Francis Kenrick Catholic Translation

Francis Kenrick’s Catholic Translation, 1860

Francis Kenrick, Roman Catholic Bishop of Philadelphia and later Archbishop of Baltimore, published his revision of the Douay version of the Bible in six volumes between 1849 and 1862. Though based on the Latin Vulgate, Kenrick also consulted important Hebrew and Greek texts and translations in his revision. Following are his introductions to the Pentateuch and the book of Genesis.


The first five books of Scripture are called the Pentateuch, from Greek terms expressive of that number. They are the work of Moses, the celebrated leader, under whom the Israelites went forth from Egypt. The latter four books, which contain his biography, with an account of his government and the code of laws which he delivered, furnish strong intrinsic evidence that he is their author: and the first book is so intimately connected with them, that it also must have proceeded from his pen, or have been kept in view in their composition. It is a favorite opinion with modern critics, especially of the Rationalistic school, that it was formed of a variety of ancient records, which Moses combined with very little change. In support of this conjecture, they point to the marked difference which is found in the names given to the Supreme Being, in various portions of the first chapters, as also to various repetitions and apparent discrepancies, which betray different sources: but although the supposition that Moses availed himself of such records is not irreconcilable with the authority, or even the inspiration of the work, the venerable tradition of Christians, as well as Jews, point to him as the first inspired writer. St. Justin, in his exhortation to the Greeks,[1] ascribes to Moses the history of the creation, quotes in his name the opening words of Genesis, styles him the first prophet, and calls his history divine. St. Basil tells us that we should assent to the history of the creation on the authority of Moses, who narrates it,[2] and who himself was instructed by God.[3] Whatever, then, may be thought of such critical observations, we should hold Moses to be the inspired author, by whom the whole Pentateuch was composed. Eichhorn and others who regard it as a compilation, are forced to admit many things which it requires great ingenuity to reconcile with their theory.

The Pentateuch, as the most ancient history and code of laws extant, is deserving of most serious attention, even if regarded as a mere human production; but as a divinely inspired work, such as the tradition of the Christian Church supported by the testimony of the Jewish nation, declares it to be, it claims our profound homage. It is believed that Moses was specially moved by God to record the facts within his own knowledge, divinely enlightened to discern truth from falsehood in regard to all that he received on the testimony of others or learned from monuments of past ages, and immediately instructed by the Holy Spirit in what could only be known to him from divine revelation. St. Chrysostom remarks, that in undertaking to describe the creation of the world, he tacitly affirms, that he was instructed by God.[4]Tertullian speaks of Genesis as composed under the influence of the Divine Spirit.[5] St. Iren…us[6] and St. Justin[7]consider the words of Moses as those of Christ. This constant belief of Jews and Christians is corroborated by the contents of the books themselves. The narrative of the sacred author solves the problems which puzzled all the philosophers, how to account for the origin of all things, and warrants the inference, that the solution was derived from supernatural illumination. The facts which he records as occurring under his own eyes, were of so public a character, that they could not be invented without certainty of contradiction and exposure; and were so extraordinary, that they could not find credit unless on the most satisfactory evidence. The candor of the historian is manifest from the whole tenor of his work, and his veracity and integrity may safely be inferred from the calm tone of his writing, and the circumstantial details into which he enters. The acceptance of the work by his contemporaries, who were interested in denying many of his statements, is the seal of its truth; and the veneration with which it has ever since been regarded by the Jewish nation, leaves no room to question its high authority. Christ our Lord referred to Moses as a prophet who had spoken of Him.[8]

The simplicity of ancient style gives to the Pentateuch a character of abruptness from the conciseness of the phrases, and the perpetual recurrence of the simple conjunction, in a great variety of meanings. To give smoothness to the narrative the Latin interpreter varied the conjunctive particles, avoided the frequent repetition of the noun, and otherwise modified the sentence, especially by abridging descriptions wherein repetitions abound. This freedom of interpretation, in the judgment of Geddes, a learned Scottish critic, gives the Vulgate an advantage over the Protestant version. “The chief study of the English translators,” he observes, “was to give a strictly literal version, at the expense of almost every other consideration, whilst the author of the Vulgate endeavored to render his originals equivalently into such Latin as was current in his age. I perceived a considerable difference between it and the English translation. The latter appeared to me rugged, constrained, and often obscure, where the former was smooth, easy, and intelligible.” The enthusiastic admirers of the Protestant version will not easily subscribe to this judgment. For my own part, where no doctrinal bias betrays itself, I have no disposition to detract from its literary excellence, especially as regards its close adherence to the text. In revising the Douay translation I have constantly had in view the Hebrew original, which, however, I did not always feel at liberty to render closely, when it would imply a departure from the Vulgate, since this is the standard of all vernacular versions for general use, according to the settled usage of the Holy See. In endeavoring to express the meaning of the text without abandoning the Vulgate, I may occasionally have used terms in a sense somewhat forced. In cases when the Vulgate offers a reading different from the actual Hebrew, it is quite probable that it may be derived from some manuscript of high antiquity; but when the Latin interpreter manifestly had the same reading as that which is now received, although he rendered it somewhat freely, I think it desirable that the English translation should approach as nearly as possible to the original. I have conformed in many instances to the received appellations of objects, the mode of spelling certain names of more frequent recurrence, and have otherwise deferred to usage, although of Protestant origin, feeling that, in things indifferent, conformity is desirable, and that every approach to uniformity in the rendering of the inspired word, without sacrifice of principle, or violation of disciplinary rules, is a gain to the common cause of Christianity. To many I may appear bold, in the emendations which I have suggested; but as my work is in the nature of a literary essay, for examination by my venerable colleagues, I hope I shall escape the censure of temerity. To the judgment of the Chief Bishop it is most unreservedly submitted.

BALTIMORE, Ascension Day, 1860.


It cannot be denied, that the obvious impression made on the mind of the reader of the Book of Genesis is that God created all things out of nothing, and arranged them in the order which they now present, in six successive days. The time of this creation is dated about four thousand years before the Christian era, according to the received computation. Science, however, is said to present facts wholly inconsistent with these statements, and which oblige us to admit the existence of the earth for an indefinite space of time, thousands upon thousands of years, and to regard it as attaining to its present form after a number of revolutions, by which strata, or layers of matter, were successively piled one on the other, and rocks upon rocks. Geologists hold the evidence to be conclusive, both as regards the formation of the rocks and strata, and the fossils, or petrified remains of plants and animals, and the marine deposits which are found at the highest elevations far above the actual beds of rivers, or of the ocean. Although the learned are by no means agreed as to the theory by which such results may be accounted for; some referring the chief phenomena to the action of volcanic fire in the depths of the earth, whose eruptions from time to time covered the surface with a new coating; some explaining them by successive floods, which overwhelmed the earth, and transported immense quantities of matter from place to place, leaving them to settle and combine in the progress of ages: yet they generally maintain that it is impossible to explain them in conformity with the Mosaic chronology, as it has been usually understood. Shall we reject the judgment and testimony of scientific men, and hold fast to the letter of the sacred narrative? Or shall we abandon this as untenable, and opposed to the certain discoveries of science? We feel bound to respect the judgment of the learned, when they agree so decidedly in declaring the results of their investigations. Their discordance, however, in theory and the conflict of their views, detract much from the weight which they might otherwise have, and our veneration for the sacred text does not allow us hastily to abandon its letter, or absolutely to embrace what does not appear to harmonize with it.

Although the science of geology was unknown to the ancients, the Mosaic narrative was not understood by all the Fathers of the church as implying the creation of the universe in six days. Many, indeed, found difficulty in admitting the lapse of so long a time in a work which, being of Almighty power, they deemed instantaneous: on which account they regarded the distribution of the respective acts as rather liturgical than historical, and intended to present them distinctly to the consideration of the reader. The night and day distinguished by Moses, St. Augustin understood of the creatures as contemplated in themselves, or presented to the contemplation of the angels.[9] Origen, however, conceived ages to have rolled by, in which angels existed, before the creation of man, as related in Genesis, of which error, St. Jerome[10]is witness. The diversity of views entertained in regard to the length of the days, which some held to be merely imaginary, whilst others understood them of indefinite spaces of time, shows that on this point the tradition of the Church was not absolute and dogmatical, so that if, with the progress of science, it become manifest, that a vast succession of ages can alone account for the structure of the earth, and the phenomena discovered on its surface and in its depths, as far as they can fall under observation, such indefinite periods may be admitted, without departing in any respect from the authoritative teaching of antiquity. Moreover, Moses commences his narrative by stating that, “in the beginning God created heaven and earth;” and proceeds to relate the actions which marked each of the six days. This may, indeed, be regarded as a summary statement, followed by the specifications or details: yet nothing prevents our taking it as a simple enunciation of the origin of all things from the Creator, with reserve as to the state of the creatures until the period at which He determined to make the earth the dwelling place of man. We may, then, suppose the lapse of numberless ages, and a succession of revolutions, before the historical period pointed out by Moses, with reference to the human race. That which must be insisted on as divinely revealed is the origin of all things from the creative act of God, and the creation of man, as stated by the inspired author: “He who created all things is God.”[11] The eternity of matter and of the world is directly opposed to revelation, which teaches us the necessary existence of God as the source of all being: “Before the mountains were, or the earth and globe was formed, from eternity and eternity, Thou art God.”[12]

The Mosaic statement of the creation of the sun, moon, and stars, naturally presents to the reader the idea, that these are luminous bodies, set by the Almighty in the firmament, and that the moon approaches the sun in magnitude, and greatly surpasses the stars. Astronomers, nevertheless, teach that the moon is opaque, borrowing all her light from the sun, who himself is thought to derive his light from an illuminating atmosphere; and that the moon is but a satellite of the earth, of comparatively small size, vastly inferior to the fixed stars, which are severally centres of the respective systems. The object of the creation of the sun and moon is stated by the sacred historian to be the giving of light, day and night alternately, to the earth, and the marking of the various seasons. Astronomers hold that each of the heavenly bodies is created for special purposes, and is the dwelling of intelligent beings, who glorify their Creator: it being absurd, they think, to suppose that those vast bodies, many of which are not at all perceptible, should be created for the use of man, who is so weak and insignificant. It is not allowed us to pry into the secret counsels of God: yet we are not required by the Mosaic narrative to limit them to the ends there specially stated. It is sufficient that we acknowledge these objects, and the relation of the Creation to man, without excluding other sublime views, which it has not pleased God to communicate to us by inspired penmen. It was worthy of Him to teach us, through Moses, necessary truth connected with practical duties, whilst He withholds from us knowledge which might gratify our curiosity and flatter our pride. It detracts nothing from the claims of Moses to inspiration that he did not communicate, or perhaps know, matters of science. We accept and hold fast the revelation of the action of Creative power, leaving to others to explore the regions of science, and to indulge speculation. Rationalists speak of this early period of history as of the infancy of science, and deny to Moses the title of a philosopher; but Christians recognize him as a man divinely raised to teach men their relations and duties to the great Author of their being. We need not then wonder that he speaks of the material universe, as it appears to the beholder, without entertaining him with abstruse views; and that he ignores what is calculated merely to excite sterile admiration.

St. Augustin wisely recommends us not to insist tenaciously on interpreting Scripture in such a way as to place it in opposition to the discoveries of science, lest mistaking our own views for its divine dictates, we put a stumbling-block in the way of the learned. In such cases he suggests to us to endeavor to bring science and revelation into harmony, by adopting or tolerating any probable interpretation which may not be in conflict with the results of scientific research. “This we must answer,” he says, “to the men who undertake to detract from the authority of the books which regard our salvation, that whatever they can establish by true proofs drawn from Nature, we may show not to be contrary to our writings.”[13] We should, nevertheless, steadfastly hold the revealed doctrines, without regard to past or future scientific discoveries, since we know that God is truth itself, and that His teaching is certain and unerring. This is strongly and beautifully expressed by the same great Father of the Church: “Supported, as we are, by Divine authority in the history of our religion, we entertain no doubt that whatever clashes with it is utterly false, howsoever other matters may be which are treated of in works of profane learning.”[14] As long as the Church leaves the liberty of interpretation in regard to those points unrestricted, it does not become individuals to seek to abridge it.

[1] No. 28.

[2] In Hexa‚meron hom. 1.

[3] Ibidem. Hom. 6.

[4] De. Gen. hom.2.

[5] De Oratione, n. 17.

[6] L. 1 adv. h…r. c.45, 46.

[7] Dial. Cum Tryphone

[8] John 5:46.

[9] L. 4 de Gen. ad lit. c. 22.

[10] L. 2 adv. Rufinum.

[11] Heb. 3:4.

[12] Ps. 89:2.

[13] L. de Gen. ad. lit.c.ult.

[14] L. 18 de civ Dei c.40.