THE  CATHOLIC  CHURCH: 
ON  READING  THE   BIBLE

 

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 A sampling of what the Catholic Church has taught about reading the Bible from the fourth century - when for the first time the various Books of the Bible were put together into a single collected work - until the present time.

 
 

St. John Chrysostom  (344/354 - 407 AD)
Doctor of the Church.

“To become adult Christians you must learn familiarity with the scriptures”
[On the Letter to the Ephesians - Education of Children.]

“But what is the answer to these charges?  ‘I am not,’  you will say,  ‘one of the monks, but I have both a wife and children, and the care of a household.’  This is what has ruined everything, your thinking that the reading of scripture is for monks only, when you need it more than they do.  Those who are placed in the world, and who receive wounds every day have the most need of medicine.  So, far worse even than not reading the scriptures is the idea that they are superfluous.  Such things were invented by the devil.” 
[St. John’s Second Homily on Matthew  section 10 (which is sometimes labeled as section 5.) ]

 

The Lindisfarne Gospels, Saint Matthew
Early 7th century or late 8th century
English translation 950 AD

From the British Library

Saint Augustine (354-430 AD)
Bishop and Doctor of the Church

"Holy Scripture is invested with supreme authority by reason of its sure and momentous teachings regarding the faith. Whatever, then, it tells us of Enoch, Elias and Moses -- that we believe. We do not, for instance, believe that God's Son was born of the Virgin Mary simply because He could not otherwise have appeared in the flesh and 'walked amongst men' -- as Faustus would have it -- but we believe it simply because it is written in Scripture; and unless we believe in Scripture we can neither be Christians nor be saved." [S. Aug., Contra Faustum, 26, 3, 6.]

"These things are true; they are faithfully and truthfully written of Christ; so that whosoever believes His Gospel may be thereby instructed in the truth and misled by no lie." [S. Aug., Contra Faustum, 26, 8.]

The two citations above are also quoted by Pope Benedict XV in his encyclical Spiritus Paraclitus sections 25 and 27.

 

 

Pope  St.  Gregory  I   (died 604 AD)
“The Emperor of heaven, the Lord of men and of angels, has sent you His epistles for your life’s advantage—and yet you neglect to read them eagerly.  Study them, I beg you, and meditate daily on the words of your Creator.  Learn the heart of God in the words of God, that you may sigh more eagerly for things eternal, that your soul may be kindled with greater longings for heavenly joys.”    
[Letters,  5, 46.  (EnchBibl  31)]

The Lindisfarne Gospels
digitally restored

 
 


St. Isidore   (560-636 AD)  
Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us... If a man wants to be always in God's company, he must pray regularly and read regularly. When we pray, we talk to God; when we read, God talks to us.

“All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection. By reading we learn what we did not know; by reflection we retain what we have learned.

“Reading the holy Scriptures (the Bible) confers two benefits. It trains the mind to understand them; it turns man's attention from the follies of the world and leads him to the love of God.

“Two kinds of study are called for here. We must first learn how the Scriptures are to be understood, and then see how to expound them with profit and in a manner worthy of them. A man must first be eager to understand what he is reading before he is fit to proclaim what he has learned.

“The conscientious reader will be more concerned to carry out what he has read than merely to acquire knowledge of it... Learning unsupported by grace may get into our ears; it never reaches the heart. It makes a great noise outside but serves no inner purpose. But when God’s grace touches our innermost minds to bring understanding, his word which has been received by the ear sinks deep into the heart.”
[Office of Readings, April 4...(Lib.3,8-10: PL 83, 679-682)] 
 

St. Venerable Bede   (died 735 AD) 
He is the first person known to translate the Gospel  into Old English (Anglo-Saxon.)

“High, however, as was the general level of Bede’s culture, he repeatedly makes it clear that all his studies were subordinated to the interpretation of Scripture. In his “De Schematibus” he says in so many words: “Holy Scripture is above all other books not only by its authority because it is Divine, or by its utility because it leads to eternal life, but also by its antiquity and its literary form (positione dicendi).” ”
[Source: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02384a.htm

 

Saints Cyril and Methodius   (827-869 AD) and (826-885 AD)
Кирил и Методий
Bishops

Known as the Apostles to the Slavs, Cyril and Methodius were brothers, born in Thessalonica and became notable for their missionary work among the Moravians.  Cyril is known for his alphabet, specially constructed from Greek with a few Hebrew letters, employed by the brothers in translating the Gospels and Divine Liturgy into the Slavonic language.  Before his death Cyril had translated most of the Scriptures into Slavonic.  Later missionaries continued their work, Christianizing other Slavic countries including Russia and the Ukraine.

 


St. Bernard of Clairvaux  (1090-1153 AD)   
Doctor and Father of the Church.

“The person who thirsts for God eagerly studies and meditates on the inspired Word, knowing that there, he is certain to find the One for whom he thirsts.”
[Commentary on the Song of Songs, Sermon 23:3.]
 
 
St. Bonaventure (1221-1274 AD)
In his day, there where no public schools and only the wealthy could afford private tutors. Therefore, most people could not read or write. St. Bonaventure had composed a copy of “Biblia Pauperum” which means the “Bible of the poor.” It contained a collection of pictures illustrating the important events of the Old Testament. It also contained parallel scenes in the New Testament and it showed how the Old Testament prefigured and was fulfilled in the Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. This helped the people to learn God’s Word by showing them the important stories of both the Old and New Testament. He was canonized a Saint by Pope Sixtus IV in1482 AD. He was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Sixtus V in 1588 AD.  


The publisher of the Koberger Vulgate (1477 AD)
“The Holy Scriptures excel all the learning of the world . . . All believers should watch zealously and exert themselves unremittingly to understand the contents of these most useful and exalted writings, and to retain them in the memory. Holy Scripture is that beautiful garden of Paradise in which the leaves of the commandments grow green, the branches of evangelical counsel sprout . . .”

The publisher of the Cologne [German] Bible (1480 AD) writes:
“All Christians should read the Bible with piety and reverence, praying the Holy Ghost, who is the inspirer of the Scriptures, to enable them to understand . . . The learned should make use of the Latin translation of St. Jerome; but the unlearned and simple folk, whether laymen or clergy . . . should read the German translations now supplied, and thus arm themselves against the enemy of our salvation.”

See :
Catholic German Language Bibles Before Martin Luther

Decree of the Council of Trent    April 8, 1546.
“[ The holy 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 of the New Testament-seeing that one God is the Author of both...”

[Session 4, April 8, 1546.]
 

Saint Teresa of Avila   (1515 -1582 AD)   
The Catholic Church strongly recommends the reading of the writings of those who are canonized as Saints.  Saint Teresa was canonized in 1622 AD by Pope Gregory XV.   She was also declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970 by Pope Paul VI.   In her autobiography, The Book of Her Life (La Vida),  she writes:

“Within this majesty I was given knowledge of a truth that is the fulfillment of all truths.  I don't know how to explain this because I didn't see anything.  I was told without seeing anyone, but I clearly understood that it was Truth telling me:   ‘This is no small thing I do for you, because it is one of the things for which you owe Me a great deal, for all the harm that comes to the world comes from its not knowing the truths of Scripture in clarity and truth; not one iota of Scripture will fall short.’   To me it seemed I had always believed this, and that all the faithful believed it.  He told me:  ‘Alas, daughter, how few there are who truthfully love me!  For if they loved me, I would reveal to them my secrets.  Do you know what it is to love Me truthfully?  It is to understand that everything that is displeasing to me is a lie.  By the beneficial effects this understanding will cause in your soul you shall see clearly what you now do not understand.’”     
[La Vida, ch. 40, #1.] 


The translators of the Protestant King James Version, in their 'Preface,' refer to previous translations:   (1611 AD)
“Much about that time [1360],
even our King Richard the Second's days, John Trevisa translated [Scripture] into English, and many English Bibles in written hand are yet to be seen that divers translated, as it is very probable, in that age. . . So that, to have the Scriptures in the mother tongue is not a quaint conceit lately taken up . . . but hath been . . . put in practice of old, even from the first times of the conversion of any nation.”  For example See :
Catholic German Language Bibles Before Martin Luther

Pope Benedict XIV    ( 1740-1758  AD)
Pope Benedict instructed the bishops of the Papal States that
"In ecclesiastical chant care must be taken to insure that the words are perfectly and easily understood...."

He quoted the  Synod of Cambrai from the year 1565:
"What is sung in choir is destined to instruct the faithful..."

and quoting the Council of Cologne from 1536 :
"the most important part is made up precisely of the recital of the words of the prophets, the apostles, the Epistle, the Creed, the Preface or the act of thanksgiving, and the Our Father. On account of their importance these texts like all the others must be sung clearly and intelligibly."

Pope Benedict XIV, "Annus qui" 19 February AD 1749)

 


Pope Pius 6th  (April 1st 1778 AD)
“BELOVED SON : Health and apostolic benediction. At a time that a vast number of bad books, which most grossly attack the Catholic religion, are circulated even among the unlearned, to the great destruction of souls, you judge exceedingly well, that the faithful should be excited to the reading of the Holy Scriptures : for these are the most abundant sources which ought to be left open to every one, to draw from them purity of morals and of doctrine, to eradicate the errors which are widely disseminated in these corrupt times : this you have seasonably effected, as you declare, by publishing the sacred writings in the language of your country, suitable to every one
s capacity ...
Given at Rome, on the calends of April, 1778, the fourth year of our pontificate.”
(Letter to the Most Rev. Anthony Martini, Archbishop Of Florence, on his Italian translation of the Bible which is printed in Haydock’s Bible, revised by the Very Reverend Dr. Husenbeth, 1884 AD. See Photograph)

 

Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903 AD)

“The solicitude of the apostolic office naturally urges and even compels us…to desire that this grand source of Catholic revelation (the Bible) should be made safely and abundantly accessible to the flock of Jesus Christ”

“... For sacred Scripture is not like other books. Dictated by the Holy Ghost, it contains things of the deepest importance, which in many instances are most difficult and obscure. To understand and explain such things there is always required the ‘coming’ of the same Holy Ghost; that is to say, His light and His grace...It is absolutely wrong and forbidden either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of holy Scripture or to admit that the sacred writer has erred... and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration is not only essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true.”
[Providentissimus Deus ( Nov. 18, 1893)]
Note: “Holy Ghost”  is an older English translation from the Latin for “Holy Spirit”  which is  “Spiritūs Sancti.”

“An indulgence of 300 days for reading the Holy Gospels  is granted to all the Faithful who read these Holy Scriptures for at least a quarter of an hour, with reverence due to the Divine Word and as spiritual reading…. A Plenary indulgence under the usual conditions is granted once a month for the daily reading.” 
Pope Leo XIII. December, 1898, Preces et Pia Opera, 045. (Enchiridion Indulgentiarium, 694).


 

Third Council of Baltimore    (7 December AD 1884)
“It can hardly be necessary for us to remind you, beloved brethren, that the most highly valued treasure of every family library, and the most frequently and lovingly made use of, should be the Holy Scriptures.... We hope that no family can be found amongst us without a correct version of the Holy Scriptures.”
 
The Holy Bible, Holy Trinity Edition (Chicago: Catholic Press,1951) p.xxi.


 

Pope St. Pius X (1903-1914 AD)
“Nothing would please us more than to see our beloved children form the habit of reading the Gospels - not merely from time to time, but every day.”

 

Catechism of Pope Saint Pius X: 
28 Q: Is the reading of the Bible necessary to all Christians?
     A: The reading of the Bible is not necessary to all Christians since they are instructed by the Church; however its reading is very useful and recommended to all.  

29 Q: May any translation of the Bible, in the vernacular, be read?
     A: We can read those translations of the Bible in the vernacular which have been acknowledged as faithful by the Catholic Church and which have explanations also approved by the Church. 

30 Q: Why may we only read translations of the Bible approved by the Church?
     A: We may only read translations of the Bible approved by the Church because she alone is the lawful guardian of the Bible. 

31 Q: Through which means can we know the true meaning of the Holy Scripture?
     A: We can only know the true meaning of Holy Scripture through the Church's interpretation, because she alone is secure against error in that interpretation.
Catechism of Pope Saint Pius X:  On the Virtues and Vices:  On Holy Scripture


 

Pope Benedict XV   (1914-1922 AD)   
“Our one desire for all the Church's children is that, being saturated with the Bible, they may arrive at the all surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ.” 
15 September AD 1920

He repeated St. Jerome’s statement:
“Ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

He expressed his desire that, “... all the children of the Church, especially clerics, to reverence the Holy Scriptures, to read it piously and meditate on it constantly.”
And he reminded them that,
“... in these pages is to be sought that food, by which the spiritual life is nourished unto perfection ...”

 
 

Pope Pius XII     1943 AD

“Our predecessors, when the opportunity occurred, recommended the study or preaching or in fine the pious reading and meditation of the sacred Scriptures.

“... This author of salvation, Christ, will men more fully know, more ardently love and more faithfully imitate in proportion as they are more assiduously urged to know and meditate the Sacred Letters, especially the New Testament ...”
[Divino Afflante Spiritu]

He also granted indulgences (a blessing of God’s grace) to those who read Scripture. (1 Cor. 4:1.)
 
   

Vatican  II :   1965 AD

“21. The Church has always venerated the Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in 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. Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by sacred Scripture. For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life. Consequently these words are perfectly applicable to sacred Scripture: ‘For the word of God is living and active’ (Heb. 4:12) and ‘it has power to build you up and give you your heritage among all those who are sanctified’ ” (Acts 20:32; see 1 Thess. 2:13).
[
DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON DIVINE REVELATION (DEI VERBUM) 1965 AD]

 

Pope John Paul I     August 27, 1978

“... We wish to remind the entire Church that its first duty is that of evangelization. Our Predecessor, Paul VI, presented the directions for this in his memorable document: animated by faith, nourished by the Word of God, and strengthened by the heavenly food of the Eucharist, one should study every way, seek every means ‘in season and out of season’ (2 Tim 4:2), to spread the word, to proclaim the message, to announce that salvation which creates in the soul a restlessness to pursue truth and at the same time offers strength from above. If all the sons and daughters of the Church would know how to be tireless missionaries of the Gospel, a new flowering of holiness and renewal would spring up in this world that thirsts for love and for truth.”
[Urbi et Orbi]

 

Pope John Paul II    October 16, 1979  

“27.  Catechesis will always draw its content from the living source of the Word of God transmitted in Tradition and the Scriptures, for “sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church,” as was recalled by the Second Vatican Council, which desired that  ‘the ministry of the word-pastoral preaching, catechetics and all forms of Christian instruction . . .-(should be) healthily nourished and (should) thrive in holiness through the word of Scripture.’ (57)

“To speak of Tradition and Scripture as the source of catechesis is to draw attention to the fact that catechesis must be impregnated and penetrated by the thought, the spirit and the outlook of the Bible and the Gospels through assiduous contact with the texts themselves …

“The Church's teaching, liturgy and life spring from this source and lead back to it ...”
[
Apostolic Exhortation, CATECHESI TRADENDAE, on October 16, 1979]

 

Pope Benedict XVI
General Audience of  Wednesday, 28 October 2009

“In 12th-century monasteries the theological method mainly entailed the explanation of Sacred Scripture … The monks, in other words, were devout listeners to and readers of the Sacred Scriptures and one of their chief occupations consisted in lectio divina, that is, the prayed reading of the Bible. … the desire to know and to love God which comes to meet us through his words to be received, meditated upon and put into practice, leads us to seek to deepen our knowledge of the biblical texts in all their dimensions. … Since, ultimately, monastic theology is listening to God's word, it is impossible not to purify the heart in order to receive it and, especially, it is impossible not to enkindle in it a longing to encounter the Lord. … and extend an invitation to us too to nourish our lives with the word of God, for example, through listening more attentively to the Readings and the Gospel, especially during Sunday Mass. It is also important to set aside a certain period each day for meditation on the Bible, so that the word of God may be a light that illumines our daily pilgrimage on earth.” (Vatican source)

 

Pope Benedict XVI   February 22, 2006

My dear young friends!   …

The Apostles received the word of salvation and passed it on to their successors as a precious gem kept safely in the jewel box of the Church: without the Church, this pearl runs the risk of being lost or destroyed. …

It is not easy to recognize and find authentic happiness in this world in which we live, where people are often held captive by the current ways of thinking. They may think they are “free”, but they are being led astray and become lost amid the errors or illusions of aberrant ideologies. “Freedom itself needs to be set free” (cf the encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 86), and the darkness in which humankind is groping needs to be illuminated. Jesus taught us how this can be done: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:31-32). The incarnate Word, Word of Truth, makes us free and directs our freedom towards the good.

My dear young friends, meditate often on the word of God, and allow the Holy Spirit to be your teacher. You will then discover that God’s way of thinking is not the same as that of humankind’s. You will find yourselves led to contemplate the real God and to read the events of history through his eyes. You will savour in fullness the joy that is born of truth. On life’s journey, which is neither easy nor free of deceptions, you will meet difficulties and suffering and at times you will be tempted to exclaim with the psalmist: “I am severely afflicted” (Ps 119 [118]. v. 107). Do not forget to add as the psalmist did: “give me life, O Lord, according to your word... I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law” (ibid. vv. 107; 109). The loving presence of God, through his word, is the lamp that dispels the darkness of fear and lights up the path even when times are most difficult.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote: “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (4:12). It is necessary to take seriously the injunction to consider the word of God to be an indispensable “weapon” in the spiritual struggle. This will be effective and show results if we learn to listen to it and then to obey it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “To obey (from the Latin ob-audire, to ‘hear or listen to’) in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard, because its truth is guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself” (n. 144). While Abraham exemplifies this way of listening which is obedience, Solomon in his turn shows himself to be a passionate explorer of the wisdom contained in the Word. When God said to him: “Ask what I should give you”, the wise king replied: “Give your servant therefore an understanding heart” (1 Kings 3:5,9). The secret of acquiring “an understanding heart” is to train your heart to listen. This is obtained by persistently meditating on the word of God and by remaining firmly rooted in it through the commitment to persevere in getting to know it better.

My dear young friends, I urge you to become familiar with the Bible, and to have it at hand so that it can be your compass pointing out the road to follow. By reading it, you will learn to know Christ. Note what Saint Jerome said in this regard: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” (PL 24,17; cf Dei Verbum, 25). A time-honoured way to study and savour the word of God is lectio divina which constitutes a real and veritable spiritual journey marked out in stages. After the lectio, which consists of reading and rereading a passage from Sacred Scripture and taking in the main elements, we proceed to meditatio. This is a moment of interior reflection in which the soul turns to God and tries to understand what his word is saying to us today. Then comes oratio in which we linger to talk with God directly. Finally we come to contemplatio. This helps us to keep our hearts attentive to the presence of Christ whose word is “a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Pet 1:19). Reading, study and meditation of the Word should then flow into a life of consistent fidelity to Christ and his teachings.

Saint James tells us: “Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act - they will be blessed in their doing” (1:22-25). Those who listen to the word of God and refer to it always, are constructing their existence on solid foundations. “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them”, Jesus said, “will be like a wise man who built his house on rock” (Mt 7:24). It will not collapse when bad weather comes.

To build your life on Christ, to accept the word with joy and put its teachings into practice: this, young people of the third millennium, should be your programme! There is an urgent need for the emergence of a new generation of apostles anchored firmly in the word of Christ, capable of responding to the challenges of our times and prepared to spread the Gospel far and wide. It is this that the Lord asks of you, it is to this that the Church invites you, and it is this that the world - even though it may not be aware of it - expects of you! If Jesus calls you, do not be afraid to respond to him with generosity, especially when he asks you to follow him in the consecrated life or in the priesthood. Do not be afraid; trust in him and you will not be disappointed. …

From this moment onwards, my dear young friends, in a climate of constant listening to the word of God, call on the Holy Spirit, Spirit of fortitude and witness, that you may be able to proclaim the Gospel without fear even to the ends of the earth. Our Lady was present in the cenacle with the Apostles as they waited for Pentecost. May she be your mother and guide. May she teach you to receive the word of God, to treasure it and to ponder on it in your heart (cf Lk 2:19) as she did throughout her life. May she encourage you to declare your “yes” to the Lord as you live “the obedience of faith”. May she help you to remain strong in the faith, constant in hope, persevering in charity, always attentive to the word of God. I am together with you in prayer, and I bless each one of you with all my heart.

From the Vatican, 22 February 2006, Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter Apostle.

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI   [Emphasis added with blue text]
Message To The Youth Of The World  for the upcoming Youth Day 

 

 

Off site Links

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Bible Basics
by convert Steve Ray
He explains: why and how we should study the Bible,
And why Bible Alone is impractical when most could not read or afford a Bible in first 1800 years, etc.
He answers the question, “Should a Catholic join a Protestant Bible study?”
St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, by Scott Hahn, Ph.D.
All around great site with numerous resources.
One Bread, One Body
Great daily meditations on readings of the Bible. Completely faithful to Pope and Church Magisterium.

Why Read The Bible

 

Updated 2009
with some additional references by
Fr. Brusca
The web site above links to sources
that also link to Protestant Polemics
 

 

 

 

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