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the beginning of the fifth, century, and left to its fate, to be used by those who liked it, and neglected by those who disliked it, advanced in reputation every day. The people very soon, and very generally, discovered that, along with all the simplicity they could desire, it was, in every respect, more intelligi. ble, and, consequently, both more instructive, and more agreeable, than the old. The immediate effect of this general conviction, was greatly to multiply the copies, which proved, in a very few centuries, the total extinction of the Italic, formerly called the Vulgate, version, and the establishment of the present Vulgate, or Jerom's translation in its room.
Το make this sudden revolution, which is a matter of so much importance, better understood by the unlearned, it is proper to observe, that it was in consequence of no law of the church, or indeed of any Christian country, that the old Italic first, and the present Vulgate afterwards, were used in churches in the offices of religion. Such matters were regulated in every individual church, by the bishop and presbyters of that church, as appeared most for the edification of the people. Now the general and growing reputation of the new version, made it soon supplant the old. As it was not to any law of church or state, that the Italic owed its promotion at first ; so it required no law of either, to make it give place, quietly, to a better version. After this of Jerom had come gradually to obtain every where the preference, and to be used in private families, by individuals, it might be expected that so general an approbation
would gradually usher it into the churches. For an authoritative sentence, of either pope or council, in favour of any translation, was a thing unheard of till the sixteenth century, when the decree of the council of Trent was obtained in favour of the present Vul. gate. Now, the Vulgate, we may observe, by the way, had been, for ages before, by the tacit consent of all ranks, in full possession of all the prerogatives conferred by that council.
But, though the introduction of a new translation produced none of those terrible consequences which had been presaged ; though, on the contrary, by rendering the style of Scripture purer, as well as more perspicuous, it came soon to be read by the people with greater pleasure and improvement; yet it must be owned, that the clamour and jealousies that had been raised on this subject, were productive of one very unfavourable effect upon the interpreter. Though it did not make him desist from his undertaking, it made him prosecute it with a timidity which has proved hurtful to the work itself. Many things which, by the old interpreter, had been improperly rendered ; many things which had been obscurely, or even unintelligibly, expressed, Jerom, through dread of the scandal which too many changes might occasion, has left as he found them. We have, therefore, the utmost reason to conclude, that to this cause alone it is imputable, that the present Vulgate is not greatly superior to what we find it. Jerom was strongly impressed with a sense of the danger to which his attempt exposed him. This ap
pears from many parts of his writings ; particularly from his letter to pope Damasus, prefixed to the translation of the Gospels: “ Periculosa presumptio," says he,“ judicare de cæteris, ipsum ab omnibus ju“ dicandum : senis mutare linguam, et canescentem “ mundum ad initia retrahere parvulorum. Quis, “ enim, doctus pariter vel indoctus ; cum in manus “ volumen assumpserit; et a saliva quam semel im. “ bibit, viderit discrepare, quod lectitat; non statim
erumpat in vocem, me falsarium, me clamans esse
sacrilegum, qui audeam aliquid in veteribus libris, “ addere, mutare, corrigere.
How dismal were the apprehensions which were entertained immediately after the Reformation, on account of the many translations of Scripture which came in quick succession, one after another? Have men's fears been justified by the effect ? Quite the
The violent concussion of parties at the Reformation produced, as might have been expect. ed, a number of controversies, which were, for some time, hotly agitated; but the greater part of these were in being before those versions were made. And if a few have arisen since, many have subsided, which once made a great noise, and produced a great ferment in the church. Nothing will be found to have conduced more to subvert the dominion of the meta. physical theology of the schoolmen, with all its interminable questions, cobweb distinctions, and wars of words, than the critical study of the sacred Scrip. tures, to which the modern translations have not a little contributed. Nothing has gone farther to satisfy
reasonable men that, in many of the profound disputes of theologians, revelation could not, with justice, be accused of giving countenance to either side. Yet no disputes have been productive of more rancour in the disputants, or been carried on with greater virulence, than those which are merely verbal.
It has been said, that the introduction of different translations tends to unsettle men in their principles, particularly with regard to the authority of sacred writ, which, say they, is made to speak so variously in these productions. For my part, I have not discovered, that this is, in any degree, the effect. The agreement of all the translations, as to the meaning, in every thing of principal consequence, makes their differences, when properly considered, appear as nothing. They are but like the inconsiderable variations in expression which different witnesses, though. all perfectly unexceptionable, employ in relating the same fact. They rather confirm men's faith in Scripture, as they show, in the strongest light, that all the various ways which men of discordant sentiments have devised, of rendering its words, have made no material alteration, either on the narrative itself, or on the divine instructions contained in it. People are at no loss to discover, that the difference among interpreters lies chiefly in this, that one renders the account of things, which that book exhibits, more intelligible, more perspicuous, or even more affecting, than another. These differences are,
These differences are, I acknowledge, of great moment to readers ; they are such as may show one version to be greatly superior to another in point of use; yet as they are all compatible with just
ness of representation in every thing essential to the historical and didactic parts of the work, they are so far from affecting the credibility of the whole, that they serve not a little to confirm it. A gentleman, who knows neither Greek nor Hebrew, but understands Latin, and several modern tongues, told me once, he had read the New Testament in different languages, and that he had reaped considerable benefit from the practice, in more ways than one; particularly in this, that those versions served as vouchers for the fidelity of one another, by their concurrence in every thing essential in that book; for when it was considered that the translators were not only men of different nations, but of hostile sects, Roman Catholics, church of England-men, Lutherans, Calvinists, Remonstrants, &c. their perfect harmony on all material points, is the best pledge we could desire of their veracity.
Of nearly the same kind and consequenee have been the fears which even judicious men have entertained about the publication of the various readings of the Scriptures. These readings are tremendous only, when considered in a general view, and when we are told of the number they amount to. Nothing serves more to undeceive us, than to consider them in detail, and fairly examine those collections. I will acknowledge, for one, that I believe I should not have been easily persuaded till I made the experiment, that the authority of Scripture could be so little injured by them. The actual collection is, therefore, of great consequence, for satisfying candid and reasonable