Confraternity Bible

Scepter Publishers 2006 re-release of the 1941 Confraternity New Testament
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Confraternity Bible is a somewhat broad term that refers to any edition of the Catholic Bible translated under the auspices of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine ("C.C.D.") between 1941 and 1969. The Confraternity Bible is known, and appreciated, for the balance it strikes between accessibility and authenticity. That is, many feel that the translation is neither too loose and friendly, nor too stilted and slavish. It was supplanted in 1970 by the New American Bible and is no longer in widespread use.

The history of the translation project that resulted in the Confraternity Bible is complex and somewhat opaque. In 1941, a revision of Richard Challoner's version of the Rheims New Testament was released under the following title:

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
of the

The C.C.D.'s translation of the New Testament revised the Challoner-Rheims version in several ways:

  • It modernized the style of Challoner's Eighteenth Century English.
  • Where Greek idioms had been translated literally into the Latin Vulgate, it paraphrased the Greek idiom, rather than translating directly from the Latin.
  • In general, it was a freer translation than Challoner's, and more paraphrastic.
  • It restored the paragraph formatting of the first edition of the Douay-Rheims Bible, which had been removed in the Challoner Revision.

Because it was intended to be used in the liturgy, the translators did not introduce any rendering that would depart from the text of the Latin Vulgate.

Upon release of the C.C.D.'s New Testament in 1941, translation work began on the Old Testament. Then, on September 30, 1943, Pope Pius XII issued Divino Afflante Spiritu, an encyclical letter, which stressed the importance of diligent study of the original languages and other cognate languages, so as to arrive at a deeper and fuller knowledge of the meaning of the sacred texts. Specifically, Pius XII characterized the original language texts as "having been written by the inspired author himself" and opined that such texts "ha[ve] more authority and greater weight than any even the very best translation, whether ancient or modern[.]" This pronouncement essentially doomed the C.C.D.'s revision of the Challoner-Rheims version, which itself was of course a translation from Latin. Thus, the Church's focus shifted to a completely new translation of the entire Bible with emphasis on original language sources.

This is not to say that the C.C.D.'s Old Testament translation efforts up to that point were scrapped. Quite to the contrary: they continued, as the C.C.D.'s Old Testament from the outset was "Translated from the Original Languages with Critical Use of All the Ancient Sources" -- an approach that was presumably in complete accord with the September 1943 encyclical.

What is known of the Confraternity's Old Testament translation is that it was completed in stages beginning in 1948 and ending in 1969. Volumes were released serially by St. Anthony Guild Press in New Jersey as they were completed. Their publishing history is as follows:

  • The Book of Genesis - 1948
  • The Book of Psalms - 1950 and 1955, reprinted 1959
  • Genesis to Ruth - 1952 (published as Volume One)
  • The Sapiential Books (Job to Sirach) - 1955 (published as Volume Three -- with Volume Two left to be filled in later)
  • The Prophetic Books (Isaia to Malachia) - 1961 (published as Volume Four)
  • Samuel to Maccabees (1 Samuel to Esther; 1 Maccabees to 2 Maccabees) - 1969 (published as Volume Two)[1]

These translations formed the basis of what would become the Old Testament portion of the 1970 New American Bible, except for the C.C.D.'s 1948 translation of the Book of Genesis. Genesis was completely revised before the release of the NAB. Only minor revisions were made to the rest of the books to normalize the anglicized form of formal names throughout the entire text.

Given the Confraternity's completion of the Old Testament in 1969, and the NAB's introduction in 1970, there has never been a release of a complete Confraternity Bible (that is, with both Old and New Testaments) featuring all of the Confraternity's translations of the 1940s through 1960s. The most complete editions include the Confraternity's New Testament and those portions of the Old Testament that had been translated by 1961. Because of the hybrid nature of the various versions of the Confraternity Bible, it has been referred to as the "Douay-Confraternity Bible", referencing the fact that the Old Testament section was made up partly of books from the Challoner-Douay Old Testament, and partly from books translated or revised by the C.C.D. Publishers released "Confraternity Bibles" into the mid-1960s, always indicating to what extent they featured Confraternity translations of the Old Testament. They typically included some variation on the following description of the edition's Old Testament contents: "The New Confraternity translation of the First Eight Books, the Seven Sapiential Books, and the Eighteen Prophetic Books. The balance is in the Douay Version."[2]

The Book of Psalms contained in a Confraternity Bible could be one of several versions: The Challoner Psalms, the Pontifical Biblical Institute ("P.B.I.") Psalms of 1945, the C.C.D. Psalms of 1950, or the C.C.D. Psalms of 1955. The 1950 C.C.D. Psalms were based on the 1945 P.B.I. version (a new Latin translation of the original Hebrew text commanded by Pius XII, the "Novum Psalterium"). The 1955 C.C.D. Psalms, which with minor revision is also the psalter of the 1970 New American Bible, were translated directly from the Hebrew manuscripts underlying those of the 1945 "Novum Psalterium". The 1950 and 1955 texts can be distinguished by reference to the first word of Psalm 1, in which the former begins with the word "Blessed" and the latter, "Happy".

The Confraternity Bible is still significant today for three salient reasons. First, it is important as a historical and religious document inasmuch as it is representative of the homely American Catholic piety of the first half of the 20th century. Second, its preparation was sponsored by the U.S. Bishops; the only other English translation of the Bible that could claim that is the NAB. Third, it manages to provide an "updated" and contemporary version of the Catholic Bible that at once preserves the old (inasmuch as it is a revision of the widely-used and famous Douay-Rheims-Challoner translation) and predates the postconciliar influences and ethos of the NAB.

Two publishers affiliated with Opus Dei have begun to reprint the Confraternity Bible. Scepter Publishers [3] has put the New Testament back into print ISBN 0-933932-77-4. And Sinag-Tala Publishers [4] has reprinted the Douay-Confraternity Bible including the C.C.D.'s Old Testament books completed as of 1961. In addition, copies of various editions of the Confraternity Bible (with more or less of the C.C.D.'s Old Testament) abound on the used book market. The Holy Bible, Saint Joseph Textbook Edition, Confraternity Version published in the 1950s and early-1960s by the Catholic Book Publishing Company is one widely available example.

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