August 29, 1895
IT is a boast of the Roman Catholic Church that “Rome never changes;” and yet few people realize how true it is that the Roman Catholic Church of to-day is the same in spirit, in purpose, and in policy as was the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century.
September 5, 1893, Mgr. Satolli, speaking for the pope of Rome, bid the people of the United States to “go forward, in one hand bearing the book of Christian truth—the Bible—and in the other, the Constitution of the United States.” But let no one be deceived by this apparent change of front by the papacy. Rome’s attitude toward the Bible is just what it has always been, namely, one of hostility to the Word of God uninterpreted by “the church.”
Prior to the Reformation, the Bible was an unknown book, so far as the common people were concerned; but few even of the priests had ever seen the Book, and fewer still had ever read the sacred Volume, Luther never saw a Bible until he was twenty years of age; and until that time imagined that “those fragments of the gospels and epistles that the church had selected to be read to the people during public worship every Sunday throughout the year,” composed the whole Word of God. 320
It may be said that this was the fault of the times and not of the church; that all books were rare and expensive. But that Rome could have given the Scriptures to the people in the living languages of Europe, is proved by the fact that the Reformers did it in a single generation, in the face of the most bitter opposition by the papal church.
The fault was not with the times but with an apostate church, which not only kept the Word of God locked in dead languages, but forbade the reading of it under heavy penalties. Our illustration shows with what trepidation the people read the Scriptures in those days. It was against the law to read the Bible, and they watched as they read, as a housebreaker watches lest detection overtake him; and startled at the slightest noise, even as the hunted deer starts at the snapping of a twig or the rustle of a fallen leaf.
But the Reformation unsealed the previous Volume. “Tyndall and Luther,” says Dr. Wylie, “the one from his retreat at Vildorfe in the Low Countries, and the other from amid the deep shades of the Thuringian forest, sent forth the Bible to the nations in the vernacular tongues of England and Germany.”
The thirst thus awakened for the Scriptures, Rome did not think it wise to openly oppose. Civil penalties could no longer be invoked to punish those who read the Word of God. But papal policy was equal to the emergency. The Council of Trent enacted ten rules regarding the reading of prohibited books; and in the fourth rule the council prohibits anyone from reading the Bible without a license from his bishop or inquisitor—that license to be founded upon the certificate from his confessor, that he “is in no danger of receiving injury from so doing.” The council further said: “If anyone shall dare to keep in his possession that book [the Bible], without such a license, he shall not receive absolution until he has given it up to his ordinary.” 321
Such was the attitude of Rome toward the Bible at the era of the Reformation, and  such it is to-day. “No farther back than 1816,” says Wylie, “Pope Pius VII., in hi bull, denounced the Bible Society, and expressed himself as ‘shocked’ by the circulation of the Scriptures, which he characterizes as a ‘most crafty device, by which the very foundations of religion are undermined;’ ‘a pestilence,’ which it behoves him ‘to remedy and abolish;’ ‘a defilement of the faith, eminently dangerous to souls.’ He congratulates the primate, to whom his letter is addressed, on the zeal he had shown ‘to detect and overthrow the impious machinations of these innovators;’ and represents it as an episcopal duty to expose ‘the wickedness of this nefarious scheme,’ and openly to publish ‘that the Bible printed by heretics is to to [sic.] be numbered among other prohibited books, conformably to the rules of the index; for it is evident from experience, that the holy Scriptures, when circulated in the vulgar tongue, have, through the temerity of men, produced more harm than benefit.’ 322 Thus, in the solemn judgment of the Church of Rome, expressed through her chief organ, the Bible has done more evil than good, and is beyond comparison the worst book in the world.” 323
In America, Satolli, the papal delegate, tells the people to “go forward bearing in one hand the book of Christian truth—the Bible;” but in Roman Catholic countries the Word of God is still a forbidden book; and as we shall see, the Bible, as the supreme authority in matters of faith, is still forbidden by Rome even in this country.
Some years ago, while Rome was yet under the rule of the pope, and English clergyman found it impossible to purchase in the city of Rome a single copy of the Scriptures of portable size in the language of the people; and when he inquired of each bookseller the reason of his not having so important a volume, the answer in every instance was “E prohibite,” or “Non? permisso;” 324 that is, the volume was prohibited, or not permitted to be sole. It is a matter of general knowledge that at the present time Protestant colporters in the Roman Catholic countries of South America, are not permitted to circulate freely copies of the Scriptures. They are hampered and hindered in a hundred ways, and are often arrested and thrown into prison upon the slightest pretext, evidently to prevent them from putting the Bible into the hands of the people.
But does not Rome permit the reading of the Bible by her people in the United States? Yes; but of the Catholic version only, and that is never printed without notes. The Roman Catholic Church claims to be the only authorized interpreter of the Scriptures, and she suffers her people to receive the Scriptures only as she interprets them; and when Rome says, “Go forward, bearing in one hand the book of Christian truth—the Bible,“—she means the Roman Catholic bible, and that interpreted by the church; for Rome has repeatedly refused to authorize the circulation among Catholics of the Douay version of the Scriptures, without note or comment.
The creed of Pope Pius IV., which every Catholic is taught to recite, and to which every priest is required to subscribe, thus defines the sense in which Rome admits even her own version of the Scriptures:—
I do also admit the Holy Scriptures, according to that sense which our holy mother, the church, has held and does hold, to which it belongs to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Scriptures; neither will I ever take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the fathers.
To the same intent, the present pope, Leo XIII., says:—
The professors [teachers] of Holy Scripture, therefore, amongst other recommendations, must be well acquainted with the whole circle of theology and deeply read in commentaries of the holy fathers and doctors and other interpreters of mark.
Thus Rome interposes insurmountable barriers between the people and the Bible, even while professing to freely give them the sacred Volume, bidding them go forward, bearing it in the right hand.
“The Protestant Bible,” says Rome, “is only a false skin, in which infidelity and revolution wrap themselves.” 325 But Rome no longer fears the Bible in the United States as she once feared it, because the Bible is no longer regarded by the great mass of the people of this country as it was once regarded. The higher criticism and the thousand and one evasions of the plain Word of God, which have been adopted by so-called Protestants to support unbiblical doctrines, have so discredited the bible and so instilled into the minds of the people the papal idea that the Bible must be interpreted, that Rome now feels safe in bidding the people thus educated to go forward, bearing in one hand the emasculated and discredited Bible, and in the other the perverted Constitution of the United States.
The very foundation principle of true Protestantism was thus set forth in the protest of the princes at Spires, April 12, 1529:—
“There is no sure doctrine but such as is conformable to the Word of God.” “The Lord forbids the teaching of any other doctrine.” “Each text of the Holy Scriptures ought to be explained by other and clearer texts.” “This Holy Book is in all things necessary for the Christian, easy of understanding, and calculated to scatter the darkness; we are resolved, with the grace of God, to maintain the pure and exclusive preaching of his only Word, such as is contained in the biblical books of the Old and New Testaments, without adding anything thereto that may be contrary to it. This Word is the only truth; it is the sure rule of all doctrine and of all life, and can never fall or deceive us. He who builds on this foundation shall stand against all the powers of hell whilst all the human vacuities that are set up against it shall fall before the face of God.”
It is before the Bible regarded in this light that Rome trembles. But Protestants are no longer taught to reverence the Word of God as did the German princes; they are no longer taught that a plain “Thus saith the Lord” is the end of controversy. They are, on the contrary, taught to accept what men have said about the Bible rather than the Bible; and as this is distinctively Roman Catholic doctrine, Rome can well afford now to appear as the champion of the Scriptures, for she well knows that, under the influence to which we have referred, the Bible has lost its power with the people; and she no longer fears it.
“Rome never changes,” but times changes; and the changed attitude of Rome toward the Bible is not a change in principle but in policy. The same hostility to the Word of God exists as formerly; but as Protestants are no longer taught to look upon the Bible as of supreme authority, but regard it as something that must be interpreted, Rome no longer opposes the Bible but sets herself forth as the interpreter, expounder, and defender of that sacred Book. There is, in fact, an unconscious conspiracy between Rome and apostate Protestantism, and Rome’s so-called change of front is due to this conspiracy.