Refutation: Catholicism and Ancient Literacy By Kerry Duke

:shrug:Good example IrishDude45,

Obviously, Mr. Duke’s article isn’t much more than rhetorical propaganda. I’m up too early and so feel the need to refute it to warm up for the day.

Catholicism and Ancient Literacy By Kerry Duke

April 14, 2005

The Catholic church does its best to denigrate the role of the Bible. Their ploy is to destroy faith in the Bible as the final authority so that men will be driven to Rome for direction.

This is not true and is a specious argument meant to poison the well by eliciting an emotional revulsion in his sympathetic readers.

What the Church teaches is (and has always taught) that the Bible nowhere lays claim to the authority that has been alleged to it since the 16th century by the Reformers and their step children, we have to go with the actual Biblical doctrine that specifically calls the church “the pillar and ground of the truth.” (1st Timothy 3:15)

One of their old claims is that people in the early centuries of the church did not have Bibles like we do today and even if they did have them they couldn’t read them. One Catholic fellow even wrote and said 98% of people in that period couldn’t read or write! If people back then were so illiterate, then why did Pilate waste his time writing on Jesus’ cross, “This is the king of the Jews” in Greek, Latin, and Aramaic (Luke 23:38)? How could the people at Berea search the Scriptures every day (Acts 17:11)? Why would Paul have told the Ephesians, “When ye read, ye may understand” (Eph. 3:4) if most of them couldn’t read?

Here he has confused the ability to speak languages while being unable to read them. Even today, here in the U.S., we have literacy programs for people who function and communicate well enough to get by while being unable to read.

Does the mention of the Bereans actually support his claim? No. The fact is that nowhere has the church ever asserted that everyone was illiterate because that’s silly. Some have always been more literate than others ever since man first began to write/draw on cave walls. What happens in most cases is that many people would confer with the literate person to get information. People followed scholars then much the same as we do today. One cannot be literate in all things even in one’s own language. For example, I can read and understand the words in my Bible, but I would have great difficulty reading and making sense of a text on astrophysics even though it was written in English. I have to rely on someone literate in that science to explain it to me, (a friend, teacher, or professor) and this is precisely what Christian history shows. Even in the Old Testament Moses and Aaron and the priests had to declare what God had written to the Israelites verbally. Where there multiple copies of the 10 commandments then? Where does it say that in the Bible? (It doesn’t.)

Nor does the passage in Ephesians support his assertion. The epistle is addressed to the whole church in Ephesus, but it was read to them by their elders (bishops and their appointed priests, [see Ignatius of Antioch’s letter to Smyrna, chapter 8] who then shared it orally with the people. Copies were made obviously and circulated, but again, the percentage of literate persons was still small.

One Catholic writer said that “unnumbered millions” before the year 1500 “had no Bibles, or were too poor to buy one, or could not read it even though they bought one, or could not understand it even if they could read it.”1 He goes on to say, “Rome claims that the Bible is her book; that she has preserved it and perpetuated it, and that she alone knows what it means; that nobody else has any right to it whatsoever, or any authority to declare what the true meaning is.”2 This is the Catholic position on the Bible, stated in unmasked arrogance almost 100 years ago before the days of political correctness.

This is not “arrogance” at all but simple fact. Does this man really want to try to assert that prior to the invention of the printing press that copies of the Word of God were widespread, inexpensive, and that that everyone could read and understand them? He argues against Fr. Henry Graham’s excellent book and yet has no historical leg to stand upon, while Fr. Graham’s work cites the history of the Bible and Christianity. I have it and have read it, and recommend it to you all.

Exaggerations about rates of illiteracy and lack of access to Bible books in the first three centuries are typical in Catholic teaching. But this is wishful thinking on their part.

Is it? Notice here that he offers nothing by way of information to support his assertion. Why? Because none exists and the historical facts will disclose his lack of scholarship. This is just sermonizing, and in debate the burden of proof is upon the person making the claim.

This is very much the kind of “wishful thinking” that he accuses the Catholic Church of :shrug: earlier. Here he’s pretty much arguing against a very real “inconvenient truth”.

Catholicism thrives in a climate of biblical ignorance,

Does it? I can’t tell because I came home to the Catholic faith because I read the Bible, not in spite of it, and (not bragging. God forbid!) I know the Bible as well or better than most of the n-Cs that I have encountered over the years. Even outside the Church, I was deep in scripture, and that remains to this day. I can even supply some limited stats to support my refutation of this.

and what better argument can Catholics make against sola scriptura

than to assert that most people in the ancient world could not read?How about the glaring fact that it is not supported by the very scriptures that so many n-Cs appeal to as their ultimate authority. Refuting the fundamental modern error of Sola Scriptura.

How can the Catholic church create more doubt about the reliability of the New Testament than to claim that most people didn’t even know what books belonged to it, much less have copies of them, in the first three centuries?

The better question is, how can he assert what he is when we have historical documentation of the discussions and debates about the inspiration of various texts that span those first 3 centuries prior to the Councils of Carthage and Hippo?

Here he has made a specious argument altogether since the Church in no way has ever sought to create doubt about the New Testament, but has always professed and encouraged complete faith in it, preached it from its pulpits, and come to its defense when errant versions were produced after the printing press was invented. It is interesting that he tries to use this argument after citing Fr. Gaham’s books as a source since he has an excellent chapter on this very thing. A Deluge of Erroneous Versions

Strangely enough, one of the early fountainheads of Catholicism admits that copies of the Scriptures were possessed and translated by numerous people outside the approval of the Catholic clergy. Augustine didn’t like the fact that so many “lay Christians” were attempting this, complaining in 397 about:. . .diversities among translators. For the translations of the Scriptures from Hebrew into Greek can be counted, but the Latin translators are out of all number. For in the early days of the faith every man who happened to get his hands upon a Greek manuscript, and who thought he had any knowledge, were it ever so little of the two languages, ventured upon the work of translating.3
If the populace of the early Christian world was largely illiterate and cut off from accessing Bible manuscripts, then why does Augustine speak of so many getting their hands on them and translating them “in the early days of the faith”? This ancient Catholic authority, serving as a hostile witness, betrays modern Catholic misrepresentations of the ancient world.

As often happens this man has cherry picked a quote from Augustine out of context to make it appear to support his remarks when in fact it does not. Let’s look at that quote in contect and I’ll link you to the document so you can read the whole chapter

But the knowledge of these languages is necessary, not for the sake of a few words like these which it is very easy to mark and to ask about, but, as has been said, on account of the diversities among translators. For thetranslations of the Scriptures from Hebrew into Greek can be counted, but the Latin translators are out of all number. For in the early days of the faith every man who happened to get his hands upon a Greek manuscript, and who thought he had any knowledge, were it ever so little, of the two languages, ventured upon the work of translation.

Obviously, Augustine is not talking about the kind of literacy and translations that Mr. Duke misrepresents it to be. After all, this was penned in the 4th century, a thousand years before the printing press, and St. Augustine is referring to other scholars, not the general population, which was still low in literacy, especially in Greek and Hebrew.:rolleyes:

The same picture is painted of common people in Medieval and Reformation times. Average men and women are depicted as too uneducated to read and understand the Bible.

Here again we have an assertion without substantiating facts. In most circles this is known as propaganda. :shrug:

But Catholics cannot deny that through the efforts of John Wycliffe (1320-1384), the Bible was given to the common man in English.

Ah, now we have something that we can actually get into.

Was Wycliffe the first to offer the Bible in English? Abundance of vernacular Scriptures before Wycliffe and Why Wycliffe was condemned.

To show their hatred for his work, Catholic authorities thirty-one years after his death ordered his bones removed from their tomb and burned.


Still, Graham ridicules the belief that common folks during the early days of the Reformation had an ability and interest to read the Bible. He mocks the idea “that ploughmen and shepherds in the country read the New Testament in English by stealth, or that smiths and carpenters in towns pored over its pages in the corner of their master’s workshops.”4

So? Prove Fr. Graham wrong then. After all he wrote his book as a series of newspaper articles refuting this same kind of propaganda in the early 20th century.

Catholics claim that most people before the invention of the printing press either learned Christianity orally from the Catholic Church or they didn’t, and couldn’t, learn it at all.

Well gee Mr Drake, who was preaching and teaching Christianity at that time other than the Catholic Church? Aside from the Orthodox, who still don’t hold to the reformers errors. The printing press was handy and made the scriptures more prolific, but still we know that most people were not literate on the level you seek to assert and you have not offered any facts to support your assertion. The burden of proof is on you.

This is just another Catholic argument that is designed to frighten people into becoming Catholics.

Anybody here feel frightened into becoming a Catholic? I certainly wasn’t?

For if most people in ancient times were illiterate and shut off from reading the Bible for themselves, and the Bible is our guide to heaven

, then this means that most of those people were lost because of circumstances beyond their control.:eek: Where in the Bible does it say that?

It doesn’t. It does say,“So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ” (Romans 10:17, see 13-16 for context), but that doesn’t say anything about scripture, but speaks of the message of the Gospel. In fact it supports the position of the Catholic Church that hearing the preaching of Christ is sufficient to produce saving faith to come to conversion.

Catholics want us to accept this depiction so we will be lured into the belief that the Catholic Church was the only hope for those poor souls, and remains the only means of salvation for us today.

*846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body: Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it. ***[/FONT]

The argument rests upon the false and remarkably arrogant premise that the Catholic magisterium, not the Bible, is the highest source of religious authority on earth!

This is a total misrepresentation of Catholic teaching.

The Magisterium of the Church
85 "The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ."47 This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.
86 "Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith."48
87 Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles: “He who hears you, hears me”,49 the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.
[/FONT]Context Link


Church history abounds with evidence that refutes the Catholic claim of widespread illiteracy and extreme scarcity of Bibles prior to the Reformation.
Verdun writes of certain “heretics” apprehended in Trier in the thirteenth century who were described by authorities at the time as being “well-versed in scripture, which they possess in Teutonic translation.”5 These dissenters certainly weren’t Catholics, yet they had copies of the Bible in Teutonic, an older Germanic language, and they knew the Bible well! Further evidence that copies of the Bible existed outside the scope of Catholic approval is a decree from the bishop of Liege in 1203 that “all books containing the Scriptures in Roman or Teutonic tongue are to be delivered into the hands of the bishop, who will then return those which in his judgment should be given back.”6 This measure is quite remarkable if the common people neither had Bibles of their own nor could read them! Verdiun continues, “Hand-copied exemplars of the Scriptures in the vernacular continued to be made and used.”7 The people who dared to own and circulate these copies of the Bible risked their lives. Many of them were executed by Catholic authorities. But if, as present Catholics claim, most common folk couldn’t get a copy of the Bible and read it for themselves, then why did the Catholic Church execute these people? As with so many other Catholic arguments, this one has been weighed in the balances and found wanting.

Did the Catholic Church Keep the Bible From Being Translated Into the Vernacular Languages?

I sugest this man go attend a mass at the catholic church and open his ears and listen to the words of the mass and if he knows his bible so well it should be some very familiar words spoken and just face up to where the New Testament came from to start with:confused::):):)[SIGN][/SIGN] PEACE BE WITH YOU

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