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Dei Verbum

By Charles Johnston:

“I interpret as I should, following the command of Christ: ‘Search the Scriptures, and Seek and you shall find.’ Christ will not say to me what he said to the Jews: ‘You erred, not knowing the Scriptures and not knowing the power of God.’ For if, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ” – St Jerome

You’ve probably heard this before, maybe even from a Catholic themselves, “Catholics don’t read the Bible.” It’s a stereotype, but it has shades of truth to it. The sad fact is that far too many Catholics don’t read the bible often or at all. Yes, we pick up the Bible proclaimed at Mass, but that is only a small portion of the body of Sacred Scriptures that we have at our fingertips, and I will touch on this later.

I don’t have stats to back this up, but anecdotal evidence would suggest many, or perhaps even a majority of Catholics just don’t study the Scriptures. I know there are many who do, but even those of us who read the Bible daily can do more and should do more to study the Word of God and to encourage those around us to do the same. This is not intended to be a condemnation, but an exhortation, because the Lord knows I’ve fallen short at this myself many many times.

Before I proceed any further, I need to address an urban legend I’ve heard from time to time, sometimes from Catholics ;

The Catholic Church has never, in its 2000 years of existence, forbidden the reading of the Scriptures by the laity. Likewise the Church has never forbidden the translation of the bible into the local language. In fact the Church has ENCOURAGED the laity to read the Scriptures and to study them, to that end the Vatican released a document called Dei Verbum (Word of God) during the Second Vatican Council in 1965 encouraging the priests, religious and the laity to read the Sacred Scriptures. The whole document can be read in a single sitting, and has many beautiful points, go read it all for yourself, but here is a small piece;

 To learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8). “For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids which, in our time, with approval and active support of the shepherds of the Church, are commendably spread everywhere. And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for “we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying  (Dei Verbum paragraph 25)

At Sunday Mass (Saturday vigil and solemnities included) we hear four scripture readings. The first reading is usually an Old Testament reading, in between the first and second readings a psalm is sung, the second reading is generally from the letters of St Paul, and the Gospel reading is from one of the four Gospels.

The readings for each day is laid out in the Lectionary, this book is used by the Latin rite of the Catholic Church as well as Anglicans, Lutherans, and several other mainline Protestant denominations. The Lectionary is broken into three cycles, each cycle corresponds to a synoptic Gospel (Matthew, Mark and Luke). This is why we will hear Luke’s Gospel one year and Mark’s the next. On certain holidays and during some liturgical seasons the Gospel reading will go outside the regular cycle and will be chosen to correspond with that holiday or season (Gospel of John is read from Easter until Pentecost and during the seasons of Advent and Lent). So if you were to attend Mass every day for three years you would hear all three Synoptic Gospels, some of the letters of St Paul, a portion of the books of the Law and the Prophets, a fraction of the psalms, and most of the Gospel of John.

Is that enough for you to be a Catholic Christian in good standing? I’d say yes it is, but I’d also point out that the human body can survive on white rice and water for extended periods of time. Will you be in peak physical condition on those rations? Will you grow stronger and have energy to live life to the fullest? Or will you just get by? I’d say most likely the latter.

We are nourished by the Holy Eucharist, but also by consuming the Word of God. Here, in another quote from Dei Verbum, the Council makes my point;

 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).  (Dei Verbum paragraph 21)

Saint Irenaeus once said “The glory of God is man fully alive,” and what better way to be “fully alive” than to feast on the Divine Word, both under the form of the Holy Eucharist and in the Word of God? We can fill ourselves with this wonderful gift that we have, and supplement the Scriptures that we hear proclaimed at Mass, by reading them ourselves or in a group. We possess a gift, in the form of easily accessible Bibles and Bible apps, that many Christians today don’t have access to, and almost none had in the first 1600 years of Christianity. Let’s take advantage of the times we live in and consume the Word on a daily basis.

Jesus said to pray “give us this day our daily bread”, I take this to have several meanings. On one hand it means our physical food to sustain us, on the other it means our spiritual food to sustain us. Both the Word of God in the form of the Scriptures and the Holy Eucharist is to be our daily bread.

 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. (Dei Verbum paragraph 21)

By reading, praying and studying the Bible, we can gain a better understanding of the context and situations that we hear in the readings at Mass. In his last letter, St. Paul wrote to his friend, Timothy the bishop of Ephesus;

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Tim 3:16-17

Notice the last lines “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” St. Paul tells us how we are to equip ourselves in this life, by reading the Bible. St. Paul, being a good Jew from birth, that studied under the most well known scripture scholar of his time, would’ve had lots of the Old Testament memorized and could quote it at will. He would’ve been very familiar with what God told Joshua after the death of Moses;

 This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night.

Joshua 1:8

We’d all do well to take this to heart, just like Joshua.

(This post originally appeared at )

7 comments on “Dei Verbum

  1. Peter Aiello says:

    I usually quote the following from Dei Verbum 21: “Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture”. Most Catholics have a difficult time with this quote because they are so accustomed to criticizing Protestants for being “sola scriptura”. This quote is the closest that I have seen from the Magisterium to articulating Catholic sola scriptura.


    1. The Catholic Church doesn’t teach sola scriptura, but it does surprise non-Catholics sometimes to discover that all it’s teachings are biblically based, some implicit some explicit


      1. Peter Aiello says:

        This varies between what the Church teaches as dogma, what it generally teaches, and unofficial teaching in different areas of the Church. Limbo was generally taught to Catholics for centuries. Now it has been withdrawn. There is no Biblical basis for Limbo. I think that you will also find this in other teachings.

        The Church doesn’t apply the term “sola scriptura” to itself; but if Scripture regulates everything, it walks like a duck.


        1. Yes scripture regulates everything, but the Church doesn’t teach that every doctrine must be explicitly written in scripture. If it did then the council of Nicaea overstepped when it formally defined the Trinity.
          As to limbo, it was never a doctrine of the church. It was a theological opinion that developed in the Middle Ages, Catholics are still free to believe it but it’s fallen out of favor with most theologians


        2. Peter Aiello says:

          When I was growing up Limbo was not presented only as a theological opinion. It is what Catholics generally believed. This is part of the problem. There are teachings that most Catholics generally believe that are not dogma, but they are treated as such. If you do not believe them, then you are not really as Catholic as you should be. Most Catholics go along with them because of Catholic cultural pressure.

          When it comes to all of Christianity being regulated by Scripture, it is not clearly defined what that means; therefore it is open to interpretation. It is a very important statement in Dei Verbum 21, but I did not find it quoted in the Catechism (131). The catechism did make a statement as to the importance of Scripture, but it sounded very general.


        3. I agree 100% that the church fell asleep at the wheel when it comes to catechesis and transmitting the faith over the last 50 or so years. Many Catholics don’t know the fundamental difference between doctrine and theological opinions.
          It’s the fault of both the Church and the laity. The laity has become complacent and feel that if something is important a priest will tell them, when it’s really the responsibility of each and every Catholic to make a positive effort to learn their faith.


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