Translator of the Douai Version of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate; d. October 28, 1582
Martin, GREGORY, translator of the Douai Version of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate; b. in Maxfield, parish of Guestling, near Winchelsea, in Sussex; d. at Reims, October 28, 1582. In preparing the translation he was assisted by several of the other great scholars then living in the English College at Douai, but Gregory Martin made the whole translation in the first instance and bore the brunt of the work throughout. He was well qualified for the undertaking. During his thirteen years’ residence at Oxford, he bore the reputation of a brilliant scholar and linguist, whose abilities were only equalled by his industry. He entered as one of the original scholars of St. John’s College, in 1557. Among those who entered at the beginning was Edmund Campion, the renowned Jesuit martyr. At this period of his life, however, he was possessed with the ambitions of youth, and although at heart a Catholic, he conformed to the Established Church, and even accepted ordination as a deacon. Gregory Martin was his close friend throughout his Oxford days, and himself remained a devout Catholic. When he found it necessary to quit the university, he took refuge as tutor in the family of the Duke of Norfolk, where he had among his pupils Philip, Earl of Arundel, also subsequently martyred. During his residence with the Duke, Martin wrote to Campion, warning him that he was being led away into danger by his ambition, and begging him to leave Oxford. It is said that it was in great measure due to this advice that Campion migrated to Dublin in 1570, and accepted a post in the university there. He continued to conform to the established religion outwardly; but his Catholic sentiments were no secret.
In the meantime Gregory Martin left the house of the Duke of Norfolk, and crossing the seas, presented himself at Dr. Allen’s College at Douai as a candidate for the priesthood, in 1570. During his early days there, he wrote once more to Campion, who yielded to his entreaties, and the following year saw the two friends once more united within the venerable walls of the English College at Douai. Campion was now a professed Catholic, and he received minor orders and the subdiaconate, after which he proceeded to Rome and eventually entered the Society of Jesus. Having finished his theology, Gregory Martin was ordained priest in March, 1573. Three years later he went to Rome to assist Allen in the foundation of the English College there, known by the title of the “Venerabile”. Campion, however, was at that time absent from Rome. Martin remained two years, during which time he organized the course of studies at the new college; when he was recalled by Allen to Reims, whither the college had been removed from Douai in consequence of political troubles. Martin and Campion met once more in this world, when the latter made a short stay at Reims in the summer of 1580, on his way to the English Mission, and—as it turned out—to early martyrdom.
It was during the next four years after his return from Rome that Gregory Martin’s brilliant talents and scholarship found full scope in a work destined to be of far-reaching and permanent utility to English Catholics. The need of a Catholic translation of the Bible had long been felt, in order to counteract the various inaccurate versions which were continually quoted by the Reformers, and as Allen said, to meet them on their own ground. He determined to attempt the work at his college, and deputed Martin to undertake the translation. Thomas Worthington, Richard Bristowe, John Reynolds, and Allen himself were to assist in revising the text and preparing suitable notes to the passages which were most used by the Protestants.
The merits and shortcomings of Martin‘s translation have been discussed in the article on the Douay Bible (q.v.). It is sufficient here to say that it was made from the Vulgate, and is full of Latinisms, so that it has little of the rhythmic harmony of the Anglican Authorized Version which has become part of the literature of the nation: but in accuracy and scholarship, it was superior to any of the English versions which had preceded it, and it is understood to have had great influence on the translators of King James’s Version. In many cases in which they did not follow the Douai, the editors of the Revised Version have upheld Gregory Martin’s translation. And it was accuracy of rendering which was chiefly needed by the controversial exigencies of the day.
The Reims New Testament first appeared in 1582. The Old Testament was not published till more than a quarter of a century later. This, however, was solely due to want of funds. It was not called for with such urgency, and its publication was put off from year to year. But it was all prepared at the same time as the New Testament, and by the same editors.
The constant work told on Martin‘s constitution, and he was found to be in consumption. In the hope of saving his life, Allen sent him to Paris, where he consulted the best physicians of the day, only to be told that the disease was past cure. He returned to Reims to die, and he was buried in the parish church of St. Stephen. Allen preached the funeral discourse, and erected a long Latin inscription on the tomb of his friend. The following is a list of Martin‘s works: “Treatise of Schisme” (Douai, 1578); “Discovery of the Manifold Corruptions of the Holy Scriptures by the Heretikes of our Daies” (Reims, 1582); Reims Testament and Douay Bible; “Treatise of Christian Peregrination” (Reims, 1583); “Of the Love of the Soul” (St. Omer, 1603); “Gregorius Martinus ad Adolphum Mekerchum pro veteri et vera Graecarum Literarum Pronunciatione” (Oxford, 1712); several other works in MS. mentioned by Pitts.