“The Bible, Protestantism, and the Papacy” American Sentinel 11, 11, pp. 81, 82.

March 12, 1896

THE two distinguishing features of Protestantism are the supremacy of the word of God and the right of private judgment.

So closely connected are these principles that the latter is only the logical result of the former; for the word of God being the supreme tribunal, the church itself must be judged by it, and even the most humble of the people have the right of appeal to it.

“The Bible, I say, the Bible only,” writes Dowling, “is the religion of Protestants. Nor is it of any account in the estimation of the genuine Protestant how early a doctrine originated if it is not found in the Bible…. The consistent and true-hearted Protestant, standing upon this rock, ‘the Bible and the Bible only,’ can admit no doctrine upon the authority of tradition.” 577

In that grand protest from which springs the very name of Protestantism, the German princes, rejecting tradition together with papal and imperial authority in all spiritual matters, declared thus for the word of God: “Seeing … that 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 it 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 fail or deceive us. He who builds on this foundation shall stand against all the powers of hell, whilst all the human vanities that are set up against it shall fall before the face of God.” 578

In this protest the Reformers assert not only the supremacy of the divine word, but the right of private judgment, for, “he who builds on this foundation shall stand.” This is as true of a single individual as of ten thousand, for no matter how large the number in the aggregate, every soul builds for himself, and must stand or fall for himself. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” 579

“The principles contained in this celebrated protest,” write D’Aubigne, “constitute the very essence of Protestantism. Now this protest opposes two abuses of man in matters of faith: the first is the intrusion of the civil magistrate, and the second the arbitrary authority of the church. Instead of these abuses, Protestantism sets the power of conscience above the magistrate; and the authority of the word of God above the visible church. In the first place, it rejects the civil power in divine things, and says with the prophets and apostles: We must obey God rather than man. In presence of the crown of Charles the Fifth, it uplifts the crown of Jesus Christ. But it goes farther; it lays down the principle that all human teaching should be subordinate to the oracles of God.” 580

As the fundamental principles of Protestantism are the supremacy of the word of God and the right of private judgment, or what is the same thing, the right to have and exercise a conscience in matters of faith, so the distinguishing features of the Papacy are a denial of the sufficiency of the divine word and of the right of private judgment. In fact, both are bound up in one, for if, as the Papacy insists, the individual must take his faith from the church, he must accept his conscience, ready-made, from the same source. Obviously, whatever militates against this in the least degree, must be regarded by the Papacy as harmful; hence papal opposition to the reading of the Scriptures by the people.

That this opposition to the Scriptures is real and not imaginary is evident from the writings of Roman Catholics themselves. “It is not necessary,” says a standard Roman Catholic authority, “for all Christians to read the Bible…. Parts of the Bible are evidently unsuited to the very young or to the ignorant, and hence Clement XI. Condemned the proposition that the reading of Scriptures is for all.’

“These principles are fixed and invariable, but the discipline of the church with regard to the reading of the Bible in the vulgar [82] tongue has varied with varying circumstances. In early times the Bible was read freely by the lay people, and the fathers constantly encouraged them to do so, although they also insist on the obscurity of the sacred text….

“Next dangers came in during the Middle Ages. When the heresy of the Albigenses arose there was a danger from corrupt translations, and also from the fact that the heretics tries to make the faithful judge the church by their own interpretation of the Bible. To meet these evils, the Councils of Toulouse (1229) and Tarragona (1234) forbade the laity to read the vernacular translations of the Bible.

Pius IV. required the bishops to refuse lay persons leave to read even Catholic versions of Scripture unless their confessors or parish priests judged that such reading was likely to prove beneficial. During this century, Leo XII., Pius VIII., and Pius IX., have warned Catholics against the Protestant Bible societies.” 581

“The church,” says Cardinal Gibbons, “is the only divinely-constituted teacher of revelation.

“Now the Scripture is the great depository of the word of God. Therefore, the church is the divinely-appointed custodian and interpreter of the Bible. For her office of infallible guide were superfluous, if each individual could interpret the Bible for himself.” 582

It appears from this, as before remarked, that the Roman Catholic Church opposes the reading of the Bible because it tends to develop independence of thought and action, and is in itself a negation of the claim that to “the church” is committed the faith and even the very consciences of all men.

It is true that the Papacy says, “A man is always bound to follow his conscience, even if false and erroneous…. Nor can any injunction of any authority, ecclesiastical or civil, make it lawful for a man to do that which his conscience unhesitatingly condemns as certainly wicked.” 583 But this does not mean that the Roman Catholic Church recognizes the supremacy of the Scriptures or the right of private judgment.

Says Cardinal Gibbons: “The church is indeed tolerant in this sense, that she can not confound truth with error; nor can she admit that any man is conscientiously free to reject truth when its claims are convincingly brought home to his mind.” 584

And again the cardinal says: “A man enjoys religious liberty when he possesses the free right of worshiping God according to the dictates of a right conscience, and of practicing a form of religion most in accordance with his duties to God.” 585

As already seen, Rome, through her popes and councils, forbids her children to read even her own version of the Scriptures, except under such restrictions as forbid the right of private judgment. Our illustration shows how Rome prevented the reading of the Bible in London in the era of the Reformation. Tyndale had given England the New Testament in the language of the people, but Henry VIII., upon whom Leo X. had bestowed the title, “Defender of the Faith,” was bitterly opposed to the reading of the Scriptures.

“The bishops” says D’Aubigne, “led the attack. ‘We must clear the Lord’s field of the thorns which choke it,’ said the archbishop of Canterbury to Convocation on the 29th of November, 1529; immediately after which the bishop of Bath read to his colleagues the list of books that he desired to have condemned. There were a number of works by Tyndale, Luther, Melancthon, Zwingle, OEcolampadius, Pomeranous, Brentius, Bucer, Jonas, Francis, Lambert, Fryth and Fish. The Bible in particular was set down. ‘It is impossible to translate the Scripture into English,’ said one of the prelates.—‘It is not lawful for the laity to read it in their mother tongue,’ said another.—‘If you tolerate the Bible,’ added a third, ‘you will make us all heretics.’” 586

In this matter “Rome had every reason,” remarks the historian, “to be satisfied with Henry VIII. Tonstall, who still kept under lock and key the Testaments purchased at Antwerp through Packington’s assistance, had them carried to St. Paul’s churchyard, where they were publicly burnt. The spectators retired shaking the head, and saying: ‘The teaching of the priests and of Scriptures must be in contradiction to each other, since the priests destroy them.’” 587

It was thus Rome opposed the Scriptures 366 years ago, and she uses the same tactics yet when she can. Only a few weeks since we printed in these columns the facts concerning the burning of forty-seven Bibles and fifty Testaments in Bahia, Brazil, no longer ago than last June by order of a Roman Catholic vicar. 588 And everybody knows Rome’s undying hostility to the reading of the common version of the Scriptures everywhere. The Douay or Catholic version of the Scriptures is never printed without notes; thus even where Rome permits the reading of the Bible, she first injects into it the poison of tradition and the vagaries of the so-called Fathers of the Christian Church.

But as we said before, the opposition to the reading of the Bible comes not so much from enmity to the Scriptures themselves, as from the papal principle of the denial of the right of private judgment. It is of no avail for people to read a book which they cannot understand, and which they have no right to understand for themselves. It follows that to permit the reading of the Scriptures is to invite independence of thought and of action in matters of religion. The man who reads the inspired declaration, every man “shall give account of himself to God,” feels that he has an individual responsibility toward God which no other man can discharge for him; and reasoning is not necessary to convince him not only that he has the right of private judgment, but that it is his duty to exercise that right in the fear of God; but this Rome can never admit, for to admit it is to abdicate the throne of spiritual dominion which she has usurped, and to which she owes her power over the nations.

Share this: