Do Catholic Bible Claims Fit the Facts?
OCTOBER 1952 marks the five hundredth anniversary of the production of the first printed book, Gutenberg’s Bible. That month will see a drive of Protestant religious organizations of the United States to distribute one million of the new Revised Standard Version Bible. On the other hand the Catholic Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., has designated September 28 to October 4, 1952, as Catholic Bible week. This, the second Catholic Bible week of the year, the first having been held February 10 to 16 (which, incidentally, was the first time a Catholic Bible week was observed in the United States), has as its objective to “show how the Church which made the Bible—has valued it before, during and after Gutenberg”.
Roman Catholic Bible claims, as listed in their Bible-week literature, can be summarized as follows: (1) The Catholic Church made the Bible. (2) The Catholic Church preserved the Bible. (3) The Catholic Church encourages the reading of the Bible.
THE BIBLE A CATHOLIC BOOK?
Does the claim that the Catholic Church made the Bible fit the facts? In answering that question let us first note that the Bible is God’s Word. That being so, then ever since Moses completed the Pentateuch (the five books, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) God’s Word has been available to his servants. As other inspired servants wrote it grew and grew so that by the time Malachi penned his prophecy God’s Word, the Bible, had grown to 39 books. These 39 books constituted the sacred Scriptures that Jesus and his disciples used and which they encouraged others to study.—John 5:39; Acts 17:11; 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:15-17.
With the writing of the accounts of Jesus’ life by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the letters of Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and John and the Acts of the apostles and Revelation (or the Apocalypse), God’s Word grew to 66 books. As these were written down and circulated among the early Christians they became recognized as part of the Bible. (2 Pet. 3:15, 16) The last of these writings, John’s three letters and his Gospel, were completed about A.D. 98. Shortly thereafter began the compiling of these writings, and there is evidence to indicate that as early as A.D. 170 the canon or catalogue of the Bible we have today was recognized. Both Origen and Eusebius list these same books, and of ten early catalogues extant six likewise give the same list as is recognized today, three others omitting Revelation and one omitting both Hebrews and Revelation. In view of these facts, which show that the canon of the Bible was settled among the Christians in the second and early third centuries after Christ, can the Catholic Church claim to have made the Bible, simply because some 150 to 200 years later her Council of Carthage announced what writings she considered canonical?
If the Catholic Church made the Bible, is it not strange that she failed to include any word about the assumption of Mary, her immaculate conception and about the efficacy of praying to her; about the veneration of relics, images and saints; about the use of holy water; about the ceremony of the mass; about a pope’s being the vicar of Christ; about monsignors, archbishops and cardinals; about purgatory; about a celibate clergy; about not eating meat on Friday or during Lent; about making novenas; about infant baptism; etc.? Is not the fact that the Bible is silent on all these outstanding points of the Catholic religion strong circumstantial evidence that the Catholic Church did not make the Bible? that it is not a Catholic book?
Who made the Bible is very clear from its own pages. God is its author. “Thy word is a lamp to my feet.” “The spirit of the Lord hath spoken by me: and his word by my tongue.” “Thy word is truth.” “For the word of God is living and effectual.” “The holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Ghost.”—Douay Version at 2 Ki. 23:2; Ps. 118:105; John 17:17; Heb. 4:12; 2 Pet. 1:21.
CATHOLIC CHURCH PRESERVE THE BIBLE?
The Catholic Church further states: “There can be no doubt that the world must thank the Catholic Church for the Bible—if only for the 1,500 years which elapsed before the first Reformers appeared on the scene. Who spanned the gulf? We ask that the monks who copied for centuries, . . . be given their due. But for them we would have no Bible.” Does this claim fit the facts? Let us see.
The facts are that not one of the oldest, most reliable and most valuable manuscripts of the Bible was found in territories under Catholic domination. Even her prized Vatican manuscript 1209 has been in her possession only since the fifteenth century. And this she hid away, making it available to the public only when another great manuscript, the Sinaiticus, bid fair to eclipse it. So if the monks had done no copying at all during the Dark and Middle Ages we would still have the best manuscripts. They copied none of the good ones.
Bible copying may have been largely limited to the monks, but that was primarily due to the Catholic Church’s keeping the Bible in a dead language. When Wycliffe translated the Bible into English his followers made many, many copies, and that without the assistance of monks. And as for giving these monks any credit, they dared to take liberties with the inspired text. That is why we have in the King James and the Douay versions some spurious passages, such as 1 John 5:7, to mention one of the most flagrant examples.
Not only can no credit go to the Catholic Church for preserving the Bible but the facts of history show that she has been the chief destroyer of the Bible. Copies of Wycliffe’s Bible were hunted out by her from one end of England to the other and then destroyed. Tyndale had to print his “New Testament” on the continent of Europe, for he could not do so in Catholic England. Although he published 18,000 of them and had them smuggled into England, they were hunted down and destroyed so efficiently that only seventeen copies are known to survive today.
Endeavoring to justify such Bible-burning Our Sunday Visitor, February 10, 1952, states that such “was the burning of versions which were proved to be faulty, and therefore had no right to pass as ‘the word of God’”. But was there such a great difference between the Catholic Bible and the translations of the Reformers as to justify the crusade which destroyed not only Bibles but also Bible translators, publishers and distributors? On this point note what the Catholic Encyclopedia has to say regarding the English Challoner-Douay Version:
“To call it any longer the Douay or Rheimish version is an abuse of terms. It has been altered and modified until scarcely any verse remains as it was originally published. . . . In nearly every case Challoner’s changes took the form of approximating to the Authorized Version.” So in improving the Catholic version it became more like the Protestant King James version! Recent instances of this could be cited from both the new American Catholic versions of the book of the Psalms and Genesis and Msgr. Knox’s version.
No, the claim that the Catholic Church burned Bibles because of their being faulty translations does not fit the facts. There must have been some other motives. What these were we will let the reader judge. Incidentally, note that such Bible-burnings are not a thing of the distant past. Many Bibles were publicly burned on May 27, 1923, in Rome, in homage of the virgin Mary, and in the New York Times, March 6, 1952, appeared an article under the following headings: “Protestant Cleric Is Beaten in Spain. Youths Invade Chapel and Set Fire to Bibles, Pews and Hymnals.”
ENCOURAGE BIBLE READING?
According to Pope Leo XIII the Catholic Church “has never failed to take due measures to bring the Scriptures within the reach of her children”. Again we ask, do the facts fit the claim that the Catholic Church has encouraged and does encourage Bible-reading? If so, how? and to what extent?
At the time when England was under Catholic domination, for anyone to be found guilty of reading the Bible in English meant the forfeiting of “land, cattle, life and goods from his heirs forever”. Many were the followers of Wycliffe, the Lollards, who were imprisoned and even burned at the stake because of having thus read the Bible in their native tongue.
If the Catholic Church really had wanted to encourage Bible-reading would she have kept that sacred volume in the shroud of dead languages? Would Pope Gregory of the eleventh century have publicly thanked God that the Bible was in a dead language if he had wanted the people to read it? And why should it have been necessary for Thomas Stitny, “father of Bohemian prose,” to complain about the efforts of the Catholic Church to keep the Bible from being translated into the Bohemian language if she was interested in having the common people read the Bible? Would Pope Pius VII on June 13, 1816, have stated, “Experience has proved that, owing to the rashness of men, more harm than benefit arises from the Sacred Scriptures when published in the language of the common people”? And would Pope Gregory XVI on May 8, 1844, in his encyclical Inter Praecipuas, have condemned “the publication, distribution, reading and keeping of the Scripture translated into the vernacular”?
The picture of a chained Bible is a familiar one. Catholic apologists tell us that it was chained merely to keep it from being stolen or knocked down on the floor and that such Bibles were “placed open on a table in the churches to be consulted”. But who would be consulting a Bible written in a dead language at a time when the great majority of the people could not even read their native tongue, not to say anything about the dead or classical languages?
The fact is that the only reason the Catholic Church finally did give the people the Bible in their native tongue, as she herself confesses, was to counteract Protestant versions. Says the Catholic Encyclopedia (Vol. 5, page 140, 1913 ed.) on this subject: “It [the Douay Bible] owed its existence to the religious controversies of the sixteenth century. Many Protestant versions had been issued and were used largely by the Reformers for polemical purposes. The rendering of some of the texts showed evident signs of controversial bias, and it became of the first importance for the English Catholics of the day to be furnished with a translation of their own, on the accuracy of which they could depend and to which they could appeal in the course of argument.”
How reluctant the world’s greatest religious organization which “made and preserved the Bible” was to do this may be gathered from the fact that she waited two hundred years after one of her excommunicated doctors of divinity (Wycliffe) had pioneered the task on his own initiative, to give to her people this much needed instrument! The above quotation also effectively silences the claims that the Catholic Church and not the Reformers pioneered the work of giving the people the Bible in their native tongues.
But surely today the Catholic Church encourages Bible-reading. Did not Pope Leo XIII grant ‘an indulgence of 300 days to the faithful for every time they read at least a quarter hour the books of the Sacred Scripture’? True, but how much encouragement to read the Bible that represents non-Catholics do not know. But a Catholic knows that he can gain the like amount of indulgence, 300 days, for just repeating once “Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee”. And that takes only five seconds to repeat! Why spend 15 minutes reading the Bible to gain an indulgence that is yours for just five seconds of praying? Use that fifteen minutes in unscriptural repetitious praying and gain 54,000 days’ indulgence! So it might be argued. But even if the Bible is read, how much benefit can be expected to be gotten from such reading done merely to gain some other benefit and that for a specified time? Where would the mind, one’s thoughts, be?
Indicative of the way the Catholic Church really feels about the Bible is the following excerpt taken from current Catholic Bible tracts: “The Christian is not bound to read the Bible since it is the Church who proposes to us for our belief Divine Revelation as contained in Scriptures and Tradition.”
If Catholics are encouraged to read the Bible why is it necessary for Catholic publications to tell Catholics, “No, Catholics Are Not Forbidden to Read It” (showing a picture of the Bible) and to state that “some Catholics have the idea that Bible reading is strictly ‘Protestant’”? What more damaging confession could the Catholic Church make as to her failure to encourage Bible reading than to admit that some of her children think that Bible reading is ‘strictly Protestant’?
During World War II there was complaint in the Catholic press of Britain about the scandal of not being able to procure Catholic Bibles even though Catholic fiction and Protestant Bibles were plentiful. Replying to such complaints one Catholic publisher stated: “If there existed a demand sufficient to justify special effort, we may be sure that effort would be made. It may be of interest to note that, though Catholics show this apathy regarding the Scriptures, in other quarters a new appreciation of the Bible is being manifested.”
Further circumstantial evidence along this line appeared in the book Religious Beliefs of Youth, published in the United States in 1950. This book made a comprehensive analysis of the religious habits of United States youth, and among the statistics it published were those showing that 61.9 per cent of the Catholic youths had not read their Bibles during the past six months, to compare with only 31.2 per cent of the Protestant youths who had not read their Bibles within that time. Obviously, two-thirds of Catholic youth is not impressed by the offer of indulgences for reading the Bible if they do not read it even once in six months.
Nor are such observations as the following, taken from The Holy Bible, The Heritage of Catholic Family Life, likely to make Catholic youth want to do more Bible reading: “Can the six days of which Moses speaks be those long periods described by the geologists? Certainly they are not. Moses knew nothing of modern science; his picture of the universe is quite naïve, not further advanced, in fact, than that of the people among whom he lived three thousand years ago.” Yes, poor Moses! He just did not know any better, according to this Catholic publication. How much faith in the inspiration of the Bible does such an appraisal of its account of creation indicate? And how much encouragement to read the Bible?
In view of the foregoing what conclusions must we reach? That the Catholic Church did not make the Bible, she has not preserved it, she does not genuinely encourage the reading of it. Her Bible efforts are merely window dressing and propaganda to meet competition. Just as she is content to let her people remain illiterate so long as the states do not try to educate them, so she is willing to let her people be without the Bible so long as there is no danger of their obtaining Bibles from other sources. And just as she has her greatest school systems where secular education is at its best, just so she publishes the Bible in the native tongue if there is a likelihood of her people’s obtaining a Bible from other sources. Compare Spain with the United States. Her current Bible week is a case in point, for she admitted that it was planned to counteract the celebration by non-Catholics of the 500th anniversary of Gutenberg’s Bible.