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A Bible that’s beautiful

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A section of text from a page in one volume of the Word on Fire Catholic Ministries’ Bible project is projected on a screen in this undated. PHOTOS: CLARE LOCOCO, COURTESY WORD ON FIRE CATHOLIC MINISTRIES

A bible based on beauty and truth

American Bishop Robert Barron is one of the best-known figures in the English-speaking Catholic Church for his numerous initiatives in communications and he’s convinced “the Bible is the key to evangelisation.”

“That’s the soul of theology. It’s where we started,” he said, noting that the Second Vatican Council really brought “the Bible to the fore” for Catholics. “But I always felt we’ve not realised that Vatican II vision of revitalising the Bible.”

The Catholic Church is “not a philosophy or a kind of self-help program,” he added. “We’re based upon God’s revelation to us. And that’s the Bible.”

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Bishop Robert Barron, below, says the project is already transforming the way people read, understand and pray with the word of God. PHOTOS: CLARE LOCOCO, COURTESY WORD ON FIRE CATHOLIC MINISTRIES

Vatican II recommended that “easy access to sacred Scripture be provided to the Christian faithful” (Dei Verbum) and that a “warm and living love for Scripture” be encouraged (Sacrosanctum Concilium.)

A former auxiliary of Los Angeles who now heads a diocese in Minnesota, he spoke about the Word on Fire Catholic Ministries’ Bible project, which will be a seven-volume series when completed.

He is the founder of Word on Fire, a global Catholic media apostolate that uses digital and traditional media to introduce Catholicism to the broader world.

There are 300,000 copies of the Bible project’s first two volumes already in circulation. The first volume includes the four Gospels. The second includes the Acts of the Apostles, the Letters of the New Testament and the Book of Revelation.

The Word on Fire Bible “is transforming the way people read, understand and pray with the word of God,” said a recent announcement on the launch of a donor campaign to produce the third volume.

The upcoming volume will feature the first five books of the Old Testament, commonly called the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

There are “tons of study Bibles out there,” which are “full of all kinds of good information,” Bishop Barron acknowledged. But many have “super small print and lots of thick footnotes” and are “probably hard to read, especially for someone who is unacquainted with the Bible.”

The volumes of the Word on Fire Bible use high quality paper and aim to offer more to readers by juxtaposing scriptural text with scholarly commentary from Bishop Barron, the Fathers of the Church, saints, mystics, theologians,  scholars throughout history and contemporary Catholic figures. The books also have ample religious art.

Bishop Barron said this format draws more readers in – including, he hopes, one “target audience” in particular – the “nones,” those who describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated.

So that was the inpspiration behind it. The beautiful is going to lead you to the true and the good so we want the book itself to be something beautiful … it’s, I think, by its very nature meditative.” – Bishop Robert Barron

“We tried to imagine someone who’s had very little experience with the Bible” and would find it “so off-putting” to open up a Bible with tiny print, footnotes and double column type on thin paper, he explained.

“So we wanted to do something that would be very inviting, especially to someone unacquainted with the Bible,” he said.

“So everything we did was designed to be more attractive and to draw that person in. So that was the inspiration behind it. The beautiful” is “going to lead you to the true and the good,” so “we want the book itself to be something beautiful,” he said.

“This book is a holistic experience that’s meant to appeal to your eyes, to your imagination, to your mind. It’s, I think, by its very nature meditative,” he said.

The third volume will showcase over 50 works of art. Its dozens of commentaries will include perspectives from Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement; St Ephrem the Syrian, one of the first to introduce song into the church’s public worship as a means of instruction for the faithful; St Hildegard of Bingen, a Benedictine abbess and mystic; and St Bernard of Clairvaux, a Benedictine abbot who also was a mystic.

The Bible project is funded by donors. For each level of giving, ranging from US$50 to US $5,000, the donor receives a thank-you gift or gifts, which can be an art print or an art print and a paperback, hardcover or leather-bound copy of the Bible volumes. The combination depends on the amount contributed.

The books – in what will be a seven-volume series when completed – juxtapose scriptural text with scholarly commentary and religious artwork. They help address the historical weakness of many Catholics, unfamiliarity with Scripture, compared to Protestant Christians. They are also designed to appeal to everyone and include great religious art and reflections from the mystics, modern figures such as Dorothy Day and Fathers of the Church. PHOTOS: CLARE LOCOCO, COURTESY WORD ON FIRE CATHOLIC MINISTRIES

Reserved copies of the third volume are expected to be available, at least in the US, in mid-2023.

The leather-bound, hardcover and paperback editions are printed in Vincenza, Italy, by Legatoria Editoriale Giovanni Olivotto.

The first two volumes of the Word On Fire Bible are available from the Mustard Seed Bookshop. Orders via: www.mustardseed.org.au

More information about the Word on Fire Bible project can be found at www.wordonfire.org/bible-project

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