Vetus Latina is a collective name given to the Biblical texts in Latin that were translated before St Jerome's Vulgate Bible (382-405 AD) became the standard Bible for Latin-speaking Western Christians. The phrase Vetus Latina is Latin for Old Latin, and the Vetus Latina is sometimes known as the Old Latin Bible. It was, however, written in Classical Latin, not the early version of the Latin language known as Old Latin.
There was no single "Vetus Latina" Bible; there are, instead, a collection of Biblical manuscript texts that bear witness to Latin translations of Biblical passages that preceded Jerome's. After comparing readings for Luke 24:4-5 in Vetus Latina manuscripts, Bruce Metzger counted "no fewer than 27 variant readings!" To these witnesses of previous translations, many scholars frequently add quotations of Biblical passages that appear in the works of the Latin Fathers, some of which share readings with certain groups of manuscripts. As such, many of the Vetus Latina "versions" were generally not promulgated in their own right as translations of the Bible to be used in the whole Church; rather, many of the texts that form part of the Vetus Latina were prepared on an ad hoc basis for the local use of Christian communities, to illuminate another Christian discourse or sermon, or as the Latin half of a diglot manuscript (e.g. Codex Bezae). There are some Old Latin texts that seem to have aspired to greater stature or currency; several manuscripts of Old Latin Gospels exist, containing the four canonical Gospels; the several manuscripts that contain them differ substantially from one another. Other Biblical passages, however, are extant only in excerpts or fragments.
The language of the Old Latin translations is uneven in quality, as Augustine of Hippo lamented in De Doctrina Christiana (2, 16). Grammatical solecisms abound; some reproduce literally Greek or Hebrew idioms as they appear in the Septuagint. Likewise, the various Old Latin translations reflect the various versions of the Septuagint circulating, with the African manuscripts (such as the Codex Bobiensis) preserving readings of the Western text-type, while readings in the European manuscripts are closer to the Byzantine text-type. Many grammatical idiosyncrasies come from the use of Vulgar Latin grammatical forms in the text.
With the publication of Jerome's Vulgate, which offered a single, stylistically consistent Latin text translated from the original tongues, the Vetus Latina gradually fell out of use. Jerome, in a letter, complains that his new version was initially disliked by Christians who were familiar with the phrasing of the old translations. However, as copies of the complete Bible were infrequently found, Old Latin translations of various books of the Bible were copied into manuscripts alongside Vulgate translations, inevitably exchanging readings; Old Latin translations of single books can be found in manuscripts as late as the 13th century. However, the Vulgate generally displaced the Vetus Latina and was acknowledged as the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent.
Below are some comparisons of the Vetus Latina with text from critical editions of the Vulgate.
The following comparison is of Luke 6:1-4, taken from the Old Latin text in the Codex Bezae:
Gloria in altissimis Deo, et in terra pax in hominibus bonæ voluntatis
The Old Latin text means, "Glory [belongs] to God among the high, and peace [belongs] to men of good will on earth". The Vulgate text means "Glory [belongs] to God among the most high and peace among men of good will on earth".
Probably the most well known difference between the Old Latin and the Vulgate is in the Pater Noster, where the phrase from the Vetus Latina, quotidianum panem, "daily bread", becomes supersubstantialem panem, "supersubstantial bread" in the Vulgate.
The Old Latin Psalms are a special case. Here, the Latin liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church continues the use of the Gallican psalter, which is a version of the Psalms from the Vetus Latina that was doubly revised by St Jerome before he began to prepare his Vulgate translation. These Psalms had already become widely used in the liturgy, and their phrasing was familiar to worshippers despite their occasional divergences from classical Latin usage. Jerome also translated the Psalms from the original Hebrew; Jerome's new Psalter is called the Iuxta Hebraicum, but this new version failed to displace the Gallican psalter in liturgical use, and ultimately the Gallican was used as the psalter of the Vulgate. The Gallican is the psalter that is chanted to Gregorian chant and used in classical music. In 1979, the Roman Catholic Church issued a Nova Vulgata version of the Psalms, and authorised them for liturgical use; by then, Latin liturgies were seldom used, and the Nova Vulgata has made little impact.
Texts from the Gallican and "juxta hebraicum" of psalm 122(121) and some of the points in this article are from:
Biblia sacra : iuxta Vulgatam versionem / adiuvantibus Bonifatio Fischer ... [et al.] recensuit et brevi apparatu critico instruxit Robertus Weber. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994.
↑I Wordsworth, H.I. White, H.F.D. Sparks, Novum Testamentum Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Latine secundum editione S. Hieronymi, Oxonii 1889-1954
↑Stuttgart Vulgate, Biblia Sacra iuxta Vulgatam versionem, adiuvantibus Bonifatio Fischer OSB, Iohanne Gribomont OSB, H.F.D. Sparks, W. Thiele, recensuit et brevi apparatu instruxit Robertus Weber OSB, editio tertia emendata quam paravit Bonifatius Fischer OSB cum sociis H.I. Frede, Iohanne Gribomont OSB, H.F.D. Sparks, W. Thiele, 1983
↑Punctuation taken from Biblia sacra Vulgatae editionis, Michael Hetzenauer, 1922
↑Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Latine, Novam Vulgatam Bibliorum Sacrorum Editionem secuti apparatibus titulisque additis ediderunt Kurt Aland et Barbara Aland una cum Instituo studiorum textus Novi Testamenti Monasteriensi (Westphalia), Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1884-1998, Lc 2,14, citing Wordsworth, supra, and Stuttgart, supra