Claim: The Bible was forbidden to laymen and placed in the Index of forbidden books by the Council of Valencia. Jesus commanded that the Scriptures should be read by all. (Read John 5:39; 2nd Timothy 3:15-17).
It is a common objection of many Protestants that the Catholic Church banned laymen from reading the Bible, and/or banned vernacular translations. The above objection, which was sent to me, pushes that same claim. However, it's false.
The Church promoted correct translations of the Scriptures, as is evidenced when one reads the Catholic Encyclopaedia's article on versions of the Bible. Indeed, the printing press was invented by a Catholic German, and the first book he printed was the Bible. When one reads the list of the various vernacular translations, one becomes immediately aware of the proliferation of Bibles. If the Catholic Church had banned people from either reading the Bible, or translating it, then She sure did a very poor job of it! Another important read would be Catholic Answers tract on Scripture, especially its Section VI Attitudes of the Church on reading the Bible in the vernacular, which clears up some of these conspiracy theories about the Church banning Scripture. Thirdly, there are the three Papal Encyclicals on Holy Scripture: Providentissimus Deus, Spiritus Paraclitus and Divino Afflante Spiritu, which openly show the Papal patronage of Scripture and its correct interpretation.
The Protestant claims of ecclesial prohibition of Scripture reading usually comes in the form of the claim repeated above, that the Council of Valencia (Spain) of 1229 banned laymen from reading the Bible, and placed the Bible on the Index of Forbidden Books. The claim has many holes in it:
1] There was no such Council of Valencia that convened in 1229. I don't know how Valencia got into the claim.
2] The Council that did convene in 1229 was the French Synod of Toulouse.
3] The Synod was convened to solve the problem of the Albigensians and Cathars, who were neo-Manichaean cults that believed the created world was evil, and thus men should commit suicide in order to free their souls from their bodies. Manichaeism is a form of Gnosticism. The aforementioned cults were rife in France at the time, and were posing a serious threat. One of the ways they spread their heretical teachings was by falsely translating the New Testament, but changed what it said (like the Jehovah Witnesses) in order to make the Scripture fit their perverted beliefs.
4] In order to starve the heretics of their twisted Scriptures, the Synod of Toulouse placed a ban on translations of Bibles, and even prohibited laymen from having Bibles, except to have the Psalter for devotional reasons, and these were to be in Latin. Canon 14 of the Snyod stated: "We prohibit also that the laity should be permitted to have the books of the Old or New Testament; unless anyone from motive of devotion should wish to have the Psalter or the Breviary for divine offices or the hours of the blessed Virgin; but we most strictly forbid their having any translation of these books."
5] The Synod's prohibition only had force within the jurisdiction it covered, that is, in France. Its rulings had no force anywhere else in the Church. This fact seems to have escaped Protestant objectors. Other such Synods did similar things, like in England, when the Synod of Oxford prohibited Bibles from being published unless they were approved by the Church. This, likewise, was to stop the Lollards who were publishing false translations. Only Ecumenical Councils have universal binding force.
6] Lastly, no Ecumenical Council ever prohibited laymen from reading Bibles. Local councils have done such as a means of quashing heresy, but these councils only had force within their jurisdictions, and local councils are never dogmatic, as only an Ecumenical Council can be infallible. I know a lot of Protestants get very confused between Ecumenical and local Councils, and think any Council is universal and infallible, when actually that is not the case at all.
7] The above claim that the Council put the Bible on the Index of Forbidden Books is completely ludicrous when one does a little research and discovers that the Index only began to exist from 1559 onward - 330 years after the Synod of Toulouse made its temporary prohibition of Bibles. So, how could Synod place the Bible on an Index that was 330 years in its future?
As for reading John 5:39, this verse is taken in isolation. Jesus nowhere here commands for us to read the Bible. He rebukes the Pharisees, who believed that salvation would come from the Scriptures, or rather, their false interpretation of it. They read the Scriptures every Sabbath to the people, and read the Prophecies of the Messiah, and when the Messiah came to them, they could not recognise Him. That's why He says: Search the scriptures, for you think in them to have life everlasting. For you think! He was rebuking their blindness. He was not commanding people to read the Scriptures. I would direct the reader to read the whole of John 5. Bishop Challoner's commentary on John 5:39 says:
"Search the scriptures": Scrutamini. It is not a command for all to read the scriptures; but a reproach to the Pharisees, that reading the scriptures as they did, and thinking to find everlasting life in them, they would not receive Him to Whom all those Scriptures gave testimony, and through Whom alone they could have that true life.
Protestants seem forgetful that mass literacy is a recent phenomenon. So, Jesus apparently, according to the Protestants, commanded 1,900+ years of mostly illiterate men to read the Scriptures. If that sounds absurd, it is.
As for 2nd Timothy 3:15-17, this in no way is a command to read the Scriptures. And to read that into the text is pure twisting and deceit. St. Paul is only stating the inspiration and usefulness of Scripture, nothing more. And, to note, the Scriptures he is referring to is the Old Testament alone, not the New. I shall here include the commentary from the Haydock Commentary:
All scripture divinely inspired is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, or admonish, to instruct others in justice, and in the ways of virtue, that thus he who is a man of God, a minister of the Gospel, may be perfect and instructed unto every good work.