Impetus for Modern Language Translations – Erasmus and Münster
The monopoly of the Latin Vulgate was not openly challenged until the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in the 1520s. Traditionally the Church had either forbidden or discouraged vernacular translations, fearing their misuse by the laity. However, vernacular translations were mandatory for the Reformers. It was asserted that there was a universal right of access to Scripture as the Word of God in a person’s own language, now more feasible after the invention of printing in the mid-fifteenth century.
Ironically, this notion had also been advanced before the Reformation by a committed Catholic and scholar, Erasmus of Rotterdam (1469-1536). His published text of the Greek New Testament (1516) was of epochal significance. Parallel to the Greek text Erasmus presented his own Latin version. Included was a lengthy appendix of textual Annotations, expanded in successive editions down to 1535, from which one can trace the developing learning and thought of Erasmus. His pioneering work constituted a landmark from which two generations of scholars took their bearings.
He also famously suggested that translations should include the languages ‘even of the Scots and Irish’. Crucial to his concept was that translation should not be of the Latin Vulgate, whose reliability was now seen as suspect, but from the original biblical languages of divine revelation.
An influential edition of the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible (Basel, 1534-35) along with a greatly improved Latin translation was by Sebastian Münster (1488-1552), cartographer and professor of Hebrew at Basel University. His Latin translation was to be used as an aid by many future translators of the Old Testament into various languages.