Catholics Burning Bibles

Yep, we’re currently in the middle of a national emergency. There was an event that happened 178 years ago, which also whipped the nation into a frenzy, but has largely been forgotten.

I recently reviewed a very biased book about the alleged anti-Catholicism of 19th-century American Protestants titled, “The Protestant Crusade, 1800-1860: A Study of the Origins of American Nativism” (1938) by Ray Allen Billington. See here. While the book was disappointing as a whole, it did discuss several interesting historical events. One of those was a ceremonial Bible burning in 1842 instigated by Catholic clerics near the northern border of New York State (see map far below).

I don’t have a lot of information about the event, but I was able to patch together the following account with bits and pieces from the internet:

The village of Corbeau (now Coopersville) in the township of Champlain, New York, and five miles from the Canadian border, was originally settled by French-Catholic Canadian refugees who had sided with the American invaders during the assault on Montreal in 1775 during the American Revolutionary War. The refugee population grew even larger following the Canadian Rebellion of 1837-1838. In 1842, representatives of the American Bible Society distributed French-language Protestant Bibles to the inhabitants of the village of Corbeau. Jesuit priest, “father” Telmonde, from Montreal was assigned to the Champlain region and subsequently learned that many of the Catholic villagers of Corbeau had Protestant Bibles in their possession. He immediately demanded that the Catholics surrender their Protestant Bibles. An undetermined number of Bibles, anywhere from one-hundred to three-hundred, were collected, stacked, and duly burned by the Jesuit and his assistants. According to the sworn testimony of one of the participants, there were several private burnings prior to the public ceremonial burning near the Catholic church on October 27, 1842 (see illustration above). The Jesuit’s chief assistant in the Bible burnings was later convicted by the Holy Spirit and accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior by faith alone and joined the Protestant mission at Grande Ligne in Quebec Province. The Champlain Bible Burning enraged the Protestants in the area and Jesuit Telmonde beat a swift retreat back to Montreal. The news of the Bible burning soon spread to all corners of the United States, fomenting great anger among the nation’s Protestants. It was a tremendous scandal. In our current era of spiritual lethargy, it’s difficult for us to relate to the outrage felt by 19th-century American Protestants over the ceremonial burning of Bibles. The Champlain Bible Burning was one of several Catholic provocations that contributed to the rise of nativism in the nation, which eventually culminated in the creation of the American (Know Nothing) Party in the mid-1850s.

Main reference – Dwight, Henry Otis. The Centennial History of the American Bible Society, 1916, pp. 203-204

Catholic clerics certainly aren’t burning Protestant Bibles these days. They have since found that friendly ecumenism is much more effective in advancing Catholicism than militancy. But history holds some valuable lessons.

The Burning of the Bibles: Defence of the Protestant Version of the Scriptures Against the Attacks of Popish Apologists for the Champlain Bible Burners
By John Dowling
Original printing by Nathan Moore, 1843
Kindle edition, HardPress, 2017

1 Star

I was hoping to find a history of the Champlain Bible Burning and thought I struck gold with this Kindle ebook. Boy, was I fooled. The book is mainly an argument in defense of the superiority of the Protestant King James translation of the Bible in comparison to the Roman Catholic Douay-Rheims translation, which would later be discredited and abandoned by Catholics themselves. Following the Bible burning, Catholic clerics had defended the controversial event, claiming that the Protestant Bibles were faulty translations and worthy to be destroyed. Protestant John Dowling wrote this book as a rebuttal. There is very little mentioned in this book about the Bible burning incident itself. HardPress did a lousy job of transferring the original text to ebook. Paragraphs are chopped off and begin again elsewhere. Very sloppy and amateurish.


St. Joseph’s Catholic church in Coopersville (Corbeau), New York, site of the infamous 1842 Bible burning


30 thoughts on “Catholics Burning Bibles

    1. Thanks, Beth. Yes, what a turnaround in 178 years. These days we have so-called “Protestant” ministers enthusiastically extolling the pope, mother Teresa, G.K. Chesterton, “saint” Francis, Catholic mystics, etc., to their congregations.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Wow Tom, what a grievous sight that must have been! On the other hand, maybe seeing Bibles burn would reveal how we have blasphemed God and trampled upon His holy word. Maybe that would convict our hearts and bring us to our knees. 😕
    Maybe we would dust off our Bibles and read them….

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The Romanists claimed that the translations were faulty? LOL

    Like the vulgate of Sixtus V? 🙂

    Robert Bellarmine: During the year 1591, while Gregory was debating what he should do about the Bible of Sixtus the Fifth in which very many regrettable changes had been made, some men, whose opinions had great weight, held that it should be publicly prohibited. I did not think so, and I showed the Holy Father that, instead of forbidding the edition of the Bible in question, it would be better to correct it in such a manner that could be published without detriment to the honour of Pope Sixtus. The result could be achieved by removing inadvisable changes as quickly as possible, and then issuing the volume with Sixtus’s own name upon it, and a preface stating that owing to haste some errors had crept into the first edition through the fault of the printers or some other persons. See James Brodrick, S.J., Robert Bellarmine: Saint and Scholar (Westminster: Newman, 1961), pp. 116–117.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, SB! Yes, Sixtus V’s faulty translation is an embarrassment for Roman Catholicism. Likewise, the Douay-Rheims version referred to in this controversy has been relegated to obscurity because of its errors. The bottom line is those French Catholics of Corbeau probably didn’t have Bibles other than those provided by the American Bible Society because the RCC never encouraged its members to have their own Bibles until recently.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, brother. Yeah, it’s nice to know I have other options with the library closed. Everybody’s going to have their routines impacted in some way with this escalating virus quarantine, and bibliophiles have to scramble with libraries shutting down.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks, SB! I was just writing this morning to someone about how Spurgeon had much to say in hindsight about the Oxford Movement/Puseyite Tractarians.


  3. This is one reason I love your blog, your research of little known facts and events is a good contribution to Evangelical response to Romanism. Never knew about this North American Bible book burning, I always picture it as a European Counter-Reformation thing as the last time it happened. Wonder how many Catholics know about this? You’re right the strategy is now ecumenism.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, brother! I appreciate the support and encouragement. Many/most evangelicals would not appreciate the significance of this “incident,” which was reported in every major newspaper at the time and riled up the entire country.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I bet more Evangelical would be upset at the Quran being burned by others than the Bible being burned by Catholics…the latter is politically incorrect the other just happens.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. RE: Sounds like something out of the Middle Ages!

      It certainly does! In fairness and transparency, a “Protestant” mob did burn down two Catholic churches in Philadelphia during the “Bible Riots” of 1844 following the rising tensions over the form of religious education in public schools (Catholic prelates did not want Catholic school children being taught the King James Bible, which Protestants interpreted as yet another Catholic attack upon the Bible).

      Liked by 1 person

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