I am currently going through the Douay-Rheims translation of the Bible and have gotten to St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. This is my 3rd read through the New Testament. I often forget how much I enjoy St. Paul’s letters, especially Romans, because of the sheer depth that is present in them. It is as if every passage can be chewed on for hours and yet you may only slightly get the meaning. At times I had to do some extended research to better understand the meaning of various passage from the work of various saints who have written commentaries on his letters. I thought I would elaborate on this experience and offer some advice and warnings for those attempting reading scripture on their own.
I am very grateful to be part of the true church, the Catholic Church. While going through Romans, I once again appreciated the necessity of having the Catholic Church and why Jesus Christ established it. The letter to the Romans is an interesting one and is often used by Protestants as means to justify salvation through faith alone (along with others passages). As a Catholic, it may be very easy to brush that claim off as ridiculous but if you read through Romans on your own, you can appreciate how someone reading it in the wrong light or out of context could easily interpret St. Paul’s letter in an incorrect way. I had to stop after Romans chapter 8 to re-calibrate my bearings due to the information overload. It is truly deep stuff and if you venture on your own to draw the true meaning out of it, you may come to some confusing crossroads.
The fact that scripture can be interpreted by any individual makes it an absolute necessity for the Catholic Church to exist. Why? Since personal interpretation of scripture can be flawed or biased due to sin, from the earliest day’s of the church there would have been no firm standard on how scripture should be interpreted! Eventually what would happen is that everyone would be believing and preaching various derivatives of scripture and the true meaning of scripture would be lost quickly. This is one of the reasons why Jesus Christ established the Catholic Church: to be the sole authority of interpreting and proclaiming the true message of the Bible!
In all his letters to the early churches, St. Paul is addressing confusion that is arising among early Christians communities. It makes you wonder that if St. Paul is addressing confusion in interpretation of the gospel in his time, that had the Catholic Church not been established (and once the apostles passed away) the message of Jesus Christ would have been utterly lost within a century. If heresy could spring up within the life time of St. Paul, it is logical that it would continue to spring up once he passed away. The only reason why the true message of Jesus Christ is preserved today is solely due to the church he established with St. Peter as its first pope.
All this being said, the reading of scripture on our own is absolutely essential to spiritual growth. One must know and meditate on the words of scripture daily if possible. Fortunately for us as Catholics, as we read through scripture and come upon a passage that perhaps isn’t clear to us, we can rely on a church that is 2000 years old and that has more or less dissected and clarified all the challenging points we may come across. This is a great relief! I was going through Romans and came upon some challenging verses. I stopped to think: what would I do if I was the sole authority on the interpretation of scripture? I think I would be terrified! What if I am wrong? How would I know I am wrong or right? I sometimes work through the meaning on my own in my mind and then compare this to the established meaning. But what if there is no established meaning? I am impressed by the boldness of those that claim to be able to interpret scripture on their own without having an established authority like the Catholic Church. How they can ensure that all the thousands of verses are all 100% interpreted in the way God intended them to be is impressive.
The fact that humans we humans can sin necessitates the need to have an authority that is not prone to sin and that is the Catholic Church. Since the Holy Spirit protects and ensures that the church does not teach error, we as Catholics have this firm foundation to stand on with regards to scripture. As we have seen throughout history, when points of confusion have arisen, the church, united with her bishops, met to discuss the item and resolved it as a church. The councils are a sign of the Holy Spirit working through the church in order to guide it safely. The Holy Spirit always has and always will protect the church!
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us!