Father John H. McKensie is pastor at
St. James the Apostle in Refugio.
The process of transcribing the books of the New Testament was similar to the process used to copy the Old Testament. Putting anything in writing was a tedious task. Either animal skins or papyrus was used.
The skin of a sheep or goat was called parchment; the skin of a young calf was called vellum. St. Paul speaks about his parchment in 2 Tim 4:13. Papyrus was from the papyrus plant. Slices were taken from the stem and pressed together and dried. It was time-consuming and it became brittle. Ink was a combination of soot, burnt ivory shavings and gum. The tip of the pen was like a needle, and had to be continually dipped into the ink bowl.
The transcriber could only write one letter at a time. All who undertook this labor of love are to be commended.
Monasteries and convents continued this labor of love in their scriptoriums, which were places for such writing. All of this was done so that the faithful could have access to the Bible. Though paper making was invented in China in 105 AD, monasteries and convents continued to used parchment and vellum until the arrival of paper in Europe 900 years later.
Critics also claim that clergy during the “Dark Ages” were ignorant of the Bible. That is far from true. The Bible was taught in the seminaries. Reading it was part of religious life. Clergy recited the Bible at length. If you are familiar with an oral exam in college, the evaluation process in the seminary was similar. A candidate for ordination was asked to recite a certain Psalm or other passage of the Bible. They not only knew the Bible; they lived it.
Things changed greatly in 1455 when Johann Gutenberg printed—with Church approval—the first Bible in German. Consider this, Martin Luther was born in 1483, 28 years after the first Gutenberg Bible was printed. Two Italian versions were printed in 1471; the first Flemish edition was printed in 1477; and a Spanish Bible was printed in 1478.
Eighteen German editions of the Bible appeared before Martin Luther posted his 95 theses, which by the way, was written in Latin and not German. Martin Luther did not give the German people the Bible. The Gutenberg press made the Bible, a gift of the Catholic Church, readily available to Germans—and to many others—in their own language.