Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

The Three Great Lies:

3.  "I'm from the Government, and I'm here to help."

2.  "Free Kittens."

1.  "Catholics are forbidden to read the Bible."

    Over the years I have met a few Catholics who claim that they were told by a priest or nun that Bible reading is forbidden to Catholics.  This alleged "prohibition" is taken as a matter of fact by many Protestants.  Many of these folks are insistent that only with Vatican II did Bible reading become a legitimate activity for Catholics.  All of these people have been misinformed.

    The tradition of reading the Sacred Scripture predates and was preserved by Christianity.  The Scriptures were read first in the synagogues of the Jewish people, and then in the churches of those who received the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In all Catholic churches, at every Mass at least two Scripture selections are read aloud.  Various Psalms and other Scripture verses are a significant part of the ordinary and variable parts of the Mass.  On most Sundays and holy days a sermon explains the Scripture readings of the day.  A long line of Church authorities have called upon us to follow this practice,  in church, in our homes, and wherever we may find the opportunity to do so.  Catholics accept as scriptural or canonical those books that were received at the time of our Lord—the Septuagint for the Old Testament—and the writings of the Church's Apostles and Evangelists for the New Testament.

    To fully understand the Church's position on reading the Bible, a few things must be considered.  

    The most obvious is that approximately three quarters of the Church's history went by before the invention of printing—printing with moveable type, itself a laborious process by modern standards.  That the Bible exists at all is a tribute to the army of Catholic religious who made the ink and writing implements from natural materials;   made vellum or parchment by soaking, liming, scraping, drying, and stretching animal skins into vellum sheets;  and then copied an earlier copy, letter by letter, for hours on end. Then began the illumination. Then the binging, also with handmade materials  The 180 Bibles produced by Johannes Guttenberg in 1455, printed, and then hand illuminated, took a year to produce—roughly the time a monastery scriptorium took to produce a single copy.  By modern standards, that was an awfully small press run. For an appreciation of all the work the monks expended, visit our page on Early Bible Making.  Not many people were able to read the Bible because there weren't many Bibles—and producing them was an extremely expensive enterprise until modern times.

Wikipedia Commons
Note that this map predates the Islamic invasions

   Very shortly after Christianity became legal in the Empire, Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia were over run by various nomadic peoples.  Germanic and Scandinavian tribes were driven south by global cooling and a lust for plunder, the Huns came all the way from Mongolia on horseback, and then came the Moslems.  Among the major casualties of these barbarian invasions was literacy—the assault on Western Civilization left few people who could read.  Here again, it was Catholic clergy and religious who kept the art alive.  There were monastery and cathedral schools, but a civilization concerned with feeding and defending itself from outsiders has little time for learning.  Bible reading requires readers—for centuries in short supply.

    In medieval times the Church produced pictorial Bibles for the poor and undereducated.  Such Biblia Pauperum or Bibles of the Poor were printed with engraved wooden blocks, giving a picture story for each of the major events in the Bible.  In modern times the Church has done something similar for children too young to read very well.  Many Catholic children acquired their first written familiarity with such volumes by Bishop Gilmour, Bishop Knecht, or Father Schuster.  The linked images show that these books were approved by the highest authorities in the Church, including Pope Leo XIII.

    The Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek.  For the vast majority of people a translation is absolutely necessary.  But we are not here considering a novel or some other text where acceptable translations may be a little loose.  The Bible is God's revelation, entrusted to the Church for the salvation of souls—any translation that clouds the meaning of God's revelation is completely unacceptable.  The Bible is the Church's book, written by Her early leaders, and only She can determine which books are to be included, and whether or not they are properly translated.  Bibles that are missing books, or which contain mistranslations leading to theological error, are not, strictly speaking, Bibles at all—in prohibiting their use, the Church is not, in reality, forbidding Bible reading.

    The first printed Bible in English was published by British Catholics exiled to France at the colleges of  Douay and Rheims.  The New Testament was published in 1582 and the Old Testament in 1610.  This Douay-Rheims Bible was a rather literal translation of the Latin Vulgate, and went through several revisions—notably those of Bishop Challoner of London, in the 1750s, who added an extensive list of annotations—all intended to make the text more intelligible to the lay reader.  In these United States, the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine produced a modern translation in the middle twentieth century.

    That the Church has always encouraged (and not forbidden!) the reading of properly translated Bibles can be seen in the approvals granted by Church authorities when new editions are published.  The front pages of the 1914 edition of the Douay-Rheims list the approbation of three Cardinals, an indulgence granted by Pope Leo XIII, and an attestation by Pope Pius VI 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 everyone...."   The 1941 Confraternity Edition contains a letter from Eugene Cardinal Tisserant of the Pontifical Biblical Commission in Rome encouraging "widespread dissemination of the written word of God in the Catholic homes."

    All of this makes it pretty clear that the Catholic Church enthusiastically supports Bible reading by Her faithful.  The translation, of course, must be accurate, and the reading ought not be influenced by those who reject the Church's interpretation of Her Sacred Book.

in XTO,
Fr. Brusca
Send him mail

18 October AD 2007
Feast of Saint Luke, the Evangelist

This article can be found at

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