[BIBLE.] THE NEW TESTAMENT of Iesus Christ, translated faithfully

[BIBLE.] THE NEW TESTAMENT of Iesus Christ, translated faithfully.

Rheims, [Douai] by John Folgy, 1582


FIRST EDITION. 4to. pp. [xxviii], 745, [xxvii]. a-c d² A-5D 5E². Roman letter, some italic, woodcut initials, woodcut and typographical head and tail pieces, title within ornate typographical border, floriated and historiated woodcut initials, wood and metal cut head and tail pieces. Light age yellowing, repair to tiny hole in blank lower margin of tile and following leaf. A very good, unusually clean copy, with good margins, in handsome dark calf c. 1700, covers triple gilt ruled to a panel design, scrolled fleurons gilt to outer corners, spine with gilt ruled raised bands richly gilt in compartments, C19 recased (expertly rebacked with spine laid down), inner dentelles richly gilt, combed marble endpapers, a.e.g. a little rubbed at extremities.

Rare first edition of the Roman Catholic version of the New Testament, with extensive commentary and notes. It remained the standard and virtually the only English Catholic bible for some four hundred years. (The Old Testament followed in 1609-10; although it was finished considerably earlier it was not published for lack of funds). “The work of preparing such a version was undertaken by the members of the English College at Douai, in Flanders, founded by William Allen (afterwards cardinal) in 1568. The chief share of the translating was borne by Dr. Gregory Martin, formerly of St. John’s College, Oxford. His text was revised by Thomas Worthington, Richard Bristowe, John Reynolds, and Allen himself — all of them Oxford men. A series of notes was added, designed to answer the theological arguments of the Reformers; these were prepared by Allen, assisted by Bristowe and Worthington.The object of the work was, of course not limited to controversial purposes; in the case of the New Testament, especially, it was meant for pious use among Catholics. The fact however, that the primary end was controversial explains the course adopted by the translators. In the first place they translated directly, not from the original Hebrew or Greek, but from the Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome. This had been declared authoritative for Catholics by the Council of Trent; but it was also commonly admitted that the text was purer than in any manuscripts at that time extant in the original languages. Then, also, 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”. It was considered that an ordinary reader, finding the word unintelligible, would pause and inquire its meaning and that this was preferable to satisfying him with an inadequate rendering.” Catholic encyclopaedia.

“Following in the counter-Reformation tradition of Catholic polemical Bibles dating back to Luther’s early Catholic opponents, this version of the New Testament included not just a vernacular translation from the Latin Vulgate but also copious annotations denouncing Protestant heresies, alleging that false and heretical corruptions had been deliberately made in Protestant English translations of the Bible.” Torrance Kirby. ‘Paul’s Cross and the Culture of Persuasion in England, 1520-1640. “The appearance of a Catholic Bible in English undermined traditional protestant criticism that the Roman church kept scripture out of the hands of the laity. Instead protestant theologians such as Thomas Cartwright, William Whitaker, and William Fulke attacked the credentials of the translators and denounced their work as filled with error. Despite such criticism, revised versions of Martin’s translation remained extremely popular throughout the English-speaking world for nearly four hundred years” (ODNB)

The notes take up a good deal of the volume and have both a polemical and patristic character. They also offer insights on issues of translation, and on the Hebrew and Greek source texts of the Vulgate. From the point of view of scholarship, the Douay-Rheims Bible is seen as particularly accurate. Although not officially mentioned as one of the versions to be consulted, it is now recognised to have had a large influence on the King James Version. The Douai version was printed in very small quantities for export to England and suffered from persecution whilst there, not to mention centuries of use; complete copies in good condition are rare.

ESTC. S102491. STC 2884 Allison and Rogers II 174. Pforzheimer 68. Darlow-Moule-Herbert 300. Lowndes I 185.
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