I'm new to Gather and don't know quite what to expect from it yet. I was referred to it through a family member. Anyways I saw this group and as I'm kind of a European history buff (especially during the era of the Protestant Reformation in Germany) I wanted to give this group a shot. I wrote this essay for one of my history classes awhile back but never had the opprotunity to get feedback from anyone other than my professor (who just so happened to be one of those few Catholics that still have it out for Lutherans.... : ) ). So here it is i guess..........
The Influence of Printing on the Protestant Reformation in Germany
The Protestant Movement began in Germany in the 16th century. While there were many aspects that influenced the people of the day, the rising popularity of the written word spread like wildfire throughout Germany and eventually made its way to Europe. The Protestant idea was very popular amongst the common people in Germany and printing allowed for the rapid spread of new ideas and theologies, therefore challenging the lay people of the day to consider reforming the Church. Printing was instrumental in the spread of the Protestant Reformation, and without printing the Reformation would most likely have been quashed as it had in the years before the 1500’s.
Years before the Protestant Reformation, the printing press was developed by Johann Gutenberg, in Mainz, Germany. Gutenberg was working with a man by the name of Hans Duenne and had this new invention developed as early as 1438. Without this printing press, the Reformation would never have attracted nearly as much attention as it did.
A man by the name of Martin Luther, a former monk and priest, first used print to spread controversial religious propaganda to the common people, and soon became one of the most widely read authors in Germany. Martin Luther was an extremely talented preacher and writer from Eisleben, Germany that was the driving force of the Protestant Reformation and a dedicated advocate of print. One of Martin Luther’s most well-known and widely distributed works is his the translation of the New Testament into German in 1577; it sold 5000 copies within 2 months of its publication. While speaking about printing Martin Luther has been credited with saying that printing was “God’s highest and extremist act of grace, whereby the business of the Gospel is driven forward.”
There were many advantages that Luther and other Protestants enjoyed through the availability of print. A few of these advantages consisted of an idea that a vast amount of people all over would be interested in, a new, fresh style of writing in the German Pamphlet, use of the vernacular (or the common language of the people), and the finest illustrations of the time period.
The concept that Luther conceived that became so popular throughout Germany was the idea of Justification by Grace. Justification by Grace is the belief that one has been saved through their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and that one cannot prove himself worthy through good works alone. This is taken almost word for word from the Bible verses in Ephesians 2:8-9 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Through printing this idea spread and quickly became a widely accepted belief that challenged the Church’s teaching of salvation through good works and the sale of indulgences to gain forgiveness of sins.
Another advantage that came about during the Protestant Reformation was the German Pamphlet. The pamphlet was an ideal way to spread the ideas of the Protestant Reformation, being as it was easy to print, distribute, and to understand. Martin Luther revolutionized the use of the pamphlet in Germany during his time. Originally the pamphlets were used as invitations, public announcements, or advertisements. Martin Luther took this easily printable and distributable way of spreading his doctrines and started publishing many pamphlets aimed to stir the hearts of the German people to reform their Church. Luther’s pamphlets were the most widely known publications of his works, and it was largely because of these that his doctrines spread quickly throughout Germany and Europe. These pamphlets cannot be deemed unimportant; however, and between the years of 1517 and 1520 Martin Luther himself published over 30 pamphlets that reached upwards of 400,000 copies sold.
A huge advantage of the Protestant Reformation and a major disadvantage of its opponents of this movement was the use of the vernacular in the printed word. Up until the Protestant Reformation, the Church was the biggest client of printers. The church needed hymn books, mass-books, bibles, and much more, and the printers supplied them. The problem with this was that the vast majority of written and religious works in the 16th century were written in Latin, the language of the clergy and scholars. The result of this was that the common lay people of the day couldn’t read the Bible and had to rely solely on the corrupt clergy to translate the Word of God to them. Martin Luther exploited this by distributing the vast majority of his writings in the vernacular, so that the common person could read the Word of God and come to have a more personal interpretation of their own faith.
Finally, one of the most useful rewards that printing afforded to the spread of the Protestant Reformation was the use of extremely detailed illustrations. These illustrations, which are known as woodcuts, brought the somewhat radical ideas of the Protestants to even the people that who weren’t literate. A woodcut was a wood carving that a printer rubbed a soft metal, such as lead, on to transfer the image to paper. This technique would enable the woodcuts to be detailed enough that many readers could determine what the content of the text was without having to be able to read it themselves.
During the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther’s publications dominated the market. During his life he wrote over 400 titles, including many pamphlets and sermons that were printed and spread throughout Germany, and by 1523 over half of Germany’s printed literature had been published by Martin Luther. Because of the vast amount of his publications, and given that he was one of the first authors during his time to work mainly with the vernacular, Martin Luther is also credited with having contributed greatly to the development of literary German.
There was a great demand for Protestant literature in the 15th century. The demand was so great in fact that many printers stopped printing for the Church to print Protestant literature. “If I would write as a Lutheran there would be no difficulty, but as a Catholic I am writing in vain,” was a complaint from a Catholic man named Georg Witzil when his works defending the Catholic faith from Luther and his followers were held and went unprinted by a printer for almost a full year; this was but one of many complaints. Most important cities had at least one printer but none no many as Wittenberg, where Martin Luther lived, in which there were 7 printers just to keep up with the demands for Martin Luther’s works alone. Once one of Martin Luther’s works were published in Wittenberg, they were spread through Germany and reprinted in many cities at multiple printers to keep up with the demand.
In 1524, printers and Protestants faced a dilemma that could have possibly destroyed the Reformation. The Church and the Holy Roman Emperor passed the Edict of Worms, which outlawed all Protestant publications and was designed to halt the spread of this religious movement. The Edict of Worms was, at first, largely ignored by local officials, not only because many of them had Protestant sympathies, but also because the printing of these works was an important part of the economy. When the local officials and lawmakers were forced to try to stifle the printing of Protestant works, they were undermined by printers who printed these works in secret, and many Protestant works continued to circulate through the black market. John Fox states what seems to have been a general consensus about this ban on Protestant literature, “Although through might the Pope stopped the mouth of John Huss (a past reformer who didn’t have the aid of print), God has appointed the Press to preach, whose voice the Pope is never able to stop…”
Through the popularity of printing and the vast amount of people that it reached, the ideals of the Protestant Reformation in Germany during the 16th century grew extremely rapidly until they became popular public opinion. Since printing was so effective at reaching a great many people during the 1500’s, many new ideas and theologies reached much farther than they ever had before; this made the Protestant Reformation in Germany possible. Without printing, the Protestant Movement would never have spread and would have been crushed under the Church’s heel as it had in the 15th century.