Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Calvin, Trent, and the Vulgate: Responding to Barrett Turner
06/25/2011 - Tur8infanOne of the Reformed criticisms of Rome is that she has placed herself above Scripture in various ways. She claims that her interpretation of Scripture is authentic and unchallengeable, that her dogmatic teachings (even when they are not interpretations of Scripture) are infallible and irreformable, and she claims that the Old Latin Vulgate embodies both the authentic canon and the authentic text.
It is this last claim that has recently received some attention. Barrett Turner, someone who left the church to join the Roman communion, has posted an item at the "Called to [Roman] Communion" titled: "Calvin, Trent, and the Vulgate: Misinterpreting the Fourth Session."
The basic outline of Mr. Turner's article is that (1) there is a myth about what Trent did with respect to the Vulgate, (2) that Calvin is a (or perhaps the) perpetrator of that myth, and (3) that the myth is false.
In the rather lengthy post below, I will attempt to first identify what Trent actually said about the Vulgate. Then I will present Calvin's comments on Trent's decrees. After that, I will carefully scrutinize the charges made against Calvin by Mr. Turner. I will then provide an excerpt from a history of the Council of Trent to help frame the historical question. I will then conclude by providing some evidence in support of Calvin from the very mouths of notable Roman advocates of Trent.
There is a lot of narrative within the post relating to Mr. Turner's own life story. This is probably quite important to him, but - of course - has nothing to do with the truth or falsity of his claims about Calvin, Trent, and the Vulgate. I'll pass over that de-conversion story material in relative silence, omitting it from my discussion as much as possible.
I. What Did Trent Do Regarding the Vulgate?
Trent made the Vulgate, not the Greek and Hebrew originals, the standard. We can see this in at least two ways:
1) Session Four, Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures:
But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema.2) Session Four, Decree Concerning the Edition, and the Use, of the Sacred Books
Moreover, the same sacred and holy Synod,--considering that no small utility may accrue to the Church of God, if it be made known which out of all the Latin editions, now in circulation, of the sacred books, is to be held as authentic,--ordains and declares, that the said old and vulgate edition, which, by the lengthened usage of so many years, has been approved of in the Church, be, in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions, held as authentic; and that no one is to dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever.What we can gather from these two items is that the Vulgate was viewed as the standard both for the canon and for the text. Moreover, both the canon of the Vulgate and the text of the Vulgate were not to be challenged. After all, you could not reject the text of the Vulgate "under any pretext whatever."
... (this Synod) ordains and decrees, that, henceforth, the sacred Scripture, and especially the said old and vulgate edition, be printed in the most correct manner possible; and that it shall not be lawful for any one to print, or cause to be printed, any books whatever, on sacred matters, without the name of the author; nor to sell them in future, or even to keep them, unless they shall have been first examined, and approved of, by the Ordinary; under pain of the anathema and fine imposed in a canon of the last Council of Lateran ...
II. What did Calvin Say about the Vulgate and Trent?
Calvin's famous "Antidote to the Council of Trent" (written November 21, 1547) contains a section responding to the Fourth Session (from which the above excerpts were taken).
Calvin summarizes the fourth session this way:
There are four heads: First, they ordain that in doctrine we are not to stand on Scripture alone, but also on things handed down by tradition. Secondly, in forming a catalogue of Scripture, they mark all the books with the same chalk, and insist on placing the Apocrypha in the same rank with the others. Thirdly, repudiating all other versions whatsoever, they retain the Vulgate only, and order it to be authentic. Lastly, in all passages either dark or doubtful, they claim the right of interpretation without challenge.His response on the third part, is a little long, but should be provided in full as context:
In condemning all translations except the Vulgate, as the error is more gross, so the edict is more barbarous. The sacred oracles of God were delivered by Moses and the Prophets in Hebrew, and by the Apostles in Greek. That no corner of the world might be left destitute of so great a treasure, the gift of interpretation was added. It came to pass — I know not by what means, but certainly neither by judgment nor right selection — that of the different versions, one became the favourite of the unlearned, or those at least who, not possessing any knowledge of languages, desired some kind of help to their ignorance. Those, on the other hand, who are acquainted with the languages perceive that this version teems with innumerable errors; and this they make manifest by the clearest evidence. On the other hand, the Fathers of Trent contend, that although the learned thus draw the pure liquor from the very fountain, and convict the infallible Vulgate of falsehood, they are not to be listened to. No man possessed of common sense ever presumed to deprive the Church of God of the benefit of learning. The ancients, though unacquainted with the languages, especially with Hebrew, always candidly acknowledge that nothing is better than to consult the original, in order to obtain the true and genuine meaning. I will go further. There is no man of ordinary talent who, on comparing the Vulgate version with some others, does not easily see that many things which were improperly rendered by it are in these happily restored. The Council, however, insists that we shall shut our eyes against the light that we may spontaneously go astray....
Who could have imagined they would be so senseless as thus boldly to despise the judgments of good men, and hesitate not to make themselves odious and detestable to all? Those who were aware that they had nothing useful in view, were yet persuaded that they would make some show of it to the world, and assign to some of their sworn adherents the task of executing a new version. In this instance, however, they use no deceit. They not only order us to be contented with a most defective translation, but insist on our worshipping it, just as if it had come down from heaven; and while the blemishes are conspicuous to all, they prohibit us from desiring any improvement. Behold the men on whose judgment the renovation of the Church depends!
It were tedious beyond measure to mark the passages erroneously and absurdly rendered. So far is there from being an entire page, that there are scarcely three continuous verses without some noted blunder. As a specimen, let the Book of Psalms suffice, in which I will touch on a few examples in passing, more to give my readers a sample which may dispose them to ascertain for themselves, than to give full information. In the second Psalm is the well-known exhortation, “Kiss the Son.” For this the Vulgate has, “Lay hold of discipline!” There is no resemblance. While the former is clearly correct, why should the latter be held the more authentic? The Vulgate interpreter has,
“Sons of man, how long will you with a heavy heart?” while the Hebrew has nothing like this, but, “How long will ye turn my glory into shame?” (Psalm 4:3.)
Where David complains that his sap was turned into the drought of summer, (Psalm 32:4,) the translator has substituted, “I am turned in my sorrow till the thorn is fixed.” Again, in another verse, “In their mouths is bit and bridle to prevent them from approaching thee;” but the translator says, “With hook and rein curb the jaws of those who do not draw near unto thee.” And what are we to understand by “lungs filled with illusions,” in Psalm 38?
But I act imprudently in entering a boundless forest; I will therefore confine myself to a single Psalm. It will be the sixty-eighth. There David, among the other praises of God, mentions this also, that he makes the single to dwell in a house, i.e., enriches the solitary and childless with a family. The translator substitutes, that he makes them “of one manner.” The next words are, “He places the rebellious in a dry parched place.” For this the translator has, “In like manner those who exasperate; who dwell in the tombs.” Afterward, where the meaning is perfectly obvious in the words of David, the translator makes a riddle fit to puzzle an OEdipus. David says, “The kings of armies have fled, have fled, and the dwellers of the house, i.e., the women who remained at home, have divided the spoil.” The translator says, “The king, the virtue of the beloved, beloved, and houses of appearance, have divided the spoil.” A little further on, “Though ye have slept among the pots;” translator, “among the clergy!” “To look up to the piled mountains” he substitutes for, “To envy the fertile mountains.” Where the Hebrew original has, “Even the rebellious, that God the Lord may dwell,” the translator has, “Even those not believing that God the Lord dwells.” Again, when the literal meaning is, “I will bring back from Bashan, I will bring back from the depths of the sea,” the translator gives the very opposite, “I will turn from Bashan, I will turn into the depth of the sea.” Again, “There is little Benjamin their ruler.” The translator (I know not what he was thinking of) says, “In excess of mind.” I have gone over the half of the Psalm or rather more. What monstrosities do my readers already perceive!
And yet, to confess the truth, there is an excuse for the Latin translator, who gave the meaning of the Greek version as exactly as he could. But who can tolerate those blunderers, who would rob the Church of the gift of interpretation, and thus, as it were, close up the entrance, that none might have access to the pure meaning of David? Add, that they not only prefer the ignorance and blunders of their interpreters to the true renderings of others, but there is no hallucination, however gross, to which they will not give the power of a divine oracle. There is an example of this in Psalm 132. The Lord there promises that he will bless the food of his people. Some luscious priestling, reading the c and t as one letter, makes the word vidum; but as there is no such word, the insertion of a letter introduced a new reading, which prevails throughout the Papacy, and hence there is no church in Italy, France, Spain, and Germany, in which they do not with loud voice bawl out, “His widow blessing, I will bless.” And so attentive and clear-sighted are they, that none of them has observed the ridiculous corruption. But it is not strange that, when they rob us of the word for bread, they introduce the mention of widowhood, since the object on which they are wholly bent is cruelly to bereave souls of the bread of heavenly life. What! are they not ashamed to make the Vulgate version of the New Testament authoritative, while the writings of Valla, Faber, and Erasmus, which are in everybody’s hands, demonstrate with the finger, even to children, that it is vitiated in innumerable places? In the first chapter of the Romans the translator calls Christ “the predestinated Son of God.” Those not acquainted with Greek are at a loss to explain this term, because, properly speaking, only things which do not yet exist are predestinated; whereas Christ is the eternal Son of God. There is no difficulty in the Greek word, which means “declared.” I have given one example. It were needless labor to give others. In one word, were this edict of the Council sanctioned, the simple effect would be, that the Fathers of Trent would make the world look with their eyes open, and yet not see the light presented to them.
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Called to Communion, the Vulgate, and Calvin
06/23/2011 - James SwanOne of the latest blog entries from Called to Communion (CTC) is entitled Calvin, Trent, and the Vulgate: Misinterpreting the Fourth Session. The writer explains the "Reformed" popularly portray Trent as "enshrining the Vulgate" at the expense of Biblical linguistic research. Note the following excerpts:
When I first began to take interest in theology, and in Reformed theology in particular, during college, I learned the story of how the Catholic Church closed herself off to serious study of the Holy Bible at the Council of Trent (1545-1563). The act in question is the Council's enshrining the Vulgate, Jerome's Latin translation of Bible, in its first decree, which was adopted during the fourth session on April 8th, 1546... That the Catholic Church did such a thing only confirmed my predilection for the Reformed tradition.
Trent made it the official version in an astounding act of arrogance, locking her faithful up in the prison of ignorance about the Scriptures and thus about Christ. I believed this story as did several of my friends.
Everyone knew that the Vulgate had acquired errors that provided purportedly divine authorization for the Catholic view of justification, Purgatory, the penitential system, the veneration of Mary and the saints, and spurious sacraments such as confirmation and marriage. Trent made it the official version in an astounding act of arrogance, locking her faithful up in the prison of ignorance about the Scriptures and thus about Christ. I believed this story as did several of my friends.
The basic thrust of complaint is that Reformed Protestants say Trent's Vulgate decision was done in order to promote ignorance. Who exactly taught this? Which college taught this? Was it a Reformed college? The CTC blogger doesn't say, but does go on to locate the ultimate Reformed culprit, John Calvin:
The problem is that this story is a myth. It is a myth like the myth that the Catholic Church officially opposed the translation of Sacred Scripture into other vernacular languages in itself. When I was seeking Protestant sources and arguments to keep me from converting to Catholicism, I found that this misinterpretation came down to me from the very pen of John Calvin.
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Review of "The Fathers Know Best" by Jimmy Akin
06/11/2011 - Tur8infan"Catholic Answers" recently published a book attributed to Jimmy Akin entitled "The Fathers Know Best." It purports to be "Your essential guide to the teachings of the Early Church." The book does not provide any meaningful contribution to the study of patristics and little to the Roman-Reformed dialog.
Content in General
Part one of the book (pp. 15-93) contains an introduction to the book itself, some discussion of "the World of the Fathers," and some brief discussion of the authors, councils, and works cited in part two, as well as an identification of heresies.
Part two of the book (pp. 97-418) is the obvious focus of the book. It provides a series of topics, with a brief introduction (sometimes as short as a single paragraph, sometimes as much as about two pages) and then a collection of quotations allegedly on the topic.
Quality of the Content
The book has no significant interaction with viewpoints opposed to Rome's. There is virtually no interaction with respect to non-Roman understandings of the Fathers and there is little interaction with theological disagreements with Rome. The most significant interactions with non-Roman positions are found in the sections on reincarnation and the Anti-Christ, but even they are not particularly in depth.
There is almost no analysis of the fathers' writings. In general, the quotations from the fathers are simply presented without any individual explanation. There is an occasional footnote, but there is no detailed explanation provided as to why particular quotations should be understood to support the Roman position.
The selections from the early writings that are selected for the purpose of promoting the idea that the fathers and Rome taught the same thing. The result is not a representative picture of the fathers' writings. Odd patterns emerge when one reviews the quotations cited: St. Sechnall of Ireland gets quoted four times, but Gregory the Great gets cited only once.
Originality of the Content
Apparently there were no original translations provided in this work. The book acknowledges that part two is mostly a rehash of a column from This Rock magazine. Moreover, the content of that magazine has already been amalgamated on-line. Based on a cursory review, it appears that the on-line version may have slightly more quotations. In some cases, however, the translation selected for the book differs. In some cases, the exact end-points of the quotation differs, even if the translation is the same. The introductions to the material are expanded, and - of course - part one of the book is apparently new material.
Scholarly Character of the Content
In part one of the book, aside from an initial burst of citations to Scripture, citations in general are rare. The content of part one may or may not be accurate, but you only have Akin's word for it, in general.
In part two of the book, Scripture is sometimes cited and the Catechism of the Catholic Church is also sometimes cited. Occasionally a papal work, such as an encyclical, or similar source of Catholic dogma is cited and at least once or twice an encyclopedia, such as the New Catholic Encyclopedia is cited. Aside from those citations, citations to scholarly works are relatively rare.
Almost all of the citations (leaving aside Scripture and magisterial sources) are to J.N.D. Kelly. Kelly's Early Christian Doctrines, is cited on pp. 160, 175, 183 (2x), 256, p. 292-3 (3x), and 299, sometimes at considerable length. As with the quotations from the fathers, the quotations are selected based on what Akin believes is helpful, with the inconvenient comments from Kelly omitted.
Second to Kelley is Luther, whose Large Catechism is cited on p. 267 and whose Smalcaid Articles are cited on p. 412 (alongside the Westminster Standards in that instance). The few other cited authors are one-offs. Shirley MacLaine is cited on p. 399 and Geddes MacGregor is cited on that page as well. Ramsay MacMullen is cited on p. 359, and Timothy "Kallistos" Ware is cited at p. 138.
In all or almost all of these cases, the citation is provided with a quotation rather than simply being a citation to support an assertion allegedly grounded in the author cited. In fairness to Akin, I should point out that he provides citations to every one of his "More than 900 quotations" (I did not verify this claim) from ancient writings.
Merit of the Quotations
Whether the quotations support the point for which they are used is something of a mixed bag. Previously, we discussed an example of a misused quotation in this book. Perhaps in other posts, we will discuss other issues with other quotations.
It should also be pointed out that a lot of the quotations are not from fathers at all. Some of the quotations are from folks like "Pseudo-Ignatius," "Pseudo-Melito," and "Pseudo-John" as well as to anonymous works.
It's not surprising that I don't recommend this book. Although a significant amount of effort was doubtless put into improving the introductions and providing part one of the book, the effort didn't yield something particularly worthwhile. Instead, by and large the book is simply a collection of quotations that Akin seems to think are helpful to Rome's view of history.
Akin's approach is neither scholarly nor apologetic. He does not interact in a significant way with the Reformed objections to Rome's historical claims, and his collection of quotations is not accompanied by any serious in-depth examination of what the quotations say.
If one is looking for some new and interesting contribution to the field of patristics or Roman-Reformed dialog, one will be very disappointed by Akin's work. On the other hand, if what you want is a propagandizing quote book, you cannot shell out the money for the much better done Jurgens' set, and you don't wish to use the web site indicated above, then perhaps this book is for you.
Here's one quotation from Gregory the Great that you won't get in "The Fathers Know Best":
Gregory the Great commenting on Job 15:10:
But that those things which they [i.e., heretics] maintain they recommend to the weak minds of their fellow-creatures as on the ground of antiquity, they testify that they have ancient fathers, and the very Doctors of the Church themselves they declare are the masters of their school; and whilst they look down upon present preachers, they pride themselves with unfounded presumption on the tutorage of the ancient fathers, so that they avouch that the things they themselves assert the old fathers held as well, in order that what they are not able to build up in truth and right, they may strengthen as by the authority of those. See Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, Gregory the Great, Morals on the Book of Job, vol. II, Parts III and IV, Book XII, Chapter 28, §33 (Oxford: Parker, 1845), p. 66.-TurretinFan
Latin text: Sed ut ea quae asserunt commendare stultis mentibus hominum quasi de antiquitate possint, antiquos patres se habere testantur, atque ipsos doctores Ecclesiae suae professionis magistros dicunt. Cumque praesentes praedicatores despiciunt de antiquorum Patrum magisterio falsa praesumptione gloriantur, ut ea quae ipsi dicunt, etiam antiquos patres tenuisse fateantur, quatenus hoc quod rectitudine astruere non valent quasi ex illorum auctoritate confirment. Moralium Libri, Sive Expositio In Librum B. Job, Liber XII, Caput XXVIII, §33, PL 75:1002A-B.
P.S. Quote books have their place. However, quote books should provide something better than what is out there.