The Bible, in the Pre-Vatican II era


Today I’ve finally got my English-Latin Douay-Rheims Bible (see here: that I ordered from Amazon. I’ve been wondering about Bible-reading in the pre-Vatican II era. There is a common myth that, the pre-Vatican II ere discouraged the lay from reading the Bible, I’ve heard it a lot at my liberal RCIA class.

However, don’t believe that the pre-Vatican II 50s was a golden age of Catholicism. I believe that the abuses that Vatican II brought in, were self-inflicted, by problems stemming from the pre-Vatican II era. So I want to know, how common was Bible-reading in the pre-Vatican II era? Were there any issues or controversies with Sacred Scripture, in the pre-Vatican II era?

Glory to God
Hail Mary!



In 1943 Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical letter, Divino afflante Spiritu, which encouraged Roman Catholics to translate the Scriptures from the Hebrew and Greek texts, rather than from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. As a result, a number of Dominicans and other scholars at the École Biblique in Jerusalem translated the scriptures into French. The product of these efforts was published as La Bible de Jérusalem in 1956.

Your question is a bit interesting, as biblical scholarship goes back before Pope Pius XII. However, there was a gap between what scholars were doing and what was happening “in the pew”. It was not in the least unusual for people to have a “home” bible. And it was not so much that people were discouraged from studying the Bible, as much as it was simply not a matter of focus.

That is not to say that people may not have been warned from trying to interpret the Bible (which is a bit different from not reading it) as the focus of many who knew their faith was still focused backward as seeing the Protestants as “heretics” and “wrong”, rather than seeing what we shared in common with the Protestants. And as a note, the Church does not consider the vast majority of Protestants as “heretics”, although heir founders may have been.

Keep in mind also that while there were lay theologians prior to Vatican 2, there were not many spread around, and there was far less information coming from the ones who existed; information directed to the “pew sitters” was little and far in between, Since Vatican 2, there have been many more individuals who have earned Masters and PhDs in Theology, and in particular, Scriptural Theology, and so there is a far greater amount of information directed to the laity, both in studies in themselves, and in programs for studying the Bible in groups. And that at least in part can be from the leadership which Pius XII and subsequent Popes have given us, as well as the documents of Vatican 2.

So the Jerusalem Bible, which came out first in French in 1956, arrived in the English speaking world in 1966, amid an almost explosive interest in Scripture, and Scripture scholarship.

The link in post #2 is worth reading (although a bit long). Also, one of the aspects of the Jerusalem Bible was the extensive footnotes, which helped readers to see interconnects which were simply unknown to readers prior to its publication.


When I was a child we had a Catholic bible that was dated 1862.


That is a beautiful Bible!


There was as much Bible reading among Catholic in the 1950s as there is now. Maybe more. Remember more Catholics were going to daily Mass, where they would get a lot of scripture. Devotional books were common also, which had some scripture. It was natural for some people to follow up on an interesting Mass reading.

Most families had a family bible. Some read it, some not. In my grammar school we read the Acts of the Apostles in 8th grade. The bible was not carried around in church, lifted up, etc. But read by some laity. Huge numbers of youth were considering seminary or religious life, and they, especially, would read the Bible, daily readings, etc, even if they remained laity.

There was more caution about the risk of misinterpretation of scripture - taking things out of context, or following some bizarre tangent.

In the last few decades we have seen people use the bible to justify snake handling, preparing for the comet to carry everybody off, or 1000 contradictory and ludicrous meanings. So the warnings against taking the bible out of context were justified. Are Catholics today actually **reading **the bible much? Or just applauding the bible?

Note the words I bolded in your post.


Yes. When I married my late husband, the Jerusalem Bible was the wedding gift that all of my huge extended family ooo-ed and ahhhh-ed over. It was very much encouraged to read it, and not just have it looking pretty on the shelf.


St. Jerome said “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of God.”
Keep in mind that before the invention of the printing press, books were expensive. Only the rich had books. This is where the misconception spread by non-Catholics comes that Catholics were discouraged from reading scripture.
St. John of the Cross puts it plainly. The priest reads the words of Scripture, and then the people read the priest. The priest was responsible for proclaiming the gospel message from the pulpit. Again, because of general illiteracy, stained glass windows developed as a way to portray and teach the Gospel.
As people learned to read, it was important that authentic Biblical translations be made available. The Douay-Rheims was accepted as the most authentic and the one that Catholics kept in their homes for personal reading and study.
You may hear much about the Baltimore Catechism being used prior to Vatican II. It was designed for the large number of Catholic immigrants coming to America. Fourth grade level catechism did not use the Baltimore Catechism. Instead we were given a brown book of Bible stories to study. I had my own Catholic children’s Bible that my parents had given me. We had several copies of the Douay-Rheims.
I often picked copies of books about saints to read. These were available in the vestibule of the military chapel.



There are several layers to this myth which is based on reality:

  • Way back when, before the printing press, it was a costly endeavor to copy the Bible–these expensive texts were not easily accessible to the masses

  • Way back when, before there was general literacy, the masses were generally illiterate; even most monarchs did not engage in learning to read and write–such was the mind of the days

  • Way back when, right at the Church’s Inception, people began to take liberties and follow their own hearts and thirst for power–dissension is seen right from the New Testament Writings

  • The Church has always Taught about maintaining orthodoxy and order–she warns against personal interpretation of Scriptures (again, right from NT Writings)

  • Way back when, some experimented and brought forth heresy

  • Way back when, Luther created chaos through self-authoritative interpretation

  • The Church continued to warn and protect against personal interpretation

  • The printing press came about and with the blessing of Luther and others man began to revel in personal interpretation–today we have thousands of “true” churches that teach their members that they have a right to personal interpretation… the count continues to build as the Body of Christ suffers one splinter after the next after the next after the next…

  • Today, the Catholic Church still Teaches against personal interpretation of Scriptures and most Catholics are content with reading/studying and interpreting Scriptures within the boundaries of the Body of Christ: the Church.

Maran atha!



Hi, Clare!

…what the Bible going past the Décor stage?

…who would’ve thunk it?

…My Mom bought several Bibles as soon as they reach our local San Vicente de Paul parish… she, as poor as we were, bought them to make them available to families that were less fortunate than ours… I’m glad to report that Mom was not fined or chastised for making the Bible available to Catholics! :p:p:p

…the Bible version was that of the Spanish Translation of La Bible de Jérusalem.

Maran atha!



I know about the Bible being costly to make, before the printing press, I actually brought that up at my liberal RCIA class. I speaking specifically about, the post-printing press era, particularly the 50s. It sounds to me like the myth originated, mostly from a misunderstanding about the Hierarchy’s warning against personal interpretations and the complacency of the pre-Vatican II lay.

Glory to God
Hail Mary!



…the Church did Teach about the follies of personal interpretation; Protestantism is a clear example of the wrongness of it; however, Protestants have runaway with the anti-Catholic myths and propagandas for so long that even Catholics have come to believe in what never existed…

Interestingly enough, some Catholics are closet protestants as they have fought the Church’s Teachings in the privacy of their own lives… today, emboldened by the liberties exercised in the culture, even religious Catholics have stood in challenge of Church Authority… these are the ones who foment dissension and who procure self-authority (as it happened with the corruption of Vatican II).

Again, pre-Vatican and post-Vatican Church Teaching has not kept the Bible from being read.

Maran atha!



This is a common myth often promoted by dissenting Catholics.
It is easily proven false.
See pictures below at
Catholic Church and the Bible

Especially see pictures in
MYTH #3 1884 Catholic Bible

My father learned the stories of the Bible before he learned how to read.

The pictures above from the 1884 Bible are from the Bible that my grandfather used to teach my father the stories of the Bible by explaining the pictures and their meaning while my father sat in my grandfather’s lap. My father was born in AD 1918.

They were just faithfully following the teachings of the Popes.
The Catholic Church: On Reading The Bible




Hi, John!

Excellent testimony!

There’s no escaping such wonderful family gathering around the Catholic Bible!

Thanks for the links as well!

Maran atha!



One of the things I have found interesting about the protestant regard for Scripture and the Catholic regard for Scripture is this.

The protestant pastor will stand up read a passage from the Bible, and the protestant will look it up in the 10 seconds provided by the pastor, book chapter and verse, and then read along themselves with their eyes, the very same thing they are hearing with their ears. Why? Do they believe their pastor might be lying, that they have to read it with their own eyes before they will believe it?

The Catholic position is to however listen with their ears, and then say Thanks be to God, or Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


Hi, Darryl!

…it’s my understanding (personal belief) that that practice originated from the protestant view that the Church was keeping the Bible from the people; there may have been a different origin, but I believe that, as with other of their practices, they wanted to demonstrate that unlike Catholics “they” had the freedom to read (interpret) Scriptures… though it does infers mistrust… yet, most importantly, it is not Apostolic Teaching because: 1) for several decades after Jesus’ Ascension there were no New Testament Writings, and 2) even Scriptures (NT) demonstrate that the Epistles were Written for the Church and shared (read) out loud for the congregations–there’s no indication that the Epistles were mass-produced and distributed amongst the Believers or given to new converts as introductory tool.

Maran atha!



Peace be with you jcrichton,
your comment is sort of related, to my plans for the fall of this year. In the fall, I plan on doing a Sola Scriptura debate with Protestants, and your comment is part of my main argument against Sola Scriptura, manly that the Bible isn’t a Catechetical book, and that the audience of the Bible is expected to already know the basics of the Faith.

I was wondering if you, or anyone else here, could provide me with more resources on, and arguments against Sola Scriptura? I already know, most of the basics.

Glory to God
Hail Mary!


Hi, Yehoiakhin!

I’m not an avid reader but I understand that Father Mitch Pacwa, EWTN, has several books out… I’ve also heard referencing Scott Hahn, and Marcus Grodi, the Journey Home, EWTN, as having some good books.

I can help you through Bible research if you have specific passages that you need to find, and you can also PM me with specific arguments or thought and I can do my best to help you organize them.

…and, if you are not familiar with internet research, I can assist you in hunting down specific information.

May the Holy Spirit expand your horizons and fill your mind and heart with joy, hope and love so that your efforts may flourish and yield a great harvest!

Maran atha!



Thank you jcrichton. We should keep in touch.

Glory to God
Hail Mary!


Get a copy of Pat Mahohan;s Where is [Ihat] in the Bible ?
He begins with a simple six word sentence and shows how simply changing the emphasis on a single word can change the whole meaning of the sentence.
He recommends when using the Revised Standard Version when engaging in dialogue with non-Catholics. It is the most universally accepted translation.

Both Chesterton and Newman point to the fact that the devil is never mentioned as being in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were tempted by the snake. Nowhere is it written that the snake was Satan nor that the fruit was an apple.

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