One 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.
… (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 …
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.”
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.
III. What Charge is Placed against Calvin? and what grounds support it?
Mr. Turner makes the following claims about Calvin:
In reading Calvin’s Antidote (1547) to the Council of Trent, I found him accusing the Council of exalting the Latin Vulgate with the intention of shutting the mouth of the true reformers such as himself. … For Calvin, the Tridentine decree is a sure sign of the Catholic Church’s ignorance, imprudence, insecurity, and malice. According to Calvin, Trent swept away the need for studying Greek and Hebrew in marking the Vulgate as the authentic text of the Church. Yet Calvin has read more into the decree than the decree says. Calvin, a man with a great talent for sober and elegant writing and interpretation, here gave way to impassioned “eisegesis” of what Trent really said.
One might expect to immediately see a detailed “exegesis” of the text of Trent, but before turning to the words of Trent, Mr. Turner offers several arguments:
1) “Trent nowhere forbids the use of the original languages, …”
It says “no one is to dare, or presume to reject [the Vulgate] under any pretext whatever.” That would appear to include rejecting it based on it differing from the Greek and Hebrew.
2) ” … as if St. Jerome had not used them to revise the Old Latin texts or make his own translations.”
That’s not really in dispute, nor particularly relevant to what Trent said, except as a condemnation of Trent’s actions.
3) “One may add here that certain Reformers were perhaps overly optimistic about their Hebrew text or even about the manuscripts of the New Testament which they currently had in their possession. Modern biblical scholarship, especially after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, has deemed various Greek translations of the Old Testament to more accurately preserve the Hebrew Vorlage than the Masoretic text in some books. Further, the New Testament text used by early Protestant translators as the basis for the Geneva and the King James Bibles, the so-called textus receptus, no longer has priority in critical editions of the New Testament, such as Nestle-Aland’s Novum Testamentum Graece. Modern vernacular Bibles therefore no longer use the textus receptus as their base text.”
a) This is a red herring. Even if we take this as true, it’s simply a matter of further scholarship helping us to better access the originals. It’s not as though the Dead Sea Scrolls vindicated the bulk Vulgate’s departures from the Masoretic text of the Old Testament or from the Textus Receptus.
b) In fact, critical scholarship has cast doubt on parts of the traditional Vulgate text, just as it has cast doubts on the textus receptus. So, if critical scholarship is trustworthy, the Vulgate that Trent deemed “authentic” is even less close to being authentic than the Reformers suspected.
c) As a minor correction, in fact there are a number of modern versions of the Bible that rely on the textus receptus in the New Testament, including the New King James Version.
4) “What a benefit it is to the Church to have the faith passed down both by a written mode and by the mode of Tradition, such that the faith does not depend on the vicissitudes of textual discovery!”
a) Obviously, this again is a tangential remark – a red herring.
b) Oral transmission is beset by much worse vicissitudes than written transmission, as can be seen by such an elementary example as playing “telephone” or “grapevine” at a party. Oral transmission is much less reliable than written transmission, in general.
c) The Vulgate represents a written tradition, not an oral one. It contained a measure of corruption.
d) The Tridentine decree is considered “tradition” (now) but it is not something passed down from the apostles. The apostles never taught that the Vulgate is authentic, nor did they use the Vulgate as their standard.
e) And, of course, Trent did not have access to reliable oral traditions that confirmed the authenticity of the Vulgate text as opposed to the text of the Hebrew OT and Greek NT. So, as I said I said at (a), this is a red herring.
5) “The manuscript discoveries misused by the Reformers in articulating their principle of sola scriptura do not give God’s people the faith. Rather, the valid critical study of manuscripts supports the faith but does not establish it.”
a) The Bible does give and does establish the faith. The Bible says so.
b) Like the other arguments, this is a red herring.
c) There seems to be some confusion in this argument. The Reformers doctrine of sola Scriptura was both Biblical and historical. It did not hinge on manuscript discoveries.
6) “Rather, the valid critical study of manuscripts supports the faith but does not establish it.”
Perhaps so, but this is a red herring.
7) “The Catholic Church made the Vulgate the official version of the Church without prejudice to Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts.”
a) Trent declared the Vulgate to be authentic. But the Vulgate differs on a number of points (as Calvin preliminarily sketched above) from the original texts. Therefore, by declaring the Vulgate authentic, the original texts were condemned where they differed from the Vulgate.
b) The issue Calvin is making is not necessarily about individual manuscripts, but the original text behind the manuscripts – the text that manuscripts testify to.
8) “The Reformers were not the only problem on the Council’s agenda but were merely one symptom of an underlying need for reform. Trent set out to reform the Church, and all its decisions against Protestant formulations or preferences must be kept within that context. If one were to make Trent a narrow reaction against Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anabaptists, one would fail to appreciate the intent of the Fathers of the council and their enduring success in reorganizing and focusing the Catholic reform, which had started before Luther ever thought to instigate a revolt against the Church. Trent was concerned with strengthening the Church through clerical and liturgical reform in addition to clarifying the doctrine of the faith over against Protestant errors.”
This could be called the “Reformers were so vain, they probably thought that Trent was about them, didn’t they” argument. But what was the “underlying need for reform”? Actually, Trent is probably best viewed as attempting to address an amalgamation of issues, but amongst those certainly was this one, expressed in pope Paul III’s bull of indiction for the council:
Whereas we deemed it necessary that there should be one fold and one shepherd, for the Lord’s flock in order to maintain the Christian religion in its integrity, and to confirm within us the hope of heavenly things; the unity of the Christian name was rent and well-nigh torn asunder by schisms, dissensions, heresies.
The opening decree of the council similarly states:
Doth it please you,–unto the praise and glory of the holy and undivided Trinity, Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost ; for the increase and exaltation of the Christian faith and religion; for the extirpation of heresies; for the peace and union of the Church; for the reformation of the Clergy and Christian people; for the depression and extinction of the enemies of the Christian name,–to decree and declare that the sacred and general council of Trent do begin, and hath begun?
They answered: It pleaseth us.
So there may have been a variety of issues, but the Reformation (characterized as schism and heresy) was one of the major concerns of Trent. Calvin and the Reformers were justified in thinking that Trent was attempting to deal with them.
8) “[A priest Mr. Turner met a conference] told me that the decree was above all aimed at standardizing the Latin text of the Bible for the Church, especially the Latin Rite. The problem was not the use of Greek and Hebrew by the Reformers, as embarrassing as that was for some Catholic polemical authors.”
a) The part that was related to the standardizing of the text was the last piece of what I’ve identified above as the second item. That wasn’t the primary aim.
b) The primary aim was to avoid people questioning the standard text, just as they were not to question the canon.
9) “After all, scholars who remained within the Catholic Church had begun to use the original languages before Protestants started openly defying the Church’s leadership and traditions.”
This is the start of a longish section of the argument. But what happened in Europe before the Reformation does not necessarily tell us what Trent meant.
10) At this point, Mr. Turner cites Cardinal Ximenes who produced the amazing Complutensian Polyglot.
a) Of course, this took place before Trent, not after Trent.
b) The council did not accept Cardinal Ximines’ view of the canon (namely that the so called deuterocanonical books are not of the same authority). There’s no good reason to suppose that thy agreed with his view regarding the need to correct the Vulgate from the original languages.
11) Erasmus is also alluded to for his work on the Greek New Testament.
However, Erasmus’ work did not receive uniform praise from Rome. In fact, at one point (after Trent, if I recall correctly) all his works were placed on the index of prohibited books. So, again, his views are not necessarily a good indication of what Trent thought.
12) Next, Mr. Turner quotes from Benedict XVI, but this quotation has little to do with the topic at hand, except allegedly showing a high regard for Scripture.
13) “To see that Catholic biblical scholarship did not cease with the hardening of the Protestant schism but that it could attain linguistic and theological heights on the other side of Trent, one need only read the work of Cornelius à Lapide (1567-1637), the great Jesuit commentator, priest, and professor of Hebrew.”
a) But Mr. Turner provides no comments from Monsieur à Lapide (who was a boy of 10 when Calvin wrote his antitode) as to whether the Vulgate can be corrected from the original languages.
b) Moreover, when Monsieur à Lapide reaches the pericope of the Woman caught in adultery, he acknowledges the silence of the Greeks and Syrians on this, but insists that the pericope is canonical on the authority of Trent (see his commentary on John 8, at verse 4).
c) He also attempts to justify the Vulgate’s translation at Genesis 3:15 (see his commentary at that point).
d) Likewise, Monsieur à Lapide is sure that the Comma Johanneum is canonical.
e) Where does Monsieur à Lapide ever acknowledge that the Vulgate can and should be corrected from the Greek and Hebrew? If he were going to make such an admission, one would expect it at at least one of three instances above.
14) “In this way, the Catholic priest I met at the conference prepared me to see that the first decree of Trent’s fourth session was clarified by the second decree. The second decree shows that the primary intention of Trent was to identify one standard Latin edition of the Bible for the Latin-speaking Church to use in the liturgy and in scholastic disputation. “
Actually, the priest is just suggesting to let the second part of the decree be read and the other ignored.
15) “The reluctance of the Council to ban translations of the Bible into vernacular languages opened the door for translations such as the Reims New Testament (1582) and the entire Douai-Reims Bible (1609-1610).”
a) Those translations were made from the Latin Vulgate.
b) The use of those translations was restricted initially.
16) Next, Mr. Turner quotes a translation of the Acts of the Council (namely the second item, which I have already quoted above, from a better translation).
17) “We should see three things in this decree. First, we see that the primary intention of the council was to standardize the Latin text of the Church.”
a) Actually the primary intention was to do for the text what was being done for the canon. The canon had been identified, now the authentic text needed to be identified.
b) A secondary concern (to effectuate that primary concern) was that the authentic text be published.
18) “Remember that the context of Trent is overall reform, not merely smashing Protestantism. In this light, we see a Council eager to correct the problem of the multiplication of Latin translations and editions in Medieval Europe. The proliferation was caused by the sloppy transmission of the Latin manuscripts of Sacred Scripture as well as isolated attempts by scholars and bishops to revise the Latin texts they received, whether of the Old Latin, Jerome’s Vulgate, or some eclectic amalgamation.”
a) That’s not all false, of course. There were concerns about the fact that there were a lot of different versions of the Vulgate circulating.
b) However, the point was to establish an authentic text.
19) “Second, the council approved the Latin because Latin was the common language of the educated classes, both ecclesiastical and lay, in Europe for centuries.”
While it is true that Latin was the language in which educated men wrote in that era, there is no indication from the council that this is the reason that a Latin text was selected. This is a creative idea by Mr. Turner, but not one that has factual support.
20) “It was thus the “common” [vulgatus] language of the Western Church. This is the reason why St. Jerome’s translation was initially called the Vulgate, because it was in the “vulgar” tongue, much like koine Greek was the “common” or “vulgar” language of the Mediterranean world at the time of the Gospel.”
a) Jerome’s translation and the New Testament’s language were both suited to the masses, not simply to an educated elite.
b) The Vulgate was not suited to the masses by the time of Trent.
21) “Due to the Church’s use of the Vulgate over the centuries in liturgy, theology, and devotion, she was eager to preserve that translation tradition.”
No doubt this is true. She was also eager to prevent anyone from criticizing the Vulgate.
22) “She did not want to dump the Latin altogether while she was open to using the original languages to maintain continuity with the past.”
That openness was not expressed in the decree. Moreover, there is not much room for openness when you forbid anyone to reject the Vulgate.
23) “Most Protestant theologians did not do away with Latin either but continued to write their theological treatises in that language for centuries, presumably for the same reasons of a common language allowing for communication both across national or ethnic lines and for keeping touch with the Latin Fathers of the Church.”
a) Protestant theologians alleged that the Hebrew OT and Greek NT Scriptures were authentic. They did not allege that the Vulgate was authentic (quite the opposite).
b) But yes, Latin continued to be the language of the educated and a way of permitting international communication for many years to come.
24) “Third, the council provides a way to achieve this reform in decreeing that a “thorough revision” of the Latin Bible is to be made.”
a) Mr. Turner has here erred by relying on an inaccurate translation. The word “emendatissime” does not refer to a thorough revision, but rather is an adverb that describes how the printing is to be done. The printing is to be done carefully or in a way that is free from errors. Perhaps Mr. Turner’s translation thought “after a thorough revision” conveyed that thought, but “emendatissime” does not itself carry the notion that a revision to the text is being proposed. In other words, the printing was to be done in careful adherence to the Vulgate (although perhaps the word was intended to acknowledge that it would take some work to provide that carefully restored Vulgate to the printer – in hindsight it took an enormous effort: over forty years between the decree and the printing of the Clementine Vulgate).
b) And even if it did imply a revision to the text, it does not imply that the revision is being made from the original languages.
25) “The council does not deny what everyone already knew, namely, that the text of the Vulgate had been corrupted in places by transmission errors.”
a) The council’s point is to identify an authentic text, not a corrupt text.
b) They do acknowledge that there are Latin versions that contain variations, but they don’t acknowledge errors in the “vetus et vulgata editio.”
c) The reformers, including Calvin, hammered them for the errors in the Vulgate, as can be seen from his comments quoted above.
26) “Enshrining the Vulgate as the “authentic” edition does not mean that the Vulgate cannot be revised in light of the best Latin manuscripts or that one may never correct the Latin text using the Hebrew or Greek manuscript traditions.”
a) Revising an authentic text is a strange notion indeed. If you change the authentic text, you render it _______. I think everyone knows that the answer is not “better” but “inauthentic.”
b) Revising the authentic text would also entail rejecting the authentic text. But the council specifically prohibits anyone from rejecting on any pretext whatsoever. There is no exception for claiming that the authentic text does not accurately convey the Hebrew and Greek.
27) “In this openness to humanistic textual criticism, the Tridentine Fathers order that the Vulgate be corrected after the Council such that one version attaining as closely as possible to Jerome’s original translation would find universal use.”
a) It’s not specifically Jerome’s translation, but the Vulgate, which is largely based on his translation. However, in some parts, for example in the Psalms, it is not his translation.
b) This decree specifically indicates that the Vulgate be carefully printed. That means first identifying the Vulgate, and then printing it. It does not mean that an existing text called “the Vulgate” is to be corrected of its errors.
c) And certainly even this characterization confesses that the Greek and Hebrew are being passed over in favor the Latin.
28) “The employment of Greek and Hebrew to correct the Latin was not forbidden in any way.”
a) … except, of course, as a basis upon which to reject the text of the Vulgate. No one was allowed to reject the text of the Vulgate for any reason.
b) And that exception is the whole point.
29) “The revision of the Vulgate was completed under popes Sixtus V and Clement the VIII and published in 1598. The Church has again endorsed a revision of the Vulgate as the authentic version for the Latin rite in liturgical and theological use. The letter in which John Paul the Great promulgated this Nova Vulgata (“New Vulgate”) edition in 1979 can be found here. The history of these revisions are interesting but too complicated to rehearse here.”
a) John Paul II doesn’t even mention Trent in his letter.
b) What John Paul II did in authorizing the New Vulgate was arguably contrary to this decree of Trent. In fact, I believe I have argued that elsewhere.
30) Next, Mr. Turner goes to Pius XII for his comments from Divino Afflante Spiritu.
This 20th century encyclical (30 September 1943) asserts various things about the Council of Trent’s authenticity claim. Mr. Turner provides the translation from Vatican website, but I’ll quote from the English translation of Denzinger’s Sources of Catholic Dogma.
But that the Synod of Trent wished the Vulgate to be the Latin version “which all should use as authentic,” applies, as all know, to the Latin Church only, and to the public use of Scripture, and does not diminish the authority and force of the early texts. For at that time no consideration was being given to early texts, but to the Latin versions which were being circulated at that time, among which the Council decreed that that version was rightly to be preferred which was approved by the long use of so many centuries within the Church. So this eminent authority of the Vulgate, or, as it is expressed, authenticity, was established by the Council not especially for critical reasons, but rather because of its authorized use in the Church continued through the course of so many centuries; and by this use it is demonstrated that this text, as the Church has understood and understands, in matters of faith and morals is entirely free of error, so that, on the testimony and confirmation of the Church herself, in discussions, quotations, and meetings it can be cited safely and without danger of error; and accordingly such authenticity is expressed primarily not by the term critical but rather juridical. Therefore, this authority of the Vulgate in matters of doctrine does not at all prevent—rather it almost demands today—this same doctrine being called upon for help, whereby the correct meaning of Sacred Scripture may daily be made clearer and be better explained. And not even this is prohibited by the decree of the Council of Trent, namely, that for the use and benefit of the faithful in Christ and for the easier understanding of divine works translations be made into common languages; and these, too, from the early texts, as we know has already been praiseworthily done with the approval of the authority of the Church in many regions.
a) Of course, the writings of Pius XII reflect the embarrassment of Rome in the wake of the rise in popularity of the textual critical movement. They reflect Rome’s attempt to damage control by trying to spin the decree of Trent in such a way that makes it appear less obviously in error.
b) But is this spin the truth or error? Can it be supported? Mr. Turner does not make any attempt to support Pius XII’s claims, he merely attempts to bolster them by identifying them as teachings of “The Magisterium of the Catholic Church” (which is what papal teachings get called when Rome’s apologists agree with them, not when they disagree with them).
c) “But that the Synod of Trent wished the Vulgate to be the Latin version “which all should use as authentic,” applies, as all know, to the Latin Church only, and to the public use of Scripture, and does not diminish the authority and force of the early texts.”
i) There is no limitation in the decree either only to “the Latin Church” or only to public use.
ii) If the early texts cannot be used to correct the errors of the Vulgate, their authority and force is diminished. And they cannot be used to correct the errors of of the Vulgate, according to what Trent said.
d) “For at that time no consideration was being given to early texts, but to the Latin versions which were being circulated at that time, among which the Council decreed that that version was rightly to be preferred which was approved by the long use of so many centuries within the Church.”
i) It is true that the text of the decree does not specify anything about early texts.
ii) Nevertheless, no exception for the early texts is made to Trent’s decree that the Vulgate not be rejected on any grounds at all.
e) “So this eminent authority of the Vulgate, or, as it is expressed, authenticity, was established by the Council not especially for critical reasons, but rather because of its authorized use in the Church continued through the course of so many centuries; and by this use it is demonstrated that this text, as the Church has understood and understands, in matters of faith and morals is entirely free of error, so that, on the testimony and confirmation of the Church herself, in discussions, quotations, and meetings it can be cited safely and without danger of error; and accordingly such authenticity is expressed primarily not by the term critical but rather juridical.”
i) Now is as good a place as any to point out that in Mr. Turner’s paper this is the solitary example of “scholarship” from the ranks of Roman scholarship on the actual question of the meaning of Trent’s decree.
ii) Nevertheless, this is an opinion expressed by more than a few Roman writers, particularly in the late 19th and 20th centuries, as the science of textual criticism continued to undermine the text of the Vulgate.
iii) But is this the case? Recall that the Council had alleged that the Vulgate in “all its parts” is to be accepted as canonical. That sounds like a critical-type determination, not merely a juridical one.
iv) Moreover, the hypothesis that “authentic” meant merely “free from doctrinal or moral error” is open to serious question. Pius XII does not justify this assertion, just as he does not justify his other assertions. We shall see reasons to question these assertions below.
f) “Therefore, this authority of the Vulgate in matters of doctrine does not at all prevent—rather it almost demands today—this same doctrine being called upon for help, whereby the correct meaning of Sacred Scripture may daily be made clearer and be better explained.”
i) Notice the cleverness of this statement. On the one hand, Pius XII is not saying that errors in the Vulgate can be corrected. On the other hand, he is saying that the correct meaning can be made clearer.
ii) One wonders if this cleverness is intentional or not. You will notice that throughout the quotation Pius XII does not admit that there are errors in the Vulgate that need to be corrected. On the other hand, he does seem to recognize that the study of the “early texts” can be beneficial.
iii) And, of course, even if the Vulgate is one’s authentic text, perhaps ambiguities in the Latin could be clarified from study of extraneous texts, for example. In other words, there is not necessarily an inherent contradiction between this statement from Pius XII and text of Trent.
In fact, this part of Pius XII’s statement looks a lot like the more traditional opinion expressed by Leo XIII in Providentissiums Deus (1893):
Since there is need of a definite method of carrying on interpretation profitably, let the prudent teacher avoid either of two mistakes, that of those who give a cursory glance to each book, and that of those who delay too long over a certain part of one. . . . [The teacher] in this [work] will take as his text the Vulgate version, which the Council of Trent decreed [see n. 785] should be considered as authentic in public lectures, disputations, sermons, and expositions, and which the daily custom of the Church commends. Yet account will have to be taken of the remaining versions which Christian antiquity has commended and used, especially of the very ancient manuscripts. For although, as far as the heart of the matter is concerned, the meaning of the Hebrew and the Greek is well elucidated in the expressions of the Vulgate, yet if anything is set forth therein with ambiguity, or if without accuracy “an examination of the preceding language” will be profitable, as Augustine advises.
Notice how Leo allows the use of the Hebrew and the Greek, not to correct the Vulgate, but to resolve ambiguities in the Latin.
g) “And not even this is prohibited by the decree of the Council of Trent, namely, that for the use and benefit of the faithful in Christ and for the easier understanding of divine works translations be made into common languages; and these, too, from the early texts, as we know has already been praiseworthily done with the approval of the authority of the Church in many regions.”
i) In fact, the Council of Trent does not explicitly forbid anyone from making Bibles translated exclusively from Amaharic texts or from making translations of the Gnostic apocrypha. There are numerous things that the Council of Trent does not explicitly forbid.
ii) Of course, the Council of Trent did prohibit anonymous theological works: “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”
iii) and the Council of Trent did prohibit publishing (or even owning) religious books without permission: “nor to sell them in future, or even to keep them, unless they shall have been first examined, and approved of, by the Ordinary.”
iv) But that does not mean that these books in the common tongue ever were deemed to have the same authority as or greater authority than the Vulgate. In other words, this is just a red herring.
Or consider some of the comments of Pius VII:
1602 We were overcome with great and bitter sorrow when We learned that a pernicious plan, by no means the first, had been undertaken, whereby the most sacred books of the Bible are being spread everywhere in every vernacular tongue, with new interpretations which are contrary to the wholesome rules of the Church, and are skillfully turned into a distorted sense. For, from one of the versions of thissort already presented to Us we notice that such a danger exists against the sanctity Of purer doctrine, so that the faithful might easily drink a deadly poison from those fountains from which they should drain “waters of saving wisdom” [ Sirach. 15:3 ]. . . .
1603 For you should have kept before your eyes the warnings which Our predecessors have constantly given, namely, that, if the sacred books are permitted everywhere without discrimination in the vulgar tongue, more damage will arise from this than advantage. Furthermore, the Roman Church, accepting only the Vulgate edition according to the well-known prescription (see n.785 f.) of the Council of Trent, disapproves the versions in other tongues and permits only those which are edited with the explanations carefully chosen from writings of the Fathers and Catholic Doctors, so that so great a treasure may not be exposed to the corruptions of novelties, and so that the Church, spread throughout the world, may be “of one tongue and of the same speech” [Gen. 11:1].
1604 Since in vernacular speech we notice very frequent interchanges, varieties, and changes, surely by an unrestrained license of Biblical versions that changelessness which is proper to the divine testimony would be utterly destroyed, and faith itself would waver, when, especially, from the meaning of one syllable sometimes an understanding about the truth of a dogma is formed. For this purpose, then, the heretics have been accustomed to make their low and base machinations, in order that by the publication of their vernacular Bibles, (of whose strange variety and discrepancy they, nevertheless, accuse one another and wrangle) they may, each one, treacherously insert their own errors wrapped in the more holy apparatus of divine speech. “For heresies are not born,” St. Augustine used to say, “except when the true Scriptures are not well understood and when what is not well understood in them is rashly and boldly asserted.” * But, if we grieve that men renowned for piety and wisdom have, by no means rarely, failed in interpreting the Scriptures, what should we not fear if the Scriptures, translated into every vulgar tongue whatsoever, are freely handed on to be read by an inexperienced people who, for the most part, judge not with any skill but with a kind of rashness? . . .
1605 Therefore, in that famous letter of his to the faithful of the Church at Meta, Our predecessor, Innocent III, * quite wisely prescribes as follows: “In truth the secret mysteries of faith are not to be exposed to all everywhere, since they cannot be understood by all everywhere, but only by those who can grasp them with the intellect of faith. Therefore, to the more simple the Apostle says: “I gave you milk to drink as unto little ones in Christ, not meat” [ 1 Cor. 3:2]. For solid food is for the elders, as he said: “We speak wisdom . . . among the perfect” [1 Cor 2:6]; “for I judged not myself to know anything among you, but Jesus Christ and Him Crucified” [ 1 Cor. 2:2 ]. For so great is the depth of Divine Scripture that not only the simple and the unlettered, but even the learned and prudent are not fully able to explore the understanding of it. Therefore, Scripture says that many “searching have failed in their search” [Ps. 63:7].
1606 “So it was rightly stated of old in the divine law, that even the beast which touched the mountain should be stoned” [ Heb. 12:20 ;Exod. 19:12] lest, indeed, any simple and ignorant person should presume to reach the sublimity of Sacred Scripture, or to preach it to others. For it is written:Seek not the things that are too high for thee [ Sir 3:22 ] Therefore, the Apostle warns “not to be more wise than it behooveth to be wise, but to be wise unto sobriety” [Rom. 12:3]. But, noteworthy are the Constitutions, not only of Innocent III, just mentioned, but also of Pius IV, * Clement VIII, * and Benedict XIV * in which the precaution was laid down that, if Scripture should be easily open to all, it would perhaps become cheapened and be exposed to contempt, or, if poorly understood by the mediocre, would lead to error. But, what the mind of the Church is in regard to the reading and interpretation of Scripture your fraternity may know very clearly from the excellent Constitution of another of Our predecessors, CLEMENT XI, “Unigenitus,” in which those doctrines were thoroughly condemned in which it was asserted that it is useful and necessary to every age, to every place, to every type of person to know the mysteries of Sacred Scripture, the reading of which was to be open to all, and that it was harmful to withdraw Christian people from it, nay more, that the mouth of Christ was closed for the faithful when the New Testament was snatched from their hands [Propositions of Quesnel 79-85; n.1429-1435].
(Letter “Magno et acerbo” to the Archbishop of Mohileff, September 3, 1816)(Numbering and translation from the English of Denzinger’s Sources of Catholic Dogma)
Note that while Pius VII doesn’t allege that Trent forbade vulgar language translations, he certainly is not happy to see their proliferation.
And here Mr. Turner’s article ends, not having actually established his position, but merely having asserted that Calvin engaged in myth-making.
IV. What can the History of the Council of Trent tell us?
Sometimes it is alleged that ignorance of the council’s history is the reason for the alleged myths. Here is one account of a relevant portion of the history of the council, taken from History of the Council of Trent by Bungener:
It remained [after the decision about which books are canonical] to be decided in what language the books of the Bible — from henceforth all put on the same level in point of authority — should be reputed inspired and infallible. Here, again, a point occurred on which the council’s decision was about to be opposed to the clearest data of learning, history, and common sense.
At bottom, it was not a matter about which there could reasonably be a question. Inspired or not, a man writes. Is it in Hebrew? Then it is in Hebrew and in Hebrew alone that you are sure of having his thoughts, all his thoughts, nothing but his thoughts. Is it in Greek? Then it is in Greek you will find what he meant. If you do not understand those tongues, nothing is more natural than that you should make use of a translation; but if you do understand them, why should you be prevented from going to the book as it came from the hands of the author? The only way would be to prove to you that the translation is of an absolutely perfect accuracy. But if you have to do with an inspired book, it is only by bringing the translator to an equality with the author, and making him inspired also, that we can make the translation equal to the original.
Now, St. Jerome, the chief author of the Vulgate,[FN: Editio vulgata, the edition in general circulation. Hence the name Vulgate given to the Latin Bible used in the Roman Church.] has nowhere said a word from which it might be conjectured that he thought himself aided in his translation by any assistance from on high. Had he affirmed this, we should have appealed against it on the ground of the numerous faults which, as we shall see anon, have been corrected in that still very imperfect work. Was the work, at least, all done by him? No; several parts are taken from a more ancient version, [FN: Italica vetus.] done by nobody knows whom, and which he thought far from good, seeing that it was in order to have it superseded by a better, that he undertook his own. Notwithstanding the superiority of the latter: “Those who speak Latin,” says Augustine, ” require, in order to the understanding of the Scriptures, to be acquainted with two other languages, Hebrew and Greek, so that they may have recourse to ancient copies when the disagreement of Latin interpreters suggests any doubt.” [FN: Christian Doctrine, b. ii.] Thus, notwithstanding his esteem for St. Jerome, he confounds him with the Latin interpreters, whose disagreement, he says, produces doubts which can be removed only by going to the originals. A century and a half after him, two versions only were in use, that of Jerome, which took the name of the New, and the Italic or Old one. Gregory the Great, in his commentary on Job, says that he prefers the New as being more conformed to the Hebrew, but that he quotes them both indifferently; this, he adds, is what is usually done by popes and their doctors. Gradually the two versions passed into each other. Whatever could not be changed without inconvenience in the Old, was retained—the Psalms, in particular, being what every body knew by heart; the rest was taken from the New. One sole book was at length the result, namely, the Vulgate. But, for a series of centuries, the Church made use of it as one uses a book absolutely in his power, without disapproving of it, but yet no more approving of it otherwise than by the mere fact of its using it, in fine, without forbidding any one to have recourse to some other quarter.
No one, it is true, had any idea of doing Bo. Greek and Hebrew were not only dead tongues—they were annihilated. The Latin, by unanimous consent, had succeeded to their rights; and it had no more to reckon with those tongues than a son with a father many years dead. Accordingly, when the fifteenth century drew them from the dust with which they were covered, you would have said they were like dead men reappearing amid their confounded heirs. “A new language,” said a monk from the pulpit, “has been discovered, which is called the Greek. It must be carefully avoided. This language is the mother of all heresies. I see in the hands of many a book written in that tongue; it is called the New Testament. It is a book full of briars and vipers. As for Hebrew, those who learn it immediately become Jews.” Whether such was or was not the monk’s discourse—and a very grave historian [FN: Sismondi, Hist of the French, xvi.] reports it as authentic—it admirably expresses the astonishment and the fears of the time. Those two tongues, new in virtue of being old, people were tempted to look upon as intruders, and to ask them what right they had to come and disturb the Latin in its occupation of the throne which it had now so long engrossed. They crowded around it; they confirmed it in the enjoyment of all the rights which it held from usage. Both Greek and Hebrew were to be allowed to subsist, but they were to be neither its superiors nor its equals; and, in 1502, in the famous Bible of Alcala, in putting the Vulgate between the Hebrew text and the Greek text, it was Cardinal Ximenes who said, in the preface, that it was Christ betwixt the two thieves.
Thus we see that the foundations of the strange decree that was about to be passed, had been laid at the commencement of that century. And yet, when the subject began to be more closely examined, the members were far from agreed about it.
At first, although the council was by no means rich in Hellenists, and still less in Hebrew scholars, several of its divines were not without having made the discovery, either by their own labours or by those of others, of some, at least, of the imperfections of the Vulgate. These were interdicted at once by common sense and by conscience from putting their hands to a law, carried in the face of facts proved by evidence, patent, incontestable. The idea, therefore, was entertained for a moment, of taking up some certain copy of the original texts, and translating it into Latin, advantage being taken of all the lights that the age could supply; but people were alarmed at the immensity of the labour that this would entail, all the more, inasmuch as to proceed logically, all doctrinal decisions would have to be supended until the entire completion of the new translation. For surely a judge is not competent to pronounce in a cause, as long as he admits his not being sure of having in his possession the exact text, or a faithful translation of the law.
Despatch, therefore, was required, and those who wanted a new translation were not listened to.
Even after admitting the Vulgate in principle, all was not over: it was necessary that the title on which it was received should be declared. Some wished that the approbation should be full, entire, without restriction of any kind. “Either God has failed in his promise of keeping his Church from error, or it is impossible,” said they, “that he can have left her to make use of an erroneous translation. If Providence has given an authentic Scripture to the Jews, and an authentic Scripture to the Greeks, is it not insulting to that Providence to suppose God’s well-beloved Roman Church should have been left without such an advantage?” Others, without going back so far, gave an artless picture of the embarrassment people would bring on themselves if they did not begin by shutting up the source of all embarrassment for ever. “It would be grammarians, then, that would become the arbiters of the faith! An inquisitor would have to listen to answers made in Greek and in Hebrew! Passages from Scripture that have been intercalated for ages in the Church’s prayers, the decrees of popes, the canons of councils, might be attacked, refashioned, and dissected! This would be to yield the victory to Luther, Zwingli, and, in short, to all heretics past, present, and to come.” All, in fine, with a little more or a little less bashfulness in the reasons they assigned, were agreed in practically assuming the necessity of immediately establishing one fixed and immutable basis.
It is from this alleged necessity that the council’s apologists still argue in their attempts to find an excuse for the strange decree which was adopted on the strength of it. “Had one of the doctors,” says the Abbe Prompsault, “quoted the Hebrew text, another the Greek text, another the Syriac, another the version of Luther or of Servetus, the confusion would have been worse than at the tower of Babel.” Possibly it might; but what has that to do with the proof of the authenticity and correctness of the Vulgate? How did the embarrassment resulting from the variety of the texts sanction the council’s choosing one from the rest for the purpose of declaring it authentic? And, accordingly, great efforts have been made to prove that such was not the meaning of the decree. The council, it has been said, does not pronounce the Vulgate infallible. “Its decision is not a dogmatical decision; it is merely a disciplinary regulation, made in view of the circumstances and the wants of the moment.”[FN: Hug, Introduction to the Books of the New Testament.] Be it so; but where is this to be seen? Certainly not in the text of the decree. The council ordains and declares that in all public lessons, discussions, preachings, and expositions, this ancient version shall be held as authentic, and that no one shall dare, or shall presume, to reject it, under any pretext whatever. [FN: Statuit et declarat ut . . . pro authentica; ut eam nemo rejicere quovis praetextu audeat vel praesumat.] Not even, consequently, under pretext that such or such a passage shall have been recognized as false, and the future, in this manner, is as much fettered as the past. But let us accept the explanation. We had only to do with the false; we have now to do with the absurd. The Vulgate is not infallible, and it is the Vulgate which alone, without control, without its being permissible to reject a single word of it, is to serve the purpose of infallibly fixing the faith. The doctor, in his professor’s chair, is not authorized-to quote it as rigorously correct, and he is authorized to declare the nullity of all the corrections you may presume to suggest. Each passage, then, is like a piece of money bearing the image of the Council of Trent. You are not held bound to believe it good, but you have no right to refuse it.[FN: This strange reasoning has been carried into a much more serious question, that of infallibility. “Infallibility in the spiritual order,” says De Maistre, “and sovereignty in the temporal order, are two perfectly synonymous words. When we say that the Church is infallible, we do not ask any special privilege for it; we only ask that it should enjoy rights common to all possible sovereignties, all of which should necessarily reign as infallible, for all government is absolute; and from the moment that it may be resisted under the pretext of error and injustice, it no longer exists.” What flows most clearly from this passage is that, provided a man submit to the Church’s decisions, he is not bound to think the Church in the right, any more than a citizen in obeying a law is bound to believe it good. To understand infallibility in this sense is to deny it.] “The council,” says an author already quoted, “has not said that the Vulgate alone shall be authentic; it has only declared that it shall be held as authentic.” This only is curious. The council has not denied that the original texts are authentic; it has only declared that the Vulgate is so also, although it departs from them at a thousand points. This is what the expression really implies.
Was there, at least, an edition universally admitted, correct, and unique? No; it had to be decided that one should be made. There was much wisdom in this; but it made the preceding decree only all the more strange. It would have been not more reasonable, but certainly more rational, to deny the faults of the Vulgate, and to proclaim it at once infallible and perfect, than to declare it inviolable, even while confessing it faulty, and that it was about to be corrected.
In consequence of this last decision, one naturally desires to know through what process it has passed.
A commission had been named which did nothing. Towards the close of the council Pius IV. appointed another, but at Rome. Pius V. renewed it, and accelerated its labours. Twelve years afterwards, at the accession of Sixtus-Quintus, the work had hardly commenced, and that impetuous pontiff began to lose patience. He made it his own affair, and, at the commencement of 1589, announced by a bull, that the work was drawing to a close. The new Vulgate was printed under his own eyes at the Vatican, and he himself revised the proofs. “We have corrected them with our own hand,” [Nostrâ nos ipsi manu correximus.] he says in the preface. “The work appeared, and it was impossible,” says Hug, “that it should not have given occasion for criticism and pleasantry. Many passages were found, particularly in the Old Testament, covered with slips of paper, on which new corrections had been printed; others were scratched out, or merely corrected with a pen. … In fine, the copies issued were far from all presenting the same corrections.”
It had accordingly to be done over again. Gregory XIV., the successor of Sixtus-duintus, set to work without delay, and after him Clement VIII. had the satisfaction of publishing, in 1592, the text which was to undergo no change. But what was the public to think? How were corrections to be acknowledged, of which there were about six thousand on matters of detail, and a hundred that were important? Bellarmine undertook the preface. The honour of Sixtus V. was saved: all the imperfections of his Vulgate were—errors of the press.
Was this version, which, after forty-six years of corrections and recorrections, was to enter into full possession of the privileges announced in the decree, issued at least in the best state possible? No; Bellarmine admits, in that same preface, that the revisers had allowed many things to pass that needed a stricter examination. But enough of this. Were it at this day the best of all the translations of the Bible, we have seen what it was when the council placed it on the altar, and how much audacity or ignorance it must have taken to declare it authentic, even in that indirect and weakened sense which people were afterwards compelled to attach to the word.
(Bungener, History of the Council of Trent (New York: 1855), pp. 87-92)
V. Is Calvin’s Interpretation Really a Myth? What have Rome’s Sons said?
We have heard from Pius XII, but no one else in Mr. Turner’s paper. And, as I said, there are a number of educated men from the Roman communion, particularly in the late 19th century and 20th century who have attempted to defend Rome on grounds like those of Pius XII (and on other grounds).
There are, however, more significant voices that should be heard in this regard. For example, F. J. Crehan, S.J. (who is seeking to oppose Calvin) is forced to admit: “One can find in Bañez (Commentaries in 2-2ae: II:2) the view that it would be theologically temerarious to attempt to correct the Vulgate by the Greek or Hebrew originals.” (in The Cambridge History of the Bible, S. L. Greenslade ed. Cambridge University Press 2004 digital edition, p. 205)(Cf. Domingo Bañez: Commentary on Summa Theologica 2-2e (Questions 1-46) at Question 10, Article 11, 640E) Crehan characterizes Bañez as someone having “extremist views,” although Bañez is the great Dominican theologian who provided the Thomistic opposition to Molinism during that famous controversy. He also accuses Bañez of ignorance of the Council.
But Bañez isn’t the only son of Rome to take such a view of Trent’s decree. Joseph Dixon, Roman Archibishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland admits that there are are at least two views:
Some theologians, at the same time, have insisted on the truth of the conclusion, that in virtue of the council’s decision, we must look on the vulgate as free from the least fault on the part of the translator. Others have adopted a far different opinion, viz., that the council merely declares that there is nothing in the version opposed to faith or good morals. The declaration of the council appears to give a higher authority to the version, that in this latter opinion would attach to it.
(A general introduction to the Sacred Scriptures, Chapter V, p. 110)
In other words, Joseph Dixon acknowledges that there at least two views and acknowledges that the wording of the decree is too strong to make the “nothing … opposed to faith or good morals” interpretation likely.
Dixon goes on to acknowledge that Robert (Cardinal) Bellarmine (a doctor of the Roman church) himself taught that the decree means that the Vulgate is free from errors:
Bellarmine says, “We admit that the interpreter was not a prophet, and could have erred; but we say that he has not erred in that version, which the church has approved of. The church wished to make us certain, in those things especially that appertain to faith and morals, that there are no mistakes of translators in this version.”—De Verbo Dei Scripto; de editione vulgata.
(A general introduction to the Sacred Scriptures, Chapter V, p. 110)
Keep in mind that, as Dixon notes, Bellarmine had made a similar accusation to that of Mr. Turner, in that Bellarmine had claimed that Calvin was lying by claiming that the council deprecated the originals.
But a careful examination of Bellarmine’s attempt to find room for the original languages can be seen from the four uses he claims that they can serve:
The strictest defender of the accuracy of the version will admit with Bellarmine, that in four cases we may have recourse to the original: First—when there appears to be an error of the copiers in our books; second—when the Latin copies differ from each other, that we may discover the true reading of the vulgate; third—when a phrase is doubtful in the Latin text, in order to remove the ambiguity; fourth—to understand the force and propriety of words. Bellarmine adduces examples of all these cases in his treatise De Verbo Dei Scripto (liber 2dus cap. undecimum.)
(A general introduction to the Sacred Scriptures, Chapter V, p. 111)
Notice that none of the uses is to correct the Vulgate. Perhaps there is a question about what the Vulgate was (i.e. to restore the Vulgate) or what the what Vulgate means (i.e. to remove ambiguity), but there is no room to correct errors in the Vulgate itself.
Likewise, Dixon’s own view of the proper understanding of the decree is as follows:
The meaning of the council, therefore, appears to be truly given by Girardeau: “That substantially, and in all things of any moment, this version does not depart from the true sense of the scripture.”—Praelections Theologicae de Verbo Dei Scripto.
(A general introduction to the Sacred Scriptures, Chapter V, p. 111)
But notice that this means that the original texts can be used to correct the Vulgate only when it is a matter of no moment, or an insubstantial thing.
Yet, dear reader, is Archbishop Dixon’s learned position tenable? Can one legitimately reject a reading of the Vulgate on the grounds that the matter is not one that is substantial or that it is a matter of no moment? Surely, that was precisely the sort of thing that the council aimed to prevent with its expression: “no one is to dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever.”
In addition to the above, we have other contemporary evidence of the Roman understanding of the decree. For example, we have the testimony of Melchior Canus, one of the Spanish theologians who was actually at the Council of Trent, and who was afterward made bishop of the Canary Islands. William Whitaker (A Disputation on Holy Scripture …, First Controversy, Question 2, Chapter 1) reports:
Our opponents determine the Latin to be authentic, and so the council of Trent hath defined it. So Melchior Canus (Lib. n. c. 13) interprets this decree, and deduces from it four conclusions. The first is, that the old vulgate edition must be retained by the faithful in all points which pertain to faith and morals: the second, that all questions concerning faith or morals must be determined by this Latin edition: the third, that we must not in a disputation appeal to the Hebrew or Greek copies: the fourth, that, in matters of faith or morals, the Latin copies are not to be corrected from the Hebrew or Greek.
Notice how little ground Canus gives for the original languages. Notice as well that he is here confirming Calvin’s very concern: that in matters of disputation, no one is allowed to appeal to the Hebrew or Greek copies.
Whitaker (in the same place) also reports the position of the Rhemists – the translators of the English Bible for those of the Roman Communion:
In like manner our countrymen the Rhemists, in the preface to their version of the new Testament, run out into a long panegyric upon this Latin edition, and contend for its superiority not only to all other Latin versions, but even to the Greek itself which is the original and prototype.
For indeed, in the preface to the 1582 printing we find (at page XII, item 10 of the reasons why they are translating from the Latin rather than from the Greek): “It is not only better than all other Latin translations, but than the Greek text itself, in those places where they disagree.”
But Mr. Turner insists it is a myth created by Calvin. I trust the reader now has the tools to judge whether Mr. Turner has properly or improperly judged Calvin.