The Douay–Rheims Bible is a translation of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into English undertaken by members of the English College, Douai in the service of the Catholic Church. The New Testament was published in Reims, France in 1582, in one volume with extensive commentary and notes. The Old Testament, which was published by the University of Douai, France, followed nearly thirty years later in two volumes; the first volume (Genesis to Job) in 1609, the second (Psalms to 2 Machabees plus the apocrypha of the Clementine Vulgate) in 1610.
The purpose of the version, both the text and notes, was to uphold Catholic tradition in the face of the Protestant Reformation which up till then had ovewhelmingly dominated academic debate. As such it was an impressive effort by English Catholics to support the Counter-Reformation. The New Testament was reprinted in 1600, 1621 and 1633, while both the Old Testament volumes were reprinted in 1635, but neither thereafter for another hundred years.
Much of the text of the 1582/1610 Bible, however, employed a densely latinate vocabulary, to the extent of being in places unreadable; and consequently this translation was replaced by a revision undertaken by bishop Richard Challoner; the New Testament in three editions 1749, 1750, and 1752; the Old Testament (minus the Vulgate apocrypha), in 1750. Although retaining the title Douay–Rheims Bible, the Challoner revision was in fact a new version, tending to take as its base text the King James Bible rigorously checked and extensively adjusted for improved readability and consistency with the Clementine edition of the Vulgate. Subsequent editions of the Challoner revision, of which there have been very many, reproduce his Old Testament of 1750 with very few changes. Challoner's New Testament was, however, extensively revised by Bernard MacMahon in a series of Dublin editions from 1783 to 1810; and these various Dublin versions are the source of some Challoner bibles printed in the United States in the 19th Century. Subsequent editions of the Challoner bible printed in England most often follow Challoner's earlier New Testament texts of 1749 and 1750; as do most 20th century printings, and on-line versions of the Douay–Rheims bible circulating on the internet.
Although the Jerusalem Bible, New American Bible (in the United States), the Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version and the New Jerusalem Bible are the most commonly used in English-speaking Catholic churches, the Challoner revision of the Douay–Rheims is still often the Bible of choice of more traditional English-speaking Catholics.
The Douay–Rheims’ Version’s influence on the King James Bible
The Old Testament “Douay” translation of the Latin Vulgate arrived too late on the scene to have played any part in influencing the King James Version of the Bible. The Rheims New Testament had, however, been available for twenty years; and in the form of William Fulke's parallel version, was readily accessible. Nevertheless, the official instructions to the King James Bible translators excluded the Rheims version from the list of previous English translations that should be consulted, probably deliberately.
The degree to which the King James Bible drew on the Rheims version has, therefore, been the subject of considerable debate; with James G Carleton in his book “The Part of the Rheims in the making of the English Bible” arguing for a very extensive influence, while Charles C Butterworth proposed that the actual influence was small, relative to those of the Bishops Bible and the Geneva Bible.
Fortunately, much of this debate was resolved in 1969, when Ward Allen published a partial transcript of the minutes made by John Bois of the proceedings of the General Committee of Review for the King James Bible (i.e. the supervisory committee which met in 1610 to review the work of each of the separate translation 'companies'). Bois records the policy of the review committee in relation to a discussion of 1 Peter 1:7 "we have not thought the indefinite sense ought to be defined"; which reflects the strictures expressed by the Rheims translators against concealing ambiguities in the original text. Allen shows that in several places, notably in the reading "manner of time" at Revelation 13:8, the reviewers incorporated a reading from the Rheims text specifically in accordance with this principle. More usually, however, the King James Version handles obscurity in the source text by supplementing their preferred clear English formulation with a literal translation as a marginal note. Bois shows that many of these marginal translations are derived, more or less modified, from the text or notes of the Rheims New Testament; indeed Rheims is explicitly stated as the source for the marginal reading at Colossians 2:18.
Otherwise the English text of the King James New Testament can often be demonstrated as adopting latinate terminology also found in the Rheims version of the same text. In the majority of cases, these latinisms could also have been derived directly from the versions of Miles Coverdale or the Wyclif Bible (i.e. the source texts for the Rheims translators), but they would have been most readily accessible to the King James translators in Fulke's parallel editions. This also explains the incorporation into the King James Bible from the Rheims New Testament of a number of striking English phrases, such as "publish and blaze abroad" at Mark 1:45.