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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.

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5 Responses

  1. Oh well, we’re sort of talking over each other, Go ahead a do it your way. Maybe it’s what some people need to hear in order to bring themselves closer to God. To me it just sort of one sided that’s all, the Master forgives the servant, the servant goes and finds his servant in fault and then fails to pay forward the mercy and compassion. Just don’t forget that God does nice things first, before he gets angry, don’t skip that step.

    FATHER JOE: Paying it forward is a useful idea from literature and the movies, but it is not a biblical concept or one from the universal catechism. It is not the same as “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” My theme on this blog is precisely to bring balance where a tolerant and gentle Jesus is exaggerated and often eclipses the Christ of Judgment. Christianity is never tolerant of sin, although it never gives up on bringing a sinner to repentance and conversion.

  2. But why focus so much on this Christ? You are the gentile,the outsider that was welcomed by Peter in Christs mercy. Roman Catholic vs. Jewish? Catholic. Unless of course you are one of the original disciples. So Jesus should of stuck with keeping bad people out? I think the Romans were bad people in those days. What are you most interested in paying forward? The mercy shown to you in including the Romans or ostracizing and rebuking of outsiders?

    FATHER JOE: Jesus Christ is both the Jewish Messiah and the Savior of the World. He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. His is the saving name. There is no other way to the Father except through him. He is the fulfillment of the promise, the consummation of the covenant. What matters most now is not the ties of ethnicity but those of faith.

    Matthew 12:46-50 – While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers appeared outside, wishing to speak with him. Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you.” But he said in reply to the one who told him, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

    As for the original disciples, they are still with us because the bishops are their successors. Pope Benedict XVI is Peter. Obedience and respect toward them is the same as that offered the apostles.

    Are you speaking to me personally or to the whole Church? I seek to extend to others what I prize as my greatest possession, my Catholic faith. If you are addressing the Church, she still reaches out to the oppressed and marginalized. She is the voice of the migrant worker and the child hidden in the womb.

    Our Lord seemed to save his most stern rebuke for his own. When we look at the REAL Jesus, it becomes clear that the Gospel has teeth. The Good News offers life and healing. It also brings with it our conviction as sinners. Some bring rebuke upon themselves.

  3. Thinking of how to respond to anti-Catholics, Think of all the mean things they said to Jesus and he died for their sins and healed their sick and gave them bread and fish and told them do not worry and do not be afraid and they were forgiven and not to sin anymore and today you will be in Paradise… Yet the author of this article seems to remember Him most by driving merchants out of the Church by focusing our attention to the harsh banner on this web site, Should not the author taste and see the Goodness of God? Can we have a banner of Christ forgiving Mary Magdalene or raising Lazarus from the dead,or the story of the rich man and Lazarus or the Beatitudes as well from time to time?

    FATHER JOE:

    The images and/or themes you suggest are the most common ones. We are comfortable with the gentle Jesus who heals, forgives and consoles the oppressed or marginalized. The whole point of the theme chosen for this blog (the header) is that such a picture must be challenged with the judgmental Christ who is silent to Herod lest he repent and who casts out the money-changers from the temple. While there are many posts at this site that speak to healing and mercy, the theme or header will remain the same. It is a visual reminder and a public corrective for a better balance in our appreciation of the Lord, the REAL Christ.

    Matthew 11:20-24 – Then he began to reproach the towns where most of his mighty deeds had been done, since they had not repented. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And as for you, Capernaum: ‘Will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to the netherworld.’ For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

    Matthew 23:29-36 – “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the memorials of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’ Thus you bear witness against yourselves that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets; now fill up what your ancestors measured out! You serpents, you brood of vipers, how can you flee from the judgment of Gehenna? Therefore, behold, I send to you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that there may come upon you all the righteous blood shed upon earth, from the righteous blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Amen, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

  4. John-
    It is a shame your father was discouraged in this way, since that would go against the teachings of the Church. It is unfortunate that even sisters can make mistakes when it comes to passing on the faith, but we are all human after all. I also agree that studying sacred scripture does lead to Catholicism, the writings of former Protestant minister Scott Hahn on this subject were very helpful to me when I was younger.

  5. I agree,that(the bible) if properly studied with care to the sources and the literary forms of the text, it will affirm the Catholic faith. However, my father , who was not known to lie, told me his nun teachers in the 1930s discouraged reading of the bible. however, his friend(where i get my middle name) did study the bible.

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