Dr. William von Peters is the author of The Real Douay-Rheims Bible Site, where you can find his transliteration of the original 1610 edition of the venerable Douay-Rheims Bible. You can purchase both digital and print copies, in various editions, on the website.
I received a review copy of the Rheims New Testament (1582) which was printed through Lulu. As you will see from the images provided, it is a very basic paperback edition. Yet, the print is very clear and the binding seems to be OK. The scripture, itself, is set out by verse, not in paragraph form, which was custom at that time and remained popular until fairly recently. Before each chapter you will find, in italics, a summary of that chapter. In the margins you will find cross-references, commentary focusing on liturgical/lectionary connections, as well as brief notes. At the end of each biblical chapter, you will find an extensive amount of annotations, which are much more detailed than the what is found in the margins. These notes are both theological and apologetic. You will notice two things, the use of the Church Fathers and Councils, as well as a direct focus on refuting the teachings of the Reformation. In so many ways, these annotations are a window into the time in which they were written. Many of the reformers are referred to by name, such most notably Martin Luther and John Calvin. The "errors" of the Protestant reformers are not handled in the more ecumenical spirit of our current days. For example, the annotation for Romans 3:22 refers to the Calvinist commentary on it as "wicked and vain." Most of you are aware that by the time of the Challoner revision, much of that style of annotation was eliminated from the text.
So, I see this text as a very interesting peek into a particular moment of time. Much like the King James Version, most people who read the Douay-Rheims don't realize that it has been revised and edited since the original version was completed in the early 17th century.
Recently, I was able to ask Dr. von Peters a few questions about this project. I'd like to thank him for taking the time to answer my questions.
1) To begin with, could you tell my audience a little bit about yourself?
I am a natural physician with degrees in various natural therapies such as oriental, homeopathic and naturopathic medicine, as well as in religion and humanities. Religiously I'm a former Protestant seminarian and convert to the Catholic Church.
2) What interested you in making the original Douay-Rheims more readable for a modern audience?
As a Protestant, and particularly as a seminarian, we learned all about the unscriptural Catholic Church and its worship of statues and such. While not buying into the idea that Catholics were not Christians, they didn't seem to be Bible Christians.
One day an instructor in one of our courses remarked upon a verse, I can't remember which one any longer, and stated that our seminary believed it meant this, but Baptists thought it meant that, others something else, and Catholics, well they had their own strange ideas At that point I realized that if I was to be responsible for souls as a pastor, and could not be sure of correct interpretation of text, I could not continue, and so left seminary.
Years later, as a result of a divine intervention after being given a "rosary challenge" by a good Catholic, I was told out of the blue by a voice as I walked down the sidewalk that - "the oldest Church is the true Church" - and this set me upon the path of gradually becoming a Catholic. Having been brought up that the worst thing one could do was become a Catholic, it was difficult.
Once in the Church, I heard that the Douay Rheims was the official bible of the Catholic Church and the one that should be used. Later I learned that the Challoner is not the real Douay Rheims, but Challoner's translation. So I bought a photocopy of the 1610 Douay Rheims, and began reading it. I was struck by the quality and erudition of the notes and annotations, as well as the difference in translation of the original DR compared to other translations I was familiar with.
Reading the notes and annotations of the 1610 original Douay Rheims I found that all the questions that Protestants throw at Catholics were answered easily. It occurred to me that "everyone should have a copy of this bible". The problem was that it was in old English script, and had never been rendered into Latin script; and so was basically unknown, and unreadable to the masses.
I had studied German in high school, and the German script is very close to the old English, and I had no trouble with it, but this would not be so for others. So I set about transliterating the text to render it readable.
3) What was the process by which you transliterated the text? How long did it take?
The process was to simply sit down at my computer and begin typing. I began with the New Testament, and every evening I would type a chapter or two along with the notes and annotations, trying to keep the formatting close to the original. I'm sure my family wondered about this seeming obsession every evening, but I wanted to get it done as quickly as possible. And it was a daunting job.
My eyesight at that time was much better and I could read the very small print easily. Now I could not do it as with age my eyesight, while still good, is no longer up to the job.
When it was complete after several years of work, I began offering it for sale. The process was so long and intensive that I took a few years off, and didn't really want to get into the Douay Old Testament.
But then one day I decided to begin with it. People had been asking when the Douay would be available and I realized that I needed to get going again. So began the same process of sitting down and typing. During the process, and after I had completed about a third of the Old Testament, someone said they had a pdf file of the Douay, which they gave me.
This new technology enabled me to greatly speed up the process. So I began the slow work of rendering the old English into a workable copy in Latin script. At that point everything sped up as I could work on cleaning up and correcting the copy instead of continuing to type from scratch.
I began with the Rheims in early 1994, and finished just prior to Christmas in 2005. So overall, the time frame was close to twelve years before the entire REAL Douay Rheims Bible was complete.
4) Are there any differences between your work and the original?
Well, there is no difference between the two at all, as all I did was bring the Douay Rheims into our modern world of latin script which is the English that we are familiar with. There are some footnotes that I added to give the meanings for obsolete words in the text, which I got from the Oxford unabridged dictionary, but other than that it is what it was.
5) What else is included in your Real Douay-Rheims? Annotations? Cross-references?
The original Douay Rheims is a remarkable work by Dr. Gregory Martin and his team, and includes cross references, references to verses used in the Mass of various types, such as for a bishop, for a confessor, etc.
The annotations are prodigious. They take up about half of the space in the entire Bible and give the reasons why a certain text means what the Catholic Church says it does. It does this by quoting Doctors of the Church, Saints, Popes, Councils and others. In addition it goes into the reasons why Protestant arguments are not correct and are heretical.
The Bible is the product of the Catholic Church. She put the canon of Scripture together, carefully protected it from the fires of heresy and schism, and made it available to the world as the Word of God - one of the two sources of truth, the other being sacred Tradition.
6) Why do you consider the original Douay-Rheims to be superior to the Challoner revision?
Cardinal Wiseman said regarding Challoner's version: "To call it any longer the Douav or Rheimish Version is an abuse of terms. It has been altered and modified until scarcely any verse remains as it was originally published."
If one looks at the reasons for Bp. Challoner's work one can understand why he did what he did, but it is definitely inferior. He removed pretty much everything against the Protestants, soft pedaled doctrine, and made the translation in line with the King James Bible.
This was done for a reason. Under British penal laws being -caught with the Douay Rheims Bible was an executable offense. Henry VIII set up the Church of England as the only official church in his realm, and Catholics were hounded, persecuted, and executed. The Douay Rheims gave true Catholic doctrine and could not be permitted by the authorities.
So Catholics in England were not allowed the Douay Rheims Bible, and indeed had no bible until Challoner (who was a convert) made his edition and put it between the covers as the Douay Rheims in the 1700s. This was watered down enough to be allowed by the Crown to English Catholics.
As the REAL Douay Rheims was never printed in Latin script (what we today simply call modern English) it became basically an interest of scholars, and was lost to ordinary Catholics. This is what I sought to remedy.