Posted 01 August 2007 - 01:01 AM
The Catholic Church and the Bible
If you do not know your Bible well, you will not lack respectable company. The majority of members of most churches do not regularly read their Bibles either. But then, in many of these churches the Bible is no longer treated with the respect which used to be shown to it. Even bishops of such churches can be found who do not admit that God would speak to men by a miracle, or work any miracle at all. It is possible to be a worshipper in one of those churches, and still think that much that is in the Bible does not come from God.
This was formerly not the case with your church. Then your Bible differed a little from the ones accepted in non-Catholic churches*, but for our immediate purpose that difference can be left out of account. For it was the teaching of the First Vatican Council in 1869 that “the Bible is held as sacred and canonical, not because approved by the Church’s authority, but because written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, having God for Author, and delivered as such to the Church herself”.
This is a perfectly splendid declaration. For not only does it recognize the authority of the Scriptures, but it tells us that they have this authority because God gave it to them, and not because the Church says so. The Bible is the Word of God in its own right, and as such is worthy of all the attention that we can give to it. As Peter puts it: “It was never man’s impulse, after all, that gave us prophecy; men gave it utterance, but they were men whom God had sanctified, carried away, as they spoke, by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). or in the words of Paul: “Everything in the scripture has been divinely inspired, and has its uses; to instruct us, to expose our errors, to correct our faults, to educate us in holy living.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
Everything is divinely inspired—to instruct us and expose our errors. That is an excellent reason why the Bible should be our guide, and why we should refuse to leave the reading of it in the hands of others. It is to this Book that we must go if we would do as Peter asks us, and, “if anyone asks you to give an account of the hope which you cherish, be ready at all times to answer for it, but courteously and with due reverence” (1 Peter 3:15-16). Unhappily there are signs that the modernism which long ago invaded Protestantism is making itself increasingly felt in the Catholic Church too. Yet the increasing liberty among Catholics is not without some gains, for there is apparently no longer any discouragement against your reading the Bible for yourself. There used to be restrictions which almost prevented the circulation of the Bible amongst Catholics in the common tongue, and, rightly or wrongly, many Catholic laymen were under the impression that it was wrong for them to read the Bible for themselves. But the preface to some approved translations now indicates that “indulgences” are to be obtained as a reward for Bible-reading. So we may freely look at the Book together and see what it teaches. (It has been the long-standing practice of members of my community to read the Bible daily in such a way that the Old Testament is read through in a year, and the New Testament twice in the same period. We have a booklet of tables called The Bible Companion to help our memories, and it is available free from the publishers.)
Now you have a difficulty which-does not affect us in the same way. For in addition to believing in an inspired Bible, you also believe in an inspired Church. If your Church speaks authoritatively on matters of faith and morals you are under duty to accept her voice; and if your Pope speaks ex cathedra on the same topics he was declared at the First Vatican Council to be beyond the reach of error. It is awkward for you in such circumstances to look at the Bible without wondering what the Church has to say about its message: and this could very easily lead to the Bible not being given a fair hearing. For it would be impossible to discuss reasonably together if you were to be tempted to say, “I know that the Bible is the Word of God, but I may only know what it means when the Church has interpreted it for me”. This would not really be accepting the Bible at all, would it? And, since we are about to discuss whether the Bible does, or does not, support what the Catholic Church teaches, it would be making your Church judge in its own cause if we had to ask the Church what the Book meant.
This is not how the Bible asks to be used. It is “divinely inspired, able to instruct”, as we have read. When Paul set about his preaching, the best among his hearers “welcomed the word with all eagerness, and examined the scriptures, day after day, to find out whether all this was true; so that many of them learned to believe”. (Acts 17:11-12). This could not be bettered today. Whether we have been taught rightly or wrongly, to “search the scriptures day after day” is the surest way of coming to a true faith, and of making that faith securely our own.
In this spirit, then, let us consult the Bible on some of the really important teachings of the Catholic Church, and see whether the two agree together.
* The Catholic Bible contains some part of the Apocrypha, books not found in the Hebrew Bible, but present in the Greek Old Testament. These books, or additions to other books, are not recognized by Jews or non-Catholics, and do not appear to have been recognized by our Lord.