Did the Catholic Church Forbid People from Reading the Bible?

Full Question

When the popes were treated as more powerful than kings why was the common man not allowed to read the bible?


For starters, up until the relative modern era the “common man” would not have been literate enough to read the Bible even in the vernacular.  There would have been no reason to prohibit the reading of something that most people couldn’t read.

Secondly, the reading of the Bible was never prohibited.  Certain translations that were considered heretical or that contained anti-Catholic commentaries were prohibited but those who were able to read an authorized translation were never forbidden to read the Bible.

By Fr. Charles Grondin



  1. Patrick Gannon Reply

    This is an incomplete and misleading response. Take for example, William Tyndall who translated the bible to English and was strangled and burned at the stake for doing so in 1536. As it turned out his translation went on to account for most of the text in the King James version of the OT and NT.
    The Church did not encourage people to read the bible and at one time had a prohibition against translating it to other languages. Clearly they were not going out of their way to make it easy to read – even for those who were literate enough to do so (and who might then share what they learned with others!). I cannot recall ever being encouraged by the clergy to read the entire bible when I was a Catholic kid. We were told that in order to read it, we needed to be counseled by clergy so we got the proper interpretations. When I finally read the whole thing cover to cover decades later, I discovered why the Church does not encourage reading it….the Abrahamic god is evil. It’s hard to read a “holy” book in which prophets of God command that everyone within a city should be killed, including women, children and chattel – but the virgin girls may be taken by the soldiers for their own use. It’s hard to read a “holy” book in which Yahweh-Jesus kills 70,000 innocents because King Dave took a census. I could go on and on here… Even today, reading the entire bible, probably creates more agnostics and atheists than anything else.
    So why didn’t the author of this question refer to these facts:
    “Decree of the Council of Toulouse (1229 C.E.): “We prohibit also that the laity should be permitted to have the books of the Old or New Testament; but we most strictly forbid their having any translation of these books.”
    “Ruling of the Council of Tarragona of 1234 C.E.: “No one may possess the books of the Old and New Testaments in the Romance language, and if anyone possesses them he must turn them over to the local bishop within eight days after promulgation of this decree, so that they may be burned…”
    “Proclamations at the Ecumenical Council of Constance in 1415 C.E.: Oxford professor, and theologian John Wycliffe, was the first (1380 C.E.) to translate the New Testament into English to “…helpeth Christian men to study the Gospel in that tongue in which they know best Christ’s sentence.” For this “heresy” Wycliffe was posthumously condemned by Arundel, the archbishop of Canterbury. By the Council’s decree “Wycliffe’s bones were exhumed and publicly burned and the ashes were thrown into the Swift River.”
    The probable explanation for this is that the Church did not want its members to know that the foundation for Christianity was Judaism, or for its members to know Jesus had a lifelong dedication to Judaism and Jewish practices, was a thoroughly dedicated practicing Jew who never once suggested creating a new religion. The Church probably wanted to conceal the Jewish identity of the disciples such as James who insisted on maintaining Jewish laws and traditions. The Church went out of its way to break with Judaism, and part of this involved working with those pesky, but thoroughly Jewish, NT texts, which among other things say right out that Jesus came for the Jews.
    Note that the word “Jew” occurs a couple hundred times in the NT, but the term Christian doesn’t appear once. Readers of the bible would have taken notice of the fact that it’s a Jewish document, and that was a problem for an organization that wanted a clean break from Judaism so they could focus instead on a manic obsession with sex, I suppose. The author’s answer to the question is evasive and incomplete – but what do you expect from apologetics?
    Over the centuries, the relationship between Judaism and Christianity has improved, as illustrated in this discussion between Cardinal Dolan and Barbara Walters in 2012: “Barbara Walters, one of the hosts, playfully said to the affable Cardinal, “I’m crazy about you. I’m thinking of converting. Do you take Jewish girls?” Dolan responded, “My favorite girl of all time was Jewish.” “Who is that?” Walters asked with a surprised look. “Mary” Cardinal Dolan answered softly. His casual remark suggests that the celebration of common ground can trump doctrinal differences.
    It’s interesting to note that in this response, the author still doesn’t encourage reading the whole thing! But do so. Read it. See what they’ve been hiding from you. See all the portions that you never once heard in mass and never will. The bible is bad enough, but Catholicism went out of its way to make Yahweh-Jesus even more evil than the bible suggests. Jesus spoke of Gehenna, the (long closed) Jerusalem town dump, but the Church turned that into a Hell of eternal torture, insisting that those who do not believe, say and do the things the Church (not the bible) insists on, will suffer for trillions of years, despite living here as mere humans for but a handful of decades. It even decided that those aborted, miscarried or stillborn who committed the grievous sin of dying before baptism be sent to Hell. Catholics worship an evil god, or the clergy has misrepresented their god. Which is it?

  2. Peter Aiello Reply

    There is still, in the culture of the Church, the tendency to discourage the private interpretation of Scripture. How can you read Scripture without getting a personal understanding of what it is saying? In any discussion of conscience formation, the direct use of Scripture itself is hardly ever mentioned. The reading of Scripture doesn’t have to be prohibited by the Church, when the Church does not encourage its direct use. All of Christianity is supposed to be regulated by Sacred Scripture (V2’s Dei Verbum 21) including our own consciences. How can this happen without us understanding it?
    It is my primary spiritual instruction book.

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