The amazing emphasis we put on personal Bible study as evangelical Christians led to some uncomfortable questions. Would the methods we proscribed even have been possible before the printing press? Did the early Church make their decisions based on personal Bible study? How could they if there was not a completed canon for so long? Karl Keating’s comments illustrate the way the Bible was handed before everyone had 5 styles of the NIV.
One charge leveled against the Church for years has been that the Church chained the Bible, ostensibly to keep it away from the people. Both Catholics and Protestants are surprised to learn that the Church indeed chained the Bible—but for exactly the opposite reason.
In the Middle Ages and into the early years of the printing press, Bibles were scarce and expensive. Each was copied by hand, and many sported illuminated pages. A single Bible could be worth ten thousand dollars in today’s currency. Often a town had a single book, and that book was the Bible.
Kept in the parish church, that Bible was made available to lay Catholics by chaining it to the table on which it was placed, just as telephone books today are kept available to the public by chaining them to telephone booths. Does the phone company chain the Yellow Pages so no one can use them? Quite the opposite—so the maximum number of people can have access to them.
-Karl Keating, What Catholics Really Believe, pg 30