It was not until 1582 that the Roman Catholic Church published its first English translation of the Bible. This was two hundred years after John Wycliffe had provided the English-speaking world with a Bible, and almost a half century after William Tyndale produced the first printed English New Testament. Both men were mercilessly hounded by Catholic authorities.
When Rome finally did produce its own edition of the English Bible, it was an attempt to counter the powerful influence of the Protestant English Bibles that were flooding the English-speaking world with spiritual light. Rome’s attempt to quash this light had been unsuccessful, so it would use a second tactic, that of setting up a competing translation in English in an attempt to keep its people from reading the Tyndale versions. By having their own English translation, the Catholic authorities could insert their heretical notes and thereby obscure the plain meaning of Scripture to the undiscerning.
The first Roman Catholic English translation was the Rheims-Douay, so named for the location of the Catholic college under the auspices of which it was produced. The seminary was founded at Douay, Spain, in 1568 “for the training of priests who were to win England back to the Catholic faith” (John Eadie, History of the English Bible, II, p. 114). In 1578, it was moved to Rheims, France, and it was here that the New Testament was completed in 1582. The school was moved back to Douay in 1593, where the Old Testament was completed some fifteen years later, in 1609-10.
One of the translators was William Allen, the founder of the college, who “for a quarter of a century was the mainspring of the movement for the restoration of England to communion with Rome” (William Moulton, The English Bible, 1878, p. 182). He hated Queen Elizabeth and said that she was under the curse of God and of the “holy Church.” One biographer says his tongue was “a razor” (Jacob Mombert, English Versions of the Bible, 1906, p. 293). “He is said to have been the designated Primate of England and the Legate of Rome, had the Spanish Armada succeeded” (John Stoughton, Our English Bible, 1878, p. 226). He pleased the papacy so much that he was made a cardinal by Pope Sixtus V in 1587 (Moulton, p. 182). After the failure of the Spanish Armada, Allen “passed the rest of his life in getting up plots and conspiracies against her majesty, and died 1594” (The Jesuits, p. 142).
Though an English New Testament had finally been produced by Catholic authorities, it was not allowed free distribution even among Catholic people. “It was extremely literal, stiff, formal, and often meaningless. It was such a work as required the priesthood for its understanding. And no Catholic was permitted to read it until a license in writing had been obtained. With such restrictions Catholic use was greatly limited. And, as a matter of fact, the New Testament was reprinted by Catholics only three times, and the Douay Old Testament, published later, only once, between 1582 and 1750—a period of 168 years” (P. Marion Simms, Bible from the Beginning, p. 187).
We recall that Pope Pius IV (1559-1565), only a few years before the Rheims New Testament appeared, “required bishops to refuse lay persons leave to read even Catholic versions of the Scriptures unless their confessor or parish priests judged that such reading was likely to prove beneficial” (Catholic Dictionary, Addis and Arnold, p. 82).
The Bible commentator Matthew Poole made the following observation in the preface to the first edition of his commentary in 1685:
“Of late the church of Rome would seem to bear something of a motherly affection to her children, and allow them the Scriptures in the mother tongue; but it is indeed a gift not worthy of its name. They must first get a licence in writing before they use them; and to get that, they must approve themselves to their confessors to be such as are, if not frozen in the dregs, yet soured with the leaven, of their superstition [in other words, utterly committed to Catholic dogma]. … They will allow none to be read but the Doway Bibles, and the Rhemish Testaments, (the corruptions of which have been sufficiently manifested by many learned men,) nor will they trust their people with these without the licence of their own bishops and inquisitors. This is the liberty they boast of giving to any of their religion to read the Scriptures in English; what it is worth let any man judge” (A Commentary on the Holy Bible by Matthew Poole, preface to the first edition, p. v).
It is evident that the Rheims-Douay was produced as part of Rome’s Counter Reformation. It was yet another in that arsenal of tactics that included the awful curses of the Council of Trent and the Inquisition fires that were burning across many parts of Europe.
The Rheims-Douay was a Jesuit production (Eadie, The English Bible, II, p. 127).
In roughly 1850, the Religious Tract Society published The Jesuits: A Historical Sketch. A large portion of a chapter titled “The Jesuits in England” is dedicated to exposing the Jesuit-Douay connection. Two Italian Jesuits were chosen as prefects when the school was moved to Rheims in 1578, and the year following, Pope Gregory endowed the institution (The Jesuits, p. 141). The Jesuits, of course, were the most militant arm of papal power and were raised up expressly to reclaim authority over those who had left the Roman Catholic Church. They were willing to use any tactic towards this end, including deceit, treachery, and assassination.
“The Jesuits were implicated in the assassination of Henry III. of France—planned the Spanish Armada—often contrived the death of Elizabeth of England—invented the Gunpowder plot—instigated the murder of Henry IV. of France—impelled the revocation of the edict of Nantz—ruined James II.—and were commingled with all the atrocities and miseries which desolated Europe during nearly two hundred years. So atrocious, extensive, and continual were their crimes, that they were expelled, either partially or generally, from all the different countries of Europe, at various intervals, prior to the abolution of the order in 1773—THIRTY-NINE TIMES—a fact unparalleled in the history of any other body of men ever known in the world. This is the seal of reprobation stamped upon Jesuitism” (William Callender, Illustrations of Popery, p. 346).
The school that produced the Rheims-Douay was a hotbed of Catholic fanaticism. Agents went out from this school to attempt the destruction of Queen Elizabeth I and her Protestant government (Eadie, History of the English Bible, II, p. 114). William Allen, one of the translators already mentioned, said of Elizabeth I that she was “under God’s and Holy Church’s curse, given up to a reprobate mind, therefore her open enormities and her secret sins must be great and not numerable” (Eadie, II, p. 116).
Guy Fawkes, who attempted to blow up the English parliament in the “Gunpowder Plot,” studied at Douay. He was executed for treason on January 30, 1606.
The 1611 Translators Preface to the King James Bible exposes the duplicity of those who produced the Rheims, noting:
“Now the Church of Rome would seem at the length to bear a motherly affection towards her children, and to allow them the Scriptures in their mother tongue: but indeed it is a gift, not deserving to be called a gift, an unprofitable gift: they must first get a Licence in writing before they may use them, and to get that, they must approve themselves to their Confessor. … Yea, so unwilling they are to communicate the Scriptures to the peoples understanding in any sort, that they are not ashamed to confess, that we forced them to translate it into English against their wills.”
The publishers of the Rheims-Douay admitted that they translated their English version, not because they believed the people should have the Scriptures in their own tongues, or because they believed the Scriptures should be read by all men, but ONLY BECAUSE OF THE TIMES. Consider their own words as they appeared in the original Preface to the Rheims New Testament. We have modernized the spelling but otherwise have changed nothing in the following excerpt:
“Which translation we do not for all that publish, upon erroneous opinion 1 of necessity, that the holy Scriptures should always be in our mother tongue, or 2 that they ought, or were ordained by God, to be read indifferently of all, or 3 could be easily understood of every one that readeth or heareth them in a known language: or 4 that they were not often, through man’s malice or infirmity, pernicious and much hurtful to many: 5 or that we generally and absolutely deemed it more convenient in itself, and more agreeable to God’s word and honor, or edification of the faithful, to have them turned into vulgar tongues, than to be kept and studied only in the Ecclesiastical learned languages: NOT FOR THESE NOR ANY SUCH LIKE CAUSES DO WE TRANSLATE THIS SACRED BOOK, BUT UPON SPECIAL CONSIDERATION OF THE PRESENT TIME, state, and condition of our country, unto which, divers things are either necessary, or profitable and medicinable now, that otherwise in the peace of the Church were neither much requisite, nor perchance wholly tolerable. …
“There upon, the order which many a wise man wished for before, was taken by the Deputies of the late famous Council of Trent in this behalf, and confirmed by supreme authority, that the holy Scriptures, though truly and Catholicly translated into vulgar tongues, yet may not be indifferently read of all men, nor of any other than such as have express licence thereunto of their lawful Ordinaries, with good testimony from their Curates or Confessors, that they be humble, discrete and devout persons, and like to take much good, and no harm thereby. Which prescript, though in these days of ours it can not be so precisely observed, as in other times and places, where there is more due respect of the Church’s authority, rule, and discipline: yet we trust all wise and godly persons will use the matter in the meanwhile, with such moderation, meekness, and subjection of heart, as the handling of so sacred a book, and sincere senses of God’s truth therein, and the holy Canons, Councils, reason, and religion do require” (Preface, Rheims New Testament, printed at Rheims, 1582).
Words could not be plainer. The old Romanists were still set in their ways in the 17th century. They hated the idea of the people having the Bible in their own language. They denied that God’s Word should be accessible to the common man. They claimed authority to decide who could and could not read the Holy Scriptures. They looked back longingly to that long night during which the Roman church had dominated Europe. They bewailed the fact that no longer could Rome rule over the people after the former fashion. They admitted that only the special situation then forced upon them had caused them to produce an English Bible, and that situation, of course, was the multiplication of vernacular versions as an outgrowth of the Protestant Reformation. They had lost dominance; thus they would change tactics and make their own corrupted vernacular Bibles filled with heretical notes, hoping thereby to hinder the reading of pure translations by Catholic people.
Thomas Cartwright, in his Answer to the Preface of the Rhemish New Testament, reviews the history of Rome’s
attitude toward the Bible and its translators, and then makes this observation:
After that, by hiding and burning the Scriptures, by threatening and murdering of men for reading of them, they cannot attain to the causing of such a night of ignorance, wherein they might do all things without controlment: there remained one only engine which Satan (with all his Angels) having framed and hammered upon his lying forge, hath furnished them of. This engine is, THE DEFACING AND DIS-AUTHORIZING OF THE SCRIPTURES, as it were the taking from them their girdle or garter of honour, by a false surmise of corruption of them, in the languages wherein they were first written.
The Rheims was filled with the most vicious sort of commentaries. John Eadie, who looked carefully into the history of the Rheims, and who was himself sympathetic to the Roman Catholic Church in many ways, made the following observation: “The Notes are purely polemical, as if the version had been made to furnish occasion for them. No element of charity breathes in them, no compassion for poor non-Catholics; heretics and Protestants are assailed on every page, and their sins are educed from the text, often by the most ingenious inferences, or are connected with it by an invisible film of gossamer. Fury and indignation are poured upon them, and they are overwhelmed with scathing invective, and terrible menace—exposure to the worst of penalties on earth, and unutterable retributions in the world to come” (Eadie, History of the English Bible, II, p. 129).
Consider, for example, the note in the Rheims on Matthew 13:29 – “Heretics may be punished and suppressed, and may and ought, by public authority, either spiritual or temporal, to be chastised or executed.”
And on Revelation 17:6 – “But the blood of Protestants is not called the blood of saints, no more than the blood of thieves, man-killers, and other malefactors; for the shedding of which, by the order of justice, no commonwealth shall answer.”
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