Erasmus Annotationes - dancing around Jerome's Vulgate Prologue

Steven Avery

Using Raising the Ghost of Arius as the source.
Also in BCEME.

Jerome's Prologue to the Canonical Epistles was brought up to Erasmus.
In his 1522 Annotationes Erasmus wrote:


In his preface to the Catholic Epistles, St Jerome suspects that this passage has been corrupted by Latin translators, and that the testimony of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit was omitted by several people.

... But we feel the pressure of the authority of Jerome, which I should certainly not wish to disparage, although he is frequently violent, shameless, fickle and inconsistent; however, I do not quite understand what Jerome means at this point.1 I shall record his words:

“But just as we corrected the Evangelists some time ago according to the rule of truth, we have likewise with God’s help2 restored these [Catholic Epistles] to their proper state. The first is a single letter by James, then two of Peter, three by John and one by Jude. If the letters were also rendered faithfully by translators into Latin just as their authors composed them, they would not cause the reader confusion, nor would the differences between their wording give rise to contradictions, nor would the various phrases contradict each other, especially in that place where we read the clause about the unity of the Trinity in the first letter of John. Indeed, it has come to our notice that in this letter some unfaithful translators have gone far astray from the truth of the faith, for in their edition they provide just the words for three [witnesses]—namely water, blood and spirit—and omit the testimony of the Father, the Word and the Spirit, by which the Catholic faith is especially strengthened, and proof is tendered of the single substance of divinity possessed by Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”3

We have repeated Jerome’s words to this point, from which it is clear that Jerome was not complaining about Greek codices, simply about those who translated the Greek into Latin. But precisely that which Jerome complains was omitted is now absent from the Greek manuscripts, whereas it is present in the Latin manuscripts, though not all of them. But from where does Jerome correct the error of the translators? Clearly, from the Greek manuscripts. But they either had what we have translated, or another reading. If another reading, in agreement with the Latin [Vulgate] version, what are his grounds for showing which of the two readings is the more correct, or which written by the Apostle, especially since what he reproaches is what was then in the public usage of the church? If this were not the case, I cannot see how the following passage fits:

“But you, Eustochium, virgin of Christ, by asking me so persistently for the true readings of Scripture, you are in a way exposing me in my old age to be gnawed by the teeth of those who bear me ill-will, and who call me a corrupter of the sacred Scriptures.” Who would have called him a forger, unless he had changed the public reading?4

1 Erasmus made similar comments about Jerome in his Responsio ad Annotationes Lei novas (ASD IX.4:323).
2 The phrase Deo iuuante occurs nowhere in Jerome’s extant authentic works.
3 These words had been cited against Erasmus by Lee; see Erasmus, 1520, 200.
4 Argument repeated from Erasmus’ Responsio ad Annotationes Lei novas (ASD IX.4:324), and (in large part verbatim) Apologia ad Annotationes Stunicæ (ASD IX.2:254-256)

So if Cyril amongst the Greeks read what the Greek codices have now, and if Augustine and Bede amongst the Latins read only this, or both readings, I do not understand what argument Jerome can bring to show that the reading he hands down to us is genuine.

(continues with the question of refuting Arians)


2 Glossa ordinaria, 1603, 1414; the interlinear gloss actually says: “Vnus Deus de eadem re testantes.” On Erasmus and the Glossa ordinaria, see de Jonge, 1975.
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