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

by Steve Ray on December 1, 2018

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.

{ 18 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.

http://sites.google.com/site/apostolicapologetics/sacred-scripture/catholics-and-the-bible

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!

Herbert Keller December 2, 2018 at 4:49 AM

Some of the comments here are complete codswallop,to even suggest that Catholics are forbidden to read the bible is seems to be some kind of crazy calvinistic protestant assertion,even some rudimentary knowledge of history will reveal that Catholics who had knowledge of Latin,Hebrew and Greek always read the bible and most of them were laity- examples include St.Thomas More,the great epic poet Dante,Juliana of Norwich.I have been to many countries including the Philippines and most priests encourage the reading of sacred scripture what they discourage is reading of protestant bibles now flooding countries in Latin america,Asia and the Philippines as most of these bibles are canonically unorthodox and moreover they are lures to attract unsuspecting Catholics to these shoddy evangelical ” cults.Catholics can always read the Douay-Rheims Bible or the New Jerusalem Bible and of course if you are really interested you can always fall back on St.Jeromes Vulgate Bible.

Mike Trudnowski December 9, 2018 at 1:29 PM

Came upon your website again! Thanks for your work Stephen Ray! When reading through the posts on “Catholic shouldn’t read the Bible” I am reminded of the CS Lewis’ ‘The Screwtape Letters’. Satan works, not in mysterious ways, but in devious ways, sometimes simple ways, that always spread confusion. Confusion, or false-truths, are at the root of what many outside of the Catholic Church utilize to fight against those whom follow Christ as Catholics. … I am a teacher and I say to my students — if you have a bible read it, if you don’t I’ll give you a free one, if you need help I will be there. I was fortunate to be taught by nuns, priests, and the laity and this mantra was always followed. And it will take all who follow the truth to keep working as apologists! Keep working with Christ in your heart! The war is won (Thanks Jesus for your work), but we have to fight the continuing battles on His earth.

Peter Aiello December 9, 2018 at 3:39 PM

Older Catholics remember being discouraged from reading the Bible even though official Catholic teaching did not forbid it. Catholics have a tendency to listen to what the clergy tells them instead of reading things for themselves. Even today Catholics are warned about the dangers of “Sola Scriptura” even though Vatican II, in Dei Verbum 21 says: “Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture.”
Those who use only Scripture are not reading from a heretical document. It was compiled by the Catholic Church in the fourth century. If Protestants make more use of it than Catholics, so be it. They are not forbidden to read it. They may find something in it that has not been distorted by the clergy.

Thomist December 9, 2018 at 7:55 PM

The books that actually are the inspired Word of God was decided by Pope Damasus at a Council of Rome in 382, confirmed at the Councils of Hippo, 393, Carthage III 397, Carthage !V in 419 and canonised at the Council of Trent (1545-1563), and from the earliest days of the Catholic Church, popes and councils, saints and scholars have encouraged Bible reading.

But until some years after the printing press was invented in the 15th century, Bibles were scarce and expensive because copied by hand – so often there could be only one book in a town but, nearly everyone who could read could read Latin. Catholic monks faithfully copied the texts, and the production and use of translations, corrupted to support false teachings, was condemned.

Johann Gutenberg, a Catholic, produced the first printed Bible, with the Church’s approval, in 1455. Luther was not born until 1483. There were 18 German editions of the whole Bible before the Catholic monk Luther posted his 95 theses in 1517, and there were German, Flemish, Italian, Spanish, and Polish editions before Luther left the Church. The first English edition appeared in 1525. James I in England authorised the “King James” version only in 1604.

The shunning of Christ’s Magisterium and 7 books of the Sacred Scriptures by Luther, condemned his followers from then to today to a truncated set of beliefs and to endlessly varying interpretations, omitting Purgatory, the priesthood, the Mass, and most sacraments. Without the Holy Mass, and the Magisterium, Protestants had only the Bible for spiritual growth and came to see it as the only way to God, missing out on many essential truths, and splitting into some 40,000 differing denominations. Also, the Scriptures privately interpreted cannot always guide us on contraception, on remarriage, on capital punishment, IVF, cloning and many other modern problems – this results in uncertainty and lack of unified Christian action at times. [See “What Catholics Really Believe”, by Karl Keating].

Dr Phillip Chalmers December 9, 2018 at 9:02 PM

I was born during WW2 and raised in the Irish version Catholic church in Australia and can attest that grave and serious warning was given to us repeatedly that personal interpretation of scripture was done by protestants who were thus led into grave error.
Officially, we were told that the contents of the bible were ONLY SAFELY interpreted by the MAGISTERIUM of the Church and the product of that scrutiny was the Catechism, which was safe to read.
That was the poor state it was in as a product of the Vatican 1 anti-modernist and strictly sectarian spirit.
However poorly it was conducted and even more poorly interpreted, without Vatican 2 the official fundamentalist Catholics would have been in heresy.
How I loved Good Pope John, his election was rigged like that of Francis by people who had no idea that he would do what he did, not tame and not docile to the group-think.

R.C. December 10, 2018 at 11:24 AM

As in so many areas, the problem seems not to be what the ACTUAL teachings of the Church are, but a misinformed or dissenting inclination, in some places, to institutionally teach the OPPOSITE of what the Church teaches.

EXAMPLE 1:
The evidence that the Catholic Church strongly encourages Bible reading is voluminous. It is thick on the ground, piled high.

At the same time, there are far too many instances of persons being discouraged from Bible-reading by persons with institutional authority (the local priest, the consecrated religious sisters teaching at a Catholic school, etc.).

How can both of these things be true at once?

EXAMPLE 2:
The evidence is also unequivocal and dispositive that the Catholic Church teaches firmly against abortion, against divorce-and-remarriage (providing that the initial marriage was valid), against the possibility of women being ordained as “spiritual fathers” (that is to say, as bishops, priests, or deacons), against the possibility of evaluating homosexual acts as either morally positive, morally neutral, or morally equivalent to heterosexual coitus. Standing in a library collection of Church documents, one would be unable to flick an ant in any direction without having the critter land on a half-dozen texts from every century of church life declaring such things irrevocably anathematized…and crawl across six-dozen more on its way home.

And yet there are “Catholic” universities where “Catholic” academics, many of them clergy or members of “Catholic” religious orders, teach the opposite of these things.

How can that happen?

NO QUALITY CONTROL
So far as I can tell, it happens because once someone is in a position of institutional authority in the Church (academic, clerical, consecrated) nobody seems willing to act in opposition to scandal, or to ensure the quality and integrity of catechesis.

To borrow analogies from the corporate world, there ought to be “quality controls”; but the QA team, in some areas, seems to be on permanent holiday. There ought to be various Executive Vice Presidents of Operations who’re conducting spot-inspections and replacing bad managers. But in some places, the EVPOs don’t seem to be doing the job.

THE PROTESTANT APPROACH
It is interesting to note how the problem of scandal would have progressed in the Protestant world: The faithful and the faithless would have split into separate denominations, “liberal” and “conservative”; following this the “liberal” one would have become wealthy and childless and dwindled numerically to near-nonexistence (as the Episcopalians in America have done), while the “conservative” one swelled with evangelism and childbearing, producing a new crop of believers, half of whom apostasize in college and are partly won-back decades later when they start having children.

This system is anti-Biblical, of course. (When Eli’s sons exercised the priesthood corruptly, nobody was thereby authorized to hare off to a nearby county to found an alternative People of Israel.) But, this Protestant system has one advantage: As long as one focuses on growing churches rather than shrinking ones, one can usually find pretty good “quality control” in the area of teaching, precisely because the “conservative” churches are founded by people who fairly-recently split away from the places where heresy was taught. All the “liberals” are elsewhere in another group. Thus, one typically gets taught the real teaching (as understood by that denomination).

In Catholicism, it ain’t so. Catholics, by definition, don’t get entrepreneurial and start up alternative ecclesial communities; they have to stick it out in the Church. Consequently, they remain intermixed, with heretics and the faithful in the same group: The wheat and the tares growing side-by-side until Judgement Day. Catholicism lacks the “purification by splintering” mechanism.

Catholicism used to have alternative mechanisms. One was canonical prosecution for heresy under the Holy Office (now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). Another was simply to be called on the carpet, or reassigned, by one’s (presumably faithful) bishop.

But neither of those things have happened much in, oh, about a hundred years, I’d say.

Catholicism can’t do without them. Somebody needs to re-institute Quality Control.

HOW TO FIND CATHOLICISM
In the meantime, what’s the lesson for us?

Until there is better Quality Control in Catholicism, you must assume that The Thing Your Aunt Calls Catholicism ain’t necessarily so, even if she was taught by a nun, three successive priests, and a theology professor at Notre Dame.

If you want to find Catholicism, you have to read the Church Fathers and the Canons of the Councils and the various other instruments of the dogmatic teaching of the Church, and interpret anything else according to the “Hermeneutic of Continuity,” not the “Hermeneutic of Rupture.”

When you have done that, you will know that the Catholic Church encourages Bible-reading. You will know that she doesn’t abandon her teachings on marriage, sexuality, ordination, and so on.

You will also know that some of her children DO abandon those teachings, sadly. But at least you’ll be better-able to identify them, and distinguish their claptrap from the faith delivered once for all to the Apostles.

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