Manifold Greatness opened at the University of Dayton Roesch Library in Dayton, Ohio on Friday, August 24. One of the highlights of our local exhibition is a first edition Douai-Rheims Bible, the first English translation of the Catholic Bible. For the exhibit period, it is sharing a case with a first edition King James Bible, on loan from Denison University in Granville, Ohio.
In this post, we compare the two Bibles and their unique history.
The origins of the Douai-Rheims translation were much different than the KJV. Due to anti-Catholic legislation and persecution during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (a Protestant), English Catholics, led by William Allen, established a college and a mission seminary in Douai (Flanders) in 1568 and later at Rheims (France). The translation by English Catholics, known as Douai-Rheims, was published in several parts: at Rheims, the New Testament was published in 1582, and in 1609 the Old Testament was published in two volumes at Douai. The Douai-Rheims was not intended for use at Catholic liturgical services (where the language was Latin), although it did meet many needs. English Catholics could read it instead of Protestant English translations, and Catholic writers could use it to counter or refute Protestant adversaries who often quoted Scripture as part of their arguments.
The Douai-Rheims was scrupulously faithful to the Latin Vulgate, the translation made by St. Jerome in the fourth century. In the sixteenth century, the Council of Trent considered Latin a quasi-sacral language: it was the lingua franca, for more than thirteen centuries, in all churches, monasteries, and councils; for all services, theological discourse, and biblical commentaries. The King James Bible translation relied upon original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts rather than the Vulgate, and freely incorporated a “few dignified or felicitous phrases” from previous translations, including the Douai-Rheims.
At the time of its introduction, the King James Bible was not universally accepted; some desired a more literal translation. However, its language was incorporated in the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church, and it eventually became widely known as the Authorized Version in England – one that had the approval of its royal sponsor, King James I, and was “appointed to be read in churches.”
Katy Kelly is the Communications and Outreach Librarian at the University of Dayton.
As we prepared to receive the Manifold Greatness exhibit at the University of Mississippi, Dr. Leigh McWhite, one of our archivists, began seeking items that would give the viewer a sense of the translators’ work and would also make a connection between the exhibit and Mississippi and/or the South.
As it happened, she found several.
On display is an edition of St. Jerome’s Vulgate, printed in Basel, Switzerland in 1591. It is among the last editions published before the introduction of the 1592 version, which soon superseded it. The 1592edition of the Vulgate was sponsored by Pope Clementine VIII, and this edition was later consulted by the teams of English translators working on the King James Bible. The Clementine Vulgate remained the authorized text for the Roman Catholic Church until 1979.
The Choctaw tribe has had a long association with the state of Mississippi, and the University of Mississippi has a copy of the Second Book of Kings translated into the Choctaw language by the American Bible Society in 1855. Choctaw translations of portions of the Bible first appeared in print in 1836 and a complete edition of the New Testament was produced in 1848. The Choctaw Bible Translation Committee in Mississippi is currently working to translate the entire Bible into Choctaw.
A more contemporary and very Southern translation is the Cotton Patch Bible created by Clarence Jordan. Born in Georgia in 1912, Clarence Jordan created an interracial Christian farming community outside Americus, GA called Koinonia (from the Greek word for “communion,” which is used in Acts 2:42 to refer to the earliest Christian community). In the late 1960s, Jordan began writing his “Cotton Patch” series, which translated the scripture into a colloquial Southern accent and context. “Jews” and “Gentiles” became “white man” and “Negro,” and Jordan changed all references to “crucifixion” to “lynching.” The Cotton Patch Version of Paul’s Epistles in the University of Mississippi’s Special Collections is from the James H. Meredith Collection. James Meredith is a prominent figure in the American civil rights movement and integrated the University of Mississippi in 1962.
Christina Torbert is Head of Serials and Bibliographer for Philosophy and Religion at the J.D. Williams Library at the University of Mississippi.