Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Catholic Church and Scripture

This is an actual page from one of Jack Chick's more well known tracts, "The Death Cookie". Though the tract is largely a charge against the Eucharist, the page I want to draw your attention to alleges that the Catholic Church has tried to keep the Scriptures out of the hands of the faithful. This shows ignorance of not only of official Catholic doctrine, but also of practices within the Church, as well as an ignorance of historical context.

I will freely admit that the Church used to chain Bibles. This is to be viewed as a positive thing, rather than a negative thing. It must be remembered that before the consumer society in which we now live existed, things were done manually rather than through automation. In the modern world, the production of a book is fairly inexpensive, but before the invention of the Gutenberg press it was not so. Bibles were painstakingly transcribed, many times with elaborate illustrations, by hand. The cost of a single Bible was astronomical. Most parishes only had access to a single Bible. Since Bibles were rare and monetarily valuable, they were the targets of thieves. Therefore, measures were take to prevent this theft. Bibles were chained in the parishes, not to keep them out of the hands of the faithful, but to ensure that all had access.

Another myth concerning the Scriptures is that the Church tries to keep the Bible out of the language of the people. This is also blatantly false. By the fourth century, Latin had replaced Greek as the common language. Those people that could read had Latin as their first language and Greek, if they knew it at all, as their second. It was for this reason that St. Jerome was commissioned to translate the Scriptures from their original tongues into the Latin of the people: the Latin Vulgate. The translations did not stop there. The Bible used by Martin Luther,before he issued his own truncated version of the Scriptures, was a Catholic Bible in German. The Douay-Rheims was an English translation that predated the King James Version. SO you see the Church has also made continuous efforts to keep the Scriptures in the language of the people.

Though the Scriptures are not intended for private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20), knowledge of the Scriptures is encouraged. The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives guidelines for proper Biblical hermeneutics (109-133). St. Jerome, one of the 33 Doctors of the Church is oft-quoted as saying "Ignorance of the Scriptures is Ignorance of Christ." This is reflected in the Mass. The Novus Ordo Mass, the Mass most commonly celebrated in the Church today has more Scripture directly read than in any other Christian worship service. There are no fewer than three readings (Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel, except during the Easter Season, where the Old Testament is replaced by a reading from Acts of the Apostles) plus a responsoral Psalm. Certain Masses (most notably the Easter vigil) can have even more readings. If the Church is trying to keep the Scriptures away from the people, then making sure the faithful have access to the Scriptures in their native language coupled with extensive readings during worship is an awfully odd way of achieving this end.


  1. Thank you for the compliments. I do try to present the teachings of the Catholic Church faithfuly.