Lasserre’s Les Saints Évangiles

Les Saints Évangiles: Traduction Nouvelle, par Henri Lasserre. Paris: Société générale de Librairie Catholique, 1887. Published on the internet by Google Books in 2007.

The author of this version, Paul Joseph Henri Lasserre De Monzie (1828-1900), was a “French writer on religious subjects, born at Carlux. He studied law at Paris until 1851, and in that year wrote in favor of the coup d'etat, L'opinion et le coup d'etat. He took up the cause of Poland, traveled to Rome in her behalf, and helped gain the Pope’s condemnation of the massacres of Warsaw. A few years later he made himself famous by his attack on Renan’s Vie de Jesus; by his claim that he had been healed at Lourdes, his consequent literary activity in favor of the pilgrimages thither, and his quarrels with Zola over the question; and by his translation of the Gospels, which, under the title of Saints Evangiles (1887), was first highly praised by the Vatican, but later put on the index expurgatorius. His great successes were Notre-Dame de Lourdes (1863), which has been translated into most of the European languages, and Les episodes miraculeux de Lourdes (1883).” (The New International Encyclopaedia.)

The following English translation of Lasserre’s preface is reproduced from The Power Behind the Pope, with Translation of the Preface to the Gospels by Henri Lasserre … by William Wright. London: James Nisbet, 1888.

Lasserre’s Preface to his Version of the Four Gospels.


We have often heard eminent men,—priests of exalted merit and of great zeal, bishops even,—discussing in our presence a notorious and universal fact—a fact altogether extraordinary in itself, and at first sight inexplicable—which they considered to be the cause of certain deviations from piety with many believers, as the first cause of the decay of the Christian spirit.

“The Book of all books,” they said; “the Book whose teaching has changed the face of the earth; the Book which is found everywhere, and quoted every day; the Book which God has placed in the foundation of the Church—The Gospel—is in reality very rarely read, even by those who make a profession of being fervent Catholics. By the general body of the faithful it is not read at all.”

Alas ! nothing is more true.

Just ask your neighbours, friends, those who form your own circle,—ask them personally, dear reader,—and you will soon come to the conclusion, not perhaps without profound astonishment, that of a hundred persons who observe the sacraments, there is often not one who has opened the Gospel, except casually, and to glance at, or meditate upon, a few isolated verses here and there.

Most of the Church’s children know only fragments of the divine Book, without order, logical or chronological, reproduced in the Prayer-book for the festivals and Sunday services of the year; and they hardly remember any of it except the special quotations, which, occurring oftener than others on the lips of preachers, or in books of piety, come to take possession, with or without leave, of all memories, and thus form part of the public property of the community.

We believe that we are in no degree exaggerating when we take for granted that there are not perhaps, on an average, three faithful in a parish who have gone beyond this vague notion, and who (even once in their lives) have set themselves to follow out and to study in its general harmony, and in the fourfold form which the Evangelists give it, the complete history of the God-man. Astonishing and distressing contrast: the Gospel, while it continues to be the most illustrious book in the world, has become a book unknown.

How has such an abnormal phenomenon been produced among us? The question deserves to be examined with religious care, and with absolute sincerity.


We may observe, first of all, that if this fact is general, especially in our own country, it is not of ancient date. It may be affirmed to have no root in the past.

Indeed, from Tertullian to St. Bernard, all the Fathers of the Church earnestly recommended to all Christians capable of reading, a personal acquaintance, if not with the Old Testament, of which many passages relate exclusively to the Jewish nation, at least with the Gospel, which was written for all nations of the earth, for all races, and for all times. To none of the great men, to none of the saints, did the obscurities and difficulties which may be incidentally met with in the heavenly Book appear a sufficient reason for wresting from any single soul the immeasurable blessing which it is called to draw from a direct communication with the actual words of our Lord, with the sanctifying manifestation of His existence here below.

“Why,” says St. John Chrysostom, “should the Ho]y Spirit have borrowed, in order to write the Gospels, the pen of publicans, of fishermen, of lowly artisans, of poor people without instruction and without letters, if it was not with the manifest aim of putting such a book on the level of the least educated reader? That which it concerns all to know the Evangelists have set forth clearly and in the manner most intelligible for all, as being the common teachers of the universe. Who is the man who, on hearing these words, ‘Blessed are they who are meek and lowly of heart, blessed are the merciful, blessed are they who weep, blessed are the pure in heart!’ and the rest, needs any master to explain them to him? Is there the least ambiguity in the narrative which is given us of the miracles and the events of the life of Jesus Christ? . . .

“Yes, yes! it is the duty of every Christian assiduously to read these sacred books. It is not sufficient that he should be only not absolutely ignorant of what they contain; he ought to meditate upon them, in order to gather their hidden virtue. What good will it do you to hear the expositions which we continually give in consecutive order, if you render all our efforts useless by neglecting in the first instance to make yourselves acquainted, through diligent perusal, with the books themselves which form the subject of our discourse? For want of this co-operation on your part, is not our labour rendered almost entirely fruitless?

“Know that these writings have not been given to be only a vain ornament to our libraries, but that we may imprint their divine lessons in our very selves. To possess them only as the Jews did, with whom the precepts of the law were graven on tables of stone, would be to forget that pressing obligation which lies upon us all to inscribe them on the living tables of our heart, spirit. ... I would that, by continually reading them, you were completely penetrated by them.

“If the Devil trembles to approach a house in which ‘the Christian Book’ is found, with much more reason will he fear to enter a soul fully possessed with its celestial teaching.”

The unanimous feeling of the Doctors of the Church, and the feeling of the Church herself, on the important subject which occupies us, is summed up in these pressing exhortations of St. John Chrysostom.

Moreover, the reading of the Gospel has during long centuries nourished the manly faith of our ancestors, and stirred up the ardour of souls for the service of Jesus Christ. The greater part of the sermons and homilies of the holy Fathers presuppose, in the audience gathered around the pulpit, a familiar acquaintance with the Book of books, which formed, as it were, the basis of all their teaching, moral and dogmatic.

“The Gospels,” they repeat every moment, “were written to be read and meditated on by every believer at his own fireside, afterwards commented on, elucidated, and explained in the House of God by His ministers, and finally interpreted, when it became necessary on any point, by the supreme authority of the Catholic Church.”


In the sixteenth century Protestantism attempted to cut this theory in two. Rejecting all superior judgment, it proclaimed the right of every reader to declare in the most absolute manner the supreme interpretation of the Word of God according to his own individual will and fancy.

Then, when the Church and the very nature of things had established a fruitful liberty, under the guardianship and sanction of a tutelary power, the innovation proclaimed license, and opened the gates to all the excesses which it brings in its train.

Thenceforth it became necessary and imperative to protect the good faith of the public from the danger of false or erroneous translations, and to warn the faithful against alterations of the divine Book, against misinterpretations of its meaning, against corruptions. With this aim the Council of Trent laid down a very simple rule. It decreed that thenceforth every translation, whether in whole or in part, of the Holy Scriptures, must be sanctioned by the Episcopal imprimatur of the diocese in which it should be published, and also be accompanied by explanatory notes. Just as, in every country—when it is a question of precious materials, such as gold and silver—the State controls and declares by its stamp the purity of the metal; so it was with the imprimatur of the Bishop. In like manner, with regard to the notes, on all high-roads which the multitudes traverse there are placed at difficult and doubtful spots, sign-posts, directions, even lamps, to assure the safety of travellers, to keep them from straying from the right way, from wandering in any wrong direction, or from falling over precipices.

We must point out, in passing, that by this double precaution and careful intention the Church made clear its express desire that every one should follow the same road; and (with the exception of one temporary suspension, at the height of the crisis) it continued to invite the vast multitude subject to it to go and draw life for themselves directly from the sacred waves of the evangelical source.


Unfortunately the rarest virtue in this world is moderation. If the infallible Church was wise, fallible man was not; and the fear lest a present evil, of which they were the alarmed spectators, should develop and increase, threw them back, as so often happens, into another evil, of which they did not see the future bearing and the distant consequences.

The abuse which the separatists had made, and were making, of various inspired texts, on which they endeavoured to base their errors, frightened a certain number, a considerable number, of Catholics of an anxious orthodoxy; and there was produced among them a sort of reaction against the very use of the sacred writings, of which every page, it was murmured with the exaggeration of fear, contained, like snakes in the grass, the most terrible dangers of heresy.

Without daring to formulate publicly an absolute prohibition which might have fallen under the censures of the Church, this timorous school endeavoured, without even confessing clearly to itself its own purpose, to dash from the hands of believers the divine Book which forms the foundation of our faith; and it laboured to replace it, little by little, by a pious literature destined to give to hearts and spirits food accommodated to their strength, and nourishment without peril.

Some of these books, we do not hesitate to admit, are excellent in themselves, and have contributed to the sanctification of many souls. Nevertheless, they are the exception. In the greater number of these works (where too often, alas, the sugar of devotion replaces the salt of wisdom) the eternal truths and the real teachings of the Gospels are quickly diluted, and, as it were, lost in strange waters; doctrines of an individual or a party, reflections ascetic or mystical, rules of piety, methods, means, processes of perfection, and prayers of all sorts. Some are absolutely distressing by their intellectual insignificance, by their narrowness of conception, by their false ideas or absence of ideas, by their absolute ignorance; ignorance of the world as it is, ignorance of the human heart, ignorance of the actual ways of God. But all alike, the best with the worst, are quite another thing (yes, absolutely another thing) than the Gospel, whose apostolic mission they have by a gradual, we were going to say clandestine encroachment, usurped.

We take leave (before proceeding to examine the consequences of this literature) to insist, at the risk of repetition, even at the risk of being tedious, on this reversal, on this secret revolution, accomplished without any outward change, in the inner life, and in the usages of the orthodox multitudes.

Having for their principle and aim to cause the Christian people to know and love the very tenor of the Gospel, the holy Fathers, as we have seen above, far from wishing to replace or supplant the Gospel by their own writings, had devoted their labours to elucidate its smallest expressions, to scrutinise and explain its sense, not in order that the commentary might push aside the text, but that the faithful, in their own houses, whether alone or assembled in their families, might the better understand and relish the life-giving savour of the holy Word. In requiring, from the epoch of Protestantism, and from the first century of printing, that translations in the vulgar tongue should thenceforth be accompanied by approved notes and by quotations from the Doctors, the Ecumenical Council assembled at Trent had solemnly ratified so just a conception of things by the sanction of its infallible authority.

Such had been the doctrine and the universal custom from the beginning. And certainly, if the writings of which we speak, inspired with the same thought and working with the same feeling, had continued to follow the same direction, there would have been nothing to say of them, unless to praise the merits of some and regret the imperfections of others. ... But what is to be deplored is that, starting from a wholly different point of view, and forsaking in so doing the tradition alike of the Church and of the Fathers, they tacitly pursued and finally attained the very opposite end. Considering the sacred Book useless, nay, even dangerous reading for the faithful, they thought to do a pious work in relegating it, far from the profane, to the learned recesses of the sanctuary.

Was not this to forget that the teaching of Jesus, instead of being limited to the initiated few, within a carefully guarded enclosure, had on the contrary resounded in the open air on the public places, on mountain slopes, on the lake shore, in the midst of the crowds of people pressing around him; among the ignorant as among the learned; among the good and the wicked, the great and the small, the righteous and sinners; among Jews and heathen, old men, women, and children? Was it not to forget that it was commanded to the Apostles and to their successors to proclaim everywhere the same Gospel across the ages, and to make it known to every creature under heaven. “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark xvi. 15). “κηρύξατε,” says the Greek, “be like public criers.” Was it not to forget that this order was so absolute that, when it happened to our Lord to take His disciples apart and converse with them outside the multitudes, He did not fail to impress upon them that even these words which He addressed to them thus privately were afterwards to be repeated and spread abroad like all His other teachings. “What I tell you in the darkness, speak ye in the light; and what ye hear in the ear, preach ye on the housetops” (Matt. x. 27).

The dread which was felt of seeing readers stray into the paths of heresy, put out of sight these injunctions of the divine Master, and the constant desire of the Church.

VI. [sic]

Nevertheless, the needs of souls and hearts were such that, in spite of influences and currents, certain of the faithful endeavoured, and persisted in endeavouring, to return to the reading of the New Testament.

But, as if all circumstances had fatally conspired to maintain and gradually to widen the separation between the people and the Word of God, an obstacle all at once presented itself before them—very secondary in appearance, and very grave in reality—which did not fail to discourage and by degrees to arrest their good movement.

In the midst of the progress or increasing changes of our language since the sixteenth century, and in opposition to the literary exigencies which flowed from them, it unfortunately came to pass that the translations of the Gospel were rigidly cast in a form of strange and singular aspect, which for the generality of readers robbed them of all movement, all colour, all life.

Through an extreme respect for the letter of the sacred text, a respect legitimate and praiseworthy in its principle, but which we think misconceived in its application, the various translators who have succeeded one another seem to have considered it a duty to take no account whatever of the idiom in which their translations were to be read. They have invariably set themselves to reproduce with the most scrupulous accuracy the turning of the phrases and the arrangement of the words; that is to say, the precise external form of the writings which they had to translate. In short, to speak Greek, or Latin, or Hebrew in our land under the sound of French, whatever might be the vast learning or the talents of the authors, there necessarily resulted from this method (which itself also was a product of the timid school) translations in a barbarous style. Who does not know, alas! and who has not deplored this style—laborious, involved, overladen with dependent clauses; this style so fatiguing and obscure, in the midst of which the attention, soon discouraged and weary, vainly exhausts its strength in the effort to follow the idea, and sometimes even to find the meaning, so unintelligible has it become.

One fault, however, always begets another. By contributing thus to obscure the thought and to misrepresent the true expression of it, this method brought with it, by a natural and logical consequence, the necessity of explaining almost every word by added comments. Hence the excessive use of notes and glosses, of which the Church had prescribed the use only within the simple and sober limits of the indispensable. Few in number, they are an assistance which gives help and satisfaction to the mind; unduly multiplied, they smother the text, and destroy the thread of the narrative.

Shall we also mention those old typographical customs which it has been thought a duty to preserve religiously in the translations of the Gospel, as if these forms, which have disappeared from our observance, had in themselves something priestly, inviolable, and sacred? Shall we refer to those strange pages which offer to the astonished gaze two long and narrow columns of small print paragraphs, furnished at the foot with a perfect thicket of notes, and starred here and there with a thousand threatening references? All this also drives away the modern reader.

*     *     *     *     *

Among these purely external arrangements there is one which, in the opinion of the best judges, has had the most vexatious effect.

Every one knows that the Latin and Greek versions of the Old and New Testaments are arranged in chapters and verses. But what is perhaps less known is that these divisions, purely arbitrary, form absolutely no part of the actual text of the holy writings. The division into chapters dates from the thirteenth century, and was the work of Cardinal Hugues de St. Cher. As to the division into numbered verses, it was introduced, in the sixteenth century, by the famous Parisian printer, Robert Stephens, and was soon universally adopted, owing to the great convenience of such an innovation for quotation, verification, and the finding of any passage of Scripture.

This ingenious idea, it is true, facilitated to an enormous degree the labours of the learned, of expositors, and of preachers; but there its utility came to an end. By transferring to versions in the vulgar tongue (that is to say, into editions, not for research, but for reading and meditation) these divisions of the printer Stephens; by introducing into the discourses of the Saviour and the narratives of the Evangelists these perpetual and brutal gashes which are as annoying to the mind as to the eye; by inflicting on the understanding, without either necessity or advantage, this constant arrest and resumption of movement, this uneasy, jerky, skipping mode of progression, the intrinsic charm, the profound and peaceful charm of the Book of Life is more and more destroyed.

Have you sometimes tasted the sweetness of a refreshing walk in one of those quiet country paths which lie buried in the depths of the great woods, in those lovely avenues, bordered by venerable forest trees in which the birds are singing, enamelled with wild flowers in which the buzzing bees are seeking booty? Above your head the infinite sky; around you the deep silence and the dense shades; within you the consciousness of the presence of God. How this voyage on the bosom of nature rests you! How your whole being revels in the calming freshness of that tranquil solitude, and tastes deliciously, and without effort, the universal life which penetrates it from all sides!

Well! suppose now that some surveyor, in order to fix for himself and others the exact position of each point of landscape, takes into his head to dig trenches across the path at every five or six yards, to mark the distance. Is it not evident that in condemning you henceforth every moment to leap over these incessant landmarks, he will have put an end to your walks in the forest, and without having touched a branch or a leaf, will have destroyed the indescribable charm which, whether at morning or at eve, or at high noon, has drawn your steps towards those shady groves?

Precisely similar is the effect produced by this cutting of the verses in the various translations. It vexes the reader; it wearies him; it almost irritates him; it drives him away from the sacred forest.

It is true that in the extracts from the Gospels given in Prayer and Service books verses are altogether excluded, as well as the notes; some of which, however, appear to us to be at times indispensable. But an opposite and equally regrettable extreme has been fallen into by the manner in which these fragments are printed, always preceded by the traditional formula, “At that time. . . .”

However important may be the passage quoted, however distinct the events, the episodes, the words, the dialogues, the discourses which it relates, an inflexible rule has been adopted of never breaking the line, of running at one stretch from beginning to end, without halting for a second, and without taking time to breathe. The four narratives of the Passion which we read during the course of Holy Week occupy each of them eight, ten, and even twelve uninterrupted pages; not a single division, not a single interval, not a single rest. The immense paragraph forms one indivisible block, a compact mass in which all the sentences touch and crowd and muddle each other; so that the mind, constrained by unrelieved tension, comes to take note no longer of the details, but only to receive a confused impression of the whole.


It is thus, by a series of many causes, that the custom of reading the holy Gospels becomes less from age to age, and at length almost disappears from Catholic homes.

Shall we be rash if we think and say, since this has been the case, that all that the most ardent and indefatigable zeal has laboured to supply to Christian hearts and minds has not made up for that which they have lost? Shall we be rash to think and say, in accordance with the Fathers, and in accordance with the Church, that the word of man has been fundamentally powerless to replace the divine word, and however full they may have been of good and holy intentions, all these myriads of volumes have not equalled in value that single book the Gospel?

And further:

The watery and sweetened dilutions which, under the form of books of piety, have replaced for so many the nourishment of the Gospel, so pure, so substantial, so strong, so life-giving, could have no other effect than in the long run to weaken the vigour of the Christian temperament.

Many of the precepts of the New Testament, very rough and very plain, being sometimes left in the shade or softened down, lest they should cause a shock, and on the other hand the reading of the divine Book, not coming every day to correct these too human precautions and these regrettable accommodations, it followed, and could not but follow, that the spirit of the world, infiltrated by imperceptible gradations into the religious ideas of many truly believing souls, thoroughly disposed to do right, and passionately attached to the minutest observances of worship.

Little acts of devotion then too often took the place of lofty sentiments and exalted virtues; minute observances that of manly action; the true type of the perfection to be attained was falsified, altered, diminished. To the grand and apostolic ideal of the saint whose powerful and brilliant example stirs the enthusiasm of hearts, and leads captive the will, succeeded the pale and faded form of the saintly man, whose life, edifying as it may be, never penetrates the souls of others with glowing warmth, nor draws them within its own orbit. Now, the force of expansion and of attraction, the force of Christian proselytism, consisting above all things in the holiness of Christians, that is to say, in the entire application of evangelical precepts and counsels, it comes to pass that being thus enfeebled inwardly, they have less energy, less power to act on and to convert others, to draw into the bosom of the Church those who have had the misfortune not to be born in it, to restore to it those who have left it, to retain within it those who are becoming alienated from it.

Another result, not less grave, has followed from this total ignorance of the Gospels, in which so many sheep of the faithful flock have slumbered, unconscious of peril. Holding scrupulously and with fervour to all the externals of religion, docile, orthodox, zealous, even sometimes a little narrow, many Christians have become, alas! more and more incapable, not only of gaining and convincing those around them who do not believe, but of opposing any serious intelligent resistance to the attacks of which religion is the object, to the audacious falsehoods respecting the origin of our faith, to the calumnies against the sacred Book; and this internal feebleness, the evils of which were hardly felt in the days when the whole community repeated the same Creed, constitutes at the present time a danger which must strike every observer.

We live, in fact, in an age when it is no longer sufficient to be content with a blind faith like that of a coal-heaver—a faith undoubtedly worthy of respect, but only in a coal-heaver. Whoever can read, write, work, think, ought to have (and particularly in our day) a faith clearsighted, giving good reason to itself of all that it holds and of the reasons for holding it—a faith armed both for defence and for apostleship.

Surrounded by hostile publications, by inimical journals, by contradicters always on the watch, we need at every moment, whether we like it or not, to be prepared to furnish the reasons of our belief, and to defend against many and many a foe the Gospel that is the object of attack. How shall we do it? And if, questioned and cross-questioned by our adversaries on the subject of this book—of this book twice sacred for us, since it contains the history of our God and was inspired by the Holy Spirit—we are constrained to tell them with a blush that we have never read it, shall we not justly be the object of their ridicule and scorn? What explanation can we give, indeed, which will justify in their eyes a contradiction so flagrant between the reverence which reaches even to worship and the indifference which reaches even to not having made acquaintance with these pages, which we look upon as coming from Heaven?

To the general ignorance of the Gospels alone was due in France, some twenty years ago, the success of the scandalous romance which appeared under the name of “The Life of Jesus.” Among a people ever so little familiar with the narratives of St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John, such a work could never even have ruffled the surface of the popular mind, and there would have been no need to refute it; every one would have seen for himself, without anybody’s aid, its flagrant falsifications, its gross sophisms, its absolute inanity.


This deep-seated and complex evil which we have thought it our duty to analyse with perfect frankness, this enfeeblement of the Christian spirit, these failures of faith, this want of vigour to defend ourselves, this lukewarmness of zeal, these aberrations of piety, this gross ignorance of a great many, must awaken mournful anxiety in the Catholic who reflects. Among those who have authority, or who make authority in the Church, it is unanimously understood that one of the best remedies, perhaps the most efficacious of all, for this state of things, would be to return to the good custom which the holy Fathers and the Councils recommended, with so much solicitude, to the strong generations of other times.

“We must,” it is already said on many sides, “we must lead back the faithful to the great fountain of living water which springs from the inspired Book. We must make them hear, taste, and relish the direct lessons of the Saviour, the words full of grace and truth which fell from His lips. We must bring them face to face with the lessons taught; for all ages, by the perfect life, the life all human yet all divine of Him whom no sincere intelligence can gaze upon without bowing the knee to Him, whom no true soul can hear or see without loving Him, without adoring Him, without feeling itself inflamed with the desire to follow Him, and the will to serve Him. We must set the whole earth face to face with Jesus Christ.”

But if the necessity for the remedy is beginning to impress itself on all in unmistakable characters, it is infinitely less simple to carry it into action. After this sad and universal interruption of which we have just examined the causes, we cannot conceal from ourselves that it is extremely difficult to introduce afresh the daily reading of the Gospel into the habits of the faithful. Is that a reason for not making the attempt?

No, indeed! for to forego action in the presence of a simple difficulty, however great it may be, as one would in the presence of a manifest impossibility, would be not only a failure of courage, but a neglect of duty and a formal ignoring of that special grace which God infallibly accords to every man who, instead of giving way before an obstacle, consecrates his strength, however puny, to overthrowing the evil and establishing the good.

The Sovereign Master, however, does not demand from us success and triumph, but that which He alone gives as it pleases Him; He demands of us goodwill and effort, which are never in vain, even when they seem for the moment to fail. What one begins, others finish; what one sketches out to-day only partially, or even roughly and unskilfully, will be brought to perfection by more able hands that come after him. Thus the labour of the small and humble, if it does not attain the result after which it strives, serves at least to prepare the paths which lead to it, to clear the way, to make easier the road, to bring to light, even if by its own faults, the stumbling stones which have to be avoided.

It is for these reasons that we have worked for nearly fifteen years at the constant revision and correction of the work which we publish to-day. It is for these reasons that, notwithstanding all the defects which our incompetence, alas, has still left in it, we have determined at length to send it forth from the press, with the certainty of responding to the want of many souls.

[A piece of private information may give the reader some idea of the reverential care which we have endeavoured to give to a work so difficult and so delicate. It is twelve years since the present volume was completely printed, by the firm of Lahure & Co., and since then we have paid rent to that firm for the type employed, in order to be able to retouch, alter, or correct indefinitely, in such leisure as we could command, the successive and innumerable proofs of the book.]


The foregoing observations explain the aim which we have proposed to ourselves, and the method which we have followed, in endeavouring to translate the Holy Gospels for the Christians of our time, and for the non-Christians also.

We think we may claim for ourselves that by the study of authorised commentators and of philologers, by the attentive examination of various readings, and by our own reflections, we have spared no pains to penetrate the exact sense and bearing of each phrase, of each expression, of each word of Greek and Latin, of each Hebrew idiom. On the other hand, with the sense once firmly settled in our mind, we have set ourselves not to make a servile tracing from the dead language in the living language, but to express in the best French which it was possible for us to write the exact shade of the original.

Just as in order to understand the Evangelists we have been inspired constantly and solely by the genius of the language in which they spoke, so, to translate them, we have been inspired constantly and solely by the genius of the language which we had to speak. Scrupulously strict in all that constitutes the idea itself, in all which is of the inviolable essence of the sacred text, we have set ourselves the task of presenting in all faithfulness to our readers the thought and the feeling, without adding anything, without diminishing anything, without disturbing anything, and without losing anything; just as with a thousand precautions one pours, from one vase into another, some precious liquid, fearful equally of losing a single drop, and of mixing with it the smallest particle of extraneous matter.

We have borne in mind that St. Jerome, in his letter to Pammachus on the art of translation, lays down as a principle this precept of Horace: “If you would be a true interpreter, beware first of all of attempting to render invariably word for word.” 1 And St. Jerome adds: “What some people call fidelity, men of real learning call servility. When it is manifest that, by translating every word, I should obtain in my language something inadmissible, who, I ask, could accuse me of failing in my duty as an interpreter if, to give the true sense, I modified the order of the words, the form of the sentence or the expression? A translation, word for word, conceals the sense which it professes to transfer from one language to another. Let who will follow syllables and letters, do you attach yourself to the meaning. ... A whole day would not suffice me to quote the testimony of all who in their translations have sought solely the meaning and the truth. I content myself for the moment with naming to you the holy Confessor Hilary. Translating from Greek into Latin, homilies on Job, and several treatises on the Psalms, he guards himself carefully against attaching himself closely to the sleeping letter; he lays hold of the sense like a conqueror, and carries it off into his own language.”

For the old chapters and verses, introduced by the hand of man to facilitate reference, we have, to facilitate reading, substituted divisions more in harmony with the habits and logical requirements of contemporary minds. Here, following the actual order of the facts or the ideas; there a different division of the successive paragraphs of the narrative; here, numerous breaks; there hyphens, marking dialogue, according to the rules of modern printing; in other places blanks, spaces, intervals, asterisks, sometimes lines of dots, in order to guide the understanding by guiding the eyes, and in order to render more intelligible the general drift of the whole.

The old divisions, carefully indicated in the page headings, admits, however, of precise reference to the text of the Gospel, and of comparison of our translation with the Latin and the Greek, as they are printed in our ordinary editions.

Bearing in mind how much the appearance of a volume bristling with references alarms and repels the majority of readers who absolutely require, in order to enjoy a book, that they shall not be interrupted by perpetual explanations, observations, and dissertations, we have endeavoured to avoid such a rock.

The few geographical, historical, even philosophical notes which have seemed to us of a nature to elucidate or to complete the text, and consequently to interest every one, are indicated, in the usual way, by a figure referring to the bottom of the page.

As to the notes, purely lexicographical, which support this or that detail of translation, they are collected and arranged at the end of the volume. But as they are only useful to such of our readers as are arrested by a difficulty, and as, for others, a reference in the body of the text would disturb without any advantage the progress of the narrative, we have confined ourselves, in regard to every expression supported by a lexicographical note, to placing in the margin an asterisk, which we have purposely made very small in order not to attract the eye. This asterisk signifies, “There is, at the end of the volume, a note which relates to the line you are reading.” Whoever needs the note is thus informed that it exists, and he can go in quest of it by following a reference given at the bottom of the page. Those who have met with no difficulty (in the line in question) can continue their reading without troubling themselves about the asterisk, and often even without noticing it.


We have now explained our method. We have made clear the principles which have guided us and the end we have followed, trusting not in ourselves but in the grace and the blessing of God. Profoundly convinced of the sanctifying and apostolic virtue of the divine Book, we have striven in the measure of our strength, or to speak more correctly, according to the measure of our weakness, to render it more accessible to all, to place it again, according to the tradition and wish of the Church, in the hands of the faithful, to place it also under the eyes of unbelievers, of those who do not pray, of those who never cross the threshold of the house of prayer, and who live as if God did not exist.

“What!” some will perhaps exclaim, “you have tried to translate the Gospel for men of the world, and to throw its sacred leaves on profane tables, strewn, alas, with so many romances and unwholesome books?”

Certainly! Yes, that is precisely our design; and may God grant us some small success in realising it! Is the Gospel anything else than the very word and example of Jesus Christ, piercing through all the intervening ages, and presenting itself to all souls that they may see it and hear it? Did not our Lord, when He came down upon this earth, address His instructions to all? Did He not come for sinners rather than for the righteous? Was He not to he seen continually scattering truth wherever there was error, good wherever there was evil, health where there was suffering, life where there was death, entering into the houses of publicans as well as the houses of Pharisees, breaking bread with all, raising the Magdalen bowed down under the burden of her sins, speaking of Redemption to the woman of Samaria, asking and receiving hospitality under the roof of Zaccheus, and thus leading back, by the inherent grace of His heavenly teaching, all those hearts of good-will who were but gone astray? The listener who heard Him at first with a careless ear, became attentive; once attentive, he became a disciple; once a disciple, he became an apostle.

May the blessing of the Lord grant that in passing through our unworthy hands the work of the Evangelists may have lost nothing of its life-giving power and renovating force! Mayest thou, then, O Book Divine, still true to thyself, under this new form suited to my time and country, mayest thou reveal the Living God to those who know him not; strengthen the weak and tottering, comfort those who are in trouble, restore hope to the despairing, give the faith of the kingdom to come, and of the illimitable and infinite felicity to those who groan under the miseries here below. O holy Word! speed forth and through even the imperfections of our work and the shortcomings of our language, carry light into spirits and souls, bear charity into hearts, even as the sun, notwithstanding the fogs and clouds which rise from the earth ceases not to brighten the world with its rays and to flood it with fertility. Amen.


1. The reference is to Horace’s Ars Poetica, lines 133-34: nec verbo verbum curabis reddere fidus interpres. But Jerome mistakes the meaning, because Horace is here giving advice to poetic imitators, who should not play the servile part of a faithful translator. The line should be translated “nor must you be so faithful a translator, as to take the pains of rendering your author word for word” (Christopher Smart, The works of Horace, translated literally into English prose, London, 1756). —M.D.M.