The term Vulgate is the name of the translations of the Holy Scriptures into the Latin, beginning with the translations by Jerome. Vulgate, as the name for the Scriptures in Latin, came from the phrase versio vulgata, i.e., "the translation made public," in which the adjective vulgata referred to text that was currently or regularly used. These translations became the authoritative Bible of the Church of Rome.
Versions of the Scriptures in Latin were used as early as the second century, although the Church then in the West was largely Greek. References to these early Latin texts are found in the works of Cyprian and Tertullian. These Old Latin translations, however, were considered to be crudely done and “provincial”; that is, not authentic. As Christians in Italy and the West became more Latin-speaking, the provincial texts were looked down upon by the more polished Romans. A standard Latin Bible for the church in the West became more pressing.
Pope Damasus I was determined to produce such a standard. In 382, Damasus commissioned Jerome to produce the ‘Vulgate’ by revising and newly translating in Latin the various translations then in use, using Greek texts as a base. Initially, Jerome produced a revision of the New Testament. Then, he followed with the text of the Old Testament based upon the Greek Septuagint. He began with the Psalter in 384, of which the first version was called the Roman Psalter. This version was soon corrupted by text from the Old Latin translations, and Jerome began another version in 387 that became known as the Gallican Psalter.
About 390, after completing the translation of much, if not all, of the Old Testament based upon the Septuagint, he began a version based upon existing Hebrew texts. By 405 he had translated much of the Old Testament based upon the Hebrew. This version, however, was not accepted by many, including Augustine, who felt the Septuagint was slighted and was as equally inspired as the Hebrew text.
Manuscripts of Jerome’s Latin Scriptures slowly replaced the Old Latin versions in popularity, although not without corruption of the text, nor with consistent versions in all places. Over the ensuing centuries, attempts were made to stay corruption of the manuscript texts, but with limited success. These attempts to limit corruption came periodically: in the sixth century; again in the eighth, by Alcuim, the abbot of Martin; and in the succeeding centuries. With the advent of the printing press the situation did not improve, as the printed Vulgate Bibles seemed to perpetuated inferior texts.
In 1590, Pope Sixtus V sponsored a revision of the Vulgate Bible, the Sixtus edition printed by the Vatican press, that was to be the standard for the Roman Church. In 1592, Clement VIII recalled the Sixtus Vulgate and replaced it with the Clementine Vulgate as the Vatican edition. This version remained the official version of the Roman Church until 1979. The current official Latin version of the Bible is the Nova Vulgata, which was commissioned in 1965 by Pope Paul VI and promulgated by Pope John Paul II.