Travel the roads of Maine and you are bound to see a mill town situated on the banks of a rushing river. One such town not too far from our home startles the eye at first sight. A towering brick smokestack dominates the landscape, capstone of a papermill abandoned many years ago. Concrete walls have gaping holes, giving the appearance of a bombed building. Next to the old mill is a junk yard piled high with scrap metal.
Now look across the street and see a lovely church perched on a small hill. Step inside and the world is transformed into a world of beauty. Glittering mosaic tiles, brightly colored stained-glass windows, graceful statues of saints, flowers, and embroidered altar cloths create a sacred space.
Young families and older parishioners gather on Sunday for Holy Mass, filling up the pews. A Scola group chants ancient Latin hymns while the organist plays on a restored pipe organ. Watch two serious young altar boys prepare for the reading of the Gospel. Each holds a flickering votive candle housed in a glass lantern. They lead a solemn procession in front of the pastor who holds the Bible high over his head. On feast days, the impressive leather-bound Bible is incensed.
Holy Scripture is deeply reverenced in the Catholic Church. Curiosity might stir in your mind. The Bible did not drop out of the sky like a meteorite. Who compiled the books of sacred scripture?
Early Christians heard the Gospels and Epistles read aloud to celebrate Resurrection Day. Three hundred years passed before Church leaders decided it was time to determine the books of sacred scripture and compile it into one volume. In 397, the Council of Carthage, under the influence of St. Augustine, settled the canon of New Testament Scripture, later approved by Pope Innocent. One Church historian wrote that the “Council of Carthage is the first known to us in which we find a clear and undisputed catalogue of all the New Testament books as we have them in Bibles now.”
For the next thousand years, Christians relied on the oral reading of scripture. Not until the invention of the printing press did Bibles become available to the public.
St. Jerome (347-420) translated scripture into Latin, the book known as the Latin Vulgate. In 1455, the Gutenberg press revolutionized culture, mass-producing books using movable metal type. Common folk were still left out in the cold, for the Bible cost a small fortune. One book could cost three years’ wages.
Only 49 copies still survive (21 are complete), and are owned by libraries or universities. The year 1978 marked the last time a complete Gutenberg Bible was sold. The price was $2.4 million. It is estimated to be worth $35 million in today’s market.