*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 30th of September 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Today is the feast day of St. Jerome- a church father par excellence and one of the most important figures in the intellectual development of the Christian faith. We’ve discussed him broadly on the show before, but today I want to focus on his chief accomplishment- he is the creator of what is arguably the most important book in the history of the world: the Latin Vulgate.
I tend to shy away from the “best ever” style of praise- but stay with me. Jerome completed the Vulgate in 405- that is, the first complete and scholarly collection of Biblical manuscripts translated from the original Hebrew and Greek and bound as a codex. Codex is essentially what you think of as a book today- not a scroll, but bound sheets of papyrus, vellum, etc…Before this, there were various versions of scripture floating about as complete Gospels, lectionary readings, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, etc…
Today on the show I want to list what I believe to be the 5 most important things about the Vulgate on this, the feast day for Eusebius Hieronymus aka St. Jerome.
5. As one of the first popular books in codex form it helped to cement what we think of when we think of a book. And for anyone who has transitioned to e-reader or tablet you know that there is significance in the feel of a book and not only the aesthetic but how we receive and remember information. In many ways we have read books in the form they are for so long on account of Jerome’s work.
4. Jerome’s Vulgate de-mythologized the nature and practice of translating the Bible. It wasn’t done secretly. He had critics to answer. Corrections were made. When new archaeological evidence came to light we made new translations. The Bible isn’t a secret Gnostic text- in compiling and translating it is an open text.
3. The Vulgate helped to develop uniformity in the midst of diversity. The “Vulgate” wasn’t called the Vulgate until the 13th century. Before Roger Bacon gave it that name it was simply “the Bible”. Different Christians developed different theological accents, but for over 1000 years arguments about Scripture by and large centered on a unified text.
2. The Vulgate “Christianized” Latin. That is, the common language was suitable for the Holy Bible. And because understanding Scripture was so important it was the church that would open Cathedral schools to train Christians in translation and theology. This would lead to the beginning of the University tradition we are very familiar with today.
1. The Vulgate “Latinized” Christianity. You didn’t have to read Koine Greek to read the scriptures. Christianity was democratized by bringing it into the “vulgar” or popular language of the day. This wasn’t just for a priestly caste but for ALL of the priests of God- that is, all Christians. The Latin gives us many important words for theological discussion such as justification, ministry, and mystery to name a few.
The democratization of Christianity and its spread would continue with translations in the late Middle Ages, Luther’s German Bible, and the discovery of new textual traditions- but today we remember the man tasked with kicking off the project, on this the 30th of September, the feast day for St. Jerome.
The last word for today comes from Psalm 119- the Psalmist reflects on the Word of God:
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
to observe your righteous ordinances.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 30th of September 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by the always common, but never vulgar Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.