The Catholic Church and the Bible. It may appear to be a stormy relationship, but it is not so. In fact, the opposite is true. The Catholic Church has had quite a wonderful relationship with Sacred Scripture. In one of the earliest posts on our blog I wrote about how Christians only have the Bible as we know it because of the Catholic Church. In fact, Henry Graham’s book “Our Debt to Catholicism ” confirms this point. So if the Catholic Church is responsible for the compilation of the Bible, then where does this idea of the Catholic Church having a stormy relationship with the Bible come from?
This idea comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of the Church’s decrees and actions concerning Sacred Scripture. The common Protestant accusation is that the Catholic Church forbade the reading of the Bible. This is simply false. The Church did place certain translations on the “Index of Forbidden Books”, but it was not a condemnation of the Bible carte blanche. In fact, Catholics were encouraged to read the Bible.
The reason certain translations of the Bible were placed on the “Index of Forbidden Books” was that they were erroneous translations. They were made by Protestants who changed the wording of some passages to fit their interpretations. This tainted the texts, and the Catholic Church saw fit to discourage the faithful from reading these translations to shield them from error. Church-approved translations were never forbidden.
Another accusation is that the Church withheld Sacred Scripture from the faithful by chaining them to pulpits, and forbidding the faithful to read them. This, again, is inaccurate. Oh, the churches did chain copies of the Bible to their pulpits, but no one was hindered from reading them. Anyone could approach the pulpit and read from the Bible. Most people, however, could not read or write.
The reason churches chained their Bibles to the pulpits is because printing had not been invented. It was extremely expensive to have a book copied. The supplies were expensive, and scribes also were expensive. In the case of priests or monks making copies for the Church, providing them with the education to allow them to make these copies was not cheap. Oftentimes, the cover of a Bible was made of expensive, elaborately engraved materials like gold, silver, or diamonds. These books would be subject to thieves, and the churches did not want these priceless works of art to be stolen. So, the Bibles were often chained to the pulpits.
When looked at within the proper context, the Church’s actions regarding Sacred Scripture seems much more reasonable. Actually, all one really need do is take a look at the ecumenical councils of the Church. There one sees that Catholics were very frequently encouraged to read the Bible. The relationship between the Catholic Church and Sacred Scripture is not a love/hate relationship. It is a love/love relationship. The Catholic Church has encouraged the reading of the Bible by the faithful; all the while protecting the Bible from desecration by the “unlearned”.
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity