Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Who Obscured Scripture - Luther or the Medieval Church

Much like the assumption of Catholics that Protestants will scream when doused with Holy Water, there is another myth coming from the other side. I would argue that this myth has so pervaded Protestantism that their historians have spread it even unto the academic world. Today I encountered it.

It is the great Protestant myth that the Catholic Church is somehow 'scared' of the Bible. It is a natural assumption of most people, that the Protestant Reformation saved the bible from the ashes. This is a lie. Over 100 editions of the Bible were produced by the Catholic Church in the 50 years preceding the Reformation in the vernacular languages (spoken or common languages) of the people. Martin Luther produced one, which the Church forbid -as it did with Wycliffe's because it was an improper translation, Luther added 'alone' to Eph 2:8-9, and other such disfigurements of the word of God as preserved by the Catholic and Orthodox Church.

People complain about the 'Vulgate' - the Latin Bible being used, and that it's purpose was to 'hide' the bible from commoners in a foreign language. The name Vulgate is interesting because it comes from the same english root as Vulgar - meaning in the common speech of the people.

Here is an amazing article showing that this Protestant Myth is just that - a myth - and not a fun myth like Lord of the Rings, or a true myth like Gen 1-3, but a fake bad myth.

here it is: (thank you Lord for Dave Armstrong)
"because of the human tendency to dichotomize differing viewpoints and to create "good guys" and "bad guys" in the most sweeping terms, it becomes almost "psychologically necessary" to come up with a villan, historically-speaking. If Protestants are for the Bible, then (in this mindset) someone has to be the "bad guy" and against the Bible. Therefore, in a movie of this sort, which deals with the myth and folklore of Protestant origins, the Catholic Church "must" be the "bad guy" and enemy of the Holy Scriptures (otherwise, much of the Protestant self-understanding and historical importance and rationale for the very movement itself is greatly hindered). Alongside this is the commonly-held Protestant caricature of claiming that the Catholic Church "feared" the Bible, and how it would expose the falsity of Catholic beliefs, which is why she allegedly forbade it to the common people, in the common tongue, and discouraged its study.

The only problem with such embellishment of one's own epic and noble tale of origins is that it can't hold a candle to the true history concerning the Catholic high reverence for Scripture. It is a simple, indisputable historical fact that the Catholic Church was the guardian, translator and preserver of the Bible for the nearly 1500 years between the time of Jesus Christ and Martin Luther. Anyone at all familiar with the Middle Ages knows about learned monks copying the Scriptures laboriously by hand.

Had the Catholic Church hated or feared the Bible as is so often absurdly claimed, it was an easy matter during this period to destroy all copies. Nor were the masses ignorant of the Bible in the Middle Ages before the Protestants came into the picture. If anything, Bible literacy in the fifty years before Luther's revolt (1467-1517) among lay non-scholars was arguably greater than in our own time.

Before the modern printing press was invented in the mid-15th century, Bibles were chained at libraries not in order to "keep them from the people," as the stereotype goes, but rather, to protect them from thieves, so the common people could have more access to them, as books were very expensive. This practice persisted long after 1517 in Protestant countries such as England, since older books would have continued to be very valuable. Every Protestant (even the most anti-Catholic sort) ought to be profoundly thankful to the Catholic Church, without which they would not possess their Bible.

Nor is it at all true that the Catholic Church was opposed to the printing and distribution of Bible translations in vernacular languages (it did oppose some Protestant translations which it felt were inaccurate). For instance (utterly contrary to the myths in this regard which are pathetically promulgated by the movie Luther), between 1466 and the onset of Protestantism in 1517 at least sixteen editions of the Bible appeared in German, with the full approval of the Catholic Church:

High German:
Strasburg: 1466, 1470, 1485
Basel, Switzerland: 1474
Augsburg: 1473 (2), 1477 (2), 1480, 1487, 1490, 1507 [also in 1518]
Nuremburg: 1483

Low German:
Cologne: 1480 (2)
Lubeck: 1494
Halberstadt: [1522]
Delf: [before 1522]
(From Johannes Janssen, History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages, 16 vols., translated by A.M. Christie, St. Louis: B. Herder, 1910 [orig. 1891], vol. 1, 56-57, vol. 14, 388)" - Dave Armstrong in a Response to the movie "Luther"


  1. First, a minor thing, Luther added alone to Romans 3:28. Though "faith...not works" in Eph 2:8-9 seems self-explanitory that it is not faith and works.

    The problem of translation is one of the language being translated from. Reading the New Testament in Greek and the Old Testament in Hebrew gets closer to the root of meaning than a translation into Latin, or a translation of that translation (which the older translations were). One of the biggest points of poor translation of a translation is the Latin "reputat" for the Greek word "λογίζεται" thus turning the Greek which meant imputed to a Latin that was closer to reputation. Same with the word "μετανοέω" which meant "repent," not "do penance" as the DRB translates it. Jerome did a wonderful thing in translating the Greek Bible into Latin for the common people, but the later Roman Church did a bad thing in thinking that translation without looking to the original was sufficient, becoming then what a KJV-only church is like today.