A Record of Opposition to Bible Education
1179 Pope Alexander III forbade the Waldenses to preach, which preaching they were doing with a common-language translation of parts of the Bible.
1184 At the Synod of Verona, Italy, Pope Lucius III, supported by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, decreed the excommunication and handing over to civil authorities for punishment (usually burning) of all Bible-loving “heretics” who persisted in preaching or even thinking contrary to Catholic dogma.
1199 Pope Innocent III condemned the translation into French of the Psalms, the Gospels and Paul’s letters, and forbade meetings held in the bishopric of Metz, France, for the “reprehensible purpose” of studying the Scriptures. Any copies of these vernacular translations that could be found were burned by Cistercian monks.
1211 By order of Pope Innocent III, Bishop Bertram of Metz organized a crusade against all people reading the Bible in the vernacular, and any such Bibles found were duly burned.
1215 The Fourth Lateran Council was held, and the first three canons were directed against heretics who dared “take it upon themselves to preach.” The Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique recognizes that this measure was aimed mainly at the Waldenses, who were preaching with common-language Bibles.
1229 Canon 14 of the Council of Toulouse, France, states: “We forbid the laity to have in their possession any copy of the books of the Old and New Testament, except the Psalter, and such portions of them as are contained in the Breviary, or the Hours of the Blessed Virgin; and we most strictly forbid even these works in the vulgar tongue.”
1246 Canon 36 of the Council of Béziers, France, stipulates: “You will see to it that all just and legal means are used to prevent the laity from possessing theological books, even in Latin, and the clergy from possessing them in the vulgar tongue.”
1559 “[Pope] Paul IV put a whole series of Latin Bibles among the Biblia prohibita (prohibited books); he added that no Bible in the vernacular may be printed nor kept without the permission of the Holy Office. This amounted to prohibiting the reading of the Bible in any common language.”—Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, Volume 15, column 2738.
1564 The fourth rule of the Index (of prohibited books) published by Pope Pius IV stated: “Experience has shown that if reading of the Bible in the vulgar tongue is permitted indiscriminately, due to the rashness of men, more harm than good arises therefrom.”
1590 Pope Sixtus V stipulated that no one could read the Bible in a common language without “special permission from the Apostolic See.”
1664 Pope Alexander VII put all vernacular Bibles on the Index of prohibited books.
1836 Pope Gregory XVI issued a warning to all Catholics that the fourth rule of the Index published in 1564 by Pius IV was still valid.
1897 In his Apostolic Constitution Officiorum Pope Leo XIII issued the following restrictions on the use of common-language Bibles: “All native-language versions, even those published by Catholics, are absolutely prohibited unless they have been approved by the Apostolic See or edited under the supervision of bishops, with explanatory notes taken from the Church Fathers and learned Catholic writers. . . . All versions of the Holy Books made by any non-Catholic writer whatsoever and in any common language are prohibited, especially those published by Bible societies, which have been condemned by the Pontiff of Rome on several occasions.”
1955 Summing up the reasons for the Catholic Church’s opposition to Bible education, French Catholic author Daniel-Rops wrote, with due “Nihil Obstat” and “Imprimatur” from ecclesiastical authorities: “By giving back to the Book [the Bible] its supremacy and its renown, Luther and the other ‘reformers’ committed the inexpiable error of separating it from the Tradition that had safeguarded its text and had contributed so much to its understanding. Once it became the only source of faith and of spiritual life for man, the Bible afforded the means for doing without the Church . . . The Catholic Church . . . reacted through the protective measures taken by the Council of Trent [1545-1563], which, among other things, forbade the faithful from reading versions of the Holy Scriptures in common languages unless they had been approved by the Church and contained commentaries in line with Catholic Tradition. . . . It became commonplace to hear people repeat that ‘a Catholic should not read the Bible.’”—Qu’est-ce que la Bible? (What Is the Bible?)