Bible, Use of By the Laity

Bible, Use Of By The Laity.

The Word of God is intended for the use of all classes of men. In the early ages of the Church its universal perusal was not only allowed, but urged by bishops and pastors. It was not until the general reading of the Bible was found to interfere with the claims' of the papacy that its "perils for the common mind" were discovered. As the use of Latin disappeared among the people, the Vulgate Bible became less and less intelligible to them, and this fact was early welcomed as an aid to the schemes of the Roman hierarchy. In the 11th century Gregory VII (Epist. 7:11) thanks God for it, as tending to save the people from misunderstanding the Bible. The reforming and heretical sects (Cathari, Albigenses, Waldenses, etc.) of the 12th and 13th centuries appealed to the Bible in all their disputes, thus furnishing the hierarchy an additional reason for shutting up the Word of God. In 1229, the Council of Toulouse, in its 14th canon, "forbids 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 Virgin; and most strictly forbids these works in the vulgar tongue." The Council of Tarracone (1242) ordered all vernacular versions to be brought to. the bishop to be burnt. Similar prohibitions were issued from time to time in the next two centuries by bishops and synods, especially in France and Germany, though with little direct effect. In the " Ten Rules concerning Prohibited Books," drawn up by order of the Council of Trent, and approved by Pius IV (Buckley, Canons and Decrees of Trent, p. 284), we find the following: In Rule III versions of O.T. may be "allowed only to pious and learned men at the discretion of the bishop ;" in Rule IV it is stated that "if the sacred books be permitted in the vulgar tongue indiscriminately, more harm than utility arises therefrom by reason of the temerity of men." The bishop or inquisitor may grant permission to safe persons to read them; all booksellers selling to unauthorized persons are to be punished. The Jansenist movement in the 17th century, and especially the publication of Quesnel's N.T. in French (Paris, 1699), gave rise to new stringency, of which the bull Ungenitus (q.v.) was the organ. In the 18th century there was a reaction, and the publication and reading of vernacular versions was even encouraged by the better class of Roman bishops. The establishment of the Bible Societies (q.v.) in the beginning of this century gave new alarm to the Roman hierarchy. Ordinances or encyclicals forbidding the diffusion of Protestant Bibles were issued by Pius VII (1816), Leo XII (1824), and Gregory XVI, (1832). Though the animus of these encyclicals is hostile to the free use of the Bible, they yet do not, in terms, prohibit it. At this day it is well understood, and admitted by all intelligent Romanists themselves, that the laity are not only not required, but also not expected to read the Word of God for themselves by the Roman Church. For the earlier history of the question, see Arnauld, De la lecture de l'ecriture sainte; Hegelmeyer, Geschichte des Bibelverbotes (1783); Van Ess, Ueb. d. nolhzcendige u. nuizliche Bibellesen (Leipz. 1808, 8vo); and for the later, Elliott, Delineation of Romanism, Lk. i, ch. xvi.

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