Illustrated Catholic Family Annual – About The Bible

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The most ancient copy of the Bible now in existence is the Codex Vaticanus, in the Vatican Library at Rome. It is in Greek, and was written about the end of the fourth century. The Sinaitic Codex, now in Saint Petersburg, also belongs to this century. The Alexandrian Codex, which was presented to Charles I, in 1628, by the Greek patriarch, is in the British Museum, and is supposed to have been written in the fifth century. The Codex Ephraemi, or Codex Regius, is also ascribed to the fifth century; a fragment is in the Royal Library at Paris.

Of the Septuagint version of the Bible, made from Hebrew into Greek about 280 B.C., the tradition is this: Josephus says that Ptolemy Philadelphus gave the Jews half a million sterling for a copy of the Old Testament, and to the seventy translators another half million for the translation. It was in general use in our Saviour’s time, and the quotations in the New Testament are from the Septuagint.

The oldest Latin version (called the Italic, and said to have been made about the beginning of the second century) was revised, between 384 and 405 A.D., by Saint Jerome, and, as adopted by the Church, is called the Vulgate. This version was authorized by the Council of Trent, in 1546. A critical edition was printed, by order of Pope Clement VIII, in 1593.

A manuscript paraphrase, in English, of the whole Bible is in the Bodleian Library, at Oxford, and is dated by Usher as 1290. An English version of the Bible was printed in 1526 The “Douai” edition was printed in 1583-1610. The first English Bible printed in Ireland was at Belfast in 1704. The first Bible printed in America was the Bible in Natick or Massachusetts Indian, printed in 1663; the first German Bible in America was printed in 1743 ; the first in English in 1782; the first Catholic Bible in the United States in 1790.

The first polyglot Bible was that of Origen, commenced at Cesarea in A.D. 231, after he had spent twenty-eight years in collating manuscripts. The most important polyglot edition of the Bible was that of Cardinal Ximines, printed at Alcala, Spain, in 1514, and which was, in fact, the first complete Bible ever printed.

The Received Greek Text followed implicitly by Protestants was made up in a few weeks by Erasmus from very poor manuscripts. Celebrated Greek and Latin editions of the Bible were those of Aldus, 1518; of Robert Stephens (Etienne), 1546 ; and of Elzevir (the “textus receptus,” or received text) in 1624. The division of the Bible into chapters is variously ascribed to Archbishop Lanfranc in the eleventh century, to Archbishop Langton in the thirteenth, and to Cardinal Hugo de Sancto Caro about the middle of the latter century. The present division into verses is said to have been introduced by the celebrated printer, Robert Stephens (1551-57).

The first Concordance of the Bible was made, in 1247, under the direction of Hugo de Sancto Caro, who, according to Abbe Lenglet, employed as many as five hundred monks upon it. Cruden’s (the first Protestant) Concordance was first published in 1737, in London.

The Bible in the Middle Ages

Ignorant or malicious writers have depicted the Middle Ages as eras of intellectual darkness and spiritual abasement; and especially have they widely disseminated a delusive belief that during those ages the laity were debarred from the study of the Bible. The records of authentic history (Protestant as well as Catholic) present a multitude of facts proving that the Catholic Church – then sole guardian and expositor of the Sacred Writings – during the epoch of her highest power and glory labored unceasingly to impart to the people a knowledge of the Scriptures. Her councils and her clergy, as we shall show, strenuously inculcated upon the laity the studious reading of Scripture as the surest aid to pious living. The laity, in the Middle Ages, did not commonly possess Bibles simply because one Bible then cost as much as hundreds would in our day. The Church had not then at her service either movable types or printing-presses, and each copy of the Bible required for its production a multitude of parchmtnt skins and the continuous labor for months of a scribe. For instance, the Catholic Canon of Scripture contains 35,877 verses, making 12,783 folios, which would cover, on both sides, 427 skins of parchment, costing $412.25; the cost of copying would be $644.65. The cost at the present time, therefore, of a single copy of the Bible, made after the fashion of the Middle Ages, would be $1,056.50; and this without binding or illumination.

Some notion may be had of the estimation in which the Scriptures were held by the Church in the Middle Ages from a few facts here gathered from various sources : The eighth Council of Toledo, in 835, decreed that no one should be admitted to the priesthood who did not know by heart the whole of the Psalms as well as the Hymns of the Church, etc.; the Council of Pavia, in the ninth century, issued decrees of a like character, and it was directed that in the ordination of a deacon the bishop, having delivered into his hands the Book of the Gospels, should say: “Receive this volume of the Gospels, read and understand it, teach it to others, and in thine own actions fulfil all its precepts”; in the “Capitula data Presbyteris,” of 804, we read, “First, that a priest of God should be learned in Holy Scripture, and rightly believe and teach to others the faith of the Trinity,” etc.; the Canons of AElfric. about 950, decree that “every priest before he is ordained must have the arms belonging to his spiritual work – i.e., the Psalter, Book of Epistles, Book of Gospels, Missal,” etc., “for these books a priest requires and cannot well do without,” and each priest must be able to “well expound the Epistles and Gospels” ; Saint Jerome says, “Cultivate with diligent affection a knowledge of the Scriptures”; Saint Anthony referred his monks to the same sacred source; “the monks,” says Trithemius, “taught and explained the whole Scriptures”; Saint Benedict avows that “those who aspire to the highest excellence must learn the means of attaining to it in the Bible”; the Rule of Saint Benedict provided that the whole of the Psalms be gone through every week; among the precepts of Alcuin (an English prelate, reputed the most learned man of his time, and who was appointed Abbot of Saint Martin’s at Tours by Charlemagne) are these: “Write the Gospels in your heart”; “Read diligently, I beseech you, the Gospel of Christ”; ” Be studisus in read ing the Sacred Scriptures”; Reculfus, Bishop of Soissons, in 879, admonishes his clergy that “each of you be careful to have a Book of the Gospels, a Missal, a Lectionary,” etc.; Wolphelm, Abbot of Brunwillers, in eleventh century, caused the whole of the Old and New Testaments to be read through every year; a still more comprehensive system prevailed in the famous Benedictine Abbey of Clugni. John, Abbot of Gorze, “committed to memory all the lessons which are appointed for certain times in the Church”; Saint Wilfrid, when at Rome, studied under Saint Boniface, and “learned the four Gospels by heart” – as Beda remarks, “according to the general custom”; Peter the Venerable “retained in his memory nearly the whole of both Testaments”; Anselm, Bishop of Lucca, “knew almost all the Holy Scriptures “; and the same thing is told of many other ecclesiastics.

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 clergy and laity: Pope Leo III gave to one church a copy of the Gospels bound in pure gold and studded with precious gems; Pope Leo IV presented to another church a copy of the Gospels bound in silver; Pope Benedict III presented to the Church of Saint Calistus a copy of the Gospels adorned with “plates of gold and silver, weighing nearly seventeen pounds”; the Emperor Michael sent as a present to Saint Peter’s, at Rome, a copy of the Gospels bound in pure gold and adorned with precious stones; the Emperor Charlemagne gave to Saint Angilbert a copy of the Gospels written in letters of gold upon purple vellum ; when the remains of Saints Sebastian and Gregory were removed to the Monastery of Saint Medard, at Soissons, in 826, Louis le Debonnaire presented to it a copy of the Gospels written in letters of gold and bound in gold plates; the Empress Agnes presented to the Monastery of Monte Casino a copy of Gospels covered with gold and precious gems; Henry, Emperor of Bavaria, gave to the same monastery a copy covered with gold, adorned with jewels, and gorgeously illuminated; King Robert bequeathed to the Church of Saint Aman, in Orleans, six copies of the Gospels – two of which were bound in gold, and two in silver; Hincmar, Archbishop of Rheims, caused the Gospels to be written for his cathedral in letters of gold and silver, and bound in plates of gold, resplendent with jewels; in the Breve Recordations of Abbot Bonus mention is made of a Bible purchased in the eleventh century, by the Monastery of Saint Michael at Pisa, for a sum equal to about $1,250 modern value ; at a visitation of the treasury of Saint Paul’s, London, in 1295, there were found twelve copies of the Gospels bound in silver, some decorated with precious stones. Martene, in examining the archives of numerous monasteries and churches, in 1717-1724, discovered many Bibles of great antiquity, written in letters of silver or gold, upon purple vellum, some of which “were so gorgeously encased that upward of twenty pounds of gold were used in the construction of their coverings.” These precious bindings were sometimes used for secular purposes: When William Rufus imposed a heavy tax to pay for the purchase of Normandy, the Abbot of Malmesbury was compelled to strip the covers from several copies of the Gospels, in order to pay the amount levied upon his abbey. William de Longchamp, Bishop of Ely, in order to raise the sum of one hundred and sixty marks, which he contributed toward the ransom of Richard Cceur de Lion from captivity, pledged the covers of thirteen copies of the Gospels belonging to his church.

Having thus seen in what esteem the clergy held the Bible, we proceed to present a few facts showing their labors to disseminate it among the laity ; for as Latin was then the universal language of learned Christen dom, obviously translations were needed only by the unlearned. The Psalms were translated into Saxon by Bishop Aldhelm, about 706; the Gospels by Bishop Egbert, about 721; and the whole Bible by Bede in the tenth century, he having completed his task with the last verse of the Gospel of Saint John a few moments before he expired. In 807, at the desire of Charlemagne, the whole Bible was translated into French; in 820, Otfrid, a Benedictine monk, composed in French a harmony of the four Gospels; in same century a version of Psalms in French was made by request of Louis le Debonnaire; in the twelfth century, at Metz, translations were made of the four Gospels, the Epistles of Saint Paul, the Psalms, etc.; in the fourteenth century Raoul de Praelles made a French version of the Bible from Genesis to Proverbs, a copy of which is among the Lansdowne manuscripts in the British Museum. In the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, are French versions, of twelfth century, of the Psalms; of thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, nearly sixty different versions, comprising translations of the entire Bible, of the New Testament, of the four Gospels, and of other portions of the Scriptures. Among the Cotton manuscripts in British Museum are a copy of the Gospels in French verse, a Harmony of the Gospels which belonged to Canute, a copy of the Book of Proverbs in Latin with interlinear Anglo-Saxon translation, a copy of Genesis and other books in Anglo-Saxon, a Harmony of the four Gospels and an English Bible of fifteenth century; among the Harleian manuscripts, in the same museum, are seven copies of French translations of the whole or portions of the Bible, two of which are accompanied by English translations; the four Gospels in Anglo-Saxon, copies of Books of Job and Tobias in English of the fourteenth century, and several copies of other portions of the Bible in the same language. A version of the whole Bible in English of the thirteenth century is now in the Bodleian Library; in the Bibliotheca Ambrosiana, at Milan) are several Gaelic in terlinear translations of portions of Scripture, one of the most remarkable of which is a copy of the Psalms of the seventh century; Ulphilas, Bishop of the Goths, translated the New Testament into Gothic in the fourth century; in the University of Upsal is preserved a copy of the Gospel written upon vellum, in Gothic characters of gold and silver, supposed to be a thousand years old. About 980 Notker Labeo translated the Book of Job and Psalms into German; in eleventh century, a monk of Fulda made a version of the Canticles in Teutonic prose; in the Imperial Library of Volksgarten is a German Bible, in six volumes, translated in fourteenth century. In the library of the cathedral at Florence is a manuscript of forty-two leaves, containing the first twelve chapters of Gospel of Saint Luke, in Italian of sixth century; in Japanese Palace at Dresden is a Bible in Bohemian of fourteenth century. When in the thirteenth century the churches of Lesser Armenia and Cilicia submitted to the Holy See, and Haitho the King became a Franciscan friar, his first act was to prepare a translation of the entire Bible in Armenian. A version in Swedish was made under direction of Saint Bridget, in fourteenth century; one in Icelandic was made in 1927; one in Flemish, by Jacobus Merland, in 1210; in latter end of fourteenth century Saint Hedwiga had a translation made of the Bible in Polish. Translations of the New Testament into Russian were made in the tenth, eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, and one of the entire Bible in fifteenth century. In Spanish there were several versions of the whole Bible; three in the Catalonian dialect, one of the twelfth century being in the Bibliotheque Nationale at Paris; one in the Valencian dialect, made in 1405 by Boniface Ferrer, brother of Saint Vincent Ferrer ; and one in the Castilian dialect, prepared by order of Alfonso the Wise, in thirteenth century. In this brief notice only a few are gathered, yet we have translations in sixteen modern languages, between the fourth and fifteenth centuries. It remains only to show that the Church was as zealous in promoting the printing as in encouraging the copying of the Scriptures. Before knowledge, his loyal openness, and the charming urbanity of his man ners. He was created a cardinal, but reserved in fetto, on 14 December 1840, and published on 23 April 1845. During the more than twenty years of his cardinal’s life he always occupied some of the most laborious and important positions in which a man of integrity could be placed, as Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church, Archpriest of the patriarchal basilica of St. John Lateran, Lord Chancellor of the Roman University, and Bishop of the suburbicarian see of Albano, about fourteen miles from Rome.

When hundreds of bishops from all parts of the world came to Rome in 1867, at the invitation of the Holy Father, for the eighteenth centenary of the Apostles Peter and Paul, and for the canonization of several saints, the princely apartments of Altieri were thrown open for official meetings and social receptions, to the delight of all who had the good fortune to be admitted there. Alas! a few weeks more, and he was dead. He was attending to his duty of receiving the oaths and distributing their diplomas to the students advanced to academical degrees in the university, when a hasty messenger arrived from his diocese to announce the sudden and awful visitation of the Asiatic cholera. Without a moment’s hesitation, without returning to say good-by to his family so beloved, although he had a presentiment that he was going for ever, he broke up the meeting at the Sapienza, and, summoning a notary present to accompany him a little distance in his carriage, he made his will, let the man alight, and continued as fast as his horses could take him to the disease and terror stricken town of Albano. To get an idea of the scenes that occurred there during this short but terrific attack, one must read Manzoni on the pestilence that desolated Milan. The Cardinal-Bishop at once assumed complete control of the municipal as well as religious government of his see, and being nobly seconded by the Papal Zouaves (when almost all others had run away, although it was their duty to remain), in a few weeks the cholera was brought under; but not until His Eminence was seized with the fatal disease. He had overwork ed and exposed himself in the most regardless manner, utterly oblivious of his own person, that he might day and night on every occasion carry the sacraments and impart the last consolations of religion to the dying members of his flock. After a very brief but agonizing illness, borne with his usual sweetness of temper and resignation to the will of God, edifying all who saw him, this prince of the Church – prince by birth and by position – and good pastor of a humble flock, died on 11 August 1867. Would to God that we had been able to apply to him Pope’s lines on Mgr. de Belsunce, who in similar circumstances showed himself equally devoted, but with better fortune:

“Why drew Marseilles’ good bishop purer breath,
When nature sickened and each gale was death?”

MLA Citation

  • “About The Bible”. Illustrated Catholic Family Annual, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 17 January 2017. Web. 27 February 2017. <>