Monday, August 31, 2015

Dei Verbum at 50 (Paragraph 18)

In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, I will be posting twice a month, on Mondays, a paragraph from this important document.  There are a total of 26 paragraphs, so this will take us through to the Fall when we reach the anniversary of its promulgation by Pope Paul VI on November 18, 1965.  I look forward to our discussion.  May I suggest a helpful book by Fr. Ronald D. Witherup called The Word of God at Vatican II: Exploring Dei Verbum published by Liturgical Press.

18. It is common knowledge that among all the Scriptures, even those of the New Testament, the Gospels have a special preeminence, and rightly so, for they are the principal witness for the life and teaching of the incarnate Word, our savior.

The Church has always and everywhere held and continues to hold that the four Gospels are of apostolic origin. For what the Apostles preached in fulfillment of the commission of Christ, afterwards they themselves and apostolic men, under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, handed on to us in writing: the foundation of faith, namely, the fourfold Gospel, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday's Message: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Welcome back to another edition of Sunday's Message. Here, I will reproduce the readings for Mass from The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition. (I want to thank Greg Pierce at ACTA for giving me permission to do this weekly post.) While this is not an "official" Catholic edition, one of my hopes for doing this new series is to have a lively discussion on the renderings, compared to the more formal ones we are use to reading and hearing at Mass. Is there a place for a translation like this? Could this be a good Bible to give to a Catholic "seeker" or young adult? I have used it while teaching my high school theology classes, along with the NRSV and NABRE, and have had positive results. 

I would like to also propose a question or offer an encouragement each week to reflect upon, particularly in light of the rendering found here in The Message: The second reading from James should challenge us.  I was reflecting on the final verse this week, particularly in light of the coming Year of Mercy.  I honestly think I fail at this quite miserably, pretty much every single day.  So, perhaps, this week would be a good time, at least for me, to reach out to someone in my life who is in need.  Maybe that person I find most difficult to get along with.  That is true religion.

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
Now listen, Israel, listen carefully to the rules and regulations that I am teaching you to follow so that you may live and enter and take possession of the land that God, the God-of-Your-Fathers, is giving to you. Don’t add a word to what I command you, and don’t remove a word from it. Keep the commands of God, your God, that I am commanding you.
Keep them. Practice them. You’ll become wise and understanding. When people hear and see what’s going on, they’ll say, “What a great nation! So wise, so understanding! We’ve never seen anything like it.”
Yes. What other great nation has gods that are intimate with them the way God, our God, is with us, always ready to listen to us? And what other great nation has rules and regulations as good and fair as this Revelation that I’m setting before you today?

Psalm 15
“Walk straight,
act right,
        tell the truth.
“Don’t hurt your friend,
don’t blame your neighbor;
        despise the despicable.
“Keep your word even when it costs you,
make an honest living,
        never take a bribe.
“You’ll never get
if you live like this.”

James 1: 17-18, 21b-22, 27
Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures.
Throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear!
Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.

Mark 7:1-8,14-15, 21-23
The Pharisees, along with some religion scholars who had come from Jerusalem, gathered around him. They noticed that some of his disciples weren’t being careful with ritual washings before meals. The Pharisees—Jews in general, in fact—would never eat a meal without going through the motions of a ritual hand-washing, with an especially vigorous scrubbing if they had just come from the market (to say nothing of the scourings they’d give jugs and pots and pans).
The Pharisees and religion scholars asked, “Why do your disciples flout the rules, showing up at meals without washing their hands?”
Jesus answered, “Isaiah was right about frauds like you, hit the bull’s-eye in fact:
These people make a big show of saying the right thing,
but their heart isn’t in it.
They act like they are worshiping me,
but they don’t mean it.
They just use me as a cover
for teaching whatever suits their fancy,
Ditching God’s command
and taking up the latest fads.”
Jesus called the crowd together again and said, “Listen now, all of you—take this to heart. It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life; it’s what you vomit—that’s the real pollution.”
When he was back home after being with the crowd, his disciples said, “We don’t get it. Put it in plain language.”
He went on: “It’s what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness—all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution.”

Friday, August 28, 2015

National Bible Week


WASHINGTON—Families, parishes, schools and other Catholic groups can participate in National Bible Week, November 15-21, with resources provided in English and Spanish and available on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The theme of the observance is “The Bible: A Book for the Family/ La Biblia: Un Libro para la Familia.” 

The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum will celebrate its 50th anniversary on November 18, 2015. National Bible Week logos and a variety of resources that highlight the Bible in Catholic life are available online:

Resources for families include “Enthroning the Bible in the Family” (Cómo entronizar la Biblia en la familia), “Making the Word of God a Part of Your Home” (Cómo hacer que la Palabra de Dios sea parte fundamental del hogar), “Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Art and Practice of Lectio Divina” (Siempre Antigua, Siempre Nueva: El Arte y la Práctica de Lectio Divina) and “Sharing the Word of God at Home” (Compartiendo la Palabra de Dios en el Hogar).

Resources for parishes include a faith formation session on reading and understanding the Bible, a guide for starting and maintaining a parish Bible study, a family retreat, tips for using the Bible in catechesis and prayer, and a Scripture vigil on the themes of Catholic Social Teaching.

The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine will act as a clearinghouse for activities undertaken by dioceses and other groups, including the Association of Catholic Publishers, the American Bible Society and the Catholic Biblical Federation.

Weekly Knox: Marriage

"Part of God's design for the sanctification of your soul is the influence which husband or wife is going to have on you." -The Hidden Stream

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Vintage Liturgical Press RSV-CE

Thanks to Chris for sharing these photos, and his thoughts, with us.  I was unaware that Liturgical Press published the RSV-CE back in the day.  This looks similar to the one Ignatius and Scepter published a decade or so ago.  Enjoy!

With the fiftieth anniversary of the RSV-CE around the corner, I decided to pick up a tight reading copy. Since you can still expect to pay more than $30 for a nicely bound modern printing, I opted to pick up a vintage copy on EBay instead, and boy am I glad I did!

It just arrived this evening and already I just love this little volume, a vintage 1966 first printing from Liturgical Press at St. John's Abbey. In one small package, it gets so much effortlessly right:
-a solid translation printed in a broad, readable font
-slightly dated, but largely timeless design devoid of Catholic kitsch and publishers trademark
-Simple trade dress that emphasizes "Holy Bible" over the name of the translation (or translator/commentator or specialized audience)
-the absence of dedication pages and other fluff that usually reduce the book to a devotional gift rather than a working book of scripture
-just enough explanatory material to unpack any given book without overly interpreting it (in fact the book introductions fall in a special appendix, so as not to vie for page space with the inspired word)
-Appendix outlining all the textual differences between the main Protestant version of the RSV and the Catholic Edition

What shocked me most was how thin it is! Compare this even to most "standard" (I.e. non-Study) Bibles, and it clocked in at about a third of the mass and half the thickness.  Best of all, it has that wonderful old book smell. While I use the Didache NABRE for Morning Prayer and study, this has instantly become my go-to reading Bible. They sure don't make them like this anymore.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Original Douay-Rheims

Thanks to reader Mike for sharing this with me.  It is a copy of a pre-challoner Douay-Rheims.  Very cool and interesting.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Catholic Bibles on Facebook

No, I am not starting a Facebook page or Twitter for that matter.  Instead I wanted to give you some links to helpful and official Facebook pages related to our favorite Catholic Bibles.  On these pages, you can often get updated information about your favorite bible, as well as ask questions to those in the know.  So, if you are on Facebook, head over to these sites and show your support by "liking" them.

The New American Bible Revised Edition Page

The Message Catholic Page

Truth & Life Audio

Baronius Press

The Saint John's Bible

Ignatius Press

Bibles/Commentaries for Sale

I am in the process of cleaning out and reorganizing my (small) library of Bibles and commentaries and have decided to get rid of a few of them.  I was initially thinking of putting them on ebay or amazon, but figured I would see if any one of you would be interested.  I will list them below, along with a few pictures, and suggested donation (including shipping).  If you are interested in them, please send me an email, mccorm45(at)yahoo(dot)com.  Each item is in good to very good condition.

JPS Torah Commentary (complete) $55

Biblia Sacra (Vulgate) Stuttgart (2 Volumes) $20-30

Biblia Hebraica Kittel - $10-15

ICSB OT Volumes (Genesis, Exodus, Job, & Proverbs, Eccle., Song) $15

Monday, August 24, 2015

Rebound RSV-2CE

Thank you to Raymond for sharing these wonderful pictures of his rebound RSV-2CE.  I love posting these rebinding projects. They are a reminder to me that it is important to continue to encourage our Catholic publishers to consider creating Catholic Bibles that can match the ones produced by our Protestant brothers and sisters, so that we don't have to always resort to getting our favorite Bible rebound.  That said, I am thankful to the fine work that is done by Leonard's and Diego. And now, here is Raymond, with a brief description with pictures:

After reading several articles on this blog about people sending in their bibles to Leonard's to be rebound, I decided to try them out for myself. I sent Leonard's my Ignatius RSV-2CE bonded leather edition. This bible is my everyday reading bible, and I wanted to do something with it so it will last me for a good long time to come. I chose a pebble grain cowhide in green, which is my favorite color. I also think the green gives it a pleasant, and unique look. I had them remove the two red ribbons and replace them with three green ribbons. Originally I had asked them to do blind imprinting, but was informed by them that it doesn't always come out well on the leather I chose, so I went with their suggestion of black instead, especially since I wanted to avoid gold and silver. I must say that the end result of the work that Leonard's did for me far exceeded my expectations. I love the way that my bible lays nice and flat now, along with the softness of the leather. I am so happy that I took a chance on having my bible rebound!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday's Message: 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Welcome back to another edition of Sunday's Message. Here, I will reproduce the readings for Mass from The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition. (I want to thank Greg Pierce at ACTA for giving me permission to do this weekly post.) While this is not an "official" Catholic edition, one of my hopes for doing this new series is to have a lively discussion on the renderings, compared to the more formal ones we are use to reading and hearing at Mass. Is there a place for a translation like this? Could this be a good Bible to give to a Catholic "seeker" or young adult? I have used it while teaching my high school theology classes, along with the NRSV and NABRE, and have had positive results. 

I would like to also propose a question or offer an encouragement each week to reflect upon, particularly in light of the rendering found here in The Message: Paul speaks about this "huge mystery" concerning the connection between marriage and Christ/Church.  How does your marriage, or the marriage of others, help you to live out this "huge mystery"?  (By the way, I really like how Peterson renders this section of Ephesians.)

Joshua 24: 1-2a, 15-17, 18b
Joshua called together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He called in the elders, chiefs, judges, and officers. They presented themselves before God. Then Joshua addressed all the people:
“This is what God, the God of Israel, says: A long time ago your ancestors, Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor, lived to the east of the River Euphrates. They worshiped other gods. I took your ancestor Abraham from the far side of The River. I led him all over the land of Canaan and multiplied his descendants. I gave him Isaac. Then I gave Isaac Jacob and Esau. I let Esau have the mountains of Seir as home, but Jacob and his sons ended up in Egypt. I sent Moses and Aaron. I hit Egypt hard with plagues and then led you out of there. I brought your ancestors out of Egypt. You came to the sea, the Egyptians in hot pursuit with chariots and cavalry, to the very edge of the Red Sea!
“Then they cried out for help to God. He put a cloud between you and the Egyptians and then let the sea loose on them. It drowned them.
“If you decide that it’s a bad thing to worship God, then choose a god you’d rather serve—and do it today. Choose one of the gods your ancestors worshiped from the country beyond The River, or one of the gods of the Amorites, on whose land you’re now living. As for me and my family, we’ll worship God.”
The people answered, “We’d never forsake God! Never! We’d never leave God to worship other gods.
God is our God! He brought up our ancestors from Egypt and from slave conditions. He did all those great signs while we watched. He has kept his eye on us all along the roads we’ve traveled and among the nations we’ve passed through.
“Count us in: We too are going to worship God. He’s our God.”

Psalm 34
I live and breathe God; if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy:
Join me in spreading the news;
together let’s get the word out.
God won’t put up with rebels; he’ll cull them from the pack.
Is anyone crying for help? God is listening, ready to rescue you.
If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.
Disciples so often get into trouble;
still, God is there every time.
He’s your bodyguard, shielding every bone;
not even a finger gets broken.
The wicked commit slow suicide;
they waste their lives hating the good.

Ephesians 5:21-32
Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.
Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.
Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.
No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.

John 6:60-69
Many among his disciples heard this and said, “This is tough teaching, too tough to swallow.”
Jesus sensed that his disciples were having a hard time with this and said, “Does this throw you completely? What would happen if you saw the Son of Man ascending to where he came from? The Spirit can make life. Sheer muscle and willpower don’t make anything happen. Every word I’ve spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. But some of you are resisting, refusing to have any part in this.” (Jesus knew from the start that some weren’t going to risk themselves with him. He knew also who would betray him.) He went on to say, “This is why I told you earlier that no one is capable of coming to me on his own. You get to me only as a gift from the Father.”
After this a lot of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: “Do you also want to leave?”
Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.”

Friday, August 21, 2015

Weekly Knox: God's Judgment

"We can only suppose that God judges with infinite tenderness the opportunities, the temptations, the natural disadvantages, the motives, the struggles, of every soul that has ever lived." -Difficulties

Thursday, August 20, 2015

5 More Questions for Greg Pierce of ACTA Publications

Greg Pierce is President and Co-Publisher of ACTA Publications.  Back in the summer of 2013, I interviewed Greg concerning the publication of The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition.  I contacted Greg recently to see if he would answer some follow up questions about how The Message was being received by the public, as well as to discuss some of the other upcoming publications from ACTA.

1) It has been almost two years since the publication of The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition.  How do you feel it has been received by the Catholic community?     
It took a while for Catholics to understand what The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition is and how it is meant to be used. There was some confusion as to why it is not an "official" Church translation of the Scriptures. But as they began to understand that The Message is a translation into contemporary American English from the original ancient texts that is meant to help people understand what the Bible means and to inspire them to delve further into what it means for their own lives, then it began to gain traction.
When I first started showing it to Catholics, their reaction was "What is this?" Now it is more, "Yes, I've heard of this, let me take a look at it." And once they get the idea, many of them--especially young people--love it. We are planning our second printing next year, and we authorized a special edition of 10,000 copies of our Catholic edition that is being distributed by the Claretians in Africa and Asia. Many Protestants are buying our edition as well because they want to read the Deuterocanonical books in The Message voice for the first time.

2) What challenges are still out there in getting The Message known about, and more importantly read, by more Catholics?
That is the real issue, isn't it? How do we get Catholics to read the Bible at all? I maintain that before people want to study the Scriptures, they have to fall in love with them first. How do they do that? One of the ways is to read the Bible the way it was written and originally heard: in vibrant, contemporary language, without footnotes or explanations. That is what The Message is designed to do. It is, first and foremost, a "Reader's Bible," one meant to inspire, enlighten, and--yes--entertain the reader. One of the lines we use is that The Message is "a Bible anyone can read and understand." What can possibly be wrong with that? Some Bible scholars and Church officials scoff at The Message, and a few even claim that people should only read translations such as the NAB or the NRSV. But I ask them if The Message were to bring even one person to Christ wouldn't that be a good thing.  Many people, especially young people, find the Church-approved translations difficult at best and incomprehensible at worst. It is almost as if they need to learn a whole new language before they can really enter into the Scriptures. I believe that if people read The Message and like what they read, they will be more open to reading and studying the more traditional translations, footnotes and all. And that, too, would be a good thing, wouldn't it? Most people in ministry who "get" The Message know how to use it to help others understand the Bible. I just have to help them "get" it, and that is what I've been trying to do for the past couple of years.

3) Over the past year, I have noticed an increased integration of The Message into a number of ACTA's books and prayer resources.  Now you are beginning a new series of books called Literary Portals to Prayer.  Could you explain to my readers what this series is about and how The Message is incorporated into it?
Early on, I realized that we would have to give Catholics "free samples" of The Message and that the best way to do that was to incorporate its fresh, compelling, challenging, and faith-filled into other things that people were reading or doing. So one of the first things we did was develop a 45-minute presentation called "The Message Proclaimed" that is written for and performed by a group of young adults. This has turned out to be a great way to introduce The Message to people who might otherwise never experience it. By watching a group of talented young people proclaims 10-12 passages from the Bible in language of The Message, people experience the Scriptures as they were originally "heard"--live and passionately--not as something stuck inside a 2000-year-old book that needs to be "unpacked" for them. We are now offering the script and a DVD of the performance to any diocese, parish, or organization that wishes to put on a performance of "The Message Proclaimed" at no cost. We'll even help train their own young adults to perform it!
We have also incorporated The Message into a variety of books by ACTA Publications (and other publishers as well) so that people could experience the translation in small pieces and wonder "Does the Bible really say that?" We have booklets for Advent and Lent produced by The Pastoral Center that are affordable to be handed out for the entire parish. Last year, we sold 10,000 of them for Lent, and this year we are following the them of Pope Francis' Year of Mercy in the booklets. We have also used The Message in books for the average person such as Great Men of the Bible by Fr. Martin Pable, This Transforming Word by Alice Camille, Christian Contemplative Living by Thomas Santa, Explain That to Me by Joeph McHugh, and Faith, Fun, and other Flotation Devices by Michelle Howe. We also have a new book called Yes, It Is So! 50 Call-and-Response Prayers from The Message for Gatherings, Meetings, and Small Groups.
Finally, you mention our new series Literary Portals to Prayer. I am very excited about these new books. I think they are one of the few truly new resources for personal prayer in many years. My twenty-something daughter, Abby, who is our marketing director and is also researching a volume on George Eliot for this series, calls it "A New Way In." The idea is fairly simple: We take 50 passages from a writer who has stood the test of time (e.g., Shakespeare, Melville, Alcott, Austen, Dickens, Gaskell, Hans Christian Andersen) and pair them with a well-chosen biblical passage from The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition that illuminates the secular quote and takes the reader off in new directions of meditation. Each book is only 120 pages and is produced both in a pocket size (5 x 7") for personal use and an enhanced-size version (7 x 10.5") for public display, performance, and prayer. There is something very grace-filled about the result, and I hope that it will be "a new way in" to prayer for many people and in the process will introduce them to the insights that the Bible can bring to literature and vice versa.

4) What other resources utilizing The Message can we expect in the coming years? Any chance we may see The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Editionpublished in a variety of styles and sizes in the future?  
We have entered into a new partnership with Tyndale House Publishers to produce and sell the "Catholic Message" to an international and multi-denominational audience. This will include experimenting with new styles and sizes of both the full Bible and individual books. For example, I am interested in doing an illustrated version of the Book of Job, using The Message translation, which has allowed me to understand that great ancient story for really the first time.

5) Finally, does the future look bright for The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition?
I already told my wife, Kathy, that when I die I want her to put on my tombstone: "He always was too optimistic!" I will say that publishing a Catholic/Ecumenical edition of The Message is the most important thing I have done as a publisher in my 30 years in the business, and I believe that this book will inspire many people, including many Catholics and especially many young-adult Catholics to read the Bible for many years. The Holy Spirit will do the rest.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Dei Verbum at 50 (Paragraph 17)

In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, I will be posting twice a month, on Mondays, a paragraph from this important document.  There are a total of 26 paragraphs, so this will take us through to the Fall when we reach the anniversary of its promulgation by Pope Paul VI on November 18, 1965.  I look forward to our discussion.  May I suggest a helpful book by Fr. Ronald D. Witherup called The Word of God at Vatican II: Exploring Dei Verbum published by Liturgical Press.

17. The word of God, which is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe (see Rom. 1:16), is set forth and shows its power in a most excellent way in the writings of the New Testament. For when the fullness of time arrived (see Gal. 4:4), the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us in His fullness of graces and truth (see John 1:14). Christ established the kingdom of God on earth, manifested His Father and Himself by deeds and words, and completed His work by His death, resurrection and glorious Ascension and by the sending of the Holy Spirit. Having been lifted up from the earth, He draws all men to Himself (see John 12:32, Greek text), He who alone has the words of eternal life (see John 6:68). This mystery had not been manifested to other generations as it was now revealed to His holy Apostles and prophets in the Holy Spirit (see Eph. 3:4-6, Greek text), so that they might preach the Gospel, stir up faith in Jesus, Christ and Lord, and gather together the Church. Now the writings of the New Testament stand as a perpetual and divine witness to these realities.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sunday's Message: 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Welcome back to another edition of Sunday's Message. Here, I will reproduce the readings for Mass from The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition. (I want to thank Greg Pierce at ACTA for giving me permission to do this weekly post.) While this is not an "official" Catholic edition, one of my hopes for doing this new series is to have a lively discussion on the renderings, compared to the more formal ones we are use to reading and hearing at Mass. Is there a place for a translation like this? Could this be a good Bible to give to a Catholic "seeker" or young adult? I have used it while teaching my high school theology classes, along with the NRSV and NABRE, and have had positive results. 

I would like to also propose a question or offer an encouragement each week to reflect upon, particularly in light of the rendering found here in The Message: Do you struggle with anything Christ has said or taught?  Are you willing to be instructed by the Word of Life?    

Proverbs 9:1-6
Lady Wisdom has built and furnished her home;
it’s supported by seven hewn timbers.
The banquet meal is ready to be served: lamb roasted,
wine poured out, table set with silver and flowers.
Having dismissed her serving maids,
Lady Wisdom goes to town, stands in a prominent place,
and invites everyone within sound of her voice:
“Are you confused about life, don’t know what’s going on?
Come with me, oh come, have dinner with me!
I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread,
roast lamb, carefully selected wines.
Leave your impoverished confusion and live!
Walk up the street to a life with meaning.”

Psalm 34
I live and breathe God; if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy:
Join me in spreading the news;
together let’s get the word out.
God met me more than halfway, he freed me from my anxious fears.
Look at him; give him your warmest smile.
Never hide your feelings from him.
When I was desperate, I called out,
and God got me out of a tight spot.
God’s angel sets up a circle of protection around us while we pray.

Ephesians 5:15-20
Watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!
Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.
Don’t drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ.

John 6:51-58
I am the Bread—living Bread!—who came down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live—and forever! The Bread that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self.”
At this, the Jews started fighting among themselves: “How can this man serve up his flesh for a meal?”
But Jesus didn’t give an inch. “Only insofar as you eat and drink flesh and blood, the flesh and blood of the Son of Man, do you have life within you. The one who brings a hearty appetite to this eating and drinking has eternal life and will be fit and ready for the Final Day. My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. By eating my flesh and drinking my blood you enter into me and I into you. In the same way that the fully alive Father sent me here and I live because of him, so the one who makes a meal of me lives because of me. This is the Bread from heaven. Your ancestors ate bread and later died. Whoever eats this Bread will live always.”

Friday, August 14, 2015

Weekly Knox: God's Love

"The love of God, St. John tells us, resides not in our showing any love for God, but in his showing his love for us first, when he sent out his Son to be an atonement for our sins.  Forget that, and you have forgotten to be a Christian." -Pastoral Sermons

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

7 Questions: Christopher Calderhead

Christopher Calderhead is a visual artist and graphic designer who has exhibited his letter-based works in the United States and Great Britain. He graduated from Princeton with a bachelor's degree in art history. In 1998 he obtained a master of divinity degree from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. Ordained the same year, he has served parishes in the Church of England and the Episcopal Church USA. He is editor of Alphabet, a journal of the lettering arts published by the Friends of Calligraphy, and author of One Hundred Miracles (2004), a collection of miracle paintings by the great masters.  He recently published, through Liturgical Press, Illuminating the Word: The Making of the Saint John's Bible Second Edition.  I believe it is the best book, currrently in print, concerning The Saint John's Bible.  Christopher blogs at Studio Notes.

1) To start off, could you tell my readers a little bit about the work you do?  How did you get involved in calligraphy?  Was this something that was a passion of yours from early on?

I have been interested in calligraphy and lettering since I was a boy. My father had his own advertising agency in New York, and I grew up in the art department. I remember looking at headlines in the ads the art directors created and pondering the letterforms: Why are the strokes of the sans-serif type Kabel cut off at an angle? How do you draw the fat, balloon shapes of the typeface Cooper Black?

When I was in fourth grade, I traced out a series of alphabets from an old 1930s lettering manual. I used to carry this tracing in my pocket, and when I had to add a heading to an assignment in school, I would carefully unfold it and trace my heading out, letter by letter.

In college at Princeton I majored in Art History, and a lot of the papers I wrote had to do with fine printing and graphic design.

After college, I studied calligraphy and bookbinding at the Roehampton Institute. Ann Camp was my principal teacher, and she grounded me in the rich tradition of edged-pen writing. At Roehampton, for the first time, I was surrounded by people who would sit and discuss the shape of the lower bowl of the lower case g through an entire tea break! It was wonderful.

Since then—that was 25 years ago—I have had a very varied career. For the last ten years, I have concentrated mostly on teaching and writing books. Since 2007, I have been the editor and designer of an international quarterly magazine, Letter Arts Review, which covers all aspects of lettering art, from calligraphy to typography and text-based art.

My own calligraphic and lettering art has evolved over time. Fresh out of Roehampton, I worked in fairly classic styles. Since then, I’ve broadened my approach. I’m not actively seeking commissions these days; most of the lettering art I do is designed as a fine art, and I explore both direct pen- and brush-made lettering along with photomontage and other techniques.

2) Could you talk a little bit about how you got involved with The Saint John's Bible project?

I was living in Cambridge, England, at the time (this is around 1999). I knew Donald Jackson already—I had written an article about him for The Scribe, the journal of the Society of Scribes and Illuminators, and I had visited him and his wife Mabel at their home in Wales.

Jo White was the person who put the deal together. She was one of the most important people involved in making The Saint John’s Bible happen in the first place. She has been one of the great movers and shakers of the Calligraphy world, organizing conferences and workshops, and creating a genuine network for calligraphers to gather and work together. Jo and I knew each other fairly well, and she really pushed for me to be hired to write about the project.

Everyone involved in The Saint John’s Bible knew that the project should be documented. Donald’s staff were careful to collect and save all the sketches and preparatory material. The Bible project sent photographers to shoot Donald and his team at work.

When I was brought on board, I was something of an unknown quantity to the people at Saint John’s. So the initial idea was that I would write a series of articles documenting the process of making the Bible. Each article existed in a long (5000 word) form, and also in shorter excerpt format which could be immediately published. That these would later turn into a book was not guaranteed—but it was a start, a foot in the door, and an opportunity to show I had the chops to do the work.

By the time I left England to move back to the States, I had written about seven or eight articles.

I was at Saint John’s in the summer of 2002, and I pushed the matter with Carol Marrin, who was then Director of the Bible project: Is this going to turn into a book or not? I did a book proposal, and everyone agreed to go ahead and turn my articles into a full-fledged book. (I am simplifying here what was in fact an extremely protracted process!)

3) What was a typical day like observing and documenting the process?

Donald’s Scriptorium in Wales is about 5 hours by train from Cambridge. I had a wonderful boss who gave me some flexibility with my time, so I would go to Wales for short visits—just three days and two nights at a time. Sometimes, I would my vacation days to accommodate a trip.

Donald ran his studio in a very old-fashioned way: his model was very much the old apprenticeship model, and family life and the life of the studio were in many ways complementary.

Sometimes I stayed with Donald and Mabel at their house, which was across the lane from the Scriptorium and its attendant outbuildings. On other visits I would stay with my friend Sally Mae Joseph, who was the studio manager in the early years of the project, and lived in a cottage down the road.

The setting was incredibly bucolic, with the houses and buildings nestled in a hilly countryside surrounded by fields of sheep and small patches of woods.

I would walk over to the Scriptorium after breakfast, and Donald or members of his staff would unpack things for me to look at, talk about the work on the drafting tables, and generally help me explore what it was they were doing. Donald would come and go, but at some point we would sit down for a good, long interview. Sometimes we sat for two or three interviews over the course a visit.

I generally had lunch with the staff in the kitchen of the Scriptorium, and in the evenings we might have dinner out at a pub, or sit down to one of Mabel’s beautifully cooked meals at the big house.

The feeling of these visits was never rushed; I really can say I had the privilege of entering into the ongoing life of the Scriptorium.

4) For those who don't realize how immense and complicated the Saint John's Bible project was, what would you say was one or two of the biggest obstacles Donald Jackson and his team had to overcome?

Now that’s a hard question.

It took well over a decade to complete the manuscript of The Saint John’s Bible. Donald had to assemble teams of scribes and artist to collaborate with him. All the money—and it was serious money—had to be raised for the project. And while the manuscript volumes were being made, an ambitious program of exhibitions and promotional tours was taking place. In addition, once the full-sized printed facsimile, the Heritage Edition, went into production, the project became vastly more complex. All the while, Donald and his counterparts at Saint John’s had to figure out how they planned to work together. It was long learning process for both sides of the negotiation between the artist and his client.

But I will hazard a guess that one of the most challenging aspects of the project arose from the choice of the actual text. The contract specified that Saint John’s would chose which translation was to be used. When they opted for the New Revised Standard Edition (the Catholic edition), they locked in some very specific challenges for Donald. The NRSV has extremely detailed guidelines for how the text may be used. For example, there are four levels of text indentation that have to respected, and the chapter and verse numbers are set up according to a complex formula. As a result, every page had to be set up first on a computer, proofread and approved, and then given to the scribes to write. This not only limited Donald’s freedom to format the text, but introduced a massive logistical issue in coordinating different stages of design and execution with proofreading and computer layout.

The other greatest important challenge, I think, was the simple fear involved for Donald in making what had to be his masterpiece. This project is the culmination of his whole career—the biggest, most sustained project he has ever done. And to take on something as weighted with tradition as the Bible and make something fresh and new and worthy is an enormous, frightening challenge.

One of the things I admire most about what Donald produced is that the Bible looks very much of our own period—it is not an antiquarian exercise. It draws from tradition in many key ways, but this is a contemporary response to the biblical text.

5). Which of the various technical aspects of the project impressed you the most and why?  (Like vellum preparation or making ink or creation of rough drafts...)

Donald is a master with using gold and working on vellum, so of course those aspects were fascinating to see. But the one thing that impressed me the most was the way he created a team of scribes with a unified style.

Most calligraphers today work alone, and so they develop their own personal styles. And calligraphers aren’t used to working like gig musicians, picking up on the riffs of other artists and playing in sync. It’s just not the way the world of modern calligraphy works.

If you go back to the big scriptoria of the Middle Ages, however, you had whole trams of scribes working in a house style. We can look at medieval manuscripts and detect personal characteristics of individual scribes, but we can also see that all the scribes working on a project had a common ethos or way of writing. It’s a very subtle thing—on one hand, there is plenty of personality in those scripts, while on the other hand, their communal effort holds together as a unity.

So the most remarkable aspect of the project—for me—is that Donald assembled a group of contemporary calligraphers and recreated that unifying feel, while not extinguishing the unique personality of each scribe. I don’t think anyone but Donald could have pulled that off. He’s so deeply embedded in the tradition that he understood how to get the group to coalesce into a team.

One of the striking things about his method was that he refused to give them an exemplar—a standard sheet showing the Bible Script. Instead, he talked and demonstrated and the team spent hours writing together to get a feel for the script. As the writing continued, the scribes would gather at intervals in Wales and they would compare their writing. Inevitably, when they were each writing alone at home, their styles would slightly diverge. But by gathering every few months, they would come back into sync with one another.

That’s something really unique about this project.

I contrast that with another 20th century project—the series of Royal Air Force memorial books in St Clement Danes church in London. Those were written in the 1950s, I think—maybe 1960s. The artistic director of that project set a pattern for the scribes to follow, and each book was handed to a separate calligrapher, who worked alone on his or her volume. That project, as fine as it, doesn’t have that unitary flavor that Donald achieved in The Saint John’s Bible.

6) Liturgical Press recently published the second edition of your book "Illuminating the Word: The Making of the Saint John's Bible".  Of all the books concerning the Saint John's Bible it is easily my favorite.  Although it is in the form of a "coffee table" book, I read it so often that it rarely sits on my coffee table, so I hesitate even calling it that.  Could you talk a bit about what the process was working on this book?  What is unique to the second edition?

Of the books I’ve written, this one is very special to me.

There’s a real pressure when you have an institutional client—like a monastery or a university—to write an “official” history of a project like this. It’s simply in the nature of human institutions. You end up having to interview the provost and the dean, each of whom say something pleasant about the project. It’s easy to end up with a lot of platitudes that aren’t very interesting to read.

I was determined when I began writing the chapters that became Illuminating the Word that I wanted to tell a good story, and give people the feeling of being there in the moment. I took a risk by writing it in the first person, because the book is not about me. But that seemed the best way to capture the immediacy of the scenes I was describing.

Although the chapters in the first book were written to specific themes such as the layout of the pages or the search for the proper writing surface, I chose to treat them in a narrative fashion. So in effect, I take the reader on a journey to visit the project and discover it alongside me. I think that’s why a lot of people have reacted positively to the book. It’s not dry. It’s a good story.

The first book was published to coincide with the first exhibition of the Bible at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 2005. At that point, Donald had completed only three of the seven volumes of the manuscript, so my book detailed the making of Gospels and Acts and the Pentateuch and ended with the Psalms volume. We knew that once had finished all seven volumes we would probably need to do a second edition and bring the story to its close.

The second edition preserves most of the chapters of the first one. We made as few changes in those as possible.

We then added a whole new section that told the story of each volume in a step-by-step fashion, detailing which artists and scribes joined the project at each stage, how the layout and design of the volumes developed, and recounting some of the difficulties and challenges that arose along the way.

The third part of the new edition looks at specific aspects of the production of The Saint John’s Bible. Tim Ternes, the current director of the Bible project, has a lot of experience talking to visitors who come to Saint John’s and to the exhibitions, and he knew what kinds of questions people asked. As a result, we added a very technical chapter on the scripts of the Bible, geared toward accomplished calligraphers, and explaining the characteristics of the various scripts in the book. We also added a chapter on how the pages were prepared for exhibition and stored. And we added a full chapter with interviews with each artist and scribe who participated in the project.

Probably one of the most important new chapters is the one that describes the printing of the full-size facsimile Heritage Edition. I have to say here that I can be kind of old-school sometimes, and I always thought that the manuscript was the main thing. People are so used to printed books that they assume the point of a project like this is to produce an edition. But I feel quite strongly the manuscript is the original artwork, and any printed edition is essentially something else. So it was always clear to me that such offshoots of the project like the reduced-size “trade edition” facsimiles were wonderful in their own right, but quite secondary to the main project, which was to produce a manuscript.

The Heritage Edition really changed the game. It was produced at the full size of the original, and it was lavishly printed and bound. Eventually, it became a project of its own, and Donald split his time between finishing the manuscript and working with the printers and other skilled craftspeople to produce a really exquisite printed version of the manuscript. Now we can really say that The Saint John’s Bible exists both as an original manuscript and as a full-size printed edition.

That change in the nature of the project was very important to capture, which is why we added a separate chapter to describe it.

Altogether, the second edition gives a really comprehensive account of how The Saint John’s Bible was made.

7) Finally, do you have a favorite illumination or text treatment from the Saint John's Bible?  Why?

Oh man. It’s very hard to choose.

Of the illuminations, the one that consistently sticks my mind is the image of Wisdom from the Wisdom of Solomon. Donald rendered her as an old, wise woman, who looks directly at the viewer. The background is metal leaf in two tones, so the effect is like that of a mirror, as though one is both seeing the figure of divine Wisdom and looking at oneself at the same time. I love the fact that the face is rendered in a somewhat photographic manner, although without color and half-tones.

In that illumination I think Donald really succeeded in creating a brand-new image that has an iconic quality. It’s not like anything in the long history of Christian art, yet it also has the distilled quality of devotional imagery.

I also appreciate the fact that that illumination reflects a theological interest in mining the Bible for images of the feminine. The Bible is clearly the product of patriarchal societies, and reflects the values of those societies. In our time, many Christians have wanted to redress the balance and find messages and images that celebrate women and their role within the communities of faith, as well as seeking to move away from purely masculine understandings of the divine.

In the end, however, I like that image simply because it sticks in my mind, and that’s a mark of an effective work of art.

But I should close with this—whenever I spend time looking at The Saint John’s Bible, I almost always look carefully at the large blocks of capitals that make up the beginning of some of the books. Genesis 1 is a perfect example. Those massed caps are incredibly subtle. Donald uses his quill to make shapes that often depart from the purely classical forms of traditional scripts. Those caps show how deeply he understands the way our letters function, and he has no need to be consistent with his letterforms. In fact, he plays with them, pushing and distorting them in incredibly sophisticated ways. It’s looking at those caps that really sends the shiver down my spine.