My love for the Catholic Church came much later in life than my love for Sacred Scripture. I arrived here at age sixty-five, after a long history in the Protestant world, where I once served as a pastor, then as a seminary professor, and eventually as the founding president of a Bible institute. In my former life I had managed to earn four academic degrees, all with concentrations in biblical and theological studies, including a Ph.D. in Exegetical and Biblical Theology.1 Pretty much everything in the world I had inhabited throughout my life to this point centered in the reading and study and teaching of Sacred Scripture.
An unanticipated and unsettling journey, which spanned a decade or so and culminated in my conversion and reception into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 2015, did not represent a departure from what had been my lifelong passion. In fact, the further and deeper I ventured into scriptural, theological, and historical research, availing myself of all the tools fitted to the scholar’s craft and by means of which I had lived and taught throughout my career, the more Catholic I became. In studying my way home to the Church, the thought never occurred to me that I had to renounce or abandon anything that came before, least of all the rich blessings of my Evangelical heritage in which Providence had set me down.
Today I remain profoundly grateful for my past, where I was introduced to Jesus, baptized in the trinitarian Name, tutored in the Scriptures, taught to pray, established on the way of discipleship, formed in holy living, and trained in the academic disciplines of biblical and theological study. It was not a conversion by subtraction–not a “deconversion from Evangelicalism”2 –but by addition. I lost nothing. Through obedience to that tradition and to all that I had learned, lived, and taught as a child of it, I was, alas, led into a richer, deeper, and fuller appreciation of the Faith which I had embraced from my youth. I echo Peter Kreeft’s observation that “when a Protestant becomes a Catholic, he loses nothing positive in Protestantism but perfects it. . . . I am far more appreciative of Evangelicalism, of the Bible, of Christo-centrism, and of absolute dependence on divine grace as a Catholic than I ever was as a Protestant.”3 Like Kreeft, today I am more evangelical (albeit, in a nonsectarian sense) and more devoted to Scripture, not less. It was, for me, like stepping from the porch into the house.
Prior to arriving here, I, like many of my Protestant friends, supposed that few if any Catholics were actually interested in the Bible, or at least in any serious study of it in the way we considered ourselves to be. Perhaps Catholics do not read the Bible, we reckoned, because they think it is too hard to understand and they have to be told what it means by an expert; or (in our more suspicious moments) maybe it’s because Church leaders actually discourage them from doing so as a measure of control, for fear that the laity might discover what the Bible really says. We Protestants, on the other hand, read it faithfully, even daily, in order to know God personally by hearing him speak to us directly, in his very own words, or (in our more honest moments) to discover how the Bible coheres with our present understanding and solidifies our already held convictions and positions.4
To be sure, neither side of this caricature presents the whole picture, even if the perceptions have at least some basis in reality. Moreover, it would not be difficult to provide examples of how each of these characterizations applies equally in reverse–Protestants who struggle to understand what the Bible means and who rely on their own experts to explain it to them, Catholics who read and pray the Bible faithfully for a direct encounter with the living and speaking God. These observations should remind us that our commonly held views, when subjected to charitable scrutiny, might actually turn out to be misconceptions. And when they do, we must be willing to give our flawed opinions a timely burial.
So it is when we come to the question: Can Catholics be Bible Christians? One set of myths surrounding this question concerns the way non-Catholics often view Catholics with respect to the status and role that Scripture is accorded in Catholic life and liturgy. Another set of myths concerns the way Catholics sometimes view themselves vis-à-vis non-Catholics with respect to the same.
In this two-part article, we will consider each of these in turn. Part One will address the former scenario: some of the ways in which non-Catholics view Catholics and their apparent deficiencies in regard to the Bible. Part Two (next month) will address the latter scenario: some of the ways in which Catholics view themselves in light of their own perceptions on this matter. I intend both parts to bring clarity to an issue beset with flawed assumptions and faulty conclusions. While I am writing particularly for Catholic readers, my hope is that non-Catholics will find the discussions helpful as well. In both cases I welcome further engagement toward a mutually edifying end.
Protestants, especially of the Evangelical or Reformed variety, sometimes draw mistaken conclusions from what they observe as differences in the role the Bible plays in Catholic life and liturgy from the role it plays in their own devotional practices and worship customs. It is true, of course, that Catholics “go to Church” for different reasons from many, perhaps most, Protestants, especially those Protestants who self-identify as “non-liturgical” (meaning that their forms of worship, their liturgies, are of their own making rather than ones shared with other traditions). The Catholic Mass, for example, has never been conceived as primarily an educational or didactic meeting, since neither the Scriptures nor the earliest records of the Church present a conception of “church services” as primarily pedagogical. Related, most Catholics do not carry their own Bible to Mass with them, and often it is the case that priestly homilies are noticeably shorter and less “expository” than the sermons of “Bible-teaching” Protestant pastors. These differences are not yet grounds for any kind of objective critique, although they sometimes get construed as such; nor are the conclusions drawn as self-evident as some critics might imagine.
For example, whether or not carrying one’s own Bible to church constitutes a true badge of spirituality (“because that’s what real Bible Christians do”), both non-Catholic and Catholic congregations are keen to accommodate those who, for whatever reason, come to church without one: the former by providing pew Bibles, the latter by printing all the Mass Scripture readings in the Missal, happily in a single translation, assuring that everyone hears the same sacred words. As for the duration and erudition of homilies, it is remarkable how few of the actual sermons recorded in Scripture meet the criteria many preachers and parishioners have constructed for themselves. In this connection, I have observed on many occasions that a fifteen-minute homily might actually contain and deliver as much spiritual nutrition, even as much biblical depth and insight, as a sermon or expository lecture three times its length, not to mention the danger of replacing the Word by “a verbosity that dilutes the greatness of the Word.”5 (Reflecting on some of my own preaching and teaching, I have wondered if the people who welcomed what I said about the Scriptures were as enchanted with the Word itself as they were with the commentary, with the words about the Word.)
As for the centrality of the Bible generally, the heart of the scriptural story is reflected in the surroundings (i.e., in the art and architecture) of virtually every Catholic church building. As one of my Protestant missionary friends exclaimed with amazement after stepping into a Catholic church building, “The gospel is everywhere!” Indeed, it is. Again, many non-Catholics might be surprised to learn that Catholics are served a three- or four-course meal of Scripture in the Liturgy of the Word at every Mass–noticeably more than in most Protestant worship services of my acquaintance–accompanied by expressed acts of reverence and gratitude befitting God’s holy Word (“The word of the Lord–Thanks be to God,” prayers, incense, a sung or spoken “Alleluia,” congregational responses, signing the cross, priestly kiss of the Gospel–all strikingly absent, it seems, in most Protestant settings).
Further, almost the entire Mass consists in an extended prayer that is saturated with Scripture from beginning to end (about seventy-five passages either quoted or alluded to, in addition to the major readings and the homily). Finally, those who attend daily Mass will hear most of the Bible read aloud every three years, and some parts more often than that–a truly remarkable exposure to the Word of our Lord. All of this sheds a revealing light on the testimony sometimes heard from those who leave the Catholic Church claiming never to have heard the gospel there, or in pursuit of “more Bible” in another community (and on those who naively accept their claim at face value).6
For all of this, there is no denying, as many Protestants observe, that some Catholics are or at least appear to be disinterested in the Bible or in genuine scriptural fidelity (in which case they simply prove that they are Catholic more in name than in devotion), or that they do not talk about the Bible with the same level of enthusiasm or degree of confidence as some of their Protestant friends, or that they simply do not know the Bible as well as some non-Catholic Christians seem to know it.7 Comparison and competition aside, this situation is concerning. But even here, non-Catholics will be well-advised to guard against cognitive bias in the form of anecdotal fallacy.
To cite a personal example or two, in the fall of 1995, I mailed a publicity letter to a large number of Protestant pastors and congregations representing widely diverse Christian traditions. Its stated purpose was to introduce the institute in Biblical Studies which I was in the process of founding. That my address list did not include any Catholic priests and parishes simply revealed my ignorance at the time that Catholics might possibly be interested–more a reflection of naiveté than of prejudice. Experience soon proved me wrong. A few years later, while speaking to an ecumenical gathering of campus ministry leaders at the University of Nebraska, I encountered a group of FOCUS missionaries8 whose deep and infectious love for Christ and all things biblical began to dismantle my false impression about Catholics’ alleged disinterest in Bible study. Then over time I was privileged to develop a number of warm personal friendships with several priests and Catholic faithful who exemplified the same. And by the time the institute I had started closed its doors in 2013, there was a growing presence of Catholics enrolling in our classes and attending our seminars, with an evident intensity and enthusiasm for biblical study that matched any of our non-Catholic students and attendees.
More recently, I have encountered many Catholics, both in their writings and in personal association, whose deep love for Scripture and whose personal walk with the Lord revealed in its pages reflect an intimacy and vibrancy toward which every Christian should aspire. Although I do not recall ever expressing it this way, there was a time when I was pretty confident that if it were possible for Catholics and Evangelical Protestants to learn from each other, surely they (the Catholics) would stand to learn more from us “Bible Christians” than we from them. At the time I did not regard my attitude as arrogant or prejudicial, but simply as reflecting reality based on my perception of Catholics and Catholicism. I have had many occasions to reconsider the accuracy of that perception.
Still, it is true that many Catholics, often by their own admission, do not know the Bible well. There is nothing particularly profound or insightful about this observation, and it certainly does not fund any of the conclusions sometimes too-hastily drawn by those who point to perceived deficits as though they reveal a systemic flaw. Nor does it straightforwardly ground an apologetic for Protestant alternatives. Among the dangers lurking down that path, let me highlight five, especially for the benefit of any non-Catholics who might be reading these paragraphs:
1. Having lived most of my life as a churchman and an academic in the Protestant world, I am too familiar with the tendency to mistake knowledge of the Bible for knowledge of God, to confuse Bible facts with biblical faith, to equate formulations of doctrine with fruit borne of genuine godliness. This invites a long pause. How easily we forget that it is not those who believe in a certain presentation of the gospel who finally are saved, with a recital of favorite verses ready to hand as proof-texts, but those who actually stake their hope to the cross and resurrection of Jesus, who receive salvation wholly as a gift of God’s grace–yes, even if by way of Baptism and Confirmation9–and in whose lives the fruits of salvation are evident in works of faith and charity. Those who insist on the necessity of formulating and articulating soteriological doctrines in certain ways, according to their interpretation of Scripture, should be reminded to introspect on whether their confidence rests in intellectual assent or in the person and work of Christ, and in this connection, on how the early Church looked upon the Gnostic heretics and their attempt to restrict salvation to those with a certain form of knowledge according to their own defining criteria.
2. It is not uncommon for Protestants who subscribe to the sola scriptura dogma to make assumptions based on Catholics’ inability to produce specific Scripture references on command when pressed about a particular Catholic doctrine or practice, especially one their Protestant interlocutors do not find in their Bible. How many Catholics have been stumped by the question, “Where is that in the Bible?” or the challenge, “Show me that in the Bible”–a favorite among Protestants when presented with a point of Catholic belief or practice which differs from their own or which appears suspiciously unfamiliar (e.g., Petrine primacy and the papacy, Marian doctrines, purgatory, praying to the saints, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation/Confession)? This is a fair tactic, even when the questions and challenges are posed by inquirers with insincere motives (since detailed answers to such objections are readily available and accessible for those who wish to know). All such inquiries, whatever their motivation, deserve thoughtful responses. To consider each of these at the moment, however, would take us far afield from our present focus, which is not to provide an apologetic for Catholic beliefs and practices, but to examine common perceptions about the role of Scripture in Catholic life and liturgy. Sufficient for now and before continuing to the third caution, let me pose a few questions in response to this second lurking danger, as a friendly challenge for both Protestant and Catholic readers.
To begin, is it not at least possible that some teachings are in fact present in the Scriptures which lie hidden from readers and interpreters because of certain presuppositions which stand in the way of our seeing them? And is this not as true of Protestants as it is of Catholics? Might it be the case that none of us knows the Scriptures fully, reminding us always to maintain a spirit of humility and openness to the inexhaustible and inscrutable word of our Lord? Again, what does it mean for a doctrine or practice to be “in” the Bible, and do the same criteria apply to Protestant doctrines and practices as to Catholic, or is there a double standard, a moving of the proverbial goal posts? Where, for example, does the Bible actually teach that final and absolute authority resides in Scripture alone (the doctrine of sola scriptura); or the common practice of hiring a pastor by a process of candidacy, interview, and congregational vote; or that the bread and wine of Holy Communion are mere symbols; or that all believers go straightway to heaven at the moment of their death; or that sins should be confessed solely to God; or that the saints in glory do not intercede for us; or that the Bible contains only sixty-six inspired books? Surely Catholics have every right to press Protestants with their own set of questions and challenges: Where is that in the Bible? or Show me that in the Bible.10
Even more fundamentally, where does the Bible actually claim that everything must be found in its pages for it to be believed dogmatically and practiced by Christians, and is something judged amiss and unbiblical because it is not expressly affirmed there, or because it actually contradicts what the Bible teaches? More to the main point, does the fact that one Catholic might not be prepared to recite scriptural proof-texts for a given doctrine or practice, even if another Catholic might be able to do so, constitute an argument of any kind at all, such that the same could not be said equally of Protestants?
3. This brings us to a third, and related, danger. The Protestant assumption that Catholics do not know the Bible well often reduces to the simple fact that some Catholic beliefs and practices differ from those of Protestants, who assume theirs to be the biblical ones. The judgment, “You don’t know the Bible very well,” might mean nothing more than, “You don’t see it my way.” Besides begging the question (i.e., presupposing precisely what is in question), the danger here consists in a too-hasty fusing of what the Bible actually says with an interpreter’s opinion about what it says, assuming an equation between the two. The fallacy of fusion occurs often among Bible readers, and most of us would have to admit that we have been guilty. It happens, for example, whenever we claim biblical authority for a position that simply reflects our personally preferred interpretation. This, of course, raises the important question of interpretive criteria. We cannot venture there now, but surely the holy task of reading and understanding Sacred Scripture requires a more principled basis of judgment than individual preference, personal experience, claims to being guided by the Holy Spirit (which all heretics make, right along with their orthodox opponents), or rules that reflect a “hermeneutic of discontinuity”11 with the Church’s interpretive history.
There is much to unpack here. My aim at the moment is simply to sound a caution and to relieve anxieties. No greater burden rests on Catholics to prove that their views are scriptural than on Protestants to do the same; in fact, from a strictly historical perspective, the greater responsibility lies in the other direction. Catholics need not feel intimidated or embarrassed when their beliefs and practices differ from those of their Protestant friends, however confidently the latter assert otherwise. No gravitational pull attaches to Protestant hermeneutics, to which Catholic interpretation is obliged to conform. In sum, that Catholic beliefs and practices do not always fit the criteria of Protestant interpretive opinions does not say anything at all about Catholics knowing or not knowing the Bible. It might signify nothing more than that an appeal is being made to an arbitrary standard.
4. As suggested earlier, some Protestants are confident that the Church’s sinister bureaucracy is to blame for knowingly, intentionally, and perniciously concealing the Bible from the common person and discouraging its reading and study. In this way, they presume, the Church’s Magisterium secures and maintains control over an unsuspecting and blindly compliant laity-as-ignorant-sheep. For example, many continue to suspect that the Western (Roman) Rite’s fondness for Latin in some parts of the Church’s liturgy even today, but especially in the Middle Ages, represents a grand ecclesial conspiracy–a version of formalistic obstruction, if not sacral bullying. This supposedly explains why the Bible was so absent from the medieval Church, with residual effects felt even today, and why the Church resisted vernacular translations until Wycliffe, Luther, and Tyndale cast off the Roman yoke and released the Bible from its ecclesial prison, throwing wide the gates to the knowledge of God for the blessing of the masses. Henry Graham describes this “common and received opinion” among non-Catholics in Britain a century ago, and I am not sure that the picture differs substantially among many Protestants in the United States today, in whose understanding the Catholic Church has:
kept the Bible from the hands of the people . . . sealing it up in a dead language which the majority of people can neither read nor understand. [This she does] because she knows that her doctrines are absolutely opposed to and contradicted by the letter of God’s written Word . . . [including] dogmas and traditions which could not stand one moment’s examination if exposed to the searching light of Holy Scripture. . . . Is it not known to everybody that, when the Bible was for the first time brought to the light and printed and put into the peoples’ [sic] hands in the sixteenth century, suddenly there was a great revolt against the Roman Church–there was a glorious Reformation? The people eagerly gazing upon the open Bible, [sic] saw they had been befooled and hoodwinked, and been taught to hold ‘for doctrines the commandments of men’, and forthwith throwing off the fetters, and emancipating themselves from the bondage of Romanism, they embraced the pure truth of the Word of God as set forth in Protestantism and Protestant Bibles. Is not this the tale that history tells about Rome? Has she not always waged a cruel and relentless war against the Holy Book–issued prohibitions and framed decrees against reading it, or having it in the house. . . ? Has she not burned at the stake, or at least banished from their home and country, servants of the Lord like John Wycliffe and William Tyndale for no other crime than that of translating and printing and putting into lay folk’s hands the sacred text of the gospel of Jesus Christ?12
Even a modest inquiry into the actual historical data would debunk this myth as an absurd fiction and dispatch it to a long-overdue interment. It turns out that this concocted narrative, which postulates a strategy of deceit, is simply wrong at every point. Graham puts it, more sharply: “Surely nothing but the crassest ignorance or the blindest prejudice could support a theory so flatly contradicted by the simplest facts of history.”13 In reality, it was the medieval monks and priests of the Catholic Church who preserved, copied, and taught the Bible and “adopted every means at her disposal in these old days to bring a knowledge of God’s Word to those who could not read, as well as those who could.” Of course, Latin was anything but a dead language at the time; it was spoken, written, and understood by virtually every literate person in Europe. In other words, the Church is to be credited for not locking and sealing the Bible in Hebrew and Greek, but preserving it in the common language, which was Latin.
Moreover, there were popular translations of the Bible in multiple national tongues, even before the printing press; and contrary to the “fondly-cherished notion” that John Wycliffe was “the first to place an English translation of the Scriptures in the hands of the English people in 1382,” in fact “many copies of the Scriptures in the English tongue” existed centuries before Wycliffe, as acknowledged even in the Preface to the Authorized (King James) Version.14 The late Jaroslav Pelikan, eminent Yale professor of Church History, puts a lot of things in perspective:
It is a historical exaggeration, sometimes circulated by the Reformers themselves, to suppose that before Luther came along the Bible had been hidden and that when the monk Martin Luther first stumbled on the Bible in the library it was “chained.” The Bible was chained, yes, but for the same reason that the telephone directory is still chained in a public phone booth: to keep it available. There continued to be chains in the library of the Lutheran University of Wittenberg. Printed Bibles existed not only in Latin but in one or another vernacular well before the Reformation began. . . .15
The same author goes on to explain how, through various “medieval channels” (e.g., biblical preaching and detailed artistic depictions of Bible stories), “the knowledge of the Bible had been far more extensive and thorough than Protestant propaganda usually gives it credit for being.”16
It turns out that about the only truth to the popular misconception–which still finds its way into anti-Catholic social media posts–has to do with the Church’s measures to avoid the rampant and reckless proliferation of (per)versions of Scripture, especially following the advent of the printing press, and her determination to curtail some of the conflicting and idiosyncratic interpretations, each giving rise to yet another sect, that followed on from the “priesthood of the believer” and “private judgment” as these doctrines were construed in the aftermath of the Reformation. In other words, the Catholic Church has always been concerned to protect the Scriptures against the sorts of abuse they have suffered through intended or unintended byproducts of the Protestant Reformation.17 If the Church sometimes erred in the measures she took–reflective minds can judge which side of these issues bears the greater blame–at least history attests to her veneration of Sacred Scripture and her desire for all people to read and to know God’s Holy Word in a language they can understand. As for the modern retention of Latin in certain settings of the liturgy as a possible contributing factor to distancing Catholics from the Scriptures today, it might be the case that a more charitable view would regard the gains as outweighing the losses.18 That is not a matter on which I am qualified to judge.
5. Finally, and closely related, without venturing into the complex political, philosophical, and theological impulses which shaped the context in which Protestantism was formed and which are essential to sorting fact from fiction in the various popular versions of the Reformation, at least one important clarification bears reflection. The widespread claim among many heirs of the Reformation, that the sixteenth-century reformers recovered the Bible from an apostate Church and restored its authority for generations of believers to follow, effectively funds a great deal of Protestant apologetics and anti-Catholic propaganda, but it misses a crucial differentiation. It is important to understand that from Luther onward, the real achievement of the reformers was not to effect a shift from institutional authority and manmade tradition to the Bible as the sole or supreme authority (sola scriptura), as is often assumed and confidently claimed. The actual shift was from ecclesial authority to individual authority (or to an individual’s self-chosen authority, which amounts to the same thing). “The Bible alone” has always meant the Bible interpreted on my own or on the authority of the interpreters whom I choose to trust, without the help of tradition or ecclesial authority.19 And this radical shift toward private judgment continues to manifest itself in ways that are relevant to how modern Protestants often perceive Catholics when it comes to the respective ways in which they handle and speak about the Bible.
I acknowledge that there is widespread misunderstanding and confusion among Catholics on this issue, as I will attempt to clarify in Part Two; but the simple observation that many Catholics appear less confident in reading the Bible on their own (“all by themselves”) or less inclined to offer their personal interpretation (“The Bible says”) and more inclined to offer the Church’s (“The Church teaches”) should not be judged as an indicator that Catholics obviously are scripturally indifferent or disinterested. A more charitable spirit might judge the apparent reticence among Catholics as in fact a reflection of humble deference and holy reverence befitting the Sacred, manifest in a healthy fear of misinterpreting God’s Word, in contrast to what sometimes appears to them as presumption on the part of their non-Catholic friends.
It would be interesting to explore further the various aspects and possible nuances of the issues surrounding this discussion,20 but such an inquiry lies beyond the present concern. My immediate point is simply to highlight that some of the Protestant perspectives on Catholic ignorance of Scripture lie more in popular myth than in historical or present reality. More is involved in assessing observations than merely assuming relative knowledge or scriptural fidelity on the basis of who is the most chatty and self-confident, or who has stashed in memory the most Scripture passages and is able to produce on demand their exact biblical addresses (chapter and verse locations). Above all, actual knowledge of the Bible should never be confused with the personal knowledge of God, nor should it be equated with individual competence in private or independent interpretation of the Bible.
Learning Humility from a Veteran
A number of years ago, long before I entered the Catholic Church or had any intentions of doing so, I sat beside a retired, veteran missionary who reflected pensively over his long ministry career as an Evangelical Protestant in a predominantly Catholic country. “If I had it to do all over again,” he pondered, “I would go to [country] with a different mission–not to replace the Catholic Church with Evangelical ones, but to encourage nominal Catholics to live more faithfully for Christ as Catholics.” One can only imagine what the Church–and the world–would be like today if every “Bible Christian” exemplified that kind of uncommon humility and came to a different posture from the one still fueled by a five-hundred-year-old “cleaving of Christendom.”21
In a similar way, I have often wondered what the ecclesial landscape might look like today–and what the gospel impact on the world might be as a result–if those Christians who consider themselves the more initiated and enlightened when it comes to Bible knowledge would find ways to strengthen their perceived “weaker brethren” rather than to justify a separated identity on the grounds of the haves and the have nots. And while I muse, I also secretly wonder who might derive the greater surprise (in terms of who actually learns from whom) in such a prospect. Speaking personally, having studied the Bible diligently and taught it extensively for almost half a century, I continue to be amazed at how much I do not know and how much some of my Catholic pastors, friends, and colleagues do know, including fresh insights which I had never considered–fresh to me, not because they are novel and clever and original, but because they reflect an interpretive tradition rooted in deeper soil than my own exegetical labors had tilled.22
And that brings us to Part Two, in which we will consider the second scenario mentioned above–how Catholics often view themselves vis-à-vis non-Catholics and who themselves feel insecure about putting ‘Catholic’ and ‘Bible’ in the same sentence.
Exegetical theology refers to the technical analysis of an original-language text with a view to ascertaining what the text says, and how and why. Biblical Theology, as a specialized discipline, builds upon the exegetical process with a view to articulating the message set forth by the text in its own theological categories (i.e., letting the writers/writings set their own theological agenda).
The phrase belongs to Fr. Ian Ker in the Introduction to John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua (New York: Penguin Books, 1994; repr. 2004), xxi, xxiv.
Peter Kreeft, Catholics and Protestants: What Can We Learn from Each Other?(San Francisco: Ignatius, 2017), 61. Similarly, although I was never Lutheran, I can relate to Richard John Neuhaus, who issued a statement on September 8, 1990, about his own conversion: “As for my thirty years as a Lutheran pastor, there is nothing in that ministry that I would repudiate, except my many sins and shortcomings. My becoming a priest in the Roman Catholic Church will be the completion and right ordering of what was begun all those years ago. Nothing that is good is rejected, all is fulfilled” (“How I Became the Catholic I Was,” First Things, April 2002).
John Goldingay cites a Latin American joke to the effect that “Catholics don’t read the Bible because they think it’s too hard to understand; Protestants don’t read it because they’re sure they already understand it” (An Introduction to the Old Testament: Exploring Text, Approaches and Issues [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2015], 7).
Benedict XVI, “With Cardinal Sarah, the Liturgy Is in Good Hands,” afterword to Robert Cardinal Sarah, The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2017); cited from First Things (May 17, 2017).
Respecting the former complaint and in light of “The gospel is everywhere!” point above, we can only surmise that their eyes were as closed as their ears. Respecting the latter, Casey Chalk (“The Gospel Coalition and the Vividness Criterion” [Called to Communion, March 5, 2017]) exposes the question-begging, vividness cognitive bias of popular Reformed Baptist pastor John Piper, who cites the case of an 80-year-old Italian nun who reportedly converted from Catholicism, never having read the Gospel of John, and who rails against the Catholic Church on this basis (http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2017/03/the-gospel-coalition-and-the-vividness-criterion/).
All three occurrences of ‘some’ in this sentence deserve their full weight. In the second instance, for example, not all Protestants, even of the Evangelical stripe, are as talky about the Lord and the Scriptures as many Catholics of my acquaintance. I can name entire communities of self-proclaimed Evangelicals, anti-Catholic to the core, who can talk about jobs and families and sports and gardens and the weather, with scarcely a mention of God outside of Sunday worship or grace before meals.
FOCUS is an acronym for Fellowship of Catholic University Students.
Among some Protestants, these sacramental means of receiving salvation do not qualify as legitimate, precisely for the reason noted here: They violate a particular formulation of the gospel by which an individual must be saved.
The list could continue. With minimal effort I once identified 20 commonly held beliefs and practices in a leading Evangelical denomination which are not found, at least not explicitly, in the pages of Scripture. More seriously, if the doctrine of sola scriptura does not rest solidly on the Bible’s own self-claim, however that dogma is nuanced, then the belief itself is simply arbitrary and self-contradictory. Moreover, in that case, ironically, Protestants have elevated a man-made tradition over the Scriptures, in a way that Catholic theology expressly forbids.
The term ‘hermeneutic(s)’ refers to the guiding theories and principles by which interpreters understand and explain the meaning of texts.
Henry G. Graham, Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church (22d printing; London: Aeterna Press, 2015), 3-4.
Graham, Where We Got the Bible, 53, 55-56, 60-62, including lists of these versions by name. He goes on to speak of 27 editions of the Bible in German existing before Luther’s appeared in 1520, as well as various versions in Italian, French, Spanish, Hungarian, and others–altogether, 626 editions, many in languages other than Latin, all sanctioned by the Church, “before the first Protestant version of the Scriptures was sent forth into the world” (64). On the history of English Bible translation, G. W. H. Lampe, ed., The West from the Fathers to the Reformation (vol. 2 of The Cambridge History of the Bible; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969); S. L. Greenslade, ed., The West from the Reformation to the Present Day (vol. 3 of The Cambridge History of the Bible; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963); F. F. Bruce, History of the Bible in English (3d ed.; New York: Oxford University Press, 1978); Raymond E. Brown, “The English Bible,” in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Roland E. Murphy; Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1990), 1109-12; Bruce M. Metzger, The Bible in Translation: Ancient and Modern English Versions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001); and Jaroslav Pelikan, Whose Bible Is It? A Short History of the Scriptures (New York: Penguin, 2005).
Pelikan, Whose Bible Is It?, 167-68.
See, e.g., Brad S. Gregory, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012); and James R. Payton, Jr., Getting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Misunderstandings (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2010). For example, in his Apostolic Constitution Unigenitus, issued September 8, 1713, Pope Clement XI condemned 101 propositions of the 17th-century Jansenist heretic Paschasius Quesnel (who, it should be noted, made a public profession of faith shortly before his death), among them: 79, “It is useful and necessary at all times, in all places, and for every kind of person, to study and to know the spirit, the piety, and the mysteries of Sacred Scripture”; 80, “The reading of Sacred Scripture is for all”; and 81, “The sacred obscurity of the Word of God is no reason for the laity to dispense themselves from reading it.” There is a context, of course, within which these condemnations are to be understood. The Vatican II document Dei Verbum represents an important clarification of the Church’s position generally.
I am referring especially to the sense of deep continuity with the Church throughout the ages and to the preservation of an exalted language of worship. In any event, at least in the parishes of my familiarity, the Liturgy of the Word (Scripture readings and homily) are in English, even if some of the other Mass parts are in Latin. For an accessible discussion on the larger issues by an English literature professor, see Thomas Howard, Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1984); idem, On Being Catholic (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1997).
John Bergsma, Stunned by Scripture: How the Bible Made Me Catholic (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2018), 113.
E.g., the contributing factors to so much fiction surrounding modern-day perspectives on the Reformation agendas and accomplishments, including the manifest difficulties with various articulations and applications of the sola scriptura dogma (on which the bibliography of reputable studies by both Catholic and non-Catholic historians and theologians is immense); whether there is a principled basis for interpretive authority as either communal or individual; and whether or not the real goal in Bible reading and study is to “do it all by myself” or to do it from the heart of the Church, through the prism of the Church’s teaching, like (not merely with or alongside) the Church’s Fathers.
Cf. Warren H. Carroll, The Cleaving of Christendom (vol. 4 of A History of Christendom; Front Royal, VA: Christendom, 2000).
Between the years 2005 and 2010, long before any thoughts of ever becoming Catholic had entered my mind, I wrote and revised and re-revised, and then never published, a lengthy essay entitled “‘Biblical Christianity’: Redundancy or Oxymoron? The Present State of the Bible in the Church and in the World.” It was an analysis of the many ways (at least 9) in which especially Evangelical Protestantism is in danger of subtly and blindly turning what should be verbal surplus (‘Biblical Christianity’) into verbal opposition, a redundancy into an oxymoron. I was probably wise not to release the piece then, and I do not intend to do so now. But I am convinced that in large swaths of the Protestant world, including those places which pride themselves in Bible teaching and those believers who consider themselves the real Bible Christians, the Scriptures do not enjoy as stable a place at the heart of things as many imagine. Further, for specific and definite reasons, I now believe there is less to fear in these regards within the Catholic context than within the Protestant.