The New Jerusalem Bible: Saints Devotional Edition
Introduction, Selections, and Commentary by Bert Ghezzi
General Editor, Henry Wansbrough
New York: Doubleday, 2002
Review by Carl McColman
Selecting a Bible for personal use is no easy task. On the one hand, any intellectually honest student of scripture will quickly recognize the need to select a Bible that is annotated — such as The Catholic Study Bible or the New Oxford Annotated Bible — in order to read the text intelligently. Unless one happens to be a Bible scholar, the average layperson simply lacks the cultural, historical and theological knowledge to unravel the many mysterious knots presented within the Biblical text.
As wonderful as annotated Bibles are, however, they betray a weakness of their own. It is one thing to study the Bible; another matter altogether to pray it. Those who seek to integrate a mystical or contemplative dimension to their Christian walk need to integrate the Benedictine practice of lectio divina (“divine reading”) into their spiritual practice — but lectio stands at odds with the cognitive exercise of Bible study. With lectio, one reads not for information, but simply for formation. In other words, lectio is a slow, reflective, meditative practice of allowing the text to read us as much as we seek to read it. It is a tool for encountering God (or, rather, opening ourselves up for God to encounter us) through the devotional exercise of reading the Bible. Obviously, for such a practice, the thousands of footnotes and annotations in a study Bible serve only as intellectual distractions, cognitive seductions that can all too easily lead us away from the purpose of lectio divina.
The solution, of course, is to own at least two Bibles: an annotated edition for the more academic pursuit of Bible study, and one without annotations for spiritual reading. In recent years, the evangelical world has responded to this marketing opportunity by producing all sorts of Bibles with the word “devotional” in their title: when I searched Amazon this morning, I found over two thousand entries with both the words “Devotional” and “Bible” in them! Sadly, though, many of these so-called devotional Bibles are often little more than “study-Bible-lite” editions: still crowded full of annotations, footnotes, and other “helps.” Maybe that kind of format can help some forms of devotion, but for the contemplative pursuit of lectio divina, it just doesn’t pass muster.
Well, forget about all the other devotional Bibles. Thankfully, one towers above all the rest and is ideal not only for lectio divina, but even as a tool for deepening your knowledge of Christian mysticism! The New Jerusalem Bible: Saints Devotional Edition combines what is arguably the most beautiful (while still scholarly) modern English translation of the Bible with two hundred excerpts from the writings of saints (and mystics). Do the math: 200 devotional sidebars in a 1600-page Bible means that the text of the scripture is only “interrupted” by the supplemental devotional text about every eight pages or so. So for the most part, what you get in this Bible is, well, the Bible — with only the sparse, textual footnotes that are part of this particular translation. But when you do get a devotional “help,” it’s not something that was cobbled together by a junior editor at Zondervan Publishing; it’s a poetic and spiritually-nourishing quotation from the likes of Gregory the Great, Catherine of Siena, Bernard of Clairvaux, John Ruysbroeck and even Julian of Norwich. Each excerpt is tied in with a specific verse — for example, Julian’s “glad and merry” vision of the wound in Christ’s side is linked to John 19:34: “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance; and immediately there came out blood and water;” alongside Song of Songs 1:4 (“Draw me in your footsteps”) you’ll find Thérèse of Lisieux’s meditation on how Christ draws us to him. The excerpts from the saints are wonderful enough that they would stand alone in their own book as an anthology of mystical scripture meditations; how wonderful it is to have these nuggets of wisdom interspersed in a beautifully bound and typeset edition of the Bible. The book also features two 16-page sections called “The Saints on Scriptures” with more in-depth quotations from the saints and the mystics on twenty themes, such as “The Benefits of Meditating on Scripture” and “A Method of Continual Prayer.” Among the indexes are a biographical list of all the saints whose work is featured in this Bible, and a table of key scriptural themes.
The New Jerusalem Bible: Saints Devotional Edition is bound in a pictorial hardcover with dustjacket. It’s a beautiful edition of a wonderful translation with spiritually nourishing supplemental text. Get it. And read it — slowly.