Portrait, like John Lennon

“Do Catholics need to study the Scriptures?” St. Jerome, who in the fourth century made the translation into Latin of the Bible called the Vulgate, said that “ignorance of the Bible is ignorance of Christ.” Before the Bible was readily available, people would have to find someone to read it to them; after written copies became more widely available, those who knew how to read began to have more opportunity to read and study Scripture on their own.

From an early age John Henry learned from his grandmother to read the Scriptures.  Later at the age of 15, following a short period of doubts of faith, he began to take seriously his belief in God. He began to read regularly the Scriptures.In college he read the Bible daily and meditated upon it. Later his preaching was completely inspired by biblical teaching and full of quotes from the Bible. When he became an Anglican clergyman and afterwards as a Catholic priest he memorized long passages from the Bible and quoted it often in his sermons. In the early 1850’s he was asked by the Bishops to prepare a new English translation of the Bible. He started work on this but, unfortunately, put it aside when he learned that a bishop in the United States was close to completing a new translation.

Like the Church Fathers from whom he learned a great deal, he gave importance to both the literal and figurative reading of the Scriptures grounded in the tradition of the Church: that whereas the former is important and the starting point, it leads the way to the spiritual reading of the Bible. Thus Newman warned against the then growing historical-critical reading of the Bible.

Writing in the third quarter of the 19th century, Newman wrote some pages on biblical inspiration and on the relationship between the Bible and Tradition that later inspired some of the teachings of Vatican II on Revelation and the Bible.


In the following prayer, which serves as an example for us, we find Newman’s disposition to listen to God as He reveals himself to men:

“Give me, O my Lord, that purity of conscience which alone can receive, which alone can improve Thy inspirations. My ears are dull, so that I cannot hear Thy voice. My eyes are dim, so that I cannot see Thy tokens. Thou alone canst quicken my hearing, and purge my sight, and cleanse and renew my heart. Teach me, like Mary, to sit at Thy feet, and to hear Thy word. Give me that true wisdom, which seeks Thy will by prayer and meditation, by direct intercourse with Thee, more than by reading and reasoning. Give me the discernment to know Thy voice from the voice of strangers, and to rest upon it and to seek it in the first place, as something external to myself; and answer me through my own mind, if I worship and rely on Thee as above and beyond it.” (Meditations and Devotions)

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