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.