Can Catholics Be Bible Christians?: Debunking Some Popular Myths, Part Two

Can Catholics Be <i>Bible</i> Christians?: Debunking Some Popular Myths, Part Two

“What is Scripture, if not a letter from Almighty God?
The Lord of men and of angels, has sent you His letters 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.”
(Pope St. Gregory the Great, c. 540-604)

“And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor
and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul,
and a pure and lasting font of spiritual life.”
Hence “access to Sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian faithful.”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 131; Dei Verbum, 21-22)


My journey toward the Catholic Church, as I noted in Part One, led me to the joyful discovery that love of Scripture and love of Catholic faith go hand in hand, that Catholics can be Bible Christians. I also came to realize, sadly, that not all Catholics seem to agree with that conclusion; and I’m pretty certain that most Protestants do not. Among both Catholics and non-Catholics, however, reservations about putting ‘Catholic’ and ‘Bible’ in the same sentence are based on faulty assumptions.

In the earlier piece, I identified some of the myths many non-Catholics believe about Catholics being Bible Christians and exposed a number of failures in those perceptions. This is not to imply that all Protestant doubts about Catholic devotion to the Bible derive from prejudice. In fact, Catholics themselves are sometimes guilty of fueling Protestant apprehensions, in ways that reveal some of their own false ideas about what it means to be Catholic. We will come to these in a moment, but the point is this: Non-Catholics are not to blame for opinions they form from the failure of many Catholics actually to be Bible Christians. This does not describe all Catholics of course, nor, as we shall see, do such failures reflect a systemic flaw in the Church’s actual position. But even among Catholics who understand and embrace the Church’s unwavering testimony to the supremacy and centrality of Scripture and who are not laggards in taking the Bible seriously, there exists a tendency to feel insecure about identifying themselves as Bible Christians. More often than not this stems from a certain faulty self-perception vis-à-vis non-Catholics, which amounts to believing a myth of a different kind. It is to this assortment of issues that we turn in Part Two.

Getting It Wrong

To begin, it is not uncommon for Catholics to think of the Bible as a Protestant book, and to regard its study as a Protestant activity. “Protestants have their Bible, and we have our Tradition,” as one lifelong Catholic expressed it to my daughter. Or again, “Protestants might be able to recite Bible verses by memory, but we Catholics know all the Mass prayers by heart.” Then there are those who wonder whether or not Catholics are really supposed to read and study the Bible, since, in their understanding, it’s the role of the Magisterium1 simply to tell us everything we need to know. Some Catholics are of the mind that the Church actually cautions against personal Bible study, warning that it’s better for ordinary people not to touch the Bible lest they mishandle and misinterpret it. For still others, the Mass readings, the priest’s homilies, and the Scripture citations in the Catechism are sufficient; there’s no need for any more Bible than that (presumably, knowing just enough for our salvation relieves any need for loving God “with all [our] mind”). As well, there are Catholics who, like certain groups within Protestantism, regard intellectual engagement or studied understanding of the Faith as a threat to spirituality or a personal relationship with Jesus (as if real love of God is possible without genuine knowledge of God).2 Many Catholics, like many Protestants, view the Bible as a reservoir of guidelines and guardrails—a source book for ensuring that our beliefs are the correct ones—rather than a wellspring flowing with the ever-fresh and sustaining water of life. Finally, some Catholics have the impression that one can be a good and faithful Catholic simply by “following the rules,” without actually occupying themselves with the “letter from Almighty God” (Pope St. Gregory the Great) as “strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting font of spiritual life” (CCC 131).

The irony consists in the fact that each of these perceptions, whatever its provenance or popularity, gets it wrong; each is contradicted by the Church’s actual teaching. Often these myths are accompanied by faulty assumptions of a comparative nature. For example, on one occasion, a year or so after my wife and I were received into the Church, I introduced myself to a cradle Catholic in our parish who, upon learning of my recent conversion as a lifelong Protestant, responded in almost hushed and reverent tones: “Oh, then you must really know the Bible.” I assured him that I must not fit the stereotype, since I still have a great deal to learn, especially now that I’m Catholic. He seemed puzzled by my response. Had our conversation continued, I would have explained to him how reading and studying the Bible through my new Catholic lenses had opened a world of fresh insights which had escaped my attention in the past. (Concerned Protestant friends need not worry that my conversion signals a departure from biblical fidelity. On the contrary, my love for Scripture has never been stronger, nor my devotion deeper. In this late season of life I am humbly blessed to be doing my best study and teaching.3)

Sometimes the sentiments are captured more humorously: The priest and seminary professor who stumbled over a Scripture reference in a predominantly Protestant setting and modestly shrugged in self-deprecation, “Hey, I’m a Catholic, what do you expect?” Or Dr. Scott Hahn’s charge to a largely Catholic audience, inviting them to turn to a certain Scripture passage if they’ve brought a Bible with them, or to look around for a Protestant who has. Even our jocularity might contain an element of truth, however.

Occasionally Catholics express their views on this matter in ways that are brutally honest and disconcerting, as in a concluding remark by Benedict Thomas Viviano, OP: “In practice a Roman Catholic who wants to remain faithful to the divine revelation as contained in the Scriptures must accept that he or she will be living with believers for whom scriptural fidelity is not a high priority and who indulge in unscriptural beliefs and practices. So patience and charity remain necessary also in this important area.”4 (It is not obvious to me that Protestants are a leg up on Catholics on this point.)

In Part One of this two-part discussion we focused on some of the faulty perceptions non-Catholics sometimes have of Catholics respecting their appreciation for the Bible. We turn now to some of the myths Catholics themselves may be guilty of believing and propagating with respect to the question, Can Catholics be Bible Christians? As in the case of mistaken Protestant assumptions and conclusions, there is much to be gained for Catholics in exposing our own ideas to critical scrutiny, in facing the truth with honesty and humility, and in ensuring that opinions and attitudes we find to be misguided and flawed are promptly discarded.

Getting It Right

As a likely starting point, it will be instructive for us to consider a few quotations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (hereafter in citations, CCC), especially selections which highlight the Church’s official position on the centrality of Scripture and its place in the faith and life of Catholic Christians. At the very least, doing so will demonstrate that the point I am belaboring and the appeal I am making are not novel; they are in fact completely in sync with Catholic teaching. Most of these passages reflect the Catechism’s dependence on the Second Vatican Council’s landmark document Dei Verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, November 18, 1965; hereafter in citations, DV). Consider the following selections:

103 For this reason, the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord’s Body. She never ceases to present to the faithful the bread of life, taken from the one table of God’s Word and Christ’s Body. [DV 21]

104 In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, “but as what it really is, the word of God” [1 Thess 2:13]. “In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them” [DV 21].

131 “And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting font of spiritual life” [DV 21]. Hence “access to Sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian faithful” [DV 22].

132 “Therefore, the ‘study of the sacred page’ should be the very soul of sacred theology. The ministry of the Word, too–pastoral preaching, catechetics, and all forms of Christian instruction, among which the liturgical homily should hold pride of place–is healthily nourished and thrives in holiness through the Word of Scripture” [DV 24].

133 The Church “forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful . . . to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ,’ by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ’” [DV 25; cf. Phil 3:8 and St. Jerome, Commentariorum in Isaiam libri xviii prol.: PL 24, 17b].

In addition to these compelling statements, it is noteworthy that the Catechism is itself anchored to Scripture throughout, with over 3,000 biblical passages cited, many of them multiple times. And then there is the entirety of Dei Verbum as well as many other magisterial documents.5 And this does not begin to include the countless other writings both ancient and modern calling Catholics to the serious study of Scripture and modeling for all to see what that entails.6

In this light, it is inconceivable that any Catholic would take lightly the Sacred Scriptures or be willing to settle for mediocrity when it comes to learning the Bible. It is understandable, of course, that in the aftermath of the upheavals which ripped Christendom asunder half a millennium ago and the postulated biblical basis for doing so, Scripture reading should become suspect, that whatever Protestants promoted Catholics avoided. Few people were on their best behavior in those days, and there is plenty of blame to be shared on all sides. But this is no longer the sixteenth century. The Church has spoken, again and again–consistent with what she has always taught, even if some of her members denied those teachings in their practice. Five hundred years later, it is just as tragic for Catholics to retain a posture of reaction and to retreat in one direction, whether from fear or indifference or ambivalence or identity disassociation, as it is for Protestants to do so in the other, whether in self-adulation or as justification for evangelistic exploitation (proselytism) or as grounds for remaining in schism.

Returning to the first quotation from the Catechism above, the fuller statement from Dei Verbum reads as follows:

The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the 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).

This is a breathtaking summary of what the Catholic Church actually believes and teaches about Sacred Scripture, including the reverence in which God’s Word has consistently been held, the supremacy and centrality it occupies in the life and faith of the Church, and the indispensable value it is accorded as the precious and powerful gift of the Father’s love to his children. Whether or not every Catholic actually regards Scripture in this light, this is the Church’s position. To be truly and faithfully Catholic is to embrace these same convictions. To refrain from doing so is to exchange the truth for a myth, the reality of what it means to be Catholic for a “form of religion” which “denies the power of it” (2 Tim 3:5).

We must pause here a few more moments. The implications of the Catechism’s claims are jolting. Among other things, it means that “just as [we] venerate the body of the Lord,” treasuring every morsel of the Eucharistic Bread, so we will treat every inspired word with comparable reverence and devotion and meticulous attention. If Scripture and Sacrament are bound definitively and inseparably together, it will not do for us to adore the one and to abandon the other, to ingest the one and to ignore the other, to venerate the one on the Altar and to neglect the other on the library shelf. And just as the liturgy (most especially the Eucharist) illuminates the Scriptures by providing the proper context in which they are to be read and heard,7 so “the sacred books, [wherein] the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them,” illuminate the wonder of the holy sacrifice in the Real Presence there. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI summarizes this relationship in the following way:

Thus the revelation of God’s will is the revelation of what our own being truly wishes–it is a gift. So we should learn anew to be grateful that in the word of God the will of God and the meaning of our own existence have been communicated to us. God’s presence in the word and his presence in the Eucharist belong together, inseparably. The eucharistic Lord is himself the living Word. Only if we are living in the sphere of God’s Word can we properly comprehend and properly receive the gift of the Eucharist.8

Matthew Levering expresses this conviction in his reflections on King Josiah’s liturgical reforms in ancient Israel (2 Kgs 23:1-27): “Liturgical forgetfulness means scriptural ignorance and vice versa.” Again, “the orientation of the liturgy and the orientation of Scripture are one and the same. Both turn us away from our own sufficiency and lead us into the sufficiency of God. . . . [T]he eucharistic liturgy is a God-centered ordering because, like the Scripture it proclaims, it draws us into the new eschatological life in Christ and the Spirit.”9

As a new Catholic, I sometimes worry that, just as Protestants tend to accentuate one side of this full-gospel vision, so Catholics tend to accentuate the other and to console themselves in doing so. As a variation on an earlier theme, “Protestants have the written word in their Bible, but we Catholics have the living Word, the Real Presence, in the Blessed Sacrament.” The Church consistently, explicitly, and forcefully warns against this sort of false dichotomy as we should see in the quotations above.

The clarification we are making is not merely academic. In his Foreword to Jean Daniélou’s The Bible and the Liturgy, editor Michael A. Mathis refers to this “most unfortunate, not to say deplorable, situation” in which the instructional function of the Church’s liturgical rites and feasts seems largely to be lost, with the result that “the faithful have too seldom taken proper advantage of this primal source of Christian initiation and growth.” The reason, he goes on to explain, lies in their unfamiliarity with the Scriptures and the Fathers, in consequence of which the Church’s “rites and feasts have come to be treated like sacred but mysterious heirlooms having no vital meaning for ordinary Christians today, since they do their work anyway, whether they are fully understood or not.”10 In other words, while it is possible for Catholics to go on receiving the graces conveyed by the Sacraments, which clearly is one of their purposes, ignorance of the Scriptures and the Fathers can deprive them of growing in the life-giving and transforming significance of those Sacraments. It is one thing for Pope Benedict XVI to stress that:

Every liturgical action is by its very nature steeped in sacred Scripture. In the words of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, sacred Scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. From it are taken the readings, which are explained in the homily and the psalms that are sung. From Scripture the petitions, prayers and liturgical hymns receive their inspiration and substance. From Scripture the liturgical actions and signs draw their meaning.11

Yet it is another thing for parishioners to know this in their bones. Not to do so invites a stern caution about the failure to anchor our understanding of the liturgy in Scripture, lest our worship, like Israel’s dance around the golden calf (cf. Exod 32), become “a self-generated cult . . . a festival of self-affirmation . . . a kind of banal self-gratification . . . no longer concerned with God but with giving oneself a nice little alternative world, manufactured from one’s own resources.” It is then, Benedict XVI goes on to say, that “liturgy really does become pointless, just fooling around. Or still worse it becomes an apostasy from the living God, an apostasy in sacral disguise.”12 As I frequently tell my students, this point deserves a long pause.

Facing the Hard Reality

Part of what I am driving at was brought home to me in the winter of 2017, during an RCIA13 session in a local parish in which I had been invited to present a scriptural study on the Eucharist. After class I asked an obviously attentive young woman, a cradle Catholic attending with her soon-to-be-husband, if what I had taught that evening was anything more than a review of the familiar. I assumed it wasn’t. Her response was enlightening: “On the contrary,” she said, “I learned about the Eucharist as a child, but I had never studied it as an adult; and so my understanding has remained elementary–until tonight.”

Her perspective represents what appears to be a widespread and I think unfortunate reality–unfortunate because the wonders of our Catholic faith are simply too rich and deep and full and life-giving to be contained in elementary buckets, where I fear many Catholics store them, with many unfavorable effects. For example, some are mystified at the enthusiasm they observe in converts over what we have discovered here, often amazed that anyone should make such a journey, and pay such a price for doing so. (How often I have thought, “If only they realized what they have!”) Many are insecure when it comes to articulating and defending the Faith in the face of challenges from a darkened culture, or the objections of fallen-away Catholics or non-Catholics. Some even abandon the Faith later in life because the roots of their understanding never grew deep and strong in theological soil that was nutritious enough to sustain adult doubts and intellectual assaults.

Many Catholics attend Mass routinely, with minimal ostensive interest or meaningful participation (as reflected on impassive faces, inactive voices, and inexcusable early exits14). Worship, for them, has become formalistic–an adherence to sacramental routines which lack the vibrancy of the living and active voice of God infusing those Sacraments with generative and regenerative power (the ability to be culturally “Catholic” without being devotedly Christian, to be formally catechized but not spiritually converted). A contributing factor might be the way the so-called “five precepts of the Church” (regarding Mass, Confession, the Eucharist, fasting and abstinence, and financial giving; CCC, 2041-2043) are sometimes taught, as sufficient “rules” for being “good and faithful Catholics.” Context is essential. It is instructive that the precepts are positioned two-thirds of the way into the Catechism, as a component section on “Life in Christ” (1691-2557), after lengthy discussions on “The Profession of Faith” (26-1065) and “The Celebration of the Christian Mystery” (1066-1690). Indeed, the precepts are explicitly focused on “growth in love of God and neighbor” (2041); they are not a formulaic or formalistic substitute for having a deep personal connection to Jesus Christ and a consistent life-giving encounter with the living and breathing words of Sacred Scripture.

Then there are leading politicians who, as professing Catholics, find ways to accommodate the values and morals of the prevailing culture in their “establishment cultural Catholicism.”15 Their compromise of and departure from the Church’s teachings are, I suspect, made easier by the fact that they do not comprehend how deeply anchored those teachings are in the eternal, unchanging, and life-giving verities of Sacred Scripture. It’s far easier and more tolerable to say, “I’m Catholic, but I disagree with the Church on this point or that,” than it is to say, “I’m Catholic, but I think God is mistaken on this point or that.” That these are logically equivalent statements escapes those who remain unaware of what God actually says in Sacred Scripture, from which divine revelation the Church derives her teaching.

Some lifelong Catholics bemoan their biblical illiteracy, especially in conversations with Protestant friends or new converts who seem more versed than they, yet they remain at a loss as to what they might do about their deficit and doubtful about any prospect for changing the situation. Some in this last category are among those who react defensively: “Well, Protestants can have their Bible, but at least we Catholics have our Tradition and our Magisterium,” thus misunderstanding the Church’s unequivocal teaching on this topic.16 Others in this category may need to be reminded that our capacity to speak the word of God with clarity and conviction grows in proportion to our actual knowledge of that word.17

Again, many are ignorant of Scripture’s power to draw us to the heart of God and to inform all of our beliefs and practices, including our daily Christian experience, with the authority and guidance and fresh breath of divine revelation. And some who consider themselves faithful Catholics give little serious thought to their role as the lay faithful in the day-to-day life of the Church because they lack an informed and vibrant understanding of scriptural teaching on this important matter.

There’s more. Almost all Catholics are able to name Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas as two of the most influential figures since the apostles in shaping the Church’s faith, yet few show any awareness of the extent to which both of these theologians were steeped in and shaped by Sacred Scripture. Indeed, to be truly Augustinian or Thomist is to be a lover of Scripture.18 The same can be said of being a true disciple of Blessed (soon-to-be-Saint) John Henry Newman, who knew the entire New Testament by memory, or of being a true admirer of virtually every saint, most of whom lived deeply in the Scriptures which made them saints. This includes Mary, the blessed mother of our Lord and fully deserving of all the veneration she receives in Catholic dogma and devotion. What fails to register in many Catholics’ minds, however, is the fact that Mary’s Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55), where we hear her speak most fully from her own heart, is arguably more densely saturated with scriptural (Old Testament) echoes and allusions than almost any other New Testament passage–“a virtual collage of biblical texts.”19 The Gospel depictions of Mary are unmistakable: She was full of God’s words before she was full of God’s Word, which explains in part why she was prepared to respond to Gabriel’s announcement in the manner that she did. To express this sharply, it is not possible to honor the blessed mother of our Lord and of the Church in the way that she deserves without crediting the Scriptures which made her who she was. In this light, Marian devotion without biblical devotion is misguided devotion.

And on it goes, all, or at least in large part, because of that “most unfortunate, not to say deplorable, situation” (recalling Mathis above) in which we have not properly united the Sacraments with the study of the Sacred Word, Faith with Scripture. If Protestants betray a “preference for prophet over priest, for the word over the sacrament, and for the spirit over institutional structures,”20 it is not difficult to detect the opposite tendency in each case among Catholics. This includes some Catholic theologians, past and present,21 despite the fact that according to Vatican II, “the study of the sacred page is . . . the soul of sacred theology” (DV 24). It is understandable that Bishop Barron should regard “neglect of the Bible as one of the cardinal sins, so to speak, in currents in Catholic theology,” and insist that “there can be no authentic presentation of Christianity that doesn’t begin with immersion in the ‘density’ of the Biblical universe.”22

A Hope and a Prayer

What I hope to have achieved in this discussion is to grant that non-Catholics do have a legitimate concern about apparent Catholic (dis)interest in Scripture, even if their observations do not lead straightforwardly to the conclusions at which they arrive. More importantly, I hope to have underscored that a serious devotion to Sacred Scripture is fundamental to what it means to be truly Catholic. It will not do for Catholics to continue to rehearse the familiar litany, “I was not catechized well,” or “My pastor administered the Sacraments but failed to teach the Scriptures,” and then leave it at that. However true it might be, it does not excuse; or to put this differently, it might not be our fault that we do not know the Scriptures well, but it is our responsibility to do something about it. Excuses fail, especially given the clarifying emphasis and clarion call of Vatican II, repeated exhortations by recent popes urging the faithful to read and study the Bible, and the plethora of opportunities for Catholics to do so. As one of my seminary professors was fond of saying, “Ignorance might be bliss, but it is not a virtue.” Those who are ignorant of Scripture have no justification for blissfully remaining that way, especially given the many available resources and opportunities through radio, television, print, courses, conferences, seminars, and other educational vehicles.

My prayer is that this discussion will contribute in some way to fulfilling the desires of our Lord and of our Holy Fathers in helping my Catholic brothers and sisters become more fully and faithfully Catholic, that is to say, Christian. This is a far nobler motivation than trying to play catchup with our Protestant brothers and sisters, although I do hope to have relieved any unnecessary sense of insecurity and inferiority in this regard. My prayer further is that this discussion and the Institute on whose website it appears will encourage a certain renaissance of the kind of love and study of Sacred Scripture that characterized our Fathers in the Faith and the Doctors of the Church, who truly believed that in reading Scripture they were hearing and encountering the ever-living voice of God.

In my more audacious moments, I even dare to dream of the day when, consistent with the urging of the Church, which “forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful . . . to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ,’ by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures” (CCC 133; cf. DV 25), all Catholics will be known as much by their love of Sacred Scripture as they are by their love of the Holy Eucharist, and Christians the world over will think first of the Catholic Church when they think of either. The renaissance of which I speak is not farfetched, but is in line with the vision of Dei Verbum as expressed in its closing paragraph:

In this way, therefore, through the reading and study of the sacred books “the word of God may spread rapidly and be glorified” (2 Thess. 3:1) and the treasure of revelation, entrusted to the Church, may more and more fill the hearts of men. Just as the life of the Church is strengthened through more frequent celebration of the Eucharistic mystery, similarly we may hope for a new stimulus for the life of the Spirit from a growing reverence for the word of God, which “lasts forever” (Is. 40:8; see 1 Peter 1:23-25). (DV 26)

In his later reflections on Vatican II, Pope Benedict XVI offered his own sentiment: “With the Synod Fathers I express my heartfelt hope for the flowering of ‘a new season of greater love for sacred Scripture on the part of every member of the People of God, so that their prayerful and faith-filled reading of the Bible will, with time, deepen their personal relationship with Jesus’.”23 More recently, Pope Francis has called for the “Word of God to become the heart of every ecclesial activity; the beating heart, which vitalizes the limbs of the Body.”24

To understand and to embrace these calls is to acknowledge that Catholics can and must be Bible Christians.


  1. The term ‘Magisterium’ designates the teaching office of those who are authorized by Christ to speak in his name to and on behalf of the Church, clarifying the faith that the community professes.

  2. “The idea of leaving our intellect behind to become spiritual is very strange and inhuman. . . . Without genuine knowledge, no real love is possible. We cannot love what we do not know. And so, likewise loving God in the truth depends upon understanding God truly. . . . Intellectual engagement with the Christian faith is essential to our personal relationship with Christ.” (Thomas Joseph White, OP, The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2017], 43, 46).

  3. Among the contributing factors, one involves the context within which Scripture is properly read. I am not alone in making this observation. For example, Protestant scholar Markus Bockmuehl, distinguished professor of Holy Scripture at Oxford, wrestles with the question of where the Bible is most properly read and by whom, and concludes that “Christian Scriptures must be read within, or in deep dialogue with, their context of Christian faith.” Bockmuehl goes on to admit that he finds “no more theologically attractive statement of this quasi-sacramental place of Scripture in the church’s faith than that of the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church (§§ 102-4).” When he proceeds to select a model of “an ideal interpreter,” he identifies none other than St. Thomas Aquinas! (Seeing the Word: Refocusing New Testament Study [Baker, 2006], 87-99). As for doing the best study and teaching of my life, I continue to marvel that Protestants who once held my work in high regard apparently no longer do so, presumably because their bias does not permit that Catholics can possibly be Bible Christians (or at least their kind of Bible Christians).

  4. Benedict Thomas Viviano, OP, “The Normativity of Scripture and Tradition in Recent Catholic Theology,” in Scripture’s Doctrine and Theology’s Bible: How the New Testament Shapes Christian Dogmatics (ed. Markus Bockmuehl and Alan J. Torrance; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 139-40.

  5. For example, documents of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and such major apostolic exhortations and encyclicals as Providentissimus Deus (On the Study of Holy Scripture, Pope Leo XIII, November 18, 1893); Spiritus Paraclitus (On St. Jerome; Pope Benedict XV, September 15, 1920); Divino Afflante Spiritu (Divine Spirit; Pope Pius XII, September 30, 1943); Verbum Domini (Word of the Lord; Pope Benedict XVI, September 30, 2010); and Evangelii Gaudium (Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World; Pope Francis, November 24, 2013). For a fuller collection of documents, see Dennis J. Murphy, M.S.C., ed., The Church and the Bible: Official Documents of the Catholic Church (Staten Island: Saint Paul’s/Alba House, 2007). As a sampling from Verbum Domini 3, “Indeed, the Church is built upon the word of God; she is born from and lives by that word. Throughout its history, the People of God has always found strength in the word of God, and today too the ecclesial community grows by hearing, celebrating and studying that word. It must be acknowledged that in recent decades ecclesial life has grown more sensitive to this theme, particularly with reference to Christian revelation, the living Tradition and sacred Scripture. Beginning with the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII [1878-1902], we can say that there has been a crescendo of interventions aimed at an increased awareness of the importance of the word of God and the study of the Bible in the life of the Church, culminating in the Second Vatican Council and specifically in the promulgation of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum.”

  6. I am thinking here of works by Saints Irenaeus, Augustine, Jerome, Chrysostom, Thomas, and many others; important volumes by John Steinmueller, Ludwig Ott, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, Henri De Lubac, Jean Daniélou, Yves Congar, Joseph Lienhard, Matthew Levering, Denis Farkasfalvy, Scott Hahn, John Bergsma, Edward Sri, Brant Pitre, and Michael Barber; and a large and growing number of well-studied Catholic apologists, who are skilled at defending the Catholic faith from the Scriptures (Jimmy Aiken, David Anders, Douglas Beaumont, Karlo Broussard, Bryan Cross, Trent Horn, Karl Keating, Patrick Madrid, Steve Ray, and Tim Staples).

  7. “Scripture is most itself when proclaimed in the eucharistic liturgy, because in the liturgy God is drawing us into the realities that Scripture describes. . . . It can be no surprise, then, that it is preeminently in the eucharistic liturgy, where the Church shares in Christ’s gift of himself, that we hear Scripture as it is truly meant by God to be heard” (Matthew Levering, Exploring the Doctrine of Revelation: The Mediation of the Gospel through Church and Scripture [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014]. 85). In addition to Levering (pp. 59-85), see on this theme Jean Daniélou, The Bible and the Liturgy (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1956); J. A. Lamb, “The Place of the Bible in the Liturgy,” in From the Beginnings to Jerome (vol. 1 of The Cambridge History of the Bible; ed. P. R. Ackroyd and C. F. Evans; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 563-86; Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, The Spirit of the Liturgy (trans. John Saward; San Francisco: Ignatius, 2000); Francis Martin, “Reading Scripture in the Catholic Tradition,” in Your Word Is Truth: A Project of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ed. Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 147-68; Scott Hahn, “Canon, Cult and Covenant: The Promise of Liturgical Hermeneutics,” in Canon and Biblical Interpretation, eds. Craig G. Bartholomew, et al. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 207-35; idem, Consuming the Word: The New Testament and the Eucharist in the Early Church (New York: Image, 2013); Denis Farkasfalvy, Inspiration & Interpretation: A Theological Introduction to Sacred Scripture (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2010), 63-87; Theodor Schneider and Wolfhart Pannenberg, eds., Binding Testimony: Holy Scripture and Tradition (on behalf of the Ecumenical Study Group of Protestant and Catholic Theologians in Germany; trans. Martha M. Matesich; New York: Peter Lang, 2014), 18, 105-16; and Lawrence Feingold, Faith Comes from What Is Heard: An Introduction to Fundamental Theology (Steubenville: Emmaus Academic, 2016), 297-98.

  8. Joseph Ratzinger, God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life (ed. Stephan Otto Horn and Vinzenz Pfnür, trans. Henry Taylor; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), 104-05.

  9. Levering, Exploring the Doctrine of Revelation, 72, 79; italics mine.

  10. Editor’s Note, in Daniélou, The Bible and the Liturgy, vii.

  11. Verbum Domini 52.

  12. Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 23.

  13. RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) emphasizes formation in doctrine, liturgy, Church life, and service for those who wish to explore Catholicism, and is the normal pathway for reception into the Church.

  14. For any number of reasons the first of these may be more forgivable than the latter two, especially given the essential liturgical role that spoken and sung responses play in the Mass (much more so than in typical Protestant worship services) and the fact that, until one has received the priestly blessing and the commissioning dismissal at the end, the Mass remains unfinished and one’s attendance there unfulfilled.

  15. The phrase is from Fr. Dwight Longenecker, “Born Again Baptists and Cultural Catholics, June 9, 2019 blog (

  16. In Catholic teaching, Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, “flowing from the same divine wellspring, . . . form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church.” The former is “the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.” The latter, which consists in the lived reality of Christ transmitted to his apostles and through them to their successors, is preserved by that same Holy Spirit, so that the Church throughout her existence may be the recipient and agent of God’s full and ever-present revelation (CCC 80-82; DV 9). On this understanding, we can never speak of Scripture and Tradition as separate “sources” of divine revelation, as if one could choose between them.

  17. In his Gospel reflection on the miracle story of Jesus’ healing of a deaf man with a speech impediment (Mk 7:31-37), Bishop Barron draws a spiritual lesson from the fact that Jesus first puts his fingers into the man’s ears and then touches his tongue. Commenting on the surface meaning of the story, Bishop Barron notes: “[Jesus]–almost literally–plugs him into the divine current, compelling him to hear the word. He says ‘Ephphatha,’ be opened. When he does, his speech impediment is immediately overcome. Now he is able to speak the word of God clearly.” He then proceeds to deeper spiritual significance: “So this deaf man stands for all of us who do not hear the word of God, who have grown oblivious to it. And what is the result of this deafness? A speech impediment. At the spiritual level, if you don’t hear the word of God clearly, then your capacity to speak it is also severely compromised.” (Daily Gospel Reflection, February 15, 2019).

  18. Even among Catholic scholars and theologians, I have observed a striking disproportion in citations from St. Thomas’ theological works, above all his Summa Theologiae, over his biblical commentaries, which comprise at least one-third of the Angelic Doctor’s written legacy.

  19. Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 101.

  20. The quoted line belongs to Jewish scholar Jon D. Levenson, cited in Joseph T. Lienhard, The Bible, the Church, and Authority: The Canon of the Christian Bible in History and Theology (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1995), 7, who, with James Kugel, cites the secession of the ten northern tribes in the 10th century B.C. (“interpreted as the rejection of entrenched power, including a religious hierarchy, and the establishment of decentralized worship”) as “a kind of anticipation of the Protestant Reformation that occurred two and a half millennia later.”

  21. That Feingold devotes half (c. 285 of 565 pages) of his massive theological work, Faith Comes from What Is Heard, to an extended discussion on Scripture can only be interpreted as a welcome contrast and corrective to, for example, Ludwig Ott, whose otherwise valuable work, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (ed. James Canon Bastible; trans. Patrick Lynch; Charlotte: TAN, 1974), manages to cover the wide range of Catholic theology without any formally articulated doctrine of Scripture, notwithstanding a 20-page fine-print Scripture index of passages cited. Protestant theologies are all over the map on this point of the role of Scripture in theology (Markus Bockmuehl, Seeing the Word, 81-91); but at least among Evangelical theologians, one rarely if ever encounters a work on theology that does not include, or even begin with, an extended discussion on the nature and authority of Scripture.

  22. Robert Barron with John L. Allen, Jr., To Light a Fire on the Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age (New York: Image 2017), 166-67.

  23. Verbum Domini 72.

  24. Address to the Catholic Biblical Federation, April 26, 2019.