Did the Catholic Church Chain Up Bibles?


You bet they did!

The real question is why did they do it?

Many anti-Catholics today try and skew this chaining of the Bible as a dig against the Church. They use it to promote the revisionist idea that the Catholic Church didn’t want lay persons exposed to the “real teachings” of the Bible – which, of course, is just more bunk.

[Granted, the Church was being totally unreasonable at the time…something about not wanting a bunch of uneducated people misinterpreting scripture out of the context of the entire Deposit of Faith leading to horrible division (read denominationalism) and destroying unity within the Church.  I mean, obviously the Church had no idea what it was talking about.  Right.  But I digress.]

Yes, the Church chained up Bibles, but they did not do it to keep people from reading them.  Ironically, it was the exact opposite.

These Bibles were chained up in public, often out in front of the Church. It would be a pretty silly thing to chain up a bible and leave it out in front of the Church if they didn’t want anyone to read it. Wouldn’t you think? It seems that locking it away somewhere in a room or a box would work much better.

When we go to the grocery store checkout stand and pay for our groceries, there is usually a little pen there for everyone to use to write with. Often times this pen is chained to the checkout stand.

Is that because they don’t want anyone to use it? Or is it because they want to make it available for everyone to use?

It was precisely because they wanted everyone to have access to the Bible that they left it out where everyone could read it! But because they wanted it to still be around for everyone to read, they had to chain it to something to keep it from walking off.

Keep in mind, this is largely back before the printing press. Books, particularly the Bible, were very expensive because they were all hand copied. They could cost thousands to tens of thousands of dollars in today’s currency.

Nobody in their right mind would leave something that expensive just sitting around for anyone to take. So the Church did what it could to make it available – and keep it available.

13 comments Add comment

memoriadei January 12, 2009 at 5:11 pm

Thank you for this. I didn’t know and now I do ! Plus, I can tell anyone who comes up with the tired thing about Catholics keeping Bibles away from people

Doug January 12, 2009 at 7:03 pm

However those who want to believe what they have always believed, aren’t going to let something fact or reason stand in their way. Human nature.

Michael January 12, 2009 at 7:57 pm

As a convert, this is one of the many fallacies I had to wade thru on my road to Rome. Great Post!

Andy January 12, 2009 at 9:00 pm

Very interesting piece of history, Matt.
Thanks for clarifying. Yes, I have heard more than a few practices by the early church characterized in a way to make them sound crazy by today’s way of thinking. A shame that often the context and reasoning are sometimes purposely left out, particularly by other Christian fundamentalist groups who want to portray Catholics as some kind of weird cult. I am a minority Catholic in the south who has experienced this many times in a group of otherwise great Christian people who seem more than energetic about sharing some of these “strange Catholic behaviors” that they probably heard about in their church. It happens all the time.

Caroline January 13, 2009 at 5:20 am

Thx for the post, Matthew. And, to add to that, something that I read — the Catholic Church did in fact confiscate people’s bibles & burned them; but that was becos there were so many different translations that were defective & inaccurate (eg. the Tyndale or Wycliffe bibles) and those were the ones that were opposed by the Church.

Michael Zappe January 13, 2009 at 12:09 pm

What also should be mentioned is the sheer expense of producing a Bible before printing. (Even after the invention of the printing press, compared to now, a printed version would be expensive.)

A great comparison is the Saint John’s Bible (http://www.saintjohnsbible.org/) that was produced recently, by hand. The Heritage Edition (http://www.heritageedition.com/about.htm), a photographic reproduction of the hand-calligraphed Bible, costs $145,000 each. (Of course, the printing doesn’t cost that much, but the proceeds go to a foundation for the preservation of Christian manuscripts.)

Anuroop October 16, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Very interesting justification. Which language Bible was chained up out side the Church building? If it was Latin translation, (by Jerome in 406), then who could read it? Was all Europe reading Latin? Surely not! Next what was the literacy rate in those days, even if there were some in Roman provience? In either case people were not able to read and the Church did not help. Wycliffe, Luthur and many people translated the Bible into peoples litature. If the Church was interested in people reading the Scriptures, why did they not translate before Wycliff? Why did they wait till 1957 (around 600 years)to receive the translation of compleet Catholic Bible with the Apocrypha? Please read the history and present the facts. Let us be bold to say, we are sorry. Peace be with you. Anuroop

Matthew Warner October 17, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Anuroop – Here is another post I wrote over at the National Catholic Register that speaks to some of your objections: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/friday_fast_fact_luther_wycliff_and_the_bible/

The Catholic Church did indeed translate before Wycliff…much before. That’s the tragedy of the misinformation out there that you seem to be buying into. There’s a good book out there called “Where we got the bible” that goes into a lot of this in greater detail.

Sincerely January 16, 2011 at 3:15 am

I watched a video a few years ago that explained that they were not left for the public to read, they were only for the priests to read and interpret, they wanted them chained to keep the public from having access and taking them home, but also so the public could not read it and interpret differently, so I’d like to know more sources for the information posted here.

Robert Mader December 28, 2011 at 12:16 pm

What is the source for Your information. Anyone can make a video of assertions that are complete lies or just as bad, Half truths.

Robert Mader December 28, 2011 at 12:22 pm

I would like to add, and you should be well aware, that 99.9 % of the population could not read anything. Even in the late 1800, probably only 10% of the population in the US could read anything. Let alone a bible. They were illiterate. The Church had invented Universities – but it hadn’t invented public schools yet when the Bible was chained in those churches. You didn’t have to be able to read to know how much it would sell for if you could steal it.

Thelma Demers January 6, 2013 at 7:53 pm

I can only speak for myself – I was brought up Catholic. In high school a priest came to visit the class ( as they sometimes did ). He spoke about omething in the bible and I disagreed. I was told I should leave the reading and interpretation of the bible to the church.

Elvio Rosati July 3, 2013 at 9:13 am

Why are telephone directories chained to public phones !!!

Previous post:

Next post: