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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Did the Catholic Church Prohibit Bible Reading?

An anti-Catholic critic claimed knowing elderly ex-Catholics who were generally not encouraged by the priests and nuns to read God’s Word. I asked an older priest about this and he said he never heard such a thing; indeed, a special indulgence was granted to anyone who faithfully read the Bible on a daily basis. Pope Benedict XV wrote in his encyclical Spiritus Paraclitus (1920): “A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful who, with the veneration due the divine Word, make a spiritual reading from the Sacred Scriptures. A plenary indulgence is granted if this reading is continued for at least one half an hour.” My late aunt admitted that she was hesitant to read the Bible for fear of misinterpreting the texts; however, such a personal sentiment cannot be said to reflect a Catholic prohibition.

Anti-Catholic apologists, themselves, use isolated bits-and-pieces to refute Catholic teachings and then accuse the Church of using the same flawed methods. Such just is not the case. An anti-Catholic author, David Cloud, furthered such distortions in an online article entitled, “The KJV and the Latin Vulgate.” He writes:

The Council of Trent (1545-1564) placed the Bible on its list of prohibited books, and forbade any person to read the Bible without a license from a Roman Catholic bishop or inquisitor. The Council added these words: “That if any one shall dare to read or keep in his possession that book, without such a license, he shall not receive absolution till he has given it up to his ordinary.”

Rome’s attempt to keep the Bible from men has continued to recent times. Pope Pius VII (1800-1823) denounced the Bible Society and expressed shock at the circulation of the Scriptures. Pius VII said, “It is evidence from experience, that the holy Scriptures, when circulated in the vulgar tongue, have, through the temerity of men, produced more harm than benefit.” Pope Leo XII called the Protestant Bible the “Gospel of the Devil” in an encyclical letter of 1824. Pope Gregory XVI (1831-1846) railed “against the publication, distribution, reading, and possession of books of the holy Scriptures translated into the vulgar tongue.”

Pope Leo XII, in January 1850, condemned the Bible Societies and admitted the fact that the distribution of Scripture has “long been condemned by the holy chair.”

Let us look at his assertions. First, did the Council of Trent really prohibit the reading and ownership of the Bible? The answer is, no. The council fathers decreed on April 8, 1546,     “. . . the 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 New Testament, –seeing that one God is the author of both, . . . .” Oddly, I could not find the quotation as given by the cited author; however, I did find decrees regarding UNAPPROVED and or FAULTY translations of the Scriptures. Just as with theological works, the Church asserted her role over their legitimate use. To suggest that the Council of Trent opposed the authentic Word of God is untrue. Second, the prohibition for Catholics in joining Bible Societies was due to the fact that these said groups did not use Scriptures approved by Church sources and were quite anti-Catholic in their approach. Such has been the continued problem with gullible Catholics stolen from Christ’s Church by anti-Catholic fundamentalist bible study programs, some which particularly target Catholics. Again, this was no disdain for the Holy Scriptures, only for the malicious intent by which some men used them. Third, the concern about bible distribution was that Protestant bibles were being circulated which in missing texts and in footnotes often questioned and ridiculed Catholic teaching. Obviously, the Church preferred that Catholics read bibles which reflected the orthodox Catholic interpretation of the Word of God. The misuse of the Gospel against the Church established by Christ himself is as Pope Leo XII noted nothing less than satanic. Cloud’s interpretation of Church history, or tradition, is as cloudy as the anti-Catholic’s understanding of the Scriptures.

Having attacked Christ’s Church, the anti-Catholic bigot will sometimes have the audacity to call the Catholics whom he addresses by the label, “friends.” This specious sign of affection was used several years ago by the pornography and prostitute addicted Jimmy Swaggert in a pamphlet to proselytize Catholics. Do not be fooled. Such critics will neither break bread nor pray in union of mind and heart with the Catholic. Indeed, the anti-Catholic critic, when he runs out of material, will often harp about the so-called multitude killed by Catholics as declared heretics. He tries to plant his own tags of intolerance and prejudice upon the Catholic Church.

It is true that civil societies in the past did engage in much insular nonsense, Catholic and Protestant, however, both camps equated spiritual murder with physical murder and subsequently confused the penalties. Neither Protestants nor Catholics would want to be classified by the actions of dishonest extremists. Returning to the subject of the Bible, it is my supposition that if properly studied, with care to the sources and the literary forms of the text, it will affirm the Catholic faith. Such openness to the truth of the Scriptures has led many of the more astute Protestants into the Catholic Church. However, the more emotional, embittered, and ignorant the researcher– the less affected they are by such truths or the claims of the Catholic Church. The message of our loving God to such critics would be to put aside their prejudice and hatred; taste and see the goodness of the Lord in the Catholic community of faith.