In the 4th Century A.D., the Bishop of Rome wanted to have both the Old and the New Testament translated. Most people in the Roman Empire didn't speak Greek and Hebrew. They spoke Latin.
Knowing he needed a scholar who understood Hebrew and Greek, as well as Latin, the Bishop of Rome (Pope Damasus) gave translating responsibility to his secretary Jerome. (Follow this link to a brief biography of this important church figure.)
Jerome moved to Palestine and worked there as he translated both testaments. Often pictured with a lion (this link takes you to a 1514 engraving by Albrecht Durer), Jerome tamed the animal when (according to legend) he pulled a splinter from its paw.
Before Jerome began to translate the Bible, there was scholarly disagreement over which books to include. Because he had worked so closely with Jewish rabbis, Jerome wanted to follow the canon of the Hebrew Old Testament (also followed by protestant Bibles). On the other hand, Jerome's contemporary - Augustine of Hippo - thought the new Latin version should also include the deuterocanonical books (sometimes referred to as the Apocrypha).
Augustine (who wrote the still-popular City of God) won the argument. The decision to include the deuterocanonical books was made by Pope Damasus I and confirmed by the Council of Rome in 382 A.D. Jerome completed his translation in 404; his work was published for the first time in 405 A.D. (Follow this link to a searchable, online edition of the Vulgate.)
Within a century after St. Jerome's translation, there were hundreds of vernacular translations of the Bible. Venerable Bede, England's first historian, reportedly translated a part of the Gospel of John (into Anglo-Saxon). No copies of that survive.
It wasn't long before the Catholic Church ruled that the Vulgate was the only authorized translation. Stunning copies of the Vulgate remain today. The links will take you to a rare bound copy of the Latin Bible used at St. Servaas in Maastricht (the Netherlands) and to one of the few surviving Gutenberg Bibles (the first book ever printed on the famous press).
By the 14th century, scholars wanted to translate the Bible into their own languages so the average person could understand it better. A thousand years had passed since Jerome's translation. Rome no longer ruled the world. People did not speak Latin. But the Catholic church strongly opposed such thinking.
Scholars, and the church, were about to enter an era of intense debate and persecution.
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