Various editions-  'Deluxe' editions on the left bound in finely tooled Moroccan Leather with two color (red/black) text. In the middle- Bound in leather with banded spines. On the right- "Classic' editions presented in a paper covered hard back and an un-decorated plain leather covered hard back.









We must first thank 2 men for what is nothing less than a very significant contribution to liturgical and devotional printed matter for the Roman Catholic Church.  Henri and Jules Desclee had a vision. To restore Christian art in Liturgical publications. They named their newly founded mission "The Society of St. John the Evangelist" (I will refer to it with acronym "SSJE" from this point forward)
















They also played a large part in the founding and construction of the Abbey of Maredsous in Denee, Belgium- opened in 1892.














We also owe a great debt to architect, artisan, and designer Baron Jean-Baptiste Bethune who shared this vision.  Baron Bethune was an adherent to the "School of St. Luke" of which he was a co-founder in 1862. This school offered training in the traditional Gothic style of Christian art, expressed in architecture, painting, wood carving, stained, glass, etc... He had a direct hand in the design and artwork of Vulgate editions we are so found of, as well as many other liturgical publications of the SSJE.

















It was a "perfect storm" that resulted in some of the most beautiful liturgical/devotional books produced in the latter part of the 19th and early into the 20th century, if not ever. Certainly there were other publishers producing very excellent liturgical books during the same time period...but the combination of three things allowed the publications of the SSJE to stand out amoung the rest- stunning and beautiful artwork, well thought out typography (along with excellent readability) and most importantly-textual integrity. Some samples to the left- more about that later...















They set up their printing establishment in Tournai, Belgium. Historical information I uncovered placed them at "76 Avenue Maire", of which I have not been able to pinpoint on any map. It could have been in the outskirts of the city.

Henri (1830-1917) and Jules (1828-1911) Desclee- highlighted in the top row, center

Maredsous Abbey

Breviarium Romanum (The Roman Breviary) 1886 A.D.

City of Tournai, Belgium


Baron Jean-Baptiste Bethune 1821-1894 A.D.

An advertisement for their Missals, Breviaries, and Diurnals. These are only the tip of the ice berg. They offered literally hundreds of publications in many languages.

Another advertisment- This one accentuating their diligence in offering their contributions to chant/church music. The SSJE

The SSJE was not shy about advertising their other publications right on the back covers of their 'classic' Vulgate editions. This image was taken from an 1894 edition of Biblia Sacra, Vulgate Editionis. [Presented in the French language]

After 5 years of searching, I was finally able to find a complete catalog of SSJE's offerings. I had searched used book vendors all over Europe, digitized book depositories, and several libraries in European countries. My biggest obstacles were two things: #1- I was not absolutely sure any copies existed, although I was fairly certain the SSJE offered one, as I saw reference to it in their advertisements and #2- I was unsure of the title since I assumed it might not be in English. I found a copy in a library in Brussels, Belgium called The Royal Library of Belgium (now known as "KBR") after sending them a brief description of what I was looking for.  I was then able to do a more thorough search of libraries in the US. In 2013 I struck gold. I found a copy in the Newberry Library in Chicago, IL. I was hoping they would be able to send it via inter-library loan but they said it did not qualify (probably due to it's age/fragility). So for a small fee, they scanned it for me. The scans are not of great quality but it is readable. I was a bit floored when I received it. I hadn't imagined that their list of offerings would be so large. It is dated with the year 1890 and in the French language. I have not been able to find one in English since I do not know whether the SSJE offered one, and if so I have no way of knowing if any copies are still in existence. The scans of the catalog are available below as a PDF download.  I will comment more specifically about the listings for the Vulgate editions below.


NOTE: Viewing this page on a mobile device may produce unsatisfactory results. Some of the images and text could overlap, blocking view of one or the other.  For best results, use a computer with a full size screen. I am working on this issue and hope to have it rectified soon. Thank you for your patience.

Read what "The Dublin Review" (Third Series, Volume X, July-October, 1883) had to say bout the SSJE.

The publications of the “Imprimerie Liturgique” of Tournay, a few of which head this notice, are splendid additions to that mediaeval movement which is still working vigorously in many departments of Christian art. The missals and breviaries of the Tournay Society are becoming highly esteemed for their carefully accurate editing, not less than for the luxurious elegance of type, paper, illustration, and binding; indeed, many who sympathize little with the quaint mediaeval character of the ornamentation are attracted by the clear beautifully cut Elzevirian types, the easy legibility of which is noteworthy in the smallest editions, while the toned paper adds still further to the ease and comfort of reading them. But for those who do feel attracted by the beauty of mediaeval art, these editions are truly de luxe; while it is useful to add that the prices of the various publications are remarkably moderate. The aim of the Society has been to reproduce worthily, so far as types and wood blocks could do it, those works which in olden times were written, one may say, in gold, and at the expense of life’s labour; and, further to reproduce them with an accuracy of text which was then scarcely attainable. The illustrations are, therefore, not merely pious pictures bound up in the volumes, but, like the miniatures of illuminated MSS., they are part of the text and have reference to it. It is enough to add, that Baron Bethune d’Idewalle, the great promoter of the renaissance of Christian art in Belgium, has the guidance of this artistic portion of the undertaking. The volumes which we have selected deserve a few words of special mention. (...article continued below, quoting specifically about the Vulgate editions)

A tour through the Vulgate-

The full title of the first edition Vulgate edition is thus: 

Biblia Sacra

Vulgatae Editionis

Sixti V. Pont. Max Jussu

recognita et Clementis VIII

auctorita edita

Tornaci Nerviorum, typis Soc.

Sancti Joannis Evangelistae.

Desclee Lefebvre et Soc.  MDCCCLXXXI


The Holy Bible

Vulgate Edition

Examined and Issued by the 

authority of Clement 8th

Printed by The Society of St. John the Evangelist

at Tournai of the Nervii [see note below]

Desclee, Lefebvre, and Associates 1881

Tournaci Nerviorum: “Nerviorum” (masculine genitive plural) means “of the (tribe of the) Nervii.”  The Nervii were a Belgic tribe in the far north of ancient Gallia.  So “Tornaci Nerviorum” means “(printed) at Tournai of the Nervii.”  The word “Nerviorum” just makes “Tornaci” more specific, distinguishing it from any other cities named Tornacus/Tornacum there might have been. [This analysis was submitted to me on request from someone fluent in Latin]

This edition of the Vulgate is truly a "Clementine Edition" to use a common term when referring to different Vulgate editions. This is evident by the text of the "To the Reader", which will be given below.

The title page is faced by a page on the left containing a full color map of "Palestine au temps de N.S."

[Translated from the French- Palestine at the time of ? ? (assuming this is an abbreviation referring the New Testament? N= Nouveau  S= ? )]

I will now attempt to give you a 'tour' through the Vulgate of the SSJE-

A few notes before we start- The interior text and layout was offered in two color schemes/sizes. The smaller size was presented with simple, single color black text. The slightly larger size presented two-color printing with black and red text with a red outline around the text and images. The red and black text editions seem to be limited to year 1881, the first edition. The title pages of the different editions I have owned indicated 4 individual printings- 1881, 1885, 1894, and 1901.

All of the printings subsequent to 1881 have all been in the single color text configuration. 

This has been confirmed also by the number of printed editions that have been digitized, made available by Google Books, which I will provide links to farther down this page.

Covers and binding- The publishers offered a wide variety of cover configurations. Starting with a simple 'paperback' edition all the way up to deluxe Moroccan leather covered boards with tooling and gold inlays.

The catalog referenced above lays out all of the options available in the year 1890.




























The title pages of the various various Vulgate printings I have acquired over the years indicate four different editions, dated- 1881, 1885, 1894, and 1901.


This first edition of 1881 was given the Imprimatur [translated- let it be printed] by Bishop of the Tournai Diocese at the time,

Most Reverend Isidore-Joseph du Rousseaux

Dated the 6th Day of June 1881

(Same Imprimatur in the 1885 and 1894 editions)

Another Imprimatur was granted to the 1901 edition by Most Reverend Carolus Gustavus Walravens

Dated the 13th Day of May 1901


Note: The 1881 edition included a "Corrigenda" [translated-"Corrections"] at the end of the book.

Taking into account the state of printing technology during this time period, it was common for publishers to include a list of corrections to the text instead of make changes to the actual physical parts that place the ink on the pages. The subsequent 3 editions did not include the page of corrections, indicated that measures were taken to correct the errors in the text. 




Next comes the "Editores Lectori" [translated- "To the Reader"]

Here, the editors lay out their case involving the textual methodology. 

Any printed edition of the Vulgate (or any Bible in any language, for that matter) has a "lineage" so to speak.

I had the privilege of being acquainted with an individual who fluent in Latin that was able to translate the Editores Lectori for me. To him I am very grateful to him for this great gift.

Here it is- 

Receive, dear reader, from the St. John the Evangelist Press of Tournai (Belgium) the Holy Bible in Latin, most diligently corrected and in faithful accordance with the Vatican edition authorized by Clement VIII and published in 1598. Since many have expressed the wish that, following the excellent work of the eminent scholar Charles Vercellone, there might be a new edition in more elegant form which, while based on his outstanding scriptural studies, could be produced at a lesser price, we decided that it would not be uncalled-for to create this edition of ours. 

Moreover the method which the editors decided to follow in this effort are with pleasure derived from the important guidelines Pope Clement VIII laid down for his edition. That is, he ordered that no one should undertake to publish this edition of Holy Scripture without first consulting a copy of it printed at the Vatican press. The form of this copy should be inviolably followed without the least particle of the text being changed, added or subtracted, unless something is found which is clearly ascribable to typographical negligence. 

If one investigates the reasons for this precept, it becomes easily apparent how useful and wise it was. For the Pontiff was looking for nothing else than to put an end to that enormous discord among innumerable editions through which, by ignoring tradition and the authority of the Church, everyone had been wont to indulge his own inclinations.

Thus it is impermissible for anyone to change anything in the text of the Vulgate edition in any way. It is forbidden by the very notion and sacredness of an authorized text, one having been established as such by the authority of the Church. Since it is the business of this authority to see to the integrity and unity of the Scriptures, the text it has established as the noblest document of tradition must be preserved with utmost care and vigilance. So no matter how much it may seem to us that, in the light of critical scientific reasoning and rules, some things ought to be changed, there is a fear that they might involve those things which were left unchanged deliberately. 

Finally, since, in the judgement of the foremost theologians and best scholars, the current readings of the Vulgate edition merit being treated cautiously and with prudent reverence even in matters minute and of small importance, our decision was never to depart from the Vatican — that is, the authorized — edition, unless by chance there was clear evidence of a manifest error on the part of the typographers. Hence we thought it best to safeguard that edition with utmost reverence as the definitive norm of the sacred text; we have striven to follow the precepts of the Holy See. 

                                                              Vatican edition                                            Amended reading


II. Reg 2, 8, 12                                            castra                                                                 Castra

III. Reg. 11, 2                                               Hetthæus                                                          Hethæus

III. Reg. 11, 26                                             Nabath                                                                Nabat

III. Reg. 14, 7                                               petram                                                              Petram

I. Par. 6, 71                                                  Astharoth                                                          Astaroth

I. Par. 12, 3                                                  Anathotites                                                       Anathothites

I. Par. 25, 10                                               Zachur                                                                Zacchur

I. Par. 27, 28                                               Balanam                                                              Balanan

I. Par. 26,32                                                Gadditis                                                             Gaditis

I. Par. 26, 19                                               coram altare                                                       coram altari

I Esdr. 5, 6                                                 Arphasachæi                                                     Apharsachæi (cf. 4, 9)

II Esdr. 11, 17                                              Idithum                                                                 Idithun

Judith 8, 22                                               Abraam                                                              Abraham

Judith 15, 19                                             Joachim                                                              Joacim

Esth. 2, 21                                                  Bagatha                                                               Bagathan

Ps. 47, 7                                                     apprehendit eos.  Ibi                                        apprehendit eos ibi

IV. Reg. 25, 13                                           Maachati                                                            Maachathi  etc.

The authors of the Vatican edition had not taken it upon themselves to print anything new and recently discovered, nor, likewise, did we ourselves undertake to do anything other than render with utmost exactitude the edition of 1598 (of which a copy lay before us). That edition is the last one of the three published under the auspices of Clement VIII, and through it the authorized text, with three appended lists of corrections, has been perfectly preserved. 

In no way could we be unaware of the weight with which certain readings are typically supported, like the famous proficiens [“advancing, making progress”] for proficiscens [“departing”] of II Samuel 3, 1, or the affigentes [“affixing, nailing” (to the cross, i.e., crucifying)] for affligentes [“striking or smashing against, striking down”] of Acts 2, 23. But no matter how much they appeal to us — in our private judgement preferring a different reading than the one presented by the Vatican text — we have not ventured to accept them. But because there are praiseworthy scholars — as the Venerable Cardinal Bellarmine has proved — who, well equipped with scholarly knowledge and other aids, devote their efforts to examining and confirming original readings even in all the smallest particulars, we did not think we should reject the emendations contained both in the publications of the best authors and in other, modern editions. Among the latter, we have put much effort into comparing especially the edition which the famous Charles Vercellone oversaw under the auspices of the most holy Pius IX; and in addition to other editions, those of greatest authority in France, Italy and Germany. We have employed these and others in figuring out obscure passages; in determining punctuation — whenever, that is, we feared that the sense might be altered or where it seemed to us that greater clarity might be obtained; and, finally, in correcting the addition of so-called citations, and other things of this kind. Quite often, for example, in the Vatican edition you will find a period followed by a lower-case letter; in Vercellone’s edition you will find this unchanged, even though he did not hesitate to alter some elements in many things of easily greater importance. So it had to be determined — often from the sources or from other editions or publications — whether the sentence in the preceding phrase was completely finished. Besides this it is clear that, due to printer negligence, one of two periods has sometimes been lost. All these things are found to be of small or, rather, no importance, if you look at the matter itself; however in issues of greater importance we have never rejected the Vulgate edition on any pretext whatsoever, as we have stated. 

It remains for us to explain certain other things we did in preparing this edition. 

The prefaces of St. Jerome according to the Vallarsi edition, generally included as one might expect, have been emended. — As for proper names, whose spelling in the Vulgate edition is by no means consistent, we have deliberately refrained from changing and rewording them in accordance with a fixed standard. — We have corrected and expanded so called biblical concordances or cross references of parallel passages (placed in the margin according to ancient custom), since they are largely erroneous in the Vatican edition; for the hard work of those who have inserted these kinds of things and other items of the same type in other editions is not condemned by the Apostolic See. — For the same reason we thought the captions, too, which head individual chapters, should be retained as aids for ease of use by students. — We have not shrunk from the incredible labor of cleaning up biblical indices, which the famous Vercellone left out, as though it were intolerable drudgery and labor to correct them properly, given that many preachers, students of theology and others have earnestly desired them. 

May, finally, this edition of the Sacred Bible be published, and may it bear exceedingly rich fruits of knowledge and piety; we humbly pray that St. John the Evangelist, our great patron, who drew his stream of divine eloquence from the sacred font itself of the Lord’s breast and, inebriated with the grace of the Holy Ghost, more deeply revealed to others the hidden things of Divinity, might obtain these results for us through his kind intercession with the most sacred Heart of Jesus.

Tourai, Belgium, on the feast of our holy father Benedict, 1885


It is obvious from the text above that the 1598 edition of the Vatican text was the primary source for the editors. It also appears that they, at the very least, consulted the text of Carolus Vercellone.

...Continued from The Dublin Review article-

Biblia Sacra. Vulgatae Sixti V. Pont. Max. jussu recognita et Clementis VIII. Auctoritate edita.  1881.

  In the preparation of the beautiful edition of the Bible the editor tells us in his preface he has carefully followed the provisions of Clement VIII. The revision of the text was committed to the hands of some Benedictine fathers of the Abbey of Maredsous. The various editions of the Vulgate have been consulted, and the Vatican edition of 1598 has been followed as far as possible, while the labours of the learned Padre Vercellone have been largely availed of. For the better text of St. Jerome’s Preface, the edition of Valarsi has been adopted; the foot-notes of which and the index rerum have been carefully corrected of numerous mistakes, and a useful index of lessons, epistles, and gospels of Sundays has been added. The volume is printed in double columns, with red borders and marginal references, while the volume is adorned with a frontispiece, two large pictures, and twenty-two smaller ones as “tetes de page" [French for ‘page headers’].



Praefatio ad lectorem


Preface to the reader 


[An English translation of this preface is not available, link to Latin text below]

link to praefatio ad lectorem


 De canonicis Scripturis decretum ex Concilio Tridentino, sessione quarta.

Decree concerning the canonical scriptures, from the Council of Trent, fourth session.

The sacred and holy, ecumenical, and general Synod of Trent,–lawfully assembled in the Holy Ghost, the Same three legates of the Apostolic Sec presiding therein,–keeping this always in view, that, errors being removed, the purity itself of the Gospel be preserved in the Church; which (Gospel), before promised through the prophets in the holy Scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first promulgated with His own mouth, and then commanded to be preached by His Apostles to every creature, as the fountain of all, both saving truth, and moral discipline; and seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand; (the Synod) following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament–seeing that one God is the author of both –as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ’s own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession. And it has thought it meet that a list of the sacred books be inserted in this decree, lest a doubt may arise in any one’s mind, which are the books that are received by this Synod. They are as set down here below: of the Old Testament: the five books of Moses, to wit, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Josue, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, two of Paralipomenon, the first book of Esdras, and the second which is entitled Nehemias; Tobias, Judith, Esther, Job, the Davidical Psalter, consisting of a hundred and fifty psalms; the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Canticle of Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaias, Jeremias, with Baruch; Ezechiel, Daniel; the twelve minor prophets, to wit, Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Micheas, Nahum, Habacuc, Sophonias, Aggaeus, Zacharias, Malachias; two books of the Machabees, the first and the second. Of the New Testament: the four Gospels, according [Page 19] to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles written by Luke the Evangelist; fourteen epistles of Paul the apostle, (one) to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, (one) to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, (one) to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews; two of Peter the apostle, three of John the apostle, one of the apostle James, one of Jude the apostle, and the Apocalypse of John the apostle. But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema. Let all, therefore, understand, in what order, and in what manner, the said Synod, after having laid the foundation of the Confession of faith, will proceed, and what testimonies and authorities it will mainly use in confirming dogmas, and in restoring morals in the Church. [translation copied and pasted from]

 Link to Latin text of De canonicis Scripturis decretum






[An English translation of the remembrance is not available, link to Latin text below]

link to latin text of memoriam



The next 20 pages contain the prefaces to certain books of the bible in the original Latin, composed by the great St. Jerome, Father of the Latin Vulgate Bible. The 'Editores Lectori' states that the Latin text of the prefaces is taken from the work of Italian priest  Fr. Dominic Vallarsi 







A single page, listing the order and page numbers of each book of the bible contained therein.


Carte pour les voyages de S. Paul

Map of St. Paul's Travels

Please browse our site for difficult to find items and resources for the learning and enrichment

of the timeless and official language of Catholic Church -LATIN - more specifically known as Ecclesiastical Latin or Church Latin. Used in the Church's Liturgy (Latin Mass), Bibles (The Vulgate), Prayers (The Breviary or Divine Office), and Sacred Rites- LATIN is a timeless treasure of the One, Holy , Catholic, Apostolic Church.











Please visit Romanitas Press for any Traditional Latin Mass liturgical needs

© 2021

Last site update: 04/08/2021