Did the Catholic Church Supress Knowledge of the Bible?


I have heard this claimed before. Is it just a protestant talking point? Did the Catholic church attempt to keep people from reading the bible in their own language?

Any links or articles on this matter would be greatly appreciated!

It is absolutely a Protestant talking point. Protestants claim this was an attempt to hide scriptures from the people. It was one of many attempts to discredit the Church and the Pope.

First, we must note that Latin was a language used in the vast Roman Empire.

Some of the scriptures were translated to Latin. The mass was also said in Latin.

Saint Jerome translated scriptures into Latin around 400 AD. He used Greek manuscripts, Hebrew manuscripts, and Old Latin manuscripts.

There were many heretical movements and uninspired letters circulating in early Church history.

The clergy used Latin as their language, in part, to protect the Church and scripture.

This was at least 1,200 years before the Protestant Reformation.

They were not speaking English or German in the Middle East where the Church originated.

So, a Protestant cannot understand the use of Latin. Essentially, a Protestant will start with Christ, go to Luther, and pay little attention to the 1,500 years in between.

When one rejects the Church and its tradition, one misses out on the origins of Christianity.

I think it doesn’t have any truth to it because there is many examples of bible translations throughout history. It was translated by many people into English.

Here’s a link of a list of people from pre-1066 who did so:


From what I understand, the Church suppressed heretical translations. The Church was attempting to protect her children from having the Scriptures twisted to their destruction (cf. 2 Peter 3:16). It was these Bibles that threatened to obscure knowledge of the truth in Scripture.

Perhaps the point is obfuscated by the advent of the printing press at almost the exact same time (also in Germany). If it only takes 6 hours to make a Bible instead of 6 months… It will look like the others weren’t trying. Just a thought.

Plus - it brought the price way down and more people learned to read.

Here are some quotes from Church History that show that the Church has always promoted knowledge of the Bible:

Promotion of Scripture Study & Bible Reading in Church History

410 A.D. - St. Jerome - “* the command[s] of Christ: Search the Scriptures, and Seek and you shall find. Christ will not say to me what he said to the Jews: You erred, not knowing the Scriptures and not knowing the power of God. … [For] ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” (Commentary on Isaiah Book 18)

Before 604 A.D. - Pope St. Gregory I - “The Emperor of heaven, the Lord of men and of angels, has sent you His epistles for your life’s advantage—and yet you neglect to read them eagerly. Study them, I beg you, and meditate daily on the words of your Creator. Learn the heart of God in the words of God, that you may sigh more eagerly for things eternal, that your soul may be kindled with greater longings for heavenly joys.” Letters, 5, 46.

~630 A.D. - St. Isidore of Seville - “These bookcases of ours hold a great many books. … Here the venerable volumes of the two Laws shine forth, [the] New joined together with the Old.” “Behold and read, you who so desire, if you wish. Here lay your sluggishness aside, put off your fastidiousness of mind. Believe me, brother, you will return thence a more learned man. But perhaps you say, ‘Why do I need this now? For I would think no study still remains for me: I have unrolled histories and hurried through all the law.’ Truly, if you say this, then you yourself still know nothing.” (From the Poem Written in his Library)

798 A.D. - St. Alcuin of York - “Accustom the boys to…learn the sacred Scriptures, [so] that when they are grown up they may teach others. … [S]tudy the text; understand its meaning [so] that you may both feed yourselves and feed others with the food of the spiritual life.” (Letters to the Monasteries of Lindisfarne and Hexham, at it appears in G.F. Browne, Alcuin of York, p. 136, 138)

866 A.D. - Pope St. Nicholas I - “[T]he Christian [ought to use Sunday] to go…to church, to engage in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, to spend time in prayer, to offer oblations, to communicate with the memories of the saints, to rise to imitate them, to concentrate on divine scriptures, and to distribute alms to the needy.” (Letter 99, The Responses of Pope Nicholas I to the Questions of the Bulgars)

Before 1153 A.D. - St. Bernard of Clairvaux - “The person who thirsts for God eagerly studies and meditates on the inspired Word, knowing that there, he is certain to find the One for whom he thirsts.” (Commentary on the Song of Songs, Sermon 23:3)

1256 A.D. - St. Thomas Aquinas - In his inaugural lecture at the University of Paris, St. Thomas Aquinas lectured about three reasons to study Scripture based on a quotation from the book of Baruch. “ ‘This is the book of the commandments of God, and the law that is for ever. All that keep it shall come to life: but they that have forsaken it, to death. Baruch 4:1.’ [St. Thomas speaking:] …Sacred Scripture is [here] commended for three things. First, for the authority with which it charges: ‘This is the book of the commandments of God.’ Second, for the eternal truth with which it instructs, when it says, ‘And the law that is forever.’ Third, for the usefulness with which it entices, when it says, ‘All that keep it shall come to life.’ ” (Thomas Aquinas, Hic Est Liber, 1256, in Ralph McInerny, Thomas Aquinas, Selected Writings, 5-6)

1778 A.D. - Pope Pius VI - “[Y]ou judge exceedingly well, that the faithful should be excited to the reading of the Holy Scriptures…by publishing the sacred writings in the language of your country, suitable to every one’s capacity…” “[F]or these are the most abundant sources which ought to be left open to every one, to draw from them purity of morals and of doctrine, to eradicate the errors which are widely disseminated in these corrupt times.” (Letter to the Most Rev. Anthony Martini, Archbishop Of Florence, on his Italian translation of the Bible. Translated and printed in the Haydock Bible, revised by the Very Reverend Dr. Husenbeth, 1884 AD. See Photograph)

1893 A.D. - Pope Leo XIII - “[We] have for a long time cherished the desire to give an impulse to the noble science of Holy Scripture, and to impart to Scripture study a direction suitable to the needs of the present day. [We] not only…desire that this grand source of Catholic revelation should be made safely and abundantly accessible to the flock of Jesus Christ, but also not to suffer any attempt to defile or corrupt it, either on the part of those who impiously and openly assail the Scriptures, or of those who are led astray into fallacious and imprudent novelties.” (Providentissimus Deus 2)

1920 A.D. - Pope Benedict XV - “[As] far as in us lies…[we] shall, with St. Jerome as our guide, never desist from urging the faithful to read daily the Gospels, the Acts and the Epistles, so as to gather thence food for their souls.” “Our thoughts naturally turn just now to the Society of St. Jerome, which we ourselves were instrumental in founding… The object of this Society is to put into the hands of as many people as possible the Gospels and Acts, so that every Christian family may have them and become accustomed to reading them. … We earnestly hope, then, that similar Societies will be founded in your dioceses and affiliated to the parent Society here.” (Spiritus Paraclitus 43-44)


I came across this site which maybe helpful. catholicbridge.com/catholic/did_the_catholic_church_forbid_bible_reading.php

I did hear someone citing the fact that Bibles were chained to the ambo as proof that the Church suppressed reading the Bible. That was in the day when few people could read and Bible’s were written by hand and therefore worth a large sum of money. Chaining the Bible was the only way it could be shared with the parishioners instead of being hidden in a rich persons house.

NOTE: There are some older Catholics (mostly in America, born before Vatican II) who claim that they were not allowed to read the Bible when they were kids.

This was not true, but they thought it was true based on a misunderstanding.

The Church always taught that the Bible must be read and interpreted within the context of the Church… but that didn’t mean you couldn’t read it at home.

It simply meant that it’s important to understand what the Church teaches the meaning of those verses are, not to come up with your own interpretation or only listen to the interpretation of non-Catholics. When reading Scripture, Catholics should seek Catholic commentary, and understand what the Church teaches about Scripture verses.

Many priests also would recommend that Catholics only read approved Catholic translations, so no King James, etc. This was mainly due to the commentaries, notes, and any possible bad translations.

Some Catholic parents back then told their kids not to read the Bible in order to prevent Protestant ideas. This was wrong. Instead of teaching their children how to properly interpret the Bible, they told them not to read it on their own. Again, this was wrong and was not Church teaching. Some even claim their priests told them that, but 99% of the time wasn’t the case. Its was the lay person mis-understanding the priest.

So again, you will here this from time to time. I most recently heard it from someone who teaches CCD and a member of the Adult Faith Formation team. She didn’t’ believe me when I tried to explain that it was a misunderstanding, because for her, I’m just some 38 year kid who wasn’t alive back then. For her, she wasn’t allow that’s all there is to it.

But this was NEVER the official teaching of the Church.

God bless

Well, we Reformation folks are understandably proud of our translators, who, like it or not, basically brought the Bible back into the hands of the congregation, where it was more widely read and its information disseminated freely (as I think it should be).

Considering how resistant the Catholic church was to changing Mass from Latin to the vernacular tongue, I think it should come as no surprise that the Catholic church was at least *somewhat *resistant to the spread of non-Latin translations. This, combined with the fact that many of the principle translations and some of their translators were subsequently banned (or worse - burned), has probably contributed to the allegations of suppression of the Bible, true or false.

Relevant links:

Here is an example of a Pope who was reticent about translating the Bible into another language. His sentiments are echoed by Catholics sometimes, who also seem to fear that “if it [the Bible] were plainly apparent to all men, perchance it should be little esteemed and …be falsely understood by those of mediocre learning.”


This site lists many sources to back up the claim that the church banned the Bible, but it seems rather aggressive (be warned). I recommend taking a look anyway merely because of the volume of sources quoted.


This one looks very thorough and seems the most balanced, noting that:

[quote=] In England Wyclif’s Bible-translation caused the resolution passed by the third Synod of Oxford (1408): “No one shall henceforth of his own authority translate any
text of Scripture into English; and no part of any such book or treatise composed in the time of John Wycliffe or later shall be read in public or private, under pain of excommunication” (Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, vi, 984). But Sir Thomas More states that he had himself seen old Bibles which were examined by the bishop and left in the hands of good Catholic laymen (Blunt, Reformation of the Church of England, 4th ed., London, 1878, i, 505). In Germany, Charles IV issued in 1369 an edict to four inquisitors against the translating and the reading of Scripture in the German language. This edict was caused by the operations of Beghards and Beguines. In 1485 and 1486, Berthold, archbishop of Mainz, issued an edict against the printing of religious books in German, giving among other reasons the singular one that the German language was unadapted to convey correctly religious ideas, and therefore they would be profaned. Berthold’s edict had some influence, but could not prevent the dissemination and publication of new editions of the Bible. Leaders in the Church sometimes recommended to the laity the reading of the Bible, and the Church kept silence officially as long as these efforts were not abused.


In conclusion, it is indeed a Protestant talking point – and sometimes an exaggerated one. However, to dismiss the allegations as having no credibility whatsoever would, in the opinion of this Protestant, be unreasonable.

Oh, as a note, I’m talking specifically about vernacular translations. I don’t think the church was ever explicitly resistant to Latin translations, obviously.

I don’t think earlier vernacular translations were intended for everyday people but rather clerics whose Latin wasn’t quite ‘up to par’ - many of these were just glosses; not really translations as we would think of them.

Not to mention, considering the average person could not read or write, frankly it was almost irrelevant what language the Bible was written/printed in.

ALL learning was done in Latin in the long time ago. It was the lingua franca of academia and education. It wasn’t just that the Bible was in Latin, but every book of an important scholarly nature was in Latin. Philisophy, medicine, law, theology, science, etc. etc.

To FractalFire –

The Church wasn’t against vernacular translations. The Church was against BAD vernacular translations.

As I’m sure you know, English is a difficult language and there were (and still are) many issues with English translation of the Bible even today.

English doesn’t have male & female nouns, some translations in English are come from German and not Latin.

For example: look at in English was have “Easter” and used to use “Holy Ghost” Neither of those translations are a direct translation from the Latin “pascha” and “Spiritus Sancti”

also look at Matthew 16:18

…you are Peter, and on this rock

In French it reads: “…Tu es Pierre, et sur cette pierre…”

In Latin it reads: “…tu es **Petrus **et super hanc petram…”

English doesn’t translate well. We still have some minor issue in the Mass translations today, even after the latest re-translation of the Mass.

The Church didn’t have an issue with vernacular translations, but the Church was very concerned with bad vernacular translations. Furthermore, in English, many translations started to be developed and the Church wanted to make sure people were using approved translation, not any “Joe Blow” translation

FractalFire #10
In conclusion, it is indeed a Protestant talking point – and sometimes an exaggerated one. However, to dismiss the allegations as having no credibility whatsoever would, in the opinion of this Protestant, be unreasonable

The allegations of “suppression of knowledge of the Bible” are unreasonable. Some faulty vernacular translations were condemned.

This is where our Protestant friends often are led astray as they do not know the facts of history concerning the Sacred Scriptures, as in much else.

This section was researched by Art Sippo, Fr. Terry Donahue, CC and Mark Bonocore.
“The Bible was on scrolls and parchments during the early centuries of Christianity. No one had a “Bible”. Even into the Middle Ages, each Bible was written by hand. Most people were, at best, only functionally literate. That is partially why they used stained glass windows and art to tell the Bible story. The printing press was not invented until 1436 by Johann Gutenberg. Note: The Gutenberg Bible, like every Bible before it, contained the Deuterocanonical books - the “extra” books as they are called in Evangelical circles.

“So prior to 1436, the idea of everybody having a Bible was out of the question, even if they could read. Yeah, I know it’s hard to imagine a world without photocopiers, printing presses, email and websites…

“After the invention of the printing press, prior to Luther’s Bible being published in German, there had been over 20 versions of the whole Bible translated into the various German dialects (High and Low) by Catholics. Similarly, there were several vernacular versions of the Bible published in other languages both before and after the Reformation. The Church did condemn certain vernacular translations because of what it felt were bad translations and anti-Catholic notes (vernacular means native to a region or country).

“The Catholic Douay-Rheims version of the whole Bible in English was translated from the Latin Vulgate. It was completed in 1610, one year before the King James Version was published. The New Testament had been published in 1582 and was one of the sources used by the KJV translators. The Old Testament was completed in 1610."

This info may be helpful:

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…”


"Protestants rejected the authority of the Pope and of the Church and showed it by saying people could read and interpret the Bible for themselves. Catholics meanwhile were discouraged from reading Scripture.

Until the twentieth Century, it was only Protestants who actively embraced Scripture study. That changed after 1943 when Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu. This not only allowed Catholics to study Scripture, it encouraged them to do so."


‘In early times, the Bible was read freely by the lay people, and the Fathers constantly encourage them to do so, although they also insist on the obscurity of the sacred text. No prohibitions were issued against the popular reading of the Bible. New dangers came during the Middle Ages. When the heresy of the Albigenses arose there was a danger from corrupt translations, and also from the fact that the heretics tried to make the faithful judge the Church by their own interpretation of the Bible. To meet these evils, the Council of Toulouse (1229) and Tarragona (1234) forbade the laity to read the vernacular translations of the Bible. Pius IV required the bishops to refuse lay persons leave to read even Catholic versions of the Scripture, unless their confessors or parish priests judged that such readings was likely to prove beneficial.’ (Addis and Arnold, Catholic Dictionary, The Catholic Publications Society Co., N.Y., 1887, p. 82).



I agree about the translation issues and am fully aware that they cause problems. If we are going to get picky about translation, though, it should be remembered that Latin is also not the original tongue of the Bible and as such doubtless has a few of its own problems. Why then, was the Bible translated into Latin? Because it was in the people’s common tongue – they could understand it. This provides an advantage even when there are translation problems.

Now, please see it from my perspective for a moment. Suppose the Catholic Church really didn’t like vernacular translations. Would they then declare a reasonably accurate vernacular translation “bad” despite the fact that it is translated correctly?
I don’t see why the wouldn’t! That doesn’t, however, mean that the translation actually is bad. It tells me nothing about the translation, actually, because I can’t tell if they are being accurate or misleading. The Catholics would declare a bad translation bad. They would also declare a good translation bad. So please don’t come to me saying “the Catholic church at the time said the translation is bad.” Why should I care what they think about the matter?

As a reminder, the work of the Protestant translators is still used today. The KJV, for example, is about 50-60% of Tyndale’s work, depending on the estimate. Other translators continue to have their influences as well. So why should I accept your claim that they were bad?

Finally, I’m curious, can you name a vernacular translation that the Catholics of that time period did approve of and that was widely circulated? (Extra credit if it is still in widespread use today!)

You can’t really blame the Catholic Church for not mass producing the bible since the printing press had not yet been invented.

It would be like saying “Catholics, why wasn’t there an online version of the bible before the internet?”

The logical answer would be, “Well, because the internet had not yet been invented.”

The Douai Rheims Version, perhaps?

(No sarcasm intended.) :slight_smile:

Protestant historians often fabricate their narrative

The Catholic Church was the sole custodian of scripture from the beginning. Even Luther, who had no authority to create a canon or insert the word ‘alone’ had to admit as much.

The German language was not spoken in first century Israel. Latin was spoken in the Roman Empire. This is where everything originated

Naturally. I do not accuse the medieval church of not printing when it was impossible to print, I merely accuse them of resisting the translation when printing had been invented. :shrug:

As a reminder, some of the Protestant translations were made before the printing press existed. (Tyndale’s for example.) Some Catholic-approved translation were too, but they were, it appears, rare and not widely circulated.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.