THE TEACHINGS CATHOLIC CHURCH: ON READING THE BIBLE
A sampling of what
the Catholic Church has taught about reading the Bible from the fourth century
when it was put into one collected work until the present century.
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." - Second Homily on Matthew section 10 (which is sometimes labeled as section 5.)
"This is the cause of all evils, the not knowing the Scriptures. We go into battle without arms, and how are we to come off safe?" (Hom. IX On Colossians)
"Listen, I entreat you, all that are careful for this life, and procure books that will be medicines for the soul…get at least the New Testament, the Apostolic Epistles, the Acts, the Gospels, for your constant teachers. If grief befalls you, dive into them as into a chest of medicines; take from there comfort for your trouble, be it loss, or death, or bereavement of relations; or rather do not merely dive into them but take them wholly to yourself, keeping them in your mind." (Hom. IX On Colossians)
"From this it is that countless evils have arisen - from ignorance of the Scriptures; from this it is that the plague of heresies has broken out; from this it is that there are negligent lives; from this there are labors without advantage. For as men deprived of this daylight would not walk aright, so they that look not to the gleaming of the Holy Scriptures must be frequently and constantly sinning, in that they are walking in the worst darkness." (Intro. Hom. On Romans)
"It is ridiculous if he who professes to be a Christian is unable to utter a word in defense of his own faith…It is this that prevents the pagans from quickly realizing the absurdity of their error. Inasmuch as, relying on falsehood, they make every effort to obscure the baseness of their teachings, while we who are the guardians of truth cannot even open our mouth, what will prevent them from despising the great weakness of our doctrine? Will they not get the idea that our teaching is deceitful and foolish? Will they not blaspheme Christ as a dissembler and deceiver who makes us of the stupidity of the majority to advance his deceit? And we are responsible for this blasphemy if we are not willing to be on the alert to speak in defense of righteousness, but rate such matters as superfluous, and concern ourselves about the things of earth. To be sure, and admirer of a dancer or of a charioteer or of a contender against wild beasts runs every risk and makes every effort so as not to come off worsted in disputes concerning his favorite. Moreover, these men string together long commendations, building up a defense against those who find fault with them, casting countless jibes at their opponents. But, when arguments are proposed about Christianity they all bow their heads, and rub them and yawn, and when laugh at, withdraw. Now are you not deserving of unmitigated anger if Christ appears less honored among you than a dancer? For while, you have thought up countless defenses of their deeds - even though all of these are somewhat base - you do not even exert yourself to give any thought and care to the wondrous deeds of Christ." (Hom 17 on John)
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)
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." ....quote found in Office of Readings, April 4...(Lib.3,8-10: PL 83,679-682)
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.
Decree of the Council of Trent Session 4, 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..."
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 fulfilment 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.
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)
He also encouraged the reading of Holy Scripture by
granting an indulgence to those who read it for at least 25 minutes.
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."
Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922 AD) 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." 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 In 1943 he wrote, "Divino Afflante Spiritu" in which we read:
"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..."
He also granted indulgences (a blessing of God's grace) to those who read Scripture. (1 Cor. 4:1.)