I recently witnessed an unlikely scene: the Bible exalted by an atheist government!
While driving down Nyezalyezhnastsi Boulevard to the international airport in Minsk, Belarus, we encountered a feast for the eyes, the just-completed National Library of Belarus.
An intriguing statue stood near the front of the beautiful building. A larger-than-life man from another era held a book high above his head. A man with a book is, of course, a very appropriate symbol for a library. But the contrast between the modern architecture and the statue was striking.
When I asked my Belarusian friends who was depicted by the statue, they told me it was Francis Skaryna (1490-1551) and the book in his hands was the Bible! They said that Skaryna, a contemporary of Martin Luther, was a Reformer who is regarded as the Father of Belarus.
I was shocked. The man who created a flourishing Belarus by means of the Bible has been honored by one of the last Stalinist dictatorships in the world. This radical atheistic government, trying to create a nation out of tyranny, recognized Skaryna for the contribution he made to the nation with the Bible!
I see a parallel situation in the United States. We recognize the founders of our nation. Yet we fail to realize that it was their ideas, the concepts they brought to these shores, that laid the foundation of one of the greatest nations the world has ever known.
Francis Skaryna was the first Belarusian book printer. His initial impression was the Psalter in 1517. Thus, the first Bible portion for the Russian-speaking world was published the same year Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the chapel door in Wittenberg. Skaryna followed with a 22-volume set of the Old and New Testaments in 1517-1519.
Skaryna was born into a wealthy merchant family in the historical Belarusian city of Polatsk. Like many of his day, young Francis was home schooled. His reading primer was the Psalter. He likely learned Latin at the Catholic school. Skaryna graduated from the arts faculty at the University of Kraków in 1504 and was awarded his doctorate degree in medicine in 1512 from the University of Padua in Italy.
From 1517, Skaryna lived in Prague, in what is now the Czech Republic. It was in Prague that Czech reformer Jan Hus (c. 1369-1415) planted the seeds of the Reformation. His followers, the Hussites, understood that the Bible was to shape public opinion and to nurture all areas of life.
With other Reformers of his generation Skaryna translated the word of God into the heart language of the people. In doing so, he laid the groundwork for today’s Belarusian language.
In my mind’s eye I can still see Skaryna’s statue in front of the modern National Library. And I think about the disconnect pictured there. On the one hand are the man, his book, and the ideas that caused Belarus to thrive. On the other, the men and ideas that are shaping a tyrannical society today. They are blind to what is right in front of them. I am reminded of the Psalmists words:The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them. Psalm 135:15-18
Today’s leaders of Belarus are like the idols the Psalmist wrote about. They have eyes but do not see the truth, they have ears but do not listen.
And what about our own nation? We are a citizenship who no longer recognizes the root of the tree of liberty.
John Milton, arguably the best seventeenth-century English author, whose works include the epic poem Paradise Lost, spoke of the vision of education:
The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the highest perfection.
The Puritan founders of Harvard and Yale would have understood this. But how many of today’s educators would describe the purpose of education similarly? Thousands upon thousands of faculty and students walk by emblems like the one at Yale below without seeing what there is to be seen.
The Founders of Yale and Harvard, for example, were committed to understanding Veritas – Truth. They understood that truth was found at the intersection of God’s revelation through Creation, Reason, and the Word of God.
Molecular biologist, Dr. Georgia Purdom, has written a thought-provoking article on what happened at Harvard, i.e. the change in the vision of the university and the symbols that represented the original vision .
If you have interest in the role the Bible played in creating the world which we now inhabit, read Vishal Mangalwadi’s, The Book That Made Your World.
- Darrow Miller