The History of the Bible in Italy
If today we can read the Bible in our own beloved Italian language, we owe it to dozens and dozens of people who in the course of the centuries worked to make this a reality.
Together we will retrace the principal chapters in this fascinating story and take advantage of the occasion to thank and praise God for how wonderful He has been in bringing the Word of God to the Italian people.
It was probably in the 13th century that the first versions of Jerome’s Latin Vulgate began to appear in vernacular dialects of Italian. These were usually rather free translations of individual books, often containing inserted explanatory notes, nearly always anonymous (an exception being the Dominican Domenico Cavalca’s work on the book of Acts, around the first half of 1300s).
On August 1, 1471, in Venice, the German Vandelino di Spira published the first edition of the Bible in Italy, with the title Bibbia degnamente vulgarizzata per il clarissimo religioso duon Nicolao Malermi, known thereafter by the name Bibbia d’Agosto. Fruit of the labor of the Camaldolese monk Nicolò Malermi, who partially translated from Latin and partially retouched manuscript versions from previous centuries, this Bible met with great favor and had many successive editions.
In the same year, also in Venice, another vernacular Bible came out, this time in October (and thus known as the Bibbia d’Ottobre) and published anonymously, which closely followed 13th-century texts of the Tuscan tradition. This edition was also nicknamed the Bibbia Jensoniana, from the name of Niccolò Jenson, the work’s probable printer.
In 1530, at Giunti Printing in Venice, the Tuscan humanist Antonio Brucioli published Il Nuovo Testamento di greco nuovamente tradotto in lingua Toscana, followed two years later, in 1532, by the entire Biblia, quale contiene i sacri libri del Vecchio Testamento.
Regarding the base texts that he used, though claiming to have translated from the original Scriptures, for the Old Testament he seems rather to have made use of the Latin translation of the celebrated biblical scholar Sante Pagnini (1527), and for the New Testament the Latin version by Erasmus of Rotterdam (1516). Once Brucioli’s sympathies for the Reformation were discovered (though he never officially abandoned Catholicism), in 1559 his translation was added to the Catholic Church’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum (= List of Prohibited Books).
In 1536, the Dominican friar Zaccheria da Firenze produced his New Testament, consisting, however, of no more than a simple retouching of Brucioli’s text, to which he applied variations that were almost exclusively stylistic and formal.
In 1538, in Venice, La Bibbia nuouamente tradotta dalla hebraica verità in lingua thoscana was published under the supervision of the Dominican friar Santi Marmochino. In reality, for the Old Testament this was a revision of Brucioli’s text by means of heavy usage of Pagnini’s Latin text and, for the New Testament, a verbatim reproduction of Zaccheria’s text.
In 1551 Il Nuouo ed Eterno Testamento di Giesu Christo was published in Lyon by the Benedictine friar Massimo Theofilo Fiorentino, who translated directly from the original Greek.
In 1555at Geneva a bilingual edition (Italian-French) of the New Testament was published under the supervision of the Waldensian Giovan Luigi Pascale. This was the first Italian version to include subdivision into verses. For the Italian part he used Bruocioli’s version, revising it on the basis of the Greek and rendering it more fluent, while for the French he made use of Calvin’s revision of Oliventan’s translation. In 1560 Pascale was condemned and put to death by the Inquisition.
In 1562 a new revision, usually attributed to Filippo Rustici, of Brucioli’s version was completed and printed in Geneva by the editor Francesco Durone.
Beginning in 1559, Pope Paul IV, in an attempt to control and prevent the diffusion of heresies, had the Index Librorum Prohibitorum drawn up (later confirmed by Pius IV in 1564 and by Clement VIII in 1596). These decrees contained, among other things, bans against printing, reading, and possessing versions of the Bible in vernacular languages without previous personal and written authorization of the bishop, the inquisitor or even from a papal authority. As a consequence of these provisions, the production of Bibles in Italian met an abrupt halt.
In the 17th century the only Bible to be translated into Italian was that of the Protestant Giovanni Diodati. It was published in Geneva in 1607 with the title La Bibbia. Cioè, i libri del Vecchio e del Nuovo Testamento. Nuovamente traslati in lingua italiana, da Giovanni Diodati, di nation Lucchese. Profoundly knowledgeable in Hebrew (he was professor of Hebrew at the University of Geneva), Diodati achieved, for the first time in Italy, a translation directly from the original Greek and Hebrew texts. Moreover, stylistically, his work is considered a masterpiece of 17th-century Italian.
In 1641 the same Diodati brought to completion a final revision of his work and prepared a second edition with the introduction to the Psalms in rhyme.
In 1757 Pope Benedict XIV expressed the desire for a translation of the Bible in Italian. It was thus that the abbot Antonio Martini published first the New Testament in six volumes (1769–1771) and, there following, also the Old Testament in seventeen volumes (1776–1781). Martini translated from the Latin Vulgate and placed alongside the Italian text a parallel column of the same Latin biblical text. This translation had great success among Italian-speaking Catholics and even gained the approval of Pope Pius VI, who declared in conformity with the norms of the Index; it was reprinted many times and remained the official translation of the Catholic Church until last century, with the first editions revised on the basis of the original.
In 1924 Diodati’s translation was updated in the course of a comprehensive revision, adjustments being made in light of the evolution of Italian and then-recent discoveries in the field of the original languages. The revision work was commissioned by the British and Foreign Bible Society and was carried out by a committee under the direction of the Waldensian Giovanni Luzzi. This new version of the biblical text took the name Riveduta (erroneously known as Luzzi).
Parallel with revision of the Diodati, Giovanni Luzzi also prepared an actual translation of the entire Bible; this was the monumental Bibbia tradotta dai testi originali e annotate, edited in twelve volumes in the years 1921–30 under the auspices of the Società Fides et Amor of Florence. This Bible did not enjoy wide circulation.
At this point there was a proliferation of new translations in Catholic circles, first still based on theVulgate, and only thereafter on texts in the original languages.
At this point there was a proliferation of new translations in Catholic circles, first still based on the Vulgate, and only thereafter on texts in the original languages. Among the first were those of A. Mercati and others (1929, ed. Fiorentina—the first Catholic translation after Martini’s), that of E. Tintori and others (1931, ed. Paoline), that of M. Sales (1931, ed. Burruti—a revision of Martini’s), and that of G. Ricciotti and others (1939–40, ed. Salani).
Among the next were those of A. Vaccari and others (1958, ed. Salani), that of G. Robaldo and others (1958, ed. Paoline), that of F. Nardoni (1960, ed. Fiorentina), that of S. Garofalo and others (1960, ed. Marietti), that of E. Galbiati, A. Penna, and P. Rossano (1963, ed. UTET), and that of B. Mariani and others (1964, ed. Garzanti).
In 1968 Mondadori published the Bibbia Condordata. This is a translation from the original languages, with an introduction and notes, produced by the Italian Bible Society. It was the fruit of collaboration between Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and Jewish scholars.
In 1971, following the directives of the Second Vatican Council (1965), which declared Italian, and no longer Latin, to be the liturgical language, the Conferenza Episcopale Italiana produced the Versione CEI, which immediately became the official text of the Catholic Church and that employed for liturgical uses. Given the urgent need for a new official version of the Bible and the limited time available, it was decided against making a translation ex-novo, but instead to proceed with a substantial revision, on the basis of original-language texts, of a version already widely circulated, namely that published by UTET, which had the advantage of being the work of only three translators. In 1974 a new, lightly retouched edition was published.
With this text there would later be published several Bibles containing notes and commentaries of various types, among which the best known are La Bibbia di Gerusalemme (1974, ed. Dehoniane) and the Bibbia TOB (1976, ed. Elle Di Ci), with their body of notes translated from the respective French editions, and the Bibbia Piemme (1995, ed. Piemme).
In 2008 a new edition of the CEI text was published; this is a substantial revision to which the name CEI 2008 was given.
In 1983 San Paolo published the Nuovissima versione dai testi originali, commonly called Bibbia Paoline. This is a single-volume collection of 48 individual translations completed between 1967 and 1980 by various Italian biblicists (C.M. Martini, P. Rossano, U. Vanni, and others).
With this text several annotated Bibles were published by San Paolo, including Bibbia Emmaus (1998), Bibbia Tabor (1999), and Bibbia Ebron (2000).
In 1985 the Parola del Signore La Bibbia in lingua corrente, commonly called TILC (Traduzione Interconfessionale in Lingua Corrente), came out. It was the result of collaboration between Catholics and Protestants and was published in co-editions by Elle Di Ci and Alleanza Biblica Universale. In 2014 a new revised and corrected edition was published.
In 1991 the publishing house La Buona Novella published the Nuova Diodati. This consists of a version of the Diodati revised only in terms of language, to bring it closer to that spoken today. The main characteristic of this edition lies in the choice of following as a New Testament base text the Textus Receptus (the Greek text utilized by Diodati himself in the 1600s, the only one then available), and to take no account of the numerous manuscripts subsequently discovered, which, however, were taken into consideration by the Riveduta in 1924. There followed a revised edition in 2003.
In 1994 the Bible Society of Geneva published the Nuova Riveduta version. As the name implies, this consists of a revision of the previous Riveduta (1924) and so can be considered a natural descendant of the text translated by Giovanni Diodati in 1607 and 1641, distinguishing itself therefrom by virtue of both linguistic updating and revision based on Greek and Hebrew manuscripts not available seventy years before and, even less, during Diodati’s own lifetime. In 2006 a new, slightly revised and improved version (the Nuova Riveduta 2006) was published. It also contained an apparatus of notes related to New Testament textual variants.
Beyond the aforementioned editions two more projects very similar to each other and carried out by Biblica (the editor of the very well known English NIV) may be cited: La Parola è Vita (1981; 1984) and La Bibbia della Gioia (1997; 2006). Essentially, these consist of distinct Italian editions (available online) of the English paraphrase version, The Living Bible.
In 2014, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Società San Paolo, the society’s publishing house issued a new edition of the Bible: the Nuova versione dai testi antichi.
In 2017, under the auspices of the British and Foreign Bible Society and the Bible Society in Italy, and concurrent with the 500thanniversary of the Reformation, a new translation of the Greek New Testament was published. This was a prelude to what, once the Old Testament is also published (planned for 2023), will be called Bibbia della Riforma.
In the Protestant context, this will be the first new translation from original-language texts in the 400 years since the work of Diodati.