Why Are Catholics So Deficient in Bible-Reading?

Let’s admit it: This is a huge deficiency in Catholic circles, and the result is ignorance even on very basic doctrines of the faith.

Jean-Baptiste Greuze, “Reading the Bible”, 1755
Jean-Baptiste Greuze, “Reading the Bible”, 1755 (photo: Public Domain)

Catholics don't read the Bible anywhere near as much as evangelical Protestants do, and that is to our shame. I hasten to add that evangelicals usually are quite ignorant of Church history: especially those nearly fifteen centuries before Martin Luther came along in 1517.

It's a sad fact of human nature that people tend to pit things against each other that don't need to be opposed, either logically or in terms of the biblical worldview. We should think in “both/and” terms – as opposed to “either/or.” Catholics ought to do more Bible reading, and evangelicals ought to read more Church history. We can both learn from each other.

It is not solely a “Protestant” thing to love the Bible, and the falsity of the Protestant rule of faith, sola Scriptura (meaning that the Bible is the only infallible authority), does not mean that Catholics ought to underemphasize the Bible. Our Church certainly officially encourages such reading and familiarity. But old habits die hard.

Many Catholics will say (with justification) that it is no good to read the Bible on one's own if it is not properly understood. Personally, I think the Bible is relatively easy to understand, provided that the person learns basic principles of Bible-reading and is truly open to what the Holy Spirit is trying to say to them and teach them through the words of Scripture (whether a matter of morals and Christian life, or theology).

The nearly ubiquitous presence of various biases they bring to Scripture from the outset is why the Church's guidance (in line with sacred tradition) is absolutely necessary. The history of Protestant divergent interpretation (where error must be present, because Protestants contradict themselves) proves that beyond all doubt.

Catholics do better than evangelical Protestants in this respect, because they have more guidance, and hence, are less prone to various false interpretations and sectarianism deriving therefrom.

Catholics submit their theology as a whole to the Church and do not oppose their own theology to that of the apostolic tradition of the Church (itself completely in harmony with the Bible).

The practice of too many Catholics, who don't read the Bible at all, so as to not be “confused” or “led astray” is a sort of lamentable “kindergarten Christianity” and laziness. The same people manage to find plenty of time to devote to the “study” of sports, politics, or to a hundred different subjects they will learn all about in high school or college (spending thousands of hours), but somehow they can't find any time to read their Bibles and soak in the words of the very Lord they worship and receive every week?

Many Catholics seem to want Mother Church to spoon-feed everything to them (they want to remain “babes in Christ” who drink “milk,” as St. Paul says). The Catechism, Vatican II, and papal encyclicals are all filled with scriptural references. We Catholics need to read the Bible on our own as well. If we don't, then we don't love God as much as we think, because love demands that we want to know more and more about the One we love. The Bible is God's very inspired words. How, then, can any serious, committed Catholic not be passionately interested in it?

Our Protestant brethren observe our apathy about the Bible and find it difficult to reconcile this behavior with our claims to possess the fullness of Christian truth. Many Protestants believe that Catholics are actually taught to not read the Bible, whereas in fact we are usually not taught to read it, which is a logically different proposition.

We need to be able to criticize ourselves, just like every other healthy, thriving belief-system does, and not pretend that we are above all the errors everyone else struggles with. Our problem of “biblical illiteracy” is already patently obvious to non-Catholics who are familiar with the Bible. This is a huge deficiency in Catholic circles, and the result is ignorance even on very basic doctrines of the faith.

The more we show that “Bible” and “Catholicism” are not oxymoronic contradictions-in-terms, the more we appeal to Protestants with the truth of our overall message. I have made this very endeavor the leading emphasis of my own apologetics apostolate.

I'm not recommending that Catholics neglect anything else in the Catholic spiritual or liturgical life. Quite the contrary! But too many Catholics neglect or try to minimize the importance of the Bible. The Church herself does not do that. It's good to reject sola Scriptura, and to submit to the mind of the Church, but it is also good to show forth a positive love for Holy Scripture.

If the Mass alone were sufficient for that end, then Catholics would already know their Bibles better than Protestants. But they clearly don't. Thus, I contend that it is a self-evident truth that we need to do more Bible-reading, frequently and often, in addition to the liturgy, various form of prayers, Rosaries, etc.

I'm not merely making these recommendations as a lay apologist (with no inherent authority). I'm just the messenger. The Catholic magisterium has plainly expressed itself:

Venerable Pope Pius XII, wrote in his encyclical, Divino Afflante Spiritu (The Most Opportune Way to Promote Biblical Studies) on 30 September 1943:

Benedict XV [in 1920]. . . exhorted 'all the children of the Church, especially clerics, to reverence the Holy Scripture, to read it piously and meditate on it constantly'; he reminded them 'that in these pages is to be sought that food, by which the spiritual life is nourished unto perfection,' . . . (section 9; my italics and bolding)

Likewise, Vatican II: Dei Verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation): 18 November 1965, stated:

Likewise, the sacred synod forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful, especially those who live the religious life, to learn 'the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ' (Phil. 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures . . . (section 25; my italics and bolding)

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