What the Church Fathers Taught about Reading the Bible
This is a sampling of what the Catholic Church has taught about reading the Bible from the fourth century (when for the first time the various Books of the Bible were put together into a single collected work) until the present time.
Doctor of the Church.
“To become adult Christians you must learn familiarity with the scriptures”
[On the Letter to the Ephesians - Education of Children.]
“But what is the answer to these charges? ‘I am not,’ you will say, ‘one of the monks, but I have both a wife and children, and the care of a household.’ This is what has ruined everything, your thinking that the reading of scripture is for monks only, when you need it more than they do. Those who are placed in the world, and who receive wounds every day have the most need of medicine. So, far worse even than not reading the scriptures is the idea that they are superfluous. Such things were invented by the devil.”
“The Emperor of heaven, the Lord of men and of angels, has sent you His epistles for your life’s advantage—and yet you neglect to read them eagerly. Study them, I beg you, and meditate daily on the words of your Creator. Learn the heart of God in the words of God, that you may sigh more eagerly for things eternal, that your soul may be kindled with greater longings for heavenly joys.”
[Letters, 5, 46. (EnchBibl 31)]
St. Isidore (560-636 AD)
Bishop and Doctor of the Church
“Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us... If a man wants to be always in God's company, he must pray regularly and read regularly. When we pray, we talk to God; when we read, God talks to us.
“All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection. By reading we learn what we did not know; by reflection we retain what we have learned.
“Reading the holy Scriptures (the Bible) confers two benefits. It trains the mind to understand them; it turns man's attention from the follies of the world and leads him to the love of God.
“Two kinds of study are called for here. We must first learn how the Scriptures are to be understood, and then see how to expound them with profit and in a manner worthy of them. A man must first be eager to understand what he is reading before he is fit to proclaim what he has learned.
“The conscientious reader will be more concerned to carry out what he has read than merely to acquire knowledge of it... Learning unsupported by grace may get into our ears; it never reaches the heart. It makes a great noise outside but serves no inner purpose. But when God’s grace touches our innermost minds to bring understanding, his word which has been received by the ear sinks deep into the heart.”
He is the first person known to translate the Gospel into Old English (Anglo-Saxon.)
St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153 AD)
Doctor and Father of the Church.
“The person who thirsts for God eagerly studies and meditates on the inspired Word, knowing that there, he is certain to find the One for whom he thirsts.”
[Commentary on the Song of Songs, Sermon 23:3.]
St. Bonaventure (1221-1274 AD)
In his day, there where no public schools and only the wealthy could afford private tutors. Therefore, most people could not read or write. St. Bonaventure had composed a copy of “Biblia Pauperum” which means the “Bible of the poor.” It contained a collection of pictures illustrating the important events of the Old Testament. It also contained parallel scenes in the New Testament and it showed how the Old Testament prefigured and was fulfilled in the Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. This helped the people to learn God’s Word by showing them the important stories of both the Old and New Testament. He was canonized a Saint by Pope Sixtus IV in1482 AD. He was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Sixtus V in 1588 AD.
Decree of the Council of
“[ The holy synod] following the examples of the orthodox fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety and reverence all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament-seeing that one God is the Author of both...”
[Session 4, April 8, 1546.]
Saint Teresa of
The Catholic Church strongly recommends the reading of the writings of those who are canonized as Saints. Saint Teresa was canonized in 1622 AD by Pope Gregory XV. She was also declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970 by Pope Paul VI. In her autobiography, The Book of Her Life (La Vida), she writes:
“Within this majesty I was given knowledge of a truth that is the fulfillment of all truths. I don't know how to explain this because I didn't see anything. I was told without seeing anyone, but I clearly understood that it was Truth telling me: ‘This is no small thing I do for you, because it is one of the things for which you owe Me a great deal, for all the harm that comes to the world comes from its not knowing the truths of Scripture in clarity and truth; not one iota of Scripture will fall short.’ To me it seemed I had always believed this, and that all the faithful believed it. He told me: ‘Alas, daughter, how few there are who truthfully love me! For if they loved me, I would reveal to them my secrets. Do you know what it is to love Me truthfully? It is to understand that everything that is displeasing to me is a lie. By the beneficial effects this understanding will cause in your soul you shall see clearly what you now do not understand.’”
[La Vida, ch. 40, #1.]
Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903 AD)
“The solicitude of the apostolic office naturally urges and even compels us…to desire that this grand source of Catholic revelation (the Bible) should be made safely and abundantly accessible to the flock of Jesus Christ”
“... For sacred Scripture is not like other books. Dictated by the Holy Ghost, it contains things of the deepest importance, which in many instances are most difficult and obscure. To understand and explain such things there is always required the ‘coming’ of the same Holy Ghost; that is to say, His light and His grace...It is absolutely wrong and forbidden either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of holy Scripture or to admit that the sacred writer has erred... and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration is not only essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true.”
[Providentissimus Deus ( Nov. 18, 1893)]
He also encouraged the reading of Holy Scripture by granting an indulgence to those who read it for at least 25 minutes.
Pope St. Pius X (1903-1914 AD)
“Nothing would please us more than to see our beloved children form the habit of reading the Gospels - not merely from time to time, but every day.”
Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922 AD)
“Ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
He expressed his desire that, “... all the children of the Church, especially clerics, to reverence the Holy Scriptures, to read it piously and meditate on it constantly.”
And he reminded them that,
“... in these pages is to be sought that food, by which the spiritual life is nourished unto perfection ...”
Pope Pius XII 1943 AD
“Our predecessors, when the opportunity occurred, recommended the study or preaching or in fine the pious reading and meditation of the sacred Scriptures.
“... This author of salvation, Christ, will men more fully know, more ardently love and more faithfully imitate in proportion as they are more assiduously urged to know and meditate the Sacred Letters, especially the New Testament ...”
[Divino Afflante Spiritu]
He also granted indulgences (a blessing of God’s grace) to those who read Scripture. (1 Cor. 4:1.)
“21. The Church has always venerated the Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God’s Word and of Christ’s Body. She has always maintained them, and continues to do so, together with sacred tradition, as the supreme rule of faith, since, as inspired by God and committed once and for all to writing, they impart the Word of God Himself without change, and make the voice of the Holy Spirit resound in the words of the prophets and Apostles. Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by sacred Scripture. For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life. Consequently these words are perfectly applicable to sacred Scripture: ‘For the word of God is living and active’ (Heb. 4:12) and ‘it has power to build you up and give you your heritage among all those who are sanctified’ ” (Acts 20:32; see 1 Thess. 2:13).
[DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON DIVINE REVELATION (DEI VERBUM) 1965 AD]
Pope John Paul I August 27, 1978
“... We wish to remind the entire Church that its first duty is that of evangelization. Our Predecessor, Paul VI, presented the directions for this in his memorable document: animated by faith, nourished by the Word of God, and strengthened by the heavenly food of the Eucharist, one should study every way, seek every means ‘in season and out of season’ (2 Tim 4:2), to spread the word, to proclaim the message, to announce that salvation which creates in the soul a restlessness to pursue truth and at the same time offers strength from above. If all the sons and daughters of the Church would know how to be tireless missionaries of the Gospel, a new flowering of holiness and renewal would spring up in this world that thirsts for love and for truth.”
[Urbi et Orbi]
Pope John Paul II October 16, 1979
“27. Catechesis will always draw its content from the living source of the Word of God transmitted in Tradition and the Scriptures, for “sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church,” as was recalled by the Second Vatican Council, which desired that ‘the ministry of the word-pastoral preaching, catechetics and all forms of Christian instruction . . .-(should be) healthily nourished and (should) thrive in holiness through the word of Scripture.’ (57)
“To speak of Tradition and Scripture as the source of catechesis is to draw attention to the fact that catechesis must be impregnated and penetrated by the thought, the spirit and the outlook of the Bible and the Gospels through assiduous contact with the texts themselves …
“The Church's teaching, liturgy and life spring from this source and lead back to it ...”
[Apostolic Exhortation, CATECHESI TRADENDAE, on October 16, 1979]