Monday, December 5, 2016

The Vulgate Canon

I'm still blogging my way through the latest issue on The Bible Translator, which is a themed-issue on the biblical canon. For previous posts in this series, see here. This time I'll be discussing this article:

Daniel Kerber, “The Canon in the Vulgate Translation of the Bible,” The Bible Translator 67.2 (2016): 168–83.

Traces the origins of the Latin Bible, first clear in Cyprian, and then explains the development of Jerome's translations (169–73). Jerome did not translate most of the deuterocanonicals (only Tobit and Judith), nor most of the New Testament.

At the end of this section, there is an odd sentence:
After his death, probably in the middle of the fifth century, the translations he made were complemented by the addition of others’ translations, put together by an editor who used the terminology of Rufinus. (p. 173)

There is no citation, or any explanation about what the “terminology of Rufinus” might mean. I don’t think Rufinus is previously mentioned in the article. Kerber is referring to a colophon following Esther in a manuscript dating to around 800, though the colophon itself might be considerably earlier. The text does mention the categories of biblical books known also from Rufinus, such that some books that are non-canonical are given the label 'ecclesiastical' because they are helpful to Christians even though they cannot establish doctrine. (See a little more in n. 70 here.) [UPDATE (7 Dec. 2016): I see that I have previously mentioned this colophon, and supplied a translation, while summarizing Bogaert's article on Baruch. See here.]
Kerber does represent correctly Jerome’s views on the OT canon, even though he didn’t cite this excellent article

Kerber's article contains a contradiction regarding the time at which the word ‘vulgate’ came to apply to Jerome’s translation. On p. 171, he says this happened in the seventh century (citing the Aland's), but on p. 175 he says it first happened in the work of Roger Bacon in the thirteenth century.

He supplies an adequate, brief accounting of the history of the Vulgate to modern times.

Then he turns to Trent. I would dispute this sentence: “Influence by Renaissance humanism, the Reformers, in their desire to go back to the original faith because of the many abuses in the church, also wanted to return to the source texts, and so they rejected the biblical books belonging to the Greek tradition (LXX) and went back to the Hebrew canon” (p. 177). I do not doubt that the Reformers were influenced by Renaissance humanism, but so were the Catholics, and in any case this is not the reason that the Reformers clung to the narrow canon. In fact, the church had never taken a firm decision on this matter, and so even in the days of the Reformation, or afterwards, up until Trent, it was a legitimate option for Catholics to affirm the narrow canon. Some of the divines at Trent did so. I do not believe that Luther thought of himself as disputing church tradition when he claimed that 2Maccabees is not a part of the canon. Rather, he thought he was reasserting church tradition. This confusion is exacerbated in the footnote attached to this statement, where Kerber cites approvingly Sundberg’s mischaracterization of the Leipzig Debate, as if Luther’s views on the canon were determined by his need to disprove the doctrine of purgatory, which completely overlooks the fact that some Catholic theologians at the time, in full communion with Rome, also affirmed the narrow canon. What is odd is that Kerber, in the next paragraph, mentions these Catholic doubts about the deuterocanonical books, correctly describing the views of Erasmus and Cajetan, and in the paragraphs following, he mentions the contentious debates on the issue among those gathered at the Council. Note: followers of Luther did not attend the Council. The Catholic theologians debated the matter because the matter had not previously been settled for the Catholic Church. This gives the lie to the idea that Luther overturned church tradition by rejecting the canonicity of 2 Maccabees. For more, see this post.
The rest of the article discusses the meaning of Trent’s approval of the Vulgate text, and whether we should continue to use the term ‘deuterocanonical’.

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