Many non-Catholics do not understand the Catholic attitude towards the Bible. They foolishly believe that we are not allowed to read the Bible, or, if permitted to do so, that we are not encouraged to study the Holy Scriptures. Could you explain the real attitude of the Church towards the Old and New Testament?
Catholics are taught that the Bible is the inspired word of God. Their attitude toward Sacred Scripture is expressed in the words of the Vatican Counsel: “The Church holds these books as sacred and canonical, not because, composed by mere human industry, they were thereupon approved by her authority; nor alone because they contain revelation without error; but because, written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their Author, and as such were delivered to the Church.”
This does not mean that the Catholic Church holds that the inspired human writes of Sacred Scripture received from the Holy Ghost a direct revelation of what they were to write of that they were merely passive scribes or instruments exercising a mere mechanical activity. The writers were obliged to use their own human industry to obtain information and they preserved their own peculiarities. What happened was this: the Holy Ghost, when using these human instruments, “so stirred and moved them by supernatural power to write—so stood them as they wrote—that their minds could rightly conceive only those thing and all those things which He Himself bade them conceive; only those tings that they could faithfully commit to writing and aptly express with unerring truth. Otherwise it could not be said the He was the Author of the entire Scripture” (Pope Leo XIII in his Encyclical Letter on the Study of Holy Scripture.)
While Catholics revere the Bible, they do not hold it as the only rule of Faith. The present books of the New Testament were not put together until long after the death of Christ and the Apostles. It was only at the end of the fourth century that the New Testament was accepted as we have it today. Many of the Apostles never wrote a single line. St. John wrote his Gospel toward the close of the first century. The Apostles taught and existed before any Gospel was written. Christ commanded them to teach and there is no evidence of and command to them to write. If the written word and not the teaching Church were to be our only guide would not Christ Himself have written what we must believe? Christ instituted a living Church and we believe what the Church believes and teaches. We hold that the teaching of Christ was never the religion of a book to be privately interpreted as each sees fit. It cannot be so when private interpretations are so varied and even contradictory. The multiplicity of sects and doctrines exists because many interpreted the Bible, and rejected entire books, according to their own fancy, and denied the living Church of Christ, to which thee are indebted for the preservation of the Bible.
Are Catholics allowed to read the Bible? Certainly, and they are urged to do so. The New Testament is especially recommended to be read. Catholics are warned, however, that translations must have the approval of Church authorities and must contain notes explaining obscure passages, lest we be led into error by ignorant private interpretations. We must rememberalso that certain passages of the Bible, especially of the Old Testament, are vividly realistic in their description of sin. They are not written for children. If the perusal of these passages would be an occasion of sin to any individual, he would be obliged by God’s Law not to read them. While Catholics are recommended to read the Bible, there is no obligation to do so in order to obtain salvation. Our guide to salvation is the living Church which preserved the Bible and interprets for us the word of God ass contained in Holy Scriptures and in Apostolic tradition given to the Church for our guidance unto salvation.
The oft-repeated assertion of non-Catholics that the Catholic Church “chained the Bible” in medieval times to prevent its being read is amusing to one who knows history. Bibles in those days were hand-lettered on parchment were exceedingly valuable. If the Church did not wish them to be read, they would not have been put into churches. They were chained to the reading-desks to prevent their being stolen by dishonest vagabonds. Even in our modern museums valuable reference books are today often “chained” for the same reason.
The Catholic Bible differs from the Protestant in the number of its books. In the Catholic Bible there are twenty0seven books in the New Testament and forty-six in the Old Testament, or forty-five if the prophet Baruch is included with Jeremias. The Protestant Authorized Version, also known as the King James Version, contains in its Old Testament only thirty-nine books instead of forty-six. The missing seven books were rejected by Luther, Calvin, and the so-called reformers, and were put in an inferior position in the Protestant Bible until about one hundred years ago when they were omitted altogether, despite the fact that they were found in every collection of Holy Scripture since the fourth century and were included in the list of inspired writings given by the Council of Hippo in Africa in the year 393. These seven missing books are Tobias, Baruch, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, First and Second Machabees, together with seven chapter of the Book of Esther and sixty-six verses of the third chapter of Daniel.
The Catholic Bible in English, known as the Douay Version, is a translation from the approved Latin Vulgate. It is superior in accuracy to the Protestant Authorized, or King James Version, though the latter is more beautiful in style and diction. The Authorized Version lacks, of course, the seven books noted above and shows here and there traces of controversial prejudice in the rendering of original texts.
~ Can You Explain Catholic Practices?” Imprimatur 1937 ~