Chapter & Verse

Catholics don’t quote scripture.

I was watching Designated Survivor Series 2 Episode 10, Line of Fire.  Emily Rhodes (Italia Ricci) is in hospital with the mother of a baby who is undergoing an operation but her church does not permit blood transfusions.  The mother spits out the beginning of a bible quote and Rhodes completes it.  She then goes on to tell the mother that she went to Catholic school.

Carrie: Are you devout?
Emily: No. Nine years of Catholic School and I never saw God there.
Carrie: I’m sorry.
Emily: Don’t be. I see it other places, like in a Mother’s love.

Immediately all my alarm bells went off.  The writer got this scene so wrong.  Catholics don’t quote scripture.  Chapter and Verse is a mark of the protestant religion.  It is just not a Catholic thing.

The foundation stone of the Protestant religions is the vernacular bible.  When Martin Luther published his 95 theses in 1517 he was challenging the elements of church dogma that departed from the teachings of the bible.  The Catholic church was perfectly happy to continue with Latin mass and have the faithful rattle out their pater nosters and ave marias in ignorance of the meaning of their words.

It was not until the 1960’s following Vatican II that the Catholic church moved to mass in vernacular languages.  Even today Catholic children do not read the bible in lessons.  They learn prayers and catechism. Many Catholic families do not even own a bible.

At the core of the Protestant religions is the need for the faithful to read the word of God directly, without the clouding effect of interpretation through filters imposed by men such as the Pope, Bishops and Priests.

It is no accident that the timing of the Protestant reformation followed the invention of the moveable type printing press.  In order to become a Protestant you had to have access to a bible, and you had to be able to read it.  The vernacular bible was born.

It then became the mark of a good Protestant to reference the Bible on any point of faith.  If you could back up an action with a quote directly from the Bible that supported the validity of the action.  If you could place your quote precisely in the Bible, by quoting the relevant Chapter & Verse that made the point even more forcefully.

This focus on the word of God bleeds into all aspects of church design.  Catholic churches are gloriously decorated architectural wonders filled with images of saints, Holy Mary, angels, martyrs, votive candles, icons, side chapels, expensive ornamentation.  They are designed to be palaces fit to house the Lord.  You don’t speak directly to God though, you work through intermediaries.  You pray to saints to intercede on your behalf.  You then pay a priest to put in a good word for you too.  The economy of the Catholic church is founded upon the concept that you buy influence.

The most fundamental protestant churches are the plainest.  The focus is on the word.  The only object you need to commune with God is the Word of God and that is in the Bible.

In this regard the most fundamentalist Protestant religions share a great deal of common ground with the most fundamentalist Islamic sects.  Islam also focuses on the word, albeit in the Koran.  Islamic art avoids images of people in case they be interpreted as the image of God, a graven image and an object of idolatrous worship.

Below is the Sancaklar Mosque outside Istanbul.  It is a modernist Islamic space.  The design emulates the cave in which the Prophet Mohammed received the Koran from God.  The only decoration in this Mosque is a piece of calligraphy, the Word of God.  This is a space that would work well for any hard line Presbyterian.  It is a long distance away from the splendorous excess of the Vatican.

Sancaklar.jpg

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23rd February 1455 is commonly held to be the publication date of the Gutenberg Bible, the first book to be produced on a moveable type printing press.

In our Euro-Centric Imperialist world view of history we were always told that Gutenberg invented the printing press.  The truth is a lot more murky.  The press was pioneered by the Chinese in the mid 11th Century, and they even invented a moveable type press.  However, due to the vagaries of the Chinese alphabet and difficulties in casting metal typefaces, it was never popularised.

China of the 11th century was a closed society.  While trade in silks, spices and teas found its way to Europe through the Islamic Caliphate, as it had previously done in Roman times through various Persian empires, the volumes were small, the prices high.  Technology did not transfer from place to place with any alacrity.

It was the turmoil of 12th Century Mongol conquest that paved the route for ideas to move between China and the West.  Travellers such as Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta braved the Silk Road and brought back inventions and ideas from the east, such as Rice, Pasta, Gunpowder and Cast Iron.  Somewhere along the way the idea of the printing press made its way to Europe.

It was not until the mid 14th century that Gutenberg put all the pieces together.  His primary skill was with metal.  It was his ability to develop a quick and cheap casting process for the type that opened the door to printing.  Type metal is made of a combination of lead, antimony and tin.  It does not shrink and deform as it cools in the mold.  Gutenberg also developed inks that adhere to the metal type, and then cleanly imprint onto paper, and he developed paper of a quality to suit the pressing process.

The first thing printed was the Gutenberg Bible.  Making a bible that was accessible to a wide audience led to a reading of the bible by a large number of scholars.  Once they began to see what the bible contained they began to question church dogma.  The protestant reformation was born in a printing press.

Very soon after the bible the press was harnessed for other purposes, and became the first mass market mode of communications.  Media was born with the news sheet.  Political change by the people and for the people was made possible by literacy and was made reality by leaflets, pamphlets and manifestos from printing presses.  American independence and the French Revolution were a product of changes in society that began with a press, ink and a sheet of paper.

Sonnet XI; by Christopher Pearse Cranch

IN boyhood’s days we read with keen delight
How young Aladdin rubbed his lamp and raised
The towering Djin whose form his soul amazed,
Yet who was pledged to serve him day and night.
But Gutenberg evoked a giant sprite
Of vaster power, when Europe stood and gazed
To see him rub his types with ink. Then blazed
Across the lands a glorious shape of light,
Who stripped the cowl from priests, the crown from kings,
And hand in hand with Faith and Science wrought
To free the struggling spirit’s limèd wings,
And guard the ancestral throne of sovereign Thought.
The world was dumb. Then first it found its tongue
And spake — and heaven and earth in answer rung.