As Catholics, we are often accused of not reading the Bible. While it hurts to admit it, this is partly true since we don’t read Scripture as much as other religions. But is this because the Church discourages us from doing so? Let me clear up this misconception in this article.
The Catholic Church has never discouraged Bible reading. Instead, it offers guidance, which aligns with the Catholic belief in the Sacred Tradition and Scripture. This is absolutely necessary since people tend to bring biases when reading the Bible, which could lead to false interpretations.
So why do other people insist that the Catholic Church prevents its members from reading the Bible? Where did this idea come from? Moreover, how does the Catholic Church view the Bible? Continue reading to find out the answers to these questions.
Did the Catholic Church Discourage Bible Reading?
As I’ve mentioned above, the Catholic Church does not discourage or forbid its members from reading the Bible. Sure, Catholics don’t read Scripture as much as Evangelical Protestants do. However, this isn’t because the Church tells us not to. In fact, the Church says otherwise.
In his Divino Afflante Spiritu on September 30, 1943, Pope Pius XII promoted the reading and studying of the Bible, saying: “All the children of the Church, especially clerics, to reverence the Holy Scripture, to read it piously and meditate it constantly… that in these pages is to be sought that food, by which the spiritual life is nourished unto perfection… that the chief use of Scripture pertains to the holy and fruitful exercise of the ministry of preaching.”
The Vatican II, through the Dei Verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation) on November 18, 1965, also called on all faithful to do the same, stating: “The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures…” (Section 25)
Plus, through the Vatican News, the official news portal of the Holy See, Pope Francis urged all Catholics to read at least three or four verses of the Bible every day. He quoted St. Jerome, saying: “Whoever ignores the Scriptures ignores Christ.”
And so, the Church does not forbid us from reading the Bible. Through the Popes, parishes, educational institutions, and reflection groups, the Church actually encourages us to read, study, and familiarize ourselves with Scripture to help us explore the Church’s teachings and strengthen our faith.
How Does the Catholic Church View the Bible?
Catholics’ belief in the Bible differs from other Christian denominations. Other religions, particularly Protestants, see the Bible as “Sola Scriptura”. This means that for them, it is the only authority of faith, containing the whole Christian truth. Meanwhile, this is different for Catholics. The Church teaches us that Scripture and Tradition are equal in authority. This means that we rely on what is stated in the Bible and apostolic tradition. So we believe in the Bible itself as well as the oral teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles, and their authority to interpret it correctly.
The relationship between Scripture and Tradition is explained by the Second Vatican Council on divine revelation “Dei Verbum”, which states: “Hence there exists a close connection and communication between Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end.
For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while Sacred Tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known.
Consequently, it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.” (Section 9)
That said, while Catholics don’t believe in Scripture alone, we do see it as the inspired word of God. It is a collection of sacred books and the written form of the truth of Revelation, which puts it at the very core of Catholic beliefs.
Why Do Other People Say the Catholic Church Forbids Bible Reading?
The Catholic Church does not forbid or discourage Bible reading, but why do other people insist that they do? Well, it’s because of the Catholic Church’s history.
See, centuries before Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation in 1517, most people couldn’t read. So the Church didn’t really need to discourage anyone from reading anything. This is why the Catholic Church used art and stained glass windows to tell the Bible.
Not to mention that the Bible is only available on parchments and scrolls, which isn’t exactly affordable during that time. So considering that the printing press was only invented in 1436, it’s unlikely for everyone to own the Bible prior to that time, even if some knew how to read.
Then once copies of the Bible were made available, the Church forbade versions that contained commentaries and heretical translations. The Church also forbade certain groups from preaching their false interpretations of the Bible and prevented its members from going to such gatherings. However, this does not mean that it forbade its members from learning the Bible.
Awareness of the Bible only grew after the Second Vatican Council. This was made possible through various faith formation programs, Bible studies, and prayer groups. Mass was also celebrated with several Bible readings. Plus, the Church maintains a guided approach to Bible reading, preventing misinterpretations and helping its members form a deeper understanding of the Word of God. This is also done to preserve tradition and promote unity among all the faithful.