Thursday, March 3, 2016
What is the Difference between the King James and Douay Bible?
What is the Difference between the King James and Douay Bible? 1915 article in America, Catholic Review of the Week
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SIMPLE as this question looks at first sight, it really involves a host of others. First of all, most Catholics are probably unaware that the leather-bound volume which graces their book—shelf hardly deserves the name of “Douay” Bible. This at least is the opinion of Newman and Wiseman, who more than seventy years ago called it an abuse of terms to speak of our recent editions as the Douay Bible. Nor has the King James Version remained the same. New editions of the Protestant Bible have been brought out within the last thirty years, which, despite fierce opposition, have gained ground steadily. Taking, however, the question at its face-value, let us see what the difference is between the original Douay Bible and the King James Version as published in 1611.
First and foremost, the King James Bible omits the so—called deutero-canonical books of the Old Testament, while the Douay Version, faithful to its Catholic principles, includes all the books enumerated in the canon of the Council of Trent. In other words, the Protestant Bible omits Tobias, Judith, the Book of Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, both books of the Maccabees, parts of Esther and Daniel. This fact alone should be sufficient to bar the Protestant Bible from any Catholic household. For whatever doubts may have existed in former centuries, whatever arguments Protestants may advance against them, whatever blows higher criticism may aim at their genuineness: the infallible Church accepts them with the same reverence and pious devotion as she accepts the other books of the Bible.
Another essential difference lies in the annotations. Catholics are not allowed to read Bibles which contain no notes, much less such as contain notes of an heretical nature. To explain how reasonable and motherly the Church is in this provision would lead us too far afield. Suffice it to say that the antagonism between Catholics and Protestants on this head springs from principles diametrically opposed. The Catholic Church holds that the Bible is not self—explanatory, that it needs a living teacher for its exponent; to the Protestants, on the other hand, the Bible is as clear and as plain as a child's primer, a book to be had by all, to be read by all, to be understood by all.
The autographs of the inspired writings, it must be remembered, are no longer in existence. The translator then must rely on copies. But these copies themselves were not made from the original. Some were written hundreds and thousands of years after the autograph. To give but one instance, the earliest copy which we possess of the New Testament dates from the fourth century; that is, it was made some two hundred and fifty years after the Evangelists wrote their Gospels. It would be unreasonable, to say the least, to expect that God would preserve this long line of copyists and copies from all error. God never meant the Bible to be our only rule of faith. Hence He could allow mistakes to creep in, at least in those matters which do not pertain to faith and morals. As a fact, if we compare copy with copy, a host of divergences become at once manifest. The question, then, to be decided by the would-be translator is: which is the best and purest text; which has the fewest fiaws; which approaches the original most closely?
Now it is true that in this respect the King James translators seem at first blush to have made the better choice. For they based their version on the original Greek and Hebrew text, while the Douay scholars were satisfied with translating from the Vulgate, itself a translation. But this fact does not prove the superiority of the King James Version. Not only is the text on which it is based, the so—called “received text,” considered even by Protestant scholars as of comparatively little value, but the more the Vulgate is examined as to the Purity of its text, the higher it rises in the esteem of sound critics. Besides, while strictly adhering to the Latin Vulgate, the Douay translators always had the original Hebrew. and Greek within easy reach to verify doubtful readings and to clear up ambiguous renderings.
Both Bibles being versions, it is a foregone conclusion that they differ with regard to the faithfulness with which they clung to the original. Now nobody ever denied that the Douay Version was a most faithful rendering of the Vulgate. Indeed, this is the one objection constantly urged against it by Protestants. Whether this be a fault or a virtue matters not for the present. But how does the King James Version stand in this respect? It is true that the Douay Version was published for the precise purpose of counteracting the “manifold corruptions of Holy Scripture” and the “foule dealing herein by false and partial translations.” But this charge was leveled against the earlier Protestant Bibles. The King James Version, in deference to the vigorous protests of Catholics, largely remedied this evil. However, there still remain some false translations, evidently introduced with the view of making the Bible seem to stand sponsor for Protestant beliefs and customs.
Finally, how do the two versions compare with regard to their style? With few exceptions, the Protestants condemn the Douay Version as stilted, un-English, ambiguous in its terms, full of strange ink-horn words which never were and never would be English. Even among Catholics an occasional tendency manifests itself to repeat these charges. Yet while there may be some reason for them, let us not overlook two facts. The first is that the Douay translators were by no means unschooled dilettanti, but men who had received the best training of their day and had been conspicuous at Oxford itself both for their ripe scholarship and their literary accomplishments. If fault is to be found with their style, this must not be set down to incapacity, but rather to definite principles purposely chosen and religiously carried out. As they themselves state in the preface, they preferred truth and accuracy to grace and elegance of style. Furthermore, they expected that words and phrases which might at first sound strange, would in the course of time become familiar and pleasing. It is noteworthy that some of the terms which they foresaw would be distasteful for a time, were afterwards adopted by the King James Bible and became naturalized in the English language.
“The substance and the ‘woof and warp’ of our Douay Version." says Edwin H. Burton in his “Life and Times of Bishop Challoner,” “is vigorous and noble English. When the superiority of the Anglican version is urged, as is frequently the case, we must not forget how much, in the New Testament at least, the Authorized Version owes to Reims. In quite recent years this influence has not only been admitted by Anglican writers, but exhaustively studied and estimated.”
A. C. COTTER, SJ
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