This article is taken whole from a book by Thomas Carr, Archbishop of the Catholic Church in Melbourne, Australia, and published 1907.  Archbishop Carr uses the testimony of well-known Protestant scholars who testify to the accuracy of the Douay Rheims Bible (DRB).  “They vindicate the Catholic Church from odious accusations, and testify to the persevering zeal with which she multiplied copies of the Sacred Scriptures in the vernacular, as well as in the learned languages, both before and after the invention of printing” (Preface).

        The Rhemish and Douay Version, or The English Catholic Bible

The history of the English Catholic version of the Bible proves at once the strength of Catholic love for the inspired volume, and the hollowness of the charge that Protestants are ever bringing against us of treating it as a sealed book. At the very time when persecution was raging in England [against the Catholic Church], and the profession of the old [Catholic] faith meant forfeiture of all that the world treasures, we find some exiled English priests busily engaged in a vernacular translation of the New Testament, which was published at Rheims in 1582, and in 1609 the Old Testament was published in English at Douay.  To Dr, Gregory Martin chiefly belongs the glory of both these versions.  He was assisted by Drs. Allen (afterwards Cardinal), Bristow, Reynolds, and other theologians, but the help received from them was mostly in the way of revision.  He translated the whole Bible, though it was not published all at one time.  Wood tells us in his Athenae Oxoniensis, that Martin was a man of “great learning and knowledge, especially in the Greek and Hebrew tongues, and of extraordinary modesty and moderation in his behaviour”.  His translation of the New Testament is most commonly known as the Rhemish Version, because the English College [Jesuit], which was founded at Douay in 1568, was transferred to Rheims in 1578, but was subsequently re-established at Douay.

The Catholic versions, if wanting in beauty of language and charm of style, are admitted to be faithful renderings of the Vulgate.  As Dr. Dodd rightly observes, the translators thought it better to offend against the rules of grammar, than to risk the sense of God’s Word for the sake of a fine period.  I give out a few of a number of Protestant testimonies to the accuracy of these versions: 

“Our limits will only allow us to refer to that in use in English of which the Old text was printed at Douay, in 1609, and the New at Rheims in 1582.  This is greatly inferior in strength and elegance of expression to the AV in 1611, but is highly commendable for its scrupulous accuracy and fidelity, which cannot be predicated of all translations from the Vulgate into other languages….(Kitto, Encyc, Bib. Lit. Art. Vulgate)”.

“Mr Scrivener adds that the Rheims Divines (who were evidently men of learning and ability) may occasionally do us good service in furnishing some happy phrase or form of expression which had eluded the diligence of their more reputable predecessors” (Supplement to the Authorised Version).

Dr. Moulton bears this high testimony to the accuracy of the Douay Bible:

“The translation is literal and (as a rule, if not always) scrupulously faithful and exact….Only minute study can do justice to its faithfulness, and to the care with which the translators executed their work”.  Again, he says that “the Rhemish testament had left its mark on every page of the work….(Hist. Eng. Bible,  pp185-7, 207)”.

In grammatical precision he notes its great superiority to the Authorised Version:

“As the Latin language has no definite article”, he writes, “it might well be supposed that of all English versions the Rhemish would be the least accurate in this point of translation.  The very reverse is actually the case.  There are many instances (a comparatively hasty search has discovered more than forty) in which of all versions, from Tyndale’s to the Authorised inclusive, this alone is correct in regard to the article….(Hist. Eng. Bible,  pp253-254)”.

Dr. Westcott, Anglican Bishop of Durham, is another witness to the accuracy of the Catholic version:

“The scrupulous or even servile adherence of the Rhemists to the text of the Vulgate was not without advantage.  They frequently reproduced with force the original order of the Greek, which is preserved in the Latin, and even while many unpleasant roughnesses occur, there can be little doubt that this version gained on the whole by the faithfulness with which they endeavoured to keep the original form of the sacred writings….The same spirit of anxious fidelity to the letter of their text often lad the Rhemists to keep the phrase of the original when others had abandoned it…When the Latin was capable of guiding them, the Rhemists seem to have followed out their principals honestly; but whenever it was inadequate, or ambiguous, they had the niceties of Greek at their command.  The Greek article cannot, as a rule, be expressed in Latin.  Here, then the translators were free to follow the Greek text, and the result is, that this critical point of scholarship is dealt with more satisfactorily by them than by any earlier translators.  And, it may be said that, in this respect also, the revisers of King James (i.e. of the Protestant Authorised Version) were less accurate than the Rhemists, though they had their work in front of them….(See p. cxiii)”.

The writers of “The Address of the Translators to the Readers”, in the original Protestant “Authorised Version”, disclaim having seen any translation of the whole Bible for the English Catholics, though the Old Testament was printed at Douay in 1609-10.

As the authors of this Address have been quoted in proof of the notorious John Foxe’s veracity, it is well to test the truthfulness of the writers.  It happens that we have abundant means for doing so.

The Rev Dr Scrivener, in the margin of his copy of the Address, notices the statement referred to, and in a foot-note adds, “the writers must have seen the first volume of the Douay Bible, since neither tunicke nor rationale occur in the Rhemish New Testament”.

Westcott, in his History of the English Bible, says:

“The old Douay Version furnished a large proportion of the Latin words which King James’ revisers adopted; and it is to this, rather than to Coverdale’s Testaments, that we owe the final and most powerful action of the Vulgate upon our present version….(Hist. Eng. Bible,  p. 245)”.

The Protestant Archbishop Trench says:

“So willing were King James’ translators to profit by all who went before them that they did not decline to see what good the Rhemish version occasionally though rarely offered; thus the felicitous phrase, ‘the ministry of reconciliation’ (2 Cor 5:18) first appears in it; and the singularly happy rendering of bebelos by ‘profane persons’ (Heb 12:16) was probably derived from it into our version…..(Auth. Ver. N. Test., p. 37)”.

Bishop Ellicott bears much stronger testimony:

“To this last version (the Rhemish) they were certainly more than occasionally indebted.  And commonly with advantage, as the Rhemish, with all its faults and asperities, was a translation of a really good version, and, at any rate, is very affluent in its vocabulary, and very useful in converting Latin words into English service….(Rev. Eng. N. Test., p. 91)”.

The Preface to the New Revision of 1881 makes this acknowledgment:

“King James’s Bible shows evident traces of the influence of a version not specified in the Rules, the Rhemish, made from the Latin Vulgate, but by scholars conversant with the Greek original”.

We have seen in the action of the Church in printing hundreds of editions of the Bible in the vernacular, and we cannot have the slightest difficulty in forming our judgment upon the veracity of the writers of the Address to the readers of the Authorised Version.  The power of prejudice never had clearer illustration.  Trusting to the blind credulity of Protestants, these writers accuse the [Catholic] Church of withholding the Scriptures from her children, while all notice is omitted of the printed versions of the printed versions in Italian, German, French, Flemish, Spanish, Bohemian, etc.

As a set-off of the gross corruptions of Tyndale’s and other early English Bibles, it is very strongly objected by many Protestant writers that the term ‘penance’ in the Rhemish version, is not a correct translation of the Greek word metanoia.  In this, however, the Rhemish version follows the Vulgate, which has been hallowed by use in the Church from the earliest ages.  But if the Vulgate be faulty, it can only be so on one of two grounds; first, that poenitentiam agite necessarily implies corporal or outward austerities, whilst metanoeite is limited to some purely internal act; secondly, that the former expresses only regret for the past, whilst the latter brings out fully the purpose of amendment.  As a matter of fact each term is somewhat ambiguous and depends for its meaning on the context in which it is found.  It is not at all true that poenitentiam agite is applied exclusively even by classical writers to external acts.  Tacitus, Petronius, and Curtius are quoted for this sense in Facciolati’s Latin Dictionary.

The noun poenitentia is not to be found in Cicero, neither is the word resipisentia.  The verb poenitere, however, is used by him, in the sense of external action.  Again, on the other hand, it is not true that metanoia excludes external works.  We find in St Matthew (9:21), ‘Woe to thee Chorazain, woe to thee Bethsaida; for if in Tyre and Sidon had been wrought the miracles that have been wrought in thee, they had long since done penance in sack-cloth and ashes’.  How utterly meaningless would the translation – ‘They had long ago changed their minds in sack-cloth and ashes’.  It is not a mere change of purpose for the future Our Lord speaks of, but a sincere sorrow for the past, accompanied by works of penance in sack-cloth and ashes.

The use of the Greek word in question, noun and verb, almost invariably determines the sense to true sorrow as manifested in corporal works.  We know clearly what the ‘penance’ was which St John the Baptist preached, for his dress of camel’s hair and wild honey which were his only food, the confession of sins and the fruits worthy of penance, all proclaim that it was not a mere internal act.  Nor could his hearers have understood him to speak of any other penance than that which was known and practised by their fathers.

To take one illustration out of a hundred from the Old Testament.  In Jeremias (31:19), the Vulgate rendering is as follows: ‘Postquam enim convertisti me egi poenitentiam’ – nichamti.  This is correctly translated in the Douay version: ‘After thou didst convert me, I did penance’; for, penance for the past naturally follows conversion.  But the Protestant translation is quite paradoxical.  It runs thus: ‘Surely after that I was converted, I repented’, and is just as if a man building a house were to commence at the roof, or, to use a hackneyed colloquialism, it is putting the cart before the horse.  It is unquestionably a very strong proof of the correctness of the Vulgate translation that the early Greek ecclesiastical writers as Sozomen, Socrates, St. Basil (died 380), and the early Greek Councils as Laodicea (AD 372), and the first Council of Nice (AD 325), use the word metanoia for the canonical penances.  Students of ecclesiastical history know that these did not mean merely internal acts.  They meant the most rigid mortifications, accompanying the purpose of amendment…..

……It is obvious that St Jerome could have had no party purpose in view when he adopted poenitentia as the true rendering of the Greek.  The correctness of the translation was not contested for more than eleven hundred years.  Beza, the French reformer, was amongst the first to adopt the term ‘resipisentia’ i.e. ‘repentance’ for ‘poenitentia’ or ‘penance’.  Beza, in fact, borrowed the word from Lactantius, but gives it a very different meaning.  Lactantius strongly insist that its primary meaning is ‘sorrow for the past’.  Erasmus quotes Tertullian (3rd century) in favour of this meaning, which he himself adopted.  St Augustine puts into one sentence the whole controversy regarding the meaning of the words ‘poenitentia’ and ‘resipisentia’.  ‘No one’, he says ‘can begin a new life without being sorry for the past.  Again, the illustrious Doctor of the Church uses the word ‘poenitentia’ in such a context that it is impossible to mistake its meaning in the sense of external action.  ‘Penance’, he says, is ‘the daily punishment of good and humble members of the Church, in the infliction of which we smite our breasts, saying, ‘Forgive us our trespasses’.  In precisely the same sense, too, does St Cyprian take the word, when he teaches that the penance must be in proportion to the offence.

In the New Testament, there is just one example in which the word can be said to be used in a sense of ‘a change of mind’.  In St. Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews (12:17) we interpret the Geek word to mean a change of purpose.  Everywhere else the context requires corporal penance.  Amongst the Jews, too, corporal penance was ever in use.  The Anglican Archbishop Trench, having examined the second objection that the Rhemish translation ‘penance’, or, as it is in the Vulgate, poenitentia, does not make sufficient account of the changed mind for the time to come, says: ‘On the whole I cannot but think it would have been better to leave poenitentia undisturbed’.

Some of the most eminent Protestant scholars have pronounced the Vulgate to be the most perfect of all extant versions, and the Douay and Rhemish translations, as we have seen, are admittedly the most accurate renderings of it.


Carr, Thomas Joseph, Archbishop of Melbourne, “Lectures and Replies”, 1907, p. 21-22, publ., The Australian Catholic Truth Society, Melbourne, Australia