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not be of a sudden divested. The advantage results from this very circumstance, that it has been long in general use, and men are familiarized to its expressions. But, notwithstanding this, it may have considerable faults ; it may, in several places, be obscure; and, though it should very rarely convey a false sense,
may be often ambiguous. In this case, a new version will be of great utility, if it were but for rendering the old more intelligible. For my part, I shall think my labour more than sufficiently recompensed, if, by the pious and the impartial, I shall be judged to express no extravagant opinion, and to form no presumptuous hope, when I say, in the words which Erasmus employed on a similar occasion: “Illa
[Vulgata editio] legatur in scholis, canatur in tem
plis, citetur in concionibus, nullus obstat. Illud “ ausim polliceri, quisquis hanc nostram domi lege
rit, suam rectius intellecturus 's.”
Some, perhaps, are ready to interpose, ' If trans• lations were to be used only as private helps for ' understanding the scriptures, as commentaries and
paraphrases are used, they would not be objected 'to : but what has alarmed the minds of men, is that,
of late, some attempts have been made to persuade • the public of the need there is for a new and more
correct translation of the Bible, with the sanction of the higher powers, for the use of churches.' As to any project of this kind, I can say very little, as I know not, in particular, what is projected : at the
15 Erasm. in Apolog.
same time I must acknowledge that, in the general view, it appears to me a very delicate point. To establish a version of Scripture by human authority, to be used by the people (without any regard had to their sentiments) in the public service of God, to the express exclusion of every other version, is a measure, about the propriety of which, at any time, I am far from being satisfied. The public use of particular translations of the Bible in the churches, Oriental and Occidental, for many centuries, took its rise, solely, from the general use in private : and, to this private use, no doubt, the favourable opinion of the pastors, such, especially, as were eminent for piety and learning, greatly contributed. But then, the effect was produced gradually and tacitly; in consequence of which, it appeared the result of the people's free choice, though not formally declared, well enough understood. It was in this way, certainly, that the old Italic first came into use in the Latin church; and it was in this way, from the growing predilection of the people, that the present Vulgate came at length to supplant it. It was fortunate for the success of Jerom's version, that no sanguine patron stood forth to push it into notice, and that no law was made commanding its reception, and prohibiting the public use of the Italic. Though men's opinions and attachments, even in matters which do not so deeply affect them as religion, cannot, at the command of a superior, be changed in a moment, the same effect will often, by proper means, be produced in a gentle and gradual manner. When the Italic
was first introduced, there was probably no other Latin translation of any account. In consequence of this, and of that desire of religious instruction, which universally animated the primitive Christians, they would receive it with joy. To read it to them, would be highly to gratify them ; for we ought to reflect, that books were then matters of very difficult acquirement, compared to what they are now. But when the introduction of one book was the dispossession of another, to which they had been long accustomed, and were, from habit, warmly attached, the case was very different. Yet even this effect, which, it is probable, would not have been produced by stronger measures, was sileätly, and (as it were) impercepti. bly, brought about by time. If, in some places, tu. mults were occasioned by the change, this, I sus. pect, when impartially examined, will be found im. putable, more to the rashness and imprudence of the pastors, than to any want of docility in the people. Immediately after the Reformation, the opportunity was very favourable for procuring, among those who favoured the measures of the Reformers, a welcome reception to any version of the Bible into the vulgar tongue, which had the approbation of the heads of the party. If gratified in the thing chiefly wanted, they would not be critical as to the mode of introduction; and if, from the changes in their rulers, there had been some changes in relation to the Scriptures to be read in the congregation ; what was established, in some places, was of so short continuance, that
the mind could hardly be said to be pre-occupied by it.
But the case, at present, is widely different. Learning is in more hands. Critics are multiplied.
open; and every cavil, as well as every argument, is quickly circulated. Besides, the prepossession, in favour of the translation to which we have been so long habituated, is, at this day, very strong. Add to all this, that the religious, as well as the civil, rights of mankind were never better understood; the genuine principles of toleration had never greater influence. How, then, should we be affected, upon hearing that we are commanded, under pains and penalties, by our superiors, to read, and cause to be read in our churches, such a parti. cular translation of the Bible only, and never more to admit into the sacred service, that version to which we have been hitherto, all our lives, accustomed, and for which we have contracted a high veneration. For my part, I will not dissemble the matter; I should think such a measure exceedingly in. congruous to the spirit of that religion which the legislators, perhaps, intended to serve by it; and no less unseasonable, in respect of the age and country wherein we live. I perfectly agree with Tertullian, that religion, and coercion of any kind, are utterly incompatible. “ Humani juris et naturalis potesta“ tis est, unicuique quod putaverit, colerc.” Again: “ Nec religionis est cogere religionem, quæ sponte “ suscipi debeat, non vi.” I cordially subscribe to the sentiment of Lactantius, who deems it essen
tial to the value of every thing in religious service, in respect both of the object, and of the mode, that it be voluntary: “ Nihil est tam voluntarium quam “ religio, in qua si animus sacrificantis aversus est, “jam sublata, jam nulla est.” Nor does it make any difference in the nature of the thing, whether the power that would compel us, be called civil or eccle. siastical.
But, is there nothing, then, which can, with propriety, be attempted by the higher powers, spiritual or temporal, for promoting the success of an accurate translation of the Bible ? The utmost which, in my judgment, can be done, if such a version should, in any future period, be offered to the Public, is to remove the obstructions which those powers have heretofore raised to prevent its introduction, and to permit, not command, the use of it, wherever it shall be found agreeable to the people, and judged, by the pastors, to be edifying. In the reign of Christian charity, which subsisted in times truly primitive and apostolical, it was not necessary that the limits of jurisdiction and authority should be so accurately ascertained, as afterwards, when love began to give place to ambition and secular prospects. Esteem and love are unsuspicious. In such a state of things, the opinion of no persons would go so far with the congregation, as that of their pastors; nor would the pastors know any motive so powerful, as that of contributing to the edification of the people. ? But, it will be objected, “to leave things in this manner, would appear like giving a sanction to dif.