Did the Catholic Church Try to Suppress the Bible?

Shortly before I left for Rome, I ran into a group of Baptists preaching on the street corner. I went over to greet them, because I know from experience how tough public evangelization can be. I was wearing a Roman collar, so they were quick to hand me a tract claiming that Catholics aren’t Christians.

One of the men told me that Catholics weren’t saved because we believe that Baptism saves us. I had him read 1 Peter 3:21 outloud and try to explain how that doesn’t say that Baptism saves us. He was visibly surprised by the verse, and suggested maybe it only applied to Jews. He then changed the subject: didn’t I know that the Catholic Church had all sorts of unbiblical doctrines, and had covered this up by keeping the Bible in Latin, and out of the hands of ordinary believers?

This is a common accusation. Once it becomes clear that Catholics can defend the Church’s teachings from Scripture, many opponents of the Catholic Church will stop debating Scripture, and start debating history. And because neither side tends to know what they’re talking about, this tends to be an unproductive debate. So today, I want to consider one of the most common accusations: that, in the run up to the Reformation, the Catholic Church was suppressing Sacred Scripture, and trying to keep it (and the Gospel) out of the hands of ordinary believers.

I. The Accusation

The standard objection goes something like this: the Reformation was necessary because the Catholic Church had all sorts of unbiblical doctrines; and it took years for people to know this, because the Church prohibited people from reading the Bible to find out what it really said. To keep people from comparing Church teachings to the Bible, the Church required all Bibles to be in Latin.

It wasn’t until Luther that the Bible was translated into the common language. Even after this, those who tried to get Bibles into the hands of ordinary people (or in ordinary language) were burnt at the stake. Until these brave Protestants thwarted the Catholic conspiracy against the Bible, the pre-Reformation Catholic was a superstitious peasant with little knowledge of Scripture.

There are variations on this “history,” some versions more conspiratorial than others. But that’s the general outline… and it’s almost completely false.

II. Setting the Record Straight

There are two major points that the objectors get right: namely, that Bibles before the Reformation were typically in Latin, and that most ordinary people didn’t have access to Bibles. But there are obvious reasons for this. First, for most of the history prior to the Reformation, the written language for /virtually everything was Latin, and reading and writing in Latin was taught in school. For much of that time, it was also the language commonly spoken by ordinary people.

1. The Bible was in Latin for the sake of the people.

In the ancient world, it wasn’t unusual to speak one language, and write in another. For Protestants to criticize this is to betray a lack of historical understanding, and to attack the Evangelists. Remember that at the time of Christ, there were a wide variety of spoken languages throughout the Roman Empire, as Acts 2:5-8 makes clear. Yet the New Testament was written in Greek, not each local vernacular. Why? Because Greek was the standard written language. If you were literate, there was a good chance that, regardless of what you spoke, you read Greek.

By the fourth century, the standard written language in the West was Latin. This was also the language that most Westerners spoke. To respond to this shift, Pope Damasus ordered the Bible to be translated from the now-inaccessible Greek into more accessible Latin. As a result, this Bible became known as the Vulgate, because it was designed to reach the “vulgar” (common) people.

In other words, the Bible wasn’t in Latin to be inaccessible, but so that any literate Western European could read it. Even as Latin gradually devolved into French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, Latin remained the standard language for writing. That the Bible was in Latin rather than the local dialects is no more surprising than that modern Protestants prefer the King James Bible over a Bible written in, say, a southern dialect or Ebonics or Australian.

Latin also ensured that you could reach people who didn’t speak your local dialect. Having Latin as the standard language meant, for example, that St. Thomas Aquinas (an Italian) could learn under St. Albert the Great (a German) at the University of Paris, in France. The universality of Latin is also why many of the most famous writings of the Reformers, like John Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion, were written in Latin.

2. The Catholic Church Invented an Entire Alphabet to Spread the Bible.
The Galgolitic alphabet

Latin, as I mentioned, was the norm for the Western half of the Church, particularly in the former Roman Empire. For the Eastern half, Greek remained the norm. But what about those areas that hadn’t been in the Roman Empire, and didn’t speak either? Often, the Scriptures and Christian writings would be translated into the local language.

Sometimes, this involved truly extraordinary efforts. For example, in the ninth century, St. Cyril and Methodius, with the support of Pope Nicholas I and Pope Adrian II,  went to convert a number of Eastern Europeans who hadn’t heard the Gospel.

They quickly discovered that, not only did these people not speak Greek or Latin, but they didn’t even have a written language. So Cyril and Methodius invented an entire alphabet for them, called the Glagolitic alphabet. They did this so that they could have a written language, and so that they could receive the Scriptures. A descendant of that alphabet, fittingly called called “Cyrillic” in honor of St. Cyril, is used by a quarter-billion Eastern Europeans and Russians to this day. Does that sound like a Church that hates Scripture, and wants to keep it out of the hands of ordinary people? I’d gladly take the Church’s track record here and compare it with those who have named themselves “Bible Christians”: who has actually done more to spread the Gospel and the Scriptures?

3. Most People Didn’t Have Bibles Because of Technology, Not Conspiracy.

While it’s true that most people didn’t have a household Bible prior to the Reformation, that’s because (1) hand-printed, hand-copied Bibles were extremely time-consuming (and expensive) to produce prior to the printing press, and (2) ordinary Europeans were often illiterate. Gutenberg first invented the printing press in the 15th century, not long before the Reformation. And one of the very first mass-printed works he started to churn out was, you guessed it, the Latin Vulgate.

The whole idea an ordinary Christian is qualified to fact-check Church teachings against his personal reading of his family Bible is a novelty that would have been unthinkable prior to the printing press.

4. Ordinary Believers Still Heard and Knew Scripture.

Given that many people didn’t have a Bible, and couldn’t have read it if they did, how did the know what the Scriptures said? Through the Church. Ironically, this is the way of encountering Scripture that Scripture itself calls for. Revelation 1:3 says, “Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophesy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein; for the time is near.” One person getting up and reading Scripture within the hearing of the gathered believers, adding an explanation needed to make sure the people understand it: that’s the Scriptural norm.

It’s what Moses does in Exodus 24:7, it’s what he instructs the Levites (the Old Testament priests) to do in Deuteronomy 31:9-11, it’s what Joshua does in Joshua 8:34-35, it’s what we the Levites do in Nehemiah 8:7-8 (the Levites “helped the people understand the law, while the people remained in their places,” by reading “from the book, from the law of God, clearly; and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”), and it’s what Jesus does in Luke 4:15-22 when He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath to publicly read and interpret Isaiah.

It’s why St. James says that “from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues” in Acts 15:21. It’s why St. Paul says to the Colossians, “when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you read also the letter from Laodicea” (Col. 4:16). And to the Thessalonians: “I adjure you by the Lord that this letter be read to all the brethren” (1 Thes. 5:27). And it’s why he instructs Timothy to “attend to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim. 4:13). This notion that Scripture is meant to be read and interpreted privately is both ahistorical and unscriptural.

Still, as modern Christians, we might wonder: how well did the ordinary believer really know Scripture? It turns out, quite well. There have been several recent works showing this: for example, Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580 looks at pre-Reformation popular devotions, and finds that the ordinary English believer understood Scripture and Church teachings better than you might think.

But there’s an obvious witness to this truth that we can easily overlook: religious art. Why is art so important? Because as Pope St. Gregory I said, “images are the books of the unlearned,” a saying so well-known by the time of the Reformation that John Calvin felt the need to respond to it directly in his Institutes.

And what did this religious art say to laypeople then about Scripture? And what does it say to us today about the beliefs of the pre-Reformation Church?

III. What We Can Learn from the Illiterate’s Bible.

There are several places to look for beautiful religious art, but I’m going to use some examples from where I am right now: Umbria, in central Italy. While we’ve been studying in Assisi, a few of us went on a daylong excursion to nearby Perugia (the capital of the state of Umbria). There, we went to the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, which features local Umbrian art, much of it from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. A lot of this art was at the local monasteries or in parish churches. So if you want an insight into the religious life of Catholics immediately prior to the Reformation, this is a good place to start.

A number of the paintings were striking, but for several reasons, this one really jumped out at me:

Let’s consider three aspects of this painting, and those like it:

1. Scriptural Literacy.

One point, almost too obvious to mention, is that these paintings are frequently of scenes from Scripture: with a little effort, you can find reference to virtually every Book of the Bible, and to virtually every major event in the life of Christ. Here, the painting is of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38). So these paintings served a clear catechetical role, in that they reminded people of the Scriptures that they heard proclaimed. As Pope St. Gregory said, “what writing presents to readers, this a picture presents to the unlearned who behold, since in it even the ignorant see what they ought to follow; in it the illiterate read.

They also reflect the Scriptural literacy of the painters, of course: the painters include details that suggest that they have a thorough knowledge of Scripture, down to the finest points. In the painting above, we find St. Luke, with an ox behind him, sitting at the feet of the Virgin Mary. What’s going on here? In Revelation 4:6-7, we see an image of “four living creatures” before the throne of God: a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle. The earliest Christians (including St. Irenaeus, in the second century) recognized this as a reference to the four Evangelists and the four Gospels. Typically, Luke was associated with the ox or calf. As St. Augustine explained, this is fitting, because the calf was “the pre-eminent sacrifice made by the priest,” and St. Luke’s Gospel features the priesthood prominently:

For in that Gospel the narrator’s account commences with Zacharias the priest. In it mention is also made of the relationship between Mary and Elisabeth. In it, too, it is recorded that the ceremonies proper to the earliest priestly service were attended to in the case of the infant Christ; and a careful examination brings a variety of other matters under our notice in this Gospel, by which it is made apparent that Luke’s object was to deal with the part of the priest. 

So, Luke is associated with the sacrificial calf, because his Gospel highlights Christ’s connection to the priesthood.

But why is Luke here, at the Annunciation? Because the details of the Annunciation are only recorded by St. Luke (they’re alluded to by St. Matthew, but he doesn’t give details). Luke’s Gospel records the events of Christ’s conception, birth, and childhood from Mary’s perspective. He’s the one, for example, who says that “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19; Luke 2:51), and Luke mentions Mary more often than every other Scriptural writer combined. He lets us catch a glimpse into Mary’s heart, and the reason seems to be that he sat with her and listened to her tell the Gospel in her own words. This painting captures that: we can see Mary “painting the picture” of the Annunciation, while St. Luke writes everything down. Thus, the painting doesn’t reflect a Biblically-ignorant Church, but one with an intimate familiarity with the Gospels.

2. Theological Sophistication.

Not only is this religious artwork Biblically-literate, it’s theologically sophisticated. Look at the interplay of the Three Persons of the Trinity: the Father is seen breathing forth the Spirit to overshadow Mary with the Son. Mary, for her part, is presented as a Tabernacle. If you’re not familiar, the tabernacle is where the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, is reposed. To imagine what a tabernacle in Umbria would have looked like during the fourteenth or fifteen century, look at this (from the same gallery):

The tabernacle itself isn’t present here, but this is where it would have gone: in that ambo-shaped semi-circle. Now look at where the painter has placed Mary in the above painting: in the spot where the tabernacle normally is. This turns out to be a common theme in art from the period; for example, we find Mary in the pace of a tabernacle (seated on an altar!) here:

and here:

and (more subtly) here:

The Tabernacle contains Jesus; at the Annunciation, Mary became the tabernacle for Christ’s Incarnation. This religious artwork is expressing that clearly, if subtly. So just as the religious art is Biblically-literate, it’s also theologically orthodox and sophisticated. Finally…

3. The Importance of Scripture.

We’ve already considered the extensive knowledge of Scripture required to make the sort of art we’re seeing here. But perhaps even more to the point, this religious artwork, aimed at the very masses that Catholics were supposedly keeping the Bible from, repeatedly encourages the reading of Scripture. Look at Mary at the Annunciation in the first picture: she’s reading the Scriptures. This, too, is a repeated theme:

Here, it almost looks like she’s holding her place in the Bible so that she can start reading again after the Angel Gabriel leaves:

And here, we see almost all of the elements we’ve looked at so far, wrapped into one:

Take a closer look:

She’s not only reading Scripture (probably the Psalms), she’s got several other Scriptures within arm’s reach.

Of course, this isn’t confined to images of the Annunciation: Scripture is featured throughout all sorts of religious art. The Evangelists are presented holding up the Scriptures that they wrote: for example, St. Paul is almost always presented holding a Book, to represent his many contributions to the New Testament. Later Saints are presented reading Scriptures, and writing their great spiritual works. But there’s a particular connection being made here, between Mary’s conceiving of the word of God in her heart through the reading of Sacred Scripture, and her conception of the Word of God at the Annunciation.

So here, in art inside the ordinary churches that ordinary Catholics attended weekly (or even daily), in art directed to the masses of believers, we see the Church reminding everyone of the importance of Sacred Scripture.

Conclusion

Rather than hiding the Scriptures from the masses of ordinary Catholic believers, we see the Church (1) presenting the Scriptures through religious art, (2) explaining them through sound theology, and (3) encouraging the reading of Scripture.

This is the same Church that has, for the last two thousand years, spread the Gospel to the four corners of the earth, proclaiming the Name of Jesus Christ to all nations… even if it takes creating an entirely new alphabet and written language to do so. And we’re to believe that all of this is part of a conspiracy to hide the Gospel from people?

P.S. I took all of those photos at the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria in Perugia, Italy, on Saturday. If you want to see the full set, you can find about 160 photos of religious art from the region here.

32 Comments

  1. It’s all ahistorical rubbish. Where the people spoke Greek, the Bible was in Greek. Where the people spoke Syriac, the Bible was in Syriac. Where the people spoke Latin, the Bible was in Latin. Where the people spoke Coptic Greek, the Bible was in Coptic Greek. Where the people spoke Armenian, the Bible was in Armenian (for which an alphabet had to be invented). Speaking of inventing alphabets, Ulfilas (technically a semi-Arian) invented the Gothic alphabet for their Bible, and Cyril and Methodius invented the precursor to Cyrillic as you pointed out for their Bible. And let’s not forget English translations! The Lindisfarne and Wessex Gospels preceded Wycliffe by centuries, and Bede’s work preceded those translations by centuries as well.

    Could Latins have done more to prevent the Reformation? In hindsight, they should have been cranking out German, Swiss, French, and English Bibles and Liturgies as fast as possible.

    But it’s nothing but butchering history to make the claim that the Catholic Church has a history of making the Bible secret because a couple of rebellious dolts couldn’t translate their way out of a paper bag and were rightly condemned by the Church.

    And anyway, where did these Protestants get their GREEK manuscripts to do their own vulgar translations??? From the Catholic priest Erasmus!

  2. “hand-printed, hand-copied Bibles were extremely time-consuming (and expensive) to produce prior to the printing press,”

    And cheap paper. Don’t forget cheap paper. When a monastery wanted to make a new book, the first consideration was: how many ewes do we have to breed? Then we get so many lambs, which yield so many sheepskins, from which we get so many pages.

    Without a large flock of sheep, obviously futile.

  3. I’ve heard the argument that in most recent history Catholics were told (by Sister so-and-so) not to read the Bible. I’m thinking during the 50s/60s. I’m not sure where this came from. Do you have a any idea? My mother-in-law keeps bringing this claim up from personal experience and I’ve never heard of this before. Perhaps she was taught by a misinformed Sister. Course I had a Bishop at my confirmation tell us to read the Bible 5 minutes (at least) every day. So to me it’s completely foreign.

    1. I must observe that it is not obligatory on Catholics to read the Bible. A Catholic, after due consideration and prayer, may conclude that he is one of those souls that Peter mentions in his epistle, who would go astray if he read them on his own. That may have gotten warped.

    2. How would that person know what Peter mentions in his epistle if he never read the Bible? 😉

      Maybe, but I think think that simply abstaining from Scripture isn’t an option for a Catholic…

      The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful… to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8). “For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” – Dei Verbum (25)

      “Holy Scripture is a stream in which the elephant may swim and the lamb may wade.” – Pope St. Gregory

    3. My mother said this to me in the early 60’s. “Don’t read the Bible on your own WITHOUT GUIDANCE. That’s what the Protestants do and they come up with all kinds of interpretations.”

      I give everyone the same advice today. The Scriptures must be understood in the light of Sacred Tradition. If that anchor is missing, the interpretation will be false.

    4. > He could be taught it.

      He SHOULD be taught it! 🙂

      > I give everyone the same advice today. The Scriptures must be understood in the light of Sacred Tradition. If that anchor is missing, the interpretation will be false.

      While I agree with this, I think it’s too easily used as an excuse for remaining in Scriptural ignorance. This results in people being starved of the Sacred Page, rather than being fed by it.

      I guess my question is “What does this guidance look like?”. Does it mean you need a priest? A catechist? Not necessarily – I’ve heard terrible exegesis from both in the past. A good study series can do wonders. I’d suggest that if someone has the Igantius Press Catholic Study Bible, they can’t go too far wrong.

    5. Hello RP,

      While I agree with this, I think it’s too easily used as an excuse for remaining in Scriptural ignorance. This results in people being starved of the Sacred Page, rather than being fed by it.

      I’m not an ex-Protestant. So, I’m not as enamored by the idea of personal Scripture reading as so many Protestant converts to Catholicism seem to be.

      “Why not?”, you might ask. Well, because in my opinion, there are too many places which the “unlearned” can misunderstand (2 Pet 3:16).

      I am a rever to Catholicism. And when I came back, Scripture was still gibberish to me. I learned the meaning of Scripture, not from Scripture, but from reading the stories of the Saints and by reading predigested Scripture from the likes of living saints like Scott Hahn, Stephen Ray and other Catholic Scripture experts.

      I guess my question is “What does this guidance look like?”.

      For me? St. Therese Lisieux, “The Story of a Soul”. St. Faustina, “The Dvine Mercy”. St. Louis Maire De Montfort, St. Alphonsus Marie De Liguori, Scott Hahn’s books, etc.

      Does it mean you need a priest?

      Yes. The Mass is a beautiful place to learn Scripture, one day at a time.

      A catechist?

      Certainly. The Church offers many classes. At least, mine does. I’m sure they do all over the world.

      Not necessarily

      Some things are not absolutely necessary. They say that St. Theresa of Avila was infused much knowledge. So were many other saints. But most of us need to learn. And it is better to be guided through that learning.

      Scripture says:
      Acts 8:29-31King James Version (KJV)

      29 Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.

      30 And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?

      31 And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.

      – I’ve heard terrible exegesis from both in the past.

      Was it against Catholic Teaching? Or did you simply disagree with the message? Sometimes, when I think I hear terrible exegesis, I find out that it is merely my natural abhorrence to the Truth.

      A good study series can do wonders

      I love this one.

      I’d suggest that if someone has the Igantius Press Catholic Study Bible, they can’t go too far wrong.

      I agree. But I’d still prefer someone who can interpret the language, the culture, the underlying circumstances offering guidance.

      Let me give you an example. This simple phrase in Matt 16:18 was enlightened for me a thousand fold by Scott Hahn when he explained the geographical location where these words were spoken. Apparently, Caesarea Philippi, is a location where a giant stone exists. It is so large that the Romans put a temple to one of their gods upon it. And at the base of the Rock, a river used to flow in and go underground. It was regarded as the river to the netherworld (i.e. hell).

      Wow! I would have never known that on my own. Suddenly, the words of that verse came to life.

      Matthew 16:18

      18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

      Sincerely,

      De Maria

    6. I largely agree, the Bible study series you suggest is great and I think we’re on the same page as to resources. However, which of the following do you think more accurately describes the majority of Catholics?

      1. Most Catholics are Biblically illiterate
      2. Most Catholics read the Bible by themselves and thereby become heretics

      I think (1) describes the situation far more readily. I feel like we’re in far more danger of Biblical illiteracy rather than theological novum.

      >> – I’ve heard terrible exegesis from both in the past.
      > Was it against Catholic Teaching? Or did you simply disagree with the message?

      Everything and in-between. I’ve heard the Feeding of the Five Thousand be explained away as the miracle of the sharing, I’ve heard untempered modern redaction scholarship about all the books of Scripture. I’ve also heard just really weak feelings-based exegesis.

      The point I was trying make was that simply because a Bible study is run my a priest or a “trained” catechist, there’s no guarantee of orthodoxy. Even if it was, pastors have a lot of work to do and can’t micromanage every parishioner.

      What I would like to see is a culture where Scripture reading is far more encouraged and solid resources are given to the faithful in order to do it (like the ones you suggested). Until that happens, the status quo will continue. “The Catholics have the Eucharist and the Protestants have the Bible. The Protestants may have the Menu, but the Catholics have the Meal”. If more Catholics read the Menu they might appreciate mealtimes more and the Food which they eat…

    7. Restless PilgrimAugust 12, 2014 at 6:38 PM
      I largely agree, the Bible study series you suggest is great and I think we’re on the same page as to resources. However, which of the following do you think more accurately describes the majority of Catholics?

      1. Most Catholics are Biblically illiterate
      2. Most Catholics read the Bible by themselves and thereby become heretics

      .

      I think we agree on a great deal. But we don’t share the same concern about 1 and 2.

      1. Biblical illiteracy is the least of my worries. I’m more concerned about Doctrinal and moral literacy.
      2. Catholics reading the Bible by themselves. There’s no danger of that at this time, in my opinion. 😉

      I think (1) describes the situation far more readily. I feel like we’re in far more danger of Biblical illiteracy rather than theological novum

      I’m of another opinion. I believe we are in great danger of theological novum because of Catholic illiteracy period. Ask a Catholic what the Immaculate Conception means.

      Here was my answer when someone asked me that question 30 years ago. “The birth of Jesus Christ.”

      And guess what? I was the only Catholic in the room who had an answer, at all. I changed since then, tremendously. But I doubt that any of the other Catholics in that room changed much at all.

      Reading the Bible without guidance is not going to resolve this problem.

      Everything and in-between. I’ve heard the Feeding of the Five Thousand be explained away as the miracle of the sharing, I’ve heard untempered modern redaction scholarship about all the books of Scripture. I’ve also heard just really weak feelings-based exegesis.

      Yes. And I know, from first hand experience, that some purported Catholics teach the right to contracept, the idea that one can sin and then go to confession, the idea that one can miss the Mass whenever they want and many other weird things.

      The point I was trying make was that simply because a Bible study is run my a priest or a “trained” catechist, there’s no guarantee of orthodoxy. Even if it was, pastors have a lot of work to do and can’t micromanage every parishioner.

      I’d like to see a culture of “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19).”

      And

      “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2 ).

      What I would like to see is a culture where Scripture reading is far more encouraged and solid resources are given to the faithful in order to do it (like the ones you suggested). Until that happens, the status quo will continue. “The Catholics have the Eucharist and the Protestants have the Bible. The Protestants may have the Menu, but the Catholics have the Meal”. If more Catholics read the Menu they might appreciate mealtimes more and the Food which they eat…

      The Bible is not the menu. Sacred Tradition is the menu. The Bible is merely a portion of Sacred Tradition.

  4. One of the men told me that Catholics weren’t saved because we believe that Baptism saves us.

    Out of all the parts of Scripture… They pick the most unambiguous part to talk to you about…?

    Matthew 28:19:

    “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”

    That’s the one, single direct order from Jesus Christ, on which there should be no dissent or questioning whatsoever from anyone who claims the title “Christian” (or “Nazarene” if you happen to be unlucky enough to live in parts of Iraq at the moment…)

    Good article.

    1. A large portion of my family is Baptist so I hazard to guess that the argument was about accepting Christ as your savior. That’s the big emphasis. Baptism is secondary, in their worldview, to belief. In other words, Catholics aren’t saved because they don’t accept Jesus into their heart. Which is in itself an absurd argument. We accept Jesus physically and spiritually every Sunday. Joe could probably clarify. I’ve tried pointing out the portions of scripture to people, but they ignore it completely. Odd considering they are told to read the Bible often.

    2. Deltaflute,

      John 3:5 is actually what started us down that road: he asked if we were born again, and I said yes, in Baptism, and tried to explain the meaning and context of that verse.

    3. Outside of it being ones upbringing or ones culture, I’ve never understood the logic behind being Baptist. They base their beliefs on baptism as being symbolic and not part of salvation, which is very clearly contrary to Scripture. As Restless Pilgrim said its a glaring blindspot. The whole “born again” thing is very muddled compared to other evangelicals who usually understand its meaning.

      I also don’t understand their logic when it comes to Original sin and children dying before receiving baptism (or accepting Jesus per their view). I’ve read conflicting accounts about why young children who die are part of the elect so I’m not sure how they can arrive at a place of definitive security. Even the Church admits we can only hope but have no way of knowing.

      Okay. Ending rant now. Its really a personal and sore subject with me. Particularly since Catholics where I grew up were viewed with suspicion and animosity. I gave up trying to be reasonable. People simply will not believe what you, a practicing Catholic believes, they want to tell you what you believe, which is often wrong. So frustrating. I at least give people the benefit to clarify their beliefs. I don’t assume anything.

      And those Chick tracts. Total head scratcher. The text is so arrogant. “I know that I’m saved” -attitude. Wow, had no idea that you could order God about. /sarcasm

    4. What about Mark 16:16?

      And about that “born again” thing. How is it they don’t believe they are truly regenerated and made children of God, but they are always talking about “being born again”? All Protestants do that. They’re always talking about being regenerated and being born again, but, in reality, they believe they are “snow covered dung heaps.”!?

    5. > They’re always talking about being regenerated and being born again, but, in reality, they believe they are “snow covered dung heaps.”!?

      That’ll make for one stinky Heaven…

    6. Cale BT,

      Interesting. Wesley was as much against Protestants as he was against Catholicism. But that doesn’t make him right. That just makes him rebellious.

      He is right in condemning the lasciviousness of faith alone. But he is wrong in condemning penances and sacrifices of a devout Catholic.

      Scripture says:
      Luke 11:41 But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you.

      And again:
      James 1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

      Yeah and amen, the Catholic Church is infallible and teaches the Doctrines of all mighty God without error. We don’t substitute penances, pilgrimages, praying to saints and angels; and, masses for the dead, absolution by a Priest, and extreme unction for holiness. Those works are the deeds done by men seeking holiness.

      That article by Wesley reminds me of the Pharisee in the temple.

      Luke 18:
      9 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:

      10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

      11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

      12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

      13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

      14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

      Who did Wesley think he was to sit back and despise everyone?

      Here is what Scripture says:
      Matthew 7:2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

      Yeah, I hope he had all his i’s dotted and his t’s crossed. Cause things might be getting kinda hot where he is at, if he didn’t.

      Sincerely,

      De Maria

  5. I would like to save Seminarian Joe the time by summarizing our typical discussion on such a topic for you all now. Why save time? Joe has better things to do than waste his time arguing with me. He could be enjoying the art in Rome, working hard on his course work, or enjoying an Americano at street corner cafe as my stereotypical view of Roman life would be. So here we go:

    Me “Dear Joe, thank you for your post. Thank you for arguing with the Baptists on the street corner. I wish I could have seen that! Your best argument about actual translations were several centuries before the Reformation. I am concerned that you have whitewashed church history to make the Roman church look good. My first reaction is how the church persecuted Wycliffe and Tyndale for translating the Bible into English.”

    Joe, “Dear Rev. Hans, Wycliffe and Tyndale are not good examples of the church persecuting Bible translators. First, these men were persecuted for their heretical theology and not because they translated the Bible. They went off the Protestant deep end and attacked the Pope, the King, and all the Saints in heaven. Second, these men were not killed by the church. Wycliffe died of natural causes at a ripe old age. Tyndale was killed by the civil authorities because he criticized the King of England. Their “persecution” as you call it was a political issue and not a religious one.”

    Me, “Dear Joe, the separation of civil and religious laws back were not clean or clear. The church encouraged the King to persecute these men. After Wycliffe, it was a crime to have an English translation of the Bible. The church was so mad at Wycliffe that they had a council to denounce his views after he already died, a postmortem declaration of heresy, and exhumed his body just to destroy his remains out of spite. The church could have support these men in their translation work, or at least pleaded with the king not to make having an English Bible a crime!!!! This is where the genesis of this whole idea comes from. The church did not help the translation work but rather make it a crime. History shows us when people start translation work, they will naturally challenge the teachings of the church. Erasmus was smart enough to not translate his Greek and Hebrew. Erasmus was also smart enough to know what history showed of the people who translated the Bible and then challenged the church from their translation. Erasmus 1, Wycliffe 0, Tyndale 0, and Huss 0”

    Joe “Dear Rev. Hans, your Lutheranism is showing again. Just because someone translates the Bible it does not mean that they will challenge the teachings of the church. [Joe mentions several faithful traditionalist Catholic scholars here] The church was just defending the doctrines held since the early church fathers. [Joe inserts several links to early church father posts here] These men were killed for heretical teachings, not for translating the Bible.”

    There you have a typical discussion between Seminarian Joe and me on such a topic. I hope this is not a straw-man fallacy. The good news is that we all have more time to enjoy coffee!

    1. Rev. Hans,

      First of all, that was hilarious. Well played, my friend.

      Second, it’s clear that you know both sides of the argument well, so I have only a few points to add.

      A) There were several Biblical translations into Old English, although there are few during the Middle English period in which Wycliffe wrote. So there was no principled opposition to vernacular Bibles. In the context of England, there’s an entire other dimension at work, due to the Norman invasion: many of the literate (e.g., the nobility), read French and Latin, so we find Bibles in both of those languages, rather than the English spoken by the peasants.

      B) You have the causal connection between heresy and vernacular Bibles reversed. It’s not that these people started translating the Bible into the vernacular, and suddenly discovered new theological ideas. It’s that they held to unorthodox theological ideas first and, once they had departed from the mainstream, wanted to translate the Bible into the vernacular (with their own particular spin on translation, and their own footnotes) to propagate these ideas. Unfortunately, vernacular Bibles were a tool of those who had already rejected orthodox Catholicism, and it’s likely this connection (at least in part) that led to something of a backlash against the idea of vernacular Bibles.

      C) Despite this trepidation about vernacular Bibles, the Church in England at the time was interested in catechizing people and teaching them Scripture (and as Duffy’s book shows, they did a largely good job of this). As Daniel said, “Could Latins have done more to prevent the Reformation? In hindsight, they should have been cranking out German, Swiss, French, and English Bibles and Liturgies as fast as possible.” If orthodox Catholics had taken the initiative in translating the Bible into then-modern English during this period, it would likely have taken a lot of steam out of popular heretics like Wycliffe and Tyndale (both of whom preached doctrines that I think we would both agree are heretical).

      Finally, I don’t drink Americano. I drink caffè (that is, espresso) or sometimes caffè macchiato. I don’t have time for Americano. 🙂

      I.X.,

      Joe

    2. Restless Pilgrim,

      I thought about mentioning that after I’d already written. This period of history shows a rapid fluctuation in the English language: the English of Wycliffe is virtually unrecognizable, even compared to the English of King James. For example, here’s a passage of Wycliffe’s that I cite to in the book that I’m working on, in which he outlines his view of the Church (and his argument that Judas wasn’t really an Apostle):

      “And as Judas was a þef and no mebre of Crist, ne pert of holy Churche, þouȝ he mynistride þe ordre of bischopod, but was a devel of helle, as Crist seiþ in þe gospel, so ȝif þes worldly clerkis schullen be dampned for here cursed synnes, as coveitise ypocrisie symonye and dispeir, as Judas was, þei ben fendis of helle and no Cristene men, ne membris of Crist, ne pert of holy Chirche.”

      I.X.,

      Joe

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