THE CHARGE of BURNING BIBLES
As the great Catholic scholar Thomas Ward stated "The nature of the holy scripture is such, that whosoever do voluntarily corrupt and pervert it, to maintain their own erroneous doctrines, cannot rightly be characterized by any less infamous title than that of heretics; and their false versions, by the title of heretical translations " (Errata of the Protestant Bible 1688 Pg. 22)
Ever since the Protestant Revolt in the 16th century, the Catholic Church has been accused of ignoring, opposing, hiding and even destroying the Bible in order to keep it from the people. Allegedly, copies of the Bible were chained to the walls of churches during the Middle Ages so that people could not take them home to read. Supposedly the Church during the Middle Ages also refused to translate the Bible into the various tongues of the common people, the vernacular languages, in order to further hinder personal Bible reading. Furthermore it is claimed that the Church even went as far as to burn vernacular Bibles.
After the 14th century when English finally became the popular language of England, vernacular Bibles were used as vehicles for heretical propaganda. John Wycliffe, a dissentient priest, translated the Bible into English. Unfortunately his secretary, John Purvey, included a heretical prologue, as noted by St. Thomas More. Later William Tyndale translated the Bible into English complete with prologue and footnotes condemning Church doctrines and teachings.In 1528, the Bishop of London wrote to Sir Thomas More, requesting that he examine the works of certain "sons of iniquity" and explain "the crafty malignity of these impious heretics" to "simpleminded people." He sent More examples of the Lutheran writers. Tyndale was not mentioned in the letter, but his New Testament must have been among the books sent to More.
(1) St. Thomas More commented that searching for errors in the Tyndale Bible was similar to searching for water in the sea. Tyndale translated the term baptism into "washing;" Scripture into "writing;" Holy Ghost into "Holy Wind," Bishop into "Overseer," Priest into "Elder," Deacon into "Minister;" heresy into "choice;" martyr into "witness;" evangelist into "bearer of good news;" etc., etc. Many of his footnotes were vicious. For instance, Tyndale referred to the occupant of the Chair of Peter, as "that great idol, the whore of Babylon, the anti-Christ of Rome."
Even King Henry VIII in 1531 condemned the Tyndale Bible as a corruption of Scripture. In the words of King Henry's advisors: "the translation of the Scripture corrupted by William Tyndale should be utterly expelled, rejected, and put away out of the hands of the people, and not be suffered to go abroad among his subjects." (2) Protestant Bishop Tunstall of London declared that there were upwards of 2,000 errors in Tyndale's Bible.
William Tyndale was executed for the charge of "heresy" by order of the Protestant King of England Henry VIII in October 1536.
This wood cut is from the 1563 printing of John Foxe's "Acts and Monuments"
Tyndale, along with many Protestant-leaning scholars, resided in Antwerp, a free city, but surrounded by territory under control of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and a relative of Catherine of Aragon. Early in 1535. Tyndale became friends with Henry Phillips, a visiting Englishman. Phillips presented himself to Tyndale as sympathetic to the Lutheran cause, but plotted with the emperor's magistrates to arrest Tyndale. In May, 1535, Phillips invited Tyndale out to dinner and, upon leaving his residence, identified him to waiting guards who apprehended him. Although by this time, England had separated from the Catholic Church and Tyndale had some supporters in the government, the Church of England continued to fight against Lutheranism. Tyndale's friends appealed to the English government to intervene, but to no avail. After a sixteen month imprisonment, an ecclesiastical panel convicted Tyndale of heresy in August, 1536 and turned him over to the secular authority. In October of the same year he was executed, being first strangled and then burned at the stake.
Tyndale died not for the right to read the Bible, as many Protestants arrogantly claim. He was put to death by the civil judges of the father of the English Protestant Deformation, for doctrines subversive of law and order, which Dr. James Gardiner, Protestant, said "was intended to produce an ecclesiastical and social revolution of a most dangerous character. . ."(3)
It is love of the God-inspired books in the Bible that caused the Catholic Church to protect the people from counterfeit translations as ardently as the State endeavors to protect the people from counterfeit currency. The "right to read the Bible," which is a moral right, does not include imbibing such a blasphemous and distorted translation as came from the contemptible ex-Catholic pen of Tyndale. His translation was ordered to be destroyed, not because it appeared in the English language, as you assume, but because it was a faulty, corrupted translation, which was a deliberate profanation of the Sacred Text. Does this action make the Church anti-Bible? First if the Church truly wanted to destroy the Bible, why did her monks work diligently through the centuries making copies of it? Before the printing press (before 1450), copies of the Bible were hand written with beauty and painstaking accuracy. One reason for Bibles being chained to the walls of churches is because each copy was precious both spiritually and materially. It took a monk about a year to hand copy the entire Bible, so Bibles were scarce. Paper was not used during the Middle Ages, as the first paper mill was not built until the 15th century (in England). Every monastery had a scriptorium, a writing room, in those ages, where priests and monks diligently and lovingly transcribed Bibles. In that way the texts we have today were preserved. It is calculated to have taken 427 skins or parchments. It has been estimated that in 1518 the cost of a copy of the Bible wold work out at the 1952 rate of L218 (or about $1000),for material upon which to write a single Bible(4). Hence Bibles could not be distributed then as they are distributed today.
Those chained Bibles were Open Bibles. The people who could not afford to own a Bible stood at a desk, lectern or stall in the aisles and corridors of the Catholic Churches during those Middle Ages, for there were no Protestant Churches in those days, and read those valuable open chained Bibles, to their hearts’ content. Thus we see, that chained Bibles were Bibles used for educational purposes. the Protestant misconception, gleaned no doubt from anti-Catholic sources, is as unreasonable as to conclude that telephone books, city directories and dictionaries are fastened to telephone booths, druggist counters and library tables in order to keep people ignorant of the numbers, addresses, and definitions in them.
The Church did not oppose faithful vernacular translations, Luther himself noted "it was an effect of God power, that the Papacy should have remained, in the first place, sacred baptism; secondly, the text of the Holy Gospels which it was custom to read from the pulpit in the vernacular tongue of every nation..." (5)
What the Church did oppose were heretical additions and distortions to the Bible. The Church prohibited these corrupt Bibles in order to preserve the integrity of Holy Scripture. This action was necessary if the Church is to preserve the truth of Christ's Gospel. As St. Peter in his Epistle (in the Bible) warns us, the ignorant and unstable can distort the Scriptures to their own destruction [2 Peter 3:16; see front panel].
The Catholic Church has always Protected the Bible against those who would destroy it. The great scholar G.K. Chesterton said "It was only the Roman Catholic Church that saved the Protestant truths. It may be right to rest on the Bible, but there would be no Bible if the Gnostics had proved that the Old Testament was written by the Devil, or had littered the world with Apocryphal Gospels. It may be right to say that Jesus alone saves from sin, but nobody would be saying it if a Pelagian movement had altered the whole notion of sin. Even the very selection of dogmas which the reformers decided to preserve had only been preserved for them by the authority which they Denied" (Upon this Rock)
The beginning of the 4th century A.D. witnessed the horrible persecutions of Diocletion, the Roman legionaries raided Catholic churches and libraries throughout the Empire destroying the Codexes of sacred scripture (6). In the 6th century A.D. the world was suffering under the plague of the Turkish and Arabian hoards led by the notorious outlaw Mohammed, in A.D. 614 Palestine was overrun, Jerusalem was captured; in 1009, the Caliph Hakim, began his devastating work in Jerusalem by ordering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. By 1014 some 30,000 churches in Palestine had been burnt or pillaged, with them went a vast number of ancient Bibles. (7)
As their conquests spread throughout northern Africa, In Alexandria was sacked (A.D. 642). The great Alexandrian library fell into their hands, it was the largest and most famous of the ancient collections of scrolls. It contained more than 400,000 scrolls and books. These book including many ancient Bibles, were distributed among the four thousand departments of the capitol, and served to feed the fires six months. yet through the protection of the Catholic Church the was preserved. Luther himself noted "it was an effect of God power, that the Papacy should have remained, in the first place, sacred baptism; secondly, the text of the Holy Gospels which it was custom to read from the pulpit in the vernacular tongue of every nation..." (8)
The 16th century witnessed vast confusion among the Protestants as to the nature of scripture. It was in this century that the Christian world witnessed the Protestants relegated the seven Sacred Deutero Canonical books of the Old Testament as "apocryphal works", and as only worth being in the appendix in their Bible (9) Martin Luther developed a theory that only those books that taught his Dogma of Justification by Faith Alone should be accepted as part of the canon. However, he didn't work out this theory until after he had lost a debate with a Catholic (either Cardinal Cajetan in 1518 or Johann Eck of Ingolstadt in 1519 AD), when 2 Maccabees 12:43-45 was quoted to refute Martin Luther's "Faith Alone." His subjective standards were also the given for his reason for claiming that Hebrews, James, Jude, and the Book of Revelation were also not to be considered as fully the Inspired Word of God. the early Lutherans followed him in this. In the 17th century the Lutherans of the put these New Testament books back into their canon (10) Zwingli said of Luther’s German version of the Bible ‘Thou corruptest award of God, O Luther; thou art seen to be a manifest corrupter of the holy scripture; how much are we ashamed of thee, who hitherto esteemed of thee beyond all measure, and prove thee to be such a man!’ To which Luther politely answered ‘Zwinglians are fools, asses and deceivers.’ Melanchthon, Gerhard, and Chemnitz went in the same direction, and Calvin denied the Pauline authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Molinoeus complained Calvin "Uses violence to the letter of the gospel, and besides this, adds to the text," Erasmus denied the apostolic origin of the Epistle to the Hebrews, 2 Peter, and the Apocalypse. (11) Beza condemned Castalio’s version; and of Beza said: ‘I will not note all his errors, for that would require too large a volume". even Whitaker himself was guilty in this respect rejecting the sacred books of Tobias, Ecclasiasticus, and Machabees. (12)
In England Between the winter of 1537 and April 10,1540 over 318 Catholic monasteries and convents were destroyed including there vast libraries of religious texts encompassing many rare and old hand copied Catholic bibles (both ancient Greek and Latin) by the Protestant king of England Henry VIII (13)
The Anglicans in the English controlled sections of Ireland took the destruction of monasteries, churches, church libraries and schools to a new level, It became a passion. In 1544 Immense
amounts of ancient books and Vulgate Bibles were maliciously destroyed in giant bon fires. In an effort to reduce the Catholic Irish to ignorance Henry VIII decreed that in Ireland even the possession of a manuscript any subject whatsoever (including sacred Scripture) incurred the death Penalty.(14). On January 5, 1541 by order of the king a English printer named Grafton was arrested and imprisoned for printing the Matthew and Great Bibles to which he had exclusive printing rights.(15) King Henry VIII held a great official burning of to "heretical" books in 1546, The Protestant Bibles of Tyndale, Coverdale and Matthew and the Catholic Latin Vulgate helped feed the fires (16)
In 1582 The Rheims Catholic New Testament in English was issued Needless to say, the appearance of this New Testament, with its annotations, at once aroused the fiercest opposition. Queen Elizabeth ordered the searches to seek out and confiscate and destroy every copy they could find. If a priest was found in possession of it, he was forthwith imprisoned. Torture by rack was applied to those who circulated it. (17) so strong indeed was the feeling--nay, the dread aroused by the The Rheims New Testament, that Elizabeth asked Beza to undertake a refutation. Beza, however referred her to a Puritan scholar named Cartwright. Elizabeth accepted Beza’s recommendation and Cartwright who was financed by Leicester and Walsingham not to work on This new challenging project. Cartwright got as far as Apoc. chapter 15 when Whitgift resenting Cartwright continuous attacks upon the church in England was forced to stopped the publication.(18)
Even from the very start many renowned Protestant scholars came out in opposition the King James Bible and to its inaccuracies some even called for it to be burned. for example In 1612 Dr. Hugh Broughton said in a critique addressed to the house of Lords stated:
"The late Bible (The 1611 King James version)... bred in me sadness that will grieve me while I breathe, it is so ill done... to his Majesty that I had rather be rent in pieces with wild horses, then any such translation by my consent should be urged upon the poor churches...the new edition crosseth me. I require it to be Burnt"(The Bible Through the Ages copyright 1996 p. 318)
Several times The Anglicans themselves burned Copies of the King James Version, a example of this was the 1631 printing somtimes know as the "Wicked Bible" because of a error made by the Printer Robert Barker. The word "not" was left out of the 7th commandment say it said "Thou shalt commit adultery". England's King Charles I [a Anglican] was not amused by the mistake. He ordered the Bibles recalled and destroyed, took away Barker's license to print Bibles and fined him 300 pounds([a lifetimes wages in those days]. Barker was out of business. By order of the King almost 1000 Bibles was put to the torch, only 11 of this printing are left today.
In 1642 Civil war broke out in England, [some call it the "Puritan Revolution"]. during the war Bible printing in England Ceased, but the desire for the Scriptures continued, and poorly executed, error-filled versions were imported from Holland. In Parliament these Bibles were labeled "corrupt and Dangerous to Religion... and should be burned" (22)
The 1782 Aitken's edition of the Bible . This Bible is Part of the webmaster's collection
The Title Page of The 1782 Aitken's edition of the Bible.
There were even stipulations on the printing of sacred scripture, it was illegal in Anglican England or the American colonies to print the Bible in English. The Crown claimed a copyright on king James version, and printing of that version was a privilege accorded exclusively to the King’s printers and the universities of Oxford in Cambridge. Hence its published in English colonies appeared in languages other than English. It was not until after the outbreak of the American revolution that American presses began to publish the King James Bible. First came Robert Aitken’s edition of the new Testament printed in Philadelphia in 1777 against great odds. Not only was the work done on poor equipment, but on one occasion Aitken had to save his type and printing materials from destruction by the English red coats by sprinting them out-of-town and hiding them under a barn (19).
John Calvin in 1522, had as many copies as could be found of the Servetus Bible burned, since Calvin did not approve of it. Later Calvin had Michael Servetus himself burned at the stake for being a Unitarian. (20)
The Calvinists in France caused Ten wars between 1562 and 1628 [The Siege and fall of La Rochelle] In one year alone (1561), according to one of THEIR OWN estimates, the French Calvinists "murdered 4,000 priests, monks and nuns, expelled or maltreated 12,000 nuns, sacked 20,000 churches, and destroyed 2,000 monasteries " with their priceless libraries, Bibles and works of art. The rare manuscript collection of the ancient monastery of Cluny was irreparably lost, with many others. (21)
The Anabaptists In 1534, seized control of Münster Germany calling it The "New Jerusalem" they embarked a reign of terror and indescribable orgies, communism and polygamy. Many Catholic and Lutheran Bibles, treasures of literature and art were burned in great fires held in the town squar. The Anabaptists atrocities came to a end on June 24, 1535 with a joint Catholic and Lutherans siege and capture of the town of Münster.
(1)The Jerome Biblical Commentary © 1968 Vol. II, pp. 586-588
(2) Where We Got The Bible © 1977 p. 128-130.
(3) what say you © 1955 p.62
(4) English Versions of The Bible © 1952 Pg. 63
(5) De Missa privata, ed by Jensen, VI, Pg 92
(6) The Bible Through the Ages © 1996 Pg 213
(7) The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary © 1977 Pg 423
(8) De Missa privata, ed by Jensen, VI, Pg 92
(9) Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible © 1963
(10) The Books of The Bible © 1997
(11) The Imperial Encyclopedia and Dictionary, Volume IV © 1903
(12) English Versions of The Bible © 1952 Pg. 275
(13) A Popular History of the Reformation © 1957 Pg. 185
(14) The Story of the Irish Race © 1921 Pg. 365-366
(15) English Versions of The Bible © 1952 Pg. 149
(16) A Popular History of the Reformation © 1957 Pg. 195
(17) Where we got the Bible © 1911,
(18) English Versions of The Bible © 1952 Pg. 276
(19) The Bible Through the Ages © 1996 Pg 337-338
(20) Where We Got The Bible © 1977 p. 128-130
(21) Novuvelle Collection de memoires relatif a l'histoire de France, Ch. XI, p. 512 also read William Thomas Walsh, Philip II © 1937
(22) The History of the King James Bible © 1974 p. 162