I recently did some study on the fact that Augustine objected to Jerome translating the OT into Latin from the Hebrew instead of the Greek because there were significant differences in the texts. Augustine argued that the Greek versions were already wide spread and the differences might cause fracture between the Latin and Greek churches. He therefore, urged Jerome to only translate from the Greek. Clearly Augustine thought it was vitally important that the Church remain unified even at the cost of the exactness of Scripture.

I know that Augustine is highly esteemed in the Catholic Church and I wonder if the Roman Catholic Church officially takes a position like this. If not then are there historical events that indicate an implied position like this (other then this particular one)? Or from the reverse perspective, is there an official position and/or historical events that indicate the Scripture is more valued than unity?

An anecdote for further explanation
Years ago while talking to a priest he told me that he believed that many Protestants would return to the Catholic Church if they would read Augustine's writings and take it to heart. I think this shows, at least in his mind, how much the RCC esteems Augustine.

  • Downvotes without a reason or comment does not help anybody. Please provide a comment if you downvote so I can hear your grievances and edit the question, if need be. Thank you.
    – user3961
    Aug 6, 2013 at 21:16
  • @thedarkwanderer "correctness in matters of faith" is not the same thing as correctness in Scripture translations. For the Church looks to at least two other sources for "correctness in matters of faith" and at least one of them trumps Scripture. Point one is a straw man. I did not contend that the Church thinks unity is more important that "correctness in matters of faith". I asked if the Church officially places more importance on one or the other.
    – user3961
    Mar 2, 2015 at 2:05
  • On point two: I think you are wrong. You can see my comments here.
    – user3961
    Mar 2, 2015 at 2:05

1 Answer 1


I don't believe that St Augustine was talking about unity at the cost of scripture. In those times, it was much more difficult to obtain original-language manuscripts, and much more difficult to find people who were competent enough to analyze them (as St Jerome was).

Translation necessarily involves at least some change in meaning, and both men recognized that this was just a consequence of translation. We acknowledge this ourselves today when we say "well, let's just look at what the word meant in the original language".

St Augustine seems to have been worried that, in cases where such discrepancies between translations would be subjected to close examination, a schism might result over something minor because "just looking at the original language" simply wasn't an option in those times. This was a very legitimate practical concern. St Augustine would surely have been livid at the idea of changing the meaning of any biblical text for the sake of unity.

For my part, I would much rather that you would furnish us with a translation of the Greek version ... For if your translation begins to be more generally read in many churches, it will be a grievous thing that, in the reading of Scripture, differences must arise between the Latin Churches and the Greek Churches, especially seeing that the discrepancy is easily condemned in a Latin version by the production of the original in Greek, which is a language very widely known; whereas, if any one has been disturbed by the occurrence of something to which he was not accustomed in the translation taken from the Hebrew, and alleges that the new translation is wrong, it will be found difficult, if not impossible, to get at the Hebrew documents by which the version to which exception is taken may be defended.

The Church wants unity, it wants absolutely everyone to be a Catholic, but being true to scripture is much more important. Catholics get their Truth from the infallible Tradition, Scripture, and Magisterium. "Consensus derived for the sake of unity" is not one of those three. The Church is not going to say "well, I guess we can let that slide, some people just interpret things in radically different ways that will lead them into sin and separation from Christ, but we should just respect their views, in opposition to what we know to be infallible, and they'll be more likely to join the Church". This is actually exactly why the Catholic Church has been so adamant in its views on abortion, contraception, homosexuality, female priests, and so on.

  • "The Church wants unity ... but being true to scripture is much more important." Can you find any quotes of a Church leader saying something similar? Jerome seems to think Augustine was talking about just that: "Do you wish to be a true admirer and partisan of the Seventy translators? Then do not read what you find under the asterisks; rather erase them from the volumes, that you may approve yourself indeed a follower of the ancients." (from the very end of my answer to the question linked in this question).
    – user3961
    Feb 21, 2013 at 21:02
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    @fredsbend Roman Catholic Church does yearn for unity of all the denominations of Church of Christ. This concern is shown every year at the most solemn occasion of the Christian calendar and that is during the service conducted on Good Friday, the holiest day, when among many other prayers raised to God Almighty, one of the prayer is praying for unity of all the denomination. If I could come across the exact wordings, I would post it here as comment. Feb 22, 2013 at 3:58
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    @fredsbend re. your quote, Augustine: "where'd the asterisks/footnotes go?", Jerome: "deleted because they were bad". The two men are having an argument about the process of translation and annotation. I think I answered your question though, but in brief: Augustine: "Hey Jerome, please don't translate from a source if people can't verify your translation! The internet hasn't been invented yet."
    – Alypius
    Feb 22, 2013 at 4:25

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