, but they are found in all complete manuscripts and editions of the Vulgate. Of the Old Testament texts not found in the Hebrew, Jerome translated Tobit and Judith anew from the Aramaic; and from the Greek, the additions to Esther from the Septuagint, and the additions to Daniel from Theodotion. The others, Baruch, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, 1 and 2 Maccabees, 3 and 4 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasses, retain in Vulgate manuscripts their Old Latin renderings. Their style is still markedly distinguishable from Jerome's. In the Vulgate text, Jerome's translations from the Greek of the additions to Esther and Daniel are recombined with his separate translations of these books from the Hebrew.


Called the Versio Romana or Psalterium Romanum, the Roman Psalter of 384 was Jerome's first revision of the Psalter. It was made from the Versio Vetus Latina, and corrected to bring it more in line with the Septuagint. This version was by and large replaced by Jerome's later versions, except in Anglo-Saxon England, where it continued to be used until the Norman Conquest (1066).
Although some early manuscripts of the Vulgate contain Jerome's translation of the psalms from the Hebrew, the version of the psalms that is contained in all later manuscripts and editions is the Gallicana translation from the Hexaplar Greek.

New Psalters

The 20th century saw the creation of two new Psalters for liturgical use. These were the Versio Piana of 1945 and the Versio Nova Vulgata of 1969. The 1945 version was issued by authority of Pope Pius XII by the Pontifical Biblical Institute of Rome, under Cardinal Bea and is a fresh version from the originals. It is found in most breviaries printed between 1945 and 1970 and has been influential for those who prayed the Divine Office during this period. The 1969 version is used in the Nova Vulgata edition described below.

Manuscripts and early editions

A number of early manuscripts witnessing to the early Vulgate still survive today. Dating from the 8th century, the Codex Amiatinus is the earliest surviving manuscript of the complete Vulgate Bible. The Codex Fuldensis, dating from around 545, contains most of the New Testament in the Vulgate version, but the four Vulgate gospels are harmonized into a continuous narrative derived from the Diatessaron.
Over the course of the Middle Ages, the Vulgate had succumbed to the inevitable changes wrought by human error in the countless copies made of the text in monasteries across Europe. From its earliest days, readings from the Vetus Latina were introduced. Marginal notes were erroneously interpolated into the text. No one copy was the same as the other as scribes added, removed, misspelled, or miscorrected verses in the Latin Bible.
About 550, Cassiodorus made an attempt at restoring the Vulgate to its original purity. Alcuin of York oversaw efforts to make a corrected Vulgate, which he presented to Charlemagne in 801. Similar attempts were made by Theodulphus, Bishop of Orléans (787?-821); Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury (1070-1089); Stephen Harding, Abbot of Cîteaux (1109-1134); and Deacon Nicolaus Maniacoria (about the beginning of the 13th century). The University of Paris assembled lists of "correctoria" - approved readings where variants had been noted. Unfortunately, many of the readings recommended are now known to be interpolations.
Though the advent of printing greatly reduced the potential of human error and increased the consistency and uniformity of the text, the earliest editions of the Vulgate merely reproduced the manuscripts that were readily available to the publishers. Of the hundreds of early editions, the most notable today is Mazarin edition published by Johann Gutenberg and Johann Fust in 1455, famous for its beauty and antiquity. In 1504 the first Vulgate with variant readings was published in Paris. One of the texts of the Complutensian Polyglot was an edition of the Vulgate made from ancient manuscripts and corrected to agree with the Greek.
Erasmus published an edition corrected to agree better with the Greek and Hebrew in 1516. Other corrected editions were published by Pagninus in 1518, Cardinal Cajetan, Steuchius in 1529, Clarius in 1542, and others. In 1528, Robertus Stephanus published the first critical edition, which formed the basis of the later Sistine and Clementine editions. The critical edition of John Hentenius of Louvain followed in 1547.
In 1550, Stephanus fled to Geneva where in 1555 he issued his final critical edition of the Vulgate, which was the first complete Bible with full chapter and verse divisions, and which became the standard Biblical reference text for late 16th century Reformed theology.

Later editions

The title "Vulgate" is currently applied to three distinct texts which can be found on the Internet. Which text is used can be determined from the spelling of Eve's name in Genesis 3:20.
  • Heva: the Clementine Vulgate, the official Latin Bible of the Roman Catholic Church from 1592 to 1979.
  • Hava: the Stuttgart edition of the Vulgate. This edition seeks to recover a text as close as possible to that of early manuscripts, especially in respect of the removal of many interpolated readings that found their way into the Clementine Vulgate.
  • Eva: the Nova Vulgata, the official Latin Bible of the Roman Catholic Church since 1979. Amended and modified; it is in some passages more a new version rather than a revision.

The Clementine Vulgate

The Clementine Vulgate (Biblia Sacra Vulgatae Editionis Sixti Quinti Pontificis Maximi iussu recognita atque edita) is the edition most familiar to Catholics who have lived prior to the liturgical reforms following Vatican II.
After the Reformation, when the Catholic Church strove to counter the attacks and refute the doctrines of Protestantism, the Vulgate was reaffirmed in the Council of Trent as the sole, authorized Latin text of the Bible. To reinforce this declaration, the council commissioned the pope to make a standard text of the Vulgate out of the countless editions produced during the Renaissance and manuscripts produced during the Middle Ages. The actual first manifestation of this authorized text did not appear until 1590. It was sponsored by Pope Sixtus V (1585-90) and known as the Sistine Vulgate. It was based on the edition of Robertus Stephanus corrected to agree with the Greek, but it was hurried into print and suffered from many printing errors. It was soon replaced by a new edition by Clement VIII (1592-1605) who immediately ordered corrections and revisions to be made. This new revised version was based more on the Hentenian edition. It is called today the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate, or simply the Clementine, although it is Sixtus' name which appears on the title page. Clement published three printings of this edition, in 1592, 1593 and 1598.
The Clementine differed from the manuscripts on which it was ultimately based in that it grouped the various prefaces of St. Jerome together at the beginning, and it removed 3 and 4 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasses from the Old Testament and placed them in an appendix.
The Psalter of the Clementine Vulgate, like that of almost all earlier editions, is the Gallicanum.
The Clementine Vulgate of 1592 became the standard Bible text of the Roman Rite of the Roman Catholic Church until 1979, when the Nova Vulgata was promulgated.

Later printings

After Clement's 1598 printing of the Vulgate, the Vatican issued no other official printings, leaving the task to other printers. Although the other printers of the Clementine Vulgate faithfully reproduced the words of the official edition, they were often quite free in matters of spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and paragraph boundaries. In 1906, Capuchin friar Fr. Michael Hetzenauer produced an edition restoring the original Clementine text while taking into account variations in Clement's three printings as well as correctoria officially issued by the Vatican.
In 1982, Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos published a reprint of the Clementine Vulgate (ISBN 8-479-14021-6) omitting the Apocrypha, but containing excerpts from various magisterial documents and the Piana version of the psalms in addition to the vulgate version.

Newer critical editions

After the publication of the Clementine Vulgate, few critical editions were published. In 1734 Vallarsi published a corrected edition of the Vulgate. Most other later editions limited themselves to the New Testament, most notably Fleck's edition of 1840, Constantin von Tischendorf's edition of 1864, and the Oxford edition of Bishop J. Wordsworth and H.J. White in 1889.
In 1907 Pope Pius X commissioned the monks of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Jerome in Rome to prepare a critical edition of Jerome's Vulgate as a basis for a revision of the Clementine. Only the Old Testament was ever completed, which however complemented the New Testament edition of Wordsworth and White; the fruit of this labour led to the creation of the Nova Vulgata. The Benedictine critical edition was used as a basis for much of the Old Testament of the Stuttgart Vulgate.

Stuttgart edition

This Vulgate was first published in 1969 (5th edition, 2007) by the German Bible Society (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft), based in Stuttgart. This edition, alternatively titled Biblia Sacra Vulgata or Biblia Sacra iuxta vulgatam versionem (ISBN 3438053039 and ISBN 1598561782 for North America), is a "manual edition" in that it reduces much of the information in the big multi-volume critical editions that preceded it into a single compact volume. It seeks to reconstruct an early Vulgate text closer to that which Jerome produced 1,600 years ago. It is based on earlier critical editions of the Vulgate, including the Benedictine edition and the Latin New Testament produced by Wordsworth and White, which provided variant readings from the diverse manuscripts and printed editions of the Vulgate and comparison of different wordings in their footnotes. The Stuttgart Vulgate attempts, through critical comparison of important, historical manuscripts of the Vulgate, to recreate an early text, cleansed of the scribal errors of a millennium.
An important feature in the Stuttgart edition for those studying the Vulgate is the inclusion of all of Jerome's prologues to the Bible, the Testaments, and the major books and sections (Pentateuch, Gospels, Minor Prophets, etc.) of the Bible. This adheres to the style of medieval editions of the Vulgate, which were never without Jerome's prologues. In its spelling, the Stuttgart also retains a more medieval Latin orthography than the Clementine, sometimes using oe rather than ae, and having more proper nouns beginning with H (i.e., Helimelech instead of Elimelech), but the spelling is inconsistent throughout, as in the manuscripts. The Stuttgart Vulgate also follows the medieval manuscripts in using line breaks, rather than the modern system of punctuation marks, to indicate the structure of each verse. Because of these features, it initially presents an unfamiliar appearance to readers accustomed to the Clementine text.
It contains two Psalters, both the traditional Gallicanum and the juxta Hebraicum, which are printed on facing pages to allow easy comparison and contrast between the two versions. It has an expanded Apocrypha, containing Psalm 151 and the Epistle to the Laodiceans in addition to 3 and 4 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasses.
In addition, its modern prefaces are a source of valuable information about the history of the Vulgate.

Electronic Vulgate

One reason for the Stuttgart edition's importance rests in the fact that it is the one most disseminated on the Internet. This electronic version is usually mutilated, lacking all formatting, notes, prefaces and apparatus, and lacking the Gallican Psalter, Apocrypha, and Deuterocanonical books, and often containing only the first three chapters of Daniel, stopping at the point where the deuterocanonical Song of the Three Holy Children would begin.

Nova Vulgata

The Nova Vulgata (Bibliorum Sacrorum nova vulgata editio, ISBN 88-209-2163-4) is currently the typical Latin edition published by the See of Rome and approved for use in the liturgy. The Second Vatican Council in Sacrosanctum Concilium mandated a revision of the Latin Psalter in accord with modern textual and linguistic studies, while preserving or refining its Christian Latin style. In 1965 Pope Paul VI appointed a commission to revise the rest of the Vulgate following the same principles. The Commission published its work in eight annotated sections, inviting criticism from Catholic scholars as the sections were published. The Latin Psalter was published in 1969; the New Testament was completed by 1971 and the entire Nova Vulgata was published in 1979. A second edition was published in 1986.
The foundational text of most of the Nova Vulgata's Old Testament is the critical edition done by the monks of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Jerome under Pius X. The foundational text of the books of Tobit and Judith are from manuscripts of the Vetus Latina rather than the Vulgate. The New Testament was based on the 1969 edition of the Stuttgart Vulgate. All of these base texts were revised to accord with the modern critical editions in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. There are also a number of changes where the modern scholars felt that Jerome had failed to grasp the meaning of the original languages, or had rendered it obscurely.
The Nova Vulgata does not contain some books found in the earlier editions but omitted by the canon of Trent, namely the Prayer of Manasses, the 3rd & 4th Book of Esdras, and the Epistle to the Laodiceans.
In 1979, after decades of preparation, the Nova Vulgata was published and declared the Catholic Church's current official Latin version in the Apostolic constitution Scripturarum Thesaurus promulgated by the Pope John Paul II.
The Nova Vulgata has not been widely embraced by conservative Catholics, many of whom see it as being in some verses of the Old Testament a new translation rather than a revision of Jerome's work. Also, some of its readings sound unfamiliar to those who are accustomed to the Clementine.
In 2001, the Vatican released the instruction Liturgiam Authenticam, establishing the Nova Vulgata as a point of reference for all translations of the liturgy of the Roman rite into the vernacular from the original languages, "in order to maintain the tradition of interpretation that is proper to the Latin Liturgy".

Novum Testamentum Latine

In 1984 and 1992 Kurt and Barbara Aland published the Novum Testamentum Latine (ISBN 1-598-56175-8). The text is a reprint of the New Testament of the Nova Vulgata to which has been added a critical apparatus giving the variant readings of earlier editions. The editions described in the apparatus are the Stuttgart edition, the Gutenberg Bible, the Latin text of the Complutensian Polyglot, the edition from Wittenberg (which was favored by Luther), the editions of Erasmus, Robertus Stephanus, Hentenius of Louvain, Christophor Plantinus, Pope Sixtus V, Pope Clement VIII, and Wordsworth and White.
This new edition of the Novum Testamentum Latine is an updating of an older publication of the same name from 1906, which presented the Clementine Vulgate text with a critical apparatus comparing it to the editions of Sixtus V (1590), Wordsworth and White, Lachman (1842), and Tischendorf (1854), as well as the manuscripts Codex Amiatinus and Codex Fuldensis.

Issues of translation

The Vulgate was translated from a Greek source for the New Testament, the Psalms, most of the deuterocanonical books, and the apocrypha to Joshua, and to Kings, which is also called the Prologus Galeatus. Following these are prologues to Chronicles, Esdras, Tobias, Judith, Esther, Job, Psalms, Solomon, Isaias, Jeremias, Ezechiel, Daniel, Minor prophets, the Gospels, and the final prologue which is to the Pauline Epistles and is better known as Primum quaeritur. Related to these are Jerome's Notes on the Rest of Esther and his Prologue to the Hebrew Psalms.
A recurring theme of the Old Testament prologues is Jerome's preference for the Hebraica veritas (i.e., Hebrew truth) to the Septuagint, a preference which he defended from his detractors. He stated that the Hebrew text more clearly prefigures Christ than the Greek. Among the most remarkable of these prologues is the Prologus Galeatus, in which Jerome described an Old Testament canon of 22 books, which he found represented in the 22-letter Hebrew alphabet. Alternatively, he numbered the books as 24, which he described as the 24 elders in the Book of Revelation casting their crowns before the Lamb.
Also of note is the Primum quaeritur, which defended the Pauline authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and compared Paul's ten letters to the churches with the ten commandments. The author of the Primum quaeritur is unknown. The editors of the Stuttgart Vulgate remark that this version of the epistles first became popular among the Pelagians.
In addition to Primum quaeritur, many manuscripts contain brief notes to each of the epistles indicating where they were written, with notes about where the recipients dwelt. Adolf von Harnack, argued that these notes were written by Marcion of Sinope or one of his followers. Harnack noted: "We have indeed long known that Marcionite readings found their way into the ecclesiastical text of the Pauline epistles, but now for seven years we have known that Churches actually accepted the Marcionite prefaces to the Pauline epistles! De Bruyne has made one of the finest discoveries of later days in proving that those prefaces, which we read first in Codex Fuldensis and then in numbers of later manuscripts, are Marcionite, and that the Churches had not noticed the cloven hoof."

Influence on Western culture

In terms of its importance to the culture, art, and life of the Middle Ages, the Vulgate stands supreme. Through the Middle Ages and onto the Renaissance and Reformation, St. Jerome's monumental work stood as a last pillar of Roman glory and the bedrock of the Latin church as it strove to unite a fractured Europe through the Catholic faith. As the version of the Bible familiar to and read by the faithful for over a thousand years (c. AD 400–1530), the Vulgate exerted a powerful influence, especially in art and music, as it served as inspiration for countless paintings, hymns and popular religious plays. Even while the Genevan Reformed tradition sought to replace the Latin Vulgate with vernacular versions translated from the original languages, it nevertheless retained and extended the use of the Vulgate in theological debate. In both the published Latin sermons of John Calvin, and the Greek New Testament editions of Theodore Beza, the accompanying Latin reference text is the Vulgate; and where Protestant churches took their lead from the Genevan example - as in England and Scotland - the result was a broadening appreciation of Jerome's translation in its dignified style and flowing prose. The closest equivalent in English, the King James Version or Authorized Version, shows a marked influence from the Vulgate (especially by comparison with the earlier vernacular version of Tyndale), in respect of Jerome's demonstration of how a technically exact Latinate religious vocabulary may be combined with dignified prose and vigorous poetic rhythms.

Translations based on the Vulgate

Before the publication of Pius XII's Divino Afflante Spiritu, the Vulgate was the source text used for many translations of the Bible into vernacular languages. In English, the interlinear translation of the Lindisfarne Gospels as well as other Old English Bible translations, the translation of John Wycliffe, the Douay-Rheims Bible, the Confraternity Bible, and Ronald Knox's translation were all made from the Vulgate.

Influence on the English language

The Vulgate had a large influence on the development of the English language, especially in matters of religion and the Bible. Many Latin words were taken from the Vulgate into English nearly unchanged in meaning or spelling: creatio (e.g. Genesis 1:1, Heb 9:11), salvatio (e.g. Is 37:32, Eph 2:5), justificatio (e.g. Rom 4:25, Heb 9:1), testamentum (e.g. Mt 26:28), sanctificatio (1 Ptr 1:2, 1 Cor 1:30), regeneratio (Mt 19:28), and raptura (from a noun form of the verb rapiemur in 1 Thes 4:17). The word "publican" comes from the Latin publicanus (e.g., Mt 10:3), and the phrase "far be it" is a translation of the Latin expression absit (e.g., Mt 16:22 in the King James Bible). Other examples include apostolus, ecclesia, evangelium, Pascha, and angelus.


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