Introduction to the Douai-Rheims Old Testament, 1609

A New Testament translation into English was published in 1609-10 by Roman Catholics in Douai, France, in self-imposed exile escaping persecution from the Protestant Tudor monarchy. While many readers are familiar with the Protestant opinion on translation into the vernacular, the true attitude of Roman Catholic authorities is almost universally grossly misrepresented. The Roman Catholic Church was not averse to vernacular translations, or even vernacular translations admitting the Greek and Hebrew texts, but was instead strongly outspoken against the tendentious textual manoeuvering and translation practices of Protestants at the time, including Protestant “proof-texting” of Patristic writers. It’s a fascinating first hand account of the controversy during a very traumatic time in European religious history.

In this reworking of the introduction to the Douai-Rheims Old Testament, I have adjusted the orthography, spelling, and punctuation, and added a few words [in sqare brackets] to aid in the flow of the text at some points. This reworked introduction is similar in language to that of the Challoner edition of the Douai-Rheims Bible, which dates to the mid-eighteenth century, the edition with which most readers are familiar, as it is still popular among Roman Catholic readers.

Also see my reworking of the Introduction to the Douai-Rheims New Testament.



Preface to the Douay-Rheims Old Testament, 1609, Printed by “Lavrence Kellam, at the signe of the holie Lambe”


To the right well-beloved English reader, grace and glory in Jesus Christ everlasting

At last through God’s goodness (most dearly beloved) we send you here the greater part of the Old Testament, as long since you received the New, faithfully translated into English. The remainder is in hand to be finished, and your desire thereof shall not now (God prospering our intention) be long frustrated. As for the impediments, which hitherto have hindered this work, they all proceeded (as many do know) of one general cause, our poor estate in banishment. Wherein expecting better means, greater difficulties rather ensued. Nevertheless you will hereby the more perceive our fervent good will ever to serve you, in that we have brought forth this Tome in these hardest times of about forty years since this College was most happily begun (A.D. 1568). Wherefore we nothing doubt but you, our dearest, for whom we have dedicated our lives, will both pardon the long delay, which we could not well prevent, and accept now this fruit of our labors, with like good affection, as we acknowledge them due and offer the same unto you.

If any demand why it is now allowed to have the Holy Scripture in vulgar tongues, which generally is not permitted but in the three sacred only, for further declaration of this and other like points we refer you to the Preface before the New Testament. Only here, as by an Epitome, we shall repeat the summary of all that is there more largely discussed. To this first question, therefore, we answer that both just reason and highest authority of the Church judge it not absolutely necessary, nor always convenient, that Holy Scriptures should be in vulgar tongues. For being as they are hard to be understood even by the learned, reason doth dictate to reasonable men that they were not written nor intended to be read impartially by all men. Experience also teacheth that through ignorance, joined often with pride and presumption, many reading Scriptures have erred grossly by misunderstanding God’s word. Which though it be most pure in itself, yet the sense being adulterated is as perilous (saith Tertullian (On the Prescription Against Heretics)) as the style corrupted. St Ambrose observeth (To Gratianus, book 2) that where the text is true, the Arians’ interpretation hath errors. St Augustine (Tractate 18 on John, chapter 1) also teacheth that heresies and perverse doctrines, entangling souls and throwing them down headlong into the depths, do not otherwise spring up except when good (or true) Scriptures are not well (and truly) understood, and when that which in them is not well understood, is also rashly and boldly proposed . For the same reason St Jerome (Epistle 103, chapter 6) utterly disallowed that all sorts of men and women, old and young, presumed to read and talk of the Scriptures, whereas no artisan, no tradesman dare presume to teach any subject which he hat not first learned. Seeing therefore that dangers and hurts happen in many, the careful chief Pastors in God’s Church have always moderated the reading of Holy Scriptures according to persons, times, and other circumstances, prohibiting some and permitting some to have and to read them in their mother tongue. So St Chrysostom translated the Psalms and some other parts of Holy Scriptures for the Armenians, when he was there in banishment. The Slavonians and Goths say they have the Bible in their languages (Bibl. Sanct. book 4 [unknown reference]). It was translated into Italian by an Archbishop of Genoa, [and] into French in the time of King Charles the Fifth, especially because the Waldensian heretics had corruptly translated it to support their errors. We had some parts in English translated by Venerable Bede, as Malmsbury witnesseth (History, book 1, chapter 47; Linwod, book 1 [unknown reference]). And Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, in a Council held at Oxford, strictly ordained that no heretical translation set forth by Wycliffe and his accomplices, nor any other vulgar Edition, should be suffered til it were approved by the Ordinary of the Diocese, referring to St Jerome’s judgment of the difficulty and danger in translating Holy Scriptures out of one tongue into another. And therefore it must needs be much more dangerous when ignorant people read also corrupted translations. Now, since Luther and his followers have pretended that the Catholic Roman faith and doctrine should be contrary to God’s written word, and that the Scriptures were not suffered in vulgar languages lest the people should see the truth, and withal these new masters corruptly turning the Scriptures into diverse tongues as might best serve their own opinions, against this false suggestion and practice Catholic Pastors have, for one special remedy, set forth true and sincere Translations in most languages of the Latin Church. But so that people must read them with license of their spiritual superior as in former times they were in similar manner limited. Such also of the Laity, yea, and of the less learned Clergy, as were permitted to read Holy Scriptures did not presume to interpret hard places nor high Mysteries, much less to dispute and contend, but leaving the discussion thereof to the more learned searched rather and noted the godly and imitable examples of good life, and so learned more humility, obedience, hatred of sin, fear of God, zeal of Religion, and other virtues. And thus Holy Scriptures may be rightly used in any tongue to teach, to argue, to correct, to instruct in justice, that the man of God may be perfect (2 Timothy 3.16-17) and (as St Paul addeth) instructed to every good work (2 Tim 2.21), when men labor rather to be doers of God’s will and word, than readers or hearers only, deceiving themselves (James 1.22).

But here another question may be proposed: Why we translate the Latin text, rather than the Hebrew or Greek, which Protestants prefer as the fountain tongues wherein Holy Scriptures were first written? To this we answer that if indeed those first pure Editions were now extant, or if such as be extant were more pure than the Latin, we would also prefer such fountains before the rivers, in whatsoever they should be found to disagree. But the ancient, best-learned Fathers and Doctors of the Church (Tertullian, Against Marcion, book 5; St Ambrose, On the Holy Spirit, book 3, chapter 11; St Jerome, Against Jovinian, book 1) do much complain and testify to us that both the Hebrew and Greek Editions are foully corrupted by Jews and Heretics since the Latin was truly translated out of them, while they were more pure. And that the same Latin hath been far better conserved from corruptions, so that the old Vulgate Latin Edition hath been preferred and used as most authentic above a thousand and three hundred years. For by this very term St Jerome calleth the Version the vulgate or common (Commentary on Isaiah 49), which he compared with the Hebrew of the Old Testament and with the Greek of the New, which he also purged from faults committed by writers, rather amending than translating it. Though in regard to this amending, St Gregory (Moral Epistles Dedicated to Leandrus, book 20, chapter 24) calleth it the new version of St Jerome, who nevertheless in another place calleth the selfsame, the old Latin version, judging it more worthy to be followed. St Augustine (On Christian Instruction, book 2, chapter 14) calleth it the Italian. St Isidore of Seville (Etymologies, book 6, chapter 5) witnesseth that St Jerome’s version was received and approved by all Christian Churches. Sophronius also (On the Divine Office, book 1, chapter 12), a most learned man, seeing St Jerome’s Edition so much esteemed not only by the Latins but also by the Grecians, turned the Psalter and Prophets our of the same Latin into Greek. Of later times what shall we need to recite other most learned men? St Bede, St Anselm, St Bernard, St Thomas, St Bonaventure, and the rest? Who all uniformly allege this only text as authentic. Insomuch that all other Latin Editions, which St Jerome saith (Preface to Joshua) were in his time almost innumerable, are, as it were, fallen out of all Divines’ hands and grown out of credit and use. If, moreover, we consider St Jerome’s learning, piety, diligence, and sincerity together with the benefits he had from the best copies in all languages then extant and from other learned men with whom he conferred, and if we so compare the same with the best methods that hath been since, surely no man of impartial judgment will match any other Edition with St Jerome’s, but easily acknowledge with the whole Church God’s particular providence in this great Doctor, as well for expounding as most especially for the true text and Edition of Holy Scriptures. Neither do we flee unto this old Latin text for more advantage. For besides that, it is free from partiality, as being the most ancient of all Latin copies and long before the particular Controversies of these days began. The Hebrew also and the Greek when they are truly translated, yea, and Erasmus’ Latin in sundry places (Luke 2.20; Preface to the New Testament of 1556; Luke 1.1) prove more plainly the Catholic Roman doctrine that this which we rely upon. So that Beza and his followers take also exception against the Greek, when Catholics quote it against them. Yea, the same Beza preferreth the old Latin Version before all others, and freely testifieth that the old Interpreter translated religiously. What then do our countrymen, that refuse this Latin but deprive themselves of the best, and yet all this while have set forth none that is accepted by all Protestants, for good or sufficient.

How well this is done the learned may judge, when by mature conference they shall have made trial thereof. And if any thing be mistaken we will (as still we promise) gladly correct it. Those that translated it about thirty years since (Preface before the New Testament) were well-known to the world to have been excellent in the tongues, sincere men, and great Divines. Only one thing we have done concerning the text, whereof we are especially to give notice. That whereas heretofore in the best Latin Editions, there remained many places differing in words, some also in sense, as in long process of time the writers erred in their copies, now lately, by the care and diligence of the Church, those diverse readings were maturely and judiciously examined and compared with sundry [of] the best written and printed books, and so resolved upon that all which before were left in the margin are either restored into the text, or else omitted, so that none such remain in the margin. For which cause we have again compared this English translation and conformed it to the most perfect Latin Edition. Where yet, by the way, we must give the vulgar reader to understand that very few or none of the former variants concerned Controversies of this time. So that this Recognition is no way suspicious of partiality, but is merely done for the more secure conservation of the true text, and more ease and satisfaction of such as otherwise should have remained more doubtful.

Now for the strictness observed in translating some words, or rather the not translating of some, which is in more danger to be disliked, we doubt not but the discreet learned reader, deeply weighing and considering the importance of sacred words, and how easily the translator may miss the sense of the Holy Ghost, will hold that which is here done as reasonable and necessary. We have also the example of the Latin and Greek, where some word are not translated but left in Hebrew, as they were first spoken and written. Which, seeing they could not or were not amenable to be translated into Latin or Greek, how much less could they, or was it reason to turn them into English? St Augustine also yieldeth a reason, exemplifying in the words Amen and Alleluia, for the more sacred authority thereof (On Christian Instruction, book 2, chapter 11). Which doubtless is the reason why some names of solemn Feasts, Sacrifices, and other holy things are reserve in sacred tongues, Hebrew, Greek, or Latin. Again, for necessity, English not having a name or sufficient term, we either keep the word as we find it, or only turn it to our English termination, because it would otherwise require many words in English to signify one word of another tongue. In which cases, we commonly put the explanation in the margin. Briefly, our Apology is easy against English Protestants because they also reserve some words in the original tongues not translated into English: as Sabbath, Ephod, Pentecost, Proselyte, and some others. The sense whereof is indeed as soon learned as if they were turned so near as is possible into English. And why then may we not say Prepuce, Phase or Pasch, Azymes, Breads of Proposition, Holocaust, and the like? Rather than as Protestants translate the: Foreskin, Passover, The Feast of Sweet Breads, Shew breads, Burnt offerings, etc. By which terms, whether they be truly translated into English or no, we will pass over. Certainly an English man is still to seek what they mean, as if they remained in Hebrew or Greek. It more indicateth that nothing be wittingly and falsely translated for advantage of doctrine in matter of faith. Wherein as we dare boldly proclaim the sincerity of this Translation, and that nothing is here either untruly or obscurely done on purpose in favor of Catholic Roman Religion, so we cannot but complain and challenge English Protestants for corrupting the text contrary to the Hebrew and Greek which they profess to translate, for the more show and maintaining of their peculiar opinions against Catholics. As is proved in the Discovery of manifold corruptions. For example, we shall put the reader in memory of one or two. Genesis 4.7, whereas (God speaking to Cain) the Hebrew words in Grammatical construction may be translated either thus, Unto thee also pertaineth the lust thereof, and thou shalt have dominion over it, or thus, Also unto thee his desire shall be subject, and thou shalt rule over him; though the coherence of the text requireth the former, and in the Bibles printed 1552 and 1577 Protestants did so translate it, yet in the year 1579, and 1603, they translate it the other way, rather saying that Abel was subject to Cain, and that Cain, by God’s ordinance, had dominion over his brother Abel, than that concupiscence or lust of sin is subject to man’s will, or that man hath powers of free will to resist (by God’s grace) [the] temptation of sin. But as we hear in a new Edition (which we have not yet seen) they translate it almost as in the first. In like sort, Genesis 14.18. The Hebrew particle Vav, which St Jerome and all Antiquity translated Enim (For), Protestants will by no means admit it, because (besides other arguments) we prove thereby Melchizedek’s Sacrifice. And yet [they] themselves translate the same, as St Jerome doth, Genesis 20.3, saying, For she is a man’s wife, etc. Again, Genesis 31.19, the English Bibles [of] 1552 and 1577 translate Theraphim, Images. Which the Edition of 1603, correcting, translateth Idols. And the marginal Annotation well proveth that it ought to be so translated.

With this, then, we will conclude, most dear (we speak to you all that understand our tongue, whether you be of contrary opinions in faith, or by worldly fear participate with another Congregation, or profess with us the same Catholic Religion), to you all we present this work, daily beseeching God Almighty, the Divine Wisdom, [and] Eternal Goodness, to create, illuminate, and replenish your spirits with his Grace, that you may attain eternal Glory. Every one in his measure, in those many Mansions prepared and promised by our Savior in his Father’s house. Not only to those which first received and followed his Divine doctrine, but to all that should afterwards believe in him and keep the same precepts. For there is one God, one also Mediator of God and men: [the] Man Jesus Christ, who gave himself, a Redemption for all. Whereby appeareth his will, that all should be saved. Why then are not all saved? The Apostle addeth, that they must first come to the knowledge of the truth, because without faith it is impossible to please God. This groundwork, therefore, of our creation in Christ by true faith, St Paul labored most seriously, by word and writing, to establish in the hearts of all men. In this he strengthened the Romans by his Epistle, commending their faith as already accepted and renowned in the whole world. He preached the same faith to many Nations, amongst others, to the learned Athenians, where it seemed to some as absurd as strange, insomuch that they scornfully called him a word-sower, and Preacher of new gods (Acts 17.18). But St Augustine alloweth the term for good, which was reproachfully spoken by the ignorant. And so distinguishing between Reapers and Sowers in God’s Church, he teacheth that whereas the other Apostles reaped in the Jews that which their Patriarchs and Prophets had sown, St Paul sowed the seed of Christian Religion in the Gentiles (Sermon 42 On the Saints). And so in respect of the Israelites to whom they were first sent, calleth the other Apostles Messores, Reapers, and St Paul, being especially sent to the Gentiles, Seminatorem, a Sower, or Seminary Apostle. Which two sorts of God’s workmen are still in the Church with distinct offices of Pastoral curates and Apostolical missions, the one for perpetual government of Catholic countries, the other for conversion of such as either have not received Christian Religion or are relapsed. As at this time in our country, for the diverse sorts of pretended religions, these spiritual works are necessary to teach and feel all British people, because some, in error of opinions, preach another Gospel, whereas in verity there is no other Gospel. They preach indeed new doctrines, which cannot save. Others follow them believing falsehood. But when the blind lead the blind (not the one only, but) both fall into the ditch(St Augustine, On the Usefulness of Believing, chapter 1; Matthew 15.14). Others conform themselves in external appearance, fearing them that can punish and kill the body. But our Lord will bring such as decline into (unjust) obligations, with them that work iniquity (Psalm 124.5). The Relics and small flock of Catholics in our country have great sadness and sorrow of heart, not so much for our own affliction, for that is bearable, but for you our brethren and kinsmen in flesh and blood, wishing, with our own temporal damage whatsoever, your salvation. Now is the acceptable time (2 Corinthians 6.2), now are the days of salvation, the time of Grace by Christ, whose days many Kings and Prophets desired to see; they saw them (in spirit) and rejoiced (Luke 10.24). But we are made partakers of Christ and his Mysteries, so that [we] ourselves neglect not his heavenly riches, if we receive and keep the beginning of his wealth firm unto the end, that is, the true Catholic faith, building thereon good works by his grace, without which we cannot think a good thought, by which we can do all things necessary to salvation. But if we hold not fast this ground, all the building faileth. Or if confessing to know God in words, we deny him in deeds (Titus 1.16), committing works of darkness, or omitting works of mercy, when we may do them to our distressed neighbors (Matthew 25). Briefly, if we have not charity (1 Corinthians 13), the form and perfection of all virtues, all is lost, and nothing worth [anything]. But if we build upon firm ground, [with] gold, silver, and precious stones, such [a] building shall abide, and make our vocation sure by good works, as St Peter speaketh (1 Peter 2). These (saith St Paul) are the heirs of God, co-heirs of Christ. Neither is the number of Christ’s blessed children counted as of the Jews, an hundred forty-four thousand, of every tribe of Israel twelve thousand indicated (Apocalypse 7), but a most great multitude of Catholic Christians, which no man can number, of all nations, and tribes, and peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne of the lamb, clothed in white robes, and palms (of triumph) in their hands, having overcome temptations in the virtuous race of good life. Much more those which also endure persecution for the truth’s sake, shall receive most copious great rewards in heaven. For albeit the passions of this time (in themselves) are not condign to the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us; yet our tribulation, which presently is momentary and light, worketh (through grace) above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4.17). What shall we therefore meditate of the special prerogative of English Catholics at this time? For to you it is given for Christ, not only that you believe in him, but also that you suffer for him. A little now, if you must be made pensive in diverse temptations, that the proof of your faith, much more precious than gold which is proved by the fire, may be found unto praise, and glory, and honor, in the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1.6-7). Many of you have sustained the spoil of your goods with joy, knowing that you have a better and a [more] permanent wealth. Others have been deprived of your children, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and nearest friends, in ready resolution also, some with sentence of death, to lose your own lives. Others have had trial from reproaches, mockeries and stripes. Others of bonds, prisons, and banishments. The innumerable renowned late English Martyrs and Confessors, whose happy souls for confessing true faith before men are now most glorious in heaven, we pass here with silence, because their due praise, requiring longer discourse, yea, rather Angels’ than English tongues, far surpasseth the reach of our concepts. And so we leave it to your devout meditation. They, now secure for themselves and solicitous for us, their dearest clients, incessantly (we are well assured) intercede before Christ’s Divine Majesty for our happy finish, with the conversion of our whole country. To you, therefore (dearest friends mortal), we direct this speech, admonishing ourselves and you in the Apostle’s words, that for so much as we have not yet resisted temptation to (last) blood (and death itself), patience is still necessary for us, that doing the will of God we may receive the promise. So we repine not in tribulation, but ever love them that hate us, pitying their case and rejoicing in our own. For neither can we see during this life how much good they do us, nor know how many of them shall be (as we heartily desire they all may be) saved, our Lord and Savior having paid the same price by his death, for them and for us. Love all therefore, pray for all. Do not lose your confidence, which hath a great remuneration. For yet a little, and a very little while, he that is to come will come, and he will not slack. Now the just liveth by faith (Romans 10; Hebrews 10.38), believing with heart to justice, and confessing with mouth to salvation. But he that withdraweth himself shall not please Christ’s soul. Attend to your salvation, dearest countrymen. You that are far off, draw near, put on Christ. And you that are within Christ’s fold, keep your standing, persevere in him to the end. His grace dwell and remain in you, that glorious crowns may be given you. Amen.

From the English College in Douay, the Octave of All Saints, 1609.

The God of patience and comfort give you to be of one mind, one towards another in Jesus Christ, that of one mind, with one mouth you may glorify God.

Kevin P. Edgecomb, August 25-30, 2006