What is the Latin Vulgate?

Jerome: Saint AND major brainiac

(To understand the “Okay, Fine:” part of this post’s title, read yesterday’s “What Am I Going To Do With You People?“)

By the early fourth century A.D. there was circulating throughout the young Christian church in Europe and North Africa countless versions of the Bible translated into Latin, by then widely spoken throughout the Roman Empire. Jerome (known to us today as Saint Jerome), the man assigned by Pope Damasus to come up with one definitive Latin Bible, wrote,

There are almost as many forms of the text of the Bible as there are copies of it.

So the (major linguistic genius) Jerome got busy endeavoring to, as he put it, to

… correct the mistakes by inaccurate translators and the blundering alterations of confident but ignorant critics, and further, all that has been inserted or changed by copyists more asleep than awake.

“Copyists more asleep than awake”! Don’t you love it? Jerome was my kind of mega-intense linguistic genius, for sure.

The result of Jerome’s truly Herculean task, finished about 400 A.D., was the masterpiece known as the Latin Vulgate (as in “vulgar,” as in the talk them common folk talked). The Vulgate was, to say the least, smashingly successful: it proved to be for the West/Rome what the Septuagint had been for the East/Alexandria. For hundreds of years, the Vulgate was the only Bible universally used throughout European Christendom, and it served as the authoritative base for every Western European vernacular translation of the Bible that came after it.


Ah, you knew I couldn’t stay mad at you for long.

But don’t make me do a whole series on Notable Figures from the Old Testament.

Cuz I’ll do it. I’ll come back there.


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Matthew Tweedell

    I'll try to make this more controversial so that maybe you'll get some more comments (and, following from that, more readers) this time:

    St. Jerome? A genius? Please. I've heard drunk parakeets give better Latin translations than that guy! (Although… it's all Greek to me.)

    Yeah, some linguist he was—he couldn't even speak English! And couldn't he try to be at least a little less vulgar when translating sacred scriptures?

  • Leslie

    Please, please, do a whole series on Notable Figures from the Old Testament. I'll read it!

  • Julie

    Where can I find this drunken parakeet translation? They don't have it at my local Christian bookstore.

  • eeeeeeexcellent….

  • Jerome is actually a very controversial figure with plenty of scholars suggesting he messed up translations in key parts.

    Personally, I think his story is one of the areas where believing in the modern Bible stretches credulity the most… the idea that this civil servant managed to translate and assemble the anthology that became the accepted canon without making mistakes and only including those passages that are "divinely" inspired.

    I don't buy it.

  • eeeeeexcellent …..

  • I do buy that John is now channeling The Philosopher Carlin in Bill and Ted

  • eeeexcell—wait.

  • Stuart

    I have a friend who when asked that predictable Christian question "what translation do you use then?" replied in a very unassuming way "I prefer using the original Greek and Hebrew".

    Excellent answer I thought. No worries about personal bias creeping in, you just have to assume the writers remembered all the details correctly!

  • Robert Meek

    No, no! That should be EGGcellent!!!! After all they are birds! 😉 😉 😉

  • One of the things I've always admired about John is that he's an Eggalitarian

  • Dee Robertson

    John, when I looked over at the categories section, for some reason I "saw" flogging, instead of blogging. Do you think it's because of all this discussion of priests and terms like–Septuagint and Latin Vulgate? Might there be a subconscious bias I hold?

    Back to the subject at hand, and in the words of my freshman university students–"Anyways, I'm enjoying the learning." Most of the time I'm too intimidated by the other "posters" and their brilliant comments to post something myself.

  • Cracking up!

  • Gina Powers

    1. "Drunk parakeet translation"..heeheee! 2. "Copyists more asleep than awake"…YEESS, and 3. Series on notable Old Testament figures? Bring it, bro! Damn skippy…;).

    (And no, John, I SWEAR I am not stalking you. Off to go bebother Mark now and do yardwork….).

  • Don Whitt

    I prefer to cling to my Klingon version.

  • LoneWolf

    Dooooooooo iiiit.

  • Anna Rose

    I looooooooooooooove Jerome. Tormented, cranky, brilliant – I wrote about him at great length on my Medieval Latin exam. 🙂 🙂 🙂