Sunday, February 26, 2012

New Edition of the Latin Vulgate

For those interested in all things both Biblical and Latin, a new edition of the Vulgate is on the market. The multi-volume Vulgate Bible under the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (an imprint of Harvard University Press) is in the process of completing a projected six volume edition of the Sixto-Clementine Latin bible with corresponding English text.

Keeping in mind modern marketing trends, the editors of the series have a particular slant on the Latin text. The text in question is not meant to be the Sixto-Clementine text itself, but rather a presentation of the Latin text likely used by the college at Douai where the first approved Roman bible for English speaking Catholics was produced. How valuable this text is to either Latin scholars, ecclesiastics, theologians, historians or Catholics with sufficient background in Latin is debatable, particularly if any of the listed groups are Latin purests. At various points, though not frequently (so far as I have determined) the decision was made to fabricate the Latin text the scholars at Douai used in translating the Vulgate into English. As such, one may argue the Latin text of this edition suffers. This edition has neither the textual gaffs that required a revision of the Sixto text, nor does it have the pre-Vatican II vintage of the Clementine text. Additionally, for those who desire the earliest text of the Vulgate (so far as it can be determined at this present moment), the fifth edition of Weber-Gryson is essential and without in the popular consumer market. Thus, this edition doesn't have much to offer many persons who would be interested in a text of the Vulgate or a Latin-English Bible.

The editors of the series chose a very narrow niche, although, I suspect a fair number of people will be drawn by the price point per volume, although, if you purchase all of the volumes you've easily purchased the equivalent of about two copies of the Weber-Gryson text. The text seems to have sound binding. Notably, the decision for cloth binding for the Dumbarton Oaks as opposed to the vinyl binding of Weber-Gryson assures more durability - the volumes of the Dumbarton Oaks editions will weather serious long term use. This aspect of these volumes cannot be appreciated enough. I have worn through several copies of the Weber-Gryson text. These volumes are much more durable. If you want a copy of the Latin Vulgate to pray, Dumbarton Oaks has produced an invaluable set of texts. The font is much larger in the Dumbarton Oaks volumes and I personally prefer a single column format.

So, how do these volumes stack up? It all depends upon what one is looking for. The editorial decision to, where necessary, reconstruct the hypothetical Latin text used by the college of Douai may not pass muster with some, especially as it seems somewhat contrary to the stated mission of the series. Dumbarton Oaks seeks to provide original Latin, Old English and eventually Greek  texts with an English translation. Reconstructing a hypothetical text, however few such instances are, does not constitute presenting the original Latin text. Additionally, it seems Swift Edgar (the editor of the Vulgate in this series) has emphasized presenting the revised English of the Douay-Rheims translation with a corresponding Latin reconstruction. If the English text was to take priority, why not use the original English text? This underlines the basic problem of these Vulgate volumes. What is the philosophy behind the Vulgate volumes in the series? At the moment, it seems these volumes are suffering under two non-complimentary aims. We neither have the original English of the Douay version, nor do we have a Latin text of any pedigree. The editor notes a Latin text reasonably close to the Douay translation. Why not supply the reader with that Latin text, noting any variances or proposed reconstruction in a margin along the bottom of the page?

In the end, there is no reason to not purchase these volumes. However, there is little to argue for purchasing these volumes as opposed to or in addition to other available Latin bibles, be it the Weber-Gryson text or more recently produced editions of the Clementine Vulgate.