Witness of God
St. Jerome revised the whole New Testament. It is time to give proofs. They are of overwhelming strength. (p. 283) ...Tradition is unanimous. Until the few rather hasty modern critics, not a voice was ever raised to suggest that St. Jerome did not revise the whole New Testament. The victorious career of the Vulgate is entirely due to the fact that it was universally believed in early times to be a revision carried out by the most learned of Western Doctors at the bidding of Pope Damasus. It is true that the Old Latin did not immediately expire, and that St. Gregory the Great at the very end of the sixth century declared that the Roman Church used the old version [PAGE 285] as well as the new. In theory, yes. But even from St. Jerome's time onwards, pure Old Latin is not often to be found for the N.T. We have Vulgate, impure Vulgate, and mixed Old Latin and Vulgate, but no longer a rival Old Latin. And behind this tradition we have absolutely definite and categorical statements by St. Jerome himself, that he revised the whole New Testament.
(Chapman, St. Jerome and the Vulgate N.T., part 3, 1923, p. 284-285)
St. Jerome and the Vulgate New Testament (1923)
§13. St Jerome is always accurate and sober in enumerating his own Writings.
St Jerome's works are very numerous. It is generally possible to determine in what order he wrote them, and in what year, from his own statements. We can discover the dates of his translations of various books of the Old Testament. His letters have nearly all been arranged in the order of their composition. When he speaks of his age he is not always to be trusted , as he is sometimes inclined to exaggerate his years, to speak of himself as an aged man, when we might think him in late middle age; and when looking back to his youth he seems to exaggerate his youthfulness at the date he is recalling. This makes it difficult to determine the date of his birth. But in determining the dates of his writings we do not encounter these difficulties. And he is accurate as to amount. He usually mentions the number of books in each work. He complains of the labour they cost him ; he is proud of the care he took in translating the Old Testament; yet he frankly says in his Preface to his version of Tobit: ‘unius diei laborem arripui and in his Preface to Judith ‘ huic unam lucubratiunculam dedi ' for he only gave a few hours to these tasks, to please his friends.1
1 So in the Pref. to his Comm, on Matt., he insists on the hurry with which he had to dictate it.
I cite, as a good example of Jerome’s careful accounts of his work, the last written of his prefaces to his commentaries on the minor
prophets. It is addressed to Pammachius (A. D. 406):
The first five were published in 392, for in the preface to Jonas (already referred to) he said (in 395):
So in 395 he is careful to explain that he had as yet commented on only five of the minor prophets, just as in 406 he tells us that it was only ‘after a long silence’ that he started on the sixth. In the Preface Iungat epistola
to the Vulgate Solomon he explains that illness has prevented his writing the commentaries on Osee, Amos, Zacharias, and Malachias, which Chromatius and Heliodorus were demanding. These two bishops paid St Jerome’s secretaries and scribes (notarii
). But the writing of De uiris illustribus
was the first cause of the delay. In the last chapter (cxxxv) of that work he tells us that he had only commented on the five, but meant to get on with the rest. I transcribe the last part of the chapter, restoring the true text:
This is very frank and detailed. He carefully explains that he has written tractatus
on seven Psalms only, and mentions which. He would give the number of letters to Paula and Eustochium, if he could.
His letter to the Spaniard Lucinus (so Hilberg with MSS, not Lucinius), Ep. 71, written in 398, is still more to the point. Lucinus had
sent six scribes to Bethlehem to copy all that Jerome had written from his youth up (Ep. 75. 4); but he wanted copies of some works which were non-existent:
I have italicized a few passages. We see here why St Jerome had to be so meticulously careful in the enumeration of his writings; it is
because so many were ascribed to him which he had not written, and he was worried to give copies of non-existent works.
He does not shew himself a boaster. He does not vaunt that he has published Josephus and Polycarp and Papias in Latin; he does not
claim to have translated a great quantity of Origen ; he is particular in explaining that he has not finished the Octateuch, though in fact he had already done a portion of it. We cannot doubt that he is sincere when he asserts that he revised the LXX1
and the N. T., and that he means to be understood of the whole of both.
1 He seems also to mean the whole of the LXX, adv. Ruf
i 24. Cp. also Preface to Hebrew Psalter.
Were it otherwise, he would have been a liar, and a fool as well as a liar—and he was far from being a fool. We are asked by the critics to believe that, while he is correcting a false and annoying rumour that he had translated books which he had not translated, with the same pen and on the some paper 2 he is propagating a false rumour that he has translated other books which he had not translated !
2 To avoid captious criticism by the unlearned reader, I will note that at this date it was still considered rude to write a letter on parchment. Paper was always used. The pen, however, was probably in the hand of St Jerome's secretary, not in his own.
Why, Lucinus’s copyists were on the spot; Lucinus was expected shortly at Bethlehem in person ; he would be sure to ask for a copy to be made of this new recension of Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypse (for if St Jerome is lying, Lucinus cannot have possessed one already),—and how is Jerome to get out of it ? Why, the readers all over Christendom of that most popular book, De uiris
would clamour for copies of this (till then unheard of) revision ; Bethlehem would be overwhelmed with letters from publishers and booksellers and friends and unknown correspondents, and the recluse would have had to explain and explain that he had only been talking big, and there was nothing to copy.
But in fact the list of writings in the De uiris illustribus
was just as careful not to say too much. It does not mention the revision of the
LXX, for most of it had been destroyed 3
3 'Pleraque enim prioris laboris ob fraudem cuiusdam amisimus,' Ep. 112. 19.
it had been a laborious work and St Jerome was proud of it, but he could not mention it, as he would be bored by requests for copies. It does not mention the translation of the O. T., although in the preceding chapter (134) we are told of Sophronius of Bethlehem : ‘ opuscula mea in Graecum eleganti sermone transtulit: Psalterium quoque et Prophetas quos nos de Hebraeo in
Latinum uertimus.’ It is only from this passage that we know that St Jerome had translated the Prophets and the Psalms as early as 392. But he seems not to have cared for his translations to be circulated much, except among his friends,4
until the whole should be finished, probably because he wished to reserve to himself the power of still making alterations. Finally, the list does not mention the Roman or the Gallican Psalter.1
Why then docs the list include the revision of the N. T., except because it was published to the world and widely known ? Its very
position in the list shews that the Gospels alone are not meant. The Gospels appeared in 384, and their place in the list would have been among the works published while St Jerome was at Rome.
§14. St Jerome published his revision of the whole New Testament in 391
It is thus certain that St Jerome twice declares that he revised the New Testament, and that on both occasions he makes this declaration in the course of giving a detailed and precise list of writings. The list in the De uiris illustribus
is strictly chronological. We can therefore quite simply determine the year in which St Jerome published to the world his completed revision. The dates of the preceding and following works are certain enough:
Origen on Luke, translated 389
Lives of St Malchus and St Hilarion 390
NEW TESTAMENT ?
Letters to Paula, still being written 392
Comm, on five minor Prophets 392
The lives of the captive monk and Hilarion are placed in 390, on the strength of this list, by Vallarsi, &c. The early part of 392 must have been wholly occupied by the five commentaries and work commenced on other prophets.
Hence it seems that we can hardly be wrong in placing the N. T. in 391, four years after the commentaries on St Paul, and seven years after the appearance of the four Gospels alone.
I fear the reader of this article may think I have argued with an unnecessary amount of detail. But the conclusions at which we have at
length arrived are of such great importance for the revision of the Vulgate, that I have tried to make every point as clear as possible.
Supposing the revision of the New Testament to have been made by several different authors, or to have been published at various times, or even to have passed through two or three successively corrected editions in the case of St Paul’s epistles, or simply to be later than St Jerome s time, the whole question of restoring the text of the revision would be perturbed. If there were several revisers (as Corssen and De Bruyne
have thought) we should have to learn the character of text preferred by each. If the parts were published at different dates, the genealogies of families of MSS would need to be treated in a different way. If the Vulgate St Paul was a third edition of Pelagius, it would be from fifty to a hundred years later than 391, and the earliest manuscripts would be far nearer to the original. I believe that the history of the texts makes such hypotheses impossible;
and if research proceeded on the basis of such hypotheses, I imagine the whole subject would be involved in an inextricable tangle. The fact that St Jerome revised the whole with one method and published the result together, as a single book with one Preface to the whole, must simplify the history of the text of the N. T., the Gospels apart.
No less important, in my opinion, is the conclusion that St Jerome exercised great care and great restraint in revising St Paul, that he really collected a number of varying Latin texts, and was anxious not to introduce a new translation wherever any old reading would serve. This necessarily throws a light on his method of revising the Gospels.
It was the opinion of Bishop Wordsworth and Mr White
when they published St Jerome’s text (most judiciously restored) with the text ot the codex Brixianus (f)
printed below it, that the latter codex represents the Old Latin text on which St Jerome based his revision. I have always regarded f
as a semi-Vulgate text. Mr Burkitt
argues that it depends on the Gothic version. Prof. Souter
has shewn that for the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Ep. xxi (a. d. 383) St Jerome used a codex resembling the Vercellensis (a)
, and he suggests that it is this type of text which lies behind St Jerome’s revision.
I venture to disagree. I think St Jerome really did what he professes to have done in his letter Nouum opus
. When Newman proposed to revise the Douai version of the Bible, he collected a number of editions of the English versions, Protestant and Catholic, and the volumes may be still seen on the shelves of the Edgbaston Oratory. Similarly, St Jerome seems to have collected a number of codices of the Gospels and of the rest of the N. T., and to have ‘sat in judgement * upon them, as St Damasus had required. I do not think we can say that a
dominates in the result. But many difficulties are explained by St Jerome’s shyness in introducing new readings which were not supported by any of his MSS. And possibly the variety of codices on St Jerome’s shelves supplies a partial explanation of the startling variety of his quotations in his later writings
: he used any volume which came to hand, when he did not simply trust to memory.
Note: on Corssen and Cavallera