Franklin D. Roosevelt

Statement on the Four Hundredth Anniversary of the Printing of the English Bible.

October 06, 1935

The four hundredth anniversary of the printing of the first English Bible is an event of great significance. It challenges the reverent attention of English-speaking peoples the world over. To that day, October 4, 1535, when Myles Coverdale, an Augustinian Friar, later the Bishop of Exeter, produced this Book in the common vernacular, we trace not only a measurable increase in the cultural value and influence of this greatest of books, but a quickening in the widespread dissemination of those moral and spiritual precepts that have so greatly affected the progress of Christian civilization. The part that William Tyndale played in this English translation is generally acknowledged by the historian. It is also evident that there were others who made valuable contributions to the monumental undertaking. Independent of and apart from the devotion of these zealous translators, the work they did marks the beginning of one of the great epochs in the history of English-speaking peoples.

It would be difficult to appraise the far-reaching influence of this work and subsequent translations upon the speech, literature, moral and religious character of our people and their institutions. It has done much to refine and enrich our language. To it may be traced the richest and best we have in our literature. Poetry, prose, painting, music and oratory have had in it their guide and inspiration. In it Lincoln found the rounded euphonious phrases for his Gettysburg address. Speaking of its place in his life, he says: "In regard to the great Book, I have only to say, it is the best gift which God has ever given to man."

One cannot study the story of the rise and development of the men and women who have been and continue to be the pathfinders and benefactors of our people and not recognize the outstanding place the Bible has occupied as the guide and inspiration of their thought and practice. Apart from their professed allegiance to any particular form of Christian doctrine or creedal expression of faith, they have found in it that which has shaped their course and determined their action. Look where we will, even in periods that have been marked by apostasy and doubt, still men have found here in these sacred pages that which has refreshed and encouraged them as they prosecuted their pilgrimage and sought for higher levels of thinking and living.

In the formative days of the Republic the directing influence the Bible exercised upon the fathers of the Nation is conspicuously evident. To Washington it contained the sure and certain moral precepts that constituted the basis of his action. That which proceeded from it transcended all other books, however elevating their thought. To his astute mind moral and religious principles were the "indispensable supports" of political prosperity, the "essential pillars of civil society." Learned as Jefferson was in the best of the ancient philosophers, he turned to the Bible as the source of his higher thinking and reasoning. Speaking of the lofty teachings of the Master, he said: "He pushed His scrutinies into the heart of man; erected His tribunal in the region of his thoughts, and purified the waters at the fountain head." Beyond this he held that the Bible contained the noblest ethical system the world has known. His own compilation of the selected portions of this Book, in what is known as "Jefferson's Bible," bears evidence of the profound reverence in which he held it.

Entirely apart from these citations of the place the Bible has occupied in the thought and philosophy of the good and the great, it is the veneration in which it has been and is held by vast numbers of our people that gives it its supreme place in our literature. No matter what the accidents and chances of life may bring in their train, no matter what the changing habits and fashions of the world may effect, this Book continues to hold its unchallenged place as the most loved, the most quoted and the most universally read and pondered of all the volumes which our libraries contain. It has withstood assaults, it has resisted and survived the most searching microscopic examination, it has stood every test that could be applied to it and yet it continues to' hold its supreme place as the Book of books. There have been periods when it has suffered stern and searching criticism, but the hottest flame has not destroyed its prevailing and persistent power. We cannot read the history of our rise and development as a Nation, without reckoning with the place the Bible has occupied in shaping the advances of the Republic. Its teaching,. as has been wisely suggested, is ploughed into the very heart of the race. Where we have been truest and most consistent in obeying its precepts we have attained the greatest measure of contentment and prosperity; where it has been to us as the words of a book that is sealed, we have faltered in our way, lost our range finders and found our progress checked. It is well that we observe this anniversary of the first publishing of our English Bible. The time is propitious to place a fresh emphasis upon its place and worth in the economy of our life as a people. As literature, as a book that contains a system of ethics, of moral and religious principles, it stands unique and alone. I commend its thoughtful and reverent reading to all our people. Its refining and elevating influence is indispensable to our most cherished hopes and ideals.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Statement on the Four Hundredth Anniversary of the Printing of the English Bible. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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