Why Catholics Don’t Read the Bible

A few years ago I wrote a book that was very pessimistic about the future of the Church in the United States. American Catholicism is a religion, I argued, in a state of probably irreversible decline. It is on the road, not to total disappearance exactly, but to a reduced state in which it will have no more than a small impact on American society and culture. Since writing the book, I have often wondered if I had been too pessimistic. I hope so. Even while writing I hoped I was wrong. Indeed, I hoped that my pessimistic prognosis might serve in a small way as a wake-up call and might therefore help to reverse the Church’s decline.
But when, rambling through the Internet recently, I stumbled on a Rasmussen poll that had to do with Bible-reading in the United States, I couldn’t help but feel that my pessimism is well grounded.
According to the poll, 25 percent of Evangelical Protestants read the Bible daily, as do 20 percent of other Protestants, while daily Bible-reading is done by only 7 percent of Catholics. Now this result didn’t bother me very much, since one can be very familiar with, and very greatly influenced by, a book without reading it on a daily basis. I myself don’t read the Bible daily; nor do I give a daily reading to Plato or Shakespeare; and it’s years since I read Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy. Yet I know that all these writing have had a strong influence on the way I look at life and the world.
Far more disturbing was the poll result that showed that 44 percent of Catholics “rarely or never” read the Bible, while this is true of only 7 percent of Evangelicals and 13 percent of non-Evangelical Protestants. The level of religious vitality must be very low in a Christian church in which 44 percent of the membership almost never bothers to read the Bible.
Of course, there is an old tradition among lay Catholics of not reading the Bible. Prior to the Protestant Reformation, this non-reading was a natural byproduct of the fact that the vast majority of lay Catholics were illiterate. Besides, such Bibles as were available were written in Latin, not the vernacular languages. And then, once the Reformation took place, Bible-reading took on the color of being a distinctively Protestant thing, therefore something faithful Catholics should avoid. Protestants, after all, appealed to the authority of the Bible to challenge the authority of the pope and the bishops, and when they read the Bible they came to certain theological conclusions that conflicted with Catholic doctrine. Reading the Bible was dangerous for Catholics.
In the long period from the Council of Trent to Vatican II, a period of approximately four centuries, the Catholic Church adopted a highly defensive mode of being. There were two great intellectual dangers to the Faith — first the Protestant danger and then the secularist danger that stemmed from the Enlightenment. The Index of Prohibited Books was created to defend Catholics against these dangers. Of course, it was impossible to put the Bible on the Index, since the Bible, according to Catholic teaching, was the inspired Word of God. But if the Bible couldn’t be banned, at least Catholics could be effectively discouraged from reading it. There were several ways of doing this:
  • A strong emphasis on Natural Religion had the effect of depreciating the value of Revelation generally.
  • A strong emphasis on Tradition as a second source of Divine Revelation had the effect of depreciating the value of the Bible.
  • Secondhand narrations of biblical stories, instead of moving Catholics to consult the original sources (the Bible itself), more often gave them the impression that it was not necessary to examine the Bible.
  • Catholics were told that they must not read Protestant translations of the Bible (e.g., the Authorized Version); if they insisted on reading the Bible, they must read properly annotated Catholic translations.
  • Some gentle ridicule directed at the Biblicism of our “separated brethren” taught Catholics to shy away from the Bible.
  • In general, Catholics were seldom seriously encouraged by their priests and nuns to search the Scriptures.
All this changed, officially at least, at Vatican II, which dropped the Church’s 400-year-old “defensive mode of being.” Lay Catholics were now at long last given the green light to read the Bible; indeed, they were encouraged to read it. Yet today, nearly a half-century later, 44 percent of American Catholics “rarely or never” read the Bible, and only 7 percent read it on a daily basis. How can this be?
Part of the answer, of course, is inertia. Four centuries of a certain policy cannot be changed immediately overnight — any more than an aircraft carrier at sea can make a turn of 180 degrees on a dime. Another part of the answer is the sacramentalism of the Catholic Church: To save your soul, it is more important to participate in the sacraments than to read the Bible. But a third part of the answer is, alas, that the leadership of the Church (I mean its bishops and priests) have not stressed the importance of Bible-reading for shaping the Christian mind and heart.
The leadership of the Church in the United States has been guilty of many failures in recent times — the sex-abuse scandal, a failure to resist the sexual revolution, a failure to mobilize Catholics effectively as an anti-abortion cultural force. Add to these failures the failure to persuade Catholics to become a Bible-reading people.


David R. Carlin Jr. is a politician and sociologist who served as a Democratic majority leader of the Rhode Island Senate. His books include "Can a Catholic Be a Democrat?: How the Party I Loved Became the Enemy of My Religion" and "The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America." Carlin is a current professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island at Newport.

  • Ben
  • Criffton

    Another possibility is that the Catholic Church has a large supply of devotional literature, i.e. Thomas a Kempis, Augustine, various saints, etc. So the spiritual reading of my Evangelical roommate is Scripture, while I read various spiritual writers, theology, and some of the Divine Office (which I generally consider more liturgical that straight up scripture reading).

    This doesn’t free us from the need to be more permeated by Scripture, but that there may be mitigating factors.

  • Ben
  • Jessica

    Catholics encounter Scripture in many different ways, not just by picking up “The Scriptures” and reading through it.

  • Jessica

    And yes, the Church had various cautions about lay reading of the Bible. But this one, “A strong emphasis on Tradition as a second source of Divine Revelation had the effect of depreciating the value of the Bible” is simply wrong. Take a look at a pre-Reformation Bible and at Gutenberg’s Bible (Protestant). Notice the difference. One has Biblical passages surrounded by commentary (i.e., Church Tradition), whereas the other lays Scripture bare, with no explanatory notes. Why was this so?

    Because, to put it simply, the Catholic reading of Scripture IS governed by Tradition. It’s not just a matter of taking any “insight” you can come up with from Scripture. Even lectio divina works only in the context of the Church and her Tradition. If you don’t believe me, check with Benedict XVI.

    As to popular reading of the Scriptures generally, this, too, is overstated. There may be portraits of pious burghers reading the Bible painted by Rembrandt or Franz Hals, but the fact that they could afford a portrait should tell you that they weren’t the “common people,” who were just as illiterate as ever.

    The author’s point that: “To save your soul, it is more important to participate in the sacraments than to read the Bible” is, again, simply wrong. Does it not occur to you that participation in the Mass, yes, even the old Mass, was a conduit of Scripture for believers? Scripture is intrinsically part of the Mass and always has been. The dismissal of the sacramental life is a serious error on your part.

  • Joe H

    We don’t read the Bible? Really?

    This is where I get a little confused. Every Sunday, we read the Bible – we read the Epistle and the Gospel. A Catholic who goes to Mass every day, reads or hears Scripture every day.

    So I wonder, are these 44% “Catholics” the same ones who also never go to Mass? Or, did they just for some reason think that reading Scripture in Mass somehow “doesn’t count” – that it only counts if you’re reading it at home or in a Bible class?

    When I was in Catholic high school the Bible was a required textbook all four years. I’m pretty sure we read it in grade school too.

    Yes, Protestants may read their Bibles more often, but what good has it done them? They clearly don’t understand it. No one who did could deny the legitimacy of the Church, the True Presence, the authority of tradition, even the existence of Purgatory, etc. It is clear that during these daily or weekly Protestant Bible readings they are conveniently ignoring all that in the Bible which undermines their worldview. They threw out whole books of the Bible they didn’t like. And they forgot who put the Bible together in the first place.

    So no Protestant is going to tell me that he is closer to God because he picks a Bible more often. Without understanding, reading is useless, worthless, and potentially harmful.

  • David

    At least if we aren

  • Ann

    Huh? I went to Catholic school and carried a Bible back and forth every day. And yes we read it.

    And what about the Liturgy of the Word, and the whole three-year cycle and all of that? Does that not count as reading the Bible?

    Perhaps we don’t sit alone in our pajamas and make up whatever we want while we read the Bible and start our own churches that say whatever they want. That could be true.

  • Will

    Catholics may not read the Bible, but when I channel surf and see some “Televangelist” waving his Bible and begging for money, money, money, to further his “electronic church” I question where in the Bible he found justification for this?
    “Jesus wants you to send money to me” and other such nonsense.
    When I hear these buffoons and their literal interpretations, such as that “The earth is only 6,000 years old according to the Bible”, I am thankful that the Catholic Church, in spite of our many, many problems, at least does not interpret the Bible literally. We link faith and reason, and while we have our faults, at least we do not have greedy fools like Jimmy Swaggert waving their bibles and begging for money.

  • Mac in Alberta

    If seven percent of Catholics read the Bible daily and 44 percent rarely or never, it proves little.
    David Carlin says of the discouragement of Bible-reading:

    . . . . All this changed, officially at least, at Vatican II, which dropped the Church’s 400-year-old “defensive mode of being.” Lay Catholics were now at long last given the green light to read the Bible; . . .

    But how many read the Bible daily or rarely-to-never in say, 1960? If the figures are 3.5 percent and 88 percent, then Bible reading among Catholics has doubled. If they are 14 percent and 22 percent, then it has dropped by half.
    And as “Confused” points out, just reading the Bible is not going to do the trick.
    Reading it with the heart and mind of the Church is important, which is why we have all those footnotes in our Bibles, and why our guaranteed exposure to Scripture is in the Mass, the greatest prayer ever.

  • Thaddeus

    I’ve tried to put together a website for this very problem…


    One would also be well advised to get Jeff Cavins “The Great Adventure” Bible series.

  • Dan Deeny

    Mr. Carlin has written a very interesting article and the contributions from readers are also interesting.The fading away of Catholicism in America? What about Vice-President Joe Biden? He is a practicing Catholic who supports a woman’s right to choose. Does he find support for this in the Bible? What about the many Catholics who voted for the Obama-Biden ticket? They say they found support for their action in Church teaching. Are they right? What about the closing of Catholic schools? Is this done because people read the Bible? In her story “Death Comes to the Archbishop”, Willa Cather describes a French priest’s efforts to rebuild the Church in the Southwest. It is an excellent and very moving story.

  • R.C.

    Coming from a Protestant upbringing, I really can’t easily comment without sounding like a Johnny-come-lately; and if I say anything which agrees overmuch with David Carlin’s piece, I fear I’ll sound like an ingrate bashing the cradle Catholics.

    But here goes, anyway…!

    1. While the Scripture readings in the Mass are useful, they may sink into the consciousness of the listener rather too slowly. How many lifetimes must a person live, of regular Mass attendance, before merely hearing the readings will produce memorization of them? We see the saints, when they were educated and often even when they weren’t, able to recall scripture from memory, after all.

    2. And how many lifetimes of listening at Mass would it take to produce the kind of “ownership” and “personal adoption” and ardent emulation of particular passages and promises which we see in the lives of the saints? They find wealth and riches in obscure passages. When we have heard a reading at Mass, for how many days (hours?) later do we recall even the gist of that reading?

    Now, the person who studies a Scripture passage outside Mass can ponder the passage in a way which is unavailable to the person hearing the same passage read to him at Mass. He can read it aloud, he can write out notes about it — whatever suits his learning style — and thereby write it more firmly into his memory. When there are promises contained therein, he can immediately take a minute or two to thank Our Lord for them. He can adopt a passage as his “verse of the week” (or whatever time period). And there are always commentaries and notes and cross-references and word-studies and so on. For certain kinds of Scripture, such as the Psalms, there is praying them aloud, perhaps even in chant (or, one’s loose approximation thereof).

    This kind of Scripture-reading is relatively common to serious Protestants, and even the non-serious ones are aware of it, should they ever try to become serious.

    Even in conjunction with the Protestant tradition, it produces godly behavior. (Liberal Protestants are among the last to do it; but the Evangelical Protestants who stand beside you in the March for Life or the soup kitchen are the ones who do it most often.) If it were done in conjunction with the Catholic tradition, what else could result but formation of the saints of God?

    And that is what we’re all, uniformly, supposed to be. (If you haven’t recently taken practical steps — haven’t asked for and cooperated with the grace of God — to become a saint, you’re likely slacking off. And how many years have you left, to become saintly, anyhow?)

    So while I am sympathetic to the argument “but look: the Mass is nearly all Scripture!” I note there is generally more to the role of Scripture in the life of a saint than that. I note that our role models are, early in life, conversant with Scripture in a way which cannot be achieved by Mass attendance alone. I see it more closely achieved — the Scripture aspect, I mean; I’m not talking about saintliness generally! — among Protestants in general than Catholics in general. I see personal habits towards Scripture which mirror those of the Catholic saints, and are yet harder to find among Catholic laity.

    And so I conclude that David’s piece is correct as a generality, despite the counterarguments arrayed by earlier responders.



  • Jeff

    When I think of Bible Christians, I think of what an easy target they have made of Christianity.

    Modern militant atheists use young earth creationists (bible readers) to show that all Christianity is nonsense, on the grounds that it conflicts with science,

    Our children are being eaten alive in college because of this. They have no idea how to respond.

    I think the idea of making everyone an equal authority on the Bible was the worst thing that could have happened to Christianity. That’s what the reformation did.

    And as others have said here, the legitimate, rich expressions of scripture in the liturgy, the stations of the cross, etc. are invisible because they are not “biblical.”

    I have always liked Hilaire Belloc’s term “bibliolatry.”

  • R.C.

    …two things:

    1. I honestly acknowledge that I’m a bit of a hypocrite in this area, studying the Bible for only a half-hour or so, not “per day,” but perhaps only two or three times a week. So much for the head-start on this practice which my Protestant upbringing could perhaps have provided! So, what we have here is yet ANOTHER instance of “do as I say, not as I do.”

    2. I relate this topic to the formation of saints because that’s what God is doing in us; it’s what we’re supposed to be cooperating with Him doing. But when I posed the question of whether you, reader, were cooperating with God in that fashion, I didn’t mean exclusively whether you were cooperating through Scripture study. That is a mode of spiritual maturation and conscience formation. I of course acknowledge it isn’t the only one.

    3. Yet it is certainly a prominent one, among the saints.

    4. Having said that, I admit there are some saints who were illiterate, and could not follow this practice except by hearing the Scriptures at Mass or elsewhere.

    Those of you who’re reading this note, and who are illiterate, may consider yourselves excused on that account.


  • R.C.

    Keep in mind, please, that the vast majority of serious evangelicals are as immune to those televangelists as you are.

    These folks — the bad televangelists, I mean; I’m not suggesting that every video-recorded sermon in history is the work of a charlatan! — prey quite effectively on those who know comparatively little Scripture and who’re susceptible because of some emotional crisis in their lives.

    In a fallen world, that’s a lot of people; hence the success of these polyester-suited buffoons.

    But the best way of being immune to the “health and wealth gospel” is to know Scripture too well to be swayed by it. And, frankly, I’ve never known a serious Protestant who wasn’t at least that well “versed,” by the time he’d been an adult Christian for five years or more.

    C.S.Lewis once remarked that there were two ways of being immune to treacly advertising about South Sea vacations and the like. One was to really know, not only the South Seas, but what a good bit of writing about them was like. The other was to be “the trousered ape who can conceive of the Atlantic as no more than several billion tons of cold salt water.”

    I see a similar application here: Immunity from bad renderings of Scripture comes either from wholesale immunity to the influence of Scripture, or from brilliantly deep knowledge of Scripture. Having read Benedict XVI, I know which side he falls on. And if the Holy Father isn’t a good example for us, who is?

  • Ann

    Aw, yes!

    Another IC piece that manages to stir up comments against cradle catholics! This should be a drinking game, albeit a very, very slow one.

    I would propose we should all remember that it was the cradle catholics’ ancestors who built the church in America, in a literal sense with their hands, and in a spiritual sense with their souls.

    And yes, some of those “cradle Catholics” did happen to be illiterate as a matter of fact.

    Same old same old, Protestants bashing Catholics. Old habits die hard.

  • Joe H

    Good to see you here again RC.

    I don’t know if you were addressing anything I said, but when I mention Scripture readings at Mass, it is in response to the Protestant claim that “Catholics don’t read the Bible”, or even the findings of these surveys.

    If 100% of Catholics went to Mass as they should, then 100% of Catholics would be reading the Bible at least once a week. I get the impression, however, that for Protestants and even many Catholics somehow this doesn’t count as “Bible reading”.

    Of course, I agree that one should probably go beyond the weekly readings at Mass and study on one’s own time. Catholic schools have theology classes where the Bible is the main or the only textbook. Most Catholic parishes, at least in my city, have a Bible study ongoing or at different times of the year. I’ve never attended myself. But I did get the 13 years of Catholic education.

    But no, our priests do not generally tell their congregations that they have to read their Bible every day, mainly because they don’t. It isn’t necessary for salvation. Bible reading isn’t a sacrament. And once again it is evident that Bible devotion, even Bible worship, does not actually lead to a correct understanding of the Bible.

    Fundamentalists take Genesis literally – Earth created in six days – but not the words of Christ, when he says that the bread is his body and the wine is his blood. Even among the Bible cult, ideology or philosophy comes first, and the actual words of the Bible come second.

    They take what they want from the Bible and they dispose of the rest, of the True Presence, purgatory, the institution of the Church, most of the other sacraments, the necessity of performing good works as a part of our salvation, and everything else they find in conflict with their already held worldviews, often tainted with gnosticism and individualism. They are not “fundamentalists” (there are no fundamentalists by the common meaning of the word), these are not “Bible Churches”, they are temples of specific ideologies mixed with a highly selective approach to Scripture.

    Only the Church has correctly understood and applied the teachings of Scripture – it put the Bible together, after all – and knowing that, we don’t “need” to be Bible experts. While it would be wonderful for all of us to aspire to sainthood, most of us will be extremely fortunate if we even merit eternal salvation. Of course a Protestant thinks we can never merit it, the Protestants reject the community of saints, they reject good works, they ignore everything Christ said about the final judgment and concocted “sole fide” out of nothing but their own imaginations.

    That said, I’m glad you’re on our team now smilies/smiley.gif

  • Michael Healy, Jr.

    …the person who studies a Scripture passage outside Mass can ponder the passage in a way which is unavailable to the person hearing the same passage read to him at Mass.

    On the contrary, St. Anthony’s life was changed when he walked into Church one day and heard the readings. One time was all it took. It is hearing the Word read that is fundamental, not reading it, and not just for the illiterate. Indeed, even for many of those who are literate, it is quite possible that hearing the Word read aloud makes a deeper impression than reading it ever could.

    Indeed, in the ancient world even those who were alone and reading to themselves would always read aloud to themselves. In fact, St. Augustine comments on the surprise he and his friends felt when they saw St. Anselm reading silently to himself. It was novelty at the time, even it has become the norm today.

    But the ancient method has a certain wisdom to it: when you hear the Word read aloud, the voice of the reader carries it to you in addition to the words of he text, enabling it to potentially penetrate more deeply than it otherwise could.

  • Timothy

    Catholics should read the bible more than they do. I have been quite guilty of this. Last Year, I attended a Jeff Cavins seminar on the Bible and realized that my knowledge of Scripture was seriously lacking.

    On the other hand, the 44% of Catholic who don’t read the Bible might be of the cultural variety.

  • Brennan

    As a convert to Catholicism (11 yrs on Epiphany), I find that I read scripture far less than when I was a Protestant. One of the reasons is that there is now a plethora of reading rich reading materials, such as Encyclicals(!), Early Church Fathers, etc… It would seem to make sense too, that Protestants read the scriptures more, since they follow “Scripture alone” doctrine. Why wouldn’t they read it more? It’s their only hope… They do not have the Sacraments, etc. Having said all that, I will say that it is unfortunate that more Catholics do not read the Bible more often. Perhaps those of us that read this blog, can all start a push for a “book of the Bible club”…

  • Rosemary M.

    Born in the early years of the depression, I heard the scripture readings at every Sunday mass and knew them all very well by the time I was 20. I was the most impressed by, and loved deeply, the “last gospel” (John 1: 1-14), as it was then called, bringing the mass to a most beautiful end.

  • Timothy

    The Bible was not written and compiled for silent daily reading. The Bible is a liturgical book meant to be read aloud daily and listened to.

    Do a survey to find out how many Cathoics and non-Catholics hear the Bible read aloud at daily liturgy. I’d bet the Catholics out number the non-Catholics by several hundred percentage points.

    God bless… +Timothy

  • Ronsonic

    What an excellent discussion.

  • Bob Cavalcante

    Excellent topic, discussion and great points. Here’s my take on it. In my experience I’ve noticed that many Protestants can quote chapter and verse far better than I can.

    But I’ve noticed that they tend, more often than not, to use their knowledge of select Scripture as a sort of weapon and not in a loving way to convert sinners but to denounce Catholics, our church and anyone that isn’t “them”. Especially the Evangelicals that have told me I wasn’t Christian!

    I can still quote and recite some Shakespeare and tell you what the passage means, but not what page it’s on or even what act or scene. Same with the Bible and Scripture. Stories and parables are meant to convey morals and the “why” is far more important than the “where”. All too often I’ve had scripture quoted to me that taken on its own may have been seen as a valid point, but when read in context had nothing to do with the discussion

    I look at it like a major test in school. There are those that understand and “get it”, there are those that have comprehension issues and need to cram and memorize the night before and those that will never get it at all.

    When I asked my priest about this very subject, he told me that it’s more important to read and understand the scriptures than to memorize them chapter and verse and it made perfect sense to me.

    The Bible is the greatest Love story ever told and reading the Scripture as often as possible can only help us understanding God’s Love for us and teach us how to express our Love for him through one another!

    Be the Bible for those that can’t read it!

    God Bless,
    Bob Cavalcante

  • Anon

    This doesn’t bother me. The vast majority of the Bible just isn’t worth reading. It is an artifact of an ancient and isolated nomadic tribe that has been vastly overrated in its meaning and relevance to the contemporary world, sometime with deadly results. Catholicism is more intellectual than the other forms of Christianity and, therefore, spends less and more selective time on the Bible. My ‘pinion anyway.

  • Will

    The Old Testament was written in ancient Hebrew for the most part, translated to Greek, and/or Latin, then to English many centuries after being written, thus it amuses me to see Fundamentalist Ministers who speak no Hebrew or Greek or Latin, professing to be such “experts” on the Bible. If you want the straight scoop on the Old Testament, talk to an Orthodox Rabbi, for the new testament, to a Catholic Theologian. Fundamentalist Christians, such as those from Bob Jones “University” in Scouth Carolina, love to pontificate on the Old Testament [based on their knowledge of the King James version, translated into English over 2,000 years after it was written] and actually espouse the “Young Earth” nonsense which promotes the idea that the earth is only 6,000 years old. These theological imbeciles may have memorized select passages from the King James version, but their true understanding of both Old Testament and New Testament is very weak to be kind about it. I feel more affinity with the Jews than these so called “Christians” who seem to know the price of everything and the value of nothing. So they can quote “scripture?” Do they really understand it? i don’t think so. Sorry to rant, but having lived in the South and served in the military, I have been exposed to quite a few Fundamentalists and very few of them are deep thinkers, just robots who can memorize and spout passages on command, like it was really important. Yes, yes, I know we Catholics have our “robots” too like the Legionaries, but that sorry situation is going to be corrected.

  • dave carlin

    In reply to a number of criticisms above.

    The very best Catholic minds (e.g., Augustine, Aquinas, Newman) have always regarded Catholic truth as having three sources: the Bible, Tradition, and Natural Reason. Moreover these three are inseparable from one another, each shedding light on the other two.

    However, it is, I submit, a historical fact that during the long era from Trent to Vatican II third- and fourth-rate Catholic minds, fearful that the Bible could be misconstrued, discouraged lay Catholics from reading the Bible. In pursuit of this goal these teachers separated the elements of the inseparable trinity of Bible-Tradition-Reason. Thus one could be a follower of Tradition or of Reason without being a student of the Bible.

    We are still suffering from this separation.

  • Daniel Latinus

    Take a look at a pre-Reformation Bible and at Gutenberg’s Bible (Protestant). Notice the difference. One has Biblical passages surrounded by commentary (i.e., Church Tradition), whereas the other lays Scripture bare, with no explanatory notes. Why was this so?

    First, I’ve seen pre-Reformation Bibles, and they are not “surrounded by commentary.” The Biblical text quite typically stands alone. Commentary was in separate volumes.

    Second, Gutenburg was a Catholic, and printed Bibles years before the Reformation. Indeed, the Reformation was dependent on the invention of the printing press. (Incidentally, the first printed book was a Missal – a book for the celebration of Mass!)

    Third, in the post-Reformation era, both Protestants and Catholics published Bibles with explanatory notes. The notes began to diappear from Protestant Bibles as Protestantism started to fragment, and followers of one form of Protestantism objected to commentery based on competing forms.

  • Baby Rose

    The daily Scripture readings in Mass are God speaking directly to me. I prepare my spirit by pre-reading the passages and then ask His guidance to understanding which often leads me to go read the passage in context; to consult a trusted orthodox commentary from the Catechism, the Church Fathers, the Pope(s), the Divine Office readings, the Saint Drs. of the Church, etc.
    How does this apply to our present cultural issues; my life & how I bring Jesus to others? I represent Jesus in the world.

    I am very careful about consulting Catholic Scripture Scholars (exegisis) and Catholic Theologians, many of which have gone to la-la land and sadly are no longer Catholic. Pope Benedict XVI warns against the exclusive use of the Historical Critical Method of Biblical study in his recent book, Jesus of Nazareth, which has led us to The Jesus Seminar & other such falsity. Don’t forget to invoke the Holy Spirit working within the Church Magisterium. The Spirit is the Life within the Scriptures.

    Theologian Hans Kundt (sp) recently made a ridiculous statement that President Obama would make a better pope than Benedict XVI because of his worldwide charisma and political views. What about the intrinsic evil of shedding innocent (babies’) blood that Obama actively supports?? Hans no longer seems to be able to discern between good & evil.

    Today, Catholics would do well to live out several key Scriptures. The Catechism states that Catholicism is not a religion of the Book; rather a religion of the WORD–the person Jesus Christ. It’s original use was for Litrugical Worship; which developed first and then the Canon of inspired Scripture to enchance & aid worship.

    The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord; reverence & obedience to His commandments. Love God first & your neighbor as yourself; forgive your enemies and show mercy to the poor–the spiritually & the physically. Do not make the Word of God to no avail, nullifying it by adhering to the traditions of men. Love is sacrificial showing kindness. In a nutshell, outlined in the Creed.

    Catholics need to go back to basics of the Faith. Politics and Social Services are tools to effect concrete love in the world, but have become idolotrous gods in the hands of a spiritual people become dulled by Modernism, progressive & atheistic ideologies. Lord, Lord do not shut the Door–we did this & that for You; in Your Name..and Jesus will say; “I do not know you, be cast away from Me.” We must test everything worldly against Jesus, the Word…be conformed to, transformed into Christ; reconcilers & immitators God’s Love through daily small victories. Dying to self is essential for radical Love to be practiced. * * *

  • Nathan Cushman

    I have to second everything R.C. said, and commend Daniel Latinus for his important corrections.

    While I don’t read the Bible every day, I do try to at least read it weekly, but don’t do so enough (Nor do I spend enough time reading encyclicals or the Catechism,usually preferring lighter reading). I do, however, frequently search the scriptures for answers (as well as searching other Catholic sources).

    I don’t mean to say that everyone else is wrong. Catholics are not required to read the Bible, and I won’t act as a Bishop, telling them they have to. But I will echo what others have said here, that those Catholics who read the Bible more frequently are more likely to be the better Catholics.

    I certainly understand the “Catholics hear the Bible at every Mass,” argument, and have made the argument myself. But with my TV and video game addled brain, I cannot concentrate so well as to absorb scripture from Mass alone. Nor is that the time to do deeper study with cross-referencing and whatnot.

    And to Ann, you seem to take offense at every suggestion that claims there is something to be learned from Protestants. The converts, like myself, who make these comments do not want to tear down the Church. We love the Church or we would not have joined it.

    While you accuse us of continuing our “Catholic-bashing,” I feel that you are the one who is doing the bashing. You show little love for converts. And this reflects one of the great problems in the Catholic Church in America: It is constantly losing members to Protestant churches, and from my experience, most of the converts into the Church are won through marriage, which is fairly sad (though I’m happy that God used this method to bring me in).

    Most of us converts do not attempt to bash cradle Catholics (especially not universally, since we recognize that most of our great leaders like Pope Benedict, and many of the great Saints were cradle Catholics). In fact, it is normally the faithful cradle Catholics who are praising the converts and bashing their less faithful cradle Catholic brothers.

    But lets not ignore the problems we face: there is a huge failure among many cradle Catholics to educate their children. This is fairly common in Protestant families too, but I don’t think it is AS common. A common failure among Protestants is that their children notice holes in their belief system, without having the Church to turn to for answers.

    Too often even faithful Catholics rely on CCD classes to do all the work of educating their children. And they rely on Mass alone to educate themselves (I’m sure converts are numbered among this group). This is a real problem whether or not Protestants are just as bad (and most are).

    So the real issue should not be a divide between cradle Catholics and converts, no matter how their different backgrounds color their experience of the Church. The divide should always be seen where it really exists, between the faithful Catholics and the unfaithful.

  • Joe H

    Carlin writes,

    “However, it is, I submit, a historical fact that during the long era from Trent to Vatican II third- and fourth-rate Catholic minds, fearful that the Bible could be misconstrued, discouraged lay Catholics from reading the Bible. In pursuit of this goal these teachers separated the elements of the inseparable trinity of Bible-Tradition-Reason. Thus one could be a follower of Tradition or of Reason without being a student of the Bible.”

    I don’t dispute the historical fact, but I have to ask, what were the vast majority of illiterate Catholics doing for all that time? It was 1500 years between Christ and the printing press, and we still haven’t reached universal literacy yet. For most of Christianity’s existence I’d say at the very least 3/4ths of the people at any given time could not read at all, let alone read Scripture. For most people what they heard at Mass was what they knew of the Bible.

    I’m not saying anyone should ever be discouraged from reading the Bible. In fact, I don’t believe anyone could honestly read it and be a Protestant. But for the illiterate masses, “tradition” is about all they have. They cannot be students of the Bible, they can only be members of the Church. Of course today we can combat illiteracy on a global scale, but for centuries this was not possible.

  • Will

    Note to Nathan: as far as Catholics who read the Bible being “better Catholics”, I am not sure that God is engaged in quantative measurements as to who is “better” than others. I’ve noticed among some Catholics who are into Bible Study, daily Mass, etc, [and I say “some”] a tendency to think that they are better than those of us who are not into these things. I’ve observed that “some” Catholics who are in this mode are guilty of the sin of pride and could benefit from some humility.
    Cradle or Convert, we are all on the same team.

  • Brennan

    It would seem to me that Scripture reading is a valuable part of a Catholic (Christian) Spiritual & Mental diet, as are the Eucharist, knowing/understanding Tradition, and Natural Reason. Any one of these alone, may be like living on a diet of potatoes… you can live on it, but it’s not very balanced… Add other good vegetables and fruits, etc, and the diet is becoming more balanced.

    Protestants are the ones that put the huge emphasis on reading scripture, because of their doctrine of Sola Scriptura… they must read the scripture with great fervor, it is their only map. Catholics, while reading/understanding the scriptures will only serve to better their balanced diet, should not let Protestant pressures make them feel inferior. The real issue is that the “heart” is the heart of the matter. A loving and faithful servant will “want” to absorb all they can about their Lord. If you have no yearning to want to know more Scripture (translated knowing more of God’s map) then I would suggest you question your heart before God. He will most certainly help with your diet.

  • Nathan Cushman

    Will, I agree with you.

    I myself certainly can be prideful, foolishly comparing myself to others. I would do well to always remember the gravity of my own sins. But there is a certain degree to which we can look at others and try to discern what behavior we would be better served to emulate. This is seen most clearly in the veneration of Saints. We are also called to correct wrong behavior (first in ourselves, but also in our brothers.

    Going back to what I wrote, I just said they were “more likely” to be better, not that they were necessarily better. And it may very well be that they read the Bible because they are devoted to their faith and not vice-versa. I suppose that by “better” I mean that they seem to be putting in a greater effort to conform to the teachings of Christ and his Church in general.]

    Reading the Bible, or other Catholic reading can lead to a sort of intellectualizing of the Faith that turns it into more of an argument than a life.

    But this should not be an excuse to avoid learning more about our Faith, because whatever the dangers of pride, learning is in itself a good thing.

    I do not insist that reading the Bible is the only way to know God (I have often gone months without picking it up), but I do believe that giving an hour a week at church isn’t enough. It may have been enough in the past, when it was the highlight of the week, and believers were surrounded by other believers, but it is not enough today. Today we are bombarded with so much information contradictory to our faith that it takes more than just Mass to help us persevere.

    The question I ask is, what are we striving to become? Do we just wish to be “Catholic” or are we striving to be Saints? Should our model of a good Catholic be ourselves? It certainly shouldn’t be me. Our ultimate model should be Christ, and we should also look to the Saints.

    Christ and many of the Saints could easily quote scripture from memory. I personally cannot do this well, and I could never do it at all solely from hearing the readings at Mass.

    I agree with you in your warnings against pride, and I hope that I take heed.

    But I wish for my model to be not myself, not the average Catholic, but Christ. And by this standard I shall always be found wanting (though I can find hope in his forgiveness), and I shall always have to strive to give more of myself to Him.

    Of course, it is likely I should spend more time listening, and less time talking…

  • Dan Hartnett

    I was especially interested in those responders who made the point that the Church did not encourage scripture reading between Trent and the modern era which I take to mean Vatican II and Dei Verbum. I started parochial first grade in 1945 and was taught the Bible through all of my Catholic school. In my twenties, like many others, I left the Church for about 27 years. Without getting into it, I read my way back about 20 years ago and haven’t stopped since. I never forgot what I learned in school and subsequently have built upon it. I didn’t have to start from scratch. I teach RCIA classes and always use every applicable scripture that I can to explain whatever the subject is although I notice that most of the priests tend to paraphrase the Bible rather than use the scriptures as written, which I think is wrong. I was so perplexed by some older Catholics like me who tell me that they were forbidden to read the Bible, that I read Pius XII’s encyclical on Holy Scripture “Divino Aflante Spirito” which greatly encourages scripture reading. It was written in 1943 and it in turn alludes to comments by several earlier Popes who gave that same encouragement which I think weakens the argument of those claiming lax support of the scriptures by the Church; this coming from Popes nonetheless.

    Pax vobiscum!

    I have met some Bible Christian folks who like to proslytise and sound terrific in their use of scripture at first glance. Scripture is on our side and it is not hard to turn the tables and set them back on their heels. Many of them are very good at cherry picking particular verses or they have a pet set of verses that they feel undermines Catholic beliefs but you have to come back with knowledge and you have to pick up what they are doing. If you do, you can put them on defense easily in so many places. John VI is literal. John 20:22-23 is literal and much, much more. Then use the Internet and basic Patristics.

  • AP

    Catholics live Scripture. They do not necessarily need to read it unless they are not yet living that life. After all, is that not the purpose of reading it in the first place, to live it??? Catholics hear the Bible over and over and over through the years when we attend the Mass. We are taught from home and the pulpit, to live it from the time we are old enough to walk. The Catholic Church does not hold back the rich Word of God from her children.

    Non-Catholics who proclaim Christ, on the other hand had better get to reading it if they want to get to living it. But that will only happen if it is a Catholic Bible and it is read with humility, which will but lead to The Church anyway. Look at the non-Catholics who proclaim Christ, who read their bibles daily. They quote what they do not understand and often use their errors to incite others against what is true. You ought to hear some of them. It is absolutely frightening.

    Reading a Bible that is not Catholic and/or is read with individual understandings or footnotes with errors leads to Protestantism. So does not hearing a proper sermon from a Catholic pulpit. So also does unworthy reception of Sacraments. And on and on and on.

    So now you tell me, who does and does not read the Bible?! [smiley=angry][smiley=shock][smiley=laugh]

  • Baby Rose

    Thaddeus, thanks for the Catholic Bible 101 website link! I’m excited to delve in. The sacred art is inspiring.

    “The Church doesn’t say we are obligated to read the Bible.”

    But, the Church does say that we are obligated to know the Faith and if we are called to possible martyrdom for It, it would be wise to better know the Person we are to die for. A deep love for Christ, it seems, would go beyond a “rule” to read or not to read.

    If you don’t read It, then the Holy Spirit will not be able to bring to mind It’s content for remembrance & thus guidance for one’s daily life. (Gospel of John, Chap. 14-16) I eventually came to the Catholic Church by being prompted to read the “greatest book ever written” when I turned 40 and now in retrospect I realize that this was at the Holy Spirit’s prompting…a Person I was not familiar with at the time. It was not really my idea even though I thought so then. I thought that I would read this great Classic, check it off on my list & not glance backward….but it captured my heart instead.

    Modern Catholics in America never seem to give much attention to the Doctrine of Indulgences; a way to gain merit through the Church for prayers & devotions actuated–these merits to be directed toward loved ones in purgatory or in the working out of our personal salvation.

    *There is an indulgence for reading the Bible for 30 minutes daily. The Word is Spirit & Life. Those things that are good for us to do; that strengthen our spiritual life & our souls, Mother Church desires to grant indulgences. Little rewards, if you will.

    I am a convert to Catholicism and can’t begin to adequately express my gratitude for having been led to the fullest expression of Christianity; of Truth.

  • Alphonsus

    Why don’t Catholics today read the Bible often? There aren’t many good guides. Raymond Brown’s books (e.g. The Birth of the Messiah) devote many pages to pointing out apparent errors in the Bible. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary is concerned almost entirely with textual and historical issues (very often calling into question biblical accuracy). Even the New American Bible’s commentary is very harsh on certain passages (see, for example, the notes for Mt. 24).

    Pre-conciliar guides (e.g. Ferdinand Prat’s life of Christ), while more spiritually nourishing, don’t take modern biblical criticism into account and often rely on stretched harmonizations.

    Where does the faithful yet critical-minded Catholic turn for understanding the Bible?

  • Baby Rose

    Alphonsus & others wondering where to turn for guidance for reading the Bible:

    Why don’t you check out the voluminus writings of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict the XVI and his mentor Romano Guardini (sp?). They have both written commentaries on countless Bible passages. Pope Benedict just finished a series of lectures on St. Paul. Many treasures are available between these 2 wise Popes and their predecessors. Who could be a better teacher than the Vicar of Christ?? I could well take you the rest of your life to study all that is available.

  • Pamela

    I am a cradle Catholic and find it strange that so many of us seem to take this sort of information as some sort of personal criticism or even attack. I have seen a number of similar discussions since I first started coming to IC a few months ago and there is a sense I get of near animosity shown towards the messenger of this type of information, and it is particularly strong if that messenger happens to be a convert. Forgive me if I’m misreading the intent, as it is hard to fully capture the tone of written comments, but it does appear that way to me.

    Personally, I admit to being one of those Catholics who never read the Holy Bible, aside from the Scripture readings during Mass. I don’t know why, but my father, the one who made sure I was at Mass every Sunday, never read it, nor encouraged us to do so. I can even remember getting our first Bible when I was about 11. It was a very beautiful one and we displayed it prominently on the book shelf, open, with a special pedestal and everything. And it sits there to this day and I don’t think it has ever been picked up. [smiley=sad]

    I still do not read daily, but two and 1/2 years ago, I started attending a Bible study. Now, I had always been leery of them, because I agree that it is dangerous for people to interpret the bible any way they want, etc… But my friend, who was organizing it, assured me that this was a new study, developed by Catholics and that it would present the Scripture as it relates to Church Teaching and Tradition. Actually, their motto is Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium. It is WONDERFUL! The study comes with DVD’s presented by a priest and the text uses the CCC to explain and expand on the Bible passages. There is usually a segment each week called Rome to Home or and is from the writings of the Popes, typically Pope John Paul II or Voices of the Saints, with something related to that weeks Scripture reading.

    We have done the Gospel of St. Matthew, Acts, and are now in the midst of Genesis. I can honestly say that I have learned so much that I did not get from the readings during Mass all the many (many) years I’ve been attending. I don’t know, maybe I wasn’t always paying as close attention as I should, but the fact is, I’ve learned so much from studying the Bible, though I clearly have a long way to go.

    But already, I feel that I am in a better position to argue the Church’s teachings on things from the Primacy of the Popes, to the condemnation of artificial birth control, to why our turn toward socialism is wrong, and more.

    As a cradle Catholic, I didn’t need to have the Bible support these positions, because I was a Catholic and that is what the Church taught, etc… But when discussing these things with non-Catholics, or dissenting Catholics, or most important of all, with my children, it comes in very handy.

    I highly recommend it. If you are interested, the study is called Catholic Scripture Study International and they have a web site CSSProgram.net.

  • Baby Rose


    I went to the CSSProgram website & realized that the designer of this program, Gail, was on an episode of the Journey Home with Marcus Grodi on EWTN. From that interview, it surely seemed like this was a work of God…working through her, but beyond her wildest imaginations, also. She came from the Methodist denomination…so I paid particular attention because I was also baptized & raised until High School as a Methodist before leaving it and after a long journey later coming Home to the Catholic Church.
    Thanks for the link.

  • Pamela

    Your welcome, Baby Rose. I

  • Cleophas Gordon

    Well, personally I believe that both Bible reading and Church Traditions are important. However, it is important for lay Catholics to read the Bible with guidance. Unlike Protestants who rely on the Bible for the doctrine of Faith, we as Catholics should refer the Bible readings to the teachings of the Church. Otherwise, our Bible reading would just be a mere judgment of a book compiled 2000 years ago. Catechists, Priests, Parents should guide those reading the Bible so that the readers would not only engage deeper and discern the Word of God, but also adhere to the Magisterium of the Church.

  • Doug Moore

    By way of a gift, I have a set of audio books, Ignatius New Testament RSV CE. Daily listening to these has a quality somehow different than reading the bible. I find myself reading the Old Testament and listening to the new. I hear things more clearly than when I read them. I am cynical about polls. I have heard somewhere that 80% of statistics are made up.

  • SI Pilgrim

    It’s an interesting topic. Yeah- the general consensus is that we must read the Bible obsessively, but you know what? My grandmother, who probably never read the Bible outside of the Mass or quotes in devotional literature, was the holiest Christian I’ve ever known. Born-again Protestants read the Bible more than anyone but according to polls lead their lives even worse than atheists in categories like divorce, pre-marital sex, consumption of immoral entertainment, etc., so what did all that Bible reading do for them? I know many Protestants who read the Bible daily but swallow the most absurd interpretations of it that their pastors tell them. The Apostles didn’t sit around reading the Bible (it’s doubtful most of them could even read) but they were filled with the Holy Spirit and lived the faith. Aren’t those the most important things?

  • Mark

    I am not sure that I agree with the authors

  • Rose Marie Doyle

    David, you are honest and courageous to write what you did. I would add that prior to Gutenburg’s printing press, so few knew and read the Bible that when it became commonly available, and in the vernacular, and it was compared to the status of the church, people were shocked by the disparity.

    When it caused division, Satan was able to twist the thinking of Church leaders to believe that reading the Bible was the cause of division. They became wary of laymen reading it. I attended Catholic school in the 50’s. Everyone was warned against “private interpretation,” which made most fearful that because they lacked a degree in theology they would be deceived if they were to read it. Not only were we not encouraged to read the Bible, we were literally discouraged.

    I think that in God’s working all things together for good, this lack of Bible literacy among Catholics (even though scripture is proclaimed at every mass) is going to help reunite the Church. Catholics are recognizing that Protestants are on to something, that their ministries are flourishing, their churches growing while in comparison, ours are not. Still we have the Eucharist, the Blessed Mother, the wisdom of the saints, the leadership of Peter’s successor. Catholics and Protestants are slowly being drawn into a mutual admiration society.

    Now that I have spouted off, I am asking permission to quote you in high school religion textbook I am writing. Not sure yet what I will use, but I am checking in to know if it is okay. Thanks! Rosy Doyle

  • AC

    I hear a bunch of arrogant human ego’s, bash what they think is a lie. Where is Christ for you people. Your judgment of others is not of Him, who loved us first.