I remember during my dating days wanting to start a Bible study with a girl I was dating. She liked the idea, but asked “which commentary are we going to use in studying the Bible?” Puzzled, I said we wouldn’t be. We would just talk over the phone/in person about various Bible verses, what they mean to us, what we can get out of them, etc. To her, Catholics could only study the Bible if you had “approved” commentaries.This is one of the many bad attitudes a lot of lay Catholics have about Scripture. This mentality stems from a false idea: The Scripture is mainly meant to be used as some reference guide for this or that dogma. This isn’t what the Bible teaches about itself, since it states that reading the Bible is profitable “for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) If you heard this verse and only thought about the Sola Scriptura debate, you are part of the problem.
The Catholic Church in her Magesterium treats the Scriptures as something entirely different. We begin with the landmark papal encyclical from Leo XIII Providentissimus Deus , which many rightly credit with launching a new age of Catholic Biblical studies:
Nowhere is there anything more full or more express on the subject of the Savior of the world than is to be found in the whole range of the Bible. As St. Jerome says, “To be ignorant of the Scripture is not to know Christ.” In its pages His Image stands out, living and breathing; diffusing everywhere around consolation in trouble, encouragement to virtue and attraction to the love of God. And as to the Church, her institutions, her nature, her office, and her gifts, we find in Holy Scripture so many references and so many ready and convincing arguments, that as St. Jerome again most truly says: “A man who is well grounded in the testimonies of the Scripture is the bulwark of the Church.”
There is a lot to unpack in that one paragraph. In the eyes of Leo XIII, one cannot know Christ if one cannot know the Scriptures, and knowledge of the Scriptures is the bulwark upon which the Church stands. This statement is also true in a negative sense. When we do not know the Scriptures, we abandon our Lord, and the Church loses its sure foundation, not in the bigger picture (for the Holy Spirit prevents the gates of hell from prevailing against the Church), but in the immediate picture. Look at a local Church in crisis, and it is normally in correlation to how serious they live a life of dedication to the Scriptures.
We first need to establish what the Scriptures are. If we simply say that they are “God’s word”, then we do a grave disservice, and the Bible is no different from the Qur’an, the Book of Mormon, or various pagan texts. In the mind of Leo XIII, we should treat the Scriptures as “a letter, written by our Heavenly Father… to the human race in its pilgrimage so far from its heavenly country.” (Paragraph 1 Providentissimus Deus) When one receives a letter (or in our generation, an email) from a distant parent we long to see, we don’t expect it to simply be a list of dogmatic commands that we must believe in. We expect there to be love, exhortation, counsel, stories to make us feel good and various other things alongside those teachings we need to abide by to make it home safely.
How often do we do this in our lives? When we are trying to figure out moral decisions, how often do we think about what the various characters in the Bible did? When trying to get through a dry spot in prayer, how often do we think about the dry spells the prophets certainly must have went through and how they got out of it? How often do we tell our children the stories of the Holy and Venerable Patriarchs? (If you have to ask yourself who the Patriarchs are, you have given me your answer.) It is a cliche to say that we Catholics get lots of Scripture at Mass. Yet how often do we stop to think about those Scriptures? How often do we meditate upon them? Do we realize that in 60 paragraphs, our Holy Father Pope Francis quoted the Scriptures directly 114 times in his first encyclical Lumen Fidei ?
There is sometimes a mentality that being this deep into Scripture undermines the Churches belief about Sacred Tradition or interferes with the Churches power to bind and loose on matters of doctrine. This is a grave error, and we Catholics must renounce it if we are to live in accordance with the teachings of the Church. Sacred Scripture is part of that Sacred Tradition, and is the part of Tradition that God the Father willed to be written down for our instruction and salvation. (John 21:24-25) The Second Vatican Council describes Sacred Scripture and Sacred Oral Tradition as “flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end.” As to the idea that this interferes with the Churches authority to bind and loose, Pius XII reminds us in Divino Afflante Spiritu that “there are but few texts whose sense has been defined by the authority of the Church, nor are those more numerous about which the teaching of the Holy Fathers is unanimous.” (DAS 49)
Catholics often get painted with the reputation of not caring a lot about the Scriptures. We need to take this concern seriously, and show our brethren across the way that this is not the truth. If you aren’t taking the Bible seriously, and I mean as part of your daily life, you aren’t taking your role as a Catholic seriously.