Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Bible and Catholics, Part I: Leo XIII and Benedict XV

I’ve spent a lot of time reading books and listening to tapes and audio files from people who attempt to “expose” the (supposed) falsehoods of the Catholic religion. It’s an interesting process because many times they use the same arguments and plagiarize the same sources. Same arguments about Mary, same arguments about the saints, and oh! Don’t get them started about Catholics and the Bible. “Catholics don’t read the Bible.” “I was taught by Sister Mary Shermantank that I should never read the Bible, just use it to press my rosepetals, and let the parish priest tell me all I need to know.” “Catholics burned the Bible in the Dark Ages.” The truth is yes, for the most part Catholics don’t read the Bible. And the Catholic Church did destroy Bibles and forbade people to read them- but the Bibles that were forbidden were false translations that were meant to lead people astray. But to project what someone was taught in parochial school onto the entire Catholic Church, and say that “the Church says we shouldn’t read the Bible”, is just wrong.

The year: 1893. The Pope: Leo XIII, whose reign lasted from 1878 through 1903, one of the longest reigns in history. He had this to say in his encyclical Providentissimus Deus:

“The solicitude of the Apostolic office naturally urges, and even compels us, not only to desire that this grand source of Catholic revelation should be made safely and abundantly accessible to the flock of Jesus Christ, but also not to suffer any attempt to defile or corrupt it, either on the part of those who impiously and openly assail the Scriptures, or of those who are led astray into fallacious and imprudent novelties. We are not ignorant, indeed, Venerable Brethren, that there are not a few Catholics, men of talent and learning, who do devote themselves with ardor to the defense of the sacred writings and to making them better known and understood. But whilst giving to these the commendation they deserve, We cannot but earnestly exhort others also, from whose skill and piety and learning we have a right to expect good results, to give themselves to the same most praiseworthy work. It is Our wish and fervent desire to see an increase in the number of the approved and persevering laborers in the cause of Holy Scripture; and more especially that those whom Divine Grace has called to Holy Orders, should, day-by-day, as their state demands, display greater diligence and industry in reading, meditating, and explaining it.”
-Providentissimus Deus, paragraph 2.

“Let all, therefore, especially the novices of the ecclesiastical army, understand how deeply the sacred Books should be esteemed, and with what eagerness and reverence they should approach this great arsenal of heavenly arms. For those whose duty it is to handle Catholic doctrine before the learned or the unlearned will nowhere find more ample matter or more abundant exhortation, whether on the subject of God, the supreme Good and the all-perfect Being, or of the works which display His Glory and His love. Nowhere is there anything more full or more express on the subject of the Savior of the world than is to be found in the whole range of the Bible. As St. Jerome says, ‘To be ignorant of the Scripture is not to know Christ.’ In its pages His Image stands out, living and breathing; diffusing everywhere around consolation in trouble, encouragement to virtue and attraction to the love of God. And as to the Church, her institutions, her nature, her office, and her gifts, we find in Holy Scripture so many references and so many ready and convincing arguments, that as St. Jerome again most truly says: ‘A man who is well grounded in the testimonies of the Scripture is the bulwark of the Church.'’” (PD, Par. 3)

“Most desirable is it, and most essential, that the whole teaching of Theology should be pervaded and animated by the use of the divine Word of God. This is what the Fathers and the greatest theologians of all ages have desired and reduced to practice. It was chiefly out of the Sacred Writings that they endeavored to proclaim and establish the Articles of Faith and the truths therewith connected, and it was in them, together with divine Tradition, that they found the refutation of heretical error, and the reasonableness, the true meaning, and the mutual relation of the truths of Catholicism. Nor will any one wonder at this who considers that the Sacred Books hold such an eminent position among the sources of revelation that without their assiduous study and use, Theology cannot be placed on its true footing, or treated as its dignity demands.” (PD, Par. 16)

Interesting. In 1893 the Pope desires that people study Sacred Scripture; he encourages people to read it and meditate upon it everyday; he exhorts people to hold it in high esteem.

But wait… there’s more. Benedict XV, Pope from 1914-1922, wrote an encyclical titled Spiritus Paraclitus, in which he covers the theme of Sacred Scripture in the life of the Church, and specifically the life of St. Jerome.

(on St. Jerome) “He nourished his soul unceasingly on this most pleasant food: he explained St. Paul's Epistles; he corrected the Latin version of the Old Testament by the Greek; he translated afresh nearly all the books of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin; day by day he discussed Biblical questions with the brethren who came to him, and answered letters on Biblical questions which poured in upon him from all sides; besides all this, he was constantly refuting men who assailed Catholic doctrine and unity. Indeed, such was his love for Holy Scripture that he ceased not from writing or dictating till his hand stiffened in death and his voice was silent forever. So it was that, sparing himself neither labor nor watching nor expense, he continued to extreme old age meditating day and night beside the Crib on the Law of the Lord; of greater profit to the Catholic cause by his life and example in his solitude than if he had passed his life at Rome, the capital of the world.”-Spiritus Paraclitus,
paragraph 7

“At the outset, then, we are deeply impressed by the intense love of the Bible which St. Jerome exhibits in his whole life and teaching: both are steeped in the Spirit of God. This intense love of the Bible he was ever striving to kindle in the hearts of the faithful, and his words on this subject to the maiden Demetrias are really addressed to us all: ‘Love the Bible and wisdom will love you; love it and it will preserve you; honor it and it will embrace you; these are the jewels which you should wear on your breast and in your ears.’” (SP, par. 31)

“To return, however, to the question of the formation of Biblical students. We must lay the foundations in piety and humility of mind; only when we have done that does St. Jerome invite us to study the Bible. In the first place, he insists, in season and out, on daily reading of the text. ‘Provided,’ he says, ‘our bodies are not the slaves of sin, wisdom will come to us; but exercise your mind, feed it daily with Holy Scripture.’ And again: ‘We have got, then, to read Holy Scripture assiduously; we have got to meditate on the Law of God day and night so that, as expert money-changers, we may be able to detect false coin from true.’” (SP, par. 40)

A lot of Catholics today, even those steeped in apologetics, will say “Sure, the Bible is important- it’s read three times at Sunday Mass, and if I attend daily Mass I get two more readings a day. Catholics get more Bible than anyone else, so it doesn’t matter if we read it every day. In fact, the more you insist on Bible reading the more I think you’re steeped in Protestantism.” Then they go off on some rant about Sola Scriptura, blah, blah, blah, insult the intelligence of Protestants a few more times, and think they’re king of the apologetics mountain. Yay- very impressive. And I’m not exaggerating by much- just check out’s forums and see.

But this isn’t what Leo and Benedict were saying. It isn’t enough just to hear it at Mass. We have evidence from early in the last century that the Pope, the highest authority in the Catholic Church, is teaching people to read the Bible; read it every day, meditate on it, let it become your spiritual food. And don’t just read it but allow it to transform you.

Benedict wasn’t the last Catholic authority to encourage Catholics to crack open the family heirloom, get the birth certificates and tumbleweeds out of the way and read. But I have to give you some reason to come back, don’t I? :)


Post a Comment

<< Home