Catholic History1 Questions on Catholic History

Question 1. The Evangelical Protestant theologian, R.C. Sproul, stated in his work, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (p. 27), "Two of the great legacies of the Reformation... and the translation of the Bible into the common language of the people." Is this true? Was the Bible not put in the “common language of the people” before the middle of the 16th century?

Answer to Q. 1. No, this is not true. The statement which says that the Bible was put into the "common language of the people" as a result of the Protestant revolt in the 16th century implies that before then it was not. This is a fabricated lie against the Catholic Church (CC from here on). R. C. Sproul, with his education and presumed honesty, should be ashamed and admonished for passing on erroneous anti-Catholic rhetoric like this. This is especially true when the historical facts are so readily available. This is a classic Evangelical error and misrepresentation of historical fact which comes more from anti-Catholic bigotry than merely a deficiency in historical resources.

    Luther did not put the Bible into the hands of common people as if he were the first. Statements like these are trying to imply -when it is not said straight out- that the CC kept from the people the Bible and its sacred truths. This is a lie of Satan. Its success depends on both ignorance of history and just plain prejudice.

    You see, when Evangelicals like Sproul spurt out this type of stuff, they and their readers are functioning from a 20th century viewpoint where it seems unheard of that not everyone went to school, or did not know how to read, and that books were a rare item. The fact is that the ability to read was a rare commodity until the Renaissance (ca.1400) and books themselves were just as rare. For example: Out of 7,600 English wills of the fifteenth century only 338 books TOTAL appear as bequests. This makes it obvious that few individuals possessed books. Access to libraries was not easy, for they were few and far between.

    Nonetheless, it is a fact of history that in many libraries in the Middle Ages the Bible and the concordances with all their commentaries, ancient and modern, were the first on display. For confirmation of this, see Frederick B. Artz, "The Mind Of The Middle Ages: An Historical Survey A.D.200-1500:" 3rd ed., Univ. of Chicago Press, 1980 [1953], pp.375, 490. This author is not pro-Roman Catholic; he isn't even a Christian, but he recognizes and records these facts.

    It must be recognized that in the west from about 400 A.D. 'till about 1400, IF a person could read at all, he read Latin. To put it differently, if a person could not read Latin, then they most probably could not read at all! Western European languages during this period were constantly changing and evolving, thus there were no alphabets -and thus writing- in many vernacular languages. This is one reason why the entire Bible wasn't translated too often in the common tongue. But there are more reasons.

    It was not at all practical to write out in large quantities copies of the Bible for numerous reasons. First, it took about an entire year to write-out a complete Bible (done almost exclusively by monks before the printing press). Second, it took 200 lamb skins to make just ONE copy, and this was very, very costly. Think about it: two hundred lamb skins meant the slaughter of two hundred lambs (obviously). Skins were needed and used for other reasons, particularly survival. Now to write out Bibles in large quantities all around Europe was simply impractical precisely because it was too costly in multiple ways. It was also futile to write out copies of the Bible in high quantities in the vernacular for a number of reasons:

     1) As a result of the steady development (and thus changing) of common/vernacular tongues, there was no stability. For example between 400 and 1200 the language of southwest England (Wales) went from Celtic to Cornish to Breton to Cymric to ancient Welsh, to modern Welsh. That’s six different languages, and these went from no alphabet, to one which letters changed every few hundred years. Considering the facts mentioned above about what it took to write out a Bible –and its cost- one can see the futility of writing out a whole Bible for some languages. Another example is the English language itself: it went from Anglo-Breton (100-600), to Anglo-Saxon (Old English -600 to 1100) with its different lower Germanic dialects, to Anglo-Norman (Middle English-1100 to 1500) which had Kentish, Northumbrian, and Mercian dialects that had different spellings -as well as sounds and meanings, to Elizabethan English (16th-17th cent.), to Early Modern English (late 17th-19th), to Modern English. With these both the alphabets and pronunciations had changed. A vernacular copy would be, due to the many and varied dialects, limited to small geographical areas, and, due to the often changing language forms, would also be obsolete in short time.

     2) Many didn't even have a written alphabet until Catholic missionaries performed the task for grammars and catechisms during the early Middle Ages (ca. 500-1000).

     3) Believe it or not, contrary to the rhetoric that is put forth in many Protestant circles, there was no desire by the common people themselves for vernacular versions for a number of reasons:

       I) Again, those who could read, read Latin; those who wanted to read (which wasn't very many) learned Latin.
       II) Since Latin has no nuances or dialects (other than ecclesiastical Latin and classical Latin) it was a secure language which didn't evolve and change -which is perfect for understanding God's unchanging and immutable Word! -By the way, this is why in our Lord Jesus' time they still read the Scripture in ancient Hebrew -even though it was already a dead language by this time and only the pharisees and scribes could speak and read it! Hence, the principle situation was the very same.
       III) As another non-Catholic historian recognized, up until the spread of printing press (late 15th century), the best way to communicate with people and the best way to communicate idea's and truths was not by letter writing and reading, but by means of the spoken word itself, by art, by drama, and by Liturgy which comprises all of them. (see Hugh Thomas, "A History of the World," N.Y: Harper & Row, 1979, p.198.) And remember this point: God's Word itself says faith comes by hearing the Word proclaimed (Rom.10:17).

     These are only a few reasons why there weren't too many vernacular translations of the Bible. Latin was the language that united Medieval Europe BECAUSE IT DID NOT CHANGE AND HAS NO DIALECTS. And so the Bible was actually preferred in Latin. As soon as possible children were initiated to Latin -in secular schools as well as church schools. For centuries instruction was chiefly oral -only the teacher would have a text. Enormous feats of memorization were required. The common folk did more memorizing than we today can imagine. For any misbehavior, such as speaking in one's native tongue during class, there was this cry, vae natibus- "woe to the buttocks!" (Morris Bishop, "The Middle Ages" (Boston, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1987, p.239.)

     It was during the late renaissance that the process of education and communication started to shift from "memory to written record." But still, secular as well as church records, deeds, judicial transcripts, wills, business records, financial accounts, and educational works -philosophy, theology, law, medicine, were always written in Latin. (C. Warren Hollister, "Medieval Europe: A Short History," 5th ed. Newbery Award Records, Inc.1982, p.290.)

     Even Venerable Bede's (d.735) work, "The Ecclesiastical History of the English people" (8th century), was written in Latin, not English. As late as the sixteenth century English nobles and monarchs (that is those who could afford education) were taught in their youth not only English but also to read and write in Latin. In academic atmospheres, even as late as the 18th century, Latin was exclusively used in writings of any serious nature.

     Even Luther's and Calvin's early works were all in Latin!

The Vernacular Bible

     Nevertheless, here is the truth of the matter: the Catholic Church had allowed and authorized vernacular versions of the Bible since the beginning. During the Middle Ages, for example, Bible translations were approved in Slavic (9th Century), Arabic (10th), Bohemian (11th), German, Polish, Old Norse (12th), Italian, Norwegian, and Hungarian (13th), Czech, Swedish, Catalan (14th), Spanish, Danish, French, Dutch, and Welsh (15th) for Catholics to use, ALL of which were before the invention of the printing press in 1450 by Johann Guttenburg.

     The very first large volume book printed was the Latin Vulgate Bible by Guttenburg at Mainz in 1452. I'm sure you never read THAT in Evangelical writings -that a Catholic under the approval of the Bishop produced the Bible as the very first printed book! Before the year 1500 ninety-two editions of this Latin Bible were printed by various presses in Europe; and during the 16th century 438 more.

     Not only did Luther NOT put the "Bible into the common language of the people" for the first time, but his German translation wasn't even the first German one! There were NINE different German editions of the Bible before Luther was born!; and there were 27 in German before his translation came out (1520). The first printed German Bible came out in 1466; and before 1520, a translation of the Bible into High German had fourteen editions and one in Low German had four editions.

     More facts could be presented, but I think you get the point. So many non-Catholics function under the assumptions and bigotry that Sproul demonstrates here. Can you really trust anything else he says after seeing how enormous his anti-Catholic assumptions and errors are in these statements?

     By the way, the CC did forbid the use of a couple of vernacular translations in the late 12th and early 13th centuries in response to heretical groups such as the Waldenses and Catharists. These groups put out their own versions of scripture in order to propagate their errors in the same way the Jehovah Witnesses do with their "New World" translation. In other words, the CC was trying to prevent the spread of a FALSE version of the Bible precisely because she loves and honors the true written Word of God. Rome also suppressed the versions put out by the "reformers" for a number of very legitimate reasons:
       1) Luther's and others translations were taken from the Greek edition by Erasmus which he made primarily from 10th century Byzantine manuscripts which contained a number copyist errors and were hardly old or early enough to base a complete translation from;
       2) Most of these translations had strong anti-Catholic notes and commentaries in them. Some were more anti-Roman than they were pro-reform! They even changed how some words were translated so these verses would not render to the reader an obviously Catholic meaning. How could anyone not expect Rome to act against them? Any good mother would do the same thing to protect her children.
       3) Luther and others added their own words to the actual text of Scripture! In his original German version Luther added the word "alone" after the word "faith" in a couple places in Paul's letters (Rom.3:28, 5:1; Gal.2:16; Eph.2:8) that are not there in ANY manuscript. Thus Luther "added" to the Word of God.

     As mentioned above, Sproul’s statement is a classic Evangelical error and misrepresentation of historical fact which comes more from anti-Catholic bigotry than merely a deficiency in historical resources. R. C. Sproul is thus guilty of breaking God’s holy commandment which states that we are not to bear false witness against our neighbor. He has borne false witness against the Holy Catholic Church.

Question 2. Didn't Spain send expeditions to the New World primarily to gain wealth through more trading, and to seek gold, riches, and to increase its political power?

Answer to Q. 2. No, this is simply anti-Catholic Spanish propoganda. Though gold was needed to finance expeditions (and to pay back those who invested in each expedition), Catholic Spain came primarily to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and increase His kingdom on earth.
    The official policy of Catholic Spain made this noble goal clear in its royal charters, legislation, and ordinances. Columbus stated why his sovereigns sent him:

"Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians and Princes, loving the holy Christian Faith and the spreading of it, decided to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the said regions of Hindustan (India) to see the said princes and the peoples and lands, and learn of their dispositions and the measures which could be taken for their conversion to our Holy Faith."
    Queen Isabella of Spain declared in a letter to Pope Alexander VI that: "Columbus has set sail to bear the light of Christ west to heathen undiscovered lands." In regards to his second voyage, the good Catholic queen wrote, charging that, "since the natives have neither dogma nor doctrine," Columbus must "strive and endeavor to win over the inhabitants of the said islands and Mainland to be converted to our Holy Catholic Faith." In her last Testament, she wrote that the primary intention of sending expeditions and governing the New World was:
"To try to draw these peoples and convert them to our Holy Catholic Faith, and to send to said lands prelates, religious, clerics and others to instruct the inhabitants in the Catholic Faith, to teach and endow them with good morals."

    In 1514, King Ferdinand of Spain sent a royal charter to Ponce de Leon for him to once again attempt to settle Florida. De Leon was commissioned to "treat the Indians as best you can," the King admonished, "seeking in every permissable way to convert them to our Holy Catholic Faith."
    In 1526, King Charles I of Spain made clear the continuation of this same policy when he declared:
"The principal reason behind the discovery of these new lands is so that the natives there, who are without the light and knowledge of the Faith, may be drawn to the truths of our holy Catholic Faith, so they may believe and understand them, become Christians and be saved. This is the main reason you must keep in mind and hold onto in these expeditions."

    This was the official policy and law of Catholic Spain in coming to the New World and in its continued expeditions. Those who write or say otherwise are slanderers. But, as they say, actions speak louder than words, so consider the following facts:

       + missionary priests were sent on nearly every Spanish expedition to today's U.S. This would not have been the case if Spain was primarily seeking to gain material wealth or political power;
       +Between the time of the first established mission (1526- South Carolina)) and the last (1828-New Mexico), in the US alone, Spain established 200 missions (many of which grew into current U.S. towns and cities);
       + Since the very first expedition (Ponce de Leon in 1513) until the last established mission in the 1820s, Catholic Spain sent approximately 16,000(!) missionaries to this land (this does not include lay missionaries, a few who where martyred for the Faith).
       + By the time the Pilgrims landed in 1620, Spanish Catholic missionaries had converted and baptized more than 50,000 American Indians! (This is only in the US boundaries.)

       Texts on U.S. history (as well as the media, such as the "History" Channel) must stop their distortions and misrepresentations concerning Catholic Spain and her glorious role in the founding and establishing of a Christian civilization upon this land we call America.

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