Wednesday, February 29, 2012
The Douay-Rheims Bible and Conversion
I am happy to present Jonny's conversion story into the Catholic Church and the role the Douay-Rheims Bible played in it. Jonny is a frequent commentator on this blog, as well as a regular guest blogger.
I wanted to share my story about the Catholic Holy Bible and my conversion. I was raised an evangelical Protestant Christian and mostly read the New International Version. My family bounced around to various denominations through the years, but two things remained fairly consistent: the NIV Bible, and the one-time salvation prayer. I admit, I did hear sermons regarding repentance and recommitment to varying degrees depending on the denomination, but there were never clear distinctions to me regarding morality, and if I was actually “saved” or holy enough to “go to Heaven if I died today” as I was frequently reminded. My overall impression ended up being that those who were supposedly most zealous about my salvation were very self-righteous and judgmental. I know this is a stereotype, but it was my feeling at the time, and I had no solid doctrinal foundation to check myself against.
Years had gone by, and I was out of church for some time and on my own. I was seeking a deeper truth, and I found that when I re-read the Holy Bible. The words of Christ were simply so profound to me. I was reading them without pre-conceived notions like “A-B-C” salvation, a second baptism only evidenced by “tongues,” tithe-conditional holiness, and others! But yet as I read the Scriptures, I desired to worship God in the Church with other believers. This led me on my spiritual journey that in retrospect went back in time to the roots of the Protestant Reformation. I will spare all the details here, but I will mention that along the way I was involved in a pacifist/feminist church that denied the inspiration of certain Scriptures and also left me with a great distaste for gender-inclusive Bible translations for a long time. But ultimately I ended up in the grandfather denomination of the Protestant Reformation: The Lutheran Church. I really liked the conservative doctrines of the Missouri Synod, and especially the beautiful ritual of the divine service, and the absence of the ridiculous and complex “left behind” rapture/millennium doctrines. I ended up being such a big Luther fan that when I saw a picture of him holding his precious copy of the Psalms in Latin, I just had to have an English translation of the Psalms in Latin! This brings me to the point of my story.
I don’t know if I would ever have even heard of the Douay-Rheims Bible if I did not have a Catholic grandfather who died before I was born. I saw the copy of the Douay-Confraternity Bible at my grandmother’s house when I was a child, which was given to her at my grandfather’s funeral. Remembering this, I looked up the nearest Catholic bookstore and forthwith drove 45 minutes to get there that day after work on the assumption that I would find a copy waiting for me. There was actually a copy there (but only one), and despite a nearly 70 dollar price sticker I happily purchased the book after just glancing through it in the few minutes before the store closed.
My Douay-Rheims Bible soon became dearly treasured amongst my collection. Not only did it have the majestic language of my King James Version that I had grown accustomed to in the past few years, I also found there were less archaisms therein (as being a revision from the 1750’s compared to the pre-1600’s language of the KJV.) I approached the D-R with a greater reverence due to its ancient connections to the Latin translations of the earliest centuries of Christianity. I felt that it had, therefore, a unique devotional quality, and also as a literal translation, one that demanded to be read slowly and reverently. But even beyond these things, the D-R had an extra super-power that really helped to change my life!
Part of what I am referring to here is the genius of the Christ’s Church expressed in the translation itself. I found that very common Biblical words such as “repent” and “righteousness” were instead translated as “do penance” and “justice.” My very first reading of the D-R brought me closer to the mind of Christ and the teaching of the Church! When I began to second guess my convictions, I turned to the major objector verses in Romans. I was pleasantly shocked to find in the footnotes the Church’s teachings about justification and what it really means to believe in Christ, and many references where Jesus himself explicitly explains over, and over, and over, that we are not justified by faith alone! Then I found other Biblical references in the notes about Mary’s perpetual virginity, and the fact that Jesus did not have any biological brothers and sisters is not disproved by scripture as I was formerly led to believe. All of my inhibitions against the Catholic Church and even my very self was crumbling underneath the rock of apostolic truth revealed by Christ, as the Scripture saith, “upon whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” (Luke 20.18.)
I know that many Catholics have heard the arguments pro and con the Douay-Rheims, although I believe it is frivolous to argue about translations of texts whose original autographs do not exist, and even the original understanding of the languages may have changed since they were written. Nor do I fault the D-R for being first translated from Latin (for in doing so I would also condemn our current Catechism which was first written in French before being translated into Latin, then into other languages.) I can argue, however, for the beauty of the Douay-Rheims Bible, and the effectiveness of its light but powerful annotations in blasting through the foundations of Sola Fide based theologies, which are as relevant and important today as the day they were written. I thank God for one, authoritative, interpretation of Scripture through the Church, and the Douay-Rheims Bible that helped me break the bondage of doctrines that only led me to many grey areas of uncertainty.