Vetus Latina ("Old Latin" in Latin), also known as Vetus Itala ("Old Italian"), Itala ("Italian")[note 1] and Old Italic, and denoted by the siglum , is the collective name given to the Latin translations of biblical texts (both Old Testament and New Testament) that preceded the Vulgate (the Latin translation produced by Jerome in the late 4th century). The Vetus Latina translations continued to be used alongside the Vulgate, but eventually the Vulgate became the standard Latin Bible used by the Catholic Church, especially after the Council of Trent (1545-1563) affirmed the Vulgate translation as authoritative for the text of Roman Catholics' Scriptures. However, the Vetus Latina texts survive in some parts of the liturgy (e.g., the Pater Noster).
As the English translation of Vetus Latina is "Old Latin", they are also sometimes referred to as the Old Latin Bible, although they are written in the form of Latin known as Late Latin, not that known as Old Latin. The Vetus Latina manuscripts that are preserved today are dated from AD 350 to the 13th century.
There is no single "Vetus Latina" Bible. Instead, Vetus Latina is a collection of biblical manuscript texts that are Latin translations of Septuagint and New Testament passages that preceded Jerome's Vulgate. Some biblical books, such as the Psalms and 1 Esdras, had been independently translated into Latin several times, so the commonly designated 'Vetus Latina' version may not be the oldest surviving.
After comparing readings for Luke 24:4-5 in Vetus Latina manuscripts, Bruce Metzger counted "at least 27 variant readings in Vetus Latina manuscripts that have survived" for this passage alone. To these witnesses of previous translations, many scholars frequently add quotations of biblical passages that appear in the works of the Latin Fathers, some of which share readings with certain groups of manuscripts. As such, many of the Vetus Latina "versions" were generally not promulgated in their own right as translations of the Bible to be used in the whole Church; rather, many of the texts that form part of the Vetus Latina were prepared on an ad hoc basis for the local use of Christian communities, to illuminate another Christian discourse or sermon, or as the Latin half of a diglot manuscript (e.g. Codex Bezae). There are some Vetus Latina texts that seem to have aspired to greater stature or currency; several Vetus Latina manuscripts Gospels exist, containing the four canonical Gospels; the several manuscripts that contain them differ substantially from one another. Other biblical passages, however, are extant only in excerpts or fragments.
The language of Vetus Latina translations is uneven in quality, as Augustine of Hippo lamented in De Doctrina Christiana (2, 16). Grammatical solecisms abound; some reproduce literally Greek or Hebrew idioms as they appear in the Septuagint. Likewise, the various Vetus Latina translations reflect the various versions of the Septuagint circulating, with the African manuscripts (such as the Codex Bobiensis) preserving readings of the Western text-type, while readings in the European manuscripts are closer to the Byzantine text-type. Many grammatical idiosyncrasies come from the use of Vulgar Latin grammatical forms in the text.
When Jerome undertook the revision of Latin translations of Old Testament texts in the late 4th century, he checked the Septuagint and Vetus Latina translations against the Hebrew texts that were then available. He broke with church tradition and translated most of the Old Testament of his Vulgate from Hebrew sources rather than from the Greek Septuagint. His choice was severely criticized by Augustine, his contemporary; a flood of still less moderate criticism came from those who regarded Jerome as a forger. While on the one hand he argued for the superiority of the Hebrew texts in correcting the Septuagint on both philological and theological grounds, on the other, in the context of accusations of heresy against him, Jerome would acknowledge the Septuagint texts as well.
Jerome's Vulgate offered a single, stylistically consistent Latin text translated from the original tongues, and the Vetus Latina translations gradually fell out of use. Jerome, in a letter, complains that his new version was initially disliked by Christians who were familiar with the phrasing of the old translations. However, as copies of the complete Bible were infrequently found, Vetus Latina translations of various books were copied into manuscripts alongside Vulgate translations, inevitably exchanging readings.
Vetus Latina translations of single books continued to be found in manuscripts as late as the 13th century; especially in those books where the Vulgate version is not from Jerome, as with the New Testament outside the Gospels. However, the Vulgate generally displaced the Vetus Latina as the standard Latin translation of the Bible to be used by the Catholic church, especially after the Council of Trent (1545-1563).
Below are some comparisons of the Vetus Latina with text from critical editions of the Vulgate.
The following comparison is of Luke 6:1-4, taken from the Vetus Latina text in the Codex Bezae:
|Vetus Latina||Latin Vulgate||Douay Rheims|
|Et factum est eum in Sabbato secundoprimo abire per segetes discipuli autem illius coeperunt vellere spicas et fricantes manibus manducabant.||factum est autem in sabbato secundoprimo cum transiret per sata vellebant discipuli eius spicas et manducabant confricantes manibus||And it came to pass on the second first sabbath, that as he went through the corn fields, his disciples plucked the ears, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands.|
|Quidam autem de farisaeis dicebant ei, Ecce quid faciunt discipuli tui sabbatis quod non licet?||quidam autem Pharisaeorum dicebant illis quid facitis quod non licet in sabbatis||And some of the Pharisees said to them: Why do you that which is not lawful on the sabbath days?|
|Respondens autem IHS dixit ad eos, Numquam hoc legistis quod fecit David quando esuriit ipse et qui cum eo erat?||et respondens Iesus ad eos dixit nec hoc legistis quod fecit David cum esurisset ipse et qui cum eo erant||And Jesus answering them, said: Have you not read so much as this, what David did, when himself was hungry, and they that were with him:|
|Intro ibit in domum Dei et panes propositionis manducavit et dedit et qui cum erant quibus non licebat manducare si non solis sacerdotibus?||quomodo intravit in domum Dei et panes propositionis sumpsit et manducavit et dedit his qui cum ipso erant quos non licet manducare nisi tantum sacerdotibus||How he went into the house of God, and took and ate the bread of proposition, and gave to them that were with him, which is not lawful to eat but only for the priests?|
The Vetus Latina text survives in places in the Catholic liturgy, such as the following verse well known from Christmas carols, Luke 2:14, whilst the Vulgate is closer to the Byzantine tradition:
|Vetus Latina||Latin Vulgate||King James Version (1611)||Douay Rheims|
|Gloria in excelsis Deo, et super terra pax in hominibus consolationis||gloria in altissimis Deo et in terra pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis||Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.||Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.|
The Vetus Latina text means, "Glory [belongs] to God among the high, and peace [belongs] to men of good will on earth". The Vulgate text means "Glory [belongs] to God among the most high and peace among men of good will on earth".
Probably the most well known difference between the Vetus Latina and the Vulgate is in the Pater Noster, where the phrase from the Vetus Latina, Panem nostrum cotidianum, "our daily bread", becomes Panem nostrum supersubstantialem, "our supersubstantial bread" in the Vulgate; the Vetus Latina form being retained in the Roman Missal for liturgical use.