New American Catholic edition, 1954. Old Testament: Douay version, with Psalms from the New Latin version authorized by Pope Pius XII. New Testament: Confraternity version.
Taken off a too-high bedroom bookshelf, this venerable Bible was in sore disrepair. My Christmas gift in 1957, the year I was confirmed at age ten, it must have cost my dear mother and dad far more than they could afford on their wages as stockyards hog salesman and Catholic hospital business clerk.
Opulent red leather stamped in gold, gilt-edged pages, rich storybook paintings from the European masters illustrating both testaments, thumb indexes every two books, and family record pages with ornate medieval borders like Tolkien would have drawn had he been a monk make this a book to treasure.
But the book, mea maxima culpa, was in rusted rubbled ruins after decades unread. Covers, spine, lay in pieces. My good wife Jo was able to restore it to wholeness with her healing librarian’s arts, using strong clear tape infused with athelas.
So inserted was my mother’s clip of Jo’s engagement photo, dated May 5, 1969. Added to the calligraphic tree were my daughter’s wedding July 15, 2000, and the birth of their Madeleine Grace August 11, 2006.
Perhaps for the first time, or at least the first time since I was ten, (I turned 11 that Dec. 28), I paged through the whole book to see it anew in its long-lost glory.
Wading through all the prefatory doodah, I noted that by saying the ‘Come, Holy Ghost’ prayer (five years) and reading, I earn twelve years of purgatorial indulgence for reading this book for an hour: seventeen years for an hour? That’s a nearly a 15 million percent dividend for my eternal retirement fund package.
This is not mockery, but rather wonder. Tolkien, whose essay “On Fairy-stories” links most myths, including his own, to the tale the Testaments tell, writes that “one thing must not be made fun of, the magic itself. That must in that story be taken seriously, neither laughed at nor explained away.” I believe.
Notwithstanding the handsome heft of this beautiful Bible, the vivid art and the maps, it isn’t just a pretty face.
Each chapter prefaces with a brief gloss. Thus Genesis:
“This book is so called from its treating of the GENERATION, that is, of the creation and the beginning of the world. The Hebrews call it BERESITH, from the Word with which it begins. It contains not only the history of the Creation of the world; but also an account of its progress until the death of Joseph.”
This first page, Genesis 1-22, includes footnotes to related Scriptural allusions and “the firmament” and “two great lights.”
“Bible Scenes by the most Renowned Artists of the Centuries” remind us of how the Church taught to the illiterate of Europe. Sixty-six postcard-sized reproductions are equally divided between the Old Testament from Noe to Daniel and the story of Christ. Masters like Poussin, Van Eyck, Botticelli, Rubens, Tintoretto and Rembrandt are here. Surprisingly, Danish painter Carl Heinrich Bloch, whose Jesus has streaks of blond, appears eight times.
To my stunned and humble surprise, my mother’s gift reveals itself as the best Bible of the nine we own. Soon my wife will take up the fortieth anniversary chore of adding her family tree back to her great-grandparents; I must ask my cousin about my Foster great-grandkin.
Perhaps the best way for me to repay the parents who gave me this book fifty-two years ago is to read it daily, if not for an hour, at least fifteen minutes. So I will.
That would be worth eight hours indulgence, or about that bowl of Real-Chilli I had at Marquette that Friday in 1966 when I failed to account for daylight savings time shift.