Before 1440 and the invention of the printing press, most Christians would not have had their own personal bible. So I would assume the only place they would see one would be in a church read by a Priest or other scholarly people.

Do you think this changed Christianity a lot from pre-15th century Christianity ?

Having your own Bible which you could refer to and read every day and debate people with must have been a lot different to the times when people had to go and consult the few copies.

I'm sure there were some richer people who could afford to have their own personal copies copied out by scribes.

  • 2
    I do not think that the invention of the printing press in itself that changed Christianity, as much as those who used it for such diverse ends.
    – Ken Graham
    Dec 30, 2019 at 22:01
  • @Ken I do not separate out Christianity from those who "use" it.
    – zooby
    Dec 31, 2019 at 3:17
  • 2
    Public schooling started in the mid-nineteenth century.
    – user46876
    Jan 2, 2020 at 16:59
  • Not only did the church do its best to stop people getting their hands on a copy of the bible, history has been rewritten to make it out as if this isn't precisely true. Yet blatantly Thomas More who was Tyndale's main persecuter was beatified within the last 150 years.
    – David
    Apr 25, 2020 at 23:09
  • @Ken Graham: Thanks for your opinion. The printing press changed Christianity and Catholicism immensely.
    – Jim G.
    Jun 27, 2020 at 12:12

3 Answers 3


It has had a tremendous impact on the world, not just Christianity. Because moveable type, not the printing press, first appeared in Europe, Christianity felt the brunt of the invention first. Of course, to discuss the changes after movable type, you must first at least have a feel for the world before movable type.

The Christianity you likely think of before Guttenburg is probably not a good semblance of the real world of the time. Also, Christianity existed a long time before 1440, and it changed pretty substantially over that time as well.

In the first fifty years of Christianity, churches stretched from India to Libya and France and from the Alps to the Sahel. By the year 1100, the Patriarch of Tokyo could have sent monks to Ireland, while the bishop of Armagh could have done the same to Tokyo. Neither set of travelers would have had to miss a eucharistic celebration on the way, barring catastrophe or incivility. That is the source of the Prester John myths and so forth.

Of course, by 1500 two thirds of all of the churches of the world extant in 1100 would have closed and in many places, been at most a distant memory or an old monument by the road. Almost all of that was voluntary deconversion, there was little of it that could be attributed to persecution. Had you been in Tokyo or Beijing in 1500, you would not have been able to find a Christian, and you would have to know what to look for, basically being an archaeologist, to realize they had ever been there.

Christianity, in most of the Old World, was being outcompeted in the marketplace of ideas. Of course, you had pockets where it survived in India, Iraq, and Iran. It was also expanding in northern and eastern Europe at the time. It could easily have vanished in Spain and the Balkans.

There is another effect happening as well that had a pretty substantial impact on the change from early Christianity to pre-Protestant Christianity. That is the Black Death. It had a fundamental impact on Christian theology, and the Reformation is at least in part a reaction to the reaction to the Black Death. I am going to ignore most of that as the existence of the press exacerbated those differences but did not cause them.

You also ask about Christianity, but that is something difficult to discuss as the impact on Syriac Christianity was very different than the implications for Methodism in the United States. Instead, since most people mean western Christianity when they speak of Christianity rather than actual Christianity, I will restrict myself to Western European Christianity.

For some parts of Christianity, such as Russian Orthodoxy, movable type didn’t really impact the religion until after the Bolsheviks won the Russian Civil War. Then the impact was catastrophic.

For simplicity, I am going to define Western Christianity as those areas where the bishop of Rome is the patriarchal bishop or was at the time of the Reformation.

Western Christianity, especially before the conquests by Napolean, was exceedingly non-uniform. The Western Patriarchate was somewhat of a puzzle from the view of Eastern Patriarchs and Metropolitans. In all of the Eastern synods, there was a unity of worship, canon law, and choices of versions of the bible. The Patriarchate of Constantinople was internally uniform. The Patriarchate of Alexandria was internally uniform. They didn’t agree between each other, but they were internally consistent in their formal religion.

That was never true inside the Western Patriarchy. The liturgy in England didn’t match the liturgy in Germany or Italy. Likewise, and still to this day, there is a Mozarabic liturgy sung in the Western Patriarchate, and in other places, you can attend the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom or Basil the Great which are contractions of the Liturgy of James. At Easter in the United States, you will hear a version of the Liturgy of Peter at Roman churches, while on other days, you will see a version of the Gallican liturgy. You can also see the Tridentine Liturgy under exceptional circumstances.

Dropping printed books into a highly non-uniform environment had differential impacts throughout the system. If the same input is dropped into different processing rules, you get different outputs. You can think of the printed book as having the same impact as the internet on society now. You have Amazon destroying businesses and the Russians taking over American elections. Eventually, it came to blows, of course. However, it is too early to talk about that.

First, every locality had its own bible, and it would not match the bible of another district in the same language group except by accident. The printed book created a previously absent literary convention, that a version of a book is correct and that other versions altered by copyists were not a correct version.

There are 33,000 verses in the New Testament, and there is an average of six variant passages for every passage in the text in ancient texts. That doubles if you include things like typographic errors, misspellings, and so forth. When you translate those passages, then that number goes way up. That was part of the controversy of the Tyndale Bible. He had planned to drop fifteen centuries of translation standards and use a new one, which changed critical words.

Most people believe the council at Nicaea approved the books of the bible, but that is not true. Pope Damasus, following three synodal meetings, issued the decree creating the bible and choosing the books. That was part of the problem. If you reject papal authority, then you reject the authorizing body for the creation of the bible.

Luther solved this problem by choosing the books all over again, and he tossed quite a few books out. He, and Tyndale, excluded Hebrews, James, Jude, Revelation, and the books now called the Apocrypha.

If you reject the papacy and Luther, you run into logical problems for how you are to function. The King James Bible, with the King as the head of Christianity, solved that problem.

So the first thing to understand is that the bible was a political document at that time. It still is, but not in the same way.

A problem that formed and still impacts Protestantism up until today is that denominations formed based on different variant passages as they appeared in different bibles. The snake-handling churches in Kentucky depend on a passage that is widely agreed not to be part of the bible, but which was in a printed bible when they formed. They pass live rattlesnakes around the congregation, including to children, throughout the service. If you die, then that is God’s judgment. If you were holy, you would live.

That makes Protestant scriptural translation a highly charged process today as some denominations are on weak footings had they tried to form today under more neutral readings of passages. So one of the first elements that happened, though they didn’t realize it until around the beginning of the 18th century, was that there were bibles and not a bible. It had the effect of exacerbating the differences on a Christianity that was under a lot of pressure from the outside world.

You have to remember, Christianity had spent three centuries vanishing, though expanding in some areas too. The princes of the Holy Roman Empire would probably not have come to the same decisions had they realized that within thirty years that one-third of all Germans would be dead from infighting and civil war because of how they handled the Luther affair. Just thirteen years after Guttenberg, the Roman Empire would finally fall to Mehmed II. The shock waves would cascade everywhere. If you add in Luther, Calvin, Henry VIII, and the Anabaptists, you get a very old system in grave peril. It had to change.

Before violence took hold, the regional differences in Protestantism looked quite a bit like those regions’ versions of Catholicism. Once the violence started, there was no return for any party. Luther had 20,000 Anabaptists burned at the stake. Calvin ordered the execution of all Lutherans. Anabaptist armies laid waste to entire regions figuring it was better to kill the entirety of a mixed heretic village than let some contamination in. Catholic armies roamed the countryside.

The printed book made the quick propagation of religious ideas into the rapid circulation of war propaganda. Luther recommended the Rosary. Rosaries now were the weapon of the enemy and had to go.

About a decade ago, a Lutheran bishop was commenting on the ninety-five thesis. He said that continued division with the Catholic Church made no sense as the Catholic Church ended up adopting ninety-three and a half of the ninety -five thesis. Even though the Catholic Church ended up adopting ninety-three and a half of the ninety-five thesis, that cannot matter anymore to millions of Lutherans. Reasonableness ended with the bloodshed. The printed book had a similar effect as deep fakes could have now. You just need to read a tract by Chick to realize that the wars are still real to many Americans.

The first change to Christianity was to define some baptized people as not Christian. It also brought an end to the requirement that churches be lead by someone whose ordination was part of the apostolic succession. All Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, and Oriental Orthodox bishops can trace their ordination back through a series of bishops that go directly back to the Twelve. The apostles laid hands on new bishops, that laid hands on new bishops and so forth.

The splits didn’t take bishops with them, so there was no authority authorized by the apostles, so the result was a critical discussion of how a congregation should be run. It is really the first real discussion of importance since the ante-Nicene fathers discussed it. See, for example, 1st Clement or the Didache. There really had not been much critical discussion outside the Apostolic Fathers, though you have the monastic movement and the writings of individuals such as Basil, Anthony, Benedict, and later people such as Francis and Dominic.

The next big difference you begin to see is the sermon instead of a homily or kontakia. If you look at Latin, Greek, Syriac, and African Christianity (Copts and Ge’ez), you can see why the sermon was important to Protestantism. However, without printed literature, the sermon probably would not have existed as a core element.

If the Greeks are the singers to God, the Syriacs God’s poets, the Africans God’s mystics, the Latins were the teachers about God. If you take that to an extreme, you get sermons. In the Greek service, the laity sang kondaks to the clergy. They are essentially singing the sermon to the bishop and the deacon based on the bible passages of the day. The service is one very long song dominated by the laity followed by the deacon with a small part for the bishop and a tiny part for any priests (one sung verse).

The Syriac liturgy, when they don’t use the Greek, is really a giant poem. The African liturgies are mystical. The Latins were usually sober and had a story to explain.

A sermon is a long, sober explanation. However, as not all people are equally good at sermons, books of sermons were a necessity. Without the printed book, that could not be. There has to be a consistency of thought within a denomination. Western Christianity lacked any consistency of thought. That is why regional Christianities formed.

Another modern or just slightly pre-modern issue of importance from the book was in the area of what should be thought of as proto-science. One person’s heretic is another person’s hero. Many critical ideas that could have been destroyed everywhere in the world up to the printed book were preserved because heretics could jump from one jurisdiction into another and live. Further, the books which may be burned in one place could survive in another.

A critical element that survived is the idea of an infinitesimal. In much of Europe, the discussion or even the concept of an infinitesimal was a banned discussion. Without it, there can be no calculus, no science, and no modern engineering. Many other fundamental ideas, such as the Copernican Revolution, could never have happened without the printed book. That set up the first “atheist” crisis of Christianity.

Isaac Newton and Benjamin Franklin were far more dangerous than either Galileo or Darwin. The Principia probably would have destroyed Christianity if reading and education been widespread. The planets did not depend on God for their motion. The bible was false.

Lightening, the most frightening of God’s punishment that was a regular part of ordinary life, was natural, and the lightning rod means humans could defeat God at will. Protestantism was forced to confront explanations that could spread as fast as a religious tract. Catholicism was less at risk because of how it conceptualizes epistemology.

Catholicism was instead at risk from the idea of something being a superstition. Of course, a wide variety of superstitions from early Europe still survive into today as mainstream ideas, but it allowed a bright light to be shone on folk religion rather than the relationship between formal religion, science, and mathematics. However, I don’t think that ever badly harmed Catholicism. The individuals who are most likely to be persuaded by scientific arguments and those most likely to endorse folk religion are different people likely only to interact in family groups.

Catholicism had two responses to the printed book related to interaction with science. First, it created institutions of higher learning and adopted an idea of the Catholic intellectual tradition. Second, it created a papal science academy. The Galileo affair taught a lesson. It sought to reshape the debate of Catholics with science to internalize science to become part of Catholicism without getting into the necessary battles that Protestantism had to face. Making a book infallible is risky. That took a long time, however. Catholicism took the position that “truth cannot contradict Truth,” and so science was helpful to the world and harmless to the faithful.

The seeds of ideas that escaped censorship and censure in the chaos of the Reformation set in motion the scientific revolution. That revolution was slower than a modern person would think it was. It would take the Industrial Revolution to trigger the first major, book based shift that was so large that early Christians would have trouble recognizing Christianity.

Several things likely triggered the Industrial Revolution in England. First, several of the dioceses in England felt illiteracy was a threat to Anglicanism, and so literacy rates soared. By the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, one diocese had a ninety percent literacy rate among men and seventy percent among women. We now know that literacy among women is a critical component of social advancement.

Women began delaying marriage so that the average age at first birth was twenty-five around the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. In addition, primogeniture meant that second and later sons would be impoverished at a father’s death. They had to develop what we now called “intellectual capital” because they had to have something following the father’s death. They became priests, attorneys, shopkeepers, and other professions.

They also became engineers, chemists, inventors, and business entrepreneurs. That triggered a radical change in the organization of labor, the factory. If you read Adam Smith’s famous tome on economics, you will see that people expected to have full-time employment at age six. Full time was a ten to twelve-hour day, six days per week.

Until the Industrial Revolution, church was a daily event. Of course, the mass is still said daily, but daily prayer and some form of daily service had persisted since the beginning. The liturgy of the hours became the archaic property of the monasteries. Daily lessons turned into Sunday School. The farmer saying the Angelus when the monks sang the psalms became more difficult. Praying seven times per day and stopping work was terrible for factories. Prayer and work were becoming separated.

Work was no longer part of the realm of the sacred.

In the year three hundred, the morning began with “shout joyfully to the world all the Earth.” In 1893, when Durkheim coined the word anomie, the morning started with a steam whistle. The Industrial Revolution was impossible without movable type, and it rearranged life dramatically.

It also set about the second round of atheism pushing at it. You began seeing speakers like Robert Ingersoll and would later see Freud. You would also see Proudhon, Marx, and Engels. Religion was no longer providing guidance in labor, morality, or understanding life for at least a percentage of the population.

A second strand began with the French and American Revolutions and the rise of Napoleon. These were literate revolutions. In America, it would result in the Great Awakening and an explosion of Protestant denominations. In Europe, it would result in the beginning of the intermittent repression of all religions that would last through the twentieth century.

The French imprisonment of the Catholic clergy had two impacts. First, when the service books were seized, the eventual reinstatement of the churches meant that there were no books. Rome sent Tridentine service books reducing the unique French forms to nothingness. That directly impacted worship. Second, as with Henry VIII seizure of the monasteries, it changed the position of the clergy forever in Europe.

It also imposed the Civil Law on the continent anywhere Napoleon conquered and left behind accountability structures that were hard to undo.

It also changed mission work. Although the age of exploration would have happened without the printed book, the empire creating forces in Europe required books and mass literacy which would then bring Christianity to places it had never been before. It had begun to win again in the marketplace of ideas.

A religion that can conquer the whole world began to flaunt its self-advertised intrinsic superiority. You should read the language used in Veblen’s Rise of the Leisure Class to see how the Victorians viewed themselves and the savage others that needed to be conquered for their own good.

Ultimately, the book led to technological changes that resulted in television evangelists, the sexual revolution, a rise in analytic thinking, and primacy for the quantitative. It also produced the internet, which has created the next atheist threat.

Those technological and social advances, such as Social Security, nationalized medicine, and so forth, now allow the crippled to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear and the resuscitation of the dead. People who would have required alms to survive now have social insurance. Entrepreneurs, inventors and scientists are heroes and conquerors and those that attempt conquest such as Mussolini, Hitler, Hussein or others are now villains.

Many saints, such as Saint Francis, that made sense in their time, no longer make any logical sense at all. Voluntary impoverishment means that you cannot form capital to make the sick well, afford to preach anywhere, feed the poor, or accomplish anything. While it may be nice to live among the poor, it is better to hire educators, social workers, build businesses and create housing. Indeed, untrained volunteers often make their charges lives worse off because of a lack of training or perspective. An amateur healer is no match for a trained physician in terms of treating people.

The post-industrial saints are people like Representative John Lewis who voluntarily resist oppression to make a level playing field. They take on the traditional power structures that are often undergirded with churches. Consider the role Evangelicals have played in the election of Donald Trump. That is old-style Christian power. It is also why 20-40% of eighteen-year-olds report that they do not believe in a god when you ask the question carefully. Blunt force power, undergirded by dominant social structures such as the churches, is now on the opposite side of the fence from the bulk of social morality.

If Christianity revives, it will be because it repudiates its position of social power, turns the other cheek, focuses on prayer, alms, and fasting, and presents itself as a set of socially useful tools to keep the powerful in check. Otherwise, it is a relic of a world before the printed book.

  • Not sure I agree on the last paragraph there. A great persecution of the Church is coming soon, and I doubt she will have the choice to repudiate her social power, but when the barbarous and decadent nature of the secular rulers cause society to collapse once more, as it did in Rome, the Church will be there to pick up the pieces as she did once before.
    – jaredad7
    Nov 18, 2021 at 16:33
  • @jaredad7 but who would do the persecution? The people attempting the violent overthrow of democratic governments are Christians in the West. Most secular people do not care one whit about Christianity either for or against. It isn't collapsing because it is being persecuted. It is collapsing because it is being ignored as irrelevant to people's lives. There isn't anyone running around that is acting barbarous in the West. Putin and Xi are in the East. If the West collapsed, I doubt Christianity would be the new order to pick up the pieces. Nov 19, 2021 at 4:27
  • America spent half a year burning down cities all across her land. They are threatening to burn again if an innocent kid doesn't kid locked up for life. Canada and Ireland arrested priests this year for daring to say mass. But you say there is no barbarism or the beginnings of persecution in the West? If you think this, you aren't paying attention.
    – jaredad7
    Nov 19, 2021 at 13:29
  • @jaredad7 this is not the place for discussion or irrelevant comments, but you are missing my point. Nobody is persecuting people because they are Christian. Even if every city in America burned to the ground, it would have nothing to do with Christianity. Even the priests were not arrested for saying the mass, they were arrested for violating safety ordinances. Five hundred years ago, two-thirds of all Christian churches had closed over four hundred years, not from persecution but by being irrelevant. It is being ignored to death not persecuted to death. Nov 20, 2021 at 2:07
  • the comment about America burning her cities down was in response to your claim that there is no barbarism in the West, not to claim that they burned because of hatred for Christianity necessarily. But I can't help feeling this is not a discussion in good faith if you think arresting priests for saying a public mass is not persecution, no matter what technical excuse is used.
    – jaredad7
    Nov 22, 2021 at 14:52

Did the invention of the printing press influence change in Christianity?

The short answer is yes.

Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, in 1440, which started a printing revolution.

The Catholic Church did not oppose the Bible to be translated into the vernacular as we see or the reading of Scriptures in the language of the region. Luther’s Bible was actually a collaborative effort along with six other German scholars and was at a minimum (some sources claim more) the 18th German translation of the Bible produced in Germany, not the first as many incorrectly thought.

The printing press spread within several decades to over two hundred cities in a dozen European countries By 1500, printing presses in operation throughout Western Europe had already produced more than twenty million volumes. In the 16th century, with presses spreading further afield, their output rose tenfold to an estimated 150 to 200 million copies. The operation of a press became synonymous with the enterprise of printing, and lent its name to a new medium of expression and communication, "the press".

In Renaissance Europe, the arrival of mechanical movable type printing introduced the era of mass communication, which permanently altered the structure of society. The relatively unrestricted circulation of information and (revolutionary) ideas transcended borders, captured the masses in the Reformation and threatened the power of political and religious authorities. The sharp increase in literacy broke the monopoly of the literate elite on education and learning and bolstered the emerging middle class. Across Europe, the increasing cultural self-awareness of its peoples led to the rise of proto-nationalism, and accelerated by the development of European vernacular languages, to the detriment of Latin's status as lingua franca. In the 19th century, the replacement of the hand-operated Gutenberg-style press by steam-powered rotary presses allowed printing on an industrial scale. - Printing press

Before the printing press, bible were done by hand and were extremely pricey. The printing press made it easier to make more copies of the bible at a greater speed and a somewhat less pricey sale’s tag.

Why didn't people in the Middle Ages read the Bible?

Bible wasn't available - no printing presses

The Bible was on scrolls and parchments during the early centuries of Christianity. No one had a "Bible". In the Middle Ages, each Bible was written by hand. Most people were, at best, only functionally literate. That is partially why they used stained glass windows and art to tell the Bible story. The printing press was not invented until 1436 by Johann Gutenberg. Note: The Gutenberg Bible, like every Bible before it, contained the Deuterocanonical books - or "apocrapha" in Evangelical circles.

So prior to 1436, the idea of everybody having a Bible was out of the question, even if they could read. It's hard to imagine a world without photocopiers, printing presses, email and websites.

The printing press

After the invention of the printing press, prior to Luther's Bible being published in German, there had been over 20 versions of the whole Bible translated into the various German dialects (High and Low) by Catholics. Similarly, there were several vernacular versions of the Bible published in other languages both before and after the Reformation. The Church did condemn certain vernacular translations because of what it felt were bad translations and anti-Catholic notes (vernacular means native to a region or country).

The Catholic Douay-Rheims version of the whole Bible in English was translated from the Latin Vulgate. It was completed in 1610, one year before the King James Version was published. The New Testament had been published in 1582 and was one of the sources used by the KJV translators.

The Latin Vulgate was always available to anyone who wanted to read it without restriction. Some Evangelicals have said that it would only have been usable by people who read Latin. But in the 16th Century there were no public schools and literacy was not that common, especially among the peasants. Those people who could read had been well educated and could read Latin. We got an email that said:

The Church still had its readings and services in the dead language of Latin ...The Church fought to keep the Bible in Latin even though it could not be understood by most people of the time.

Latin was far from a dead language. It was the language of theology and science (the language of all educated peoples throughout Europe and beyond) well into the 17th and 18th Centuries. For example, when Isaac Newton published his works on physics, he published them in Latin so that all of Europe could read them. The same was true of all other scientific and scholarly advances.

The reason that the Protestant reformers used vernacular languages was because (a) most educated people did not take the reformers seriously and (b) they used the masses to get power for their movement. The pamphlets published by Luther and Calvin were filled with all manner of crude and dirty language (lots of references to "shtting," "pssing," and "farting"), and this was done to capture the imagination of the common man and to create popular uprising against the social establishment.

The Bible could very much be understood by people with the intelligence and ability to understand its theological content -- most of whom spoke Latin. Most common people of the time, however, could understand neither the language nor the content ...and most common people are still clueless about the content of the Bible today ...which is why Protestants provide "ministers" to interpret it for them.

The Jewish Bible was in Hebrew until the 19th Century. The Greek versions of the Jewish Bible made in ancient times were used by Christians so the Jews avoided them. Any Jew who wanted the read the Bible was expected to make the effort to learn Hebrew. - Did the Catholic Church forbid Bible reading?

The Catholic Church did not oppose the Bible to be translated into the vernacular as we see or the reading of Scriptures in the language of the region. What it did oppose was the poor translations of Scripture which lead to poor interpretation of the sacred texts involved.

Jason Hanley, in his answer, states that “before the printing press the Roman Catholic Church did everything it could to limit the translation of the text into native languages and mass production of the text in Latin,” is completely false. As stated above: After the invention of the printing press, prior to Luther's Bible being published in German, there had been over 20 versions of the whole Bible translated into the various German dialects (High and Low) by Catholics.

In the Middle Ages and before 1776, there was simply no such thing as separation of Church and State, not in Catholic countries OR in Protestant countries. Protestants burned Catholics for praying in Latin or hearing the Catholic Mass in England, Geneva, and Scandinavia. At this time in history, heresy was also a secular crime; and the powers of a particular country treated it as such. Despite the "spin" that some Evangelicals put on the Catholic position, the Catholic Church was never opposed people reading the Bible. What it opposed was people reading interpretations the Bible apart from the teaching authority of the Church, which would lead to the kinds of problems we have today with 30,000 denominations interpreting Scripture differently. The Bible itself warns against this. (2 Peter 1:20). With the invention of printing, there was a communications explosion, and one suddenly saw lots of people making very poor and heretical translations of the Bible and popularizing them throughout Christendom. The Church tried to stop this. There are situations where some of these poor translations of the Bibles were burned. - Did the Catholics burn Bibles

Jason Hanley also makes note of the following in one of his comments:

There is plenty of evidence of the Catholic Church not only preventing people from translating the Bible but executing those who discerned different meanings in texts that did not align with catholic doctrine. Tyndale's translation drew directly from Hebrew and Greek, the first translation to take advantage of the printing press, and first of the new English Bibles of the Reformation. It was taken to be a direct challenge to the hegemony of both the Catholic Church and the laws of England maintaining the church's position. In 1536, he was convicted of heresy and executed by strangulation.

Once again, it is not simply the translation of the Bible into English, but more-so of its’ bad translation in the eyes of the Church.

The chain of events that led to the creation of Tyndale’s New Testament possibly began in 1522, the year Tyndale acquired a copy of Martin Luther's German New Testament. Inspired by Luther’s work, Tyndale began a translation into English using a Greek text compiled by Erasmus from several manuscripts older than the Latin Vulgate of Jerome (c. AD 340–420), the only translation authorized by the Roman Catholic Church.

Tyndale’s translations were condemned in England, where his work was banned and copies burned. Catholic officials, prominently Thomas More, charged that he had purposely mistranslated the ancient texts in order to promote anti-clericalism and heretical views, in particular they cited the terms "church", "priest", "do penance" and "charity", which became in the Tyndale translation "congregation", "senior" (changed to "elder" in the revised edition of 1534), "repent" and "love", challenging key doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.

Betrayed to church officials in 1536, he was defrocked in an elaborate public ceremony and turned over to the civil authorities to be strangled to death and burned at the stake. His last words are said to have been, "Lord! Open the King of England's eyes." - Tyndale Bible

The beginning of the Gospel of John from a copy of the 1526 edition of William Tyndale's New Testament at the British Library

The beginning of the Gospel of John from a copy of the 1526 edition of William Tyndale's New Testament at the British Library

So simply say the Church did everything in its’ power to prevent Bible translations into to vernacular in just not true. What she opposed was bad translating of Sacred Texts.

Did the Church make some errors in some historical situations: yes. But then, the other side did also. Both sides committed atrocities.


The printing press produced a multiplier effect, amplifying new voices and ideas. Equally important were those new ideas themselves. In 1453, Constantinople was captured by the armies of Islam. Christian scholars fled the destruction and headed for Universities in northern and western Europe. They brought with them Greek and Hebrew manuscripts and other works from older traditions than the Vulgate, as well as knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, and middle eastern customs and history much better than was already found in Europe. It was using these sources that Erasmus and others created thair new Bible translations. It is as though the Eastern Orthodox Church took over the teaching of the new clergy and theologians of the Roman Catholic Church at the same time as Protestant voices were beginning to get louder. Too many new voices for the old order to drown them out, and many of them backed by competent scholarship.

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