Dumitru Cornilescu was born in 1891 in the village of Slasoma in Mehedinti province [Romania]. His father was a teacher, and his grandfathers both on his mother’s and father’s side were priests. He felt the call to enter the priesthood and went to Bucharest to study Theology.
Dumitru was unhappy with the formalism and rituals. He desired to undertake serious study in order to gain a proper understanding of Christianity. The director of the Theological Seminary saw his desire and gave him a list of foreign religious literature. He proposed that he obtain and read them.
He read books in English, French, and German. He saw that they described a form of Christian living distinct from the religious life that he witnessed in his country. Soon he got the idea to translate these books and bind them into a modern journal. He produced an entire volume of these works from translations of authors such as R. A. Torrey, S. D. Gordon, George Muller, and others.
During the years of his theological study, Dumitru Cornilescu was part of the church of St. Stefan in Bucharest, which at that time was called “the Stork’s Nest”. The priest at that church was Tudor Popsecu, a youth with strong moral conduct and a talented gift of speech. His sermons attracted many people, among whom were renowned intellectuals from major cities. Tudor Popescu appointed Cornilescu as deacon and gave him the authority to publish books under the church’s name.
Among other books that he read and translated carefully, Cornilescu paid special attention to passages from the Bible. Specifically, he tried to read the Bible in the Romanian language, but he was unable to do so. Even though he did not understand these pages, he had a strange affection for the authors of the Bible. Gradually, he realized the problem was not with the Bible, but rather the Romanian translation. The idea came to him: why not create a new translation of the Bible, one that the common man could understand? He also realized, though, that such a task would require many years of work. He could not afford such an effort himself.
However, God was working in many areas. A lady from the upper class of Romanian society named Princess Raluka Kalimaki was in Switzerland with her husband Kantakuzin Pashkanie. He was chairman of the Conservative Chamber of Romania at that time.
The Princess attended religious fellowships in Geneva where she was wonderfully converted. She soon realized the great need for her nation to understand the Bible. Having just received a large inheritance from her mother she decided to invest it in printing the Bible in the Romanian language.
Once she returned to Romania, she began negotiations with several church officials to realize this project. Some of them told her that a new Bible translation into Romanian from the existing Old Church Slavonic translation was unnecessary. They told her she should consider funding an entirely new Bible translation from the original Hebrew and Greek languages into modern Romanian language.
The Princess began her search for a translater and found Dumitru Cornilescu. He had finished college in 1916 and was ordained as a celibate priest in Husa. According to the agreement between Princess Kalimaki and Bishop Nicodemus, two days after his ordination, Cornilescu moved to the village of Staucesti in the region of Botostani. There he began to translate the Bible.
After continuous work for four years, he was ready to release his translation of the Bible. In the year 1920, he published in Bucharest, Psalms, or “Psalms of King David”, under the auspices of the Romanian Evangelical Society under Gutenberg Publishing. He published the entire New Testament in 1921 and a complete Bible later that same year.
The Bible translation of Dimitru Cornilescu today is the most popular translation used among Protestants. This translation is not approved by the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church because Cornilescu had left the church and became one of the founders of the Romanian Evangelical Church.
The translation of the Bible into modern Romanian language, the same language spoken in the first quarter of the twentieth century, was done by Cornilescu because of the difficulty of the other existing Bible translation at the time. The existing translation was in archaic Romanian in Old Slavonic letters.
After major doctrinal disputes with people of higher theological circles at that time, Cornilescu was advised by Patriarch Miron Kristea himself to flee Romania. For this reason, Cornilescu moved to Switzerland in 1923 and remained there until his death in 1975.
Cornilescu devoted his whole life to preaching and writing about the need to return to God. Pastors and believers from many churches in Romania and the US wrote him letters with deep gratitude to God. They expressed great appreciation for the blessings brought into their lives and the lives of the Romanian people by his Bible translation. Believers expressed their respect for the one who put into the hands of the Romanian people in the homeland and diaspora the Bible, the Book of Books, God’s Word, in the clearest and most beautiful Romanian language.
Millions of copies of Cornilescu’s Bible translation have been printed. It is present everywhere in the world where the Romanian language is spoken.
For this reason, Cornilescu became known as “the Luther of Romania.”
Cornilescu, Dumitru. “Cum m-am întors la Dumnezeu şi cum am spus şi altora” (‘The way I have turned to God and the way I told others’).
Institutul Teologic Penticostal, Bucharest, Romania
Original scientific paper
Received: February, 2011.
Accepted: April, 2011.
Scripture has always played a crucial role in the renewal of the churches throughout the history of Christianity and this was seen particularly well during the Reformation. This paper offers another example of the enduring power of the Scripture to change lives and renew communities. It looks at the impact of the ‘rediscovery’ of the Bible on the Romanian Christian context at the beginning of the 20th century, by presenting the life and influence of three key Orthodox priests, Dumitru Cornilescu, Dumitru Popescu and Iosif Trifa.
Particularly, it explores the foundation, establishment and the theology of the Lord’s Army – a unique renewal movement within the Orthodox Churches.
Key words: Bible, church renewal, Protestantism, Lord’s Army, Romanian Orthodox Church