The Bible, an Ornament or a Light?
SUPPOSE in your home you had to depend upon just one lamp for light. Would your interest be primarily in a lamp that was made of gold or silver and studded with precious jewels, even though it gave a feeble and flickering light or no light at all; or would your chief concern be for a lamp that gave the maximum light? Of course, your chief concern would be the kind of light the lamp gave, would it not?
Or to use another illustration: Suppose you were in need of a pair of spectacles. Would you go to the optician who specialized in fancy diamond-studded gold-rimmed spectacles but who ignored entirely the lens, or would you patronize the optometrist who specialized in giving the most perfectly fitted lens?
The same applies in regard to our spiritual sight. The Bible is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. (Ps. 119:105) But that is true only if it is written in language we can understand and if we comprehend what we read. The Bible’s format, its typography, its binding, are not important, but its language and its contents are.
In this respect the Catholic Church has ever erred. During the Middle Ages many of her monks were employed making copies of the Bible. These, being written by hand and often on fine-grade calfskin (vellum), were very expensive. But the monks were not content with that. They spent much time and means and pains “illuminating” their Bibles with elaborate letterings and illustrations in gold, silver and other bright colors. And the covers received special attention.
To what extent this was done is apparent from the following extracts taken from a current Catholic publication, The Bible in the Middle Ages: “In the lavish magnificence in adornment of the Sacred Volume we may also trace an utterance of the veneration for the Bible which filled the hearts of the clergy and the laity. Pope Leo II gave to one church a copy of the Gospels bound in pure gold and studded with gems. . . . The Emperor Charlemagne gave St. Angilbert a copy of the Gospels written in letters of gold on purple vellum. . . . Hincmar, Archbishop of Rheims, caused the Gospels to be written for his cathedral in letters of gold and silver, bound in plates of gold, resplendent with jewels.” Such Bibles would weigh as much as seventeen pounds because of the elaborate ornamentation.
But does such show a real appreciation for God’s Word? Or does it betray rather a love for gold, silver and precious stones? Truly one cannot help but question the motive when one considers that at that time the common people were in dire poverty and for the most part illiterate serfs. Had the Catholic Church really had an appreciation of the message of the Bible, then she would have undertaken to translate the Bible in the common tongue instead of keeping it in Latin; she would have made the greatest possible number of cheap Bibles instead of a few rare costly copies; and she would have assigned to herself the task of educating the masses to read and write so that they could read the Bible for themselves, as Jehovah’s witnesses are doing not only in dark Africa but also in such Roman Catholic lands as Mexico. That would have shown real appreciation of the Bible and would have done the people immeasurable good.
In this respect the Catholic Church has not changed much through the years. Note for example the new Holy Family Bible published in 1951 by the Catholic Press, Chicago, Illinois. It was given the widest publicity in both the secular and the parochial press. Said one Catholic writer: “It is so attractive it’s tempting! To thumb through its pages is truly a thrilling experience”; etc. Regarding its cost, Pathfinder, a secular weekly, stated, “The price, for which many a Catholic family will happily dig into its bank account: $27.95.” Regarding its contents “Father” O’Connell stated: “We wanted a Bible for family reading. We wanted one every member could read and understand.” Yet the greater part of this Bible is still according to the archaic and Latinized Douay Version.
Truly here again we have the folly of a costly lamp that gives an inadequate light, and that at a cost that few can afford; the Bible serving as an ornament instead of as a guide.