The Tables are Turned
Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I
broke ties with the Vatican

In 1558, Queen Mary I of England died and her sister ascended the throne as Elizabeth I. Mary had become the last English monarch to adhere to Roman Catholicism. Under her rule, hundreds of Protestant reformers — including John Rogers, compiler of the Matthew's Bible — had been hanged or burned at the stake. But Elizabeth had a different agenda. She quickly broke all ties with the Vatican, and soon Catholics began to feel unwelcome in many areas of England. Many Catholics had seen the persecution of the Protestants under Queen Mary, and now they felt like they could be the vulnerable ones under new Queen Elizabeth.

The Pope at the time — Pius V — was not a happy camper. And a large number of Catholic clergy and lay-people fled from England when, in 1570, Pope Pius declared open war on England. However this hardly bothered Queen Elizabeth. The Vatican never did have an army, and it was doubtful that Pius could ever talk any other country into attacking England.

The On-The-Move College in France
  Several of these fleeing Catholics established an English College in Douay, France in 1568. Ten years later, it moved to the city of Rheims. Then in 1593 the College moved back again to Douay. (Maybe they didn't like the neighbors.) It was here that the seeds for an English Catholic Bible were nurtured. The Protestant English Bibles were immensely popular, even among some Catholics. And many of those at Douay felt that the Catholic Church needed to retaliate with their own translation.

But before any work could begin on an English Catholic Bible, the Vatican needed to soften its stand on Bible translations. The only Bible version recognized by the Catholic Church was the Latin Vulgate, and it had been that way for more than 1,000 years! That kind of tradition doesn't go down fast. But times were changing, and eventually even the Pope began to realize it would be futile to continue to fight against an English translation of the Bible.

A Catholic Bible in English becomes a Reality
Pope Pius V
Pope Pius V
agreed to an English Translation

So Gregory Martin, an Oxford scholar and one of the Catholics who fled England, translated the Latin Vulgate into English. When the New Testament was released in 1582, the College was located in Rheims. The Old Testament translation was completed at about the same time, but lack of funding kept it from being released until 1609. This shows well the Vatican's attitude toward this new translation. If the Pope had really wanted an English Bible, he would have seen that resources were available to print it.
Gregory Martin
translated from the
Latin Vulgate

The Old Testament waited for almost 27 years until money could be found for its printing! The Pope felt like he was being forced into abandoning the Latin Vulgate; and although he vowed not to fight this new translation — he did not vow to support it. By the time the Old Testament was published, the College had moved back to Douay. So this translation quickly took on the name Rheims-Douay Bible.

One of the differences between Catholic Bibles and Protestant Bibles had to do with the Apocrypha. This is a group of 14 Bible books whose inspiration is not universally accepted. Protestants had never felt that these books were worthy of the same respect as the other books of the Bible. In previous Protestant versions, the books of the Apocrypha had been combined together and printed in a separate section from the Old and New Testaments. Now Catholics, on the other hand, believed (and still do) in the full inspiration of these books, so Rheims-Douay interspersed them throughout the Old Testament. An extensive set of Notes was also included to assure that Scripture was interpreted in conformity to Roman Catholic doctrine.

In the Preface to the Bible, the translators stated that their purpose was to provide a proper translation of the Bible in English to counteract the Protestant versions whose authors were charged with "corrupting both the letter and the sense by false translation, adding, detracting, altering, transposing, and all other guileful means, especially where it serveth for the advantage of their private opinions." Some would question whether the Catholics did any better.

Say What???
  The style of the Rheims-Douay Bible was very "Latin" — little attempt was made to translate words that had a special meaning in Catholic theology. So readers came across words like "azymes", "prefinition", "scenopegia", and "exinanited". These words were as confusing to people in the 1500's as they are to us today.

Below are a half-dozen examples of the differences between the Rheimes-Douay and the King James Version. Can you guess which one is the Catholic Bible?

King James Version Rheims-Douay Bible
Give us this day our daily bread.   (Matt. 6:11) Give us today our supersubstantial bread.
Take care of him and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.   (Luke 10:35) Take care of him and whatsoever thou shalt supererogate, I, at my return, will repay thee.
Thou shouldest ... ordain elders in every city, as I had appoined thee.   (Titus 1:5) Thou shouldest ... ordain priests by cities, as I also appointed thee.
I am the good Shepherd.   (John 10:14) I am the good Pastor.
Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.   (Matt. 3:2) Do penance: for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.   (Phil. 2:10) That in the name of Jesus, every knee bow of the celestials, terrestrials, and infernals.

One of the most famous Old Testament examples of the Rheims-Douay's interesting translations is in Psalms:
    Before your thorns did understand the old briar: as living so in wrath he swalloweth them.   (Psalm 58:9)
HUH???  Is it any wonder that a writer at the time called the Rheimes-Douay's translation of the Book of Psalms "a positively unintelligible English version of the unintelligible Latin version of a very uncertain Greek translation of ancient Hebrew text." My favorite New Testament example is:
    And beneficence and communication do not forget, for with such hosts God is promerited.   (Heb. 13:16)
The Bible's Impact
  The Rheims-Douay Bible never had much success in England. It wasn't so much the quality of the translation — although that certainly was part of it. The main reason why the Rheims-Douay wasn't successful was that there wasn't much of a need for it. It had been written for English-speaking Catholics. But for centuries, to Catholics the Bible had been a book in Latin; it was read, translated, explained and enforced by the clergy. Although some Catholics at the time risked excommunication by possessing a Geneva Translation, most Catholics were quite satisfied with the status quo. They just weren't ready for an English Bible.

So the Rheims-Douay Bible never attained the reputation of some of the popular Protestant versions available at the time. However, it was one of the versions that was consulted by the translators of later English Bibles. And some of the Latin wording of Rheimes-Douay even made its way into the greatest English Bible of the day — the King James Version.

Use the Menu on the left to view actual pages from a Rheims-Douay Bible.