Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Church Fathers, Doctors, and Supreme Pontiffs on Reading the Sacred Scriptures


Editor's Note:
I have borrowed freely from a number of sources,
attempting both to fill in some of the gaps,
and to provide primary source citations where possible.
A biographical link has been provided for each of the authorities cited.
Please report errors and omissions to

    Under the Law of Moses, the daily sacrificial worship was carried out only in the Temple in Jerusalem.  Adult men were required to journey to Jerusalem a few times a year to observe the feast of the unleavened bread (Passover),  the feast of weeks (Pentecost), and the feast of tabernacles (cf Deuteronomy xvi: 16-17), but most of their prayer life took place in the synagogues found in their home towns.  The synagogue service included prayer, Scripture reading, commentary on the Scripture read, and possibly a discussion of the commentary.  The synagogues existed at least from the time of the Babylonian Exile, and perhaps before.  Our Lord took part in the synagogue services in Capharnaum (Mark i:21), at Nazareth and and through out Galilee (Luke iv. 14-22). His discourse on the Real Presence and the necessity of the Eucharist was delivered while teaching in the synagogue at Capharnaum (John vi:60).  

    Saint Paul taught in the synagogues along his missionary routes:  Damascus (Acts ix:20), on Cyprus (Acts xiii:5), the Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:14), Iconium (Acts xiv:1), Philippi (Acts xvi:13), Thessalonica (Acts xvii:1),  Boroea (Acts xvii:10),  Athens (Acts xvii:17),  Corinth (Acts xviii: 4),  and Ephesus (Acts xviii:19).  As the synagogues became less and less available to Christians, the practice of public Scripture readings was incorporated in the offering of Holy Mass.  It was this "Mass of the Catechumens" that was open to non-Catholics, affording them instruction in the Faith in preparation for Baptism and admission to the "Mass of the Faithful."

    Several papyri of the Pentateuch date from the second century BC to first CE. First mentioned in a letter of Aristeas is what we read of the origin of the version. Ptolemy II Philadelphus, King of Egypt (287-47 BC) after establishing the 'Mouseion': great library at Alexandria, was persuaded by Demetrius of Phalarus, chief librarian, to enrich it with a copy of the sacred books of the Jews. Ptolemy, on Aristeas' advise, an Egyptian officer of the royal guard, sent delegates, among whom was Aristeas, to Jerusalem, to ask Eleazar, the Jewish high-priest, to provide him with a copy of the Law, and Jewish scribes capable of translating it into koine (Ancient Greek.)

    "In examining the version itself, it bears manifest proof that it was not executed by Jews of Palestine, but by those of Egypt: there are words and expressions which plainly denote its Alexandrian origin: this alone would be a sufficient demonstration that the narrative of Aristeas is a mere fiction. It may also be doubted whether in the year 285 B.C. there were Jews in Palestine who had sufficient intercourse with the Greeks to have executed a translation into that language; for it must be borne in mind how recently they had become the subjects of Greek monarchs, and how differently they were situated from the Alexandrians as to the influx of Greek settlers."  —St. Pachomius Library on line

    Many hold the story of Ptolemy's role in producing the Septuagint to be apocryphal. But for our purposes it does not matter.  The fact is that many Jews of his time could not read Hebrew and that a Greek translation of the Scriptures was made to accommodate them.  The Septuagint was the Bible used by Christ Himself, the Apostles, and the Early Church.  It contains the books not considered canonical by Jews and Protestants:  Tobias, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, I and II Machabees, and parts of Daniel.   The koine Greek was the universal language of the Ancient world, understandable to common men as well as scholars.  

    "And because from thy infancy thou hast known the holy scriptures which can instruct thee to salvation by the faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice." (II Timothy iii: 15-16)

    But, note that Saint Paul is not advocating the use of "Bible snippets" to justify whatever doctrines suit the user of Scripture.  Sound doctrine must be passed on to future generations:

    "For there shall be a time when they will not endure sound doctrine but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers having itching ears:  And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables." (II Timothy iv: 3-4)

    In spite of its widespread use as a language of trade and scholarship, not every one in the ancient world could speak Greek.  Anxious to make the Scriptures available to the common man, a translation (or translations) of the Septuagint and the Greek New Testament was made into Latin sometime in the second century.  The Vetus endures in the traditional Mass, being the translation employed for the Psalm chants.  In addition to the Vetus translation into Latin, there were early translations into Armenian, Syriac, Coptic and Ethiopian.

    "The origin of the oldest Latin version or versions is involved in much uncertainty. Some contend that there was but one primitive version, others show with strong arguments that there were several. It is generally admitted that long before the end of the second century, Latin translations, though rude and defective, of Tobias, I and II Machabees, and Baruch were in use and that towards the close of the same period, there existed at least one version of the whole Bible, based on the Septuagint and on Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. This was the Vetus Itala, or Old Latin. Its New Testament is possessed complete in some thirty-eight manuscripts, but its Old-Testament text has survived only in parts. As it contained both the protocanonical and the deuterocanonical books and parts of books of the Old Testament, it figured importantly in the history of the Biblical Canon. It exercised a vast influence on the Vulgate and through it on modern translations and the Church language. In the latter part of the fourth century, the text of the Itala was found to have variant readings in different parts of the Church. Pope Damasus therefore requested St. Jerome to undertake its revision. Guided by old Greek manuscripts, he corrected its mistakes and emended such translations as affected the true sense of the Gospels, and probably followed the same method in revising all the books of the New Testament, which he put forth at Rome about 383. In that year, working from the commonly received text of the Septuagint, he made a cursory revision of the Psalter, which was used in the Roman Church until the time of St. Pius V, and is still retained at St. Peter's, Rome, in the Ambrosian Rite at Milan, and in the Invitatory psalm of Matins in the modern Breviary. About 388, using the Hexaplar text as a basis, he revised the Psalter more carefully and this recension, called the Gallican Psalter from becoming current in Gaul, is now read in the Breviary and in the Vulgate. From the same sources he later corrected all the Old-Testament books that he judged canonical, but even in his own day all this revision, excepting the book of Job was lost. The unrevised text of the greater part of the Old Latin Version continued in use in the Western Church until it was supplanted by the Vulgate." [Source:]

“To become adult Christians you must learn familiarity with the scriptures”
[On the Letter to the Ephesians - Education of Children.]
  “But what is the answer to these charges?  ‘I am not,’  you will say,  ‘one of the monks, but I have both a wife and children, and the care of a household.’  This is what has ruined everything, your thinking that the reading of scripture is for monks only, when you need it more than they do.  Those who are placed in the world, and who receive wounds every day have the most need of medicine.  So, far worse even than not reading the scriptures is the idea that they are superfluous.  Such things were invented by the devil.” 
[St. John’s Second Homily on Matthew  section 10 (which is sometimes labeled as section 5.) ]

Editor's Note:
The quotions from Saint Augustine and Saint Jerome are all taken from
Pope Benedict XV's encyclical Spiritus Paraclitus.
The paragraph numbers and citations are those of the encyclical.

25.  "Holy Scripture is invested with supreme authority by reason of its sure and momentous teachings regarding the faith. Whatever, then, it tells us of Enoch, Elias and Moses -- that we believe. We do not, for instance, believe that God's Son was born of the Virgin Mary simply because He could not otherwise have appeared in the flesh and 'walked amongst men' -- as Faustus would have it -- but we believe it simply because it is written in Scripture; and unless we believe in Scripture we can neither be Christians nor be saved." [S. Aug., Contra Faustum, 26, 3, 6.]

27.  "These things are true; they are faithfully and truthfully written of Christ; so that whosoever believes His Gospel may be thereby instructed in the truth and misled by no lie." [S. Aug., Contra Faustum, 26, 8.]

9. Whence the Saint infers the supreme excellence and dignity of Scripture, and declares that knowledge of it is to be likened to the "treasure" [Jerome In Matt., 13:44; Tract. de Ps., 77.] and the "pearl beyond price," [Jerome ln Matt., 13:45.] since in them are to be found the riches of Christ [Jerome Ouaest. in Genesim, Praef.] and "silver wherewith to adorn God's house." [In Agg., 2:1, In Gal., 2:10.]

31.  This intense love of the Bible he was ever striving to kindle in the hearts of the faithful, and his words on this subject to the maiden Demetrias are really addressed to us all: "Love the Bible and wisdom will love you; love it and it will preserve you; honor it and it will embrace you; these are the jewels which you should wear on your breast and in your ears."  [S. Jerome, Epist. ad Demetriadem, 130, 20; cf. Prov. 4:6,8.]

33.  Thus he wrote to Paulinus, formerly senator and even consul, and only recently converted to the faith:  "If only you had this foundation (knowledge of Scripture); nay, more -- if you would let Scripture give the finishing touches to your work -- I should find nothing more beautiful, more learned, even nothing more Latin than your volumes. . . If you could but add to your wisdom and eloquence study of and real acquaintance with Holy Scripture, we should speedily have to acknowledge you a leader amongst us."  [S. Jerome, Epist. ad Paulinum, 58, 9, 2; 11, 2.]

40.  "Provided," he says, "our bodies are not the slaves of sin, wisdom will come to us; but exercise your mind, feed it daily with Holy Scripture."  [S. Jerome, In Tit., 3:9.] And again: "We have got, then, to read Holy Scripture assiduously; we have got to meditate on the Law of God day and night so that, as expert money-changers, we may be able to detect false coin from true." [Jerome In Eph., 4:31.]

41. For matrons and maidens alike he lays down the same rule. Thus, writing to the Roman matron Laeta about her daughter's training, he says:  "Every day she should give you a definite account of her Bible-reading . . .For her the Bible must take the place of silks and jewels . . . Let her learn the Psalter first, and find her recreation in its songs; let her learn from Solomon's Proverbs the way of life, from Ecclesiastes how to trample on the world. In Job she will find an example of patient virtue. Thence let her pass to the Gospels; they should always be in her hands. She should steep herself in the Acts and the Epistles. And when she has enriched her soul with these treasures she should commit to memory the Prophets, the Heptateuch, Kings and Chronicles, Esdras and Esther: then she can learn the Canticle of Canticles without any fear" [Epist. ad Laetam, 107, 9, 12.]

42. He says the same to Eustochium: "Read assiduously and learn as much as you can. Let sleep find you holding your Bible, and when your head nods let it be resting on the sacred page." [Jerome, Epist. ad Eustochium, 22, 17, 2.]

45. If, then, St. Jerome begs for assiduous reading of the Bible by the faithful in general, he insists on it for those who are called to "bear the yoke of Christ" and preach His word. His words to Rusticus the monk apply to all clerics:  "So long as you are in your own country regard you cell as your orchard; there you can gather Scripture's various fruits and enjoy the pleasures it affords you. Always have a book in your hands and read it; learn the Psalter by heart; pray unceasingly; watch over your senses lest idle thoughts creep in." [S. Jerome, Epist. ad Rusticum, 125, 7, 3.] 

Similarly to Nepotian:  "Constantly read the Bible; in fact, have it always in your hands. Learn what you have got to teach. Get firm hold of that "faithful word that is according to doctrine, that you may be able to exhort in sound doctrine and convince the gainsayers."[Id., Epist. ad Nepotianum, 52, 7, 1; cf. Tit. 1:9.]

59.  And in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians, which he dedicated to Paula and her daughter Eustochium, he says: "If aught could sustain and support a wise man in this life or help him to preserve his equanimity amid the conflicts of the world, it is, I reckon, meditation on and knowledge of the Bible." [In Eph., Prol.]

“The Emperor of heaven, the Lord of men and of angels, has sent you His epistles 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, that you may sigh more eagerly for things eternal, that your soul may be kindled with greater longings for heavenly joys.”    
[Letters,  5, 46.  (EnchBibl  31)]

  • St. Isidore   (560-636 AD)  
    Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us... If a man wants to be always in God's company, he must pray regularly and read regularly. When we pray, we talk to God; when we read, God talks to us.

“All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection. By reading we learn what we did not know; by reflection we retain what we have learned.

“Reading the holy Scriptures (the Bible) confers two benefits. It trains the mind to understand them; it turns man's attention from the follies of the world and leads him to the love of God.

“Two kinds of study are called for here. We must first learn how the Scriptures are to be understood, and then see how to expound them with profit and in a manner worthy of them. A man must first be eager to understand what he is reading before he is fit to proclaim what he has learned.

“The conscientious reader will be more concerned to carry out what he has read than merely to acquire knowledge of it... Learning unsupported by grace may get into our ears; it never reaches the heart. It makes a great noise outside but serves no inner purpose. But when God's grace touches our innermost minds to bring understanding, his word which has been received by the ear sinks deep into the heart.”
[Book of Maxims by Saint Isidore]

    The Venerable Bede was a Benedictine monk of the monasteries of Peter and Paul in Northumbria.  His prodigious literary output included his well known History of the English Church and People, and a number of scientific and exegetical works. [LINK]  At his death he was working on a translation of Saint John's Gospel into Old English.

    "High, however, as was the general level of Bede's culture, he repeatedly makes it clear that all his studies were subordinated to the interpretation of Scripture. In his "De Schematibus" he says in so many words: "Holy Scripture is above all other books not only by its authority because it is Divine, or by its utility because it leads to eternal life, but also by its antiquity and its literary form" (positione dicendi)."" [Source:

Known as the Apostles to the Slavs, Cyril and Methodius were brothers, born in Thessalonica and became notable for their missionary work among the Moravians.  Cyril is known for his alphabet, specially constructed from Greek with a few Hebrew letters, employed by the brothers in translating the Gospels and Divine Liturgy into the Slavonic language.  Before his death Cyril had translated most of the Scriptures into Slavonic.  Later missionaries continued their work, Christianizing other Slavic countries including Russia and the Ukraine.

  • St. Bernard of Clairvaux  (1090-1153 AD)   
    Doctor and Father of the Church.

“The person who thirsts for God eagerly studies and meditates on the inspired Word, knowing that there, he is certain to find the One for whom he thirsts.”
[Commentary on the Song of Songs, Sermon 23:3.]

In his day, there where no public schools and only the wealthy could afford private tutors. Therefore, most people could not read or write. St. Bonaventure had composed a copy of “Biblia Pauperum” which means the “Bible of the Poor” It contained a collection of pictures illustrating the important events of the Old Testament. It also contained parallel scenes in the New Testament and it showed how the Old Testament prefigured and was fulfilled in the Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. This helped the people to learn God’s Word by showing them the important stories of both the Old and New Testament. He was canonized a Saint by Pope Sixtus IV in1482 AD. He was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Sixtus V in 1588 AD.

  • Decree of the Council of Trent    April 8, 1546.
    “[ The holy synod] following the examples of the orthodox fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety and reverence all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament-seeing that one God is the Author of both...”

    [Session 4, April 8, 1546.]
  • Saint Teresa of Avila   (1515 -1582 AD)   
    The Catholic Church strongly recommends the reading of the writings of those who are canonized as Saints.  Saint Teresa was canonized in 1622 AD by Pope Gregory XV.   She was also declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970 by Pope Paul VI.   In her autobiography, The Book of Her Life (La Vida),  she writes:

“Within this majesty I was given knowledge of a truth that is the fulfillment of all truths.  I don't know how to explain this because I didn't see anything.  I was told without seeing anyone, but I clearly understood that it was Truth telling me:   ‘This is no small thing I do for you, because it is one of the things for which you owe Me a great deal, for all the harm that comes to the world comes from its not knowing the truths of Scripture in clarity and truth; not one iota of Scripture will fall short.’   To me it seemed I had always believed this, and that all the faithful believed it.  He told me:  ‘Alas, daughter, how few there are who truthfully love me!  For if they loved me, I would reveal to them my secrets.  Do you know what it is to love Me truthfully?  It is to understand that everything that is displeasing to me is a lie.  By the beneficial effects this understanding will cause in your soul you shall see clearly what you now do not understand.’”     [La Vida, ch. 40, #1.]

Pope Benedict instructed the bishops of the Papal States that "In ecclesiastical chant care must be taken to insure that the words are perfectly and easily understood...." He quoted the 1565 Synod of Cambrai: "What is sung in choir is destined to instruct the faithful..." and the 1536 Council of Cologne: "the most important part is made up precisely of the recital of the words of the prophets, the apostles, the Epistle, the Creed, the Preface or the act of thanksgiving, and the Our Father. On account of their importance these texts like all the others must be sung clearly and intelligibly." — Pope Benedict XIV, "Annus qui" 19 February AD 1749)

"Beloved Son, Health and Benediction.
    At a time that a vast number of bad books, which most grossly attack the Catholic religion, are circulated, even among the unlearned, to the great destruction of souls, you judge exceedingly well, that the faithful should be excited to the reading oft the Holy Scriptures: For these are the most abundant sources which ought to be left open to every one, to draw from them purity of morals and doctrine, to eradicate the errors which are so widely disseminated in these corrupt times:  This you have seasonably effected, as you declare, by publishing the Sacred Writings in the language of your country, suited to every one's capacity, especially when you show and set forth that you have added explanatory notes, which, being extracted from the Holy Fathers, preclude every possible danger of abuse:  Thus you have not swerved either from the laws of the Congregation of the Index, or from the constitution published on this subject by Benedict XIV, that immortal Pope, our predecessor in the Pontificate, and formerly when We held a place near his person, our excellent Master in Ecclesiastical learning; circumstances which We mention as honourable to Us.  We therefore applaud your eminent learning, joined with your extraordinary piety, and We return your our due acknowledgement for the books you have transmitted to Us, and which, when convenient, We will read over,  In the meantime, as a token of our Pontifical benevolence, receive our Apostolic benediction, which to you, beloved Son, We very affectionately impart.  Given at Rome on the Calends of April, 1778, the fourth year of our Pontificate.

PHILIP BUONAMICI, Latin Secretary.

To our Beloved Son,
Anthony Martini at Turin"



“The solicitude of the apostolic office naturally urges and even compels us…to desire that this grand source of Catholic revelation (the Bible) should be made safely and abundantly accessible to the flock of Jesus Christ”

“...For sacred Scripture is not like other books. Dictated by the Holy Ghost, it contains things of the deepest importance, which in many instances are most difficult and obscure. To understand and explain such things there is always required the 'coming' of the same Holy Ghost; that is to say, His light and His grace...It is absolutely wrong and forbidden either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of holy Scripture or to admit that the sacred writer has erred... and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration is not only essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true.”   — Providentissimus Deus ( Nov. 18, 1893)]

    "An indulgence of 300 days for reading the Holy Gospels  is granted to all the Faithful who read these Holy Scriptures for at least a quarter of an hour, with reverence due to the Divine Word and as spiritual reading…. A Plenary indulgence under the usual conditions is granted once a month for the daily reading." Pope Leo XIII. December, 1898, Preces et Pia Opera, 045. (Enchiridion Indulgentiarium, 694).

    Later versions concessions allowed "an indulgence of three years for reading the Books of the Bible."  The modern equivalent, since the time of Pope Paul VI reads: "A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who with the veneration due the divine word make a spiritual reading from Sacred Scripture.  A plenary indulgence is granted, if this reading is continued for at least one half an hour." (Enchiridion Indulgentiarium, 50).

"It can hardly be necessary for us to remind you, beloved brethren, that the most highly valued treasure of every family library, and the most frequently and lovingly made use of, should be the Holy Scriptures.... We hope that no family can be found amongst us without a correct version of the Holy Scriptures."  The Holy Bible, Holy Trinity Edition (Chicago: Catholic Press,1951) p.xxi.

  • Pope St. Pius X (1903-1914 AD)

“Nothing would please us more than to see our beloved children form the habit of reading the Gospels - not merely from time to time, but every day.”

28 Q: Is the reading of the Bible necessary to all Christians?
A: The reading of the Bible is not necessary to all Christians since they are instructed by the Church; however its reading is very useful and recommended to all.  

29 Q: May any translation of the Bible, in the vernacular, be read?
A: We can read those translations of the Bible in the vernacular which have been acknowledged as faithful by the Catholic Church and which have explanations also approved by the Church. 

30 Q: Why may we only read translations of the Bible approved by the Church?
A: We may only read translations of the Bible approved by the Church because she alone is the lawful guardian of the Bible. 

31 Q: Through which means can we know the true meaning of the Holy Scripture?
A: We can only know the true meaning of Holy Scripture through the Church's interpretation, because she alone is secure against error in that interpretation.
— Catechism of Pope Saint Pius X:  On the Virtues and Vices:  On Holy Scripture

  • Pope Benedict XV   (1914-1922 AD)   

    "Our one desire for all the Church's children is that, being saturated with the Bible, they may arrive at the all surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ."  15 September AD 1920

    Repeated St. Jerome:  "Ignorance of the Bible means ignorance of Christ." [In Isa., Prol.; cf. Tract. de Ps. 77.] And "what other life can there be without knowledge of the Bible wherein Christ, the life of them that believe, is set before us?'[Epist. ad Paulam, 30, 7.]  Every single page of either Testament seems to center around Christ; hence Jerome, commenting on the words of the Apocalypse about the River and the Tree of Life, says :"One stream flows out from the throne of God, and that is the Grace of the Holy Spirit, and that grace of the Holy Spirit is in the Holy Scriptures, that is in the stream of the Scriptures. Yet has that stream twin banks, the Old Testament and the New, and the Tree planted on either side is Christ." [Tract. de Ps. 1.]  

44. "Our thoughts naturally turn just now to the Society of St. Jerome, which we ourselves were instrumental in founding; its success has gladdened us, and we trust that the future will see a great impulse given to it.  The object of this Society is to put into the hands of as many people as possible the Gospels and Acts, so that every Christian family may have them and become accustomed to reading them. This we have much at heart, for we have seen how useful it is. We earnestly hope, then, that similar Societies will be founded in your dioceses and affiliated to the parent Society here. Commendation, too, is due to Catholics in other countries who have published the entire New Testament, as well as selected portions of the Old, in neat and simple form so as to popularize their use. Much again must accrue to the Church of God when numbers of people thus approach this table of heavenly instruction which the Lord provided through the ministry of His Prophets, Apostles and Doctors for the entire Christian world."


— Spiritus Paraclitus - Encyclical of Benedict XV, 20 September AD 1920

    He expressed his desire that, “... all the children of the Church, especially clerics, to reverence the Holy Scriptures, to read it piously and meditate on it constantly.” He reminded them that, “ these pages is to be sought that food, by which the spiritual life is nourished unto perfection...”

  • Pope Pius XII     1943 AD

    “Our predecessors, when the opportunity occurred, recommended the study or preaching or in fine the pious reading and meditation of the sacred Scriptures.

    “...This author of salvation, Christ, will men more fully know, more ardently love and more faithfully imitate in proportion as they are more assiduously urged to know and meditate the Sacred Letters, especially the New Testament...”

    "51. The same veneration the Bishops should endeavor daily to increase and perfect among the faithful committed to their care, encouraging all those initiatives by which men, filled with apostolic zeal, laudably strive to excite and foster among Catholics a greater knowledge of and love for the Sacred Books. Let them favor therefore and lend help to those pious associations whose aim it is to spread copies of the Sacred Letters, especially of the Gospels, among the faithful, and to procure by every means that in Christian families the same be read daily with piety and devotion; let them efficaciously recommend by word and example, whenever the liturgical laws permit, the Sacred Scriptures translated, with the approval of the Ecclesiastical authority, into modern languages; let them themselves give public conferences or dissertations on biblical subjects, or see that they are given by other public orators well versed in the matter."   Divino Afflante Spiritu - Encyclical of Pope Pius XII,  30 September A.D. 1943

in XTO,
Fr. Brusca
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18 October AD 2007
Feast of Saint Luke, the Evangelist

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