Saturday, December 05, 2009

No Catholics need apply.

The title above does not refer to the EU (viz. the Buttiglione affair) nor is it a lament for CINO institutions that no longer, as a rule, employ Catholics. (The following tagline to a job ad is typical "As a Catholic foundation, the College actively encourages applications from diverse cultural and faith communities".)

Rather I'm talking about this group, which on the face of it has neither a need nor any conceivable reason to include Catholics. After all they are commemorating the publication of the "Authorised Version" of the Bible, sometimes referred to as the King James Bible. This was specifically intended to be a Bible for Protestants, whether Anglican or Presbyterian, and thus definitely not for the benefit of the benighted Papists. Unless, of course, you consider it a benefit that they un-pape themselves and become good Calvinists, or Lutherans or Cranmerians or whatever.

Well, that's not my gripe. Commemorating the KJV is no harm at all, even in strictly cultural terms. The KJV & Shakespeare are after all at the roots of the English language as we know it; in order to know it better, we need to know those sources better. I will go even further (in a dangerously ecumenical direction) and say that those who meant to put the Bible in the hands of ordinary Christians did well to do so. Their versions & footnotes I leave to another day's discussion. My complaint instead is with the complete omission of any mention of Catholicism or Catholic biblical scholarship altogether. The Authorised Version of 1611 is heavily dependent on the Tyndale New Testament; this much is a truism. What is in equally little doubt is that it has an equal if not greater debt to the Latin Vulgate, which was the Bible read by every educated person for a thousand years before then and for some centuries after. Moreover, the English translations sponsored by the Catholic Church predate the 1611 KJV by a year for the Old Testament and 29 years for the New! The history of the Bible in English on the 2011 Trust's website mentions none of this. Even more galling is their appropriation of figures doubtfully Christian as "Bible Heroes", while implying that J. R. R. Tolkien was some sort of Protestant! (For example, they have Tolkien "going to church" almost daily rather than attending Mass, and even "assisting in translating the Bible" while glossing over the fact that it was the specifically Catholic Jerusalem Bible that he worked on.)

Marking the 400th Year of the KJV is a very worthy thing but to do so by selectively ignoring salient facts, omitting chunks of relevant context and claiming as your own those who were not is a bit much. The 2011 Trust gets full marks for enthusiasm but scrapes a Third for fairness.

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