“We settled on the idea of a ‘Bible of beauty’: a Bible that would rekindle an awareness and appreciation for the Church's vast tradition of sacred art, architecture, and design. This meant looking to medieval illuminated manuscripts for inspiration, studying the visual symbology of the Gospels, and even including high-quality reproductions of some of the major treasures of Catholic art history,” Stevens said.
But by that point, they still had no idea how they would have the resources to create such a high quality product, or where they would get the theological commentary that they also wanted to include.
“We simply trusted that if it was meant to be, we would figure out a way to either fund it ourselves or pitch it to a publisher,” Stevens said.
Little did they know, Word on Fire - the media ministry founded by Bishop Robert Barron - was already working on this exact project, and needed some graphic designers to help.
They “cold e-mailed” Word on Fire to pitch their idea. They had long been fans of the Word on Fire podcast, and Barron’s evangelistic philosophy of “leading with beauty” had been inspirational to them in their quest to design a new Bible.
“Within a few days, we were astonished at Word on Fire's response. Not only did they like our idea, they told us they were just finishing the manuscript for their own multi-volume edition of the Bible and looking for graphic designers to assist in the creative process. The copy would be ready for layout in a few weeks: just enough time to bring us up to speed on the project and decide on a final creative direction if we were interested in joining forces,” Stevens said.
“We truly couldn't believe our eyes as we read. We could have never imagined a more perfect scenario,” he added.
Brandon Vogt is the senior content director at Word on Fire. He told CNA that the idea for a beautiful Bible that incorporated some of the art of the Church had been in the works at Word on Fire for about three years.
“To be honest, I was initially resistant” to the idea, Vogt told CNA. “I thought, ‘Oh man, there's so many study Bibles out there, not just in the Catholic space, but in the Protestant world too. Why would we just create another study Bible?’”
“Our fundamental mission at Word on Fire is evangelizing the (religiously) unaffiliated, the ‘nones,’” he added. “Study Bibles typically cater toward the already committed Christians that want to do a Bible study that are already into the Scriptures. So I thought - it's not really hitting our target audience. So I kind of pushed back a little bit.”
But the idea stuck, and Vogt said when he was pressed to think about the potential that this Bible could have, he began to realize that it could be evangelistic in nature. He thought about how many people’s first experience with the Bible is that it is difficult to read - it is typically printed in small, black and white columns on thin paper.
“We wanted to make it a feast for the eyes as much for the mind. So that was the first principle, is to lead with beauty. We wanted it to be a beautiful Bible.”
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Vogt said they also wanted the commentary in the Bible to be geared toward people who were reading their Bibles for the first time.
“We wanted to focus on the more basic questions of - who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? How does the Scriptures reveal God and Christ?” he said.
The third distinguishing factor of this new Bible would be that it was presented “from the heart of the Church,” he said. “So we wanted to showcase the Scriptures in light of 2,000 years of saints and mystics and scholars and Bible experts.”
This comes in the form of theological commentary from people like the Church fathers all the way to contemporary Catholics like G.K. Chesterton, Flannery O’Connor, or Bishop Barron, he said.
“So it's kind of a multivalent illumination of the Scriptures. You're seeing it read and interpreted through this chorus of voices from 2,000 years from the Church's history,” Vogt said.
They also took as their inspiration the illuminated manuscripts from the medieval period, which were hand-written and painted copies of the Bible, usually done on animal skin pages, with gold or silver leaf detailing.