Thursday, June 23, 2011

Called to Communion, the Vulgate, and Calvin


One of the latest blog entries from Called to Communion (CTC) is entitled Calvin, Trent, and the Vulgate: Misinterpreting the Fourth Session. The writer explains the "Reformed" popularly portray Trent as "enshrining the Vulgate" at the expense of Biblical linguistic research. Note the following excerpts:
Excerpt 1: When I first began to take interest in theology, and in Reformed theology in particular, during college, I learned the story of how the Catholic Church closed herself off to serious study of the Holy Bible at the Council of Trent (1545-1563). The act in question is the Council's enshrining the Vulgate, Jerome's Latin translation of Bible, in its first decree, which was adopted during the fourth session on April 8th, 1546... That the Catholic Church did such a thing only confirmed my predilection for the Reformed tradition.
Excerpt 2: Trent made it the official version in an astounding act of arrogance, locking her faithful up in the prison of ignorance about the Scriptures and thus about Christ. I believed this story as did several of my friends.
Excerpt 3: Everyone knew that the Vulgate had acquired errors that provided purportedly divine authorization for the Catholic view of justification, Purgatory, the penitential system, the veneration of Mary and the saints, and spurious sacraments such as confirmation and marriage. Trent made it the official version in an astounding act of arrogance, locking her faithful up in the prison of ignorance about the Scriptures and thus about Christ. I believed this story as did several of my friends.
The basic thrust of complaint is that Reformed Protestants say Trent's Vulgate decision was done in order to promote ignorance. Who exactly taught this? Which college taught this? Was it a Reformed college? The CTC blogger doesn't say, but does go on to locate the ultimate Reformed culprit, John Calvin:
The problem is that this story is a myth. It is a myth like the myth that the Catholic Church officially opposed the translation of Sacred Scripture into other vernacular languages in itself. When I was seeking Protestant sources and arguments to keep me from converting to Catholicism, I found that this misinterpretation came down to me from the very pen of John Calvin.
So it was none other than John Calvin that probably popularized the "myth" that Romanism officially authorized an inferior Latin translation of the Bible to be her "official" translation to keep her people ignorant.  CTC later states, "According to Calvin, Trent swept away the need for studying Greek and Hebrew in marking the Vulgate as the authentic text of the Church." According to CTC, the truth is that the decree of Trent "was above all aimed at standardizing the Latin text of the Bible for the Church, especially the Latin Rite." Trent's decree had nothing to do with keeping the Roman church ignorant. Rather, Trent simply wanted to standardize the Latin text.

It is quite true that there were problems with the Latin manuscripts during this period of history. William Whitaker's Disputations on Holy Scripture outlines this problem succinctly (see the discussion beginning on page 128). However, the notion that John Calvin perpetuated a Reformed (or Reformation) "myth" is not the case. Nor do I think CTC understands Calvin's actual arguments or the actual issues surrounding the Vulgate during this time period. 

CTC quotes Calvin's Antidote to the Council of Trent (1547). Henry Beveridge notes, "It is believed to be the earliest publication in which the proceedings of that body were fully and systematically reviewed." Calvin's introduction is dated November 21,1547. Take notice that it was only a short time previous (April 8, 1546) that Trent's Insuper decree stated:
Moreover, the same holy council considering that not a little advantage will accrue to the Church of God if it be made known which of all the Latin editions of the sacred books now in circulation is to be regarded as authentic, ordains and declares that the old Latin Vulgate Edition, which, in use for so many hundred years, has been approved by the Church, be in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions held as authentic, and that no one dare or presume under any pretext whatsoever to reject it.
John Steinmueller explains that this decree is commonly held to be a disciplinary Decree based upon the dogmatic fact that the Vulgate conforms substantially with the originals, and therefore contains no errors in faith and morals (John Steinmueller, S.T.D., S.Scr.L., A Companion to Scripture Studies (New York: Wagner, 1941), Volume I, General Introduction to the Bible, p. 186, n.13). When Trent picked the Old Latin Vulgate, she meant business. It appears in Trent's collective mind, the old Vulgate was at least faithful enough to serve the church as her official Bible. John Calvin died in 1564.  The actual revised Vulgate appeared in 1590. Therefore, throughout John Calvin's entire life, an inferior Bible translation was indeed the standard for Roman Catholicism. The Insuper decree is dated 1547. So it was actually 43 years later in which a new edition of the Vulgate came out, and even that translation was a mess (including an interesting subterfuge / cover up perpetuated by Bellarmine and Gregory XIV). The first Calvin quote utilized by CTC states:
But as the Hebrew or Greek original often serves to expose their ignorance in quoting Scripture, to check their presumption, and so keep down their thrasonic boasting, they ingeniously meet this difficulty also by determining that the Vulgate translation only is to be held authentic. Farewell, then, to those who have spent much time and labor in the study of languages, that they might search for the genuine sense of Scripture at the fountainhead!
According to CTC, here Calvin went beyond what Trent said: "Trent nowhere forbids the use of the original languages." There are though a few things that should jump out from this Calvin quote. The first is "Hebrew or Greek original" and secondly, "the Vulgate translation only is to be held authentic" and thirdly, the relationship of these two statements. Calvin's concern here is to protect the actual text of the Bible: the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. That is, if one wants to declare what the authentic text is, look no further than the Bible written its original tongue. But shouldn't it go without saying that the Hebrew and Greek texts are the authentic text of Scripture? Shouldn't it be assumed Trent held that the Hebrew and Greek were included among the authentic text? Actually, no. In David King's book Holy Scripture The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith Volume 1 (Battle Ground: Christian Resources inc., 2001),  there is a fairly detailed discussion on Rome and the Latin Vulgate (pp. 162-169). Speaking on the proceedings at Trent, King states,
Cardinal Pacheco demanded that all other versions excepting the Vulgate be condemned, but this was largely rejected by the Tridentine Council. Cardinal Pole requested that the 'Hebrew and Greek originals' be included among the authentic text. This request was likewise rejected (p.162).
In laying out the points of Trent, Calvin states in the Antidote, "Thirdly, repudiating all other versions whatsoever, they retain the Vulgate only, and order it to be authentic." He later goes on to state, "What! are they not ashamed to make the Vulgate version of the New Testament authoritative, while the writings of Valla, Faber, and Erasmus, which are in everybody's hands, demonstrate with the finger, even to children, that it is vitiated in innumerable places?" Calvin's concern is that Trent picked a severely handicapped and inferior translation as the official Bible of the church. The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin points out, "Calvin was furthermore disappointed that instead of going to the original Greek and Hebrew texts of the Bible, it chose the Latin Vulgate as the authoritative version."

William Whitaker also provides an interesting look at this period in history verifying Calvin's concern. One of the major arguments during this time period was over what exactly constituted the authentic text of Scripture. Whitaker states, "Our adversaries determine that the authentic scripture consists not in the Hebrew and Greek originals, but in the Vulgate Latin version. We, on the contrary side, say that the authentic and divinely-inspired scripture is not this Latin, but the Hebrew edition of the old Testament, and the Greek of the new." Whitaker then states actual Roman Catholic arguments as espoused by Bellarmine in favor of the Vulgate Latin being the actual authentic text of the Scriptures: "He proposes his First argument in this form: For nearly a thousand years, that is, from the time of Gregory the Great, the whole Latin church hath made use of this Latin edition alone" (p. 135). Bellarmine goes on to make a number of arguments in favor of the Latin text, all responded to by Whitaker.  Whitaker also documents that it simply wasn't Bellarmine arguing for the Latin Vulgate:
Certain English popish divines, who have taken up their abode in the seminary of Rheims, some years since translated the new Testament into the English tongue, not from the Greek text, but from the old Latin Vulgate. In order to persuade us of the wisdom and prudence of this proceeding, they produce in their preface ten reasons to prove that this Latin Vulgate edition is to be followed in all things rather than the Greek (p.141).
These "popish divines" went on to argue that "The sacred council of Trent, for these and many other very weighty reasons, hath defined this alone of all Latin translations to be authentic" (p.143). Whitaker raises some interesting objections, noting that even at the time Trent spoke, what she said was open to interpretation:
I answer: In the first place, that Tridentine Synod hath no authority with us. Secondly, What right had it to define this? Thirdly, It hath proposed no grounds of this decree, except this only, -that that edition had been for a long time received in the church; which reason, at least, every one must perceive to be unworthy of such great divines. Fourthly, I desire to know whether the council of Trent only commanded this Latin edition to be considered the authentic one amongst Latin editions, or determined it to be absolutely authentic? For if it only preferred this one to other Latin translations, that could be no reason to justify the Rhemists in not making their version of the new Testament from the Greek; since the council of Trent prefers this, not to the Greek edition, but to other Latin translations. Do they, then, make both this Latin and that Greek edition authentic, or this Latin only? Indeed, they express themselves in such a manner as not to deny the authenticity of the Greek, while nevertheless they really hold no edition of either old or new Testament authentic, save this Latin Vulgate only. This is the judgment of these Rhemists who have translated the new Testament from the Latin; and this the Jesuits defend most strenuously, maintaining that, where the Latin differs from the Greek or Hebrew, we should hold by the Latin rather than the Greek or Hebrew copies. And it is certain that this is now the received opinion of the papists (p.143).
So one of the main arguments during this time period was: what exactly constituted the authentic text of the Bible? Whitaker's entire discussion is a worthy read. I wonder if the CTC author even had this basic text during the years he claims to have been "Reformed." When dealing with history Roman Catholic converts are often prone to look down from their current perspective and chastise someone (like John Calvin) without at least trying to understand what informed his perspective in the first place. There is indeed "myth" going on here, but it isn't from Calvin's hand. Rather, I think CTC has missed Calvin's main concern and also engaged in a bit of anachronism.

8 comments:

JoeyHenry said...

Just in case Barrett would not post my comments in his essay, let me put it here (he sent an email previously accusing me of ad hominem argumentation).

Part I

Barrett,

It seems that you have toned down or changed your arguments now. Previously, you wrote the following:

1. According to Calvin, Trent swept away the need for studying Greek and Hebrew in marking the Vulgate as the authentic text of the Church.
2. Yet Calvin has read more into the decree than the decree says. Calvin, a man with a great talent for sober and elegant writing and interpretation, here gave way to impassioned “eisegesis” of what Trent really said. Trent nowhere forbids the use of the original languages, as if St. Jerome had not used them to revise the Old Latin texts or make his own translations.

Now, you are saying, "I never said that Calvin thought that Trent outlawed any study of Greek and Hebrew whatsoever."

This seems to be a toned down or a changed line of reasoning now and I am glad to see it.

Here is the bottomline of this Barrett. Your interpretation of Trent is one of the possible interpretations of the decree. As Hodge succintly noted, "The meaning of this decree is a matter of dispute among Romanists themselves. Some of the more modern and liberal of their theologians say that the Council simply intended to determine which among several Latin versions was to be used in the service of the Church. They contend that it was not meant to forbid appeal to the original Scriptures, or to place the Vulgate on a par with them in authority. The earlier and stricter Romanists take the ground that the Synod did intend to forbid an appeal to the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, and to make the Vulgate the ultimate authority. The language of the Council seems to favor this interpretation. The Vulgate was to be used not only for the ordinary purposes of public instruction, but in all theological discussions, and in all works of exegesis.” And of course, as you have pointed out, "Calvin simply assumed that there was one Catholic view here."

But still, Calvin, as you admited, is still within the bounds of the Catholic view on how this decree is to be understood --unless, you'll argue that your interpretation of Trent is the official interpretation. As you may have noted, there are Catholic Theologians, relying on the wording of the decree, who did uphold the Latin text as superior over the manuscripts of the Greek and Hebrew text when the reformers used them to point out exegetical errors of Rome. As Trent clearly said "no one is to dare, or presume to reject it [i.e. the old Latin] under any pretext whatever." The interpretation of these Catholic theologians of the decree of Trent is not a misrepresentation of the decree but one of the legitimate interpretations (and more popular during Calvin's time) which Calvin took issue with. Therefore, it is not necessary to paint Calvin as misrepresenting the decree.

JoeyHenry said...

Part II

A final note. You said, "Finally, I would like to say to you, Joey, that I did not impute any malice to Calvin in finding the beginnings of the myth with him, and so I have not said that Calvin deceived me (or anyone else) intentionally." This again is a toned down argument. In your essay, you said,

"The problem is that this story is a myth. It is a myth like the myth that the Catholic Church officially opposed the translation of Sacred Scripture into other vernacular languages in itself. When I was seeking Protestant sources and arguments to keep me from converting to Catholicism, I found that this misinterpretation came down to me from the very pen of John Calvin. In reading Calvin’s Antidote (1547) to the Council of Trent, I found him accusing the Council of exalting the Latin Vulgate with the intention of shutting the mouth of the true reformers such as himself."

then you said,

"I learned that I had accepted a myth only after I did two important things toward learning what the Catholic Church actually teaches: 1) I talked to a faithful Catholic priest and 2) I read Trent and some other Catholic sources with an ear that was at least open to being corrected. One does not want to look in the mirror and see an ostrich, after all."

You did accuse Calvin of misrepresentation and that you were deceived by his misrepresentation. You accused him of "impassioned eisegesis" of Trent. Further, you claimed that, had you not performed two imprtant things, you could have stayed deceived by Calvin's misrepresentation. I am at a loss, based on your original essay, how you can say that:

1. I did not impute any malice to Calvin in finding the beginnings of the myth with him.
2. I have not said that Calvin deceived me (or anyone else) intentionally.

My friend, you coaxed your essay with "conversion" narratives and made personal remarks on how you've come to break free from the deceptions of Calvin. That is part of your argument and the thrust of your essay. To say then that,

"...this post is about the truth of his [i.e. Calvin's] assessment of the fourth session. He made a mistake caused by zealously defending what he thought was at stake. I have said nothing here of moral culpability, for my purpose was to assess what the fourth session of Trent actually did and whether Calvin understood it correctly on the point of the Vulgate, in order to remove one popular obstacle to the reunion of all Christians."

is not that convincing for you've crafted your essay in such a way that it affected you personally. In your essay, you want to portray that someone was deceived by Calvin's assessment of Trent and that someone was "YOU". The essay, therefore, is not purely about the assessment of the fourth session of Trent and Calvin but a call to break free from "supposed" Calvin's (Reformed) deception/misrepresentation of Trent. It is clear to me that this post is not aimed for the "reunion of all Christians" but for the conversion of "protestants" to Rome.

Regards,
JoeyHenry

louis said...

Nice work, Joey. And James. It seems that Trent's decree was not very perspicuous.

James Swan said...

Nice work, Joey. And James. It seems that Trent's decree was not very perspicuous.

What I find interesting is the "Latin Vulgate Only" folks during the 16th Century (very similar to our KJV only folks). Whitaker has a great overview on this.

Carrie said...

I am confused by the post at CTC.

I agree, it seems like the author has not taken the time to understand the time period when Calvin wrote his treatise and the confusion in Catholic circles at that time as to how to interpret the decree.

In briefly looking back through Jedin's two works on the Council (based on the Council diairies, tracts, letters, etc), Rome's response to the Vulgate decree published in 1546 had similar concerns to Calvin and interpreted the language of the decree as discouraging the use other texts. There was also confusion as to what Vulgate was being to referred to as there was more than one "Vulgate" in circulation. Also, within and outside the council there was debate as to whether the Vulgate(s) in use were authored by Jerome. So the decree was not as perspicuous as the CTC author seems to imply, and I think that was intentional on the part of the Council (b/c of all the disagreements around the issue).

In addition, the CTC author asserts "the council provides a way to achieve this reform in decreeing that a “thorough revision” of the Latin Bible is to be made" and yet there is no talk of a revision in the decree. A revision was discussed in the Council but it's inclusion into the final decree was purposely omitted.

I don't have time to include quotes from Jedin as I don't think I have a scan to quickly copy and paste, but what I read jives with James & Joey here. From the comments it appears that the CTC author has read one of Jedin's books so I am surprised by his conclusions. If anything, reading Jedin's work shows how much disagreement there was around the Vulgate and translation into vernacular languages as well as pushback from Rome - hardly authoritative nor consistent.

James Swan said...

Carrie,

I'd love to see a post from you on this- Or, you could even repost the comments you just left as a post-

Yes, that's cyber bullying.

Carrie said...

I'd love to see a post from you on this

I wish I could, but it would take a lot of time to get all the quotes typed up. And to feel comfortable I'd have to look at a few other sources.

It is an interesting topic though so let me see if I can pull some stuff together. No promises. My kids are home for the summer and do not allow me to focus on anything for more than 5 minutes.

James Swan said...

No promises. My kids are home for the summer and do not allow me to focus on anything for more than 5 minutes.

No problem!