It has long been a custom in my ward for the Bishopric to give a Bible to each newly baptized child. I love seeing the faces of the children as they smilingly carry that precious book when they return to sit with their families.
In the time of Henry VIII in England, such a privilege was inconceivable. It was illegal for any citizen of England to own, or even to know scriptures that were translated into English. It was a serious crime and sadly, was often punished with extreme harshness.
In Foxe’s Book of Martyrs we can read the actual legal accounts of trials and their outcomes.
One Christopher Shoemaker, who was burned alive at Newbury, was accused of having gone to the house of John Say, and “read to him, out of a book, the words which Christ spake to his disciples.”
In 1519 seven martyrs were burned in one fire at Coventry, “for having taught their children and servants the Lord’s prayer and the ten commandments in English.”
The book of record of trials kept by Lonland, bishop of Lincoln, for the single year 1521, contains a list of one hundred names of persons charged before him with reading, or repeating, portions of the Scriptures in the English language.
Jenkin Butler accused his own brother of reading to him a certain book of Scripture, and persuading him to hearken to the same.
John Barret, goldsmith, of London, was arrested for having recited to his wife and maid-servant the Epistle of St. James, without a book.
John Thatcher was accused of teaching Alice Brown this saying of Jesus: “Blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it.”
Thomas Philip and Lawrence Taylor were arrested for reading the Epistle to the Romans and the first chapter of St. Luke in English.
So scanty was the supply of Bibles at this time, that but few of those who craved its teaching could hope to possess the sacred volume. But this lack was partly made up by the earnestness of those whose interest was awakened in the Bible. If only a single copy was owned in a neighborhood, these hard-working laborers and artisans would be found together, after a weary day of toil, reading in turn, and listening to the words of life; and so sweet was the refreshment to their spirits, that sometimes the morning light surprised them with its call to a new day of labor, before they had thought of sleep. Their highest aim was to possess for their own some portion of the sacred book.
It is related that one man among them gave a load of hay for a few chapters of St. Paul’s epistles. Some were known to have devoted the savings of years to this object. When it is considered that copying with the pen was as yet the usual means of reproducing books in England‑although Gutenburg’s rude press had been for a long time in use in Germany—it can be readily understood that the actual cost of a Bible must have been great. It required ten months’ steady work by a skilled copyist to write the manuscript, and a sum equal to two hundred dollars [or our equivalent of more than $2000] (an amount of greater importance then than now), was the common price for a single copy.
As I read of those sacrifices for the knowledge of scripture, I’m feeling overwhelmingly blessed, and thinking that where much is given, much is expected.