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blamed the people for not reading them; and considered the neglect of the perusal of them, as a source of heresy and immorality. But, in all this, continues the illustrious prelate, “the church used a wise oeconomy; adapting the general practice to the circumstances and wants of individuals. It did not, however, think that a person could not be a Christian, or not be well instructed in his religion, without perusing the sacred writings. Whole countries of barbarians, innumerable multitudes of the faithful were rich (to use the words of St. Paul) in words and science, though they had not read the sacred writings. To listen to the pastors of the church, who explain the scriptures to the faithful, and distribute among them such parts as are suited to their wants, is to read the scriptures.”
Thus far I have translated literally the words of Fenelon. In confirmation of what is said by him, that a considerable proportion of the faithful derived their knowledge of the gospel, not from a perusal of the scriptures themselves, but from the explanation of them by their pastors, I beg leave to refer you to what my most learned friend, Dr. Herbert Marsh, the Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, in his “ Illustrations of his Hypothesis on the Origin and Composition of the three first Canonical Gospels," has observed on the very small number of manuscript copies of the gospels, which were possessed by the early Christians.
Fenelon then proceeds to notice the change of the discipline of the church, in the point I have mentioned, in consequence of the troubles occasioned by the Waldenses and Albigenses.--" It should seein,” he says, “ that the Waldenses and Albigenses obliged the church to have recourse to her strict authority, in refusing the perusal of the sacred scripture to all persons, who were not disposed to read it to their advantage. I do not, however, undertake to assert that this prohibition was then issued by the church for the first time. But, certainly, the indocility and spirit of revolt, which then appeared among the laity, the neglect of the pastors to explain the scriptures, and the contempt which the people began then to shew for their instructions, made it manifest, that it had become unsafe to permit the people at large to read the sacred text: and consequently made it necessary for the church to withhold from the laity the perusal of it without the permission of their pastors.” For this purpose, I beg leave to copy what Mr. Alhan Butler says, in his Sixth Letter on Mr. Archibald Bower's History of the Popes: “ The people,” (these are his words) “ daily hear the scriptures read and expounded to them, by their pastors, and in good books. Even children have excellent abridgements of the sacred history, adapted, in the most easy and familiar manner, to their capacity, put into their hands. The divine books themselves are open to all, who understand Latin, or any other of the learned languages, in every Catholic country; and every one may read them, in the vulgar. languages, if he first ask the advice of his Confessor, who will only instruct him in what spirit he is to read them.”
The venerable Prelate next proceeds to state the principal councils,synods and episcopal ordinances, by which the general perusal of the scriptures by the laity was restricted. In a further part of his letter, he enumerates several passages, both of the Old and New Testament, which are likely to be understood in a wrong sense by the ignorant or ill-disposed, and to be wrested by them, as he terms it after St. Paul, to their own perdition. “ Hence," Fenelon concludes, that “the church acted wisely in withholding the sacred text from the rash criticisms of the vulgar." He says, that, “ before the people read the gospel, they should be instructed respecting it; that they should be prepared for it by degrees, so that, when they come to read it, they should be qualified to understand it; and thus be full of its spirit, before they are entrusted with its letter. The perusal of it should only be permitted to the simple, the docile, and the humble; to those who wish to nourish themselves with its divine truths in silence. It should never be committed to those, who merely seek to satisfy their curiosity, to dispute, to dogmatize, or to criticise. In a word, it should be given to those only, who, receiving it from the hands of the church, seek for pothing in it, but the sense of the church.” This is, and ever has been the doctrine of the church. “Her discipline in this article,” says Fenelon in another part of his letter, “ has sometimes varied, her doctrine has ever been the saine."
I shall proceed to state the actual dispositions of the Churck of Rome on this important point of her discipline.
From what I have said, it seems evident, that the limitation, with which the Roman-catholic church allows the general body of the laity to peruse the scriptures in a vulgar tongue; has not a very 'extensive operation; and I must observe, that some eminent Protestants so far agree with the Roman-catholic church, on this head, as to think that the indiscriminate perusal of the scripture by the laity is attended with bad consequences, and should therefore have some limitation. ,
1. For proof of this, I particularly refer you to the treatise of Dr. Hare, a late bishop of Chichester, “On the Difficulties
and Discouragements which attend the study of the Scriptures · in the way of private judgment, in order to show, that since
such a study of the scriptures is men's indispensable duty, it concerns all Christian societies to remove (as much as possible) those Discouragements.”
2. In respect to the Protestant practice of putting the scriptures into the hands of children, in their tender years, Mr. Benjamin Martin, in his preface to his “ Introduction to the English Tongue," laments and censures, the “ putting of the sacred book into the hands of every bawling schoolmistress, and of thoughtless children, to be torn, trampled upon, and
made the early object of their aversion, by being their most tedious task and their punishment.” He seems inclined to ascribe the growth of irreligion and the contempt of holy things to this source.
3. Mr. Edinund Burke thus expresses himself, in his “ Speech on the Act of Uniformity :"_" The scripture,” he says, “is no one summary of Christian doctrine regularly digested, in which a man could not mistake his way; it is a most venerable, but most multifarious, collection of the records of the divine ceconomy; a collection of an infinite variety of cosmogony, theology, history, prophecy, psalmody, morality, apologue, allegory, legislation, ethics, carried through different books, by different authors, at different ages, for different ends and purposes.
“ It is necessary to sort out, what is intended for example ; what only as a narrative ; what to be understood literally; what figuratively; where one precept is to be controlled or modified by another; what is used directly, and what only as an argument ad hominem; what is temporary, and what of perpetual obligation; what appropriated to one state, and to one set of men, and what the general duty of all Christians. If we do not get some security for this, we not only permit, but we actually pay for, all the dangerous fanaticism, which can be produced to corrupt our people, and to derange the public worship of the country. We owe the best we can (not infallibility, but pruHence) to the subjects; first sound doctrine, then ability to use it.” Speech on the Act of Uniformity : Works of the Right Honorable Edmund Burke, Vol. V. Page 335.
4. I request the reader's attention, in the last place, to that numerous portion of the Protestant subscribers to the Bible Societies, which contends, that the Bibles distributed should be accompanied with the Common Prayer Book, “ as a safeguard,” to use the expression of Dr. Herbert Marsh, (whose learning justly places him at the head of these gentlemen,) “ against the misinterpretation of the Bible.” Surely the Protestant, who by a general adoption of safeguards against the misinterpretation of the scriptures, must admit such misinterpretation to be pro
bable, cannot quarrel with the Roman-catholic for his cautionary preventives of it.
This leads me to mention a strange opinion, which prevails much among Protestants—that it is contrary to the General Principles of the Catholic religion, to publish the Bible, in a vulgar tongue, without notes.
To be convinced of the erroneousness of this opinion, it is only necessary to walk into the shops of the French booksellers in London, where several French Roman-catholic versions of the New Testament, without any notes, are constantly on sale, I beg leave, however, to refer the reader to the edition of Le Long's Bibliotheca Sacra, published by Boehmer at Leipsic, in two volumes octavo, 1709. In the second volume of the work, C. v. Sect. 2. p. 36, he will find an article, with the title, “ Biblia Gallica a Catholicis edita," and will see by it, that, before that work was printed, there had been, in the French language, nine original versions of the whole Bible; that many editions of these versions are in octavo, or the lesser sizes ; that there had been twelve original versions of the New Testament; that there had been several editions of most of these versions ; that almost all these editions are in octavo or a smaller size; and that there had not been fewer than two hundred editions-of different parts of the Old and New Testament, particularly the four Gospels and the Psalms, from one or other of these versions. Which of these editions are or are not accompanied by notes. I cannot say; but, from their size, it is most evident, that by far the greater part of them have none. I must add, that all these editions were anterior to the year 1709. Now, reading of no kind was, before that year, so common as it has since been. There is consequently no reason to suppose, that the versions subsequent to that period have been proportionally fewer than those which preceded it. An equal number of versions and editions had not before that time been printed in England.