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Monday, April 20, 2015

Can Catholics get tattoos?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,     
and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

 “Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus” --Pope Francis  (Evangelii Gaudium, #120)

Question:  Can Catholics get tattoos?

Short answer: Yep.  *:) happy

Of course, prudential judgement is warranted--an obscene or vulgar tattoo is something no Catholic ought to entertain, and one should always consider the health risks associated with anything involving needles and unlicensed personnel.  Also, remember that tattoos are a permanent reminder of a temporary feeling (paying homage to Jimmy Buffett).  

However, the question of tattoos segues into a more interesting apologetics question:  Do Catholics ignore the Bible?  

The Bible is quite clear that tattoos are forbidden:  "Do not lacerate your bodies for the dead, and do not tattoo yourselves.  I am the LORD."--Leviticus 19:28

There are fundamentalist Christians who like to point to Catholic teaching on tattoos (or, rather, the lack of teaching on this) as indicative that Catholicism thinks it's above the Word of God.  "Catholics think they don't have to follow the Bible!"

Conversely, liberal Christians like to point out:  Catholicism preaches that homosexuality is wrong because the Bible prohibits it, but look at all the other things the Bible prohibits/commands that Catholicism doesn't follow:  

"Do not clip your hair at the temples, nor spoil the edges of your beard."--Lev. 19:27

"When you build a new house, put a parapet around the roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt upon your house if someone falls off."--Deut 22:8

"do not sow a field of yours with two different kinds of seed; and do not put on a garment woven with two different kinds of thread."--Lev 19:19

True, dat.  We are certainly free to never put a parapet around our roof and to wear garments with 2 different kinds of thread.  *:) happy

I find it amusing that liberal Christians and fundamentalist Christians (usually on opposite sides of the fence) have joined together on this issue-- both have the same objection to Catholicism; that is:  you guys ignore the Old Testament laws!

Let's put aside for now the entirely WRONG concept that "Catholicism preaches that homosexuality is wrong because the Bible prohibits it".  (It is wrong because it contravenes the natural law, but that is fodder for another thread).  

The question that they are posing is a valid one:  why do Catholics get to ignore some of the Bible?

The answer is:  we don't ignore some of the Bible.  We just understand it through the lens of the Faith which brought us the Bible.  That is, through the eyes of the Catholic Church.  We understand the Old Testament in light of the New Testament, in light of the fulfillment of the Law through Jesus Christ.

Reading the Bible without the lens of the magisterium of the Church leads to all sorts of problematic interpretations. 

Thus, when people read the Bible without the guidance of the Church, they may decide that Saturday is the Lord's Day, not Sunday, for Exodus 20:10 clearly states that the 7th day is the Sabbath.  Beliefs: The Official Site of the Seventh-day Adventist world church

Some other folks (Jehovah's Witnesses) have decided from reading the Bible that the Jesus and the archangel Michael are the same being:

This is why it's so important to have a final, authoritative interpreter of the Sacred Scriptures.  

As far as the Old Testament laws--many of them were binding to the Israelites alone.  God gave these dietary and ceremonial commands in order to make the Jews culturally distinct from all the pagan nations which surrounded them.

However, many of the OT laws are also our moral laws.  Thus, we do indeed have to obey the prohibition on murder, adultery, stealing...they are binding all all people, in all times, in all cultures.

How do we tell the difference between the OT laws which were given to the Jews only, and those which we are bound to obey?

1) by the light of our reason and intellect.  Those laws which are consonant with the natural law are laws which we must obey.  For example, our reason tells us that creatures MUST worship the Creator.  Our reason tells us that it is immoral to take the life of an innocent human being.  Our intellect informs us that we have the right to our own property, but not the property of another person.  

But there is nothing in the moral law which prohibits coloring our skin, permanently or temporarily, with dye, or shaving beards off, or having field sown with two seeds.   Our reason tells us so.

2) we look to the guidance of the Church, for it was the Church which gave us these Scriptures. 

For more in-depth study visit these websites:


"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15

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