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The Douai Bible, also known as the Rheims-Douai Bible or Douay-Rheims Bible, is a Roman Catholic translation of the Holy Bible from the Latin Vulgate into English. As such it is a translation of a translation of the Bible. However, all translations of the Bible depend upon Latin for, at least, consultation and, hence, can also be considered, to some extent, a translation of a translation.
The English exiles for religious causes were not all of one kind or of one faith. There were Roman Catholic refugees on the Continent as well as Puritan, and from the one, as from the other, there proceeded an English version of the Bible. The center of the English Roman Catholics was the English College at Douai, the foundation (in 1568) of William Allen, formerly of Queen's College, Oxford, and subsequently cardinal; and it was from this college that a new version of the Bible emanated which was intended to serve as a counterblast to the Protestant versions, with which England was now flooded.
The first instalment of it appeared in 1582, during a temporary migration of the college to Rheims. This was the New Testament, the work mainly of Gregory Martin, formerly Fellow of St. John's College, Oxford, with the assistance of a small band of scholars from the same university. The Old Testament is stated to have been ready at the same time, but for want of funds it could not be printed until 1609, after the college had returned to Douai, when it appeared just in time to be of some use to the preparers of King James' version.
The Douay-Rheims is based on the work of Saint Jerome (345-420) who translated the Septuagint (the LXX) and Hebrew texts into a Latin version of the Bible which is known as the Vulgate, the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic scholars did not concern themselves with the Hebrew and Greek originals, but translated from the Latin Vulgate, following it with a close fidelity which is not infrequently fatal, not merely to the style, but even to the sense in English. The following short passage (Ephesians 3:6-12), taken almost at random, is a fair example of the Latinization of their style.
- The Gentils to be coheires and concorporat and comparticipant of his promis in Christ Jesus by the Gospel: whereof I am made a minister according to the gift of the grace of God, which is given me according to the operation of his power. To me the least of al the sainctes is given this grace, among the Gentils to evangelize the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to illuminate al men what is the dispensation of the sacrament hidden from worldes in God, who created al things; that the manifold wisedom of God may be notified to the Princes and Potestats in the celestials by the Church, according to the prefinition of worldes, which he made in Christ Jesus our Lord. In whom we have affiance and accesse in confidence, by the faith of him.
The translation, being prepared with a definite polemical purpose, as were Protestant versions of the Bible, was naturally equipped with notes of a controversial character, and with a preface in which the object and method of the work were explained. It had, however, as a whole, little success. The Old Testament was reprinted only once in the course of a century, and the New Testament not much oftener. In England the greater part of its circulation was due to the action of a vehement adversary, William Fulke , who, in order to expose its perceived errors, printed the Rheims New Testament in parallel columns with the Protestant Bishops' version of 1572, and the Rheims annotations with his own refutations of them; and this work had a considerable vogue among Protestant Reformers.
Regarded from the point of view of scholarship, the Rheims and Douai Bible is of no importance, but it needs mention in the history of the English Bible, because it is one of the versions of which King James' translators consulted, especially for the New Testament. Though the Authorized Version is indeed distinguished by the strongly English (as distinct from Latin) character of its vocabulary, of the Latin words which are used (and used effectively: propitiation Romans 3:25, concupiscence Romans 7:8, emulation Romans 11:14), many were derived from the Bible of Rheims and Douai. Other words adopted from Latin were introduced into the English language directly by the Douai-Rheims Bible, and eventually became commonplace in both ecclesiastical and secular vocabularies: "acquisition," "adulterate," "advent," "allegory," "verity," "character," "cooperate," "prescience," "resuscitate," "victim," and, ironically, "evangelize."
The Douai-Rheims Bible, however, achieved little currency even among English speaking Roman Catholics until it was substantially revised between 1749 and 1752 by Richard Challoner, an English bishop, formally appointed to the deserted see of Debra. Challoner's revisions borrowed heavily from the poetic tones and felicitous phrasings of the King James Version, (himself being a convert from Protestantism, and thus familiar with its style) whose translators had borrowed terms from the original Rheims NT of 1582. Challoner drastically reduced the original Douai Bible's stylistic infelicities and close adherance to Latinate vocabulary and idiom, turning the version into something much more intelligible to English-speaking Roman Catholics, who by this time were familiar, (if only from popular proverbs and turns of phrase,) with the phrasing of the King James translation. This Bible remained the Bible of the majority of English-speaking Roman Catholics well into the 20th century, when it began to be supplanted by translations into contemporary English; it is still the Bible of choice (usually the Challoner's edition/revision) of traditional Catholics today, along with the Vulgate. The same passage of Ephesians in Challoner's revision gives a hint of the thorough stylistic editing he did of the text:
- That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs and of the same body: and copartners of his promise in Christ Jesus, by the gospel, of which I am made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God, which is given to me according to the operation of his power. To me, the least of all the saints, is given this grace, to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ: and to enlighten all men, that they may see what is the dispensation of the mystery which hath been hidden from eternity in God who created all things: that the manifold wisdom of God may be made known to the principalities and powers in heavenly places through the church, according to the eternal purpose which he made in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.
For comparison, the same passage of Ephesians in the King James Bible:
- That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.
- Much of the above text was taken from the article "English Versions" by Sir Frederic G. Kenyon in the Dictionary of the Bible edited by James Hastings (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1909).
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