Catholics Should Learn from Protestants

This Opinion piece is meant to be read alongside "Protestants Need a Dose of Catholicism"


The Catholic Church has always treasured and defended the unique teachings and traditions that comprise her faith; indeed, she is firm in saying that nothing new doctrinally, theologically, or spiritually can be learned from an outside denomination. Though, in light of statistics, if there is anything individual Catholics can learn from Protestants it is in the personal approach towards Scripture by showing the reverence necessary to a Divine Literature, which, Protestants statistically do much more than Catholics.

Only 25 percent of U.S. Catholics read the Bible weekly according to the Pew Religious Landscape study conducted in 2014, ranking second to last on the list to Jews. The poll reveals an unimaginable fact (sarcasm applied here): Protestants, by far, read more Scripture than Catholics. Of Evangelicals, 63 percent said they read weekly. This is statistically impressive considering Evangelicals comprise most of the Christian population in the States (25.4 percent).

In 2014, 28 percent of Catholics said the Bible is not the word of God while 36 percent said, while it is the word of God, not everything within Scripture should be taken literally. In the same poll, 55 percent of American Evangelicals said Scripture is the Word of God and ought to be interpreted literally; only 25 percent of Catholics hold to the same position.

Only 25 percent of U.S. Catholics read the Bible weekly.

Why, then, are Evangelicals more intimate with Scripture than other denominations, and, of course, the laity of the Roman Church? Though it may not seem the case, considering the views of most Catholics, Biblical inerrancy is the unchangeable teaching of the Church which Evangelicals hold more to, unconsciously, than Catholics. Nevermind the fact that Evangelicals—and other Protestants of similar persuasion—may interpret and utilize Scripture differently than Catholics, at least it is treated more reverently.

In the same way that a child imitates and seeks assistance from a friend who excels him in a particular subject, desiring to better himself and eventually exceed his friend in that subject, I believe our Protestant brethren can inspire us to approach Holy Scripture more frequently and seriously. We can also look toward Holy Mother Church for guidance in how to approach her cherished Pages.

Pope Leo XIII said, in his encyclical Providentissimus Deus (1893), that the teaching of the Church regarding Biblical interpretation is exemplified in St. Augustine, who advised readers of the Bible not to depart from the literal and obvious sense of the text save only when necessity or reason requires one to do so. Today, this approach towards Scripture is unfashionable. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) describes the literal sense as “the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture,” and that all other interpretive senses of Sacred Scripture—spiritual, allegorical, moral, anagogic—are based upon, or preceded by, the literal sense. It is clear, then, which sense the Church recommends.

A program on EWTN entitled "Journey Home" features the interview of a Catholic convert from a non-Catholic religion, wherein converts discuss their “spiritual biographies” with interviewer Marcus Grodi. There are several episodes of "Journey Home" in which Protestant converts to the Catholic faith recall fondly their childhood, one in which their Protestant upbringing, be it a High or Low-church denomination, gave them a great love, and basic knowledge, of Scripture. Many of them show gratitude for having such an upbringing, suggesting if they had grown up in the Catholic Church then possibly they may not have had an impactful scriptural formation.

It is obvious that Protestants, by and large, are more fervent Bible readers, and more convicted in its sanctity, than Catholics.

“There are many parts of my upbringing I am very thankful for,” said Matt Akers, a convert from Anglicanism, in a recent episode of the program. He said he was given a “very strong respect for Scripture… and still to this day, I think I could say I had a very good grounding in Scripture.”

Mindful of the Pew findings, how often could we say this is the case for young denizens of the average Catholic household?

Catholics have, stereotypically, been labeled as Scripture ignoramuses while Protestants are de facto more Biblically literate, harkening back to a doctrine common to most Protestant denominations, sola scriptura. It should be said, despite New Orleans, the Bible Belt was not named after the Catholic population in the Southeastern U.S.

The Church, chiefly in her Liturgy, makes up abundantly for this irreverence by granting superlative dignity to Sacred Scripture. One of these reverent occasions can be found during the reading of the Gospel at a High/Solemn Mass. The priest kisses the altar and prays “cleanse my heart and lips …” in order to proclaim worthily Christ’s Gospel, he incenses the pages as well; before the Gospel is read, the Faithful, following after the priest, cross their forehead, lips, and heart.

In the Traditional Latin Mass, the Missal — which contains the Scriptural readings — is transported solemnly from the right to the left side of the altar by an altar server whose fellow servers accompany this movement of the missal with candlesticks ablaze, to symbolize the arrival of Christ, who is “the true light which enlighteneth every man who cometh into this world” Whose actions and words are being chanted by the priest or deacon in the Gospel reading for that day. This is one example of how the Church treats the treasure of Scripture, particularly the Gospels, in her liturgy.

Those Faithful who attend Mass regularly and hear attentively the Scriptural readings—or read translations—for the day’s feast are reaping great fruit and making up tenfold for their lack of Bible reading at home.

Individual Catholics should strive to show Scripture that same reverence the Church gives it in the Liturgy by treating it like the divine literature it is. Given the statistics, and pure observation, it is obvious that Protestants, by and large, are more fervent Bible readers, and more convicted in its sanctity, than Catholics. This should inspire us to relearn from them the virtue of Biblical reverence, perfect it, and become a church known for Biblical fervor.

The opinions reflected in this OpEd are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of staff, faculty and students of The King's College