1999 November/Questions

  1. What is the Church’s stance on Catholics reading the Bible?

Many church-going Protestants know the Bible extremely well, and most Catholics do not. As we know, these Protestants quote the Bible out of context to try and prove their point of view, but, of course, the Catholic Faith is based on both Tradition and the Bible. I was taught as a youngster that Catholics need not worry too much about reading the Bible because (a) it was a mysterious book which needed Catholic interpretation, and (b) the priests (who have studied the Bible properly in Seminary) explain the various Epistles and Gospels anyway in their Sunday sermons.

Is it important, beneficial, or even essential for Catholics to read the Bible compared to other good Catholic spiritual books? If so, should one bother with the Old Testament (if one has little time) or is it the New Testament which really should concern lay people? If the reading of the Bible is important, which are the Catholic Bibles one should read?

  1. The Popes have granted an indulgence to any Catholic who reads the Scriptures devoutly for half an hour. The Bible is God’s inspired word, and hence is obviously meant to be read by His faithful. All the saints (at least those who could read) were familiar with it—I have read of one saint who knew it by heart, from cover to cover

The misfortune is that Protestants have made use of the Bible in a way it was never meant to be used, claiming that with no other guide than the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, anyone can open it and work out what he is supposed to believe. A cursory glance through the Scriptures should be enough to show that the Bible was never meant to serve this purpose; not one of its books lays out the Faith in a methodical fashion. Some of the most fundamental Christian truths—for example the Trinity—are not taught in unmistakable and definitive terms. The clear and systematic teaching of the Faith was entrusted to the Church, not the Bible.

It is, however, a very valuable complement to the catechism. The Faith is taught by the Church, but it needs to be “fleshed out” by the Scriptures. For example, one can learn the bare truths about Christ in religious instruction, but one really gets to know Him—and better love and serve Him—through the Gospels. The Bible is not a textbook of theology, but it is the greatest and most profound book of spirituality there is, and should be read by every Catholic.

The New Testament, of course, is more important than the Old, but the Old does complement the New. Some books of the Old Testament—the Psalms for example—are spiritual gold mines. The translations approved by the Church prior to Vatican II are: the Douay-Rheims, the Challoner revision, the Knox Bible, the Westminister Version, the New Confraternity Bible and the Jerusalem Bible.

  1. Are the contents of theImitation of Christ canonised, as such?

Of all Catholic spiritual books, the Imitation of Christ has always been recommended as the most beneficial for Catholic reading: If it is true (as I was told) that in all books written by canonised saints, every word is also “canonised” as such, then surely the highly recommended Imitation of Christ should have had a canonised saint as its author.

Yet I understand that the author, Thomas A Kempis, will never canonised as it had been discovered years after his death that he had moved positions in his coffin, i.e. he had obviously been buried alive and thus, might have despaired. Under the circumstances, are the contents of the Imitation of Christ then “canonised” or not?

  1. That poor Thomas A Kempis ought have wavered in his trust in Providence when he woke up alive in his coffin is something conjectured, not proven! But even if it were the case. it does not prevent his book being “canonised” in the sense that it is spiritually of very great benefit. Even the inspired books of the Bible did not necessarily have saints as authors. The authorship of the Canticle of Canticles and Ecclesiasticus is ascribed to King Solomon, who turned to pagan gods at the end of his life. There is an episode in the life of King Soul when, in the act of pursuing David in order to kill him, he was overcome by the spirit of God and prophesied. What he said was not recorded, but it would have entered the domain of “canonisable” literature if it had been. God can use any instrument He pleases to get His message across.


  1. Who is the greatest saint in Heaven?

As Lucifer was the greatest angel in Heaven, I understand that his throne is to be occupied by the greatest saint in Heaven. From the Scriptures, this would appear to be St. John the Baptist. Yet I have read that it is most likely St. Francis of Assisi because of his unsurpassed love of Our Lord. Still others say it must be St. Joseph. What could be the truth, or what does the Society tend to favour?

  1. The Society tends to favour none in particular. Who the greatest is amongst the saints is one of those everlasting (and to my mind futile) points of dispute that can never be resolved since the answer has not been revealed to us. St. John the Baptist was “the greatest man born of woman” according to Our Lord, but that does not preclude a greater being born after him. Devotion to St. Joseph is fairly recent in the Church, and it is possible that he has been reserved by Providence for our times without that necessarily making him the greatest of the saints. In Heaven we will know.


  1. Do men occupy the highest places in Heaven?

I read in some spiritual book that there are more women than men in Heaven because women have a greater capacity for suffering than men and are generally more spiritually inclined. It was, therefore, pointed out that men who get to Heaven are much greater saints because it is so difficult for them to get there! What do you think of this theory?

  1. Plausible, and quite wrong. Men and women are biologically, emotionally, psychologically and mentally different from each other, have different ,priorities and different roles. All this, however, is in the natural order of things. In the supernatural order, we are required to serve God and sanctify ourselvesin the circumstances God has placed us, which gives men and women equal chances of saving their souls. The circumstances do not matter, what matters is the use we make of them for our spiritual benefit. To say otherwise would be to make salvation—an affair of the soul, which is identical in man and woman —depend, at least to an extent, upon biological orientation. That is already halfway towards Calvinism, whereby salvation is predetermined by God, who decides who goes to Heaven and who to Hell.

It is true that more men than women are canonised saints, but that, unlike salvation, depends entirely upon God’s good pleasure. Since saints are held up as an example for the faithful, and since God has decided that men must play the role of leadership in the Church, it is possible that God willed that more ,men than women be canonised for the leadership role to be supported by outstanding example.