Was King James persecuted by the Church for translating the Bible into English?




Full Question

A friend told me that King James II of England was persecuted by the Catholic Church because the Church did not want the king translating the Bible into English so the common people could read it. Is any of this true?

Answer

Your friend is misinformed. James II of England (1633-1701) was a Catholic, indeed the last Catholic monarch of England. James was driven from the throne by Protestants, who replaced him with his own Protestant daughter and son-in-law, for the “crime” of producing a Catholic male heir to succeed him. To make certain that would never happen again, Parliament quickly passed laws to forbid a Catholic from ever again inheriting the British throne and to forbid the succession to the throne of anyone who married a Catholic (which was the “crime” of James’s older brother, Charles II). This episode in British history is the so-called Glorious Revolution.

Your friend is probably thinking of James I of England (1566-1625), who authorized the Protestant translation of the Bible that bears his name (the King James Version, also known as the Authorized Version). This James ultimately chose to continue the anti-Catholic policies of his predecessor Elizabeth I. He did so mainly because his anti-Catholic minister and spymaster Robert Cecil chose (it is believed) to nurture and then “expose” the Gunpowder Plot that was hatched by some disaffected Catholics to blow up Parliament and assassinate the king and his family. (See “Remember This about November Fifth,” This Rock, May-June 2008.) The Catholic Church did not persecute James I for authorizing a translation of Scripture.





6 comments

  1. John Currie Reply

    How can a king be persecuted? A monarch can be overthrown, deposed or abdicate but persecuted seems to be quite a stretch. Kings possess a lot of power and a lot of money.

  2. Trung Reply

    Jesus Christ was persecuted.

  3. Bob Reply

    I’m so tired of this myth that the Church did not want people to read/know what is in the Bible.

    In all, 198 editions of the Bible were in the language of the laity, all before the first Protestant version, and all having the full approval of the Church.

    Luther himself noted “it was an effect of God’s 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…” Many people both Catholic and Protestant do not realize exactly how much they owe the Catholic Church for the progression of the bible as we know it today. For example, before Luther made his German translation in September of 1522, there were seventeen German transitions (all before 1518) already in print, twelve of these in the Low-German dialect. The first being made in the 7th century.
    The first English translation was made in the 8th Century by Aldhelm, the Bishop of Sherborne, and Bede some 1000 years before King James. A 9th century translation of the Bible into English (Anglo-Saxon the dialect of its time) was made by Alfred. A tenth century translation into English was made by Aelfric. By 1361 a translation of most of Scripture in the English dialect (Anglo-Norman) of its time had been executed. This was twenty years before Wycliffe’s 1381 translation.

    1. Yvonne Reply

      There were English translations before James, but not widely distributed and not used in church services which were in Latin. Wycliff was indeed persecuted earlier.

      1. Bob Reply

        They weren’t widely distributed because there were no printing presses back in the 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th…..century. Each Bible was hand copied by Catholic monks and were rare and thus more valuable and cost more than most people made in a dozen lifetimes. Of course they were not widely distributed. It had nothing to do with not wanting people to have them. In fact when the printing press was invented, the first book published was the Catholic Bible.

  4. Bob Reply

    I’m so tired of the myth that the Church did not want anyone to read/know what is in the Bible.

    In all, 198 editions of the Bible were in the language of the laity, all before the first Protestant version, and all having the full approval of the Church.

    Luther himself noted “it was an effect of God’s 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…” Many people both Catholic and Protestant do not realize exactly how much they owe the Catholic Church for the progression of the bible as we know it today. For example, before Luther made his German translation in September of 1522, there were seventeen German transitions (all before 1518) already in print, twelve of these in the Low-German dialect. The first in the 7th century some 900 to 1000 years before King James.

    The first English translation was in the 8th century by Aldhelm, the Bishop of Sherborne, and Bede. A 9th century translation of the Bible in to English (Anglo-Saxon the dialect of its time) was made by Alfred. A tenth century translation in to English was made by Aelfric. By 1361 a translation of most of Scripture in the English dialect (Anglo-Norman) of its time had been executed. This was twenty years before Wycliffe’s 1381 translation.

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