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On the 17th of March, 1546, in the general session, the Fathers who had been charged to investigate the status of the Latin text of Scripture reported four abuses. Only the first two are relevant to our present theme.

The first abuse was the existence of many Latin versions of the Scriptures, which were used as authentic in public readings, disputations, and discourses. The remedy suggested was to have the old Vulgate as the sole authentic edition which all should use as authentic in all public reading, and in the exposition and preaching of Holy Scripture; and that no one should reject it or impugn its truth; and not thereby to detract aught from the genuine and true version of the Seventy Interpreters, which the Apostles sometimes used, nor to reject other editions which help to find the source of the authentic Vulgate.

The second abuse was the corruption of the codices of the Vulgate.

The remedy was to expurgate and amend the codices and restore to the Christian world the genuine text of the Vulgate, free from error. And the Fathers petitioned the Pope to cause this great work to be done and also to bring it about that the Church of God might also have a correct Greek and Hebrew text.

Several particular assemblies and three general sessions discussed this proposition, and finally, the Council promulgated its famous decree.

The same thrice holy Synod, believing that much benefit may accrue to the Church of God, if from among all the Latin versions of the Holy Scriptures which are in circulation, an authentic one be recognized, decrees and declares that the old edition of the Vulgate, which has been approved by the Church by the usage of so many centuries, shall be held authentic in all public readings, disputations, and in the public exposition and preaching of Scripture, and that no man may reject it upon whatever pretext.… And having in mind to establish also a rule for printers … the Council decrees and establishes that, hereafter, the Holy Scripture, especially this old Vulgate, shall be most carefully printed.

Some believe that the Council of Trent established two conditions that a book be judged canonical: 1. the fact that it had been read in the church,—prouti in Ecclesia Catholica legi consueverunt; 2. its presence in the Vulgate—et in Veteri Vulgata Editione habentur. Thus they judge that the mere presence of a book in the Vulgate edition is not sufficient; but there must be present the constant reading in the Church.

This seems to us unfounded. The Council did not contemplate a possible discrepancy between the Vulgate and the Churchs traditional use of Scripture. In fact the reason of the Vulgates authority is the fact that it was constantly read in the Church. The test of Canonicity is one, that is the constant reading of all the books in the Churchs text of Scripture. The presence of the books in the Vulgate is not a second condition but an explanation of the first. The Vulgate is the concrete expression of the constant use of the Church. This is clear from the Acts of the Council wherein we find that the clause concerning the Vulgate was added simply to determine what was the Churchs use of Scripture.

What the Council of Trent decreed for the Vulgate could have been decreed of the Old Latin Version.

The decree of the Council of Trent set in motion a turbulent movement especially in Spain. The power was in the hands of those who defended the absolute infallibility and absolute sanction of the Vulgate. These by violence and the power of the law prevented any expression of honest thought which came short of adoration of the Vulgate. Men were cast into prison for attempting to explain the legitimate sense of the great Councils decree. Others, through fear of the Inquisition, either adopted the views of the party in power or kept a prudent silence. I know, says Bannez, what I would respond by word of mouth, if asked by the Church; meanwhile, I maintain a prudent and religious silence. (In I. S. Thom.)

The position of these extremists was that the Council had defined the absolute infallibility of the Vulgate, even in the least details; that no error of whatever nature was to be found in the Latin Vulgate; that since the Greek Schism, the Latin Church had remained the sole depository of the truth, and hence her Scriptures alone were authentic, and absolutely authentic. Of this movement Richard Simon truly wrote: There were but very few persons who accurately comprehended the sense of the decree of Trent which pronounced the Vulgate authentic.… The greater number of those who agitated this question scarcely understood anything of it, and they were moved more by prejudice and passion, than by sense and judgment. Periit judicium postquam res transiit in affectum. (Hist. Crit. du V. T. II. 14.)

We find an accurate and dispassionate description of these causes and effects in the Disputation on the Vulgate of John Mariana. What he has written of Spain, could be affirmed in less degree of other countries in that period.

Opus molestum suscipimus, multâque difficultate impeditum, periculosam aleam, ac quâ nescio an ulla disputatio his superioribus annis inter theologos, in Hispaniâ præsertim, majori animorum ardore et motu agitata sit, odioque partium magis implacabili, usque eò, ut à probris et contumeliis, quibus se mutuò fœdabant, ad tribunalia ventum sit; atque quae pars sibi magis confidebat, adversaries de Religione postulatos gravissimè exercuit, quasi impios, superbos, arrogantes, qui divinorum librorum auctoritatem, atque ejus interpretationis fidem, quâ Ecclesia utitur passim, et quæ vulgata editio nuncupatur, audacter elevarent, novis interpretationibus prolatis invectisque contrà divinas leges et humanas, concilii Tridentini decreta non ità pridem promulgata. Tenuit ea causa multorum animos suspensos expectatione, quem tandem exitum habitura esset, cum viri eruditionis opinione præstantes, è vinculis cogerentur causam dicere, haud levi salutis existimationisque discrimine: miseranda virtutis conditio, quandô pro laboribus, quos susceperat maximos, compellebantur eorum à quibus defendi par fuisset, odia, accusationes, contumelias tolerare, quo exemplo multorum præclaros impetus retardari, viresque debilitari atque concidere necesse erat. Omninô fregit ea res multorum animos alieno periculo considerantium, quantum procellæ immineret liberè affirmantibus quæ sentirent. Itaque aut in aliorum castra transibant frequentes, aut tempori cedendum judicabant. Et quid facerent, cum frustrà niti neque fatigando (ut ille ait) aliud quàm odium quærere, extremæ dementiæ sit? Plerique inhærentes persuasioni vulgari, libenter in opinione perstabant, iis placitis faventes, in quibus minus periculi esset, haud magnâ veritatis curâ. Quidam enim editionem vulgatam sugillant, quasi multis vitiis fœdam, ad fontes identidem provocantes, undè ad nos ii rivi manârunt, ac contendentes Græcorum Hebraicorumque codicum collatione castigandam videri, quoties ab illis discrepârit, linguarum peritiâ tumidi, ecclesiasticam simplicitatem ludibrio habentes; quorum profectò audacia ac temeritas pronuntiandi meritò frænanda est. E contrario, alii majori numero adversariorum odio nefas putant vulgatam editionem attrectare, atque in impiorum numero habent, si quis vel levem vocem castigare tentet, si locum aliquem aliter explicare contendat, quàm vulgata interpretatio præ se ferat (quos imitari profectò non debemus) pusillo homines animo, oppleti tenebris, angustèque sentientes de Religionis nostræ majestate, qui dúm opinionum castella pro fidei placitis defendunt, ipsam mihi arcem prodere videntur, fraternam charitatem turpissimè violantes. Ergò extremâ et deviâ vitatâ, quæ in præcipitia desinit, mediam viam tenere constituimus, quâ ferè in omni disputatione vitatis erroribus ad veritatem pervenitur.

The protestants, taking the statements of the Spanish theologians for the position of the Church, loudly proclaimed that the Council had bound Scriptural science with chains of iron, and condemned it to a sterile immobility.

The labors of Catholic theologians in establishing the real sense of this decree, have removed the cause for this calumny, and it is only the presence of a dense veil of ignorance, that in our days permits a repetition of this old falsehood.

The Church was not responsible for the course of thought in Spain. The best institutions of God and man have been, and will be abused. The Council spoke the truth, and men, in an inconsiderate zeal, misunderstood its words. Some misunderstand them yet, but the current of thought in this regard is better now than then.

We place, therefore, as a thesis: That the Council of Trent, in declaring the Vulgate the authentic text of Scripture, did not place the excellence of the Vulgate above the original texts of Scripture, nor above the old versions of Scripture which had been in use in the Church, neither did it deny the authenticity of these texts.

A sufficient argument for this position is in the very words of the decree, and in the nature of the abuse which it was intended to remove. There was no mention of original texts or versions other than the Latin. A multiplicity of Latin versions created confusion, and the Council chose one Latin version, which should be the official text of Latin Scriptures for the Latin Church. The original texts and old versions have the same merit as before, and are as authentic as when they formed the Scriptural basis of the decisions of councils, prior to the Council of Trent. Cardinal Pole and others demanded that a text in Greek and Hebrew might also be declared authentic. Although this was not done, we have every reason to believe that it would have been done if the need existed. In the Greek Church no great variety of translations existed. The Greeks used their authentic text, which had been always sanctioned by the Churchs use, even before the Latin existed. No one denied its authenticity, and the Council left it in the peaceful possession of what it always had. The Hebrew text was not in use as a practical text of Scripture by any Christian Church, and there was no need to declare it authentic. It is characteristic of the Catholic Church not to indulge in superfluous legislation. Her decisions are few, and framed to meet actual needs.

The deliberations of the Fathers, as related to us by Pallavicini (Storia del Conc. di Trento), show plainly that the Fathers wished to save the credit of the original texts and the old versions: It was the common opinion that the Vulgate edition should be preferred to all other (Latin) editions; but Pacheco petitioned that these others should be also condemned, especially those made by heretics; and he extended this afterwards to the Septuagint. Bertram opposed this, maintaining that there was always a diversity of versions in use with the faithful, which usage the Fathers had approved. And who would dare, he said, condemn the translation of the Septuagint which the Church uses in her psalmody?… Let one version be approved, and the others be neither approved nor condemned.

After the expression of these views, Card. Del Monte, one of the presidents of the Council, closed the disputation in these words: The matter has been discussed and prepared. We come now to the form. The majority holds that the Vulgate should be received, but care must be taken lest the others should be thought to be tacitly rejected. The others are evidently the orginal texts and the old versions. Could anything be clearer? The Fathers took thought lest their action might seem to be the tacit repudiation of the other texts.

This sense is confirmed by the express declarations of some of the principal theologians of the Council. Salmeron, S. J., who was one of the Popes theologians in the Council, declares: We shall show that the approbation of Jeromes translation imported, in no way, the rejection of the Greek or Hebrew texts. There was no question of Greek or Hebrew texts. Action was only taken to determine which was the most excellent of the many Latin versions. The Council left every man free to consult the Greek and Hebrew texts, that he might thereby emend its errors, or elucidate its sense, hence, without infringement on the authority of the Council, where the texts differ, we may make use of the text from the Greek or Hebrew copy, and expound it as a text of Scripture. We may use such text, not alone for moral instruction, but also use it as a Scriptural basis for the dogmas of the Church.

The same testimony is rendered by the Franciscan, Andrea Vega, whose wisdom was held in great repute by the Fathers of Trent. In his work, De Justificatione XV. 9, he thus addresses Calvin: Lest thou shouldst err, O Calvin, regarding the approbation of the Vulgate, give ear to a few things, which I would wish Melancthon also might hear, who also, before you, arraigned the Fathers for this. The Synod did not approve the errors which linguists and those moderately versed in Holy Scripture find in the Vulgate. Neither did they ask that it be adored as though it had descended from Heaven. The Fathers knew that the interpreter was not a prophet, … and, therefore, the Synod did not restrain, nor wish to restrain, the labors of linguists, who teach us that certain things might be better translated, and that the Holy Ghost could signify many things by one and the same word, and, at times, a sense more apt than can be obtained from the Vulgate. But considering the Vulgates age, and the esteem in which it was held for centuries by Latin Councils which used it, and in order that the faithful might know—which is most true—that no pernicious error can be drawn therefrom, and that the faithful can read it safely without danger to faith, and to remove the confusion caused by a multitude of translations, and to modify the tendency to continually produce new versions, the Council wisely enacted that we should use the Vulgate in all public readings, disputations and expositions of Scripture. And it declared it authentic in this sense, that it might be known to all that it was never vitiated by any error from which any false doctrinal or moral teaching might result; and for this reason it decreed that no one should reject it on whatsoever pretext. And that this was the mind of the Council, and that it wished to decree nothing further than this, you may draw from the words of the Council. And lest you should doubt of this, I am able to invoke a veracious witness, his Eminence the Cardinal of Holy Cross (Card. Cervini, afterwards Pope Marcellus II.), who presided over all the sessions. Both before and after the decree, more than once, he testified to me that the Fathers wished nothing more for the Vulgate. Hence you are not hindered neither is anyone else by the approbation of the Vulgate from recurring, in doubt, to the original texts, and one may bring forth out of them whatever he may find, in order that the sense of the Latin may be cleared and enriched, and that he may purge the Vulgate from errors, and arrive at those things most consonant with the sense of the Holy Ghost and the original texts. (Mariana, l. c.)

We come in possession of two truths in this testimony: first, that Vega has the mind of the Council of Trent, and, secondly, that the action of the Fathers was just and temperate. While Mariana was teaching at Rome, question arose relating to the real sense of the decree of Trent. The General of the Jesuit order at that time was James Laynez, a man of great erudition and judgment, who had himself taken part in every session of the Council of Trent. He was petitioned to explain to the Order the real sense of the decree, and on the testimony of Mariana, his response was substantially the same as the testimony of Vega.

Didacus de Andrada deserves to rank among the first theologians of the Council.

He was not in the fourth session, in which the Vulgate was approved, but as a subsequent member of the Council he certainly knew the mind of the Fathers. He approves the declaration of Vega and declares that we are to so defend the excellence and dignity of the Vulgate, that we in no way obstruct the Hebrew founts whence the saving streams of truth have flown forth to us. And on the other hand we are so to venerate the old Hebrew text that we reject not the authority and majesty of the Vulgate. (Andrada, Defens. Trid. Fidei IV. p. 257).

The excellence which the Fathers of Trent attested of the Vulgate is well expressed by Sixtus of Sienna: Although errors are found in the Vulgate, it is certain that neither in the old edition nor in the new was anything ever found which is dissonant from Catholic faith, or false or contrary to doctrine or morality, or interpolated, or changed to disagree with truth, or omitted to the prejudice of truth, or so corrupted that it would furnish occasion of pernicious error, or occasion and incite to heresy, or thus obscurely and ambiguously translated that it would obscure the mysteries of our faith, or in which the saving truth is not sufficiently explained. (Sixt. Sen. Biblioth. Sancta.)

The opponents of the Catholic faith sometimes allege as the Catholic position, the opinion of Basil Poncius (†1626), the Chancellor of the University of Salamanca. He declares: In my judgment it must be affirmed according to the Councils decree, that not only are all things in the Vulgate true, but that they are also in strict conformity with the original text, and their sense faithfully rendered by the interpreter, so that he has, neither by ignorance nor negligence, erred in the least thing, but that all things, even the most minute, are, as regards the sense, faithfully translated.… And this is the common opinion of our time. (Migne, Cursus S. S. I., p. 878).

From the fact that Poncius prefaced this declaration by a long chapter wherein he gives numerous examples of erroneous translations of the Vulgate, we are led to suspect that he is here defending the current opinion of Spain somewhat after the manner that Galileo defended the Ptolemaic system in his dialogues. It is a certain fact that the fear of the Inquisition in Spain was unduly reactionary on theological opinion in Spain in those days. At all events, the common opinion of Spain could not have been what he says, for we have adduced the testimonies of her best theologians, which are directly opposed to his position. The only argument which he adduces in support of his opinion is, that the Council declared the Vulgate authentic. Now, in the first place, we deny that the Council promulgated a dogmatic definition that the Vulgate was authentic. It made it of faith, that the Books of the Catholic Canon with all their parts, as they were found in the Vulgate, were sacred and canonical. This is of faith, and an anathema was fulminated against any one who should gainsay such truth. This certainly implies that the Vulgate has preserved the substance of all these books, so that the element which made them sacred and inspired as they came from the writers hand has persevered in them. This is of faith. But the decree concerning the use of the Holy Books is DISCIPLINARY.

The fixing of the Canon was a dogmatic fact—the decree that the text of Scripture which the Church used is substantially the word of God was also dogmatic; but the selection of the Vulgate as the official version was an act of discipline, and though directed by the Holy Ghost only demanded that the Vulgate contain the substance of Gods word without pernicious error. The very words of the decree warrant this. When a council binds mens faith by dogmatic decree, the words clearly imply such design. But here, on the contrary, in the clearest terms the Council maps out the discipline of the Church, as regards the reading of the Latin Scripture. Of course in this matter dogma and discipline are correlated. The Council, acting by the Spirit of God, could not and did not, authorize a substantially defective version of Scripture. So that this disciplinary decree rests on the dogmatic status of the books, established in the preceding decree. Now the Fathers, in making the books authentic in the discipline of the Church, based their action on a dogmatic authenticity, which they by former decree had declared of the books. The motive of this declaration of authenticity was not the strict conformity between the Vulgate and the original text. The Fathers never examined such conformity. The motion to do so was submitted, but it was lost. The Fathers based their action on the fact that the Church had used for well nigh a thousand years this edition of the Latin Scriptures. It had, for all these ages, been the great Scriptural deposit of the Church, and the Fathers infallibly judged that it was not compatible with Gods relation to the Church, that he should allow her to thus adopt a version of Scripture, which did not accurately contain the substance of Gods written message to man. The Fathers, therefore, understood by authenticity that the version contained the substance of that message.

This clear and well warranted position at once does away with the opinion of Poncius, and it establishes the real basis upon which we may examine the actual state of the Vulgate.

The truth of our position is corroborated by the history of the decree. When, during the existence of the Council, the decree was sent to Rome for the Popes approbation, the Roman theologians protested against it, affirming that there were many errors in it that could not be attributed to the copyists, but which were certainly due to the translator himself. In fact, such a storm was raised, that there was thought of delaying the printing of the decree till changes might be made. When this was made known to the Papal legates in the Council they made answer that nothing was alleged by the Roman theologians that the Council had not maturely weighed. The Tridentine Fathers had adverted to the errors of the Vulgate, but they were warranted in declaring it not substantially erroneous. (Pallavic. Hist. Cone. Trid. VI.)

The dullest mind must see that there was no question of absolute conformity with the original text, or of immunity from errors which affected not doctrine and morals.

Our position is strengthened by this final consideration. The Council approved the then existing Latin Vulgate, at the same time that it was informed by the particular congregation that all the Latin texts were defective, though the Vulgate was the best of them. And the work of emending this same approved Vulgate was taken up immediately by the authority of the Pope himself. This shows clearly that the Council merely declared that the truths of God had persevered in the Latin version with all its faults, and that it was the mind of the Church that these errors should be reduced to a minimum. And even in the preface to the Clementine edition of the Vulgate, we are told that certain things which deserved to be changed were left, to avoid the scandal of the people.

Even during the authorized revision of the Vulgate, Salmeron, who was one of the theologians of the Council, declared: In the meantime, while the Vulgate is being revised, nothing prevents one from correcting the evident errors, either by means of the Hebrew and Greek text, or from the various readings of the Fathers, or by a clearer understanding of the text itself, provided that such a one in such a grave matter is prepared to submit himself to the Church if she should decide otherwise. (Salmeron, Proleg. III. p. 24.) This is the golden rule for all theologians. Relying on this, a theologian can freely conduct any research, sustained by the thought that if he speaks true things, the Church will commend him, and she will safeguard him from error.

The opponents of our position are of two classes. The protestants insist on an absolute approbation of the Vulgate that they may thence move an objection against the Church. Some Catholics interpret the Councils word in a like manner through mistaken zeal for orthodoxy. From one or the other of these motives they adduce the three following arguments:

1. Richard Simon (Hist. Crit. du V. Test. 7, p. 268) cites the following decree: On the 17th of January, 1576, the General Congregation, through S. L. A. S. Montald. Sixt. Carafa, declares that nothing can be asserted which is not in conformity with the Vulgate, even though it be one sentence, or a phrase or clause, or a word, or a syllable, or even an iota. Richard Simon found this declaration reproduced by Leo Allatius. It appears to be a plain forgery. Its original was never found, though diligent search was made in the archives of Rome. Franzelin declares that Father Perrone had informed him that Pius IX. had declared, by word of mouth, that even if the declaration did exist, nothing more was commanded thereby than that one should not reject the Vulgate in matters of faith and morals. (Franz. De Trad. p. 563.)

In a manuscript in the Vatican (Lat. 6326) there is a commentary on the Canons of Trent by the hand of Card. Carafa, who was first Prefect of the Council of Trent. Commenting the words cum omnibus suis partibus he declares: Wherefore the Sacred Congregation of the Council judges that one incurs the censure if he changes a single sentence, or clause, or phrase, or word, or syllable, or an iota; and Vega (De Justific. IV. 9) is to be severely censured for having spoken rashly in this matter.

This has no dogmatic force: it was the exaggerated theory of a theologian, and there were many such.

And in any case, this Congregation had naught to do with matters of faith. The decree is either a forgery, or a disciplinary ruling of a council, and avails naught in the present question.

2. They insist on the former decree, which binds us to receive the books with all their parts. Now, they say, every word is a part.

The very enunciation of this proposition shows its absurdity. Every word is a mathematical part of the books, but it is not a moral part in the sense that the Council spoke. They were legislating against those who rejected the deuterocanonical parts of the Holy Books and certain passages of the Gospels, and, in virtue of their decree, every integral part of the books is sacred and canonical. And they meant not by this to imply that there was an absolute conformity between these parts and the original inspired text, but that the inspired truths had substantially endured in all the parts of the books. The Holy Ghost only guided them in the truth of the proposition, and in a general supervision of the words of their decree, so that in clothing their thoughts with words, the Fathers spoke as human agents, and their diction may at times come short of absolute clearness. The history of the several decrees and the scope of their legislation aid us in seizing the real sense of the decrees. Hence, we hold simply the divinity and canonicity of the parts, as that term was taken in the mind of the Fathers. Hence, the decree only contemplates the substantial integrity of all the books. This allows that even whole sentences should be wanting from the Vulgate that are genuine in the original, and that there may be whole sentences in the Vulgate which never were in the original, provided no error is in them contained. And there may be sentences in the Vulgate of dogmatic import, whose sense is not that of the original, provided in the same way that nothing contrary to faith or morals could result therefrom. The Vulgate reproduces sufficiently the substance of Gods written message, and leaves a legitimate field to the science of textual criticism.

Hence, we are not prevented by the decree of the Vulgate from correcting the Latin of the Vulgate: Omnes quidem resurgemus, sed non omnes immutabimur, (1 Cor. 15:5.), in accordance with the Greek, to Omnes quidem non dormiemus, sed omnes immutabimur.

The text is dogmatic, and although the Vulgate has not brought out Pauls idea, it contains no error, for all men shall arise, and all shall not put on the incorruption of the elect. We maintain also that the character of the famous verse 1 Jo. 5:7. must be treated independently of the Councils decree. That it contains no error we know from the authority that they gave to the book. Whether it was in the genuine Epistle of St. John or not, must be decided by means of the data of textual criticism.

3. The third argument of the adversaries hardly deserves mention. They maintain that if we are not to reject the Vulgate on any pretext, it results that we can not reject any verse or word of it.

This is mere cavil. The Councils decree here is only disciplinary, and relates to the rejection of passages wherein is contained some substantial truth of Scripture. The very conception of the argument of the opposition is an insult to the intelligence of the Fathers of Trent.

We shall not speak of the many errors recognizable in the Vulgate. We have built a basis, and in our exegesis of the Holy Text we shall judge the several passages in accordance with the data here explained.

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