Reading Sacred Scripture and the Catechism Together

An interview with Rev. James Socias of the Midwest Theological Forum about "The Didache Bible: Ignatius Bible Edition"

The Didache Bible (RSV, Second Catholic Edition): Ignatius Bible Edition, recently published by the Midwest Theological Forum with Ignatius Press, is a 1960-page study Bible featuring extensive commentaries, based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for each of the books of the Bible. The Didache Bible also includes over 100 apologetical inserts, over two dozen full-color biblical maps, and a 43-page glossary and a topical index.

Rev. James Socias, Vice President of the Midwest Theological Forum, spoke recently about what inspired the creation and publication of The Didache Bible and how it can be used by Catholics for group and individual study.

Why did Midwest Theological Forum decide to publish the Didache Bible?

Fr. Socias: The primary inspiration for the Didache Bible was the address given by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in 2002 on the tenth anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In this address, Cardinal Ratzinger strongly advocated the use of Scripture in the Catechism as a means to explain the faith and emphasized how it was important to read Scripture within the living tradition of the Church.

While the Catechism has greatly benefitted from its many references to Sacred Scripture, we found it surprising that there was nothing that would allow the reader to go the other way around; that is, a Bible with commentaries that referenced the Catechism. Such a Bible would facilitate a better understanding of how a particular verse or verses are directly related to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

In reflecting on this, we came to see that a Bible with commentaries based on the Catechism would be a good companion to the Didache Series textbooks, which are also based on Scripture and the Catechism. This, in effect, was our inspiration to publish the Didache Bible.

What is the importance of consulting the Catechism when reading the Bible?

Fr. Socias: As Cardinal Francis George says in the preface, the Second Vatican Council “affirmed the importance of Sacred Scripture in the life of faith.” The Deposit of Faith, which is contained in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, is safe-guarded and transmitted by the Magisterium of the Church, and the Catechism is the basic summary of this great wealth of Catholic teaching. Catholics who desire to understand the faith more completely will naturally want to study the Catechism and read the Bible on a regular basis.

By basing the commentaries on the Catechism and by referencing the relevant parts Catechism, the Didache Bible provides the reader with a means to better understand how the teachings of the Church are based on Scripture and how the living tradition of the Church interprets those verses of Scripture.

How does the Didache Bible respond to the Second Vatican Council’s call to renew the Catholic faith in the modern world?

Fr. Socias: In Dei Verbum (no. 10), the Second Vatican Council taught that the task of authentically interpreting the Word of God has been entrusted to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. By basing the commentaries of the Didache Bible on the Catechism, we show both how the Church has interpreted the different parts of Scripture and how that Scripture has become part of her magisterial teaching.

Additionally, Guadium et spes (no. 58) speaks of how the Gospel of Christ renews the modern world and advances culture, perfecting them in Christ. By promoting the Word of God and its authentic interpretation, we hope to assist the Church in her mission of renewing the faith in the modern world.

How did you determine which paragraphs of the Catechism to include with the different commentaries?

Fr. Socias: As a first step, we looked at which verses of Scripture were quoted or referenced in the various paragraphs of the Catechism and worked backwards. We then looked at how these verses were explained in the Catechism and incorporated these teachings into the commentaries as appropriate.

Subsequently, these draft commentaries were carefully reviewed by a team of Scripture scholars, such as Fr. Paul Mankowski of the University of Chicago and Fr. Andreas Hoeck of St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver. As part of their work, the team not only corrected the commentaries but drafted new material as appropriate and made suggestions as to other relevant paragraphs of the Catechism that should be included.

What are some of the elements that comprise the Didache Bible?

Fr. Socias: In addition to the commentaries based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Didache Bible provides references to additional paragraphs of the Catechism. This enables the reader to go back to the original source and see what further information on a particular topic the Catechism offers.

Another important element of the Didache Bible is the apologetical explanations. These 105, one-page explanations cover topics that help the reader to understand the faith better and to explain the faith to others.

When speaking with non-Catholics, it’s not enough just to say the Catechism tells us these things. Therefore, the apologetical explanations are based not only on the Catechism but also rely heavily on Sacred Scripture, which is useful when speaking with non-Catholic Christians. When possible, they are also based on natural reason, which is useful when speaking with non-Christians. Sample topics include such Catholic beliefs and practices as honoring or venerating the Blessed Virgin Mary, going to Confession, and believing in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

The Didache Bible also offers a comprehensive glossary of Biblical terms, a topical index, numerous maps of the various places mentioned in the Bible, Introductions to the books of the Bible, timelines of Biblical events, and other helpful information, such as how to read the Bible.

How can the Didache Bible be useful to teachers and students?

Fr. Socias: For teachers and students—whether in Catholic high schools, parishes, homeschools, or in a family setting—the Didache Bible can be a useful instrument to help understand how the Word of God is interpreted by the Magisterium and how Scripture, along with Sacred Tradition, is the foundation of Catholic teaching.

Although it was developed as a companion to our Didache Series textbooks, the Didache Bible is really accessible to anyone. For example, it is great for parents, who are the primary educators of their children. It is also ideal for Bible study programs and anyone wanting to learn more about their faith and Sacred Scripture.

How can the Didache Bible be of use to someone trying to study the Bible in-depth?

Fr. Socias: The Didache Bible is a great tool for Bible study. For those wanting a more in-depth understanding of Sacred Scripture, the commentaries will help them to understand what the Bible says in the light of the teachings of the Church and how this Scripture helps to form the faith. The other elements of the Didache Bible will assist in better understanding the historical context of different parts of the Bible, the meanings of biblical terms and concepts, and the relationship between the different books of the Bible. The commentaries also help the reader to see how the Bible is a unified whole and how the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New.

The Didache Bible not only helps the reader have a better understanding of Scripture but also of the Catechism, which is the surest interpretation of the faith. In short, the Didache Bible makes evident how the Catechism and Sacred Scripture complement each other.

What are some tips on reading the Bible for a person who is trying to grow in his or her spiritual life?

Fr. Socias: The Church highly recommends that Catholics read the Bible regularly. The practice of lectio divina or the prayerful reading of the Scripture makes a good place to start. In this traditional practice, you slowly read a selection of Bible verses, re-reading them, if necessary, and then meditate on what has been read, pondering what the Word of God is trying to say to you. Next, you pray that God will speak through his Word and, finally, place yourself in God’s presence and contemplate on what God is saying.

Understanding what God is trying to say to us through Sacred Scripture is much easier and more fruitful when we have the Church as our guide. For example, in the Didache Bible commentaries you can read what the Catechism has to say about a particular verse or selection of verses.

Of course, in addition to lectio divina, there are many different methods of reading the Bible. Sometimes, as in a Bible study group, a book or books of the Bible can be studied methodically from beginning to end. Other times, a person might want to know what the Bible says about a particular topic. In this case, he or she can look up the term in the topical index and read the relevant Scripture passages about this topic. In both instances, the Didache Bible will help the person better understand what the Church has to say about these verses or selections of Scripture.

It is always a good idea for Catholics to make a resolution to read the Bible each day, at least for a few minutes. Doing so helps us grow in our relationship with God and helps us to understand our faith better. Of course, it is important for Catholics who want to grow in their understanding of the faith to study the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Didache Bible helps in both these regards.

Being more familiar with the Bible and the Catechism gives us the tools to be an effective witness of the faith and to defend the faith when needed.

View sample pages of The Didache Bible (PDF format)

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Liam Ford