The Bible is a Catholic Book, Part Six
Are Catholics Allowed to Read The Bible?
For years, some gullible people have believed that the Catholic Church is opposed to the Bible and does not want Catholics to read it.
How anyone can believe such a thing is difficult to understand in the face of the fact that it was the Catholic Church which gave the Bible to the world.
Christ Himself established His Church for the specific purpose of teaching His truth to the generations to come (Matthew 18:19) (I Timothy, 4:11). To do so has been the constant and unvarying purpose of the Catholic Church since the times of the Apostles. Approves Bible Reading The Church always has pointed to the Scriptures as containing the written Word of God. This was true when the Scriptures were written in the original Hebrew and Greek, and is true today where translations into the modern languages are substantially correct and complete. There never has been a decree of the Catholic Church against the reading of the Scriptures in the languages in which they were composed.
The Church approves the reading of the Bible but does not permit Catholics the free use of any and every modern translation of the Bible. That is a different question altogether, and it has an answer which is both reasonable and consistent.
It is the duty of the Church to see that the people receive the true and unadulterated teaching of Christ. A translation of the Bible can be an accurate, exact and fair rendering of the original, or it can be inaccurate, inexact and' in many passages misleading and out of harmony with the original. The Church has never forbidden the reading of the Bible in approved translations, but has definitely condemned the reading of imperfect, misleading and pernicious translations
Quotations are often made from decrees of the Catholic Church prohibiting the use of the Bible in modern languages. But, on examination, it will be found that these prohibitions were not concerned with the Bible itself, but with translations which, for one reason or another, were defective and dangerous.
Such restrictions did not exist until the need became apparent in the 13th century. And after that time, with the invention of printing and the resulting multiplication of Bibles, the need for regulation became more important when any Tom, Dick and Harry could publish his version of the Holy Book.
Speaking of early non-Catholic English translations, Disraeli complained: "... we find abundant errors, reducing the text to nonsense or to blasphemy, making the Scriptures contemptible to the multitude who came to pray and not to scoff." There was good reason behind the rules of the Catholic Church prohibiting the use of translations which abused and misused the word of God.
Nor did the Catholic Church withhold the Bible from the Catholic people by keeping it in Latin. Early in the history of western civilization, those who could read Latin could read the Bible. Those who could not read Latin, could not read at all. Who, then, was deprived of the Bible? Not those who could read Latin, for the Cambridge Modern History (p. 639) states: "No book was more frequently republished than the Latin Vulgate, of which 98 distinct and full editions appeared prior to 1500..." In fact, the Latin Bible was as accessible to all, as it would have been in English.
There were translations of the Bible in the popular languages of the people even before the invention of printing and long before 1530, when, it is claimed, the Bible was first given to the people in German. Previous to that date, more than 70 editions of the Bible had been made in different languages spoken by the people of Europe.
Long Before Luther
Fourteen translations of the Bible into German and five into low Dutch existed before Luther's translation appeared. And before that time, there were Catholic translations in Spanish, Italian and French. There were English translations before the time of Tyndale or Wickliffe.
In view of these facts, it is clear that the Catholic Church did not keep the Bible from the people by producing it in Latin.
Today, the Bible is available in every popular language and can be obtained by anyone. The Catholic Church not only authorizes its circulation, but strongly encourages its study and meditation. All it requires as a preliminary condition is that the popular translation be properly made, and that footnotes explaining the more difficult passages be appended. This is merely a wise precaution against the danger of false meanings being drawn from obscure texts.