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.