Something That's Been Bothering Me


So every now and then I’ll here a Catholic mention that before Vatican 2 we weren’t supposed to read the Bible. What seems odd about this is that in the Baltimore Catechism it tells the students to read scripture passages. So which is it? Was there ever a time where reading the Bible was discouraged?


The only time that reading the Bible should be discouraged is if you use it to draw out teachings that are against the teachings of the Catholic Church. You cannot read the Bible without a framework, and if you do you will probably end up a heretic, there are so many historical proofs of this. Sola Scriptura is really just Sola Me.

Reading the Bible within the framework is to be encouraged. There is nothing in the Bible doctrinally that Catholics should be afraid of.

Having said that, I have listened to protestants in my circles drawing out some really bizarre interpretations of what the Bible says. In my mind, I think to myself “I would discourage you from reading the Bible and get yourself a good theology teacher instead.”, but what I say instead is “interesting”, because noone really wants to hear those words that were running through my head.


Daryl’s correct.

You might point out to thatperson that all the pre-Vatican II Catholic translations contained an indulgence for reading it. If the church didn’t want us reading it why would they do something like that that encourages it?

There were even encyclicals that covered it.
Providentissimus Deus (On the Study of Holy Scripture) November 18, 1893
Divino Afflante Spiritu (On Sacred Scripture) September 30, 1943

So your guy is dead wrong.


I forgot about the indulgence. It makes me wonder where these beliefs came from? I’d have thought Catholics would know this stuff. Especially if they grew up in that time period.


Rumors and gossip, combined with ignorance and bigotry cause this falsehood to be perpetuated. James Cardinal Gibbons covered the value of reading the scriptures in his seminal book The Faith of Our Fathers, first published in 1876.

And, excerpted from the introduction to the 1914 Douay-Rheims bible:

“At a time when a vast number of bad books, which most grossly attack the Catholic religion, are circulated, even among the unlearned, to the great destruction of souls, you judge exceedingly well that the faithful should be excited to the reading of the Holy Scriptures: for these are the most abundant sources which ought to be left open to every one, to draw from them the purity of morals and of doctrine, to eradicate the errors which are widely disseminated in these corrupt times…”

Pope Pius VI
via Philip Buonamici, Latin Secretary

April, 1778!

As always, ignorance and lies flash like lightning, while the truth plods along slowly.


When I was an EMT, I ran a call with another EMT, from another agency, who had grown up Catholic, but had converted to Baptist and was studying at Liberty University. It was a long drive and on the way back, we got to talking about religion. He told me he used to sneak and read the Bible on a stand in the hall of his parents’ home. He said the they believed that the Bible should only be handled by blessed hands ( Not sure of the exact wording.) What he meant was that only a priest should open the Bible. I have always wondered about this story, since he was an over-the-top Baptist and had originally told me he was raised in a non-religious family.


Sadly, there may have been some truth in that story.

The problem was that people looked at scripture as something that only priests were qualified to understand…so while they revered the Word of God, they did not read it for themselves.

This is one of the biggest changes in Catholicism in the past 50 years or so…people are encouraged to read the Bible for themselves.

Now, the challenge will be the problems resulting from the multiplicity of interpretations. But then, as a Protestant, you know all about that!



There is (or at least can be) a very wide gap between what is officially taught / believed and what everyday ordinary Catholics understood was taught / believed.

Nuns and priests were not (nor are they now) perfect. And not everything taught to a child is understood in the way it was intended.

Take those facts and mix in the lack of readily available information flow (no internet, no google, heck - no local Catholic newspaper), and you end up with personal ideas getting mixed into official teaching. You have what are merely suggestions, or preferences being restated as doctrine. You have actual teachings being expanded to mean things they were never meant to cover.

Thus - yes, some Catholics were taught (or believed they were taught) not to read the Bible. (From my upbringing and speaking with others of my parents generation - It was an extremely holy book and must only be touched with the greatest reverence and care - and certainly not something you’d sit down and read while sipping a cup of coffee. And because, of course, there are all types of writing in the Bible - it is best for only those fully educated to read it out of fear of misinterpreting it. Besides - Protestants are the ones always reading and quoting the Bible - Catholics don’t do that - we have the sacraments.)

And like I indicated above this is not limited to just the Bible. From all non-Catholics going to hell, to all babies who are not baptized being in Limbo, there are a variety of topics that I have found to be somewhat different in the catechism (old and new versions) than what I was “taught” around the dinner table or by some of the elderly nuns in my grade school. I’m not saying they were wrong or insincere - I believe they were trying to teach me what they felt they had been taught as truth.

Just glad I live in a time where Catholic teaching and documents can be readily researched and discussed. Some of what they came up with really use to drive me crazy :wink:



Not all of us paid attention in our religion classes. :blush:


The Catholic Church wanted a hiearchy over the people so they could control them and extract money from them through the selling of indulgences which is no where in the n.t…so they mandated that the unwashed masses were not allowed to read the bible which contradicted their teachings.


Uhh, that’s already been proven false in this thread. First of all, a Pope placed an indulgence on reading scripture, in the 18 hundreds. This is encouraging the laity to read the Bible. Also, the Baltimore Catechism has the kids read scripture passages related to the lesson. Again the Church is encouraging the reading of scripture. And in this case to elementary and middle school aged kids.

In addition, I should note that the Catholic Church never approved of the selling of indulgences. That was an abuse and the Church was taking Martin Luther seriously when that was his main problem. It wasn’t until after he started teaching sola fide and sola scriptura that the Church began taking issue with him.

Lastly, I recommend that you study Catholicism, from Catholic sources, before saying our beliefs contradict the Bible.


A bit like democracy. :wink: People support some idiot candidates sometimes. We had better take the vote off them.


The Kingdom of God is not a democracy.


Good to hear from you, Randy. One of my Catholic son-in-law’s nicknames for me is Heretic. One of the things most Protestants do not appreciate in Catholic teaching about reading the Bible is that there is a place for private understanding, but that it is counterbalanced by Sacred Tradition and Magisterium. The God and Me style of reading has no such balance at all. I have had a number of very frustrating talks with folk who inject “My Bible tells me…”


Still today, I occasionally have Catholic students who tell me they are not “officially” allowed to read the Bible outside of hearing it at Mass. (They think they’re being all subversive by taking a college class on the Bible.) I gently question them on this if/when it comes up, but I don’t really think it’s my place to be the spokesperson for official Catholic teaching at a secular institution. My preference would be if other Catholic students in the class would offer the corrective, but that never seems to happen either.

I’ve asked about this before here at CAF and I haven’t gotten any solid answers as to where this is coming from. Maybe someone will chime in who knows.

This doesn’t happen a lot, but it does come up.


Yes, the Church explicitly exhorts the faithful to read the Bible:

“The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8). “For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” [St. Jerome] Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids which, in our time, with approval and active support of the shepherds of the Church, are commendably spread everywhere.” Dei Verbum, 1965]

My impression is that the average Catholic who does pick up the Bible finds it difficult- and puts it back down. This is true for anyone at first, but other Christian churches have more institutional support to get their members comfortable with Scripture reading.

In my catechism class, this upcoming year will be my third in which the only book we use in class is the Bible. In doing so I hope to get the kids acclimated to Scripture, and have them learn their Catholic faith from it. Then when they do pick it up later, instead of being put off, they’ll find it friendly and familiar.


Which is another way of making themselves the infallible interpreter of scripture…the very thing they would reject about Catholicism! :wink:


I don’t think reading the Bible has ever been discouraged among laity by the CC. However, I believe what has been discouraged is the private interpretation of scripture: we all know those people who’ve tried to predict the return of Jesus only to get it wrong every time, for example. We need to have scriptural interpretation in light of the Tradition and the Magisterium, ie with the help of the Church. It’s why Jesus is the Head of the Church and gave us one in the first place.

The Ethiopian eunuch needed such help when he was trying to read the book of Isaiah. When asked by Philip, “do you understand what you read reading?” The Ethiopian eunuch replied, “How can I understand unless I have a teacher to teach me?” Thus Philip helped explain the text to the eunuch.

So, how would the eunuch know to interpret Isaiah if he didn’t understand what he was reading?

The Douay Rheims-Challoner Bible I have from the early 1950’s (pre-V2) has an introduction by Pope Pius XII regarding promoting sacred scripture reading among all, including the laity. A book called “Introduction to the Bible” by Fr. John Laux-printed in the 1930’s originally-written for those Catholics who were having trouble reading the Bible.

“There is only one effectual means of meeting the wishes of the Sovereign Pontiffs: the reading and study of the Bible must form a part of the Religion Course in our whole educational system from the grades to the college to the university.” -Fr. John Laux (Introduction to the Bible, pg.vii)

Obviously today, personal reading of the Scriptures is encouraged by the Church. My Confirmation classes primarily used the Bible (NAB); each student was given a Bible by the parish and scripture readings were heavily discussed. Of course, not all students were “there” or interested for that matter. The Bible is a huge book that is actually a series of books written over thousands of years; it can scare people off if they don’t know where to start. Some people try to start doing heavy scripture reading when taking their first dive and they immediately become bored realizing that the Bible is not their “normal” piece of literature. The Church has been doing all that it can to promote private scripture reading but if you have people who aren’t interested to begin with, who knows.


Catholics were always supposed to read the Bible, because it is the Word of God.

Unfortunately, it seems that before Vatican II some people were told that they shouldn’t read the Bible so that they didn’t turn to Protestant errors. It’s a horribly defensive stance that has never had any basis with the Magisterium, but that seems to be the impression people got.


I know what you mean. I hear every now and then that “the Lord told me …”. It makes me wonder if they mean they had direct communication with God or they just came away with some thoughts.

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