What is the Douay-Rheims Bible?
The Douay–Rheims Bible is an English-langauge translation of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate made by members of the English College, Douai, in the service of the Catholic Church. The New Testament portion was published in Reims, France, in 1582, in one volume with extensive commentary and notes. The Old Testament portion was published in two volumes thirty years later by the University of Douai. (Learn more about Roman Catholocism here.)
The first volume, covering Genesis through Job, was published in 1609; the second, covering Psalms to 2 Machabees plus the Apocrypha of the Clementine Vulgate was published in 1610. Marginal notes took up the bulk of the volumes and had a strong polemical and patristic character. They also offered insights on issues of translation, and on the Hebrew and Greek source texts of the Vulgate. (Learn more about the Apocrypha here.)
The purpose of the Douay-Rheims translation
The purpose of the version, both the text and notes, was to uphold Catholic tradition in the face of the Protestant Reformation, which up till then had ovewhelmingly dominated Elizabethan religion and academic debate. As such it was an impressive effort by English Catholics to support the Counter-Reformation. The New Testament was reprinted in 1600, 1621 and 1633, while both the Old Testament volumes were reprinted in 1635, but neither thereafter for another hundred years. (See Catholocism and Protestantism comparison chart here.)
In 1589, William Fulke produced a refutation of the Rheims New Testament, setting out the complete Rheims text and notes in parallel columns with those of the Bishops' Bible. This work sold widely in England, being re-issued in three further editions to 1633; and it was predominantly through Fulke's editions that the Rheims New Testament came to exercise a significant influence on the development of 17th Century English.
Much of the text of the 1582/1610 Bible, however, employed a densely latinate vocabulary, to the extent of being in places unreadable; and consequently this translation was replaced by a revision undertaken by bishop Richard Challoner; the New Testament in three editions 1749, 1750, and 1752; the Old Testament (minus the Vulgate Apocrypha), in 1750. (Learn more about the New Testament here.)
Although retaining the title Douay–Rheims Bible, the Challoner revision was in fact a new version, tending to take as its base text the King James Bible rigorously checked and extensively adjusted for improved readability and consistency with the Clementine edition of the Vulgate. Subsequent editions of the Challoner revision, of which there have been very many, reproduce his Old Testament of 1750 with very few changes.
Challoner's New Testament was, however, extensively revised by Bernard MacMahon in a series of Dublin editions from 1783 to 1810; and these various Dublin versions are the source of some Challoner bibles printed in the United States in the 19th Century. Subsequent editions of the Challoner bible printed in England most often follow Challoner's earlier New Testament texts of 1749 and 1750; as do most 20th-century printings, and on-line versions of the Douay–Rheims bible circulating on the internet.
Although the Jerusalem Bible, New American Bible/New American Bible Revised Edition (in the United States), the Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version and the New Jerusalem Bible are the most commonly used in English-speaking Catholic churches, the Challoner revision of the Douay–Rheims is still often the Bible of choice of more traditional English-speaking Catholics.
1. Wikipedia, used under GDFL (with minor edits)