The Confraternity Version (1941)

Edward P. Arbez, ed., The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, translated from the Latin Vulgate; a revision of the Challoner-Rheims version edited by Catholic scholars under the patronage of the Episcopal committee of the Confraternity of Christian doctrine. Paterson, N.J.: St. Anthony guild press, 1941.

This version of the New Testament was a revision of the Challoner-Rheims Version. It was done by members of the Catholic Biblical Association of America, and sponsored by the Episcopal Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, hence the name "Confraternity Version." Following the Challoner-Rheims, it was based upon the Latin Vulgate, which at that time was still considered by Roman Catholics to be a better basis for translation than the existing Greek texts. Only the New Testament of this version was completed, because in 1943 the Pope issued an encyclical letter (Divino Afflante Spiritu) which recommended that Catholic translators begin to use the Greek and Hebrew texts rather than the Vulgate. The Old Testament translation from the Vulgate which was already underway was therefore dropped, and a new translation project (resulting in the New American Bible) was begun.

The Confraternity version was not as literal a translation of the Vulgate as was Challoner's, because although they worked from Challoner and the Vulgate as a basis, the American revisers did make intelligent use of the Greek text, and so their revision in some places comes closer to the Greek. It seems to have been their intention to not only improve the version with respect to readability, but to improve it by interpreting the Latin (somewhat loosely at times) in light of the original Greek.

Challoner, 1752

1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 last of all, in these days hath spoken to us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world. 3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the figure of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, making purgation of sins, sitteth on the right hand of the majesty on high, 4 being made so much better than the Angels, as he hath inherited a more excellent name than they.

Confraternity, 1941

1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 last of all in these days has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world; 3 who, being the brightness of his glory and the image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, has effected man's purgation from sin and taken his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become so much superior to the angels as he has inherited a more excellent name than they.

Like all Roman Catholic Bibles, the Confraternity version included explanatory notes. Many of the notes were designed to promote traditional Roman Catholic interpretations, as in the notes to Romans 3:20-21:

3:20. It does not follow from St. Paul's statement that no man is justified by the works of the law, that good works are not necessary for salvation. The justification of which St. Paul here speaks is the infusion of sanctifying grace which alone renders a person supernaturally pleasing in the sight of God. This cannot be obtained either by the observance of the law or by any other work of unregenerate man.

3:21. The justice of God through faith is not that holiness whereby God is just, but that grace which he imparts to the soul to make it really, intrinsically pleasing and holy in his sight. The necessary condition for obtaining the infusion of this divine gift is faith, not a bare speculative faith, but a practical faith which through the love of God effects the observance of the commandments and the performance of other good works.


"The word of the Lord endures forever," is the saying of a great prophet (Isa. 40, 8) and of the Prince of the Apostles (1 Pet. 1, 25).

In her belief in the divine authority and the perfect truth of the Bible, as being the inspired Word of God, the Catholic Church has never hesitated. Nor has the Church forgotten that this sacred Book was destined by its Author to convey His message to all His faithful servants of every place and time. Neither has she overlooked the fact that this message must lie sealed and silent to many of her children unless given them in their own language, at least by the voice of their pastors, if not by means of the written page.

Further, the Church has always realized that Holy Scripture was committed to her charge by virtue of its very origin and object. Like the Apostolic Tradition of Christ's teaching, the Bible, too, is a treasury of divine revelation. As such, it can have no rightful guardian and dispenser except that Church which Christ formed and commissioned to teach to all the world the truths revealed for man's salvation. There can be no graver crime than the least corruption of that eternal truth which Christ has brought us. The Church is, therefore, watchful over Holy Scripture; and not only over its message, but likewise over its written transmission.

In exercising this guardianship, the Church has given special sanction to that Latin version which, because of its common use for centuries, won the name of "Vulgate." Her intention in this is primarily to declare which of many Latin versions is to be regarded as substantially accurate and safe in all matters of faith and morals. It was from this Latin text that most of the vernacular versions of Europe were made. It was also from this text that our first printed Catholic Bible in English was taken.

In 1560 the Catholic Church had been outlawed in England. The Catholics who remained in the country faced a particular danger to their faith from English versions of the Bible which altered the true meaning of the Scriptures. To meet this danger there was urgent need of a more faithful, a Catholic, version. This need was met by the "Rheims and Douay Version." It was so called because the New Testament was printed at Rheims in 1582, and the Old Testament at Douay in 1609-10. It was the work of exiled English priests and educators, the chief of whom was Dr. Gregory Martin.

The Rheims-Douay remained the standard English version for Catholic use until near the time of the American Revolution. By this time the language had passed through many of those changes which are natural to all living tongues. It was Bishop Challoner, Vicar Apostolic of the London District, who saw the pressing need of an English version of the Bible more in keeping with the time. In spite of his heavy pastoral labors, he produced a new version of the entire Bible in English in 1750. Challoner regarded his work as merely a revision of the Rheims-Douay, as its title page shows. The Catholic version in English which is best known to us all, both in England and in America, is still practically that of Challoner. Other Catholic scholars sought to improve on his work, and some of our current editions are indebted to them as well; but Challoner's Bible has been the framework and the substance of our own down to the present time.

But, in its turn, Challoner's version has suffered loss of value because of progressive changes in our language. The consequent need of revision in which it stands has been recognized for a long time. Challoner's text was made the approved English version for Catholics in America by the Archbishop of Baltimore and the Bishops of the United States in 1810. The approbation was confirmed by the Hierarchy at the First Provincial Council of Baltimore (1829), but at the same time the emendation of the "Douay" text, as Challoner's was still described, was earnestly recommended. This matter of the improvement of Challoner's version came up again at the Ninth Provincial Council of Baltimore (1858). The Sacred Congregation de Propaganda fide sanctioned in a particular way this desire for a better vernacular version, suggesting that it be entrusted to a group of theologians experienced in biblical studies.

Notwithstanding this encouragement to undertake a revision of the approved version, the closing decades of the last century, and the first of the present century, found the Church in America too much occupied with other concerns and not sufficiently equipped to attempt this work. Archbishop Kenrick undertook the great task of revising the entire Bible, but his work never met with general acceptance. The result was that we have continued to use editions of the English Bible which are, in language and substance, the text that Bishop Challoner gave us a hundred and ninety years ago.

The passage of time has neither lessened the weaknesses of this version nor done away with the demand for its improvement. In the meantime, however, the number of priests in America trained in the theological sciences, and notably in the specialized discipline of biblical studies, has greatly increased. Parallel to this growth there has been a marked increase of popular interest in the study of Holy Scripture. This progress has brought to light again the unsatisfactory condition of our vernacular version, it has reawakened the desire for a version accommodated to the needs of our time, and it has called attention to the fact that we now possess the adequate means to produce a worthy English text.

The English version which is presented in this volume is the answer of the Church in America to this need. Its preparation was requested and supervised by the Episcopal Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. The principles upon which it rests were submitted to the Secretary and to other members of the Biblical Commission at Rome, and received complete approval. It is the accomplishment of some twenty-seven Catholic biblical scholars, all men of training and experience in their particular fields, who have devoted more than five years to the work. Many other scholars have had part in it, whether as special editors or as critics. It enjoys, therefore, in the first place the authority necessary in any serious attempt to meet the requirements of an improved Catholic version in English. And it claims a scholarship commensurate with that authority.

While new in many of its aspects, this text is not a new version, but a revision of the work done by Bishop Challoner. While that venerable text has lost a great deal of its value with the lapse of time, it retains much that is commendable. To produce the type of version required in our day, it was necessary to eliminate many of the characteristics of the older version, and even to change many of its familiar passages; but there was no reason for setting it aside entirely. In fact, this revised text can claim the advantage of preserving in an improved form the version to which English-speaking Catholics have become accustomed.

The English text now being presented retains as much as possible of the version it seeks to replace. And yet, in striving for expression that is modern, much of the general style of Challoner's work has been improved upon. Many terms found in his version are no longer current in the sense in which he used them. The close adherence to Latin sentence structure, so evident in his text, is not the usage of our time. Such modifications are inevitable. It may be stated, however, that only such alterations in the Challoner text have been made in the revised edition as were necessary to give a simple and clear modern version.

However, this present text is much more than an effort to bring the language of Challoner's version into conformity with modern English idiom. It is a revision in the sense that it goes back to the source upon which Challoner drew, and reconsiders in a thorough way the accurate rendering of the divine message in the language of our day.

Like both the Rheims and the Challoner versions, the revised text rests upon the Latin Vulgate. This has been made necessary by a desire to have the version available for liturgical use. The excellence of the Vulgate as an ancient interpretation of the New Testament is an added advantage. The Clementine edition of the Vulgate is the main source of this revision. The readings of the Clementine, however, have been improved in not a few instances by recourse to the witnesses for a more ancient text of the Vulgate. This tends to bring the text basic to the present version very close to the modern critical editions of the original Greek. Where the Latin text differs from the Greek in such a way as to affect the meaning, attention is called to the fact in the footnotes.

One immediate influence of the Vulgate will be observed in the spelling of proper names. The Latin form has been retained as more familiar to Catholics, and in some instances closer to the original pronunciation.

In addition to improving on Challoner's use of the Latin text, the revised version will show the results of a more thorough method of interpretation. The Latin text often reflects the peculiarities and idiom of its Semitic and Greek origin. In accordance with the rules of sound biblical interpretation, the present version takes this into account; and when the Latin text clearly supposes such elements, it renders them in the sense that is native to them. In no case, however, has the Latin text been set aside in favor of the Greek. It can, therefore, be said that the present version is in every sense a translation of the Vulgate.

As a further aid to the reading and understanding of the divine message, this new text abandons the old verse form of Challoner for the still older paragraphing of the Rheims-Douay Bible. Another improvement is offered in the addition of headings that show the main divisions of the books, and marginal titles describing the contents of their subdivisions. Citations from the Old Testament are, for the most part, set off in the center of the page. Those that are poetic in form are set in such a way as to manifest the parallelism of Hebrew poetry. Some other important citations, though not poetry in the original, are for emphasis written in verse form.

This revised version is presented with the confidence that it will advance the reading and appreciation of the New Testament. It is offered with the hope that it may awaken new interest in the Word of God, and that it may bring to God's children the manifold blessings of His Letter to them. At the same time, it is presented with the humble prayer that, as it has been prepared with all diligence and care, it may not interpret the divine message in any way except in the full sense intended by the Holy Spirit. It is He who has given it to us for our learning, and that we might have hope. (Rom. 15, 4.)