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How we got the Bible

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Only in Latin?

Was the Bible only in Latin so that the people could not read it?

This question has two parts: (i) the question of the Bible being only in Latin; and (ii) the question of people not being able to read it.

Let's take (ii) first.

There were two classes of people: those who could read, and those who could not. Now, those who could read could read Latin. That was the condition of being educated at that time. You had to talk Latin at university, and if we are talking about those who did not go to university (women, for example), then one document of the thirteenth century clearly says that retreat addresses were given to some nuns in Latin and they were perfectly comfortable with that. Latin then was like English is today, a basic requirement for a good education. That is why the Scriptures were put into Latin in the first place, so that people who could not manage Hebrew and Greek, the languages in which the Bible was written, could have access to the Word of God in a language they could understand.

But were the Scriptures, in fact, only in Latin? Not at all. There were popular translations of the Bible and Gospels in Spanish, Italian, Danish, French, Norwegian, Polish, Bohemian, and Hungarian for the people of those countries before the days of printing. And John Wycliff was certainly not the first to place the English translation of the Scriptures in the hands of the English people in 1382. There had been versions since the end of the seventh century, and there were well-known translations in the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries, and in every century that followed.

So do not listen to the ignorant nonsense of some people who will tell you that the Catholic Church has been the enemy of the Bible - especially those from the confusion of sects that exist even here. The Catholic Church preserved and multiplied the Bible. She saved it from complete destruction at the ends of barbarians and pagan tribes that burned everything Christian they could come across. She saved it and guarded it from total extinction by her care and watchfulness. There no one else to do it! The Church not only multiplied it in its original languages (Greek and Hebrew), which would have been intelligible and useful only to the learned few, but put it into Latin, the universal language. And even for the less scholarly the Church translated it into the common languages spoken in different countries.

Non-Catholics may certainly have their Bible in their hand, but remember that it is a mutilated Bible, mutilated by the prejudices of Reformers who thought it proper to take out what Christians for a thousand years had venerated. There is nothing to be proud of there.

The Pontifical Biblical Commission appointed by the Pope in Rome is there to guard the integrity and authenticity of Holy Scripture. As recently as 20 April 2004, they were welcomed to a meeting by Pope John Paul II who addressed them to say that "the members have gathered once again to study more deeply a very important topic: the relation between the Bible and morals. Through the Bible, God speaks and reveals Himself and indicates the solid basis and certain orientation for human behaviour."

The Holy Father goes on to say that "knowing God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, recognizing His infinite goodness, knowing with a grateful and sincere soul that all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, discovering in the gifts that God has given us the duties that he has entrusted to us, acting in full awareness of our responsibilities in His regard - these are some of the fundamental behaviours of Biblical morality."

"The duty of your common commitment," said the Pope in closing, "is to facilitate for the Christian people access to this treasure."

The Church is there to guard and help us understand the infinite riches of this treasure we call the Bible.

Fr. Francis Jamieson (April 30, 2004)

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