For many years, especially in the 1500’s and 1600’s, many Roman Catholics defended their Church’s translation of the Bible [the Latin Vulgate] as being inspired and perfect. What reasons or arguments did these Roman Catholics use in defense of their Latin Vulgate-only view?
Roman Catholics of that period of time argued that the church’s long use of the Latin Vulgate proves it is the correct and best translation. In their preface to the 1582 Rheims New Testament, the first reason given for use of the Latin Vulgate was that “it is most ancient” (p. xvii). In their preface to the 1610 Douay Old Testament, it is asserted that “the old Vulgate Latin Edition hath been preferred, and used for most authentic above a thousand and three hundred years” (p. viii). Gregory Martin, one of the Roman Catholic translators of the Rheims New Testament, asked Protestants: “Will you be tried by the vulgar ancient Latin bible, only used in all the west church above a thousand years?” (Fulke, Defence of the Sincere and True Translations of the Holy Scriptures, pp. 77-78). Again Martin wrote: “In the New Testament, we ask them, will you be tried by the ancient Latin translation, which is the text of the fathers and the whole church?” (Ibid., p. 84). In his 1688 book, Thomas Ward asserted: “That the Vulgate of the Latin is the most true and authentic copy has been the judgment of God’s Church for above those 1300 years” (Errata, p. vi). Thomas A. Nelson claimed that “the Latin Vulgate Bible was used universally in the Catholic Church (Latin Rite) for over 1500 years” (Which Bible, p. 97).
Another claim of Roman Catholics was that the Latin Vulgate was equal to or even superior to God’s Word in the original languages. The preface of the Rheims N. T. pointed out: “It [the Latin Vulgate] is truer than the vulgar Greek text itself. It is not only better than all other Latin translations, but than the Greek text itself, in those places where they disagree” (p. xvii). That Rheims preface asserted that “we see that by all means the old vulgar Latin translation is approved good, and better than the Greek text itself, and that there is no cause why it should give place to any other text, copies, or readings” (p. xx). The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation noted that “the Vatican librarian, Agostino Stevco, furnished extensive arguments in 1529 for the superiority of the Vulgate to both Hebrew and Greek texts” (Vol. I, p. 164). William Whitaker (1547-1595) maintained that “the papists contend that their Latin text is authentic of itself, and ought not to be tried by the text of the originals” (Disputation on Holy Scripture, p. 138). Thus, Roman Catholics set aside the superior or greater authority of the preserved Scriptures in the original languages to assert and maintain the authority of their preferred translation–the Latin Vulgate.
It was implied or claimed that the Latin Vulgate-only view was necessary because of differences, errors, or corruptions in the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Rheims translator, Martin, asked: “What Greek say we for there be sundry copies” (Fulke, Defence, pp. 84-85). Francis Turretin (1623-1687) pointed out the Catholic view: “The question is whether the original text, in Hebrew or in Greek, has been so corrupted, either by the carelessness of copyists or by the malice of the Jews and heretics, that it can no longer be held as the judge of controversies and the norm by which all versions without exception are to be judged. The Roman Catholics affirm this, we deny it” (Doctrine of Scripture, pp. 113-114).
The Roman Catholics also implied that there must be a perfect translation. Peter Sutor contended: “If in one point the Vulgate were in error, the entire authority of holy Scripture would collapse” (Hills, KJV Defended, p. 187). The preface of the 1582 Rheims argued that the Latin Vulgate was the only authentical Bible. Martin condemned Protestants or Reformers who made the Hebrew and Greek the standard for translations: “They admit only the Hebrew in the Old Testament, and the Greek in the New, to be the true and authentical text of the scripture” (Fulke, Defence, p. 46). Martin also noted that the Reformers “call the Greek verity and the pure fountain, and that text whereby all translations must be tried” (IBID., p. 43).
Roman Catholics claimed the Holy Spirit’s endorsement of the Latin Vulgate. Eugene Rice wrote: “It was a further common view of apologists for the Vulgate that a special providence of the Holy Spirit had acted directly on the translator to guarantee his trustworthiness” (Saint Jerome, p. 181). Rice cited that Melanchthon noted that to accept the judgment of the Council of Trent’s 1546 decree on the Vulgate “we would have to agree that the Vulgate has been revealed to us by the Holy Spirit” (p. 186). Theodore Letis cited where Paolo Sarpi, who wrote a history of the Council of Trent, noted that “some at Trent, put forth the same argument as Augustine, claiming that ‘the same Holy Ghost, who did dictate the holy books, hath dictated also that translation, which ought to be accepted by the Church of Rome” (Ecclesiastical Text, p. 162). Thomas A. Nelson asserted that “we need to defer to St. Jerome and to trust in God’s providence that the Greek text he translated was correct and that he translated it correctly” (Which Bible, p. 57). In the preface of the Douay, Roman Catholics contended that the Latin Vulgate was translated from the Hebrew and Greek texts when “they were more pure” (p. viii). In the preface of volume one of A Literal Translation of the Prophets, Robert Lowth noted that “many contended, that the Vulgate version was dictated by the Holy Spirit; at least was providentially guarded against all error; was consequently of divine authority, and more to be regarded than even the original Hebrew and Greek texts” (p. xxxix).
In addition, Roman Catholics suggested that their Latin Vulgate-only view was necessary because of the differences and supposed corruptions in other translations. The preface of the Rheims claimed that their translation was needed because of the “false translations” by Protestants who were accused of having corrupted God’s Word by “adding, detracting, altering, transposing, pointing, and all other guileful means; especially where it serveth for the advantage of their private opinions” (p. xiv). In the preface of the Douay Old Testament, the Roman Catholic translators asserted that “we can not but complain, and challenge English Protestants, for corrupting the text, contrary to the Hebrew and Greek, which they profess to translate, for the more show, and maintaining of their peculiar opinions against Catholics” (p. x). Martin attacked the Protestant Bible translators claiming that “a blind man may see you frame your translations to bolster your errors and heresies, without all respect of following sincerely either the Greek or the Latin” (Fulke, Defence, p. 177). Martin claimed to have uncovered the Protestants’ “corrupt translations for defacing of the church’s name, and abolishing of priest and priesthood” (Fulke, Defence, p. 278).
Roman Catholics even claimed that other translations are so corrupt that they are Satan’s bibles. Martin condemned “books which were so translated by Tyndale and the like, as being no indeed God’s book, word, or scripture, but the devil’s word” (Fulke, Defence, p. 228). Sir Thomas More contended that Tyndale’s N. T. was a “cunning counterfeit,” perverted in the interests of heresy; “that it was not worthy to be called Christ’s testament, but either Tyndale’s own testament or the testament of his master Antichrist” (Bruce, History of the Bible, p. 40).
In their preface to their 1582 N. T., it is claimed that the Latin Vulgate of Jerome “is the gravest, sincerest, of greatest majesty, least partiality, as being without all respect of controversies and contentions” (p. xvii). William Whitaker maintained that Roman Catholic divines asserted that the Latin Vulgate is “the weighiest, purest, most venerable and impartial” (Disputation on Holy Scripture, p. 144).
Are these claims concerning the Latin Vulgate-only view correct and scriptural? The early English translators including the KJV translators clearly rejected these Roman Catholic claims and arguments as incorrect and unscriptural. Surprisingly, KJV-only advocates seem to have revived a form of these same warmed-over Roman Catholic claims as “irrefutable” proof for another incorrect one-perfect-translation-only view–the KJV-only view.