Bible Reading by Laity

In the history of the Church there never has been a general prohipition against the reading of the Bible by the laity. While the Church does not consider Bible reading necessary for salvation, she has always approved such reading under proper conditions. In consequence, we find that any restrictions which the Church has placed on the reading of the Bible were aimed at the use of heretical or corrupt versions, or versions without proper notes or authorization, and not against the reading of the Bible itself. The Albigenses and Waldenees who appealed to unauthorized and, at times, corrupt versions in their disputes with Catholics, gave occasion for the first restrictive decrees. These decrees, edited by the Synods of Toulouse (1229), Tarragona (1234), and Oxford (1408), aimed to restrict the reading of the Bible in the vernacular. The adoption of printing in the 15th century created conditions which made further restrictions imperative. The Protestant reformers, who were keenly alive to the advantagee of the printing-prees, used it to multiply their heretical versions, while Catholics produced numerous translations in the vernacular. This multiplication of versions by men who lacked qualifications essential for the work, and who acknowledged no proper supervision, made for the corruption of the Sacred Text, so that the Council of Trent (1546-1563) was compelled to take action. The Council strictly prohibited the reading of all heretical Latin versions, unless grave reasons necessitated their use. The Council itself did not forbid the reading of the new Catholic translations, although even these later fell under the ban of the Index Commission which Trent set up for the supervision of future legislation regarding the Bible. In 1559 the Commission forbade the use of certain Latin editions, as well as German, French, Spanish, Italian, and English vernacular vereions. Two centuries later, however, it modified the severity of this legislation by granting permission for the use of all versions translated by learned Catholic men, provided they contained annotations derived from the Fathers, and had the approval of the Holy See. Our present discipline grows out of the decree, "Officiorum ac Munerum," of Leo XIII. This decree states that all vernacular versions, even those prepared by Catholic authors, are prohibited if they are not, on the one hand, approved by the Apostolic See, or, on the other hand, supplied with proper annotations and accompanied by episcopal approbation. However, it contains a provision whereby, for grave reasons, biblical and theological students may use non-Catholic editions as long as these do not attack Catholic dogma.

New Catholic Dictionary

NCD Index SQPN Contact Author