Reformed Churchmen

We are Confessional Calvinists and a Prayer Book Church-people. In 2012, we remembered the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer; also, we remembered the 450th anniversary of John Jewel's sober, scholarly, and Reformed "An Apology of the Church of England." In 2013, we remembered the publication of the "Heidelberg Catechism" and the influence of Reformed theologians in England, including Heinrich Bullinger's Decades. For 2014: Tyndale's NT translation. For 2015, John Roger, Rowland Taylor and Bishop John Hooper's martyrdom, burned at the stakes. Books of the month. December 2014: Alan Jacob's "Book of Common Prayer" at: January 2015: A.F. Pollard's "Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation: 1489-1556" at: February 2015: Jaspar Ridley's "Thomas Cranmer" at:

Friday, June 13, 2014

13 June 1757 A.D. Mr. (Pope) Benedict XIV & Vernacular Bibles

13 June 1757 A.D.  Mr. (Pope) Benedict XIV permits vernacular Bibles.

Graves, Dan. “Benedict XIV Allowed Bible in Many Tongues.” Apr 2007.  Accessed Apr 28, 2014.

By decree on this day June 13, 1757, Pope Benedict XIV said the nations could have the Bible in their own tongues. That this concession should have been necessary is astonishing to Protestants, who from the start encouraged putting the rich word of God into the hands of as many people as possible in their own languages.

In this they were in line with the early church which had willingly translated the scriptures into local languages. Bede had rendered the Gospel of John into Saxon. Alfred the Great translated, or had someone translate, 50 psalms. Charlemagne, after failing to force Latin on his people, accepted the Old French. All or parts of the Bible were translated into several tongues. Cyril's Slavic version was made with papal permission.

However, during the later Middle Ages, authority was ascribed to Jerome's Vulgate. Latin became the sacred language of the church. Control of Scripture was control of authority. Churchmen and rulers alike seemed to fear the impact of the scriptures on behavior, and there is considerable evidence that both sought to keep it out of the hands of the common people. The official line of the church was that it feared abuse and profanation of the Word of God in the hands of laymen since it was too deep even for the greatest scholars to understand.

In England, Wycliffe and his Lollard preachers were forbidden to disseminate the word of God in English and Wycliffe's translations were destroyed when the authorities found them. Church councils actually forbade translation into the vernacular. The council of Oxford in 1408 condemned Wycliffe's version. By William Tyndale's day translation could be made only with the approval of a bishop. Because Tyndale was unable to secure this necessary approval in England, he moved to the continent, where he "illegally" translated the Bible into his native tongue.

The Synod of Sens in 1528 forbade translating scripture into French. In 1478 Pope Sixtus IV advocated censorship saying that women foolishly "arrogate to themselves the knowledge of scripture." Book burnings which included Bibles were common after 1521. Sometimes the translators and publishers themselves were burned. Possession of Bibles became criminal and often resulted in the execution of the accused. There are cases on record of people cruelly executed by order of church authorities for the "crime" of teaching their children the Lord's Prayer or the Ten Commandments in their native tongue.

In 1546 the Council of Trent allowed Bibles to be produced in the local languages as long as they had Catholic annotations and were attended by explanatory lectures. But in 1713 the papal bull Unigenitus condemned the proposition that the Bible was for everyone. In light of the Council of Trent, Benedict's decree could be seen as a step backward. In light of Unigenitus it was a great step forward, requiring only annotations and the approval of a bishop or of the Holy See. Benedict's humane spirit ensured that translators were freed for their work. In Italy several versions appeared at once.

This was by no means the end of the story. Even into the 1800s popes issued encyclicals against Bible societies and the dissemination of Bibles in Catholic countries unless they included Catholic annotations. Today, however, Bible societies have worked out protocols by which Protestants and Catholics pull together to make joint translations of scripture.


1.      "Benedict XIV." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.

2.      Brusher, J. Popes Through the Ages. Princeton, New Jersey: Van Nostrand, 1964.

3.      Chadwick, Owen. The Popes and European Revolution. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1981; pp. 75ff.

4.      Healy, Patrick J. "Benedict XIV, Pope." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.

5.      Montor, Artaud de. The Lives and Times of the Popes. New York: The Catholic publication society of America, 1910 - 11.

Last updated April, 2007.
The Papal Bull, Unigenitus, 1713, published these denials:
79. It is useful and necessary at all times, in all places, and for every kind of person, to study and to know the spirit, the piety, and the mysteries of Sacred Scripture.
80. The reading of Sacred Scripture is for all.
81. The sacred obscurity of the Word of God is no reason for the laity to dispense themselves from reading it.
82. The Lord's Day ought to be sanctified by Christians with readings of pious works and above all of the Holy Scriptures. It is harmful for a Christian to wish to withdraw from this reading.
83. It is an illusion to persuade oneself that knowledge of the mysteries of religion should not be communicated to women by the reading of Sacred Scriptures. Not from the simplicity of women, but from the proud knowledge of men has arisen the abuse of the Scriptures and have heresies been born.
84. To snatch away from the hands of Christians the New Testament, or to hold it closed against them by taking away from them the means of understanding it, is to close for them the mouth of Christ.
85. To forbid Christians to read Sacred Scripture, especially the Gospels, is to forbid the use of light to the sons of light, and to cause them to suffer a kind of excommunication.
86. To snatch from the simple people this consolation of joining their voice to the voice of the whole Church is a custom contrary to the apostolic practice and to the intention of God.

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