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Why do you find fault with the church of Rome for not suffer
ing the common people to read the Bible ?
1. Because in doing so they act contrary to the command Christ
gives to all, to search the Scriptures. John v. 39. 2. Because what they forbid, the apostles commend; as we see
in the example of the Bereans, who are commended for
reading the Scriptures. Acts xvii. 11. 3. It is contrary to the practice of the primitive church, in
which the fathers earnestly exhorted the people to an assi
duous and diligent reading of the Scriptures. 4. It agrees not with St. Paul's counsel and exhortation,
1 Thess. v. 7, I charge you that this Epistle be read to all
the holy brethren. 5. It was the duty of the Jews to have the law in their houses,
and to read it to their children. Deut. vi. 7. And therefore must be much v«re the duty of Cbristians, to read or peruse the Gospel, as being a people living under a greater
and richer economy. 6. Whereas it is pretended that the Scriptures are obscure, and
that this prohibition is to prevent heresies. We answer, that the Scriptures are not so obscure in places relating to things necessary to salvation, but that they may be understood by the laity. And as to the plea of preventing heresies, that is only a pretence, no argument, since they might as well forbid people to eat or drink, for fear they should abuse that liberty.
OBSERVATIONS. AGAIN we have to complain of misrepresentation in stating the practice and discipline of the Roman Catholic church, in the regulation of that attention which is justly bestowed by the faithful on the sacred Scripture. It is not true that the church refuses to the people the use of the Bible : the pastors of the church have uniformly encouraged and patronised the publication of the sacred volume; and, in many instances, have themselves given various editions of the Scripture in the vulgar tongue. This practice has been observed in every Catholic country; and surely to what purpose can such editions scrve, but to administer to the wants of that portion of the faithful, who are unacquainted with the learned languages. This prohibition, therefore, of using the food of the divine word, is a calumny which has a thousand times been repeated, and as often been denied.
But what is the real ground of the charge, the truth or falsehood of which, it should seem, might so easily be verified ? This may easily be ex. plained in a small compass. Those who would have the candour to learn the present discipline of the Catholic church from the authentic and authorized source of the Council of Trent, might easily satisfy themselves, that the utmost diligence is constantly recommended to the pastors of the church, to feed their flocks with the food of the divine word '. But while this general charge is given to the pastors, to instruct the people in the doctrine of the Scripture, the church, like a ten
Sess. 5. de Reformat. c. 2. item Sess. 24. c. 4.
der mother, feels herself compelled to prevent the most salutary food from degenerating into poison, by the indiscretion of those who use it. Hence in those Catholic countries, where the discipline of the Council of Trent has been generally received and published, certain salutary restraints have been devised and enforced, in order to preserve the purity of the divine word, and to prevent that from becoming hurtful to souls, which was intended to be their light and support. With this view the church has forbidden, in the first place, the use of such versions of the sacred Scripture, as come from dangerous quarters, or from those who might be suspected of corrupting or falsifying the divine oracles. Secondly, she prohibits the indiscriminate and promiscuous use even of authorized versions, without the approbation and leave of the pastors of the church. These two points are carefully enforced, where the rules of the Council of Trent are received and published'. It becomes necessary to make an accurate statement of the case; for probably the distinction between faith and discipline, and the necessity of having matters of discipline published before they become obligatory, are points which have escaped the researches of our profound theologian. In the third place, what the Catholic church positively and peremptorily insists upon is, that no one is to follow his private judgment in the
Vide Reg. 3, 4, 5. ad Calc. Conc.
interpretation of the Scripture ; but that he is to adhere to the judgment and interpretation of the church. Now where is the man, possessing a notion of ecclesiastical government, and impressed with the necessity of observing due order and indispensible discipline, who would reprehend these restraints, or censure these salutary precautions ?
As to the first precaution, by which the church prohibits the general use of corrupted versions, the prudence and propriety of the measure are self-evident; for if veneration is due to the divine word, this must clearly be understood of the word of God, presented in a genuine and authentic form. No falsifier of any part of the sacred writings can presume to imagine, that his hurtful labours will be received with the countenance and respect which are bestowed on a fair edition, or on an authentic version of the Holy Scriptures.
As to the second restraint, if the word of God is to be considered in the light of food, by which the souls of the faithful are to be fed for life eternal, it is surely not inconsistent with the maternal office of the church, whom all are commanded to hear, to introduce certain regulations in the use of this food, for the sole purpose of rendering it more salutary, and of preventing the effects of indiscretion. In the common conduct of life, it is an object of importance with those intrusted with the care of health, to withhold from the patient the use even of wholesome and substantial food, when circumstances render such a precaution proper and necessary: and if the church sees, what frequently and unquestionably happens, that the weak, the thoughtless, and unstable, make an improper use of the sacred word of God, it is evidently the duty, as it is the present practice of the church in those parts where the discipline of the Council of Trent has been published, not to prohibit the use of the Scripture, as has been so often asserted, but to place the use of it under such restraints as - will prevent evil. In fact, what physician, who practices the art of healing with any credit or success, would venture to indulge his patients in the indiscriminate use of all kinds of food, under all circumstances, and under the pressure of every complaint. Such laxity of principle and conduct would not be tolerated in civil society; and why is the church to consign the holy word of God indiscriminately to persons of all classes, without introducing regulations to render it salutary and productive ? St. Peter, speaking of the Epistles of St. Paul, asserts, that in them ARE SOME THINGS HARD TO BE UNDERSTOOD, WHICH THEY THAT ARE UNLEARNED AND UNSTABLE, WREST, AS THEY DO THE OTHER SCRIPTURES, TO THEIR OWN DESTRUCTION . In real truth, if there is any form of ecclesiastical government established by the wisdom of our Redeemer, if