There is not a precise date when the clergy stopped reading the Bible. There was a long period during the Middle Ages, when a career in the Church was not sought primarily for devotional reasons, as it often is today; but for political or economic reasons. In other words, a great number of the clergy at that time were often not born again, not believers, as we would consider a necessary prerequisite for ministry today.
Of course, a person who has joined the clergy because it offered the best chance of a comfortable life with a steady and plenteous income, would not be motivated to read the Bible. We can see that this would be true, for even among believers today, where there is freedom to read the Bible, and the Bible is readily available in every town; how many read their Bibles? (About half, according to Barna. What is really interesting is that 50% of the virgins looking for the coming of the Bridegroom were also foolish.)
I do know that by Martin Luther’s day, when he stumbled on a dust- covered Bible in the back of a university library, it was the first one he had ever seen, even though he had been a monk for some years already! It was not common practice, then, for the clergy to read the Bible.
This state of affairs had spread since the beginning of the Inquisition, in 1184, when an incorrect interpretation of the Bible, or heresy, first became a punishable offense. That punishment increased over time, until by Luther’s day, heretics were burned alive at the stake.
If fear of punishment was a great motivator for the clergy to not read the Bible, think then how rare it would be for the nobility or laity to read it. Added to this the fact that Bibles were scarce, as all books were hand written; during the Middle Ages a single book was often worth more than an entire farm. And then that all copies of the Bible were the Vulgate, which was the official translation of the Church. The common people no longer spoke, read, or wrote in Latin. However, no other translations were authorized by the Church. So even if Bibles were plentiful, which they were not, only a very few could read them.
These were the reasons the little scroll had been closed; the angel told John it would be open and prophesy again.
Christine’s book The Revelation of Jesus Christ Revealed, based on these studies but greatly expanded, is now available at Revelation Revealed Online. You may also be interested in reading the Book Extras and joining in on the Discussion.