Sure of their own divine authority, the Roman church made great efforts to suppress the Scriptures from being too accessible to the ignorant masses…
As such, during the “Dark Ages” all official Bibles were written in Latin, or some language other than the common tongue, thus requiring the local Catholic authorities to minister to the people as they saw fit, providing specific interpretations to followers. It was an official matter, this suppression of the Scriptures. In fact, during the Council of Toulouse, the leaders of the Catholic church codified the notion emphatically, declaring, “ We prohibit laymen possessing copies of the Old and New Testament…We forbid them most severely to have the above books in the popular vernacular.”¹ Further, it was decided that, “The lords of the districts shall carefully seek out the heretics in dwellings, hovels, and forests, and even their underground retreats shall be entirely wiped out.”¹
In 1234, at the Council of Tarragona, we find the Papal enforcers reiterating their stance against the laity possessing the Scriptures. The 2nd Canon of that council declared, “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 the promulgation of this decree, so that they may be burned.” John Foxe commented on this position, stating “Moreover, the papal system has opposed the march of civilization and liberty throughout the world, by denouncing the circulation of the Bible, and the general diffusion of knowledge.”²
As is the habit of God, many believers were able to see through the pagan and unbiblical practices of the Catholic Church, rejecting its teachings and seeking instead the truth. Such believers were recognized as dissenters and in most cases were quickly apprehended and whipped, branded, mutilated, tortured, burned, and much worse.
As the papal oppression continued, good men of God remained standing for the truth, and among them was John Wycliffe. Wycliffe believed that the common man should have access to the Scriptures, and in keeping with this belief, he translated – from the Latin Vulgate – the first English version of the Bible in 1380 AD. His quest to provide the common man with the Scriptures earned him many enemies within the Catholic church of his day. Among them was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, who is claimed to have said of Wycliffe, “that Pestilent wretch, John Wycliffe, the son of the old Serpent, forerunner of the Antichrist, who has completed his inequity by inventing a new translation of the scriptures.”
Such a thorn in the side of the Catholic administration was Wycliffe that, following his death, the Council of Constance declared him a heretic, decreeing that his works would be burned and his body exhumed. In 1428, under the order of Pope Martin V, Wycliffe’s body was torn from the ground, burned to ashes, and cast into the River Swift. The same council also declared Wycliffe’s contemporary, the Bohemian priest Jan Hus, a heretic as well, defrocking him and burning him at the stake, and in the process inciting a rebellion of his followers.
- Concil, Tolosanum, Pope Gregory IX, in the year 1229, Canon 14, cited by White, Ellen G. “The Great Controversy,” Appendix, pg 688
- Foxe, John, “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs,” White Dog Publishing, 2009, pg 7, 1563
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