Monday, April 27, 2015

The Inspiration of the Vulgate

I'm more familiar with arguments for the inspiration of the LXX against the authority of the Vulgate, but of course those arguments--at least, in the form that they are familiar to me--are from the patristic era, when the status of the LXX was being threatened by Jerome's new translation from the Hebrew Bible.

Fast forward a thousand years, and the Vulgate has now become the Bible of the western church and attained the status of "inspired scripture." When Erasmus published the editio princeps of the Greek New Testament along with his revised Latin translation, he received the same kind of criticism Jerome received, and some of the same arguments were used. The critics of Erasmus--especially the Complutensian circle--were convinced that the Greek manuscripts of the NT had been corrupted by those schismatic Greeks, and so the Vulgate manuscripts were actually more authentic. So also in the patristic period some Fathers had argued that the Jews had corrupted the Hebrew text, and so the LXX was more authentic. The Complutensian Polyglot--with its three-column Old Testament consisting of Hebrew, Vulgate, and LXX--famously explains in a preface the order of its columns, like Jesus in between the two thieves; that is, the sacred Vulgate resided between the corrupt Hebrew text and the corrupt LXX.

One of Erasmus' critics was a Parisian scholar named Petrus Sutor, who published an attack in 1525 (available here). Jerry Bentley summarizes the argument thus:
the Vulgate is true, authoritative scripture; St. Jerome translated the entire Vulgate under direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and in fact was carried off to the third heaven in preparation for his task; abandoning the Vulgate in favor of new versions, whether Latin or vernacular, constitutes heresy and blasphemy. (p. 205)
On the next page, Bentley says that "Erasmus agreed that the Holy Spirit was in some way present when Jerome executed his work, but he flatly denied that the Spirit shielded the Vulgate from all errors" (p. 206, citing Apologia aduersus debacchationes Petri Sutoris, LB 9:737–812).

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