Mary Ann Collins
(A Former Catholic Nun)
October 2001 (Revised February 2002)
Roman slaves who worked in the Sardinian lead mines had iron rings soldered around their ankles, linked together with a six-inch chain. This hobbled them so that it was difficult for them to walk. [Note 1]
Since the Middle Ages there has been an ongoing conflict between those who want to see Scripture hobbled and those who want to see Scripture released so that it can function effectively in people's lives.
The Catholic Church hobbled Scripture by keeping the Bible in Latin and resisting its translation into the language of the common people.
KEEPING THE BIBLE IN LATIN
Under Roman rule, Latin became a universal language. So when the Bible was originally translated from Greek and Hebrew into Latin, that made it more available to people. However, with the collapse of the Roman empire, Latin was spoken less and less. In time, only scholars understood it. The vast majority of people no longer spoke it.
Starting about 1080 there were many incidents where the Pope, Church councils, or individual bishops forbid the translation of the Bible into the language of the common people (the vernacular). [Note 2] Men such as William Tyndale were burned as heretics for translating the Bible into English. [Note 3]
Laymen were not even allowed to read the Bible in Latin. Reading the Bible was considered to be proof that someone was a heretic. Men and women were burned at the stake for reading the Bible in Latin. [Note 4]
People were so hungry to know what the Bible said that when an English translation of the Bible was finally made available, people packed the church where it was kept, while men took turns reading the Bible out loud. As long as there was daylight, men kept reading the Bible while the crowds listened. [Note 5]
STRUGGLING WITH LATIN
When I became a Catholic, the Mass was still in Latin. I was good at languages. I studied French in high school and college. I also studied three years of college Latin.
At High Mass, the Scriptures were sung in Latin. The Bible was a large, ornate book. The priest would cover it with incense, and bow before it, and sing the Scripture verses in Gregorian chant. I used to love to listen to Gregorian chant. The music was beautiful.
However, the one thing that I could not do was to understand the Scripture that was sung. With my three years of college Latin, I could sometimes understand the meaning of a word or a phrase. But that was nothing like understanding the Scripture passage.
The end result reminds me of the Andy Warhol painting of a can of Campbell's tomato soup. The museum paid thousands of dollars for that painting. Many people come to see it. The painting is described in the museum tour book. You can study the picture. If you are an artist, you can paint a copy of it. You can do everything except eat the soup. And why does Campbell's make tomato soup? So that people can eat it. And why did God give us the Bible? So that people would understand it and be transformed by it.
TRANSLATING THE BIBLE
The first English translation of the Bible was made in 1382 by the followers of John Wycliffe, with his help and inspiration. An improved version was completed in 1388. Wycliffe's followers were known as Lollards. They were severely persecuted. Wycliffe's translation of the Bible had to be copied by hand, which is a slow process. Most of the copies of Wycliffe's English Bible were destroyed. [Note 6]
A century and a half later, the Tyndale-Coverdale Bible was published in 1535. William Tyndale and Bishop Miles Coverdale translated the original Greek and Hebrew texts into English. This English Bible was published in Germany, where Tyndale had taken refuge. The printing press had been invented. This enabled Tyndale and his followers to produce copies of the English Bible faster than they could be found and destroyed. Tyndale was burned at the stake. [Note 7]
Forty-seven years later (1582), the first Catholic translation of the New Testament into English was published. The Catholic translation of the Old Testament was published in 1609. These translations were not from the original Greek and Hebrew. Rather, they were from a Latin version of the Bible. [Note 8]
ADDING TRADITION TO SCRIPTURE
The Catholic Church officially states that Catholic tradition is equal in authority to the Bible. [Note 9] Catholic tradition consists of various expressions of worship and belief of the Catholic people. [Note 10] It is nebulous. It keeps changing. You cannot find it written in one place. You can't really put your hands on exactly what it is.
For Jesus' evaluation of the religious traditions of his time, read Mark 7:1-13 and Matthew 15:1-9. Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees because their traditions nullified the Word of God. He used Scripture to measure the validity of their religious traditions. He was distressed because the religious leaders of his time considered their traditions to be equal in authority to Scripture. He rebuked them saying, "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." (Matthew 15:8-9) In Mark 7:8, Jesus says, "For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the traditions of men". (See Mark 7:6-8.)
FORBIDDING PEOPLE TO
INTERPRET THE BIBLE FOR THEMSELVES
According to the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, Catholics are not allowed to believe what they read in the Bible without first checking it out with the Catholic Church. They are required to find out how the Catholic bishops interpret Scripture passages, and they are to accept what the bishops teach "with docility" as if it came from Jesus Christ Himself. They are not allowed to use their own judgment or to follow their own conscience. They are required to believe whatever the bishops teach without questioning it. [Note 11]
CROWDING OUT SCRIPTURE
Long before I became a nun I was reading the "Divine Office" (the "Breviary" which is read or sung by priests and monks and nuns). I was told that by doing this I was reading all of the psalms every week. That was partially true. Short psalms were included in their entirety. But we read only portions of the longer psalms. Every week we read those same selected verses again, but we never read the rest of the long psalms. In addition to the psalms, we read short selections from the Old Testament and the New Testament, as well as antiphons (songs or hymns which could be sung or read).
Because I spent so much time reading things from Scripture, I thought that I was familiar with the Bible. But all I was reading was a small portion of it, over and over and over.
It took me over an hour to read the "Divine Office". In addition, I also went to daily Mass, and I often prayed the rosary. In my earlier days I used to read the Bible, but the "Divine Office" and Mass and the rosary took so much time that I stopped reading the Bible.
Jesus told a parable about the sower who sowed the Word of God on different kinds of soil. (Luke 8:5-15) Religious devotions that keep us too busy to read the Bible choke out the Word of God.
USE OF THIS ARTICLE
I encourage you to link to this article and to put it on your own web site. You have my permission to copy this article, to quote from it, to translate it into other languages, and to incorporate it into publications of your own. You have my permission to distribute copies of this article, including selling it for profit. I do not want any royalties or financial remuneration of any kind. Please give this information to anybody who might be interested in it.
1. Malachi Martin, "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Church" ( New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1981), page 26.
2. Paul Johnson, "A History of Christianity," page 273. The author is Catholic.
3. "Tyndale, William" in "World Book Encyclopedia" (on CD-Rom).
4. Paul Johnson, "A History of Christianity," page 273.
5. This information comes from an on-line biography of William Tyndale which is available at http://elvis.rowan.edu/~kilroy/JEK/10/06.html
6. "Wycliffe, John," "Lollards," and "Bible" in "World Book Encyclopedia" (on CD-Rom).
7. "Tyndale, William" and "Bible" in "World Book Encyclopedia" (on CD-Rom).
8. "Bible" in "World Book Encyclopedia" (on CD-Rom).
9. "Catechism of the Catholic Church," paragraphs numbered 80, 84, 86, and 97. The "Catechism" is available in many languages and many editions. It has numbered paragraphs so you can locate things precisely, no matter what language it is in or what edition you are using. It is available on-line with a search engine. It does searches by topic or by paragraph number. Two addresses are: http://www.christusrex.org/www2/kerygma/ccc/searchcat.html http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc.htm
10. "Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 78, 98, 113, 2650, and 2661.
11. "Catechism of the Catholic Church," paragraphs 85, 87, 100, 862, 891, 939, 2034, 2037, 2041, and 2050.
Copyright 2001 by Mary Ann Collins.
E-Mail Ralph (whose comments are in green)
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