There is no getting around the fact that the Vulgate has a uniquely influential place in the west—or that it continues to have a unique role today. But does that make it the Catholic Church’s “official” Bible?
The Vulgate is not mentioned in the current Code of Canon Law. Neither is it mentioned in the original, 1917 edition of the Code. Nor is it mentioned in the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.
Trent is saying that, of the Latin editions available in its day, the old Vulgate was to be considered the authoritative edition for use in lectures, debates, sermons, and expositions. Trent isn’t saying anything about original language editions. It’s just talking about Latin ones. It also isn’t saying that the old Vulgate can’t be superseded later by a newer Latin translation.
In 1943, Bl. Pius XII commented on Trent’s statement, writing:
And if the Tridentine Synod wished “that all should use as authentic” the Vulgate Latin version, this, as all know, applies only to the Latin Church and to the public use of the same Scriptures; nor does it, doubtless, in any way diminish the authority and value of the original texts. For there was no question then of these texts, but of the Latin versions, which were in circulation at that time [Divino Afflante Spiritu 21].
There are more than twenty other Churches—the Melkite Church, the Chaldean Church, the Maronite Church, etc.—that are also part of the Catholic Church.
These Churches—being in the East—historically did not use Latin. Instead, they celebrated the liturgy and read the Scriptures in other languages, such as Greek and Aramaic.
Thus, rather than using the Latin Vulgate, Greek-speaking Catholics historically have used the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament and the original Greek New Testament. Aramaic-speaking Catholics historically have used an edition in Syriac (a form of Aramaic) known as the Peshitta. In these Catholic Churches, the Vulgate was never the primary version of Scripture.
When the liturgy is celebrated in Latin (at least in the ordinary form), the New Vulgate is the translation used in the Scripture readings. It is also used when Scripture is quoted in the prayers of the liturgy.
The current edition, known as the New Vulgate, is the typical Latin edition of the Scriptures used in the Latin Church, especially in the liturgy. However, none of this supports the claim that the Vulgate is the official Bible of the Catholic Church as a whole.
Excerpts from a text by J. Akin, National Catholic Register, Sep. 2017.