In the earliest moments of the Church – the true Church established by Christ, not some man-invented imitation – the language used likely was Aramaic or, perhaps, Hebrew. The beginning of the Church is recounted in the second chapter of Acts. The true Church was birthed on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon those disciples gathered together in one place in Jerusalem. It was not long before the Good News was proclaimed in other languages, as the Spirit-filled new Christians preached. Their message was heard and understood by a multitude whose native language was not Aramaic or Hebrew. Three thousand of these were grafted into the true Church that very day.
Before too long, missionaries were taking the Gospel to the far corners of the earth. What language did they use? Latin was the official language of the Roman Empire. Koine (common) Greek was the language of trade in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East regions. The native tongue of the Hebrew peoples living in and around Israel was Aramaic. Jews of the Diaspora likely spoke a number of languages, principally Akkadian, the language of Babylonian.
How does one preach the Gospel to a people who speak a different language? Basically, it boils down to but two choices: 1) the target audience must learn the preacher's language; or 2) the preacher must become competent in the language understood by those he is attempting to reach. What follows is but one example of the linguistic challenges faced by early missionaries.
Around the end of the 6th century, Pope Gregory I sent a team of missionaries to convert the English to Christianity. Among these was a priest named Paulinus. In 619, Paulinus was sent from Kent to the court of King Edwin in Northumbria. For Paulinus, the vernacular was Latin, but for Edwin it was the Northumbrian dialect. Try to imagine the problems they had discussing subtle nuances of religious thought.
Multiply those difficulties by all the permutations of language spoken by early Christian missionaries and the peoples to whom they went. Were all the missionaries and bishops sent out from Rome to communities outside the Empire linguists, able to discuss issues of faith with those they were sent to teach? Could be, of course, but there is little evidence one way or the other.
Certainly one of those sent out from the seat of the Christian church in the middle of the 4th century was a linguist. Ulfila, a Goth, was fluent in Greek, Latin and Goth. During his lifetime, he created a written language for the Gothic people and compiled a dictionary. He then translated the Bible into the Gothic language – leaving out the books of Kings, which he considered inappropriate for the warlike Goths. At the time, there already existed translations in 'Old Latin' and Syriac, but his was the first occasion of the Bible being translated into a barbarian tongue.
In 2002, the United Bible Societies reported that the Bible has been translated into 2,287 different languages – all of which apparently are, or were, the vernacular in at least one part of the world. There is a most interesting and informative article on the versions of the Bible on the Catholic Encyclopedia pages of the New Advent web site. I recommend it to all who would expand their knowledge of the basic source book of Christianity.
When I was Catholic, and for a long time after, I thought the Vulgate Bible in use by the Catholic Church was the Bible translated by Jerome in the late 4th-early 5th centuries. I also thought the Jerome's Vulgate was the first Latin Bible. I was wrong on both counts.
As it developed, the Old Latin translation went through changes and was not the same throughout the Catholic world. By the end of the 4th century, things had gotten so out of hand that Pope Damasus set Jerome to go through it and fix what was broken. In the process, Jerome determined that what the Western Church really needed was a whole new translation. He set about providing it.
Jerome's new translation was not immediately accepted in the Catholic Church. By the 9th century, however, it was in use throughout the RCC and in the 13th it was firmly established. Jerome's Bible was not originally known as the Vulgate. That title, indicating common use, belonged to the Old Latin Bible until the 7th century. It was not until the 13th century that the title Vulgate was firmly fixed to Jerome's Bible.
Like it's Old Latin predecessor, Jerome's translation was not cast in concrete. No sooner had he finished work than folks began modifying it.
Apparently, it was not too long before there were many improved versions of the Vulgate circulating. Gutenberg's press did not help the situation and soon even more new editions were being published.
And thus the three dozen or so voting members of the Council of Trent established the Vulgate as the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church. The Decree Concerning the Edition, and the Use, of the Sacred Books, issued by the 4th Session of the Council of Trent, did not provide an authenticated version of the Vulgate, leaving that task in the hands of the Holy See. This proved to be a torturous process, as first one then another variant was produced.
Interesting, don't you think, that Protestant Reformation was midwife at the birth of the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church? Like its cousin, the King James Bible of 1611, Toletus' final product was not free from error. Also in common with the KJV, there is an ongoing process to discover and correct errors in the Vulgate.
According to the good old boys at the 4th session of the Council of Trent, the Latin Vulgate was THE Bible to be used by the Catholic Church in the conduct of her religious affairs. In that there was no mention of any prohibition of the possession and private use of Bibles in the vernacular, one can but assume that they were still permitted at the time the decree was promulgated. And here is where we get another insight into the curious and often devious nature of Roman Catholic officialdom.
The 22nd session of the Council of Trent produced a fascinating document known as The Doctrine on the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This document justifies the use of theatrics and stage dressing during Catholic worship (Denzinger 943). What I find quite interesting is found in Chapter 8 of this document. This chapter bears the heading: (The Mass not to be Celebrated in the Vernacular, and its Mysteries to be Explained to the People) (Denzinger 946).
This is a thinly disguised effort to increase the Catholic faithful's dependence on the elitist RCC priesthood. No longer were Bibles in the vernacular to be used for Catholic worship, teaching, or discoursing. If at one time, vernacular Bibles were in use in the churches of non-Latin-speaking peoples, no longer would this be the case. Whereas before, the Mass may have been celebrated in the local language, thereby permitting the laity to understand and follow the proceedings, that no longer would be so. Now, the proceedings of the Mass would be conducted in Latin, and the Latin Bible would be the Bible used in the worship. Sure, priests would be required to explain a few things now and then, but this is a poor substitute for real-time understanding and subject to the whims and prejudices of the priest doing the explaining.
This was an infallible declaration of a General Council, promulgated by a reigning pope (Pius IV) and enforced by anathema (Denzinger 956). In the religious institution that boasts the motto Semper Idem (Always the Same), one would imagine that would be it. Right? Not so. Another General Council produced another defining document, promulgated by a reigning pope (Paul VI) that changes a lot of that.
The above changes may be seen in the New Order of Mass (Novus Ordo Missae) promulgated by the Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum (3 April 1969).
The foregoing information is sufficient to demonstrate that the Always the Same Roman Catholic Church in actuality would be better known as the Always Changing Roman Catholic Church. The examples serve to show how dogma and practice of this venerable entity are not fixed but are instead subject to the whims of her rulers as they react to the changing mood of the times.
How different the Scriptures. God's revelation is the same today as it was when first the inspired writers were moved to take up their writing instruments. As far as God's written Word is concerned, what was sin in ages past remains sinful today. In the Roman Catholic way of doing things, what condemned a man to eternity in the fires of Hell yesterday is not even a daily sin today and what used to be enforced by anathema is now in opposition to the way things are being done today.
Hard to hit a moving target. Harder still to stay abreast of a moving dogma.
|Home | History Stuff | Catholic Stuff | PTG Forum|
(C) 1991-2010 Ron Loeffler