Monday, December 14, 2009

Review: St. Benedict Press RSV-CE

At long last, I am finally ready to show you St. Benedict Press' new release of the Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition. Above you can see both the Ultrasoft and Genuine Leather versions. I have a favorite of the two which won't come as a surprise. However I'll just say from the start that when put toe to toe (ribbons to ribbons?)they compare very favorably to each other.

Do you read your Bible mostly in your home and occasionally take it to the Adoration Chapel, Church, or Bible study? Does the way a Bible feels in your hands matter to you? Do you want a soft leather bible that flops around but can't afford to rebind your old one in calfskin or goatskin? Then let me show you the Ultrasoft RSV.

The Ultrasoft version, like its Large Print Douay cousin feels great in your hands. It opens flat after an initial out-of-box workout. You will have to gently flip all of the pages and bend it around a few times. Do not mind the creaking noises. But don't be hasty or rough with it. After all, you've just dropped $40 on a new Bible.

It does Bible yoga moderately well. The flexibility is tempered only by the size of the book and its glued binding. Tall form factor Bibles do the yoga much better because of their shape. This however is a good showing for a hand sized bible.

It lays flat and stays open...most times. But when you are in the beginning of the Old Testament or the end of the New it will not. This is an issue with the glued binding. The day it lays flat when opened to Revelation chapter 21 is the day you need to purchase a new one because the binding has probably split. Just sayin'.

[Lauren at St. Benedict Press wrote this in an email to me:

"I’d also like to mention that the glue we use in our bindings will not crack as many older glues have in the past. Our binderies use a glue that will stand the test of time and will not crack or allow pages to fall out. (I am told the only way pages from a book bound in this way could come out is if you physically ripped them out yourself.) "

Good to know. This makes me feel even better about these editions.]

I really like the feeling of this Bible and can say that it is worth the $40 you will pay for it. It is probably the nicest of the RSV-CEs on the market.

On the other hand...

Do you take your Bible everywhere you go? Do you make a daily holy hour or read your Bible on breaks at work? Maybe you are a traveler or a truck driver. Things fall on your Bible or you have a messy house. You are prone to spills or knocking things over?

Let me introduce you to the Genuine Leather version. Originally I believed this was bonded leather, but it is fact NOT bonded leather. Lauren wrote this in the same email from above:

"These are Genuine Leather – not Bonded Leather. They are purchased from Cromwell Leather Group and are complete, whole hides – not manufactured. We pride ourselves on selecting true leathers for our bibles."

So yes this is a tougher feeling leather but it is REAL. So feel good about paying more for a Bible with a real leather cover on it. I also assume this could soften with time, given the oils from your hands will have an effect on the cover of any book.

It is also less flexible. The GL would have stood upright on its spine with no problem until I gently flattened it out with my hands for about a minute or so. Do that slowly. A little creaking noise is ok. It will lay flat once you have finished.

The results are a pretty nice Bible for someone who tends to be a little rough on their things. It also looks good too. The cover makes the book feel less expensive than its lower priced Ultrasoft counterpart but its strength is that you really can't nick this one or dent it.

Yikes! Bible yoga fail! The more durable cover has its natural consequences.

On all editions from St. Benedict/TAN Books the gilt edges are nice and shiny. I hope they hold up this way because it really makes for a great looking book.

The leather edition has nicer end papers, btw. They are some sort of leather or leather-like material.

The insides.

Of course the covers and physical aspects of the Bible are not the most important but the since Bibles are a dime a dozen these days they certainly factor in our purchasing decisions. Nevertheless the text is penultimate.

St. Benedict Press has done a nice job here. This is a straightforward text edition with notes in the back. The print is readable and relatively easy on the eyes. The poetry sections are set apart. (not paragraphed)

You will notice a moderate amount of ghosting. Just a quick note here; Ghosting is not "bleed through." Bleed through is what your highlighter does, when the ink actually comes through the page. Ghosting is when text on another page appears due to thin paper. Ghosting is a problem for Bible publishers because while we all want thin Bibles we also want readable text. Most Bibles these days have moderate ghosting. Sometimes it can get really bad with the ultra-thin editions.

As a Bible reader, it is nice to have the notes in the back. As a Bible student it is not. Personally I would have like the notes to be with the text. I also would have liked the notes to be in a larger font. This is the only potential draw back of this edition. ... besides the missing cross references.

The plot thickens.

I loved this email from the publicist. My comments and emphasis.

Our translation is the original version kept by the National Council of Churches. I have followed your and other’s blogging about the confusion over the different RSV-CEs available. It has been quite confusing to us as well. The version we have is the only version licensed by the National Council of Churches, [NOT the RSV-2CE apparently...] through HarperOne (a division of HarperCollins).
The history of the RSV is very convoluted. The cross-references, for example, are not part of the original RSV licensed by the NCC. I do know that already some customers have been disappointed to find them missing in our version, but we have been unable to determine where they originated. We are continuing to investigate this matter and hope to find the source. If we do, we will consider purchasing the rights to those cross-references for use in future printings.

Wow. Pretty interesting eh? They didn't put cross references in because nobody knows who owns them.

A new feature in this edition is the Calendar of Readings for the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. This is nice to have if this is your normally attended liturgy, especially if you can't make it to daily Mass. Many protestant Bibles these days come with a yearly reading plan. This is the Catholic answer, and its a good one.

Is that your final answer?

If you purchase this edition I hope you really enjoy it. St. Benedict Press has put together a nice Bible for every day use. In fact I haven't seen one I didn't like yet. If you put the Genuine Leather side by side with the Ultrasoft...I would go with the Ultrasoft. I showed it to some people after Mass on Sunday and they universally thought it was high quality leather until I told them it was a chemical concoction. But again, you might be rougher on your Bible than I.

All my reviews of the St. Benedict/TAN Bibles:


Timothy said...


Great review. Your pictures and analysis is spot on. Nice info on the cross-references. I wonder who might have the rights? CTS in London? Hmmm...

BD said...

You might like to know that the Douay-Rheims Bible is being recorded by Steve Webb
He was commisioned to produse as a gift for
Immaculate Conception Catholic Parish of Bethel, Alaska By

Qohelet said...

How is the durability so far? I've heard bad things about the Ignatius Bible and how the pages fall off after a few months. I hope Saint Benedict's bibles are better made (I wish it was smyth sewn) since I plan to get a leather RSV-CE/2CE soon.

Matt said...


the St. Benedict Press Bibles are holDing up quite well. There is some spotting on the leather bound gold edges but the cover seems to have softened to the touch considerably and is MUCH more flexible with use. I *almost* prefer it now to the ultrasoft. The binding is doing great.

Dina said...

Great review! I'm going to look into getting one of these. Not sure which yet, both editions look nice.


I had been shopping for a new RSV-CE bible and was undecided until I read your fabulous review of the St. Benedict Press RSV-CE. I choose the Ultra Soft edition.. it arrived 2 days ago, and so far I'm very pleased with it... only slightly concerned about the cover and how it will hold up.
Thanks for your great report !

Anonymous said...

Just got both the RSV-CE Ultra Soft and the Douay-Rheims in the "Leather-Soft"

St Benedict Press shows the DR bible I got SB2025 by the name Premium Ultra Soft while the box says Leather-Soft and the RSV-CE is shown as "Ultra-Soft"

Is there a difference? Yes. The RSV-CE Ultra Soft is that chemical concoction you mention but the DR Premium Ultra Soft (or "Leather-Soft as it is called on the actual box) has genuine leather in it, you can smell it and feel it though it is still some strange composite. It is thicker and smother than its cousin and my guess it that it will wear better too.

I vastly prefer the P.U-S over even real leather and over the lesser quality U-S.

So, be it known that the Premium Ultra Soft and the Ultra Soft are not the same product and most odd of all the P.U-S. is only offered in the DR while the U-S is only offered in the RSV-CE yet both come in real leather and paper back.

Thanks for the great review. I referenced it a number of times before ordering.

P.S. my sticker price on both was less here in Canada than that posted on the publisher's (American) web site. I can tell you that doesn't happen every day.

P.P.S. I have owned the DR by Baronius Press for several years I will enjoy the St. Benedict Press edition much, much more. It is, in every way superior.

Anonymous said...

One further note...believe it or not I am considering revisiting the store tomorrow and swapping out the RSV-CE Ultrasoft for the Leather based on your comment that your edition has softened up with use and because the inside cover paper on the Ultrasoft seems a little on lame side for repeated bending (I READ my bibles and teach with them in hand so that matters to me).

However, I wish St.BP had not chosen to use the gold print on the spine but gone with the embossed look as on the cheaper versions because over time the embossing will never wear out whereas that gold will be spotty and chipped in fairly short order; at least that has been my experience on every other genuine or bonded leather I've ever owned ---and I've owned a few in my time!

So Matt, how's that gold holding up?

Thanks again.

Matt said...

Hi saintos:

I'm glad you found my blog and have had a good experience purchasing the TAN/St. Benedict editions. I sent an email to their publicist and asked about the covers you mention. Here is her response:

Hi Matt,

Thanks for sending me this post and I'd be happy to explain:

The Premium UltraSoft, UltraSoft and Leather-Soft are the exact same product. The only difference is that we decided to change the name on the second printing. We were concerned because customers were getting confused and thinking that the "Leather-Soft" was a material made from leather, when, in fact, it is not. The Premium UltraSoft (which we sometimes shorten to UltraSoft) is a polyurethane material. There are some Douay-Rheims standard size boxes that still say Leather-Soft but they should move out of inventory soon.

Thanks for giving me the chance to clarify!


As to your comments about the leather edition, it has gained a good deal of flexibility since taking it out of the box. The cover has grown on me to where I almost prefer using it over the Ultrasoft. I think the gold on the spine could be a smaller font but due to the thinness of the leather material I don't think embossing would have been as good. The gold is holding up just fine.

Thanks again for the comments!

Nick said...

I appreciate this review. I ultimately decided on the UltraSoft, in black.

John said...

Hi Matt,

Thank you very much for your thoughtful review. I would like to buy a Douay-Rheims Bible for my dad and am trying to decide between the TAN/St. Benedict and Baronius versions. Can you offer any comparison of them?


Matt said...

Hi John,

I have to say that at this time, I would recommend the St. Benedict version over the Baronius edition. While the Baronius is a sewn edition the St. Benedict one is just nicer at the present. The cover, the paper, the text, the art...and it doesn't feel like a relic. Hope that helps.


John said...

Hi Matt,

I ordered the St. Benedict version and am very pleased.

Thanks again,


Matt said...

Well, this review sold me. After reading it I ordered the Large Print Genuine Leather Cover in Burgundy. It arrived today, less than one week after oredering it. It is amazing. Beautiful in every regard. My one complaint: my ribbon marker is way off center, positioned only about a third of the way through the Old Testament. Then again, maybe it's supposed to be that way. Oh well, beggars can't be choosers and with all else this Bible has going for it, I'm thrilled. Thanks Matt.

Matt said...

I actually received another Bible from them recently with the ribbon off center. I don't think it is supposed to be like that. You might want to contact their customer service - unless of course it doesn't matter to you.

You can always add your own ribbons by doing this or you can use the glue technique.

Glad you like the book!

Grele said...

Hi Matt,

Thank you for your reviews. I have both the Baronius Press flexible leather Douay-Rheims and the St. Benedict UltraSoft Douay-Rheims (which I got by accident), and I think each has its pros and cons. The Baronius Press seems like a higher quality bible to me, but it is thicker and has typographical errors, while the St. Benedict edition is less bulky and more portable, but the binding is glued. I need to get several copies for family members, and I like the St. Benedict genuine leather version, but it is too expensive when it has this glued binding drawback (if it were cheaper, OK, maybe I could live with it); and I don’t want to get family members an expensive bible with typos (Baronius). Therefore, I’m looking into the Loreto Douay-Rheims because it has sewn binding and is more affordable (since I have to get a few), but I’ve never seen it nor held it, so I don’t know what it’s like. I couldn’t find it in Catholic bookshops. It has a bonded leather cover, which means it could be bulky, and I don’t want a bible that’s too bulky as I’m trying to get others to use it, not discourage them. Do you have this bible and if yes, can you do a review on it?

Thanks for your review of the St. Benedict sacramental Douay-Rheims -– it is very helpful. I will be getting the Confirmation DR because it’s a good quality and is affordable, and for the price, glued bindings are good enough for 13-year-olds. As for adults, however, I would like something better and as I said, both the Baronius and St. Benedict bibles are too expensive considering the drawbacks. If you or anyone else here has any firsthand experience with the Loreto DR, please let me know. I am trying to research as much as I can before I make my final decisions.

BTW, this site has the best information on the Loreto DR:

Thank you again for your bible reviews -- I read them all several times and have learned a lot.

God bless.

Matt said...

Hello Grele,

Thanks for the comments and I am glad you enjoy the blog.

If you have a Baronius Douay-Rheims it may not be the one they put out now. Mine is the older style with Moroccan Leather which is nice but has not held up. The leather is separating from the cover. I am not a fan of Baronius' new stiff,thin, & less flexible covers. There is a fine line between hard and soft covers and they are right on it.

Regarding the Loreto DR, I have seen it and frankly you will do better with either the Baronius or the new TAN/SBP editions. I believe the Loreto is a photographic reprint. The TAN/SBP and Baronius are newly typeset.

I would have preferred the TAN/SBP editions to be sewn as well (and I noted that in my review), and I would prefer the Baronius edition be more sturdy and flexible than it is, but there is no perfect edition out there.

So weigh your options accordingly. There isn't a perfect edition out there. I'd love to see a flexible calfskin Douay-Rheims with wide margins and red-under-gold gilt edge pages with three ribbons. Price: $50 Guess what isn't coming? :-)

Shazamaholic said...

I'm debating whether I should take the plunge and get a RSV-CE. Currently I use the D-R as my main bible for serious prayer and devotional reading, and for more casual reading and contrast/comparision, I have a vintage paperback edition of the 1966 Jerusalem Bible and a unique copy of the 1970 NAB I'm very fond of (it's 7 1/2" x 9", has sturdy leather-like flexible black cardboard covers with gold lettering and a large Px, words of Christ in red, and has three columns on each page). I also have a very tiny print pocket book Confraternity New Testament. I've heard a lot of passionate pros and cons about the RSV-CE, such as the 1971 version is superior to the 1966 version (which Ignatius Press uses). Which version is this St Benedict edition? The whole RSV debate is confusing as many Protestants rejected it for being too liberal, yet many orthodox Catholics are embracing it. I'm undecided if I should go ahead and get an RSV-CE, or an RSV-2CE....or just wait to see if the NAB-RE will include the altered New Testament approved for Liturgy (I hope it does...write the bishops to support this at nab "at" usccb "dot" org )

Matt said...

Many protestants have abandoned the RSV, its true. Someone I suspect that may be because Catholics have embraced it...although that is just conjecture on my part.

A lot of traditional Catholics I know will reject the RSV-CE simply because it is not the Douay and they've read pamphlets on why you should only read the Douay-Rheims version.

But I am not an "onlyist." There is no perfect translation and the RSV-CE is just fine with me. The Vatican uses it in its official English texts. So...

The RSV-2CE is a nice improvement. But I would venture to guess that most people are still using the RSV-(1)CE for a myriad of reasons.

I have little to no hope for the NAB-RE. I base that on what we have now. The text itself isn't "awful" but they need to replace the commentary. We'll see.

Shazamaholic said...

What I find really funny, is when reading a lot of message boards and forums, the ones who are casting stones at others for being "Douay Rheims-onlyists" are so blatently "RSV-onlyists".

Because the RSV-CE is from the KJV line, it is probably the best Bible for converts to the Catholic faith, and for Catholics who do a lot of dialogue and evangelisation with protestants. (I am neither, hence my undecisivness if I should bother to get one or not).

The 1970 NAB I have has quite good footnotes. Years ago, I had a St Joseph NAB (this was the 1980s) and the footnotes in that edition were awful. I literaly felt my faith weaken as I read it. I donated it to the Salvation Army, and that's when I "discovered" the D-R. I wonder if the terrible footnotes are exclusive to St Joseph, or if my 1970 edition is just so early in the NAB development, it has different (and superior) footnotes?

I do hope the NAB-RE uses the altered NT that has been approved for Liturgy, as it is better than the standard 1986 NT, and it would be so nice to be able to own a Bible that is the same version as we hear at Mass.

By the way, can you tell if the St Benedict RSV-CE is the 1966 text or the 1971 text? (I read many RSV experts think the '71 version is superior to the '66/Ignatius Press version).

Thanks a lot. Your book reviews are great, and congratulations on your new part time job!

Shazamaholic said...

A couple updates.

First, I emailed Oxford University Press asking about thier hybrid RSV-CE. Here is the response I got:
Oxford University Press uses a variety of RSV editions for our Catholic Edition, including the original Old Testament (1952), the 2nd editon of the New Testament, published in 1971, the Catholic New Testament (1965) and the Catholic Old Testament/Apocrypha (1965). Currently all of our RSV Catholic Editions use this mix, and we have many styles and bindings available.

I find this interesting, as many RSV-CE fans and experts on various forums agree that Oxford's hybrid RSV-CE is superior to both the original RSV-CE and Ignatius Press' RSV-2CE.

Second. I want to buy St Benedict Press' large print Douay Rheims, but I cannot make up my mind if I should go with the ultra-soft or the genuine leather. Unfortunately, none of the bookstores in my area carry St Benedict Press items, so I can't look at the two binding styles in person. Your review comparing the two styles helped a bit, but I have a few questions I hope you could answer.

Some other reviews on other sites complained that the ultra-soft can get dammaged very can get cut marks or even small chips from just mild handeling, because it's so soft. They also complained the black version looks like rubber (I would probably get the burgandy), and both colors get fingerprint smudges that are very hard to get out. Have you seen any indications of such possible shortcomings of your ultra-soft?

As for the leather, has it continued to softened up with use? You said it feels "cheaper" than the ultrasoft, but is more durable and stronger. Do you still hold to that? How about the gold printing on the spine, has that held up? (I really prefer how the embossed spine of the ultrasoft looks).

Do both these editions come in a cardboard box, that would keep them safe on the bookshelf?

Any advice for someone who can't decide betwen the two? Thanks!

Matt said...

Which other sites have reviewed them? I'd like to see what they wrote...

The Ultrasoft is... Ultra soft and it is less durable. Mine has a dent now from have a spiral bound notebook pushed into it. But let's be honest...when you feel the material you will realize you have traded comfort and beauty for durability. Complaining about dents is like complaining your suede coat got ruined in the rain.

The leather is much tougher. It hasn't softened all that much but it has gained a good deal of flexibility.

The gold on the spine is doing just fine, but then again I didn't do a sandpaper test. :-)

I think fingerprints can be removed with a cloth, I can't imagine this is a real problem, but I'll try it out and let you know if there are issues.

I think one thing to keep in mind is that these are not high end Bibles. They are essentially mid-range books. Don't get me wrong, they are nice but we in the Catholic world do not have, at the moment, the perfect edition.

As for the box, I would never recommend storing your flexible-anything-cover Bible vertically on a shelf. Pay them flat, in a box or out. I believe they all, except the paperbacks, come in the box.

Hope that helps!

Shazamaholic said...

Thanks. It helps some. I think I'm leaning toward the ultra-soft, but I'll probably change my mind back and forth a few more times before I order.

I was reading reviews on Catholic Answers forums and Amazon. Some of the concerns for the ultrasoft cover came from

One of the posts from Catholic Answers, the guy said he actually put shoe polish on the ultrasoft cover to make it look more like leather!!! (and someone plugs your blog in one of the posts)

Matt said...

Well if you are going to be going back and forth...without seeing one...then it seems to me the best thing to do would be to buy the Ultra-soft because its cheaper. If you don't like it then return it and pay the difference for the better one.

Grele said...

Hi Matt,

I want to thank you for your advice -- I’m just so sorry it’s taken me five months to reply, hehe… :) I took your advice and got both the TAN/SBP leather edition and the Confirmation edition Douay-Rheims. As you said, they’re not perfect, but I realized that they are still very good quality for the price. Besides, we are not rough with our books, so I think these will last for a very long time.

You are right, I have an older Baronius Douay-Rheims and mine is in like new condition, but that’s only because I hardly use it because it’s too big and heavy for my purposes. The TAN/SBP is lighter, thinner and more manageable, so, even if there be a perfect edition in the future, if it will be as big and heavy as the Baronius, I probably would not use it regularly.

I have both the black UltraSoft and leather editions, so for those who are wondering, I prefer the leather cover because it is more elegant, more expensive looking, and it is real leather as opposed to plastic. The leather is dark, textured and shiny whereas the UltraSoft has a flat, grayish look (but it feels OK to the hands). And as you said, the leather is more durable and has nicer endpapers. I got the black leather edition on Amazon for $35 so that made it the same price as the UltraSoft - a very good deal for genuine leather.

Thanks also for the suggestion about storing flexible and soft covers flat instead of vertically. Very good advice. Thanks again and God bless.


Joel said...

Hi Matt,
I liked your review. I am most likely to gift myself the genuine leather edition for my B'day.

I need a favour...could you specify the ISBNs of both the GL and Ultrasoft versions...should help me to place the order more confidently.

Thanks and regards,


Jason Stellman said...


I am thinking about getting the SBP RSV-CE ultrasoft edition, but my question is, does it have the words of Christ in red? If so, is it that pinkish red that some old KJVs use, or is it a more burgundy-red? Hoping for the latter!


Eric Glenn said...


Thanks for the great review. I just have one question... Are the photos you show of the pages/text photos of the Large Print edition? or the Standard Print?

Just want to confirm before I order one. Thanks


Matt said...

Hi Eric,

These are standard print, not the large print.

Hope that helps,

"The whole truth is generally the ally of virtue; a half-truth is always the ally of some vice." - G.K. Chesterton