First Bible Translations to English?

A protestant friend of mine claims the Catholic chuch did not want the bible translated into english. He claims they fought it tooth and nail. They did not give in until they relized they could not stop it. At which point they did their own translation. Is this correct, and if so, why?

Thanks in advance for any insight.

Catholics have produced English versions of sacred scripture since at least AD 709. Aldhelm, Bishop of Sherborne, who died in 709, translated the Psalms, and thereby holds the honour of having been the first translator of scripture into English. :thumbsup:

There are internlinear (English/Latin) Gospels that date back before AD 1000. The oldest copy of such a book of Gospels now in existence was written about 950 when Aldred the priest wrote his Anglo-Saxon (English) paraphrase between the lines of the Latin text.

In or about the year 990, Aelfric, Archbishop of Canterbury, translated a considerable part of the Old Testament—namely, the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, Kings, Esther, Job, Judith, and Maccabees.

So you see, the Bible had been translated in to English (at least in part) for at least 700 years before Tyndale made his translation.

The Catholic Church has never forbidden good translations from being made. Only heretical translations that contradicted Church teachings (like Luthers translation, in which he added words and removed entire books to suit his beliefs) were banned by the Church (for very good reason, look up the Albigensians to see what a bad translation can do to people… :eek: ).

[quote=cajun-catholic]A protestant friend of mine claims the Catholic chuch did not want the bible translated into english. He claims they fought it tooth and nail. They did not give in until they relized they could not stop it. At which point they did their own translation. Is this correct, and if so, why?

Thanks in advance for any insight.
[/quote]

This is quite a complex issue.

  1. There were early translations into Anglo Saxon as Isidore has said above. Then there is a huge gap until Wycliffe in the 14th century.

  2. The gap came for several reasons:

A) The Norman Conquest of England in 1066. This killed Anglo Saxon culture. The new ruling class spoke Norman French, not English, and it remained this way for 300 years. it was like a colonial situation. All official documents, courts, laws, took place in French. There were bible translations into Norman French after 1066, but NOT into English.

B) Most ordinary secular people before the 14th century could not read or write. Even Kings sometimes signed with Xs. Since few people who spoke only English could read, and those who COULD read also spoke Latin or French, there was no need or demand for a bible in English.

The church did not bar vernacular bible translations. There were translations into french, Italian german and other languages in this period. But at this time English was not a literate language.

C) Before printing, the cost of a hand written bible was enormous. An ordinary English-speaking peasant who wanted a bible would have had to sell his and his neighbour’s houses to approach the cost.

  1. Finally in the 14th Century, Wycliffe produced a bible translation into English. This was at a period when English was replacing French once more as the language of the upper classes. Unfortunately Wycliffe’s translation was probably the worst thing that could happen for the cause of bible translation into English.

It was a bad translation, quality-wise. And some of the translations were deliberately twisted in an anti-church fashion. The bible was used as a vehicle for teaching heretical views. It was therefore banned and led to a suspicion in the English Church after 1350 against people wanting to produce new translations.

New translations weren’t banned, so long as they were church-approved, but they received no encouragment from the English heirarchy from then until Tyndale.

One of the very earliest translations into English was the Catholic Douay…(If he doesn’t believe it, tell him a :tiphat: nice Methodist girl told you so!)

[quote=cajun-catholic]A protestant friend of mine claims the Catholic chuch did not want the bible translated into english. He claims they fought it tooth and nail. They did not give in until they relized they could not stop it. At which point they did their own translation. Is this correct, and if so, why?

Thanks in advance for any insight.
[/quote]

St. Bede was credited with the first full translation of the whole bible into English back in the 10th century, but because there are no Bede bibles remaining, the church does not claim this as fact since their is no extant proof to back it up.

One also needs to consider the enormous change in the English language from the 10th to the 15th century. For instance…

g fæder, þu þe on heofonum eardast, geweorðad wuldres dreame. Sy þinum weorcum halgad noma niþþa bearnum; þu eart nergend wera. Cyme þin rice wide, ond þin rædfæst willa.

This is a part of the Lord’s Prayer from the early Saxon English. (Don’t ask me what part.)

All you should need to do is to tell your Protestant friend that before the Reformation, and even about a century before that, English was a little known and little used language. It was not back then the widespread language that it is today. So the translating into English, while desirable, was not of great importance at the time.

Thal59

Great book that touches on this subject:
“Where We Got The Bible; Our Debt to the Catholic Church” By Rev. Henry G. Graham
amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1888992042/qid=1113241125/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/103-9364144-2183010?v=glance&s=books
A real eye opener.

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.