Book Two: On the Hebrew, Chaldee, Greek and Latin Vulgate Editions
Chapter Fifteen: On Vernacular Editions
There is a controversy between Catholics and heretics about whether it is necessary or at least expedient for the common use of the divine Scriptures to be in the vernacular tongue, proper to each region. And the heretics indeed of this time all agree that the Scriptures should be permitted to all, nay and should be delivered in their own tongue, and that when the Scriptures are publicly read or sung, as in the sacred offices, this too should be done in the proper and maternal tongue. Thus does Brentius teach in the Confession of Wittemberg, chapter on the canonical hours, and Calvin Institutes bk.3 ch.20 sect.33, Chemnitz in Exam. of the Council of Trent sess.4. All the others in fact teach the same thing, since they everywhere translate the Scriptures into German, French, English, and publicly read and sing the Scriptures in the same languages.
But the Catholic Church of Christ does not indeed altogether prohibit vernacular translations, as Chemnitz impudently lies (for in the index of prohibited books produced by Pius IV, reg.4, we see that the reading of books of this sort is conceded to those who can use them with fruit, that is, to those who have obtained the faculty from the local bishop); but the Church prohibits reading of this sort to be conceded everywhere to all without discrimination, and prohibits the Scriptures from being read or sung in the public and common use of the Church in vernacular tongues, as was laid down in the Council of Trent sess.22 ch.8 and can.9; but let us be content with the three languages that the Lord honored by his title on the cross, John ch.19, and which by the consent of all precede all others in antiquity, fullness, and gravity; and that finally are the languages in which the divine books themselves were written at the beginning by their authors, that is, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.
About these languages Jerome thus speaks in his preface to the Psalms: “In these three languages most of all is preached the sacrament of the will of God and the expectation of his blessed kingdom, from which came that decision of Pilate, to write down in these three languages that our Lord Jesus Christ is King of the Jews.”
About this argument two authors, as far as I indeed know, have written, Hosius Cardinal Varmiensis in his Dialogue about Sacred Reading in the Vernacular, and Jacob Ledesma, priest of our Society of Jesus, in the book which he wrote on this same argument. From these authors we have plucked certain things and we will insert them in this our disputation so that it may be fuller.
To begin with, then, we can prove the custom of the Catholic Church from the Church’s use of the Old Testament that existed from the time of Ezra up to Christ.
For from the time of Ezra the Hebrew tongue ceased among the people of God to be vernacular, since in the 70 years during which the Hebrews were among the Chaldeans in Babylon, they forgot their own language and learnt Chaldee, and thereafter Chaldee or Syriac was maternal to them, wherefore in Ezra bk.2 ch.8 we find that when the book of the law of the Lord was read to the whole people, Nehemiah and Ezra and the Levites interpreted, because otherwise the people were understanding nothing. So for this reason, as is said in the same place, there was great happiness among the people because they understood the words of the law when Ezra interpreted.
Besides, this is openly collected from the words of Christ and of the Evangelists. For in Mark ch.5 “Talitha cumi,” that is, “little girl arise,” is Syriac. For little girl is not called Talitha in Hebrew; thus “abba” in Mark ch.14, for the Hebrew is different, and in Matthew ch.27 “Hacheldema” is Syriac and is said otherwise in Hebrew. In the same place Golgotha is Syriac and would be said differently in Hebrew; and in the Evangelists we read Pascha, which is not Greek or Hebrew. See many other things in Jerome in his book on Hebrew Names. So there can be no doubt but that the vernacular at that time was not Hebrew; and yet the Scriptures were publicly read or sung in the temple or synagogues only in Hebrew. For from Ezra bk.2 ch.8 it is sufficiently collected that the Scripture was then read in Hebrew, not Syriac, for the people did not understand without an interpreter. To this also pertains what is said in John ch.7, “This crowd, which knows not the law.”
Finally, up to this day in the synagogues of the Jews the Scriptures are read in Hebrew, although however for no nation is Hebrew at this time the vernacular. Nor is it in conflict with this that a Chaldee paraphrase of the Scriptures is extant; for that was wholly or in part done after the advent of Christ, and furthermore the Hebrews have never accepted it so as to read it publicly as Scripture; but this is now our subject matter.
A second proof is from the use of the Apostles; for the Apostles preached and established Churches through the whole earth, as is plain from Paul Romans ch.10 and Colossians ch.1, and from Mark last chapter. Again from Irenaeus bk.1 ch.3, who although he was close to Apostolic times yet says that in his time there were already Churches founded in the Orient, in Libya, in Egypt, in Spain, in Germany, and in the middle regions, that is in Italy and Gaul. And yet they did not write their Gospels or epistles in the languages of the nations they preached to but only in Hebrew or Greek and, as some wish, Latin. For there are those who reckon that Mark’s Gospel, as we also advised above, was written at Rome in Latin by Mark himself, and was afterwards by him translated into Greek, about which see Damasus in his Life of Blessed Peter, Adrianus Finus Scourge against the Jews bk.6 ch.80 and bk.8 ch.63, and Peter Antonius Beuter note 90 on Sacred Scripture.
Now that they did not write in any other languages, although they were not ignorant of them, since they had the gift of tongues, can be shown in many ways.
First, because there is no trace extant of any Apostolic writing save in Greek, nor does any of the ancients hand on that they wrote save in Hebrew or Greek or Latin. Further, Paul wrote in Greek to the Romans, although however not Greek but Latin was the vernacular of the Romans; again Peter and James wrote in Greek to the Jews scattered over the earth, to whom however neither Greek nor Hebrew was maternal but the tongue of the region where they were living, as is plain from the verse of Acts ch.1, “Are not these who speak Galileans? And behold we hear them speaking in our own tongues, etc.” For thus did the Jews speak who had come from various regions to the city of Jerusalem. For thus does Luke say in Acts ch.2, “But there were in Jerusalem Jews, religious men, from every nation under heaven.” Again John wrote his first letter to the Parthians in Greek, as Blessed Higinus testifies in epist.1, and Blessed Augustine Evangelical Questions bk.2 q.39, and Pope John II in epist. to Valerius, although however Greek was not maternal to the Parthians.
The third proof is from the use of the universal Church; for as Augustine teaches epist.118, to dispute against what the universal Church does is a mark of most insolent madness. The universal Church, further, has used only the languages Hebrew, Greek, and Latin in the common and public use of the Scriptures, although however they had for a long time ceased to be vernacular.
Demonstration that it is so. First from the fact that Blessed Augustine Christian Doctrine bk.2 ch.11 says that for understanding the Scriptures only knowledge of the three languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin is necessary, because the divine Scriptures are read in these languages, nor does any ancient author mention any other translation; and yet at that time without doubt there were many other common tongues. Therefore at least in the first 400 years in which the Church greatly flourished the Scriptures were not read in the vernacular tongue. Next, according to the rule of Augustine Against the Donatists bk.4 ch.24 and of Leo serm.2 on the Fast of Pentecost, a thing that is preserved in the universal Church, if no beginning for it can be assigned, is rightly believed to have come down from
Apostolic tradition and to have always been so. But we see now that in Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Greece, wherever Catholics are, only the Greek and Latin tongues are used in the public reading of the Scriptures, nor can any beginning be assigned for this fact. For who may say when this use began?
Add to this that in the whole Orient in the time of Jerome only the Greek Septuagint edition, as emended by Origen, Lucian, and Hesychius, was in public use. For as we learn from Jerome himself in his preface to Chronicles, from Constantinople to Antioch the Greek edition of Lucian was in use; from Antioch to Egypt, that is, through the whole of Syria, the edition of Origen was in public use; through the whole of Egypt they used the edition of Hesychius, and yet the Greek language was not the vernacular from Constantinople to Antioch, and much less in Syria and Egypt. For Galatia is between Constantinople and Syria, yet the proper language of the Galatians in the time of Blessed Jerome was not Greek but some language very similar to the language of the Treviri, as Jerome testifies in the preface to his second book on Galatians.
Further, Pontus, Cappadocia, Asia Minor, Phrygia, Pamphylia are situated between Constantinople and Antioch, and yet they did not have the same vernacular tongue, but diverse ones, so they did not understand each other, as is plain from Acts ch.2, and yet they all used one and the same edition of the Scriptures, namely that of St. Lucian. Now in Syria at that time the vernacular tongue was not Greek but another very different one, as Blessed Jerome testifies in his Life of Hilarion, where he says that Hilarion questioned a certain possessed man first in Syriac and then in Greek, so that the Greeks who were present would understand. Also St. Ephrem wrote many things in the Syrian speech, that is, the vernacular, as St. Jerome reports in his catalogue of writings.
But that Egypt also had its own language is witnessed by Athansius in his Life of Blessed Anthony, where he says that he disputed with certain Greek Philosophers through an interpreter. Blessed Jerome also says in his book on Illustrious Men on Anthony that he wrote some letters in Egyptian which were afterwards translated into Greek.
In Africa it is certain that as long as Christians were there only the Latin language was in public use for the Scriptures; for there is no mention in any author of any Punic translation. And Blessed Augustine Christian Doctrine bk.2 ch.13 says that in his time the Psalms were accustomed to be sung in Church in Latin. Again Blessed Cyprian in his sermon on the Lord’s Prayer testifies that in his time the accustomed preface in the Mass was in Latin. Augustine on the Good of Perseverance ch.13 says that the Mass and the responses were in Latin. From which is manifestly collected that in Africa the Mass was wont to be said in Latin, as well as the Reading or Epistle and the Gospel, which are from the chief parts of the Mass.
But at that time Latin was not the vernacular tongue for everyone in Africa, as the same Augustine witnesses, for in his unfinished exposition on Romans, near the middle, he says that the Latin word salus (salvation) was also a Punic word, but that in Punic it means ‘three’, and he affirms in the same place that some knew Latin and Punic and some only Punic, as were almost all the country folk. Again in serm.35 on the Words of the Lord, he says that Punic is akin to Hebrew, and that what the Romans call lucre is by speakers of Punic called mammon. Blessed Jerome also in the preface to his second book on Galatians says that the language of the Africans is a little different from Phoenician. But Phoenicia is part of Syria.
In Spain only the Latin language was in public use for the Scriptures as is plain from Isidore in his two books on Divine Offices, and also from the Fourth Council of Toledo ch.2, which took place before the year 1400, where it is laid down that in the whole of Spain the same order should be kept in singing the Psalms, the Mass, the Readings, and the other Ecclesiastical Offices; and then in chs.12-‐15 it is sufficiently plainly shown that all those things were then accustomed to be read in Latin, which practice has been kept to the present time.
There is not extant either any memory or trace of change, and yet for many centuries now the Latin tongue has ceased to be the vernacular in Spain. For it was separated from the Roman Empire before the year 1100 and subjected partly to the Goths, partly to the Moors, who without doubt introduced a new language. For the Goths, whom others call the Gerhas, had their own language, as Jerome testifies at the beginning of his epistle to Sunia and Fretella. In addition the Spaniards had their own tongue before the Goths corrupted it, as is insinuated by Blessed Jerome in the preface to his book on Galatians, where he says that in the Balearic Islands the vernacular tongue was then akin to Greek.
In England Bede History bk.1 ch.1 testifies that there were four vernacular languages according to the different regions of the island; yet Latin was common to them all because of the Scriptures; namely because they all used the Latin edition of the Scriptures although some had their own maternal tongues. The same practice was continued thereafter as is plain from Thomas Waldensis On Sacramentals vol.3 titles 3 and 4.In France the Latin tongue was used in the public reading of the Scriptures when Latin was not the vernacular for the French, as is collected from Albinus Alcuin, preceptor of Charlemagne, in his book on Divine Offices, and also from Amalarius Treviri, who flourished about the year 840, and wrote very accurately about the Ecclesiastical Offices, where he also shows that not only in the whole of France but also in the whole remainder of the West the divine offices were celebrated in the same way. But in France at that time the maternal tongue was not Latin, as is collected from the fact that 200 years before the age of Amalarius France had been taken over by the Franks, who came from the region of Franconia in Germany and settled among the Gauls in great numbers. Further the Franks had their own tongue as Jerome writes in his Life of Hilarion, where he speaks about someone possessed by a demon and says, “You saw from the mouth of a barbarian, who knew only French and Latin, pure Syriac words resounding.” Nay even before the Franks took possession of the Gauls the language of the Gauls was different from Latin, as Blessed Jerome indicates in the preface to his second book on Galatians.
Already in Germany at the same time only Latin was in use in the public reading of the Scriptures as is openly collected from Rabanus bishop of Mainz, who lived before 700. For when explaining, in his second book on the Education of Clerics, the order of the divine offices that was then kept in Germany, he plainly indicates that the divine Scriptures were wont to be read publicly only in Latin; and that the same practice was kept not only in Germany but in the remainder of the West he indicates in the same book ch.9 when he says, “This is the Catholic order of the divine celebrations, which is kept unchangeably by the universal Church.”
The same can be understood from Rupert of Deutz, who flourished in Germany before 400, and in bk.1 of Divine Offices very openly shows that in Germany, as in the rest of the Church, the divine Scriptures were accustomed to be read only in Latin in Church. But that Latin was never the common tongue of the Germans is most certain both from Jerome in his epistle to Sunia and Fretella and his Life of Hilarion, and also because the German language has no affinity with Latin such that it could have originated little by little by corruption from Latin, the way Italian, Spanish, and French originated.
In Bohemia and the bordering regions, where Latin was never the common tongue, the divine Scriptures were before the year 500 read in Latin in the Churches. For there is extant an epistle of Gregory VII, bk.7 of the epistles written by his own hand, to the Duke of Bohemia, in which he says that he has for just causes not wished to permit them to celebrate the divine office in Slavic as they had requested.
Lastly in Italy the divine Scriptures are, without any controversy, always read in Latin in Church. For the Roman order of the divine offices is the same now in substance as it was from the beginning of the Church. For Isidore on Ecclesiastical Offices bk.1 ch.15 affirms that the order of divine offices used by the Roman Church began with Blessed Peter. However it was afterwards expanded and reduced to better form by Gelasius I, as is plain from the decree distinct.15 of the Sacred Roman canon; and later again by Gregory I, as is plain from the book of Sacraments edited by him. Then also Gregory VII, because by the negligence of time the order had been somewhat distorted, restored it to its pristine form, as is plain from the can. ‘On the Day’, about consecration, dist.5, and Pope Pius V did the same in our days.
Therefore we understand from bringing together all these places that at this time the Roman Church celebrates the divine offices, not only in the same language, but also in the same order and number of readings and Psalms, as it celebrated them over 1,000 years ago in the time of Gelasius.
But that the use of the Latin tongue ceased long ago among the people in Italy there should be no doubt, since Radevicus, who flourished in the year 1170, writes in bk.2 of the Deeds of Frederick ch.40 that in the election of Pope Victor the people acclaimed the fact in Italian. Blessed Thomas too, who flourished 300 years ago, in his commentary on I Corinthians ch.14 testifies that in his day there was one language in Italy that the people used and another in which the Scriptures were read in Church. Therefore we have it that in the universal Church of Christ the practice was always kept that the sacred Scriptures were only publicly read in Latin and Greek, although these languages were not maternal or vernacular. What more efficacious argument than this one I do not see we can desire to repress the audacity of the innovators of this time.
But let a fourth argument be added taken from reason itself. For it is altogether fitting for preserving the unity of the Church that the public use of the Scriptures be in some very common language; for unless the public use of the Scriptures is in a common language, then, in the first place, the communication among the Churches will be taken away. For no one either learned or unlearned will frequent Churches save in his own fatherland, and further no General Councils will be able to take place, for not all Fathers who come to the Council will have the gift of tongues, and this is an a priori reason that the Apostles wrote almost everything in Greek, because then the Greek tongue was the most common of all, as Cicero testifies in his speech for Archias the Poet, “Greek,” he says, “is read in almost all nations, Latin is confined indeed to its narrow borders.”
Next however the Scriptures were translated into Latin because, as a little later the Roman Empire began to grow, the Greek language ceased to be common in the West and Latin began to be common, at least among the learned, in the whole of Italy, Gaul, Spain, Africa, and other regions. Since therefore even now there is no language common to the whole West save Latin, certainly the divine Scriptures should be read in Latin.
Fifth, if there is any reason that the Scriptures should be read in the vernacular in meetings of the faithful, that reason would most of all be that all should understand. But certainly the people would not understand the Prophets and Psalms and other things that are read in the Churches, even if these are read in the maternal tongue. For we who know Latin do not for that reason at once understand the Scriptures, unless we read or hear expositors of them. How therefore would unskilled men understand? Especially since the Scriptures are the more obscure the more they are translated into foreign languages.
What of the fact that the people might not only not gain fruit from the Scriptures but might even suffer damage? For they might very easily take occasion for erring, both in the doctrine of faith and in the precepts of life and morals; for it is from Scripture not understood that all heresies are born, as Hilary shows in his last book on Synods; which Luther also acknowledged, who called Scripture the book of heretics. And the same is proved by experience.
For Cassian reports, collat.10 chs.2-‐5, that the most absurd errors of the Anthropomorphists arose from sheer lack of skill, and Aeneas Sylvius in his book on the Origin of the Bohemians reports the crassest errors from the Thaboriti, the Orebati, and others, who read the Scriptures in their maternal tongue and did not understand them. The same thing happened to David Georgius, the most pestilential of all heretics, who knew no language save his own mother tongue, that is, Batavian, and yet gathered from the Scriptures that he was the Son of God and Messiah, as is plain from the book or letter about his errors that the Basilians produced.
Further, what if the uneducated populace were to hear read in their vernacular tongue these words from the Song of Songs, “Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth,” and, “his left hand under my head and his right hand will embrace me,” or this from Hosea, “Go and make thee sons of fornication,” and the adultery of David, the incest of Thamar, the lies of Judith, and how Joseph got his brothers drunk? Sarah, Leah, and Rachel gave their maids to their husbands as concubines, and there are many other deeds of those who are mentioned with great praise in the Scriptures. If the people read these things they would either be provoked to imitate this sort of thing or they would despise the Patriarchs, as the Manichees once did, or would think there are lies in the Scriptures. And since the people would see that there are so many apparent contradictions in the Scriptures, and would not be able to solve them, there would be danger that in the end they would believe nothing.
I heard from a man worthy of trust that when in England a Calvinist minister in a temple read in the common tongue Ecclesiastes ch.25, where many things are said about the malice of women, a certain woman stood up and said, “This is the word of God? No, rather the word of the Devil.”
Sixth, if it were necessary to read the sacred Scriptures publicly in the common tongue, it would also be necessary to change the translations for each individual age. For the common tongues change in large part from age to age, as Horace in his Poetic Art and as experience itself teaches. But so many changes of translations would not be done without very great danger and inconvenience. For suitable translators are not often found, and so many errors would be committed that could not afterwards be easily removed, since neither Popes nor Councils could judge so many languages.
Seventh, it altogether seems to be the case that the majesty of the divine offices requires a language more grave and venerable than are those we use commonly, if it can conveniently be done.
Especially since in the sacred mysteries there are many things that should be secret, as even the ancients teach, Dionysius Ecclesiastical Hierarchy first and last chapter, Origen homil.5 on Numbers, Basil on the Holy Spirit ch.27, Chrysostom homil.24 on Matthew, Gregory Dialogues bk.4 ch.56. Nor is the response of Chemnitz to the purpose, who tries to show that Latin is in no way a holier or more venerable language than the rest are. For we do not say it is holier, nor even graver, if we look at the words, but we say that for this fact it is graver and more reverent, because it is not vernacular.
To all these things let the testimonies be added of the good and very grave Fathers, the Greek Basil and the Latin Jerome, who indeed did not judge it expedient for all men without distinction to treat of the Scriptures, even if this could not at that time easily be prevented, since Greek and Latin were still vernacular for certain peoples. Theodoret, Hist. bk.4 ch.17, relates that when the Prefect of the Emperor’s kitchen had brought forward something or other from the Scriptures, he was censured by the great Basil and was told, “Your job is to think about food, not to cook divine dogmas.” What, I beseech, would St. Basil say now if he saw among the Lutherans, the Calvinists, and the Anabaptists drug sellers, cobblers, and other craftsmen treating of the sacred words even from pulpits? Jerome in his epistle to Paulina about the study of the Scriptures says, “Doctors promise what belongs to doctors, carpenters deal with carpentry, only the art of the Scriptures is the one that all everywhere claim for themselves. Learned and unlearned, we all write poems everywhere, here a garrulous old woman, there a delirious old man, here a verbose sophist, there everyone; they presume, mangle, teach before they have learnt.”
These complaints of Jerome now most of all have place in the whole of Germany and France. For all artisans, not only men but also women, have the Scriptures in their hands, and from reading them add to their lack of skill unteachableness and arrogance. For because they can recite the words of the Apostle and quote books and chapters, they think they know everything, and do not in any way let themselves be taught. See John Cochleus in his book on the Life and Acts of Luther, for the year 1522.