The Holy Bible, faithfully translated into English out of the authentic Latin. Diligently conferred with the Hebrew, Greek and other Editions.
-From the title page of the first editions of the Douay-Rheims Bible
History of the Douay-Rheims Bible
The Douay-Rheims Bible, which is also sometimes called merely the Douay Bible or abbreviated as the D-R Bible, is the oldest full Roman Catholic Bible translation in English. It is sometimes written with the spelling of Douai-Rheims, or referred to as the Rheims-Douai Bible. The spelling of “Rhemes” has also been used. The name is based on the fact that the translation was produced at the English College at Douay; the college had migrated to the area of Rheims and editions were printed there as well. Douay and Rheims, as well as Rhemes, are English spellings of the French towns of Douai and Riems, which explains the different spellings used in publishing. Douay-Rheims is the most common spelling used in publishing the translation today.
The Douay Bible dates to 1582 for the New Testament and 1609-10 for the Old Testament, and thus the Bible in its entirety. The reasons for the translation and publication were two-fold.
First, given the circumstances in England and Europe at the time, it was deemed pertinent that the faithful have access to a Bible they could read and understand, for pious use. This was especially true of the New Testament, which Catholics wanted to be able to read easily.
The second reason, which is connected to the first, was to respond to controversial editions translated by Protestant reformers. Around the end of the 16th century, there were about nine complete English Bibles and a few other New Testament translations in English. Many of the Protestant translations of scripture included controversial and biased translation, and were presented and used in polemical ways to support the Protestant schism. The publishing of the Douay-Rheims version of the Bible sought to provide an accurate, faithful English translation of the Holy Bible.
Translation and Style of the Douay-Rheims
The translation type of the Douay-Rheims is a literal translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible, initially translated by St. Jerome, which had been reaffirmed as authoritative by the Council of Trent. This is also called “word for Word” translation. Therefore it did not bend word meanings in order to fit biases. A great amount of time was spent ensuring the Bible was translated exactly. Some of the Latin words did not have an exact English equivalent. In these cases, the word was either kept in its original form or “anglicized.” Some words were not changed at all; for example with amen, which passed unchanged from Greek, into Latin, into English, or the word pasch.
In other cases the Latin word was rewritten, not as a true English word, but an English adaptation of a word. For example, the Latin version of Philippians 2:7 read:
“sed semet ipsum exinanivit formam servi accipiens in similitudinem hominum factus et habitu inventus ut homo”
With no exact English word for exinanivit, the 1582 version of the D-R Bible began the verse with “He exinanited himself,” an anglicized version of the word exinanivit.
Conferring with and comparing to the Greek and Hebrew was also done to ensure accuracy.
The Douay-Rheims Bible Today
The Douay-Rheims Bible in its present form is not the exact translation of the 1582 and 1610 versions, but the Challoner revision of 1749-1752. The revisions by Bishop Challoner were minor in terms of meaning and theology. Basically the revisions included two aspects.
First of all, Challoner changed the bulk of the anglicized words to actual English words. The anglicized version of the Latin words were a barrier to popular use by Catholics, if they did not understand the Latin term itself. For example the verse from Philippians mentioned above was changed to begin, “He emptied himself…” as opposed to “exinanited.” The other main change was to update archaic language and spelling. For example, the 16th/17th century spelling of “bloud” was changed to the modern “blood.” This did not however remove the use of words such as thee, thy, hath, etc, which the Douay-Rheims preserved.
These revisions gave the translation great popularity and it remained the standard Catholic Bible until the mid-20th century and is still the favorite of many Catholics due to its eloquent language and clear, faithful rendering of scripture. The Douay-Rheims Bible is available in a variety of forms, from a basic leather version to the elegant, heirloom quality large-sized Haydock Bible with commentary. It is also available on audio CD.
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