Catholic Church: “Don’t Read the Bible!”

by Steve Ray on September 9, 2016

bible-study-bannerWe often hear that the Catholic Church has forbidden the reading of the Bible! Have you heard this? Yeah, me too! But, this is another one of those big myths which has worked its way into the popular dialog but one that has not been proved from Church teaching and documents.

There are two good list of quotes from Church documents and leaders of the Church from the early centuries until today.

The second is a list of Catholic Bibles from ancient times that prove the charge against the Catholic Church false, since the Forewords and Prefaces prove that the Catholic Church PROMOTED the reading of Scripture.

Here is the beginning of a long article which gives a TON of information on this topic and proves the Catholic Church has not forbidden the reading of Scripture — but quite the contrary, it has always promoted the reading and study of Scripture by the faithful.

02064_early_church_fathersjpg.jpegDoes/Did the Catholic Church Forbid the Reading of the Bible?

In three parts:
1) Introductory Comments
2) Pope Leo XIII’s On the Study of Holy Scripture
3) Multiple Quotes from Fathers, Popes and Councils

You and I have both heard the myth: “The Catholic Church has forbidden Catholics from reading the Bible!”

I am not intending to say that Catholics, especially in the United States were always big Bible readers in the past.  Certainly there was a deficit in this area — and a certain shyness coming from the problems of Protestantism and their Bible-thumping ways.

But it is a MYTH that Catholics did not read the Bible until the late 20th Century —  until after Vatican II.  Those who could read (many could not read over the centuries and even today ½ the world’s population is effectively illiterate) did read the Bible when they had them.1 Catholic biblical scholarship did not begin with Pius XII. It seems almost ludicrous to have to say that since we Catholics have had the best and the brightest of biblical scholars long before modern times — just consider Origen, Tertullian, St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Thomas Aquinas just to mention a few.

There has been a very long history of Bible reading, study and scholarship stretching back to the beginning of Christian/Catholic history….

For the whole article and list of quotes, click here.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Swonger March 6, 2010 at 7:09 AM

Great myth busting. Of further interest along the lines of Papal writings giving an unmistakable Catholic attitude towards the Bible are the Encyclicals “Spiritus Paraclitus” by Pope Benedict XV, and “Divino Afflante Spiritu” by Pope Pius XII. More info on my website. Great job Steve.

Kevin (@HelloKevinHere) November 9, 2014 at 5:12 AM

Until The 4th Century there was no Bible with a New testament.

People tended to be illiterate in Early Church. During Peters Time 85% population Could not read nor write making Sola Scriptura a Non Starter.

The Cost of a Bible was PROHIBITIVE it was Handwritten by scholarly Monks.

Protestants Complain against Catholics but they didn’t even exist 500 years ago.
1st thing they did was alter the Bible by altering the OLD TESTAMENT Books
Galatians 1: 6-9 speaks against That…

The Craziest thing is People quote Charles Spurgeon all the time but Ignore the Early Church Fathers and their Interpretations while some actually being with Apostles… Strange very Strange!

dennis g December 4, 2015 at 9:01 AM

If this is true then why did so many have to suffer the Inquisitions? Why did Tyndale and Wycliffe and Huss have to be burned at the stake?

STEVE RAY HERE: You need to study history more carefully and not just parrot what others feed you. These men were not executed for reading the Bible but for being heretics that opposed the state and brought about insurrection. They translated the Bible into heretic versions that no one would use today. The Inquisition was a state action to avoid insurrection and the breakdown of society since religion and the state were so closely tied.

There are some great books on this if you care to read them.

Mark September 9, 2016 at 11:29 AM

Oh boy….this topic is also getting a lot of re-circulation thanks in no part, to many anti-Catholics who are promoting the PBS special on the Spanish Inquisition, which can be purchased through Amazon on cd.

Be VERY careful in arguing against the anti-Catholics who try to use this “documentary”. It would be wise to contact PBS to get a copy of the transcript because the anti-Catholic will say something that IS NOT PART of the documentary, or they will intentionally misquote it, or they will simply take what PBS is saying as gospel fact.

A great example of this is the following: “The Catholic Church banned THE Bible for nearly 400 years before releasing it from its “forbidden” list until 1965.” Uhhhhhhh….not quite.

The Catholic Church NEVER forbade or banned THE Bible. What the Catholic Church forbade and banned was the reading, purchasing and distribution of POORLY TRANSLATED Bibles that contained heretical statements and theological errors. Sound familiar? It should, since nearly every protestant church or pastor today thinks and feels the same way about the Deutrocanons, as well as most of the sacraments.

Of course the PBS documentary doesn’t quite put it that way, but it does a great job of selectively stating words in a manner that make it sound that way. And of course, providing more information on what the Catholic Church actually did forbid, is issued in a few sentences (or paragraphs) later. Naturally, anyone looking for ammunition will only focus on the words “The Bible” and nothing more. They will even ignore the rest of what is said.

PBS’s documentary is FAR from accurate. Just do a google search on it and look for the article where they interview the producer of the documentary and then read what he has to say. It becomes VERY APPARENT that he was in no way interested in revealing the “truth” about what happened, but more interested in “creating a drama that would allow the message to be conveyed much easier.” After all, people are more entertained by what they see than what they read.

But perhaps what is most interesting is the admittance by the producer that they received permission to “search”, examine and read from the “secret” archives found within the Vatican’s MASSIVE library. Then he goes on to say they needed to get translators in order to help them understand what was documented, along with the admittance that they were “only looking for the more intense stuff.” Hhmm…. Nothing like skipping over most of history in order to provide a biased point of view, is there?

Perhaps the best “documentary” that has been published for television is the one done by the BBC back in the mid 1990s, and can be found on youtube. Sadly, it too has been condensed down to an “hour” long version, far shy from its original two hour – two day broadcast. Nevertheless, it CONFIRMS what has been discovered by all honest and valid historians and totally destroys much of the anti-Catholic propaganda. By the way, it is to be pointed out that the BBC is in NO WAY, friendly or kind to the Catholic Church. They are and have been, very anti-Catholic, although that might not be the case today, but it was at the time of their documentary release.

Most people confuse their ability to “recognize” an injustice when they hear one, as a sign from God that they are being ‘lead” by the Holy Spirit into truth and they, therefore, are somehow part of the “chosen few”. There’s a BIG difference between “recognizing” something and “being fooled” by something.

The Bible tells us that one of the many gifts of the Holy Spirit is “knowledge”. But “knowledge” REQUIRES that the TRUTH be obtained FIRST, otherwise, one is left with nothing but false knowlege; in other words – a pack of lies. And one can not be filled with the Holy Spirit if they willing to cling to and accept something WITHOUT verifying the truth of it first.

So, I find it rather contradictory when St. Paul tells us: “But prove all things; hold fast to that which is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21), yet anti-Catholics don’t even make an attempt to prove all things. They simply follow their blind hatred because they were told by someone they trusted and they truly believe they are being guided by the Holy Spirit.

God Bless you Mr. and Mrs. Ray! Love what you are doing!

Greg September 10, 2016 at 2:54 PM

I was raised Catholic in the 1950’s and 60’s … I went to Catholic school til the 8th grade. The nuns never read the Bible in school. We only/ exclusively studied the Catechism. We were not so much taught that reading the Bible was wrong. It was just never read, except for the readings at Mass and the reading might be referred to in the homily … or not. That is the only time that the Bible was read or talked about. There was never any clergy led discussion. Never any “Bible” class. When the subject ever came up the first thing said in every conversation was that there was a serious danger in interpreting the Bible incorrectly and therefore it should only be used as specifically interpreted by a qualified teacher… The default implication was that the hearer …was unqualified. . Therefore… Personal / individual reading of the Bible was not prohibited… but it was certainly not encouraged … and it was never part of catechesis in school or in CCD classes.

Greg September 10, 2016 at 4:16 PM

I was unable to edit the above post.
Instead of:
“it was never part of catechesis in school or in CCD classes.”

I would correct my statement to say that the focus was on Church history, patron saints, holy days, rules concerning fasting on Friday or before going to Communion, the wearing of the scapular and various medals, the rosary, purgatory, novenas, indulgences… The difference between a high Mass and a solemn high Mass, the stations of the cross, Changes in the mass, those sorts of things. I remember some specifics … the 10 Commandments/ the Christmas story/ Easter being taught but they were pretty much taught separately from reference to the source. … If the Bible was referenced, it seemed only incidental not the point.

James in Perth September 16, 2016 at 5:37 PM

In response to Greg’s comments above, I only attended first and second grade at my parish school. But I remember Sister asking me to read a story from the Bible in class. But that’s just one example. I agree that the Bible was not emphasized as much as it should have been.

And my memories of CCD – even in the sixties – was more along the lines of a little social justice warrior who should be nice everyone than of a soldier for Christ.

But certainly, certainly no one ever discouraged anyone from reading the Bible. I read my Children’s Bible everyday.

Frank January 16, 2017 at 7:20 PM

I just want to clear things up. I am Catholic i was raised Catholic and i am still Catholic. My Mom was also raised Catholic. I want to share something that i believe is wrong. My Mom to this day doesnt believe in reading the bible because when she was young she was told not to read it because she would not understand it. She is a very educated woman. But ro this day she says that there waw translation upon translations that we would not get the correct message from reading the bible. This is what she was taught. I find it as an uneducaded person that the Holy Scriptures are talking to your soul not your mind. Also i believe in my heart that we as Christians have the Holy Bible in our Hearts. I disagree with teachers from her time and i believe that God will punish them for taking them away from Gods word. I am a Catholic and will die a Catholic but i have a firm belief that Holy Scriptures are not wrong to read educated or not because like i said before God is talking to your soul not only your mind. May God have mercy on anyone who takes this away from anyone. May the peace of Jesus Christ be with you all.

Steve Ray January 17, 2017 at 6:17 AM

Frank: Steve Ray here. I agree with you completely. The Bible is soul food for us in the catechism requires and encourages Catholics to read this Bible. It actually says “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ!”

Denise A Davis March 14, 2018 at 10:08 PM

I was raised strict Catholic.
I was taught at home and in Catholic school to NOT read the Bible as I did not have the education to interpret it correctly.
I disagree with you.
The Catholic church used to DISCOURAGE lay people from reading the Bible.
My Mom almost took her vows as a nun.
I have 3 aunts that are nun.
This did change after Vatican II.
Although, it was still not regularly encouraged.

Crystal Nelson June 2, 2018 at 6:08 PM

Catholics are not allowed to read the bible. This is very truth. My Aunt who is Catholic and lives in Catholic run country, the Philippines. They are not allow to read their bibles. The prist tells them this, because reading the Bible is work of the devil. People who tell you that Catholics were allowed to read their Bible don't know their history and don't want people to think badly of the Church.

STEVE RAY HERE: Crystal, I am sure you are a nice lady and that you mean well, but I have to tell you that you have been seriously misinformed.

We read large sections of the Bible at Mass, and are encouraged always to read the Bible daily. Some saying otherwise is spreading lies. Sorry, but you need to do more research and learning before misinforming people.

Karen July 7, 2018 at 9:14 AM

I appreciate this page. I came here as a Protestant to research what a dear, but apparently confused or misguided Catholic friend once told me: that as a Catholic, she was forbidden to read the Bible. That shocked me greatly, and I pressed her to be sure I heard her correctly. She explained that only priests or nuns could read the Holy Bible to the people because they are pure (meaning, because they are celibate.) I was trying to explain something to her from the Word of God (can’t recall what it was, this was so long ago), so when she told me this, I told her “well, I can read it to you then, because I have remained celibate for my entire life. (My personal vow was of celibacy outside of marriage, but God chose instead to bless me with the lifelong gift of singleness, and I am grateful for any & all gifts He gives.)
This morning, I just happened to recall what my confused Catholic friend told me, so I decided to search for the real answer. Thank you for sharing!

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