When you look at the events of history, especially during the dark ages of Papal supremacy, you see many examples of the wisdom, and strategic prowess, encapsulated in the mind of God. The invention of the printing press by Johann Gutenberg is one such example. This was not just another notable occurrence in history, some wonderful “aha” moment for us to look upon in wonder and amazement before continuing on our merry way. The truth is, the invention of the printing press was a strategic moment in history that provided the perfect means to a preplanned end. In short, God planned it and timed it perfectly and we would be missing out on the true significance of the event if we didn’t take a moment to appreciate it in that light.
Born in Mainz, Germany, Gutenberg, was a goldsmith by trade and invented the printing press around 1439 or 1440. He received little recognition for it but it was one of those quiet achievements that irrevocably changed the rest of our collective existence. To understand the significance of the invention you need to look closely at European literacy in the mid 15th century.
Most people couldn’t read and even if they could most literature was either in Latin or not readily available to the less educated classes of society. The ecclesiastical authority of the church was absolute and much of social life revolved around the institution of Catholicism. People’s minds were controlled by the clergy, who were, by and large, the only class that had access to the bible and told the people what they needed to know about God and truth. The church dictated every aspect of life from birth to death and the level of intellectual control exercised by it, over the minds of the people was enormous. The concepts of independent thought and inquiry were foreign. Added to this was the fact that, in the event that you did want to study the Bible for yourself, bibles were nearly impossible to come by. It took 300 sheep skins or 170 calf skins to produce a handwritten copy of the Bible; a long, arduous and expensive process and even then it was most likely to be in Latin, a language only understood by the educated classes. Into this melting pot of European social life was thrown the work of Wycliffe and Huss. Their teachings caused ripples across Europe leading people to question the authority of the church and embrace the importance of being able to access the Bible in their own language. But this movement couldn’t gain much momentum because it took too long and cost too much to produce copies of the Bible or even copies of the writings of these reformers.
The Bible and their writings couldn’t spread rapidly enough to affect the kind of change that Europe so desperately needed and the Reformation, about 70 years away, would also need a medium to broadcast its principles. Gutenberg and his printing press more than ably filled this void.
The advent of the printing press was just the impetus needed to propel the ideas of Huss and Wycliffe into the ranks of the masses and it also became the medium that brought Luther and his 95 theses into the hands and homes of every prince and pauper in Europe. The Reformation had an amazing vehicle to drive around in and the timing could not have been more perfect.
The first book to be printed, in several volumes and multiple copies, was the Bible in 1452, offering people the opportunity to own their own Bibles in their own language, a precursor to the great revolution of thought that was just ahead.The advent of the printing press took a relatively uneducated populace into the realm of inquisitive, informed and insightful conversation.
The church found it difficult to control the minds of people by stamping out the spread of what it called heresy and the stranglehold of Catholicism on the collective consciousness of Europe began to ease.
The liberation of Europe from the dark ages was on its way and Gutenberg’s press was the wind in its sails. Today we live in a tech-savvy, social media-saturated world, where information is just a mouse click or a swipe-to-the-right away and each of these mediums can act as a vehicle for the spread of the gospel. God can use us and the technology that is at our fingertips to take the truth to places and people that we would never have dreamed of. Don’t underestimate the potential of partnering technology and truth.