Dei Verbum

Some Christians believe that Catholics are not encouraged to read the Bible.  In fact, the opposite is true…and why wouldn't it be, after all, the Bible is a Catholic book.  What do I mean by that?

The Catholic Church, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote the Bible.  The Catholic Church assembled the Canon (List) of books in the Bible, and the Catholic Church has safeguarded the Bible for 2,000 years.  The Church treasures Sacred Scripture because it is the Word of God.  The Church loves Holy Writ, so much so that she orders her prayer and worship around it.

First, let me dispel the idea that Catholics are not encouraged to read the Bible.  On the contrary, we are exhorted to spend time in God's Word often.  St Jerome, a famous Bible scholar (A.D. 342-420) and Catholic monk, wrote, "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ."  He translated the Bible into Latin, the common tongue of the day, and his translation (Latin Vulgate) was the translation for 1,000 years.  Far from withholding the Holy Book from the people, the Catholic Church ensured that the Bible would be available to anyone who wanted it by preserving the definitive translation of it.

Listen to what the Second Vatican Council says about Sacred Scripture: "The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God's word and of Christ's body. She has always maintained them, and continues to do so, together with sacred tradition, as the supreme rule of faith, since, as inspired by God and committed once and for all to writing, they impart the word of God Himself without change, and make the voice of the Holy Spirit resound in the words of the prophets and Apostles" (Dei Verbum, #21).

Ah…I hear someone murmur from the back row…what about the Council of Trent?  Didn't that council forbid Catholics to read the Bible?  No, exactly the opposite.  The Council Fathers wrote, "…the synod, following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety and reverence all the books both of the Old and New Testament, seeing that one God is the author of both…" (April 8, 1546).  What the Council forbade was the reading of unapproved translations of Sacred Scripture since they could not vouch for the authenticity of any version not reviewed by Biblical scholars guided by the Magesterium of the Church.  To do otherwise would have given the "seal of approval" to potentially heretical books masquerading as the Bible and in the theological and political turmoil of 16th century Europe, there were plenty of "Bibles" out there that didn't measure up.  (If you have ever taken a gander at the New World Translation, the "Bible" of Jehovah's Witnesses, you would understand how egregious doctrinal errors can be spread through a faulty translation.)

The Second Vatican Council, echoing the constant teaching of the Church, decreed the necessity for the Bible to be accessible to the faithful and ecumenical if possible: "Easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful…But since the word of God should be accessible at all times, the Church by her authority and with maternal concern sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books. And should the opportunity arise and the Church authorities approve, if these translations are produced in cooperation with the separated brethren as well, all Christians will be able to use them" (DV #22).

Today, with the myriad of translations, the surest way to know that your Bible is trustworthy is to look for the imprimatur ("let it be printed") by a bishop on the inside cover.

 Jesus Christ established the Church on Pentecost, under the leadership of the Apostles and the guidance of the Spirit.  The Apostles and their followers are the ones who began to write the letters and books that would become the New Testament.  Jesus didn't flip an armload of scrolls to His followers and tell them to "figure it out for yourself, you've got the Spirit"; He gave the Apostles the authority to teach and guide in His Name.  Most of the books of the New Testament were written in the first 100 years after the Resurrection, by men who either met Christ in Person on earth, or by men who knew the Apostles.  In other words, Catholics wrote the Bible under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

How did the Church assemble Sacred Scripture into the Bible we know today?  The Council of Trent (A.D. 1546) decreed the definitive list, but the canon of Scripture they promulgated was merely formalizing the decrees of earlier synods of bishops on the same subject.  The Synod of Hippo (A.D. 393) and the three of Carthage (A.D. 393, 397, and 419), where St Augustine likely played a leading role, drew up the canon of Scripture that Trent later ratified.  Frankly, it wasn't until the 16th century that a decree from Rome on the Canon was even necessary, since almost everyone used the Latin Vulgate anyway.

To appreciate how much the Church treasures Sacred Scripture, one need only spend a day in prayer with her.  The hours of the day are marked with Lauds, Vespers, and Compline, where Psalms and Canticles are sung and passages from the Bible prayed over.  Other times of the day are marked with the Angelus or Regina Caeli, prayers that recount the joy of the Gospel's Incarnation and Resurrection narratives.  Most importantly, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass immerses us in Scripture as we participate in the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary.  Most of the prayers and all of the four readings come from the Bible, a journey through salvation history at each celebration.

Finally, one last, and perhaps the most important, comment about the Bible.  While it is true that the Church is immersed in Scripture, it is also true that Revelation is not confined to the 72 books of the Bible.  The Bible itself records that Jesus did many other signs in the presence of (his) disciples that are not written in this book (Jn 20:30). 

Because the Bible is the Church's book, it is not intended to be read apart from the Liturgy and Sacred Tradition of the Church. 

Immerse yourself in the Bible…it's a very Catholic thing to do!

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  • Guest

    You write,

    Some Christians believe that Catholics are not encouraged to read the Bible.

    While I know this is true about some Christians think, what completely baffles me are the Catholics that believe that Catholics are not encouraged to read the Bible.  Starting with the principal of my children's Catholic parochial school.  I have heard this "claim" a number of Catholics that are in their 50's and older.  What happened in the USA 50+ years ago that imbedded this bizarre notion among its own?

     

    And what can we do to counter it?  Each one of us should spend just a few minutes reading scripture each day.  Encourage our spouses and children to do the same.  In 10 years, the next generation will never have heard such a ridiculous claim.  And they may even be about to counter some of those non-Catholic Christians that think the same.

  • Guest

    Always like your articles Mickey but I must reiterate what I always write to another great writer here, Mary Sayler and that is I believe that what you say about looking for an Imprimatur is advantageous in selecting a Bible.

    Gotta disagree with that one brother. The New American Bible, in the footnotes and historical commentaries is, IMO and abomination and one of the biggest reasons we lose so many Catholics to the fundamentalist Catholic haters.

    Q source nonsense and criticism theories are killing us all over the western part of the world. They use our own Bibles against us.

    The RSV CE and the grandaddy of them all, The Douay Rhiems should be recommended to all who will listen.

    AndyP/Doria2    Yonkers,  NY

  • Guest

    In my opinion it is not actually the "reading" of the bible that is at issue here. The detractors of the church make their claims out of a certain way of looking at things. The issue is that the Church and rightly so has forbidden Catholics to "read and interpret what they read on their own". Fifty plus years ago when people were not book educated, were busy "surviving" and the people around were sparse you trusted the priest to read and interpret.  If a detractors makes the claim about the forbidding to read all one needs to point out the 30,000 plus sects which allow their milkmaids to read and interpret. Catholics have the high ground here.   

  • Guest

    lpioch,

    Good questions…I would never hold myself up as an expert, but after leading several Catholic Scripture Study, Int'l groups, I have a theory.  My theory is that the combination of poor catechesis among adults, and a perhaps under-emphasis of Scripture outside of Holy Mass, were the cause of Catholics leaving their heirloom Bibles to gather dust. 

    Another contributing factor to a lack of Biblical literacy might have been the Roman Missal of the time, which left lots of time for quiet reflection during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with fewer, shorter, and less varied readings than today.  I love the ancient Latin liturgy, but my honest opinion is that the faithful receive more Scripture with the 1970 Missal than the 1962 Missal.

    The only remedy is, frankly, is for Catholics to spend more time in the Word, and for pastors to continue to educate and exhort the faithful to do so.  Attendance for adult education in the parishes I've belonged to is often sparse, and usually confined to the more senior in the congregation.  Young families, particularly young men, must take a leadership role here…the treasures of the Church must be savored, not hidden away in a box with a sign reading, "Open when over 50 years of age." 

    ====

    Andy,

    While I agree that an imprimatur or nihil obstat are only as good as the orthodoxy of the bishop / censor awarding them, obedience to the Magesterium demands that unless there is evidence to heterodoxy, the tie goes to the runner.

    What I mean is this:  the NAB is an approved translation of Sacred Scripture, and the teaching office of the bishop and the Holy See require our acceptance of it.  It doesn't have to be our favorite translation (mine is the RSV CE as well) we have freedom in that regard, but the NAB is the translation approved for the Lectionary by our bishops…

    I think it's very important to distinguish between heterodoxy and personal preference…that road has been heavily trodden by some with regard to the Roman Missal and I believe we'd do well to avoid it when choosing our favorite translation of Scripture.

    Ad Iesum per Mariam,

    Mickey

  • Guest

    I missed something.  What is wrong with the New American Bible? and What is IMO?

    Why are the footnotes why Catholics leave the Church? Do the footnotes say that Jesus Christ is not present in the Eucharist? Do the footnotes say that we are saved by faith alone? Do the footnotes say that only the Bible can be our source of truth?

    How can fundamentalists use our Bibles against us? The Catholic Church has the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said He would send the Holy Spirit to guide us. I believe Him.  Martin Luther had trouble interpreting the Bible on his own. Jesus prayed that we would be one, but we now have over 30,000 different Prostestant denominations all claiming to have the Truth, and claiming that the Catholic Church is wrong. Unbelievable!

  • Guest

    rakeys,

    IMO is "in my opinion"

    The NAB is an approved English translation of the Bible for use in liturgy, along with the RSV(CE) and the Jerusalem Bible.

    Some of the concerns about the NAB translation and footnotes can be described here

    I prefer the RSV(CE) myself, but here's the bottom line:

    The sacred scriptures are God's loving revelation of Himself to us – His love letters to us.  It is the Word of God written in the words of men. The best Bible is the one you will use.

    The Church is rightly concerned that individual interpretation of scripture without an authoritative (not authoritarian) guide can lead to confusion – look at the some 30,000 Protestant de-nominations.

  • Guest

    Thanks for your response, Mickey.

    I, too, lead Catholic Scripture Studies.  We are on our 2nd year.  Last year was the Gospel of John.  This year is the Book of Revelations.  Amazing.  And what it is showing us (among so many holy and praiseworthy things) is our severe void of biblical knowledge.  It is also these ladies that tell me that they or their parents or their grandparents were told not to read the Bible outside of the Mass.  It baffles me.

    But we start with today and we study and study and study.  Each week is so inspiring and beautiful that I can't thank Gail, CE and all the authors/contributors for such a fabulous program. 

    I stick to my original assertion, especially for those that can't find (or start) a bible study.  REad the NT for just a few minutes a day and you'll go through the entire New Testament about twice a year.  (yup…much longer for the old)  It's a start!

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    Right you are about Scripture-less catechesis fifty years ago. We never cracked the Bible outside of Mass. You have to know just how dull and out-of-context that made so-called ‘Religion’ classes. As well, no depth – of the scenery of eternity and infinity – was permitted to brighten the daily ‘occasion of grace’. God’s love could hardly have been said to have permeated the courses.

    So, what did they teach? A sort of conformance of practices, over and over; little else, little memorable these years later. The good Sisters and Brothers spun their wheels, quite frankly, on the bilge waste while the vast ocean of God’s gifts – His vitalizing love and other virtues, His revelatory Scripture, many good authors who would have elucidated if not apologetically inspired – were held off – out – away – whatever.

    One result is that Boomers could hardly have helped give their kids much about the Faith. And, those kids were also set adrift in speculatory curricula that still had little of God’s great gifts in them.

    It wasn’t until our daughter was a newborn that my wife and I had had enough of the tepid scholarship we had received. Then, for Bible study, at the urging of our very orthodox pastor, we had to go to the Bible Protestants. Within months, we were parish scholars on Scripture. My wife would hold little old ladies enthralled with Bible stories, and study behind the stories. She found them irritated that they hadn’t learned the work themselves in their youth. Now, even Bible church pastors listened to my wife; she was a pip of a Bible scholar, and a downright practical theologian. Can you imagine just what she might have been to the Church and for the greater glory of God if she had had Bible study from her first school years? Can you imagine what YOU would be like with finer Bible study?

    So, what WAS the Church thinking? I really don’t care to waste my time trying to find out.

    And, WHY? I cannot begin to think, why.

    Remember, I love you, too .

    In our delighted glory in our Infant King,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    By the way, for very ignorance – little Bible but ‘Mass drone’, no apologetics – enforced by religious education, I have to believe that many, many American ‘Catholics’, and right there in the pews, think our Faith is no bigger deal than, say, choosing sleeping in and then shopping on Sunday, wallet issues at election time, etc. If Incarnation-duh, why not abortion-duh.

    Not nearly so much cafeteria Catholics as ecclesially and morally without anchor, helm, compass, map, harbor or course.

    Remember, I love you, too .

    In our delighted glory in our Infant King,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

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