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Book II - Chapter III

Of Reading the Scriptures

One would have thought that the Church of Rome had removed her people to a safe Gutenberg Bibledistance from the Scriptures. She has placed the gulf of tradition between them and the Word of God. She has removed them still farther from the sphere of danger, by providing an infallible interpreter, whose duty it is to take care that the Bible shall express no sense hostile to Rome. But, as if this were not enough, she has laboured by all means in her power to prevent the Scriptures coming in any shape into the hands of her people. Before the Reformation she kept the Bible locked up in a dead language, and severe laws were enacted against the reading of it. The Reformation unsealed the precious volume. Tyndale and Luther, the one from his retreat at Vildorfe in the Low Countries, and the other from amid the deep shades of the Thuringian forest, sent forth the Bible to the nations in the vernacular tongues of England and Germany. A thirst was thus awakened for the Scriptures, which the Church of Rome deemed it imprudent openly to oppose. The Council of Trent enacted ten rules regarding prohibited books, which, while they appeared to gratify, were insidiously framed to check, the growing desire for the Word of God. In the fourth rule, the Council prohibits any one from reading the Bible without a licence from his bishop or inquisitor; that licence to be founded on a certificate from his confessor that he is in no danger of receiving injury from so doing. The Council adds these emphatic words:--"That if any one shall dare to read or keep in his possession that book, without such a licence, he shall not receive absolution till he has given it up to his ordinary."1 These rules are followed by the bull of Pius IV., in which he declares that those who shall violate them shall be held guilty of mortal sin. Thus did the Church of Rome attempt to regulate what she found it impossible wholly to prevent. The fact that no Papist is allowed to read the Bible without a licence does not appear in the catechisms and other books in common use among Roman Catholics in this country; but it is incontrovertible that it forms the law of that Church. And, in accordance therewith, we find that the uniform practice of the priests of Rome, from the popes downwards, is to prevent the circulation of the Bible,--to prevent it wholly in those countries, such as Italy and Spain, where they have the power, and in other countries, such as our own, to all the extent to which their power enables them. Their uniform policy is to discourage the reading of the Scriptures in every possible way; and when they dare not employ force to effect this object, they scruple not to press into their service the ghostly power of their Church, by declaring that those who presume to contravene the will of Rome in this matter are guilty of mortal sin. No farther back than 1816, Pope Pius VII., Pope Pius VIIin his bull, denounced the Bible Society, and expressed himself as "shocked" by the circulation of the Scriptures, which he characterizes as a "most crafty device, by which the very foundations of religion are undermined;" "a pestilence," which it behoves him, "to remedy and abolish;" "a defilement of the faith, eminently dangerous to souls." He congratulates the primate, to whom his letter is addressed, on the zeal he had shown "to detect and overthrow the impious machinations of these innovators;" and represents it as an episcopal duty to expose "the wickedness of this nefarious scheme," and openly to publish "that the Bible printed by heretics is to be numbered among other prohibited books, conformably to the rules of the index; for it is evident from experience, that the holy Scriptures, when circulated in the vulgar tongue, have, through the temerity of men, produced more harm than benefit."2 Thus, in the solemn judgment of the Church of Rome, expressed through her chief organ, the Bible has done more evil than good, and is beyond comparison the worst book in the world. There is only one other being whom Rome dreads more than the Bible, and that is its Author.

The same Pope issued a bull in 1819 on the subject of the circulation of the Scriptures in the Irish schools. He speaks of the circulation of the Scriptures in the schools as a sowing of tares; and that the children are thereby infested with the fatal poison of depraved doctrines; and exhorts the Irish bishops to endeavour to prevent the wheat being choked by the tares.3

In 1824 Pope Leo XII. published an encyclical letter, in which he adverts to a certain society, vulgarly termed the BIBLE SOCIETY, as spreading itself throughout the whole world; and goes on to term the Protestant Bible the "Gospel of the Devil." The late Pope Pope Gregory XVIGregory XVI., in his encyclical letter, after referring to the decree of the Council of Trent., quoted above, ratifies that and similar enactments of the Church:"Moreover, we confirm and renew the decrees recited above, delivered in former times by apostolic authority, against the publication, distribution, reading, and possession of books of the holy Scriptures translated into the vulgar tongue." That this hostility to the Word of God is not confined to the occupant of the Vatican, but pervades the entire body of the Romish clergy in all parts of the world, is evident from the recent well-authenticated instances of the burning of Bibles by priests in Belgium, in Ireland, and in Madeira. Not less significant is the fact, stated in evidence before the Commissioners of Education, that among the four hundred students attending the College of Maynooth, there were not to be found more than ten Bibles or Testaments; while every student was required to provide himself with a copy of the works of the Jesuits Bailly and Delahogue.4 Dr. Doyle, in his instructions to priests regarding Kildare Place Society, says, that if the parents sent their children to a Bible school, after the warning of the priest, "they would be guilty of mortal sin or if any of them suffered their children to go to an Hibernian school, he should think it proper "to withhold the sacrament from them when dying;" and he adds, "the Scriptures being read and got by heart, is quite sufficient in order to make the schools obnoxious to us."5 And to the use of the Bible without note or comment in these schools, Lord Stanley directly attributes their failure: the priests, says he, exerting "themselves with energy and success against a system to which they were in principle opposed."6 The hostility of the priests "does not appear to be against the versions of Protestants only, but against Scripture itself; as is manifest from their decided opposition to the Catholic version [the Douay], without note or comment, which the Bible Society proposed printing for the use of Catholics, but which was absolutely refused by their clergy?" Mr. Nowlan, in a debate with some Protestant clergymen in 1824, says, "If the Bible Society came to distribute copies of the Bible, even of that version which the Catholic Church approves of, on this principle [that of the Bible Society], we should still consider it our duty to oppose them."7 Since the 1st of June 1816, four pontiffs in succession, including Pius IX., have distinctly and formally intimated to the world, that by the distribution and reading of the holy Scriptures in the vulgar tongue, "the very FOUNDATIONS of their religion are undermined."8

In the face of these facts,--of their written creed plainly prohibiting the reading of the Scriptures without a licence, under pain of being held guilty of mortal sin; of anathemas against Bible Societies, thundered forth by the pontiffs; of the burning of the Bible by the hands of priests, as if it were "the book of heresy," as it was termed by the public prosecutor, when he pulled the New Testament from the sleeve of the "Vicar of Dollar;" in the face of the refusal of the sacrament to the dying, for the crime of sending their children to a school where the Bible was read; and the attempts both in Edinburgh, as in the case of the Ragged Schools, and in Ireland, as in the case of the Kildare Place Society schools, to defeat and overthrow schemes devised for the reclamation of the ignorant, the vicious, and the outcast, because these schemes included the reading of the Scriptures without note or comment,--it requires, assuredly, no small amount of hardihood to maintain, as we find priests of the Church of Rome doing, "that it is a great mistake, and, indeed, a calumny against the Catholic Church, to say that she is opposed to the full and unrestricted use and circulation of the Scriptures." We do not know that we have ever met with a more barefaced attempt of this kind than the following, made, too, in circumstances where, one would have thought, the most reckless audacity would have shrunk from such an attempt. The words we have quoted, charging it as a calumny on the Church of Rome to say that she is opposed to the "full and unrestricted use and circulation of the Scriptures," were uttered at Rome in the midst of millions sunk in the grossest ignorance of the sacred volume. They fell from the professor of dogmatic theology in the Collegio Romano, in a conversation held with the Rev. Mr. Seymour, a clergyman of the Church of England, who visited Rome a few years ago, and who has recorded his experience of Popery, as he found it existing in the metropolis of Roman Catholicism, in his work entitled "Mornings among the Jesuits at Rome." "The answer I made to this," says Mr. Seymour, "was, that having resided many years among a Roman Catholic population in Ireland, I had always found that the sacred volume was forbidden to them; and that since I came to Italy, and especially to Rome, I observed the most complete ignorance of the holy Scriptures, and that it was ascribed by themselves to a prohibition on the part of the Church.

"He at once stated that there must be some mistake, as the book was permitted to all who could understand it, and was, in fact, in very general circulation in Rome.

"I said that I had heard the contrary, and that it was impossible to procure a copy of the holy Scriptures in the Italian tongue in the city of Rome,--that I had so heard from an English gentleman who had resided there for ten years,--that I looked upon the statement as scarcely credible,--that I wished much to ascertain the matter for my own information,--that I had one day resolved to test this by visiting every bookselling establishment in the city of Rome,--that I had gone to the book-shop belonging to the Propaganda Fide,--to that patronized by his holiness the Pope,--to that which was connected with the Collegio Romano, and was patronized by the order of Jesuits,--to that which was established for the supply of English and other foreigners,--to those who sold old and second-hand books,--and that in every establishment, without exception, I found that the holy Scriptures were not for sale; I could not procure a single copy in the Roman language, of a portable size, in the whole city of Rome; and that when I asked each bookseller the reason of his not having so important a volume, I was answered, in every instance, e prohibito, or non permesso,--that the volume was prohibited, or that it was not permitted to be sold. I added, that Martini's edition was offered to me in two places, but it was in twenty-four volumes, and at a cost of 105 francs (that is, 4 sterling); and that, under such circumstances, I could not but regard the holy Scriptures as a prohibited book, at least in the city of Rome.

"He replied by acknowledging that it was very probable that I could not find the volume in Rome, especially as the population of Rome was very poor, and not able to purchase the sacred volume; and that the real reason the Scriptures were not at the booksellers, and also were not in circulation, was, not that they were forbidden or prohibited by the Church, but that the people of Rome were too poor, to buy them.

"I replied that they probably were too poor, whether in Rome or in England, to give one hundred and five francs for the book; but that the clergy of Rome, so numerous and wealthy, should do as in England, namely, form an association for cheapening the copies of the Scriptures.

"He said, in reply, that the priests were too poor to cheapen the volume, and that the people were too poor to purchase it.

"I then stated, that if this was really the case,--that if there was no prohibition against the sacred volume,--that if they would be willing to circulate it,--and that really and sincerely there was no other objection than the difficulties arising from the price of the book,--that difficulty should at once be obviated: I would myself undertake to obtain from England, through the Bible Society, any number of Bibles that could be circulated; and that they should be sold at the lowest possible price, or given freely and gratuitously, to the inhabitants of Rome. I stated that the people of England loved the Scriptures beyond all else in this world; and that it would be to them a source of delight and thanksgiving to give for gratuitous circulation any number of copies of the sacred volume that the inhabitants of Rome could require.

"He immediately answered, that he thanked me for the generous offer; but that there would be no use in accepting it, as the people of Rome were very ignorant, were in a state of brutal ignorance, were unable to read anything; and therefore could not profit by reading the Scriptures, even if we supplied them gratuitously.

"I could not conceal from myself that he was prevaricating with me,--that his former excuse of poverty, and this latter excuse of ignorance, were mere evasions; so I asked him whose fault it was that the people remained in such universal and unaccountable ignorance. There were above five thousand priests, monks, and nuns, besides cardinals and prelates, in the city of Rome; that the whole population was only thirty thousand families; that thus there was a priest, or a monk, or a nun, for every six families in Rome; that thus there were ample means for the education of the people; and I asked, therefore, whether the Church was not to blame for this ignorance on the part of the people?

"He immediately turned from the subject, saying, that the Church held the infallibility of the Pope, to whom it therefore belonged to give the only infallible interpretation of the Scriptures.9

But a more authoritative confirmation still of all that we have advanced against Popery on this head has lately appeared. It is the Encyclical Letter of Pius IX. (issued in January 1850). The document is such a compound of despotism and bigotry as Leo XII. might have conceived, and Gregory XVI. signed. It is in itself such an exposure, that we add not a word of comment. After condemning the "new art of printing," the Pope goes on to say,--"Nay, more; with the assistance of the Biblical Societies, which have long been condemned by the holy chair, they do not blush to distribute holy Bibles, translated into the vulgar tongue, without being conformed to the rules of the Church." . . . . . . . . . "Under a false pretext of religion, they recommend the reading of them to the faithful. You, in your wisdom, perfectly understand, venerable brothers, with what vigilance and solicitude you ought to labour, that the faithful may fly with horror from this poisonous reading; and that they may remember that no man, supported by his own prudence, can arrogate to himself the right, and have the presumption, to interpret the Scriptures otherwise than as our holy mother the Church interprets them, to whom alone our Lord has confided the guardianship of the faith, judgment upon the true sense and interpretation of the divine books."10

So much for the doctrine and practice of the Church of Rome on this vital point. The world does not contain to her a more dangerous book than the Bible, or one from which she recoils with more instinctive dread. She neither dare disavow its authority, nor venture an open appeal to it by putting it into the hands of her people. With all her impudence and audacity, she trembles at the thought of appearing before this tribunal, well knowing that she cannot "stand in the judgment." Thus Rome is constrained to do homage to the majesty of the Bible. She has done her utmost to exile that book from the world, with all the treasures it contains,--its thrilling narratives, its rich poetry, its profound philosophy, its sublime doctrines, its blessed promises, its magnificent prophecies, its glorious and immortal hopes. Were any being so malignant or so powerful as to extinguish the light of day, and condemn the successive generations of men to pass their lives amid the gloom of an unbroken night, where would words be found strong enough to execrate the enormity. Far greater is the crime of Rome. After the day of Christianity had broke, she was able to cover Europe with darkness, and, by the exclusion of the Bible, to perpetuate that darkness from age to age. The enormity of her wickedness cannot be known on earth. But she cannot conceal from herself that, despite her anathemas, her indices expurgatorii, her tyrannical edicts, by which she still attempts to wall round her territory of darkness, the Bible is destined to overcome in the conflict. Hence her implacable hostility,--a hostility founded, to a large extent, upon fear. We find her members at times making this unwilling confession. The Bible, said Richard du Mans, in the Council of Trent, "ought not to be made a study, because the Lutherans only gain those who read it." And in more modern times we find Mr. Shiel asserting, on a stage not less conspicuous than that of the Council of Trent, that "the reading of the Bible would lead to the subversion of the Roman Catholic Church." The Popish divine and the British senator, at an interval of three centuries, unite in declaring that Popery and the Bible cannot stand together. How like are these vaticinations to the words spoken to Haman by Zeresh his wife!--"Then said his wise men and Zeresh his wife unto him, if Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews, before whom thou hast begun to fall, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shalt surely fall before him." The world is not wide enough to contain both the Bible and the Pope. Each claims an undivided empire. To suppose that the two can live together at Rome, is to suppose an impossibility. The entrance of the one is the expulsion of the other. To Popery a single Bible is more dreadful than an army of ten thousand strong. Let IT enter, and, as Dagon fell before the ark of old, so surely shall the mighty Dagon which has sat enthroned so long upon the Seven Hills fall prostrate and be utterly broken. Unseal this blessed page to the nations, and farewell to the inventions and the frauds, to the authority and the grandeur, of Rome. This is the catastrophe she already apprehends. And therefore, when she meets the Bible in her path, she is startled, and exclaims in terror, "I know thee, whom thou art: art thou come to torment me before the time?"

1 Concil. Trid. de Libris Probibitis, p. 231 of Leipsic ed. The Latin Vulgate is the authorized standard in the Church of Rome, and that to the disparagement of the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. These are omitted in the decree, and a translation is substituted. All Protestant translations, such as our authorized English version, Luther's translation, &c. are prohibited. (See Concil. Trid., decretum de editione et usu sacrorum librorum.)

2 Given at Rome, June 29th, 1816; and addressed to the Archbishop of Gnezn, primate of Poland.

3 M'Gavin's Protestant, vol. i. p. 262, 8th ed.

4 Ireland in 1846-7, p. 33. By Philip Dixon Hardy, M. R. I. A.


6 Lord Stanley's Letter to the Duke of Leinster.

7 Elliot's Delineation of Romanism, pp. 21, 22.

8 Doubtless the most effectual way of extirpating heresy would be to extirpate the Bible; and this object Rome has striven to effect, not only by pontifical bulls, but by stigmatizing the Bible in every possible way, to bring it into general contempt. Pighius called the Scriptures a nose of wax, which easily suffers itself to be drawn backward and forward, and moulded this way and that way, and however you like. Turrian styled them a shoe that will fit any foot, a sphinx riddle, a matter for strife. Lessius, imperfect, doubtful, obscure, ambiguous, and perplexed. The author De Tribus Veritatibus designates them a forest for thieves, a shop of heretics. How different the estimate which David had formed of them:--"The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple."

9 Mornings among the Jesuits at Rome, pp. 132-135.

10 The following touching anecdote, for the truth of which the writer can vouch, illustrates well the spirit of modern Popery as regards the Bible. The wife of a clergyman of the Church of England died at Rome. The following epitaph was prepared by her husband for her tomb-stone:-- "To her to live was Christ," &c. "She is gone to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense, till the day break," &c. This was submitted to the censor,--struck out: an appeal was carried to Pius IX. himself: he confirmed the censor's act on two grounds ; 1st, "It was unlawful to express the hope of immortality over the grave of a heretic," 2nd, "It was contrary to law to publish in the sight of the Roman people any portion of the Word of God."

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