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Way of Life Literature

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Way of Life Literature

Publisher of Bible Study Materials

Way of Life Bible College
Did Rome Forbid Vernacular Versions?
February 15, 2005
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
When the charge is made that the Roman Catholic Church attempted to keep the Bible out of the hands of the common people during much of its history, some deny this, claiming that Rome only forbade "unauthorized" vernacular versions, not all vernacular versions. This is one of those half-truths that are used to hide the truth. Note the following facts:


The Council of Toulouse used these words: "We prohibit the permission of the books of the Old and New Testament to laymen, except perhaps they might desire to have the Psalter, or some Breviary for the divine service, or the Hours of the blessed Virgin Mary, for devotion; expressly forbidding their having the other parts of the Bible translated into the vulgar tongue" (Allix,
Ecclesiastical History, II, p. 213). The declarations of these Councils held power for centuries thereafter.


To argue that the Roman Catholic Church only forbade unauthorized vernacular versions is to argue a technicality that has no meaning in reality. Some odd exception that might have existed at some particular place in some point in history does not change this rule.

Consider the very important English tongue. The Roman Catholic Church did not produce a Bible in English until 1582, two full centuries after John Wycliffe provided the English people with their first Bible and more than a half century after Tyndale made his masterpiece for the English speaking world.

Even after Rome finally did produce an English Bible (the Rheims-Douai), it was not widely published and made available to the people. The New Testament was reprinted by Catholics ONLY THREE TIMES and the Douai Old Testament, ONLY ONCE, between 1582 and 1750-A PERIOD OF 168 YEARS (Marion Simms,
The Bible from the Beginning, 1929, p. 187).

Wherever Rome has maintained power, the people have not had ready access to the Scriptures. Consider this testimony about conditions existing in the city of Rome in the mid 19th century: "The Bible in Rome is a strange and rare book. The only edition of it authorized to be sold here, is in fifteen large volumes, which are filled with Popish commentaries. Of course none but the rich can purchase a copy of the sacred Scriptures. Indeed very few of the common people know what we mean by the Bible" (J.A. Clark, Protestant Episcopal Church of St. Andrew, Philadelphia, in a letter to his congregation, dated from Rome, March 24, 1838; reprinted by Charles Elliott,
Delineation of Roman Catholicism, 1851, p. 23).

In 1907 and 1908 the Irish Church Mission made a diligent search of bookshops in Catholic Ireland to determine the availability of Catholic Bibles. Consider the result: "In the booksellers' shops of Athlone, Balbriggan, Drogheda, Mullingar, Wexford, and Clonmel, not a Bible, or New Testament, or scrap of Scripture of the Church's authorized version, could be found--a shop assistant at Mullingar, saying, 'I never saw a Catholic Bible.' ... in Cork, with over 76,000 inhabitants, there are twenty-four Roman Catholic booksellers, of whom twenty did not keep the Scriptures, two of them asking the would-be purchaser if the Douay New Testament, of which they knew nothing, was 'a new monthly publication.' Lastly, in Dublin itself, out of four large Roman Catholic publishing and bookselling establishments, only one had the Scriptures, whilst the answer given to an inquiry for a New Testament at the depot of The Catholic Truth Society was, 'We don't keep it.' The conclusion arrived at by the commissioners who ransacked the booksellers' shops in Ireland for Bibles, was 'that in nine-tenths of the cities, towns, and villages of Ireland a Roman Catholic could not procure a copy of the Roman Catholic Bible or New Testament'" (Alexander Robertson,
The Papal Conquest, 1909, pp. 166,167).

These examples could be endlessly multiplied.


The Council of Trent did allow reading of Scripture, but only after a license in writing was obtained from the proper ecclesiastical authority, a license which was given only in extremely rare cases. Even the Catholic clergy had to obtain a license from their bishops before they were allowed to read the Bible. Booksellers were forbidden to have Bibles in stock for sale under pain of severe punishment. This was a great wickedness. Rome does not have authority from God to forbid that people read the Bible or to require that men obtain her license before reading God's Word. The Bible was given for all people, and the Lord Jesus Christ commanded his disciples to preach the Gospel unto all nations, to every creature. "The Bible is a proclamation of mercy, addressed to sinful men, in such terms as the following: 'Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else' (Isa. 45:22). The Church of Rome stands by, and presumes to decide who shall, and who shall not, hear these words of the Almighty Saviour; and if any person hear them at all, it is by her permission. This is assuming a power and authority equal to that of God, and a right to control, or at least to regulate, the manner of communicating his will to his creatures. It is arrogating an authority which belongs to no creature, nor to any assembly of creatures, to decide when and to whom the Almighty shall address his overtures of mercy and grace. This claim of an authority to permit, implies an authority to prevent or prohibit, the reading of the Scriptures, whenever it shall happen that prevention is more expedient than permission. This, in general, has been the case; and if her assumed authority of permitting proves her to be in error, much more will her preventing fix that character upon her" (Elliott,
Delineation of Roman Catholicism, 1851, p. 24).

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