The Unlocking Of Knowledge Through The Art

Of Printing Essay, Research Paper

The Unlocking of Knowledge, Through the Art of Printing

Printing was a major factor in shaping the reformation and Protestant Practice

by making printing material (including the Bible) available to everyone. It

started with Johannes Gutenburg s invention of the printing press as the origin

of mass communication. It was the western culture s first workable means of

disseminating ideas and information to a large and vast audience. Some

historians suggest that print was instrumental in bringing about all the major

shifts in Science, Religion, Politics; and the major modes of thought that are

commonly associated with western culture. The Protestant reformation had its

beginnings in the first half of the sixteenth century, when western Europe

experienced a wide range of social, artistic and political changes that

ultimately resulted in a conflict with the Catholic Church.

Throughout the scribal era there were not many manuscripts and they had

been controlled by a powerful elite who had subscribed a limited world view

(a religious dogma). Scribes, monks and priests produced manuscripts, the

information they copied in the scriptoria was primarily of a sacred nature,

producing beautiful manuscripts of the Bible and prayer books. These

texts were in Latin, which was the language of the Church, you had to go to

specific people to get it. Knowledge was completely controlled. Priests decided

on the meanings: the world was created in six days, and the Clergy were

Gods representatives on earth. These truths were preached from the

Ministry and enforced within the community. Any one who dared to question

the correct nature of the meanings was declared a Heretic and was punished


“One of the most useful ways of thinking about the effects of the printing press

is to see it as a recording and knowledge explosion.” For instead of

information being copied in the scriptoria under the strict supervision of the

clergy, printing presses suddenly sprang up all over Europe. Others began

producing books at an unholy rate, and without any consultation with the

Church. These books were printed in local languages, which the Lay people

could understand. And almost over night the Church lost control of information,

and began to lose power to the professional classes and the state. It

could no longer regulate the access to information, because people could find

out things for themselves without the mediation of the Church. Its authority,

power and prestige began to decline.

The Catholic Church somehow had to counteract with this new evolution,

which basically consummated in a poster war with the Protestants. The

Church took advantage of the power of print, printing indulgences,

theological texts and by it they tried to spread the Church s influence.

Despite this the Church had great difficulty controlling the active dissenters like

Martin Luther whose theses were widely and rapidly disseminated.

Bibles were already being printed in vernacular (rather than Latin), prompting

debates and opposition to the Churches role as the sole guardian of spiritual

truth. The Bible was a locked book during the “dark ages”, under authority of

the Catholic Church, but now with its accessibility it had become unlocked,

enabling people to interpret the scripture for themselves. Printing gave

knowledge and religious freedom back to the people.

“In the sixteenth century, a religious revolt resulted in the formation of

Protestant churches” . But this revolt actually had its beginnings in 1384,

when Wycliffe produced a hand written manuscript copy of the complete Bible

in English. Then in 1455 when Gutenburg invented the printing press, printing

the first Bible in Latin. In 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses of contention

to the Wittenberg door, “and in 1521/2 he translated and published the New

Testament into German. William Tyndale s New Testament was the first ever

printed in the English language in 1525/6″ . William Tyndale said “These

things, I say, to know, is to have all the scripture unlocked and opened before

the; so that if thou wilt go in, and read, thou canst not but understand” .

Printing the Bible from Latin into the common language of that day unlocked

the scriptures, making it accessible to everyone, thus making it a major factor

in shaping the Reformation and Protestant religious practice, enlightening and

freeing the common people from bondage s of the political and religious

systems. The lay-people now had access to the Bible and began to

understand it for themselves, challenging the Church s authority when the

practices of the Church were different from the view of the scripture. One such

practice, challenged by Martin Luther, was the selling of indulgences (the

forgiveness of sins), or bartering the release of loved ones from “purgatory”.

“In 1516, Pope Leo X Began selling pardons, by which he gained a large

amount of money from people who were eager to save the souls of their loved

ones” . The Clergy realised that having God s word available to the people in

the language of common English, would mean disaster to the Church, and

would “open the eyes of the blind” and ” the truth would set them free”. “So the

availability of the scriptures In English was the greatest threat imaginable to

the Roman Church. The Church in Rome would never give up without a fight” .

The Protestant religious practice was shaped by printing, and also by men with

conviction who gave their lives to preach the pure scriptures. “With the aid of

the published Bible and with other printed material, men such as Martin Luther,

Ulric Zwingle, Thomas Bileny, John Tewkesbury, John Firth, William Tyndale

and many others preached and debated the scriptures. They all were called

Heretics and many of them were cruelly persecuted and were executed under

the hands of the Roman Church . Many reforms were introduced into the

Church, during that time which shaped the Protestant practice. Martin Luther s

reforms included changing the practice of indulgences, a national (rather than

Roman) control of Church finances, permission for the clergy to marry, a

series of Sacramental reforms, a reformed Mass and the Holy blessing.

Other factors shaped the Reformation such as earlier Renaissance discoveries

in science, literature and the visual arts. Different experiences and

experiments in Architecture surfaced in the sixteenth and sixteenth centuries.

In spite of religious controversies the Reformation was also a period of

economic revolution when capitalism gained strength.

In conclusion, we see that printing has helped to develop an emphasis on

individual rights and freedom, freeing the people and society from the rigorous

and one tracked way of living. Print technology facilitated a communications

revolution that reached deep into the human thought and social interaction.

Print, along with the spoken language, written and electronic media is

thought of as one of the markers of key historical shifts in communication

that has attended social and intellectual transformation. With the

beginning of printing, “knowledge grew in science and in languages,

opening a window of light for the world and clearing the way for the

reformation of the Church” . In the year 1563 John Foxe wrote; “God gave

man the art of printing, which restored knowledge to the Church” . Print

facilitated a focus on truth, and on the human ability and rite to chose one s

own intellectual and religious path. We today, because of the power of print,

are standing on the shoulders of all those who have shaped the Reformation

and Protestant religious practice.


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