The Vulgate

Roman Catholics nowadays use a variety of translations. But there once was a time when the Council of Trent forbade criticism of the Latin Vulgate, a fourth/fifth century translation of the Bible from the original languages into Latin. No doubt the modern Roman Catholic translators who prefer not to follow the Vulgate's interpretations have found a way to do so without any hint of criticism, which is disallowed by this infallible decree. A quirky, personal translation, the Vulgate could stand a bit of criticism.

Ferris Wheel

Like Martin Luther and John Calvin, Thomas Aquinas was an enthusiast for the Ptolemaic system of astronomy. In this geocentric system, the outermost sphere whirls around with incredible rapidity. But in the end it just. . .comes to a stop. Like a Ferris Wheel frozen into immobility at a bankrupt amusement park, the whole mechanism just sits there:

"Therefore, that generation and corruption may come to a stop in the inferior bodies, the movement of the heavens must also come to a stop. And on this account the Apocalypse (10:6) says “that time shall be no longer.” It ought not, of course, seem impossible that the movement of the heavens come to a stop. For the movement of the heavens is not natural in the way the movement of heavy and light bodies is. . .but it is called natural in that the heavenly body has an aptitude for such movement; the principle of that motion, however, is an intellect, as was shown in Book III. The heaven is moved, therefore, as are things moved by a will. But a will moves for a purpose." (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book Four, 97, 2-3).

Though Protestant eyes are too dim to see it, the Bible actually says this, in the Vulgate anyway, in the Book of Job. In this KJV, Job 14:12 reads, "So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep." But the Vulgate breaks the Ferris Wheel: "So man when he is fallen asleep shall not rise again; till the heavens be broken, he shall not awake, nor rise up out of his sleep." (Job 14:12, Douay-Rheims Challoner; 18:6); "sic homo cum dormierit non resurget donec adteratur caelum non evigilabit nec consurget de somno suo." It is not apparent that the heavens are the sort of thing that is susceptible to breaking down, though cars and other gizmos do. Nevertheless, it stops. The astronomical apparatus does not dissipate or crumble, it just stops moving:

"On the contrary it is written (Apoc. x, 5, 6): The angel whom I saw standing upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and he swore by him that he liveth for ever and ever.... that time shall be no longer. Now time will endure as long as the heavens are moved. Therefore at some time the heavens will cease to be moved.

"Again it is written (Job xiv. 12): Man when he is fallen asleep shall not rise again till the heavens be broken; he shall not awake nor rise up out of his sleep. Now we must not understand that the heavens will be broken in their substance, because this will always remain, as proved above. Therefore when the dead shall rise again, the heavens will be broken in the sense that their movement will cease." (Thomas Aquinas, On the Power of God (De potentia), Question 5, Article 5.)

The music of the spheres will have to switch over to another tune, as the outermost sphere gives up the rapid revolution is has performed for so many aeons and settles down to its new life as a stationary sphere; may I suggest the song, 'I'm Built for Comfort, Not for Speed.' Moses Maimonides, also a devotee of the Ptolemaic system, explains the same principle, that once the outermost sphere stops, everything stops: "When for one instant the beating of the heart is interrupted, man dies, and all his motions and powers come to an end. In a like manner would the whole universe perish, and everything therein cease to exist if the spheres were to come to a standstill." (Moses Maimonides, A Guide for the Perplexed, p. 136).

Readers not familiar with the Ptolemaic system of astronomy may enjoy getting to know this beautiful construct:

This development will cause some disruption, inasmuch as all change is ultimately traceable back to the motion of the heavenly spheres: "So, the motion of the heavens must be the cause of all other motions." (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book Three, Chapter 82, p. 277). Some of the pagan critics of Christianity thought it absurd that the Christian Bible threatens the destruction (not stopping) of the heavens, "And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree." (Isaiah 34:4).

While pagan astronomers like Aristotle saw the heavens as the realm of unchanging, eternal perfection, the Bible puts an expiration date on the moon: "In His days the righteous shall flourish and abundance of peace, until the moon is no more." (Psalm 72:7). To the Bible writers, the heavenly actors are no more or less created beings than the things of earth, and no more or less eternal than any other created things.

This pagan critic found similar predictions of cosmic renovation in the apocryphal work the 'Apocalypse of Peter:'

"By way of giving plenty of such sayings, let me quote also what was said in the Apocalypse of Peter. He thus introduces the statement that the heaven will be judged together with the earth. "The earth shall present all men to God in the day of judgment, itself too being about to be judged, together with the heaven which contains it." No one is so uneducated or so stupid as not to know that the things which have to do with earth are subject to disturbance, and are not naturally such as to preserve their order, but are uneven; whereas the things in heaven have an order which remains perpetually alike, and always goes on in the same way, and never suffers alteration, nor indeed will it ever do so. For it stands as God's most exact piece of workmanship. Wherefore it is impossible that the things should be undone which are worthy of a better fate, as being fixed by a divine ordinance which cannot be touched." (The Apocriticus of Macarius Magnes, Book IV, Chapter VI).

How absurd that the Christians did not know, as everyone else did, that the heavens are the place of unchanging perfection, whereas change and decay are limited to the sublunary realm, the sphere below the moon! Actually, it's just obsolete science. Even the Thomists do not believe it any more. Some Christians like Cosmas Indicopleustes already doubted the verity of the Ptolemaic system, which admittedly isn't found described in scripture, and wondered what was going to happen when those wheels stopped turning:

"Or how can they say that, after the consummation, the seven or eight or nine heavens, or the heaven again which is by them called the sphere, will revolve? For what useful purpose will this revolution be? let them tell us and not grudge us this information. . ." (Cosmas Indicopleustes, Christian Topography, Book III, p. 114).

In fact this is a difficulty that rises when the two systems, the Christian and the Ptolemaic, are stitched together. One hates to admit that the flat-earther Cosmas was onto something, but there is a genuine problem here. According to Aristotle, there is change and decay in this lower, sublunary sphere only because the outermost sphere imparts an impetus. If it stops moving, as Thomas seems to expect will happen in the age to come, will that mean heaven is like a hall of statues, with no motion or change possible?

After its encounter with Galileo, the Roman Catholic Church adopted a protective attitude toward the Ptolemaic system of astronomy. Galileo had favored the heliocentric Copernican system and argued forcefully for its empirical truth, offering as evidence some pretty convincing observations, like the phases of Venus. When astronomer Tycho Brahe propounded a hybrid system, combining features of the heliocentric system with aspects of Ptolemy's geocentrism, some of the Jesuits at first expressed enthusiasm. But as John Wesley, of all people, explains, both the Ptolemaic and the Copernican systems have the benefit of basic conceptual simplicity, which Tycho's improvisation lacks:

Tycho Brahe's System of the Universe

  • “The Ptolemaic system, which supposes the earth to be the center of the universe, is now deservedly exploded; since Copernicus has revived that of Pythagoras, which was probably received by most of the ancients. Tycho Brahe's, which jumbles both together, is too complex and intricate, and contrary to that beautiful simplicity, conspicuous in all the works of nature.”
  • (John Wesley, Of the Gradual Improvement of Natural Philosophy, Chapter 21, p. 581).

I'm not sure who Wesley is thinking of as the ancients, but it is true that Pythagoras presented a well-thought-out heliocentric system of round-earth astronomy before the rival geocentric system we know as the Ptolemaic system was worked up, so in a sense Copernicus' revolution was a conservative move.



Authors today are often asked to contribute endorsements to appear on the dust jacket of upcoming books. This is commonly perceived as one of the lowlier tasks undertaken by those who labor in the garden of literature. Some blurb-writers, however, have all but shouldered aside the authors of the works they recommend. Take Pope Damasus I, the bishop of Rome in the late fourth century. This man is celebrated by Roman Catholics, because it is he, they say, who included the Apocrypha in the Latin Vulgate, when Jerome didn't want it. Pope Damasus encouraged the work of translation, one might almost say he gave the project his endorsement.

What to make of the modern-day fan club of a blurb-writer, who magnified his achievement until you might almost think he was the author of the work rather than its advertiser? Watch his flatterers puff and preen as if he had created what he only found! Isn't this like putting one's own name on another's material, claiming credit where none is due? A translation crossed his desk, yet some people think there is no Bible without this man; God could not do it alone. Editing, you see, was needed; the services of a gate-keeper are required before even God can gain admittance; until the work is validated, God labors in vain.

Pope Damasus served the church faithfully in encouraging Jerome to undertake the Herculean task of translating the scriptures. But far from adorning the work he advertised, he vandalized it, pressuring Jerome, against his better judgment, into adding the apocryphal books to the Latin Vulgate (if indeed it is he, as Catholics claim, who included these books and not the fifth century Pope Gelasius.) To some this counts as a step upward; others must see him as one who tossed a monkey wrench into the machine, or drew a mustache on the Mona Lisa. Unfortunately this one individual's personal predilection has overturned, in some quarters, the consensus opinion of the early, spirit-filled church.

So long as Jerome's prefaces remained attached to the deutero-canonical books, these works were understood to be less than fully canonical, not to be used to resolve doctrinal disputes. So they were understood through much of the medieval period. But this placement always carried the risk, ultimately realized, that they would be elevated to full canonicity, by those who had forgotten the terms of their inclusion.

Discovering the embarrassing fact that no ecumenical council had ever addressed the canon, the anti-Reformation Council of Trent later ratified Pope Damasus' minority view, which is the Roman Catholic canon of scripture to this day. At that time also the distinction between the canon proper and the 'deutero-canonical' books was flattened out, a danger always present in binding these second-tier works together with the fully canonical books, and has by this point, in the minds of contemporary Roman Catholics, disappeared altogether.

Roman Catholics are prone to over-emphasize the work of recognizing God's inspiration, versus God's work of inspiring these books. The works are inspired by God whether anyone recognizes this fact or not. They put the focus on the wrong place, in the hope of feeling needed. People today pick up the Bible and hear the word of God in it; Catholics imagine nobody would do this if Pope Damasus hadn't specified for them which books were authored by God. But many who care not at all about Damasus, Gelasius or any other Pope will find that the Holy Spirit authenticates His own material. It is all the more difficult to understand why the Catholics are still waiting to hear 'thank you' when one reflects that, far from thanking Pope Damasus, many believers say 'no thanks' to the plumper Bible for which we would have to thank him, if we didn't like the earlier 'Pope-less' model better.

There can be no doubt that the church had wandered from its early days of purity of faith by the times of Pope Damasus I. The church, once persecuted, had already turned persecutor, though the horrors of the Inquisition still lay in the future. While it is certain that the early church was filled with the Spirit of God, it is far from certain the same can be said of this man, standing against the tide. It's a good rule to remember, concerning the Christian church, that early is good, late is bad. It's a shame that Jerome did not stand his ground, when he knew better.

The medieval church and the early church display a difference of opinion. They have different canons of scripture. How can we judge between them? By their fruits.


Lethal Rapture

There is at the present day a whole publishing industry devoted to publicizing the event called the Rapture. Though the timing in sequence of the event is subject to dispute, its future occurrence is certain. In place of the Rapture familiar to evangelicals, the Vulgate gives us. . .mass death in the skies:

  • “Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall all indeed rise again: but we shall not all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall rise again incorruptible. And we shall be changed.”
  • (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 Douay-Rheims).

As expressed in his letter 119, Jerome actually preferred the wording, “we shall all sleep but we shall not all be changed.” As Thomas explains, 'sleep' means 'die:'

"It should be understood concerning the first that, as Jerome says in a certain letter to the monks Minerva and Alexander: what is said here, we shall all rise, is not found in any book of the Greeks, but in certain ones is found, “we shall all sleep,” i.e., we shall all die. And it is called the death of sleep because of the hope of the resurrection. Hence it is the same as if one said, “we shall all rise,” because no one rises unless he has died. But not all shall be changed." (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on 1 Corinthians, 1003.)

This inverts the normal understanding of this passage. Combined with passages in Zephaniah describing a world conflagration, this strangely shaded verse yields an unfamiliar outcome, namely a fiery death scene in the skies:

"I answer that, This fire of the final conflagration, in so far as it will precede the judgment, will act as the instrument of Divine justice as well as by the natural power of fire. Accordingly, as regards its natural power, it will act in like manner on the wicked and good who will be alive, by reducing the bodies of both to ashes. But in so far as it acts as the instrument of Divine justice, it will act differently on different people as regards the sense of pain. For the wicked will be tortured by the action of the fire; but the good in whom there will be nothing to cleanse will feel no pain at all from the fire, as neither did the children in the fiery furnace, although their bodies will not be kept whole, as were the bodies of the children, and it will be possible to God's power for their bodies to be destroyed without their suffering pain. But the good, in whom matter for cleansing will be found, will suffer pain from that fire, more or less according to their different merits. . .Although the bodies of the good will be reduced to ashes by the fire, they will not suffer pain thereby, as neither did the children in the Babylonian furnace." (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Supplement to Third Part, Question 74, Article 8.)

In his commentary on 1 Thessalonians, Thomas offers two views:

"I wish to point out that there are two opinions on this matter. For some say that the resurrection will not take place at the same time for everybody, but that first the dead will come with Christ, and during the time that Christ is coming the living will be taken up into the clouds and they will die and rise while they are being taken up. . . But there are others, who maintain that everyone will rise at the same time and in an instant." (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians).

I'm not sure how many hit movies they could make with everybody dying on the way up like that.


Why does this man have horns?:

La Somme le Ray, Honore

Because: "And when Moses came down from the Mount Sinai, he held the two tables of the testimony, and he knew not that his face was horned from the conversation of the Lord. And Aaron and the children of Israel seeing the face of Moses horned, were afraid to come near...And they saw that the face of Moses when he came out was horned [cornutam Vulgate], but he covered his face again, if at any time he spoke to them." (Exodus 34:29-35, Douay-Rheims).

This would turn into a tragedy, because medieval anti-semitism latched onto this meme, and demanded the Jews of the realm wear little hats equipped with two pouches, the better to conceal their 'horns.' As gnostic author Margaret Barker notes, the same Hebrew word can mean both 'horns' and 'rays [of light]:'

"The Servant/ Lamb on the throne in heaven had ‘seven horns and … seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God …’ (Rev. 5.6). This meant that the One on the throne had been given the sevenfold spirit (Isa. 11.2) and his ‘horns’ were in fact rays of light – it is the same word in Hebrew."

(Barker, Margaret (2014-04-17). King of the Jews: Temple Theology in John's Gospel (Kindle Locations 351-353). SPCK.)

Moses, Michelangelo

The King James Version gives us 'horns' in this location, where 'rays' might be more euphonious and pleasing to the eyes:

"God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. And his brightness was as the light; he had horns coming out of his hand: and there was the hiding of his power." (Habakkuk 3:3-4).

The Hebrew word, קרן, qeren, can mean both or either. In Exodus, it is said of Moses, "Ex 34:29 And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone [qaran] while he talked with him." (Exodus 34:29). The word, קרן qaran, can mean 'shone' or 'is horned.' We know from the New Testament that 'shining' conveys a more accurate impression, because the children of Israel could not look of the brightness of Moses' face: "But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away. . ." (2 Corinthians 3:7). But Jerome goes with 'horns:' "(cumque descenderet Moses de monte Sinai tenebat duas tabulas testimonii et ignorabat quod cornuta esset facies sua ex consortio sermonis dei. . ." (Exodus 34:29 Latin Vulgate).

Moses, Manitoba Legislative BuildingLest anyone think the horned Moses did not long survive the Renaissance, here is a contemporary example from the Manitoba, Canada legislative building.

One can only speculate how one and the same word came to mean both 'shining' and 'horned.' It could be that the connecting link is the moon, which both shines and in its crescent form resembles the horns of certain cattle. Quintus Curtius Rufus, in his biography of Alexander the Great, refers to the "horns" of the moon: ". . .these, bending slightly in the middle, form a curve very like the moon with its horns standing out when that heavenly body does not yet fill out its complete orb." (Quintus Curtius Rufus, History of Alexander, Book VI, Kindle location 3222). The idea at the root of primitive magic governing the use of medicinal herbs, is that if one thing looks like another thing, it cannot be a coincidence; there must be an occult or hidden connection between the two. Such ideas may have played a role in forming common linguistic usage.

Diodorus Siculus mentions that Isis was portrayed with horns because she is the moon-goddess:

"And they put horns on her head both because of the appearance which she has to the eye when the moon is crescent-shaped, and because among the Egyptians a cow is held sacred to her."

(Siculus, Diodorus. Complete Works of Diodorus Siculus (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 32) (Kindle Locations 334-335).)

Pagan gods were often represented with horns; here Alexander the Great, who turns up in the Koran disguised as 'dhoulkarnain,' the 'two-horned,' is depicted sporting a pair of ram's horns:


Alexander is wearing horns because he wanted it understood that he was the son of Zeus Ammon. Many pagan gods show off that attribute in polytheistic iconography, not only the moon goddess. So why didn't the medieval readers of the Vulgate conclude that, if Moses was horned, then the Jews were a race of gods? Satan, in the Bible, is never described as horned, though in time he would commonly come to be depicted as wearing them. The connection is Paul's identification of the participants in a pagan temple feast as persons in communion with demons: "But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils." (1 Corinthians 10:20-21).

Of course Paul never meant for the attributes of the pagan gods to be systematically transferred over to demons, because as every Bible-believer understood, the idols were vanity, they were nothing. But people with one foot in each camp felt differently. Once the horns had migrated over to Satan, then those found wearing them, even the faithful Moses, became the spawn of Satan.



Another odd image one finds on the walls of medieval cathedrals is Christ depicted as a leper, because,

  • “Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper [leprosum Vulgate], and as one struck by God and afflicted.”
  • (Isaiah 53:4 Douay-Rheims).

Possibly Jerome heard this misdiagnosis from his rabbinic informants, because the same odd misinformation makes it into the Talmud: ""What is his [the Messiah's] name?. . .The Rabbis said: His name is 'the leper scholar,' as it is written, 'Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted.' [Isa. LIII, 4.]" (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 98b).

Perhaps the author of this little bit was thinking along similar lines, of a Messiah who bandages sequentially to be ever at the ready:

"I questioned him further when the Messiah will appear. And he answered: Go and ask him himself. 'But where is he to be found?' 'At the gate of Rome, among poor people inflicted with wounds.' 'And how can I recognize him?' All the inflicted poor open the bandages of all their wounds, fix all of them and then dress them. And he opens one bandage, fixes the wound and dresses it, and then goes on to the next one, for the reason that perhaps he will be cold and there will be a delay till all the wounds are dressed." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume XVI, Tract Sanhedrin, Chapter XI, Kindle location 65142).

The Woman's Seed

  • “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.”
  • (Genesis 3:15 Douay-Rheims).

Notice the difference between this traditional Catholic version of this verse and the King James:

"And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." (Genesis 3:15 KJV).

The Vulgate has "the woman" crushing the serpent's head, while in the Hebrew original it is the woman's seed who does so. No verse has been more important in the growth of Mariolatry than this; it is quoted in the Papal bull Ineffabilis Deus which established the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Modern Roman Catholics understand "the woman" who crushed the serpent's head, i.e. defeated Satan, to be Mary.

In the original text there is no such woman. The serpent-crushing woman has even shown up in visions of the faithful. Prior to the definition of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, a French nun, Catherine Laboure, saw Mary as the Immaculate Conception standing atop a globe with her foot upon the head of the serpent, Satan. Why she saw this is unclear, given that modern Catholic translators concede it is not the woman but her seed who crushes the serpent:

"The Hebrew text, by proclaiming that the offspring of the serpent is henceforth at enmity with the woman's descendants, opposes the human race to the Devil and his 'seed,' his posterity, and hints at man's ultimate victory; it is the first glimmer of salvation, the proto-evangelium. The Greek version has a masculine pronoun ('he,' not 'it' will crush...), thus ascribing the victory  not to the woman's descendants in general but to one of her sons in particular; the words of the Greek version therefore express the messianic interpretation held by many of the Fathers. The Latin version has a feminine pronoun ('she' will crush...) and since, in the messianic interpretation of our text, the Messiah and his mother appear together, the pronoun has been taken to refer to Mary; this application has become current in the Church." (Notes to the Jerusalem Bible, 1966).

Pope Pius' 'infallible' interpretation of this text is premised on a mistranslation!

Catholic readers might be interested to learn that, in common Protestant interpretation, it is Jesus, the woman's seed, who crushes Satan's head: "As Jesus wore the crown of thorns, he bore the curse of God. He is the ['seed] of a woman' who crushed Satan with a bruised heel (Gen. 3:15)." (Jeremy R. Treat, The Crucified King, p. 252). This is the better interpretation of the Hebrew original:

"Immediately after the apostasy of our first parents it was announced that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head. The meaning of this promise and prediction is to be determined by subsequent revelations. When interpreted in the light of the Scriptures themselves, it is manifest that the seed of the woman means the Redeemer, and that bruising the serpent's head means his final triumph over the powers of darkness. In this protevangelium, as it has ever been called, we have the dawning revelation of the humanity and divinity of the great deliverer." (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Kindle location 9104).


It strains credulity to think that one man could translate the Bible, a Sisyphean task more commonly undertaken by committees. And, as it turns out, Jerome did not run a one-man shop, though his helpers, and patrons, have never received due credit. This is because they were female!

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, the Conversion of Paula by Saint Jerome

Do Penance

Some people think Jesus said to "Repent," others that He said to "Do Penance:"

"I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." (Luke 13:5 and elsewhere, KJV)
"No, I say to you: but except you do penance, you shall all likewise perish." (Luke 13:5 Douay-Rheims).
"Non dico vobis sed si non paenitentiam egeritis omnes similiter peribitis." (Luke 13:5 Vulgate).

Likewise in Acts 2:38 and elsewhere. A turning has been made to sound like a work.

John Wycliffe

There is good in the Latin Vulgate as well as error. John Wycliffe's ground-breaking fourteenth century English translation of the Bible was based on the Latin Vulgate, not on the original languages. Even this second-hand translation of a translation was such a threat to the church hierarchy that they found it necessary to gather up and burn all the copies they could find. They enacted the 'Constitutions of Oxford,' criminalizing the mere possession of Wycliffe's Bible. This courageous pioneer is called 'The Morning Star of the Reformation.'

"Common-tongue translations were officially outlawed at the 1407-9 synod at Oxford led by Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Arundel." (Printer's Error, J. P. Romney and Rebecca Romney, p. 59).

In Whom

The New Testament Greek of Romans 5:12 might be translated to satisfy the literal-minded as,

"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned [εφ ω παντες ημαμρτον]:. . ." (Romans 5:12 KJV).

The Latin is slightly different:

". . .propterea sicut per unum hominem in hunc mundum peccatum intravit et per peccatum mors et ita in omnes homines mors pertransiit in quo omnes peccaverunt. . ."

Notice particularly the "in quo," because it is meaningful: "Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world and by sin death: and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned." (Douay Rheims translation, Romans 5:12). In whom? In Adam. Thus was birthed Augustine's theory that infant baptism is salvific. "If all people sinned in Adam (in whom) then all people are guilty at birth. . .Traditional original sin. . .now became Augustinian original sin with spiritual death from Adam in whom all sinned (in quo, in whom)." (The Foundation of Augustinian-Calvinism, Ken Wilson, p. 74). The question is, what do people inherit from Adam? A propensity to sin, or the complicit guilt of accomplished sin? The latter, says the Vulgate. The former, says the Greek.

This Terrestrial Ball

Readers of the various 'Histories of the Conflict Between Science and Religion,' produced by authors such as John William Draper and Andrew D. White, will be pleasantly surprised to discover that the Latin Vulgate refers to our home planet by the familiar phrase found also in classical Latin, orbis terrae or orbis terrarum. Our English word 'orb' comes from the Latin 'orbis,' as does 'orbit.'

  • “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof: the world, and all they that dwell therein.”
  • (Psalm 24:1 Douay-Rheims).
  • "domini est terra et plenitudo eius orbis terrarum et universi; qui habitant in eo"
  • (Psalm 24:1 Latin Vulgate).

  • "And he shall judge the world in equity, he shall judge the people in justice.
  • (Psalm 9:8 Douay-Rheims).
  • "et ipse iudicabit orbem terrae in aequitate iudicabit populos in iustitia"
  • (Psalm 9:8 Latin Vulgate).

  • “Let all the earth fear the Lord, and let all the inhabitants of the world be in awe of him.”
  • (Psalm 33:8 Douay-Rheims).
  • “timeat dominum omnis terra ab eo autem commoveantur omnes inhabitantes orbem”
  • (Psalm 33:8 Latin Vulgate).


What would Paula and Jerome have meant by talking about the 'orb of the earth'? Probably what Cicero meant when he used the same phrase: the whole round globe. This shouldn't come as a shock, though it probably will to people who learned in school that Magellan discovered the earth was round. One might conceivably try to make an 'orb' into a disk, but the Romans who stamped globe imagery onto their coins did not think it was a disk, they thought it was a sphere, with good reason. Some translators will try to go with 'circuit' or something noncommital like that, but when authors who know the earth is a sphere call it an 'orb,' it is putting too fine a point on it not to says 'globe.'

Many primitive people unthinkingly believe the earth to be flat, and even some literate empires, reportedly including China and ancient Egypt, develop intentional flat-earth cosmographies. Under the solar interpretation of Osiris, Isis and Horus, Horus is the young sun, born anew each day,— evidently these people were too clueless to realize the sun we see each day is the same old, recycled, one, which, having taken its daily bath in Ocean, is set up on the track again in the morning. Or so some people think! Xenophanes the philosopher thought so, too: "The sun is formed each day from small fiery particles which are gathered together: the earth is infinite, and is not surrounded by air or by sky; an infinite number of suns and moons exist, and all things come from earth." (Xenophanes, Fragments). Mohammed ibn Abdallah, in the Koran, has the sun setting into a "miry font." By New Testament times it was generally realized the earth was round, as described in the geocentric astronomy which came to be widely accepted in the ancient world, and passed on into the middle ages as the Ptolemaic system.

Jerome takes some of the Bible words describing the 'world' or the 'earth,' which are not in themselves 'shape' words, and renders them with a shape word, globe: "And it came to pass that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled." (Luke 2:1, Douay-Rheims); "factum est autem in diebus illis exiit edictum a Caesare augusto ut describeretur universus orbis" (Latin Vulgate, Luke 2:1). The Greek word that we're starting with, οικουμενη, which means 'household,' or the inhabited part of the earth, says nothing about the shape of the earth, but Jerome's translation does. But it was not uncommon for Latin authors to call the world the 'globe,' 'orbis,' just like we do.

Does he overdo it? There are certain verses of the Bible which menace sinners with a moving earth:

"Fear, and the pit, and the snare, are upon thee, O inhabitant of the earth. And it shall come to pass, that he who fleeth from the noise of the fear shall fall into the pit; and he that cometh up out of the midst of the pit shall be taken in the snare: for the windows from on high are open, and the foundations of the earth do shake. The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly. The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again." (Isaiah 24:17-20).

"Therefore is the anger of the LORD kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them: and the hills did tremble, and their carcases were torn in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still." (Isaiah 5:25).

Part of God's theophany on Sinai, and His visitation in wrathful judgment against the people, is the earthquake:

"Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of heaven moved and shook, because he was wroth." (2 Samuel 22:8).

"Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth." (Psalm 18:7).

"The earth shook, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God: even Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God, the God of Israel." (Psalm 68:8).

"The voice of thy thunder was in the heaven: the lightnings lightened the world: the earth trembled and shook." (Psalm 77:18).

Just like the English word 'earth,' the Hebrew erets can mean, either the entire planet, or the dry ground distinguished from the sea, or some portion thereof. When we say, in English, 'the earth shook,' listeners would take this to mean an earth-quake, not that the planet wobbled in its orbit. In a similar vein, most of the Biblical references to the earth shaking when God came down at Sinai, or in wrathful visitation thereafter, or at the final judgment, would be taken as referring to violent earth-quake, the movement of the crust of the earth with reference to its foundational layers of bedrock deep in the earth.

So the idea of the 'earth moving' verses, it seems to me, is God's descent to contend with His people in judgment, in this case the final judgment: "The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world [tebel], and all that dwell therein." (Nahum 1:5). There never yet has been, in times of human habitation, a world-earthquake, though perhaps there will be at the end times. But in addition to the 'earth-move' verses, there are also 'doesn't-move' verses, like "The Lord hath reigned, he is clothed with beauty: the Lord is clothed with strength, and hath girded himself. For he hath established the world [Hebrew tebel] which shall not be moved." (laus cantici David in die ante sabbatum quando inhabitata est terra dominus regnavit decore indutus est indutus est dominus fortitudine et praecinxit se etenim firmavit orbem terrae qui non commovebitur) (Psalm 93:1 Douay).

One would expect a certain symmetry in the reading of these move/don't move verses; if the earth trembling before the face of the Lord refers to God's wrathful visitation in judgment, then its failure to tremble on other occasions must refer to God's benign pleasure in His people, its stability a gracious promise of His providence. But Jerome, likely convinced of the Ptolemaic system as were most people of the day, sees the "orbis terrae", the whole round globe, in the non-moving verses, not the moving ones. In the latter, he sees no orb, just earth. In the geocentric Ptolemaic system, the earth does not move.

We tend to see what we expect to see. When Jerome saw Bible verses menacing a moving earth, he thought, correctly, what was in view was the earthquake, not orbits. When he saw verses presenting the inverse or mirror-image of this threat, he thought he saw astronomy. Galileo might have had better luck had Jerome made a more neutral translation.

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