It is not uncommon to hear the false accusation that before Vatican II Catholics were prohibited from reading the Bible. It has been claimed by some that the Catholic Church wanted to keep the Bible from Her members so She chained the Bible to prevent them from gaining access to it.
In order to evaluate these accusations a person must find out what the Church actually did and said, and then it is essential to determine the context from which these events happened so that they can be correctly evaluated.
Take the accusation about chaining the Bible for instance. It is true that the Catholic Church did chain the Bible at one time. However, when a person studies the context of that time period he can see that the Church did so for the opposite reason that She is accused of doing so.
Before the invention of the printing press Bibles were hand copied by a scribe on to vellum, animal skin. It is estimated that it took 250 sheep to make a Bible. The cost of the vellum was not cheep either. Also, the scribes were some of the best educated individuals of that time period. So a person can imagine the relative cost of employing one of today’s most educated individuals for the length of time that it would take to transcribe a complete Bible. Therefore, one can see the tremendous cost involved with making a Bible. The Church chained some Bibles, not to keep them from people, but to ensure their access to all. This is comparable in modern times to how phone books are chained for the same reason in phone booths. (Even after the invention of the printing press in 1455 AD the cost of a Bible equaled to a clerk's wages for about three years. See THE SMITHSONIAN BOOK OF BOOKS by M. Olmert page 113.)
In the sixteenth century the Catholic Church often used the Latin Vulgate Bible. And for this She is accused in modern times of keeping Her members from being enabled to read it by keeping it in a "dead" language.
The word "Vulgate" comes from a word meaning common. It is the name of
However, when a person studies the context of that time period, before the 1800’s, he finds out that most people could not read or write at all. (Actually in poorer countries this is still true for over half of the population.) Most people worked in the fields and there were no public schools for anyone. Only the wealthy could afford to hire the private instructors at the private schools to teach their children how to read and write.
The scholarly edition of BRITISH WRITERS volume one, edited under the auspices of the British Council, and edited by Ian Scott-Kilvert, gives us some insightful clues to understanding that era.
On page 295 it states that William Shakespeare, 1564-1616 AD, studied his other subjects in Latin, which was the "basic medium of instruction." It points out that his fortunate circumstance of having a father who was the Mayor and Justice of the Peace would have qualified him to attend the King's
On page 262 we read that Francis Bacon's education had been in Latin just as it had been customary for others. On page 259 were are told of how Francis Bacon, 1561-1626 AD, in the last five years of his life wrote his major scientific works in Latin and it points out that Latin was the international scholarly language.
On page 145-153 it states that Sir Walter Raleigh, 1552-1618 AD, studied Greek authors as much as possible in Latin translations.
On page 22 we read about Geoffrey Chaucer, 1340-1400 AD. He learned his Latin through a medium of French. It shows how Chaucer in his The Canterbury Tales has the Squire reveal how it was customary for the nobles to be weak in English in his day when he confesses, "Myn Englissh eek is insufficient." (Middle English)
It reveals that at
Unlike today’s students, they had strict discipline and they began the day with a prayer. They followed that with a recitation of the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and then a request to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she join her own prayers with theirs to Jesus Christ, and then they sang the Psalms.
On page 30 it states that Chaucer had read
On page 122 we read that Edmund Spenser, 1552-1559 AD, was educated in a school were the curriculum included a great deal of Latin, some Greek, and the Hebrew Psalter. It also points that as in other grammar schools the Latin was not only classical but Renaissance. It states that he went to a modern school that had a very advanced educationalist. And very interestingly it reveals that as an exception, the curriculum might have extended to music and "possibly even to English."
This secular book opens up for us the culture of that time period.
Crucial to understanding England in the sixteenth century are the following facts; that, only those who were lucky enough -that is rich enough- got to go to school, and not only did they learn Latin, but strikingly important, is the fact that they also learned their other subjects in Latin. Consequently, only those who could afford an education were able to read, and they knew Latin just as good if not better than they knew English. Therefore, the promotion of the Latin Vulgate did not hinder the peoples attempt to get to know the Word of God, but enhanced it.
As a side note the book THE BRITISH WRITERS on page VIII refers to the time when King Henry the VIII declared all Catholic Bibles obsolete and ordered them destroyed. Two historical events are reported as, "1537 ‘The dissolution of the monasteries: confiscation of ecclesiastical properties and assets; increase in royal revenues,’" -an interesting "coincidence."
(Because of the successive invasions of
Even the King James Bible speaks about Catholic Editions of the Bible in English before the King James Bible was printed. See an off site article by James Akin on what the KJV said at: