Sometime between 1582 and 1610 A.D., the Holy Bible: Douay-Rheims Version (DR) came into constant use, paralleling the 1604 to 1611 translation of the King James Version of the Bible (KJV) into English.
Both translations included the deuterocanonical books often referred to now as the Apocrypha, and, from time to time, both saw revision. But for over 200 years, the original version of the Douay-Rheims remained the only English translation commonly used among Catholic Christians.
With many fine English translations available to us now, I’d never read the DR nor received a review copy, so I did what any Bible lover might do. I bought a copy.
Saint Benedict Press, in association with TAN Books, published my choice in a handy-sized paperback edition with an attractive, slick-to-the-touch cover. Inside, a small but readable font shows little bleed-through on the smooth pages.
More important, the title page tells us:
Translated From The Latin Vulgate
Diligently Compared with the Hebrew, Greek,
and Other Editions in Diverse Languages
Then the copyright page following lets us know this revision received the Imprimatur on September 1, 1899, which shows its continued acceptance by the Roman Catholic Church as well as the “catholic” church or church universal.
Because of its reliance on the Septuagint (ancient Greek version of the Bible), the names of the individual books retain their Greek names, for example, First and Second Paralipomenon instead of Chronicles, The Apocalypse of the Apostle St. John instead of Revelation, and Isaias instead of Isaiah. (I’m writing this as the tropical storm by that name passes by.)
Wording occasionally differs slightly, too, giving readers of other translations cause to pause and think or to enjoy an unexpected poetic moment. For instance, in Genesis 1, verse 3 reads, “And God said: Be light made. And light was made.” Maybe it’s my pleasure in poetry, but I just loved that!
Speaking of poetry, the DR translation of Psalms is as exquisite as any. For example:
“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof: the world, and all they that dwell therein.” What’s surprising is that verse begin the 23rd Psalm!
I’d often seen footnotes in various study Bibles that said Psalm 9 and 10 were originally one prayer-poem. With that clue, I turned to Psalm 9 in DR and saw a note identifying the second part as “Psalm 10 according to the Hebrews” – ironic since the psalm is a Hebrew acrostic poem.
Back to more important matters, such as word choices that cause us to ponder.
If you’ve ever searched for a synonym, you know that most words offer many choices. And, if you’ve lived a while, you know that common phrases can take on a different turn or nuance, again giving us cause to pause, which is what happened to me when I read the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 of the DR.
Most translations of verse 6 say something like “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness (or justice), for they shall be filled (or satisfied.)” The Douay-Rheims Version puts it this way:
“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.”
If you’ve ever had your fill of justice, you might long for mercy, which verse 7 gives:
“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (DR.)
In today’s heated political and social climate, mercy may be sorely needed!
The Douay-Rheims Version gives us an English version of all the books of the Bible known to Jesus, the apostles, and early church, each of whom has referred to those deuterocanonical books. That alone made me interested, but I also wanted to see what the “missing” books of the Old Testament had to say.
However, the New Testament (which has always been in Greek or Aramaic and never included in the Hebrew Bible) is pretty much the same from one translation to the next. As a favorite example, here’s the Douay-RheimsVersion of John 3:16-17.
“For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting. For God sent not his Son into the world, to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him.”