The Achilles Heel

“When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16)

Catholics as a whole have a general ignorance of the Bible. They have little more than a nodding acquaintance with most of the Bible. It is the Achilles heel of Catholicism; it is the Achilles heel of evangelization.

For Catholics, the Scriptures were a heritage and treasure that was left in the shadows after the struggles that divided the Church during the Reformation. Reading the Scriptures was officially discouraged in the post Tridentine era (Tridentine = the Council of Trent), mainly owing to the emphasis given to Scripture by the Reformers – Sola Scriptura. In 1692, a religious author named Pasquier Quesnel published a book in which he asserted that “the reading of Sacred Scripture is for everyone.” That comment was condemned as an error by Pope Clement XI (Constitution Unigenitus Deo Filius). The Church was worried about Bible Texts being used by “heretics.” Most Catholics simply stopped reading the Bible. On the other hand. Martin Luther told his followers to “think of the Scriptures as the richest of mines which can never be sufficiently explored.”

From the point of view of Protestants, one of the great achievements of the 16th century Reformation was that it put the Bible back into the hands of God’s people. The Bible came to be considered a Protestant book. Among Catholics, the Catechism came to be substituted for the Bible. Catholics were actually discouraged from reading the Bible.

Vatican II called for a return to the Scriptures. It called for Scripture to play a central role in Catholic spirituality, indeed. to be the primary source of Catholic spirituality. It stated that Bible study leads to a deeper and more mature spirituality. The Council spoke of the Scriptures as “the food of the soul,” and called upon Catholic peoples to become “gluttons” for Scripture.”

(Dei Verbum Constitution on Divine Revelation).

I love so much of the language in the Bible, its literary power. The American author, Thomas Wolfe, author of novels such as You Can’t Go Home Again, and Of Time and the River, wrote this about the Book of Ecclesiastes: “For all that I have ever seen or learned that book (Ecclesiastes) seems to me the noblest, the wisest, and most powerful expression of man’s life upon this earth, also earth’s highest flowering of poetry, eloquence, and truth. I am not given to dogmatic judgments in the matter of literary creation, but if I had to make one, I could only say that Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known. The wisdom in it the most lasting and profound.”

It can be pointed out that the Bible writers use few adjectives and fewer adverbs. They may have attended a course in creative writing.

One can come up with a provocative list of questions from the Bible:

Mt.16:26: “What does a man profit if he gains the whole world and suffers the loss of his soul?
Gen.4:9: “Am I my brother’s keeper?
Jn.3:4: “How can a man be born again when he is old?
Jn.18:38: “What is truth”
Eccl.1:3: “What does a man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
Lk.10:29: “Who is my neighbor?
Lk.10:25: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?

A college student wrote this: “My college roommate, Nadine, was a Pentecostal. She studied her Bible for an hour faithfully every night after classes and before tackling her other assignments. I marveled at her fidelity to a Book I, a Catholic with 12 years of parochial school behind me, has never opened.”

The Word of God is often self-explanatory. However, parts of Scripture require interpretation. There’s often some necessary spadework. Biblical scholarship helps with a mature and profound encounter with the Bible. Pope Benedict XVI stated that he wanted us to do more than read the Scriptures. He wanted us to study them, to wrestle with them. We may commit ourselves to sustained study of a particular book, indeed, spend months with a particular book. There’s the proverb “he who desires to eat the kernel must break the shell.” These days we can study with the resources of modern scholarship which enriches and clarifies. It calls for taking some time and discipline. The Achilles Heel Potpourri By Thomas H. Hicks Thomas Hicks is a member of St. Theresa Parish in Trumbull. “When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16) Catholics as a whole have a general ignorance of the Bible.

There are some laborious and boring Biblical books one might rightly skip e.g., Leviticus, Numbers, Chronicles, Kings.

We Catholics are beginning to again become, in some small ways, a Biblical people. A poor Bible Study can be worse than none at all. It is sadly true that most Catholics still have scarcely more than a passing acquaintance with the Bible. One can be surprised to learn that well-educated people are not generally acquainted with even the most famous Bible stories.

A Biblical scholar, Daniel Harrington, wrote: “I find God largely in and through the Bible. It is for me the most important way to know, love, and serve God.” Many of my own happiest personal experiences have taken place in the academic study of the Bible. The Bible never grows wearisome or stale for me. Like Harrington, I find God largely in and through the Bible.

We cannot conduct evangelization well without studying the Bible. There’s a saying by St. Jerome: “A person who is well grounded in Scripture is a bulwark of the church.”

St. Augustine insisted that sanctity involved “soaking yourself in Scripture.”

Thus, many take the view that the church needs a massive Bible education program, and Bible study should be at the center of what we do in our parishes.

(Mr. Hicks conducts two Zoom Bible Studies. One meets on the second Tuesday of the month from 10 am-Noon. The other meets on the second Thursday of the month from 7-8:30 pm. For information email your name to The group doesn’t meet during July and August. You will hear from us the first week of September. We are presently studying “The Book of Job.”)