Monday, October 30, 2006

The "Mechanical Engine" of the Reformation

The Renaissance was building momentum in the south of Europe. Incredible images were created by artists commissioned by wealthy patrons and the Roman Catholic Church. Not only religious images, created in the noble classical mode of Greece and Rome, but sensual paintings and sculptures were relished by the people (and the decadent Catholic nobles and Popes). The Renaissance represented image, and the general populace, illiterate and steeped in superstition and paganism, found meaning in the ornate paintings, statues, and architecture of Southern Europe. The Pope and the Roman Church counted on indulgences as one method to finance their artistic enterprises. Thus, when Pope Leo decided to rebuild St. Peter's basilica, he sent a convincing salesman by the name of Tetzel to collect indulgences from Germany.

Cut to Northern Europe, some years prior to Tetzel's trek to Germany. In a small shop in Germany stood a man named Gutenberg. As a goldsmith and gemstone cutter, he was familiar with metalworking. He stood at a table creating individual steel engraved letters. Once placed in a frame, inked and printed, they would create words.
He designed and built a printing press that would ink words over and over, and make bookmaking more efficient and affordable. The first monumental work that Gutenberg completed using his contraption was a Latin version of the Bible. Printmaking began to flourish in Northern Europe, providing common people with written material, previously only available to wealthy Europeans. Interestingly enough, when printed material reached Southern Europe, much of it was banned and burned by the Roman Catholic Church, fearful of heretical works getting into the hands of the populace. So...Southern Europe became known as the image dependent Renaissance and Northern Europe became known more for writers and scholars, and a thirst for the written word.

Fast forward to Tetzel's trek to Germany. One person greatly disturbed by the debauchery and ignorance of Rome was Martin Luther. He had traveled to Rome as a monk and was astounded by such things as being served by naked women in the papal court. Further angered by Tetzel who had been collecting money from Germans who brought their receipts to show Luther, he decided to act upon his convictions. He nailed 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg, denouncing practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Once that was accomplished, he gave his theses to a printer to make copies. Other printers eagerly started printing the theses as well as Luther's sermons. Within a month, Luther's writings had circulated all over Europe. People throughout Europe began to learn how to read. Now they could read truth for themselves, instead of entrusting their spiritual understanding to other men.

Within seven years, pro-reformation literature dominated most of the books published in Germany. By 1534, Luther had translated the Bible from the original Greek and Hebrew into German. He went on to campaign for public schools in Germany for children and stated, "Who rules the land and its people in peacetime? Why, I say it is the quill."

Present day. We are rapidly descending into a new abyss of image based experiences in the Church at the expense of the written word. Video images, song and dance, feel-good messages and little study of the Word of God has taken over the Church. We desperately need a new Reformation.

Lest we forget our good man Gutenberg who was so instrumental in the beginning of the Reformation, let us end with his prophetic words: "Yes, it is a press...from which shall soon flow, in inexhaustible streams...pure truth...; like a new star it shall scatter the darkness of ignorance, and cause a light heretofore unkown to shine amongst men."

Much of this material is derived from
The Vanishing Word by Arthur W. Hunt III, published by Crossway Books


At 6:39 AM, Blogger Kim from Hiraeth said...

I thought about writing about the printing press, too!

Excellent post and much better than what I could have come up with!

At 7:58 AM, Blogger candyinsierras said...

Thanks Kim. I think of the printing press as a pivotal invention in history. Not only that, but I love books, as an artist I love printmaking, and as a Christian, I love seeing the sovereignty of God at work in history.


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