Is the Vulgate Bible Reliable?

The Catholic Church Codified the Books in the Bible

One of the early Church councils that addressed the issue of the canon of Scripture was the Council of Carthage in 397 AD. This council produced a canon[1] that included the 27 books of the New Testament widely accepted today. In 405 A.D., in a letter to a bishop, Pope Innocent I affirmed the canon recognized at the Council of Carthage, providing additional authority to the canon list. This list would be accepted for centuries by all who considered themselves Christian until it was challenged by the Protestants, who rejected a number of the divinely inspired Books in the Old Testament and who changed the words of some of the New Testament as well.

The Council of Trent (1545-1563), a comprehensive response to the Protestant errors, officially reaffirmed the canons established by previous councils and decreed that these books were to be considered sacred and canonical.[2]

Note: An article explaining why Catholic bibles have the correct number of books (46) and detailing the root of the Protestant error in eliminating books from the Old Testament is available at our site: “How Many Books in the Old Testament?

What Is the Vulgate? What Was St. Jerome’s Role?

The Vulgate is a Latin translation of the Bible that was primarily completed by St. Jerome in the late 4th century.

St. Jerome was a student of Saint Gregory of Nazianzen and became a priest. He was also the Secretary to Pope Damasus I, who commissioned St. Jerome to revise the Latin text of the Bible. After 30 years, the Latin Vulgate was created. St. Jerome was also the friend and teacher of Saint Paula, Saint Marcella, and Saint Eustochium. In addition to all of this, St. Jerome chose to live as a hermit in the Syrian desert and remained there for the last 34 years of his life. Catholic tradition holds that he even spent time at the cave where Our Lord and Savior was born.[3] St. Jerome wrote translations of Origen, histories, biographies, and much more. He is universally acknowledged as a Father of the Church and ranked as one of the four major Western Doctors of the Church.[4] St. Jerome died in 419 A.D., and his relics reside in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome.[5]

St. Jerome’s translation of the Scripture was not the first Latin translation of the Bible, but it became the most widely used and authoritative version in the Church. St. Jerome’s translation work began around the year 382 A.D. and continued for several years. He translated the Old Testament from Hebrew and the New Testament from Greek, aiming to provide a more accurate and faithful rendering of the original texts. The Vulgate became, and still is, the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church.

Changes to the Vulgate after St. Jerome

Over the centuries after the time of St. Jerome, various copies of the Vulgate were produced, and differences and errors crept in due to the manual process of copying manuscripts.

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, scholars recognized the need for a standardized and accurate version of the Vulgate. As a result, several attempts were made to revise and edit the Vulgate to bring it closer to the original Hebrew and Greek texts. One notable revision is the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate, which was authorized by Pope Sixtus V and Pope Clement VIII in the late 16th century.

Is the Latin Vulgate Reliable as It Has Been Changed Since St. Jerome?

Father Paul McDonald addressed this topic in an Ask Father video segment. It is the authority of Holy Mother Church who guarantees the authority and inerrancy of the Scriptures. The Church declared at the Council of Trent that the Vulgate Bible is free from all error in faith and morals. That does not mean that some words could be adjusted a little to better conform to the original Greek or Hebrew – but it does mean that the Vulgate is and remains free of all defects in faith and in morals. That this translation is inerrant in those two matters is an infallible dogma of the Church, which Catholics are obliged to accept with divine and Catholic faith.

The Clementine Vulgate (Vulgata Clementina) is the edition promulgated in 1592 by Pope Clement VIII. It was the second edition of the Vulgate to be authorized by the Catholic Church, the first being the Sixtine Vulgate. The Sixto-Clementine Vulgate was used officially in the Catholic Church until 1979 when the Nova Vulgata was promulgated. As Catholics who seek to remain faithful to Tradition, we keep the Clementine Vulgate; as such, it should be found in the home of every devout and faithful Catholic.

For the English language, the Douay-Rheims is a very accurate English translation of the Vulgate. The Douay-Rheims Bible is available freely to read online. (A version with Latin-English in parallel is also available online).

We should read the Bible, if we can, along with an approved Scripture commentary like the one by Father George Haydock. In so doing, the Church bestows on us indulgences for this meritorious act.[6]


[1] The term ‘canon’ can be confusing for Catholics as it is used in various ways. The term comes from the Greek κανόν (kanón) meaning “rule.” In a Catholic context, if can mean: (1) the [Roman] Canon of the Mass (from the conclusion of the Sanctus to the Great Doxology when silence descends upon the liturgy and the faithful kneel as the priest consecrates the bread and wine, and these sacred species are transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Christ); or (2) the canon of Scripture, meaning the books formally and infallibly judged by the Church as inspired and inerrant; or (3) a canon (decree or rule) of Canon Law (a rule or precept); or even (4) a kind of priest who lives in community and follows a particular regularity of life (historically such priests were frequently associated with a cathedral and were members of a ‘chapter’).

[2] Catholic Bibles contain 73 books. These books are divided into the Old Testament (46 books) and the New Testament (27 books). Protestant bibles, on the other hand, typically only contain 66 books. They have the same number of books in the New Testament as Catholics but have removed seven books from the Old Testament. These books are Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, Machabees 1 and 2, and additional sections in the books of Esther and Daniel. These books are commonly called the Deuterocanonical books, which means “second canon.” Some people call them “Apocryphal” but that is a very imprecise term, as there are many ancient books not accepted in the Scriptures which go by the term apocryphal.

See for more information.

[3] There are some very old traditions which also maintain that the cave in which Our Lady gave birth to the Incarnate Word is also the cave in which Eve gave birth to Seth, after Cain had slain Abel (cf., Genesis 3:25).

[4] The Four Great Western Fathers are St. Ambrose,* St. Augustine,* St. Jerome, and St. Gregory the Great. You often see statues or paintings of them in European churches. The Four Great Eastern Fathers are St. Athanasius,* St. Basil the Great, St. Nazianzen, and St. John Chrysostom.* Statues of four(*) of these great Doctors, two from the West and two from the East, hold up the Chair of St. Peter in the Vatican.

[5] Spiritus Paraclitus (September 15, 1920), an encyclical written by Pope Benedict XV only 100 years ago, expresses the great importance of St. Jerome in giving the Church the treasure we know of as the Holy Bible:

“Since the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, had bestowed the Scriptures on the human race for their instruction in Divine things, He also raised up in successive ages saintly and learned men whose task it should be to develop that treasure and so provide for the faithful plenteous ‘consolation from the Scriptures.’ Foremost among these teachers stands St. Jerome. Him the Catholic Church acclaims and reveres as her ‘Greatest Doctor,’ divinely given her for the understanding of the Bible. And now that the fifteenth centenary of his death is approaching, we would not willingly let pass so favorable an opportunity of addressing you on the debt we owe him. For the responsibility of our Apostolic office impels us to set before you his wonderful example and so promote the study of Holy Scripture in accordance with the teaching of our predecessors, Leo XIII and Pius X, which we desire to apply more precisely still to the present needs of the Church. For St. Jerome – ‘strenuous Catholic, learned in the Scriptures,’ ‘teacher of Catholics,’ ‘model of virtue, world’s teacher’ – has by his earnest and illuminative defense of Catholic doctrine on Holy Scripture left us most precious instructions. These we propose to set before you and so promote among the children of the Church, and especially among the clergy, assiduous and reverent study of the Bible.”

[6] The following is taken from the Handbook of Indulgences, 694:

An Indulgence of Three Years is Granted … To the faithful who read the books of Sacred Scripture for at least a quarter of an hour, with the greatest reverence due to God’s word and after the manner of spiritual reading.

An Indulgence of 500 Days is Granted … To the faithful who piously read at least some verses of the Gospel and in addition, while kissing the Gospel Book, devoutly recite one of the following invocations:

“May our sins be blotted out by virtue of the words of the Gospel,”

“May the reading of the Gospel be our salvation and protection,”

“May Christ teach us the words of the Holy Gospel.”

A plenary indulgence may be granted, under the usual conditions, by those who daily for a whole month follow these pious practices.

A plenary indulgence is granted at the hour of death to those who have often during life performed these pious exercises, as long as, having confessed and received Communion, or at least having sorrow for their sins, they invoke the most holy name of Jesus on their lips, if possible, or at least in their hearts, and accept death from the hand of God as punishment for sin.