Thursday, August 29, 2013

Catholics and the Bible

Q - It is a common misconception that Catholics are discouraged from reading the Bible. Is there anything in recent Catholic history that could have spawned this idea? I'm thinking about my grandmother's generation, more than my own.

A - Thanks for the question. You are certainly on the right track, but we have to go back much further to see the beginning of this idea.

The first thing we need to do is shed ourselves of our preconceived ideas. We take for granted now that anyone can have a Bible if they want one. Yet not only has this not been the case through most of Christian history, but it isn't the case in many parts of the world (North Korea, Middle Eastern countries, etc). Remember that a majority of people during Christian history couldn't read well, if at all. Most didn't have access until books, even after the printing press, because of large costs.

With all of this background, we can see that throughout most of the 2,000 years of history of the Catholic Church, Bibles were not an everyday possession of most common people. So, the way they learned about the Bible was through other means - Mass, fine art (think stained glass windows, murals, paintings, music, etc), stories, and oral tradition. With this being said there are a number of "myths" surrounding the Catholic Church and the Bible:

1 - The Catholic Church chained Bibles to keep the from the people.
-more accurately, they were chained because they were so valuable and a church might have only one copy. Not to "keep them from the people" but rather to keep them from thieves.

2 - The Catholic Church discourages personal Bible reading because they know that if you read the Bible for yourself you will find the truth behind their lies.
-This one sounds silly, but many believe it to be true. The problem is that the Catholic Church has always maintained that Scripture is indispensable to a Christian.

3 - The Catholic Church banned early translations of the Bible (even killing some of the translators), because they didn't want common people to read it and know the truth.
-Rather, the Church banned early translations because they were done "unofficially" and without proper Church oversight. They contained many errors and the Church banned them because they were bad translations - just as the Jehovah's Witnesses have a bad translation today, filled with many errors, some of the deliberate (if only we were protected from some of the bad translations we have today).

There are many more myths, but what happened is that they worked there way into the consciousness of many people, even today.

Another factor in perpetuating the myth is the confusion that ensued after Vatican II in the 60's. If you want to read about some of that, you can in previous posts I have made here and here. Suffice it to say that many problems in the Church were amplified after Vatican II, including Biblical teaching.

So, are Catholics discouraged from reading the Bible? ABSOLUTELY NOT!
In fact, here are a few pertinent quotes from through the ages about the Bible:
"Flee to the Church, and be brought up in her bosom, and be nourished with the Lord's Scriptures."
-Irenaeus, 2nd Cent.

"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ"
-St. Jerome, 5th Cent.

"The church of believers is great, and its bosom most ample; it embraces the fullness of the two Testaments."
-Ephraem, 4th Cent.

"If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself."
-St. Augustine, 4th Cent.

"Holy Scripture is a stream in which the elephant may swim and the lamb may wade."
-Pope St. Gregory, 6th Cent.

"Easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful."
-Vatican II, Dei Verbum, 20th Cent.


jose said...

I agree one hundred percent with everything you say. I would add that reading the saints shows that most were thoroughly immersed in scripture. However, the reader's original question is still a good one. Rephrasing - what are the cultural reasons that my 85 year old father thinks that reading the bible is a Protestant thing to do? I should add that he does the daily bible readings, but thinks that just picking up the bible is not a good idea. When did this thinking take hold?

Marcel said...

It came about in some Western cultures when clericalism (overemphasis on the role of the clergy) dominated the Catholic Church in parts of the West.

This thinking led to the issues we still are dealing with - that faith is absorbed, not chosen. This meant people didn't study as much or work on their relationship with Christ as much. Rather, they depended on a "Catholic culture" to keep them Catholic.