The Bible Has Never Been Neglected
Michael Shackleton – Contrary to some Protestants’ objections, the Bible has never been neglected by the Catholic Church. This is because both the Old Testament and the New have only one core, one point of reference, and that is Jesus Christ.
Bishops meeting in Rome for the Synod this month will focus their attention anew on this prime truth, perhaps because the Bible for too long has been considered by many to be independent of the Church.
The Church itself has been blamed for this misrepresentation, especially by antagonistic or ignorant Christians who were taught that Catholics disdained or belittled the Bible, the sacred book venerated by millions as the holy Word of God.
It has been said that the Church prefers to find Christ in its sacraments and liturgical ceremonies and not in the pages of Scripture, where he is to be truly found and experienced under the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.
This is not an accurate reflection of history, but it must be admitted that at a time when the Renaissance and the Reformers were emancipating the people from stiff conformity as well as some abuses in the Church, the new vernacular biblical translations and the invention of printing affected the Church adversely. Thousands of copies of the new versions of the Bible in the language of the people, with footnotes that interpreted texts contrary to Catholic teaching, circulated rapidly.
Simultaneously, the Church stuck to its Latin liturgy and the Latin Bible, the Vulgate, which was held to be sacrosanct as the normative book of God’s Word.
It would be a mistake to draw from this that the Reformation and the spread of literacy wrested the Scriptures from Catholicism. The Church has always held that its magisterium provides the authoritative interpretation of the Bible. The early Fathers of the Church and innumerable writers had an impressive knowledge of the Scriptures, some even before the canonical texts had been universally accepted.
Christian authors, poets, artists and sculptors have given expression to sublime works having biblical themes and overtones. Many ancient churches and buildings in Europe contain equally evocative frescoes, mosaics and paintings that indicate that neither their creators nor the Christians of the time were ignorant of the contents of the sacred books.
Preaching and the liturgy have never been celebrated without scriptural readings and references to our Christian heritage deriving from the people of Israel, the Jews, and the man Jesus who was himself a Jew.
That said, we have to face it: Catholics know the important events of the Bible but probably few know their way around the books of the Old and New Testaments. And this is what the Synod in Rome desires to address, to some extent to urge Catholics to read, discuss and pray the Bible freely. Already, those who are taking this to heart either in Catholic or ecumenical circles, are finding the spiritual satisfaction of knowing Jesus Christ in a more intimate manner.
In asking the Synod to re-examine the Bible and its role in the lives of the People of God, Pope Benedict wants to continue the evolution of the impetus given to the Church by Vatican II. In its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) the Council reminded us that the Scriptures, together with sacred Tradition, impart the Word of God himself and make us hear the voice of the Holy Spirit through the words of the prophets and apostles (21).
The Council urged that easy access to the Scriptures must be given to the People of God. May the Synod bring this about as quickly and as practically as possible for the good of the Church and its relations with other Christians.