Saturday, July 30, 2011

My Top 5 Catholic Bibles #5

The Douay-Rheims: Still a classic

"Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our supersubstantial bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil." -Matthew 6:9-13 (DR)

The Douay-Rheims (DR) remains a classic, even today. Much like the King James Version, which was published shortly after the DR, the DR maintains a devoted following centuries after being produced. Since languages change over time, the DR has been "updated" at various points in her history. Some of the changes to the DR have been more extensive than others. Blessed Newman wrote a very helpful history about the various editions of the venerable DR, which you can read here.

Translation Philosophy 3/5
In many ways, the DR is probably the most literal/formal of all the available Catholic Bibles in English. The DR, unlike the others in this Top 5, was translated directly from the Latin, with some consideration given to the Hebrew and Greek. The online Catholic Encyclopedia has a wonderful article examining a number of the particularities of the translation. The article notes that "In the translation, many technical words were retained bodily, such as pasch, parasceve, azymes, etc. In some instances, also where it was found difficult or impossible to find a suitable English equivalent for a Latin word, the latter was retained in an anglicized form. Thus in Phil., ii, 8, we get He exinanited himself, and in Hebrews 9:28, Christ was offered once to exhaust the sins of many." This type of formal translation can certainly be helpful, since there is no NASB equivalent for Catholics. As stated earlier, the DR has been "updated" at various points in history, which means that most editions available today are not the original. The Challoner revision is the most extensive and for many the one that is contained in their DR edition. For a brief note on the changes made by Challoner, one can be read about them here. Finally, while the Church has declared the DR free from doctrinal error, this does not necessarily make it a more accurate translation than any of the more modern versions. (Jimmy Akin has provided an interesting article on this subject.)

One other note on the translation, which clearly does not employ inclusive language. However, through my praying of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I noticed that the edition of the DR used does, at least in one instance, use inclusive language in Psalm 126: "Children are an heritage from the Lord, and the fruit of the womb a reward. Like as arrows in the hand of the mighty one: so are the children of those who have been cast out." Note that the Latin filii is translated children, which is often rendered as "sons". See the RSV, NRSV, and NABRE.

Readability 2/5
Archaic English is used throughout, which can make reading for long periods difficult for those who are not familiar with it. Personally, while I can work through the archaic language, it does slow things down slightly. I say this as one who prays the traditional Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary everyday, which uses the Douay-Rheims Psalter. In addition to the "thees" and "thous" there are words like "peradventure", "holpen", "superadded", among others that are not used much these days, which can slow down reading. This I grant you is all dependent on a person's preferences, but from my own personal reading and ministry work, the DR can be difficult for use in most situations.

Available Formats 1/5
The DR is still available from a number of Catholic publishers, most notably Baronius and Saint Benedict Press. (It is also available for Kindle.) Saint Benedict Press, in particular, has produced editions which are a bit more attractive than the usual facsimile reproductions. However, if one looks at what is available for a comparative translation, like the KJV, there is no question that the DR does not receive the same treatment as the the KJV. While there are KJV youth Bibles on the market, I wonder if there is a market for a Douay-Rheims version. In addition, I should also mention the Vulgate Bible project from Harvard University Press and the editions from Ex Fontibus Company. Overall, however, there is not much new for those who would like to go further with the DR. There are no DR study Bibles, thinlines, youth Bibles, etc... In many ways, this is a shame.

Miscellaneous 2/5
With the expanded use of the Extraordinary Form of the Liturgy, it is clear that the DR will remain alive and well in some capacity. There is also a renewed interest in the older pre-Vatican II breviaries, like the Little Office, which utilize the DR. But outside of more traditional Catholic circles, the DR is rarely used. I have led a number of Bible studies over the past few years and only a total of two people have ever brought a DR to the study. One wonders if there would be interest in an "update" to the DR, much like the NKJV is to the KJV. There is certainly no indication from the Vatican that future Scriptural translations into the vernacular are going to be based on the Latin, as opposed to the original languages. So, then, is there a future for the DR?

Conclusion 8/20
While I have ranked the DR #5, this does not mean I find it unacceptable for use or not worthwhile to have as reference. I have an early 20th century hardbound version, which I found at a used bookstore, that I consider a treasure. However, ever since the publication of Divino Afflante Spiritu, the course of Catholic Biblical studies has taken a definitive turn to emphasizing the original languages in research and translation.


Louis said...

Can you comment on the "Challoner" revision of the Douay-Rheims? I've read some Catholic posts which view it as a corruption of sorts.

Timothy said...


I am not aware of the accusations of corruption done by Challoner.

For some additional info, perhaps the following link, which is from the great British covert Blessed Newman, may be helpful:

Chrysostom said...

The original Douay-Rheims NT is so full of Latinisms that you might as well read the Vulgate, because if you can read the Rheims NT 1562, you probably can read the Latin as well.

Bishop Challoner removed some of the most egregious Latinisms, while keeping some ("rational", "azimes").

Not like Tyndale's "I defie the Pope and alle his Lawes; ere I be given a longe enough tyme to live, I shalle make a farme-boy who driveth the plowe to know more of the Scriptures than him and his", when writing his translation.

What's funny is Tyndale's "defieing the Pope" retained Latinisms, just in different places that made it harder for the average man of the time to understand what Protestants were supposed to be Protesting, theologically ("justification", "sanctification").

Anonymous said...

I love how literal the Douay-Rheims is. When I was studying New Testament Greek at a fundamentalist university and wanted to compare my translation, I always used it, because it was almost word for word accurate to the Greek.

I've always wondered why there isn't a revised Douay-Rheims, like the NKJV. It wouldn't have to exclude the original languages, would it? Couldn't there be a revision of the Douay-Rheims text, taking into account the Hebrew and Greek? I would buy that.


Shaun said...

re: the Jimmy Akin link. I found his article to be ironically hysterical as he tries to link DR fans to KJV-onlyists, while he is so blatently RSV-onlyist!
Its this kind of hypocracy that exposed the real John Corapi.

Timothy said...


I will agree with you about the tendency by some to be RSV-onlyists. It certainly is out there, and I think it can cause people to dismiss other translations way too easily. I have been around RSV-onlyists who will often rip the NAB or NRSV, not recognizing that the RSV has it's good and bad points as well.

Red Baron said...

I have had a very keen interest in Bible translations for well over 30 years now. Yet, of the three Catholic Bibles that - to me - are of any significant worth, viz., the RSV-CE, the NJB, the D-R-Challoner, were you to ask me which ONE of the three I must have if stranded on the proverbial desert island, I'd be at a loss to choose, since where one excels in one place, it fails in another place.

In terms of the text itself, the RSV-CE could come the closest in terms of accuracy, but for that it needs "corrections" in a lot of places. (See thread "RSV-CE Needs Correction".) And then there's still that paucity of notes in the RSV-CE....