Expert Answer Forum
Did the Church forbid reading the Bible? QUESTION from YannickC August 31, 2000 I just read on a French forum, a poster saying that the Catholic Church forbade reading Bible during a long time.
Even if I know that protestants contributed to make usual the reading and studying of the Bible, I'd like to know if this assertion the Catholic Church forbad the reading of the Bible is true.
Thank you very much in advance Suzanne for your response.
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin, B.A. on September 2, 2000 Dear Mrs. Yannick
The Church has never forbidden people to read the Bible.
Nonetheless, local churches did ban vernacular translations, usually because they were undertaken by heretics, or because certain versions included glosses that were considered heretical.
I know of one situation in which all vernacular versions were banned. This occurred in Spain in 1559. The Inquisition banned all vernacular translations of the Bible in an index of Prohibited books.
In 1554, the Inquisition identified 65 editions of unlicensed Bibles from Lyon, Paris and Antwerp, areas associated with heresy. The number of unlicensed Bibles was considerable. Bible reading in the vernacular became associated with heresy.
In response to this, the Inquisition issued an Index of Prohibited books which included all vernacular translations. As with many things regarding the Inquisition, its negative effects were vastly exaggerated. For one thing, the majority of Spaniards could not read. Those that could did not necessarily read well. And if one managed to obtain enough education to learn to read, one also learned how to read Latin. If the Church had been intent on dissuading people from reading the Bible entirely, the Vulgate itself would have been banned.
Rather, the Spanish Church was intent on making sure that the uneducated were not duped into Protestantism by an individualist reading of the Bible, nor by bad translations, or by the glosses that accompanied these translations. It is easy for us to criticize the Church, because we have easy access to Bibles and all sorts of information, including Church teaching, to know what the Bible says. However, this was not the case for the average Spaniard.
Whenever people make such claims, just ask them to justify their positions by presenting evidence. If they don't, then there is no reason to take them seriously. Where possible and productive, demonstrate the opposite thesis. The Catholics of fifteenth century Spain knew the Bible better than most people do today. The Bible was their mass media. In the 21st century, we are bombarded with advertisements, TV shows, magazines, newspapers, all repeating the same themes and messages. In Early Modern Europe, a Catholic was bombarded with biblical themes in the same way, whether through poetry, painting, sculpture, engravings, picture books, song, drama, etc., and this, despite the fact that the majority was illiterate. And Protestants did the exact same thing for its illiterate faithful. Though Protestantism greatly increased the desire for literacy, not all Protestants could read, or read very well, and for them, there were also poems, songs, picture books, simplified translations of the Bible, etc.
When people make the criticism that the Church banned the Bible, they're not really criticizing the ban. They're criticizing an ulterior argument: whether it be that the Church repressed the true church [sic] or she persecuted free thought. This is the real issue, and in debating non-Catholics, the real issue should be brought to the fore so that you don't waste time on arguing side issues. This way, you can debate the theological and philosophical merits of Protestantism or Free Thought.
Thank you for your question.
God Bless, Suzanne Fortin
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