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Roman Catholic Theology and Biblical Studies

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An Introduction to the Catholic Public Domain Version

The Catholic Public Domain Version of the Sacred Bible is a new translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible made using the Challoner revision of the Douay-Rheims version as a guide. The CPDV is in the process of being translated; the estimated date of completion is early 2009. It is not merely an update of the Douay-Rheims. It has perhaps as many differences from the Douay-Rheims, as it has similarities to it. However, the CPDV is also not a translation that is independent of other English translations. The CPDV draws on the eloquence and insight of the Challoner Douay-Rheims, so that this new version can present to the English reader both freshness and familiarity.

The Latin Source Text

The CPDV is being translated from a particular version of the Latin Vulgate Bible, a version developed in the late 16th century, under the direction and with the approval of Pope Sixtus V and Pope Clement VIII. This version is often referred to as the Sixtus V and Clement VIII Edition, or simply as the Clementine Vulgate. This translator relied mainly on the 1914 Hetzenauer edition of the Clementine Vulgate, with repeated reference also to the 1861 Vercellone edition and the 1885 Desclée edition, as well as the Leander van Ess version of the Latin Vulgate New Testament (which compares the 1590, 1592, 1593, and 1598 editions of the Sixtus V and Clement VIII Vulgate). A new edition of the Clementine Vulgate, edited by M. Tweedale, 2005 (but available as a work in progress in 2004) was very helpful. The Tweedale edition, which is in electronic form, was compared with the printed text of the 1914 Hetzenauer, in order to make an online version of the Hetzenauer edition, which itself was then used by the translator to make a new edition of the Clementine Vulgate (in progress: 2009 edition). The Neo-Vulgate (Nova Vulgata) was occasionally consulted as an additional point of reference for the Latin text, but it was not used as a source text.

The Clementine Latin Vulgate Bible was chosen as the source text for a number of reasons.

First, the Sixtus V and Clement VIII editions were based on the scholarly study of literally thousands of manuscripts from the Latin Scriptural tradition, some quite ancient. The Sixtus V and Clement VIII editions of the Vulgate draw upon centuries of scholarship and tradition, which find their roots not only in the Biblical work of Saint Jerome, but also in the Latin texts used from the earliest days of the Christian Church.

Second, the fullness of truth found in Sacred Scripture is best expressed by maintaining separate, even if disparate, Scriptural traditions. No one version or language can encompass all the fullness of meaning found in written Divine Revelation. The Clementine Vulgate maintains an important separate Scriptural tradition of the Latin texts, independent of the Hebrew and Greek texts. Unfortunately, most modern versions of the Bible rely mainly on the Hebrew and Greek texts, to such an extent that separate Scriptural traditions are being eroded. This attempt to merge all extant Biblical texts into one definitive version is a common, well-intentioned, but very misguided approach to Bible translation. No one translation can be definitive in every chapter and verse, and no one translation can comprehend and explicitly express every truth found in written Divine Revelation. Nor should any translation attempt to do so. Each translation should attempt to accurately express one or more source texts, while still maintaining and continuing the separate Scriptural traditions that have been handed down to us since ancient times.

Third, the Clementine Vulgate has undergone centuries of scholarship and critical review. The members of the Church have prayed and meditated from the Latin texts from the Clementine Vulgate for several centuries. Some other source texts have not undergone this essential use and review by the faithful. The faithful have also long used translations that are based on or influenced by the Clementine Vulgate. For these reasons, the Clementine Latin Vulgate version of the Bible makes an excellent source text for a new translation of the Bible into modern English.

Fourth, the Clementine Vulgate was the basis for the Challoner revision, which is used as a guide in the CPDV translation. The Challoner revision clearly used a text nearly identical to the Clementine Vulgate. The original Douay-Rheims version also seems to have relied on a text close to the Clementine Vulgate text. Since the Challoner Douay-Rheims version was used as a guide in this translation, it was only reasonable to use the same source text used by Challoner et al.

Fifth, the Neo-Vulgate (Nova Vulgata), which is currently the official Latin text chosen by the Vatican, is not an acceptable source text. It is, itself, both a loose translation into Latin from Hebrew and Greek source texts, and a loose paraphrase of Latin source texts. It is not a representation or continuation of the Latin Scriptural tradition. In many places, where the Latin Scriptural tradition varies from the Hebrew and the Greek, the Neo-Vulgate prefers the Hebrew or Greek variation. The Neo-Vulgate is a Latin version of Scripture that departs from the Latin Scriptural tradition. The Neo-Vulgate is an acceptable paraphrase version for use by the faithful, just as there are many Bible versions that loosely translate the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts into various languages. But the Neo-Vulgate itself is not useful as a source text, because it is more a paraphrase of the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin texts, and less a continuation of the Latin texts used by the Church from the beginning. Paraphrase translations in any language are acceptable for end-use, but not as the basis for a new translation.

The English Guide Text

The Challoner revision of the Douay-Rheims version was used as a guide in this translation. The Douay-Rheims version, particularly the Challoner revision, has been well-accepted in the Catholic Church for a long time. It remains, even today, one of the better English language versions of the Bible.

Using the Challoner Douay-Rheims version as an English guide text has distinct advantages over a translation done from the Latin without a guide. A one-person translation has both advantages and disadvantages. One of the possible disadvantages is that the translation might become too eclectic, or too far from the general understanding of Scripture found in the rest of the Church. The use of the well-received and long-accepted Douay-Rheims version prevents this one-person translation, the CPDV, from straying too far from the path.

The use of the Challoner Douay-Rheims also serves to contribute additional eloquence and insight to the CPDV. One can only expect so much eloquence and insight from any one person. The use of the Challoner Douay-Rheims allowed this translator to achieve a much more eloquent and insightful translation text than would otherwise have been possible.

The use of the Challoner version as a guide text allowed the translation process to proceed at a faster pace than would otherwise be practical. (The estimated time required for the entire translation process is about 5 years.) Hopefully, any similarities between the CPDV and the Douay-Rheims will also speed the acceptance of this new version.

Other English translations of the Bible were also occasionally consulted, including the original Douay-Rheims and the Wycliffe translation (both based on the Latin), the New Jerusalem Bible (Saints’ Devotional Edition), the Jerusalem Bible (Reader’s Edition), the Revised Standard Version (Catholic Edition), and the New American Bible. Some reference was made, on occasion, to Tyndale, to the King James Version, as well as to some of the more modern Protestant translations of the Bible.

Features That Recommend This Version

The Catholic Public Domain Version has certain advantages in comparison with other English language translations of the Bible.

1) The CPDV is a Roman Catholic translation. Most of the many English language versions of the Bible available today are Protestant versions. These translations tend to reflect a Protestant theology, in opposition to Catholic theology. This specifically Roman Catholic translation makes the Roman Catholic understanding of the text more easily accessible to the Catholic reader.

2) The CPDV is written in modern English. Some Catholic versions of the Bible, such as the Douay-Rheims version, are good translations, but they are difficult to understand because the English language has changed through the centuries. Even a translation like the Revised Standard Version is showing its age in terms of the English language. This is partly because the RSV is a revision of several older versions (including the American Standard Version and the King James Version) with more archaic language.

3) The CPDV is a translation based on the Latin Scriptural tradition. Since the publication of the Encyclical of Pope Pius XII, Divino Afflante Spiritu, Roman Catholic scholars have rightly studied and translated the ancient Hebrew and Greek texts with renewed interest. However, that document was never intended to cause the near total abandonment of the Latin Vulgate seen among Bible translators today. In fact, that encyclical reiterated the authoritative declaration of the Council of Trent, giving the Latin texts a special place in the Scriptural life of the Church. The CPDV attempts to continue this separate Latin Scriptural tradition, without in any way detracting from other essential Scriptural traditions based on Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and other languages.

Certainly, these separate Scriptural traditions can and should inform one another, but they should not be merged or averaged into one supposedly definitive version of the Bible, as if there could ever be only one Bible version: ‘these exact letters in this exact order in only one language.’ Many have tried, but all have failed, to bring forth a definitive version of the Bible, for such is not the will of God.

4) The CPDV carefully avoids so-called inclusive language. (Inclusive or gender-neutral language deliberately alters or obscures the gender denoted by various words or phrases in the source text, so that the translation text has a clearly different meaning.) Vatican norms for Bible translation reject this inclusive language approach. The CPDV rejects inclusive language, instead translating each noun that refers to human persons in accordance with the gender and number of the source text. The word meaning ‘sons’ is translated as ‘sons’; the word meaning ‘brothers’ is translated as ‘brothers’; and so on.

5) The CPDV rejects the idea that scholarship should take precedence over faith. Some scholars do not think that the Old Testament should be translated or interpreted in the light of the New Testament, or even that the whole Bible should be translated or interpreted in the light of Faith. On the contrary, the CPDV seeks to clarify the Christian and specifically Roman Catholic meanings found throughout the entire Bible.

6) The CPDV attempts to conform to the Norms for the Translation of Biblical Texts for Use in the Liturgy, as promulgated by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when that office was under the leadership of then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI). The CPDV is intended to be used in study, personal prayer and reflection, Scriptural interpretation and commentary, as well as in liturgical services. Note, however, that the CPDV does prefer the Clementine Vulgate over the Neo-Vulgate, in contradiction to the above mentioned norms.

7) The CPDV is in the public domain. One advantage of a public domain version is that the text can be continually updated and improved. Another advantage is that even small publishing houses can publish a Catholic version of the Bible, without permissions or royalty payments. Another advantage is that this version can be freely distributed in electronic form, since it is free from copyright restrictions. Another advantage is that it can become the basis for numerous additional versions of the Bible, through translation into other languages, or through the updating and revision of this version. The Bible should always be free from copyright and other restrictions. One should not need permission to quote from a particular version of the Bible.

Literal versus Paraphrase

Translations of the Bible can generally be placed somewhere along a continuum from a stricter, more literal translation to a looser, more paraphrased translation.

A literal or formal equivalency translation tries to provide a translation text (e.g. English) that is as similar as possible to the source text (e.g. Latin, or Hebrew, or Greek, or Aramaic). Taking this approach to an extreme would result in an English translation that would be nearly incomprehensible; such a translation would then cease to retain the charism of infallibility generally found in any Bible. Most literal translations are fairly literal, but not extremely literal. An ideal literal translation will be an accurate and eloquent representation of the source text, not only in its meaning, but also in the way that it expresses that meaning; it would then retain the many different levels of meaning which can be present in a text written by the inspiration of God. In the practical case, though, a literal translation offers a trade-off. The text is a more accurate representation of the source text, but, as a result, it is less eloquent, and even somewhat awkward sounding, as compared to a paraphrased translation.

A paraphrase or dynamic equivalency translation tries to provide a translation text (e.g. English) that is as similar as possible to a proper understanding of the source text. Taking this approach to an extreme would result in an English translation that was merely a paraphrase of the translator’s limited understanding of the text, and such a translation would then cease to retain the charism of infallibility generally found in any Bible. An ideal paraphrase translation would accurately express the full meaning of the source text, in an eloquent manner that is natural to the language used in translation. In the practical case, though, a paraphrase translation offers a trade-off. The text is approachable and easily understood, perhaps even eloquent, but some of the possible levels of meaning in the source text are obscured; a paraphrase is a less accurate representation of the source text.

In the Church on earth, both types of translations are needed. A paraphrase translation is needed for those readers of the Bible who are new to the text, or who do not often read it, or who have limited academic abilities. Such translations are easy to approach and understand. The eloquence of paraphrase translations makes these fitting for use in liturgical services and in prayer groups. But a more literal translation is needed for those who wish to dig deeper into the multiple levels of meaning found in the Bible, and who are willing to study a text more closely. A good literal translation should also retain sufficient eloquence and understandability for use in liturgical services and prayer groups.

The CPDV of the Bible is a fairly literal translation, which provides a greater accuracy in its representation of the source text (the Latin Clementine Vulgate), but accepts the trade-off of being less eloquent in English. The CPDV is less literal than the Challoner Douay-Rheims, the original Douay-Rheims, and the Wycliffe versions, but it is also more literal than the Revised Standard Version (Catholic Edition) and the New American Bible, and much more literal than the Jerusalem Bible and New Jerusalem Bible.

One-person Translations versus Group Translations

The CPDV is a one-person translation. This approach has advantages and disadvantages over the group or committee approach to translation.

Committee Translations

Suppose that you poll a group of 100 citizens on an issue of political policy. You will likely get a particular majority view, along with at least several minority views. But if you poll a different set of 100 citizens on the same issue, you will likely find the same majority view. In fact, if you continue to poll groups of 100 citizens, you may eventually find a group with a different majority view, but you will probably never find, as the view of the majority, each and every reasonable, insightful view. Some good insights are found within minority opinions on any subject, which never make their way into the majority. And the same is true of Biblical scholars.

If you have a group of 100 Biblical scholars deciding on the wording of translations, that group will tend to arrive at translation decisions that are, more or less, the majority view. The process is not voting or polling per se, because there are generally multiple committees that look at the same text, but the majority opinion tends to rise to the top. If you then take a separate group of 100 Bible translators, and another, and another, each will tend to arrive at very much the same conclusions about the wording of the translation. There are numerous minority opinions within any group of Biblical scholars, but these have little influence over the final text of the translation. The problem is accentuated if the different groups of scholars are from the same culture and are translating into the same language. So, if several groups are translating into English, and these scholars are all from Western culture, the versions are even more alike. This fact can be readily seen by comparing several different translations of the Bible. They tend to be very similar. Compare eight different versions, and you will generally find less than eight significant differences for any verse.

Another problem is that there is often a hierarchy to the translation committees. The translators who are most capable, and who do most of the translation work, have no say at all over what the final editing committee does. Some members of the final editing committee might not even be experienced translators. Some translators have expressed dismay over dramatic changes to the text by an editing committee, changes not supported by most of the translators. So, while the democratic process of the committee approach has one set of disadvantages, the hierarchical nature of the process adds a different set of problems.

Another problem is that group translations reflect the heresies found within that group. When translators approach the Bible as if it were neither infallible, nor divinely-inspired, this heresy has its effect on the translation. This particular heresy is widespread among Biblical scholars, although it is strongly opposed by devout Catholics, many Evangelicals, and other devout Protestants. One has only to read the footnotes and the commentary accompanying many Bible editions to see whether these scholars treat the Bible as the Word of God, or merely as the words of men.

Another problem is that the group process tends to be structured according to modern secular society’s idea of how a group of persons should work on a problem. Boards of directors, committees, sub-committees, chair persons, appointees, voting, and the accompanying hierarchy all tend to be structured in a manner similar to the way that a corporation or a group of politician would structure a group. This is not the best way to organize a group of scholars working on a Bible translation.

The advantage of a group or committee approach to translation is that eloquence and insight is multiplied, being drawn from many contributors. This advantage assumes that the translators and editors are devout Christians who believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible. When the group is dominated by those who reject the infallibility and divine inspiration of the Bible, translation problems are multiplied.

Group translations are less likely to be eclectic or to have unusual approaches or understandings of particular passages. They are also more likely to be, in style, dull and ordinary, because anything unusual or outstanding tends to be reduced to mediocrity by the democratic process of these committees.

Group translations can, at their best, incorporate the collective wisdom and insight of many scholars, including older scholars with a more traditional understanding of the text, and newer scholars who may offer a fresh approach. A group translation is potentially more eloquent than the translation of an individual, because the group ought to be able to continually improve the text by contributing more man-hours of prayerful effort than any individual could offer.

Many of the books of the Bible were group efforts. The book of Genesis is a good example of a text that undoubtedly went through a long process involving many different authors and editors. The Gospel of John was clearly completed by one or more of John’s disciples, making this Gospel also a group effort. Therefore, it can never be said that individual translations are necessarily better, or that group translations are inherently flawed.

However, most of the group translations of the past 50 years or so have been influenced by secular society (e.g. inclusive language) and have suffered from the collective sins of modern Biblical scholars, many of whom have a limited or non-existent belief in the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible. A group translation tends to be influenced by whatever trends in thought, good or bad, are prevalent among the scholars of the day. Therefore, I personally have a rather negative view of the group translation process; but I understand that a group of holy scholars ought to be able to excel far beyond the abilities of any one translator or scholar.

Women and Bible Translations

“Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent.” (1 Tim 2:11-12)

“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.... what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord.” (1 Cor 14:33-35, 37)

Modern committee translations make the mistake of giving women roles that are contrary to the will of God. Women are given leadership roles over men as board members, chairpersons, and the like, and women are included among the translators and scholars who work on the translation, because modern secular society requires women to have the same roles as men.

To the contrary, in ancient times, women were not Biblical scholars or translators, nor can the writing of any book of the Bible be reasonably attributed to any woman. God did not give us any book of the Bible through a woman author, nor does God give any woman a role as Bible translator or editor, or as a leader over the men who translate and edit the Sacred Scriptures.

Since the Bible itself teaches that women should be silent, should not have a role of teaching, or authority, or leadership over men, and that they should be subordinate, how is it that nearly every modern group translation of the Bible includes women as translators, editors, and in various leadership roles? It is a sinful irony that Bible translation occurs in a manner that offends against the very teachings of the Bible.

Single Translator Problems

A one person translation avoids the inherent problems of translation by democracy, or translation by committee. It has the advantage of allowing less common insights to be clearly expressed. But it also has its disadvantages.

A one person translation tends to be easier to accomplish for a fairly literal translation, than for a paraphrase translation. If the translation were to be a paraphrase translation, errors in understanding the text would be more likely. Fairly literal translations tend to be less eloquent.

A one person translation has a tendency to be more eclectic in its understanding and presentation of the text. The use of the Challoner version as a guide helps the CPDV avoid this problem, to some extent.

A group of Biblical scholars will naturally have more knowledge on which to draw when translating, and they can more easily consult numerous texts and ancient manuscripts (because they have a variety of experts available to them). A one person translation needs to keep to one or only a few source texts, otherwise the amount of work would be too much for one person.

There is the danger that a one person translation might become owned by that person and used to make a profit. But the CPDV is public domain, so that sheer possibility is avoided.

Some single person translations may reflect the personal view of the Faith of the translator, in addition or even in opposition to the wider view of the community of believers. Translators should make use of the insights of the Catholic Faith into the Scriptures when translating, as well as the translator’s own insights. But a careful balance must be struck that puts the understanding of the Church entirely above the understanding of the translator. If the text were to say, ‘translators are bad,’ then the translation should say, ‘translators are bad,’ it should not say, ‘translators are not so bad,’ or ‘translators are imperfect,’ or the like. On the other hand, if the translator is Roman Catholic, the translation should reflect the general Roman Catholic understanding of the text, and even the translator’s own unique Roman Catholic insights into the text: but without, in either case, adding to, subtracting from, or changing any of the meanings in the text. This is not a simple or easy task, but a group process can have much the same difficulty, on a larger scale.

Fortunately, there is no such thing as a definitive translation of the Bible. So a one person translation merely contributes to the sum total of all translations, versions, editions, and manuscripts. It should not ever become the be-all and end-all of Bible translations.

Additional References

In addition to the above mentioned versions of Scripture, a number of electronic and printed resources were used in the process of translating and editing this version of Scripture. Printed resources included Cassell’s Latin Dictionary (Wiley Publishing, New York, NY, 1968) and 501 Latin Verbs (Baron’s Educational Series, 1995). Electronic resources included the online thesaurus and dictionary at Reference.com (http://thesaurus.reference.com, http://dictionary.reference.com), a Latin English online dictionary called “Words by William Whitaker” on the Notre Dame web site (http://catholic.archives.nd.edu/cgi-bin/words.exe) as well as the downloaded program of the same name, my own site SacredBible.org with its online editions of the Clementine Vulgate, and the Wesley Center for Applied Theology for its online Wycliffe version of the Bible (http://wesley.nnu.edu/biblical_studies) and on rare occasion its online Tyndale version (http://wesley.nnu.edu/biblical_studies/tyndale/index.htm). Occasional use was also made of the site New Advent (http://www.newadvent.org/) for its online Catholic Encyclopedia, which was useful for looking up names of persons and places. The Google search engine was sometimes used to find resources or to check for modern-day usage of a possible phrasing in the English translation.

Translator and Editor

As noted above, the CPDV is a one person translation by Ronald L. Conte Jr. I am the sole translator and editor of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible. This translation was made under God’s merciful Providence and Grace. However, no one but God assisted me in this work of translating and editing the CPDV. And so I alone am to blame for any of the faults of this translation. When I read other translations of the Bible into English, I find translation errors. In my own version, I cannot find the errors of translation that I know must be present. But if I were to hand the version over to someone else to proof-read or edit, their changes would also contain some errors. So I will not do so. I will keep this as a one person translation, but hand it over to the public domain, so that God’s Providence and Grace can continue to improve this work.

A Public Domain Version

Now I realize that by placing this version in the public domain, I am opening it up to the possibility that it will be badly altered by some individual or group wishing to make their mark on the Bible. Let the reader beware! But this translation can only thrive by opening it up to improvement and continued development as Time passes. Most translations eventually fail, and fall out of usage, because the language moves on and the translation stays the same. But a public domain translation can be continuously updated, so that it becomes no less obsolete than the ancient texts themselves. However, even if other editions or versions arise from this original edition, I intend to keep the Catholic Public Domain Version, in its original edition, available as a reference.

A Vatican Approved Edition ?

I don’t know if this will ever happen, but I would like to see a Vatican approved edition (VAE) of the CPDV. Currently, the Holy See has little control or influence over the English language translations of the Bible. If the Holy See were to adopt the CPDV, and alter it as the Cardinals and the Pope see fit, they could have a version of the Bible in English that the Holy See would control. It is to the Magisterium of the Church that the truths of Tradition and Scripture are entrusted. Yet the Holy See has not had significant influence or control over any Bible version or translation since Popes Sixtus V and Clement VIII put together the Clementine Vulgate version in Latin in the late 1500’s.

Having a Bible version controlled by the Holy See would be a significant advantage over the current situation, where the liberal USCCB controls the NAB version, and Protestant groups control numerous other versions (even the RSV Catholic Edition), and secular for-profit corporations own the copyright on the Jerusalem and New Jerusalem Bibles.

But the Church is about to pass through a time of great suffering. And the City of the Vatican will be destroyed in July of 2013. So it may be some time before the Holy See has Bible versions in various languages over which it has the primary responsibility for editing and maintaining.


by Ronald L. Conte Jr.
January 17, 2006


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