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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

Nor any official patronage of vernacular translations


appearance of numerous translations of the Scriptures into the vernacular, unauthorised by the officials of the mediaeval Church, and jealously suspected by them, appears to confirm the growth and spread of this non-ecclesiastical piety. The relation of the Church of the Middle Ages, earlier and later, to vernacular translations of the Vulgate is a complex question. The Scriptures were always declared to be the supreme source and authority for all questions of doctrines and morals, and in the earlier stages of the Reformation controversy the supreme authority of the Holy Scriptures was not supposed to be one of the matters in dispute between the contending parties. This is evident when we remember that the _Augsburg __ Confession_, unlike the later confessions of the Reformed Churches, does not contain any article affirming the supreme authority of Scripture. That was not supposed to be a matter of debate. It was reserved for the Council of Trent, for the first time, to place _traditiones sine Scripto_ on the same level of authority with the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Hence, many of the small books, issued from convent presses for the instruction of the people during the decades preceding the Reformation, frequently declare that the whole teaching of the Church is to be found within the books of the Holy Scriptures.

It is, of course, undoubted that the mediaeval Church forbade over and over again the reading of the Scriptures in

the Vulgate and especially in the vernacular, but it may be asserted that these prohibitions were almost always connected with attempts to suppress heretical or schismatic revolts.(97)

On the other hand, no official encouragement of the reading of the Scriptures in the vernacular by the people can be found during the whole of the Middle Ages, nor any official patronage of vernacular translations. The utmost that was done in the way of tolerating, it can scarcely be said of encouraging, a knowledge of the vernacular Scriptures was the issue of Psalters in the vernacular, of Service-Books, and, in the fifteenth century, of the _Plenaria_--little books which contained translations of some of the paragraphs of the Gospels and Epistles read in the Church service accompanied with legends and popular tales. Translations of the Scriptures were continually reprobated by Popes and primates for various reasons.(98) It is also unquestionable that a knowledge of the Scriptures in the vernacular, especially by uneducated men and women, was almost always deemed a sign of heretical tendency. "The third cause of heresy," says an Austrian inquisitor, writing about the end of the thirteenth century, "is that they translate the Old and New Testaments into the vulgar tongue; and so they learn and teach. I have heard and seen a certain country clown who repeated the Book of Job word for word, and several who knew the New Testament perfectly."(99) A survey of the evidence seems to lead to the conclusion that the rulers of the mediaeval Church regarded a knowledge of the vernacular Scriptures with grave suspicion, but that they did not go the length of condemning entirely their possession by persons esteemed trustworthy, whether clergy, monks, nuns, or distinguished laymen.

Yet we have in the later Middle Ages, ever since Wiclif produced his English version, the gradual publication of the Scriptures in the vernaculars of Europe. This was specially so in Germany; and when the invention of printing

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