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Chapter 11

Burning Bibles and Saints


The use of Catholic translators in the production of modern ecumenical versions of scripture overlooks the abysmal record of the Papacy in relation to the Bible. The record is one of hatred toward God’s Word and those who humbly choose to read it. Protestants with short memories will protest that it is quite unjust to judge the modern Papacy by the standards and actions of its medieval predecessors. It is asserted that times have changed, and thank God they have. But has Rome genuinely altered her attitude toward Scripture?

In recent years, the Emperor of Japan publicly apologized to South Korea for Japanese actions during their Korean occupation from 1910 to 1945; the governments of East Germany, Poland, and Hungary apologized publicly to Czechoslovakia for the part they played in putting down the Prague pro-democracy uprising of 1968; the U.S.S.R. apologized to Poland for massacres it undertook during the Second World War. But when has the Vatican publicly apologized for the burning of Bibles and the immolation of saintly people? Until it does, it ill behooves Protestants to assume that there is a genuine change of heart by the Roman Catholic Church to the Word of God.

In 1943, Pastor Christian Edwardson wrote the book Facts of Faith. His presentation is well documented and emphasizes the papal attitude toward the Scriptures. There follows an extract from his book, printed by the Southern Publishing Association:

Could it be thought possible that an all-wise Creator would bring so many millions of people into existence, as the inhabitants of this earth, and give them no information as to why they are here, or what His will is concerning them? No, that would be unreasonable. Just as surely as there is a judgment day coming, on which we all shall be called to account for our conduct, so surely He must have given us an infallible rule of life. But what is this "infallible rule"? The Roman Catholics say it is "the Church, with its traditions." But the church has changed so greatly since its origin that if the apostles could arise from the dead, they would not recognize it as the church they established. As for "tradition," it is like a story that grows and changes as it travels. No government would be satisfied with oral laws. In so important a matter as our eternal happiness we need a rule that is more stable and unchangeable, and this rule we have in God’s infallible Word, the Bible.

The Bible is not the product of man’s thought and planning.

For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. 2 Peter 1:21; compare Isaiah 55:8-9; 1 Corinthians 3:5.

Peter says: "The Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake," Acts 1:16, and David himself declares: "The Spirit of the Lord spake by me." 2 Samuel 23:2. Of Jeremiah we read, "Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth." Jeremiah 1:9. Thus the whole Bible is God’s word spoken through human instrumentality, for "God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began," Acts 3:21, and His hand guided them while they wrote: "The Lord made me understand in writing by his hand upon me." 1 Chronicles 28:19

And so the prophets, after writing of Christ’s coming, were "searching" their own writings to find out

what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. 1 Peter 1:11

We have now presented the testimony of the Bible itself to the fact that "all scripture is given by inspiration of God." 2 Timothy 3:16. No consistent person can, therefore, receive one portion of it while he rejects another. Jesus says: "The scripture cannot be broken." John 10:35.

He, the Author of the Scriptures, displayed such implicit confidence in them, that even the devil did not dare to question their authority, when Christ faced him with the words: "It is written." Matthew 4:4, 7, 10.  Yes, "devils also believe, and tremble," James 2:19,  for they know the Bible is true, while critics today doubt and ridicule, see Jude 10. What has caused such terrible unbelief among men? We shall now briefly review the causes and the history of modern "Higher Criticism."

After the church had fallen from its apostolic purity of life and doctrine, it found that, where the Bible was read by the common people, they lost faith in the church and opposed her worship as a species of idolatry. This was particularly true of the Waldenses, who had retained the Bible in their native language hundreds of years before the Reformation, and had copied and spread its pages over Catholic Christendom, wherever their missionaries traveled. It was natural, therefore, that the Roman Church, instead of supplying the common people with the Scriptures in their native tongue, should oppose this availability of the Scriptures to the people. Cardinal Merry del Val says that on account of the activity of the Waldenses, and later of the Protestants, in spreading the Scriptures in the native language of the people,

the Pontiffs and the Councils were obliged on more than one occasion to control and sometimes even forbid the use of the Bible in the vernacular. . . .

Those who would put the Scriptures indiscriminately into the hands of the people are the believers always in private interpretation—a fallacy both absurd in itself and pregnant with disastrous consequences. These counterfeit champions of the inspired book hold the Bible to be the sole source of Divine Revelation and cover with abuse and trite sarcasm the Catholic and Roman Church. Foreword, Index of Prohibited Books, revised and published by order of Pope Pius XI, Vatican Polyglot Press, 1930, x-xi, quoted in Facts of Faith, 10-11.

These plain words from such an authentic source need no comment. Ever since the first Index of Prohibited Books was issued by Pope Paul IV in 1559, the Bible has had a prominent place in these lists of forbidden books. And before the invention of printing it was comparatively easy for the Roman Church to control what the people should, or should not, read; but shortly before the Reformation started the Lord prepared the way for its rapid progress by the discovery of the art of printing. The name of Laurence Coster, of Holland, is often mentioned in connection with the story of the first production in Europe, in 1423, of movable type. In 1450 to 1455 John Gutenberg printed the Latin Bible at Mentz (Mainz), Germany. He endeavored for a time to keep his invention a secret, but Samuel Smiles relates:

In the meanwhile, the printing establishments of Gutenberg and Schoeffer were for a time broken up by the sack and plunder of Mentz by the Archbishop Adolphus in 1462, when, their workmen becoming dispersed, and being no longer bound to secrecy, they shortly after carried with them the invention of the new art into nearly every country in Europe. The Huguenots, London: John Murray, 1868, 7, quoted in ibid., 11

There being so few books to print, and there being a ready sale for Bibles, the printers risked hazards from the opposition of the Church, and printed Bibles in Latin, Italian, Bohemian, Dutch, French, Spanish, and German. While these were so expensive that only the wealthy could afford to buy them, and their language was not adapted to the minds of the common people, yet they—

seriously alarmed the Church; and in 1486 the Archbishop of Mentz placed the printers of that city, which had been the cradle of the printing press, under strict censorship. Twenty-five years later, Pope Alexander VI issued a bull prohibiting the printers of Cologne, Mentz, Treves, and Magdeburg, from publishing any books without the express license of their archbishops. Although these measures were directed against the printing of religious works generally, they were more particularly directed against the publication of the Scriptures in the vulgar [common] tongue. Ibid., 8, quoted in ibid., 12

The time had now come for the light to shine, and God’s Word could no longer be kept from the people. Prophecy states that in spite of captivity, fire and sword,

they shall be holpen with a little help. Daniel 11:34

But the people had been kept in darkness so long that they could not endure the glaring light of all the Bible truths at once. They had to come gradually, and the hour had struck for the Reformation to begin.

In preparing for the Reformation, the Lord had worked in marvelous ways to provide protection for the Reformers. The night before Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses on the door of the castle church at Wittenberg, the Elector Frederick of Saxony had a remarkable dream. In relating it to Duke John the next morning he said:

I must tell you a dream which I had last night . . For I dreamed it thrice, and each time with new circumstances . . . I fell asleep, . . . I then awoke . . . I prayed . . . God to guide me, my counsels, and my people according to the truth. I again fell asleep, and then dreamed that Almighty God sent me a monk. . . . All the saints accompanied him by order of God, in order to bear testimony before me, and to declare that he did not come to contrive any plot. . . . They asked me to have the goodness graciously to permit him to write something on the door of the church of the Castle of Wittenberg. This I granted through my chancellor. Thereupon the monk went to the church, and began to write in such large characters that I could read the writing at Schweinitz. The pen which he used was so large that its end reached as far as Rome, where it pierced the ears of a lion that was crouching there, and caused the triple crown upon the head of the Pope to shake. All the cardinals and princes, running hastily up, tried to prevent it from falling. . . . I awoke . . . it was only a dream [Again he fell asleep].

Then I dreamed that all the princes of the Empire, and we among them, hastened to Rome, and strove, one after another, to break the pen; but the more we tried the stiffer it became, sounding as if it had been made of iron. We at length desisted. . . . Suddenly I heard a loud noise—a large number of other pens had sprung out of the long pen of the monk. I awoke a third time: it was daylight. . . .

So passed the morning of the 31st October, 1517, in the royal castle of Schweinitz. . . . The elector has hardly made an end of telling his dream when the monk comes with the hammer to interpret it. J.A.Wylie, LL.D., History of Protestantism, vol. 1, 263-266, quoted in ibid. 14

One can hardly be surprised that the elector of Saxony became Luther’s protector during his long struggle with the Papacy. The greatest work that was accomplished by these "pens" of the Reformation was the translation of the Bible into the language of the common people. True, there had been some attempts made before this time to produce the Scriptures in the vernacular, but without much success, as the language was almost unintelligible to the common people, and the price prohibitive.

After Martin Luther had spent much time in the homes and company of the people that he might acquire their language, he, with his co-workers, translated the Bible into a language that, while it was dignified and beautiful, was so natural and easy to be understood by the ordinary mind that it made the Bible at once "the people’s book." The New Testament was translated in 1521, and fifty-eight editions of it were printed between 1522 and 1533: seventeen editions at Wittenberg, thirteen at Augsberg, twelve at Basel, one at Erfurt, one at Grimma, one at Leipzig, and thirteen at Strassburg. The Old Testament was first printed in four parts, 1523 to 1533, and finally the entire Bible was published in one volume in 1534.

In 1522 Jacques Lefevre translated the New Testament into French, and Collin, at Meaux, printed it in 1524. In 1525 William Tyndale translated the New Testament into English. All these New Testaments were translated from the original Greek, and not from the imperfect Latin Vulgate used by the papal church.

Printing presses were kept busy printing the Scriptures, while colporteurs and booksellers sold them to the eager public. The effect was tremendous.

Every honest intellect was at once struck with the strange discrepancy between the teaching of the Sacred Volume and that of the Church of Rome. Eugene Lawrence, Historical Studies, New York: Harper Brothers, 1876, 255

In the Book of God there were found no purgatory, no infallible pope, no Masses for the dead, no sale of indulgences, no relics working miracles, no prayers for the dead, nor worship of the Virgin Mary or of the saints. But there the people found a loving Saviour with open arms welcoming the poorest and vilest of sinners to come and receive forgiveness full and free. Love filled their hearts and broke the shackles of sin and superstition. Profanity, coarse jests, drunkenness, vice, and disorder disappeared. The blessed Book was read by young and old, and became the talk in the home and shop, while the Church with its Latin Mass lost its attraction.

Rome was awake to the inevitable result of allowing the common people to read the Bible, and the vicar of Croydon declared in a speech at St. Paul’s Cross, London:

We must destroy the printing press, or it will destroy us. Quoted in E.R.Palmer, The Printing Press and the Gospel, 24, quoted in ibid., 14

The papal machinery was therefore set in motion for the destruction of the Bible.

There now began a remarkable contest between the Romish Church and the Bible—between the printers and the popes. . . . quoted in ibid., 15

To the Bible the popes at once declared a deathless hostility. To read the Scriptures was in their eyes the grossest of crimes. . . . The Inquisition was invested with new terrors, and was forced upon France and Holland by papal armies. The Jesuits were everywhere distinguished by their hatred for the Bible. In the Netherlands they led the persecutions of Alva and Philip II; they rejoiced with a dreadful joy when Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent, the fairest cities of the workingmen, were reduced to pauperism and ruin by the Spanish arms; for the Bible had perished with its defenders. . . . quoted in ibid., 15

To burn Bibles was the favorite employment of zealous Catholics. Wherever they were found the heretical volumes were destroyed by active Inquisitors, and thousands of Bibles and Testaments perished in every part of France. Lawrence, op. cit. 254-257, quoted in ibid., 15

In Spain, not only were the common people forbidden to read the Bible, but also university professors were forbidden by the "Supreme Council" of the Inquisition to possess their valuable Bible manuscripts.

The council, in consequence, decreed that those theologians in the university who had studied the original languages, should be obliged, as well as other persons, to give up their Hebrew and Greek Bibles to the commissaries of the holy office, on pain of excommunication. D.J.A. Llorente, Secretary of the Inquisition, History of the Inquisition of Spain, London, 1827, 105, quoted in ibid., 15

In 1490, Torquemada [the Inquisitor-General] caused many Hebrew Bibles and more than six thousand volumes to be burnt in an auto-da-fé at Salamanca. Joseph Mendham, M.A., Literary Policy of the Church of Rome, London, 1830, 97, quoted in ibid., 15

How many thousands of invaluable manuscripts thus perished in the flames of the Inquisition, eternity alone will reveal. It is exceedingly difficult for a Protestant in our day to fathom the extent of this fear of, and enmity against, the Bible, manifested by the Roman Church. With her it was actually a life-or-death struggle. A person must read the history of the Inquisition, and examine the Roman indexes of forbidden books, to understand her viewpoint. Inquisitor-General Perez del Prado gave expression to her feelings and her bitter lament when he declared in horror

that some individuals had carried their audacity to the execrable extremity of demanding permission to read the Holy Scriptures in the vulgar tongue, without fearing to encounter mortal poison therein. Quoted in Llorente, et al., 111, quoted in ibid., 16

The funeral pyres were lit all over Europe. Samuel Smiles says of France:

Bibles and New Testaments were seized wherever found, and burnt; but more Bibles and Testaments seemed to rise, as if by magic, from their ashes. The printers who were convicted of printing Bibles were next seized and burnt. The Bourgeois de Paris [a Roman Catholic paper] gives a detailed account of the human sacrifices offered up to ignorance and intolerance in that city during the six months ending June, 1534, from which it appears that twenty men and one woman were burnt alive. . . . In the beginning of the following year, the Sorbonne obtained from the king an ordinance, which was promulgated on the 26th of February, 1535, for the suppression of printing! Smiles, 20-21 and first footnote, quoted in ibid., 16

Further attempts continued to be made by Rome to check the progress of printing. In 1599 [1559] Pope Paul IV issued the first Index Expurgatorius. Henry Charles Lea, History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, vol. 3, 587, quoted in ibid., 16

The first Roman "Index of Prohibited Books" (Index librorum prohibitorum), published in 1559 under Paul IV, was very severe, and was therefore mitigated under that pontiff by decree of the Holy Office of 14 June of the same year. "Index," Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. vii, 722, quoted in ibid. 17

* * *

Persecution raged over nearly all Europe: in 1545 the massacre of the Vaudois of Provence was perpetrated; and on the twenty-fourth of August, 1572, the St. Bartholomew Massacre commenced, and continued until between 70,000 and 100,000 innocent and unsuspecting persons were murdered in cold blood for being Protestants. The massacre was secretly planned by the leaders of the Roman Church. Sully says 70,000 were slain, though other writers estimate the victims at 100,000. Ibid, 71-72

Catherine de Medici wrote in triumph to Alva, to Philip II, and to the Pope. . . . Rome was thrown into a delirium of joy at the news. The cannons were fired at St. Angelo; Gregory XIII and his cardinals went in procession from sanctuary to sanctuary to give God thanks for the massacre. The subject was ordered to be painted, and a medal was struck, with the Pope’s image on one side, and the destroying angel on the other, immolating the Huguenots. Ibid., 71-72

Finally, however, the papal church discovered that her opposition to the Bible only betrayed the sad fact that, instead of being the divinely instituted church of the Bible, she and the Scriptures were deadly enemies, and that her open fight was furnishing the world with the clearest evidences to justify the Reformation. Her relentless persecution was making martyrs, but not loyal Catholics. She must halt her course and forge new weapons against Protestantism, if she ever hoped to win the battle. But what were these weapons to be? (Extracted from Our Firm Foundation, November, 1990.)

The answer lay in the foisting of perverted Scriptures upon gullible Protestants.


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