Did the Catholic Church prevent the people from reading the Bible by keeping it in Latin ?
Answer:  No, for two reasons

1. An Englishmen would have been more likely to have been able to read Latin than English in the 16th Century.

2. The Church did not “keep” it in Latin but had translated it into the other various vernacular languages such as German and English before the Protestants came along to do so.

1. An Englishmen would have been more likely to have been a skilled reader of Latin than a skilled reader English up until at least the 16th Century.  At this time they did not have free public schools.
1  Those who were fortunate enough to go to private schools learned Latin.  Once Latin was learned the other subjects were taught in Latin. Therefore, if a person knew how to read more than just a few simple words, he knew how to read Latin.

This surprising fact can be easily verified at any good library by looking at condensed biographies of early English writers which reveal the educational system of that time period.

Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400) learned his Latin through the medium of French, but once Latin was learned both English and French were forbidden.

“At Westminster School, and probably at Saint Paul's, too, a boy who knew Latin and presumed to speak English, or even French, had a cut of the cane for every word so spoken...
“Discipline, if rough, was ready. The day began with prayer, then a recitation of the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, a salutation to the Blessed Virgin, and some psalm singing, which was called "dinging in David.”

(British Writers, Volume#1, Edited under the auspices of the British Council. General Editor Ian Scott-Kilvert, published by - Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, NY, c. 1979, Page 22)

About Francis Bacon, 1561-1626 AD, we can read how he studied Latin and its preeminent importance.

“Latin (the international scholarly language)”
(Ibid. Page 259)
“Bacon’s education had been in Latin, as was customary ...”
(Ibid. Page 262)

In regards to William Shakespeare, 1564-1616 AD, he studied at the King’s New School. He studied Latin and his other subjects were taught in Latin.

“The basic medium of instruction was Latin”
(Ibid. Page 295)

As for Sir Walter Raleigh, 1552-1618 AD, we read

“He had no Hebrew and not much Greek, reading Greek authors as much as possible in Latin translations.”
(Ibid. Pages 145-153)


On page 122 we read about the education of Edmund Spenser, 1552-1559 AD. The curriculum included a great deal of Latin, as in other grammar schools, and also Greek, but if it included English that would have been exceptional.

Edmund Spenser 1552-1559 AD, “He was educated at Merchant Taylor's School …from it's foundation in 1561. There the curriculum included a great deal of Latin, some Greek (certainly Homer), and the Hebrew psalter. As in other grammar schools the Latin would be not only classical but Renaissance: .... Exceptionally, the curriculum extended to music and possibly even to English. For the headmaster was an advanced educationalist, the great Richard Mulcaster.”
(Ibid. Page 122)

Therefore, we can clearly see that those who were educated in how to read knew how to read Latin much better than they knew how to read English.

Also, it should be noted that the purpose the Church had for translating the Bible into Latin was for the express purpose making it more accessible to the people. Jerome’s translated the Bible into Latin around 400 AD. It was called the Latin Vulgate. Vulgate comes from the Latin word for “common” because Latin was the common language of Western Europe at that time.

2. The Church did not “keep” it in Latin but had translated it into the other various vernacular languages such as German and English before the Protestants came along to do so.

The Church had produced many German language Bibles before Luther broke away from the Catholic Church.

“The number of translations . . . of the complete Bible, was indeed very great . . . Between this period [1466] and the separation of the Churches at least fourteen complete editions of the Bible were published in High German, and five in the low German dialect. The first High German edition was brought out in 1466 by Johann Mendel, of Strasburg . . .”
(Johannes Janssen, History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages, 16 vols., tr. A.M. Christie, St. Louis: B. Herder, 1910 (orig. 1891), v. 1, pp. 56-57 and v. 14, p. 388)

We also can see how the Catholic Church translated the Bible into English long before John Wycliff.

“[W]e have a copy of the work of Caedmon, a monk of Whitby, in the end of the 7th century, consisting of great portions of the Bible … we have the well-known translations of the Venerable Bede, a monk of Jarrow . . . In the same (8th) century we have the copies of Eadhelm . . . of Guthlac, . . . and of Egbert . . . these were all in Saxon, the language understood and spoken by the Christians of that time. Coming down a little later, we have the free translations of King Alfred the Great . . . and of Aelfric, Archbishop of Canterbury . . . the paraphrase of Orm (about 1150) and the Salus Animae (1250), the translations of William Shoreham and Richard Rolle . . . (d.1349) . . .”
Dave Armstrong

The Lindisfarne Gospels were translated in English about 970 AD and are preserved at the British Museum. Read more at
The Lindisfarne Gospels

Because of the successive invasions of England by the Angels, the Danes, and finally the French in 1066 AD, the English language was in a constant state of change.  It was not until the seventeenth century that the English language became more or less stabilized in its present form.  Latin on the other hand was constant, and unchanging.  Therefore, Latin Bibles were more useful and practical.

Also, it should be noted that the Pope asked St. Jerome to translate the Bible into Latin because that was the common language of the people of that time, around 400 AD, in Western Europe.  It is called the Latin Vulgate, whereas Vulgate comes from the word for  "common."

Most importantly, we must realize that at least up until the 16th century that those who could read could read Latin.  This is because the schools not only taught Latin, but they even taught the other subjects in Latin as is documented above.

1.  In America Free public schools (i.e. taxed based schools) did not become widespread until the latter part of the 18th Century.  Even today, 68% of the world’s population cannot read or write.


Church in History Note:

This article was obtained from the: ‘Defending the Bride’ website. You can find more interesting articles there concerning the bible.


Version: 1st December 2013