History of English Bible Translation 14 The Douay Rheims Bible

The History of the English Bible - Chapter 14

The Douay Rheims Bible Translation 

The Douay Old Testament is added to the Rheims New Testament (of 1582) making the first complete EnglishEnglish Bible History Catholic Bible.

Bible Timeline Translation Douay Rheims 1609An Answer to the Protestant English Translations

In 1582, the Church of Rome saw that it had lost the battle to suppress the Word of God in the English language and surrendered their fight for "Latin only".  They decided that if the Bible was to be available in English, they would at least have an official Roman Catholic English translation. And so, using the Latin Vulgate as the only approved source text, they went on to publish an English Bible with all the distortions and corruptions that Erasmus had revealed and warned of 75 years earlier.

Just as Protestants were forced to create their translations in exile from England in the first half of the century, the English Catholics were now unwelcome by the Anglican Church.  Some settled in Rheimes and Douai, cities of northern France. Because it was translated at the Roman Catholic College in the city of Rheims, the version was known as the Rheims New Testament (also spelled Rhemes). The Douay Old Testament was translated by the Church of Rome in 1609 at the College in the city of Douay (also spelled Doway & Douai). The combined product is commonly referred to as the "Doway/Rheims" Version.

Origins of the Name

The first installment of the translation appeared in 1582, during a temporary migration of the college to Rheims. This was the New Testament, the work mainly of Gregory Martin, formerly Fellow of St. John's College, Oxford, with the assistance of a small band of scholars from the same university. The Old Testament is stated to have been ready at the same time, but for lack of funds it could not be printed until 1609, after the college had returned to Douai, when it appeared just in time to be of some use to the prepares of King James' version.

A Twisted Translation

When the Rheims translation was published, there was an outcry from both the Anglican and the Protestant Churches, concerning how grossly inaccurate it was. The problem was that while the Anglicans and Protestants were using the original Hebrew and Greek to do their translations, the Catholics were using only the Latin Vulgate to do their English translations, and even then, they were altering the translation to reflect more kindly upon Roman Catholic teachings. Sometimes these examples were glaringly obvious.  For example, the passage in the Lord's Prayer in which Jesus says "Give us this day, our daily bread" is rendered "Give us this day, our super-substantiated bread." This was done to emphasize the supposed scriptural legitimacy of the elements of the Lord's Supper (the Eucharist) literally becoming the flesh of Jesus (transubstantiation); a belief that the Catholic Church has always held to, but that all non-catholic Christians consider to be cannibalism and heresy. 

Following the Latin Vulgate closely also resulted in an awkward style as in
"if thou be a prevaricator of the law, thy circumcision is become prepuce" or  "whatsoever thou shalt supererogate, I at my return will repay thee."


Douay Rheims Bible Leaf Picture

The following short passage (Ephesians 3:6-12) is another example of this Latin style.

"The Gentils to be coheires and concorporat and comparticipant of his promis in Christ Jesus by the Gospel: whereof I am made a minister according to the gift of the grace of God, which is given me according to the operation of his power. To me the least of al the sainctes is given this grace, among the Gentils to evangelize the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to illuminate al men what is the dispensation of the sacrament hidden from worldes in God, who created al things; that the manifold wisedom of God may be notified to the Princes and Potestats in the celestials by the Church, according to the prefinition of worldes, which he made in Christ Jesus our Lord. In whom we have affiance and accesse in confidence, by the faith of him."

bible history douay rheims fulke

Reactions of the People

The translation, being strongly Catholic, was naturally equipped with notes of a controversial character.  It had, however, as a whole, little success. The Old Testament was reprinted only once in the course of a century, and the New Testament not much oftener. In England the greater part of its circulation was due to the action of a vehement adversary,  William Fulke. In 1589 Dr. William Fulke published his now famous "Fulke's Refutation" in which he printed the entire text of the New Testament in parallel columns showing both the Bishops translation side-by-side with the Rheims translation, in an effort to make plain the corruptness of the Rheims version.

Regarded from the point of view of scholarship, the Rheims and Douai Bible is of no importance, marking retrogression rather than advance; but it needs mention in a history of the English Bible, because it is one of the versions of which King James' translators made use.