Expert Answer Forum

Bibles QUESTION from Susan Hoerauf November 14, 1999 Please explain why the early church forbid the people to own bibles or to even read them.
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin on November 19, 1999 Dear Mrs Hoerauf
Before I get to the gist of my post, I would like to address use of the phrase early Church. Normally the phrase is reserved to describe the period before the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea (325 A.D.), or before the Fall of the Roman Empire (476 A.D.) I point this out because normally, when the issue of Bible-reading is raised, it is in reference to the Medieval period.
I mostly answered that question in a post entitled Bible prohibited. To summarize, the Church sometimes forbade the possession of heretical Bibles in the Middle Ages because heretics, notably the Cathars, were perceived as a threat to the social order. Bibles were used to spread heresy; they were mistranslated or heretical glosses were included in the text to guide the reader. It was therefore necessary to keep these Bibles from being distributed.
There were orthodox vernacular translations of the Bible available, but generally speaking their cost and rarity made them difficult to access. Nevertheless, the popular classes could learn about Scripture through art, drama, literature and from people who could read-- literate members of their family and priests.
In late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, the Bible was available to anyone who could read. Latin, Greek, Coptic and Syriac. These were some of the major languages of the Roman Empire. Admittedly, only a minority of people could read them. On the other hand, a man who was lucky enough to gain a formal education almost certainly learned how to read Latin or Greek. Those who could not read learned about the faith orally in their own languages. There is some speculation that St. Irenaues of Lyons preached to his flock in Gaulish, the local native language, and that St. Augustine preached in Punic.
God Bless, Suzanne
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