In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1-4, 14
When one enters any Christian home or church today he will find an abundance of Bibles. However, there was a time when Bibles were only in Latin, copied by hand, and owned only by the church. A Christian layman who owned a printed bible in his own language was denounced as a heretic and publicly burned by the church. Forgotten was God’s admonition to His people to “impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
By the end of the reformation, however, God’s word was available to both clergymen and laymen, rich nobles and poor farmers. The common people were given the holy Scriptures to read, interpret, and apply for themselves. God’s law became a part of nearly every home, and culture saw a goal shift from paganist to godly.
Several key instruments were used by God to cause this great reform of culture, but the most pivotal was in the form of written communication of the Word. First, the invention of the moveable-type printing press made it possible for Bibles to be owned by many common people, and also efficiently circulated the writings of the Reformers. Second, the diligent work of several Bible scholars produced translations of the Bible in many of the common tongues of Europe.
The Ignorance of the Church
The state of the church before the Reformation is described by John Foxe, in his famous Book of Martyrs:
“The law of God was seldom read and never understood, so Christ’s saving work and the effect on man’s faith were not examined. Because of this ignorance, errors and sects crept into the church, for there was no foundation for the truth that Christ willingly died to free us from our sins: not bargaining with us but giving to us.”
At this point in history we must admire God’s wisdom, for just as the church fell into ruin because of the ignorance of its teachers, and shortly after the burning of John Huss and Jerome, God gave his church the art of printing, which restored the truth of God’s word to the body of Christ and decried its false teachers.
The Printing Press
In Mainz, Germany, an invention developed under the hands of a man named Johann Gutenberg which would change the course of history forever. Gutenberg was a strong Christian who had a vision for all men, everywhere, to soon be able to own and read the Bible in their own homes. His own words will do best:
“God suffers because there are such multitudes of souls to whom His sacred Word cannot be given; religious truth is captive in a small number of little manuscripts, which guard the common treasures instead of expanding them. Let us break the seal which binds these holy things; let us give wings to truth that it may fly with the Word, no longer prepared at vast expense, but multiplied everlastingly by a machine which never wearies --to every soul which enters life!” (The Modern Age, p. 30)
Previous countries which had experimented with the printing press found it less economical than hand-copying. Korea, China, and Japan had all used wooden blocks for printing since the 700s, and Korea even used metal letters, but the great amount of characters which their languages used made the printing press impractical and expensive. But when Johannes Gutenberg combined movable metal letters with an oil-based ink and a wooden hand press, he created the first practical and widely used printing press. (Humanists and Reformers, p. 39)
This man “broke the seal to the treasure house and let the truth fly with the wings of the Word,” yet he died a penniless man. However, the effects of this invention, though small at first to a largely illiterate Europe, soon grew to massive proportions. All of culture was changed and became defined by this new invention. Information could be printed in mass quantities, people could analyze and study the Bible outside of the church, and reading now became the culture’s “conversation.” Literacy rates for sixteenth century Western Europe averaged from %5 to %10 of males and grew to %50 after the invention of the printing press. (Humanists and Reformers, p. 43).
Postman, a communications theorist, readily links a culture’s intellectual and social concerns to the form of communication it uses:
“In studying the Bible as a young man, I found intimations of the idea that forms of media favor particular kinds of content and therefore are capable of taking command of a culture...It is, I believe, a wise and particularly relevant supposition that the media of communication available to a culture are a dominant influence on the formation of the culture’s intellectual and social preoccupations.” (Amusing Ourselves to Death, p. 9)
This was indeed true in the case of the printing press, as the culture undertook drastic changes economically, intellectually, socially, and religiously. I will describe a few of these religious changes below.
Priesthood of All Believers
Prior to the printing press, manuscripts were copied laboriously by hand and were only owned by nobility, princes, and scholars who could afford to pay for a scribe. People went to church to learn what the Bible said, but were given false doctrine. Many of the Reformers realized the error in the church, yet it was hardly possible to combat the error, as the common people couldn’t read the Scriptures and had no standard to measure the teachings by.
With the coming of the printing press, reading suddenly became a vital part of the culture. Bibles were distributed, theological schools opened, the Reformers’ works were published and eagerly devoured. Common people began to read and reason on their own. The result was a society that could now see the lies of the Roman Catholic Church, the foolishness of the “Divine Right” of kings, and the greatness of God’s gracious plan of salvation for His people. The Bible trained and educated the people until many could exclaim with David, “Oh, how love I Thy law!” because many now knew exactly what it said.
Historian John Foxe relates a few of the changes that took place in God's kingdom:
“Through the grace of God, men of wisdom were now able to communicate their thoughts accurately and widely so others could distinguish light from darkness, truth from error, religion from superstition. 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. (Foxe's Book of Martyrs, p. 65)
From Image to Text
For a culture that had been primarily “image” based, the rational and analytical nature of reading was at first a shock. One cathedral received the first printed book on its shelves full of hand-written manuscripts and an observing scholar exclaimed, “This book will destroy the building!” (Victor Hugo, Notre Dame de Paris,1831)
He was correct in the sense that the people would no longer need the church’s images to understand the truth of the Bible. Gargoyles, statues of saints, candles, incense, stained glass, white and delicate cathedral walls, and rich tapestries had all been used to teach the people about eternal concepts. Gregory the Great, the first of medieval popes (590-604) referred to images as the “books of the uneducated.” (Humanists and Reformers, p. 43)
“If the printed book brought an end to the age of the cathedral, one of the ways in which it did so was by becoming the building. Printed paratexts took a wide range of textual edifices across the threshold and into even the humblest home.” (Agent of Change p. 81, eds. Baron, Lindquist, Shevlin) Now these humble homes could read and reason through these ideas in the clearer, more rational form of the printed Word. Luther called the coming of printing “God’s highest and extremest act of grace, whereby the business of the Gospel is driven forward.” (Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, p. 32)
The business of the gospel, in this case, was to reach with long and sensitive fingers into every fiber of Renaissance culture, to the rich, the poor, the kings and plowboys, and confront them with the pure and unadulterated truth of the Word. Now there could be no ignorance without excuse. The reality and logic of the printed Word held a force that could not be counteracted easily. The preparation of “languages and letters” for the Word of God, as Luther called it, made it so that, as both he and Erasmus had hoped:
“The farmer might sing snatches of his Scripture at his plough, that the weaver might hum phrases of Scripture to the tune of his shuttle, that the traveler might lighten with stories from Scripture the weariness of his journey.” (Erasmus, quoted in The Modern Age, p. 31)
© 2009 Jane Grey
- Bainton, Roland H., The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, Boston: The Beacon Press, 1963)
- D'Aubigne, J. H. Merle, D.D., History of the Reformation os the Sixteenth Century, editions I-V, (New York: Robert Carer and Brothers, 1882)
- Eby, Frederick, PhD., Ll.D, Early Protestand Educators, (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1931)
- Edwards, Brian H., God's Outlaw (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2002)
- Eisenstein, Elizabeth L., The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979)
- Foxe, John, Foxe's Christian Martyrs, edited and abridged, (Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Publishing, 2005)
- Gitt, Werner, In the Beginning Was Information, (Bielefeld, Germany: Christliche Literatur-Verbreitung, 2011)
- Hayes, Carlton J. H., Modern Europe to 1870, (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1959)
- Man, John, Gutenberg, (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002)
- Ong, Walter J., Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, (London: Routledge, 1999)
- Postman, Neil, Amusing Ourselves to Death,(New York: Penguin Books, 1986)
- Spitz, Lewis W., and Kenan, William R., editors, The Protestant Reformation: Major Documents, (Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1997)
- Thompson, Bard, Humanists and Reformers, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996)
- ____________, The Modern Age, (Pensacola, FL: A Beka Book Publications, 1981)
Sara on February 19, 2013:
I thought it was a great website and thank you Jane for sharing this with me! I am doing a project on this and this article was very useful! Thank You!
Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on December 10, 2012:
Thanks D L Daniels, I appreciate your kind comments! This was a university paper a not too long ago, so I'm glad it can be of use now! :) When you finish your paper I would love to read it! Let me know if you post it online or anything. I'm still very interested in this topic and research & write about it when I get the chance.
Best of God's blessings on your writing!
DLDaniels on December 10, 2012:
First time to read your blog, I enjoyed the read as I share the topic for a research paper I am working on for a seminar class on the Protestant Reformation. Also, your comments above are full of grace, class and most importantly, the Truth.
Right after I click "post comment" below, I am entering two of your sources into the university database, thanks for sharing the knowledge.
shebinlal T on February 08, 2012:
Gutenberg did great thing for bible
Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on May 26, 2011:
Richard Dawkins, Science, and You Who Have a Name,
By what standard do you make these claims? The very fact that you exist is inexplainable outside of there being a Being more powerful than you that has caused you to exist. There are many others, like you, who deny the existence of God, but in your hearts, you know He has to exist. Your very anger at God shows that you are not indifferent to Him. A true atheist would be able to laugh at theologians and then never think of them again. But you, Dawkins, are raging against God and theologians as if Christianity were really a threat to you! Why? If belief in God has done nothing for this world, why bother? I know why. The Bible says that "By Him we live and move and have our being." and that God's invisible attributes are obvious to you: "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse."
Second, on a less foundational level, I find your comment about the achievements of "theologians" not only untrue, but also irrelevant to our discussion. Every Christian is called to be a "theologian," meaning that every Christian studies God and seeks to understand God. Consider the achievements of these Christians, in science: Isaac Newton, George Washington Carver, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, not to mention the subject of this article, Johannes Gutenburg, who is THE man responsible for the printing press, and thus responsible for the existence of "printed books." Gutenburg was both a theologian and a scientist, and without his achievements, Richard Dawkins would still be scratching on stone.
Third, theology as a science... What is your definition of science? If science deals only in the realm of the material and has no concern with the eternal, then I suppose theology is not technically a science. However, the realm of theology, which I define as the study of God, including the Bible-directed, God-ordered understanding of all things, has many uses in the material world as well. How can we educate children without instilling in them a set of moral laws? Isn't that the realm of theology? How can we study the intricate layers of a cell wall without having to believe that this world is ordered by a purposeful scheme and not by chaos? How can we even begin to discuss science without the use of logic and deductive reasoning, both of which must be founded on the belief that there is consistency and predictability in the natural world, which must come from a belief that there is something or someONE who has caused that consistency and predictability?
Richard Dawkins on May 17, 2011:
“What has theology ever said that is of the smallest use to anybody? When has theology ever said anything that is demonstrably true and is not obvious? I have listened to theologians, read them, debated against them. I have never heard any of them ever say anything of the smallest use, anything that was not either platitudinously obvious or downright false. If all the achievements of scientists were wiped out tomorrow, there would be no doctors but witch doctors, no transport faster than horses, no computers, no printed books, no agriculture beyond subsistence peasant farming. If all the achievements of theologians were wiped out tomorrow, would anyone notice the smallest difference? Even the bad achievements of scientists, the bombs, and sonar-guided whaling vessels, work! The achievements of theologians don’t do anything, don’t affect anything, don’t mean anything. What makes anyone think that ‘theology’ is a subject at all?”
Science on May 17, 2011:
Theology is a useless science
Yes, I have a name on May 17, 2011:
fact: There is/are no God/s
Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on February 28, 2011:
Great question! The book that was the most helpful when I wrote my thesis paper on this topic was "The Printing Press as an Agent of Change" by Elisabeth Eisenstein. Though her academic style of writing was verbose and hard to wade through, she definitely did her research! Use the index and table of content to get to the most helpful parts. The others that were helpful are listed under the quotes in my article: "Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Neil Postman, and John Foxe's "Book of Martyrs". As for education in the reformation, I absolutely devoured a book that was a collection of quotes and papers by the reformers on how to revitalize education and get the common people educated in the Word of God and the liberal arts. I don't remember the name of it now (it was something like "Education and the Protestant Reformation," but that's not it). I could dig it up if you're interested. It's currently out of print but I found it through my library loan system.
Best of success to your studies! May they be edifying to you and your readers.
Gordon on February 27, 2011:
I was wondering if you could give me some sources that you used to create this, I myself am writing a paper on how the printing press influenced religion and education and was wondering if you had anything!! thanks any help would be great!!
Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on July 01, 2010:
I hadn't realized it either until several reformed theologians made the connection. Being a communications enthusiast, I quickly jumped on the idea and found that it was much, much older than the reformation. Jesus Christ calls himself the "Word" and Ezekiel was commanded to eat a book to show the Israelites how important a personal connection to the word of God is. I am very thankful for God using Gutenberg's idea to publish His gospel abroad!
strutzas from Kualapuu, Hawaii on June 29, 2010:
The printing press was a revolutionary invention and I had not realized what a profound effect it played in the reformation. Thank you for enlightening me to this topic.
Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on June 09, 2010:
Simon, I would ask you what you mean by "rubbish," but I don't want to waste my time with you if you're not interested in the topic. Constructive criticism about what I could do to improve my info, presentation, style, or quality is always appreciated, however, so I'd be more than ready to listen if you have something worth saying.
Simon Baker on June 09, 2010:
you guys are totally wrong this is a rubbish site! but thanks a lot anyway for the information - which i didn't really need but it would be useful in other terms i suppose
Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on April 28, 2010:
Thank you, CJ! The Reformation is a favorite time period of mine, and I do see many correlations between Christianity today and Christianity then. We are in need of a Reformation again! I appreciate your kind comment, and I'm glad you found this readable and understandable. What use would the printing press, internet, and computers be if we can't put together anything that's readable, right? :)
CJ Williams on April 26, 2010:
Just thought I'd say this is a great piece of writing that really highlights many of the reasons the Reformation was so necessary! Thanks for taking the time to lay this out in such a readable format.
Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on January 07, 2010:
You're right, Nell! And it's interesting that America would not have been settled, or had the Christian government that it was founded on, if it had not been for a few Puritans from the Reformation realizing they needed a place to live where their families could be raised in true freedom to worship God.
Thanks for leaving your insightful comment!
Nell Rose from England on January 07, 2010:
Hi, Jane, I really enjoyed this, as I love History and inventions. it is strange how the actions of one man or one period in History, can change everything that we know and learn. If it hadn't been for the reformation, whether good or bad, we would not be the way we are today. Scary thought! I will continue to read your interesting hubs. cheers Nell
Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on December 01, 2009:
Thanks for stopping by, Godslittlechild and Rebecca! I appreciate your comments and your friendship.
Rebecca E. from Canada on November 03, 2009:
wow, this is a must bookmark.
Godslittlechild on September 25, 2009:
I really enjoyed this hub! Haven't read the book but definitely will now. Thanks!
Martin L. on August 12, 2009:
You're very gracious to respond so thoughtfully to my comments. These are big issues, but I'll try to be brief in reply. First, the notion that anyone “worshiped” Cathedrals, or images or statues in cathedrals, much less idols, as part of Catholic doctrine in medieval culture is not just incorrect, but flagrantly so. This is like saying that it is idolatry for a person to have a cross about their fireplace. Some nutty folks have said so, but then they fail to understand what idol worship means. When the Catholic Church worships, it offers sacrifice, as has been the tradition in the Old Testament, the early church, the medieval church, always. The idolatry and worship condemned in scripture is the offering of sacrifice to false gods. The medieval Church, like the large majority of Christians today (Catholics+Orthodox+Maronites+Melkites and other non-Protestant churches) offer sacrifice of self, fasting, etc. to God and God alone, and we participate in Christ's sacrifice on Calvary through the Eucharist at every mass. Many Protestant groups have gotten away from the Eucharist and have all but rid the notion of sacrifice from their services and, if it's the right word, from their culture. (You won't hear Joel Osteen talk about fasting very often, or even sacrifice, except when asking for money.) So, often Protestants understandably mistake the reverence that Catholics and Orthodox have for beauty, Mary, the communion of saints, etc., for worship—but that's because they don't understand how the Catholics and Orthodox worship. Catholics don't sacrifice to objects or images, nor do they worship any God other than the Trinitarian God also worshiped by most Protestants.
As to the behavior of the medieval popes and priests, one must distinguish between teaching and behavior. You observe, “Much of the money went into the pockets of the papal order, and did nothing for the people's spiritual well-being.” True enough, though I would argue that beautiful cathedrals do a great deal for people's spiritual well being, and I could even provide you names of quite a few former atheists who have been led to God simply because they found themselves confronted with the magnificent beauty in Chartes Cathedral. The people who paid for the construction of Chartres could hardly have done anything better with their money, as they have given many millions of people inspiration and joy and hope for 900 years. For people to give their worldly possessions to celebrate the magnificence and beauty and grandeur of the almighty, and to construct a great tribute to God . . . I have a hard time understanding what the problem is there.
But in any case, if I were to say that Protestant theology is misguided because lots of Protestant televangelists are thieves, you would surely object, and rightly so. Lots of Catholic clerics have been, and presumably are today, thieves. As was Judas. (I figure is less than one in twelve priests is a bum, great progress has been made.) You say the teaching of the church changed by 1500, but you should look into this, as it's not so. There was improper application of doctrine, and fallible humans not living up to doctrine, as there was among the early apostles, the early church, and every church that ever existed. (Indeed, one could talk at length about some of the personal foibles of the founders of Protestant sects as well, but that would not go to the truth or falsity of the doctrine they were teaching, would it?)
The Mormons have this idea of the Great Apostasy, whereby all Christians left God, and so Jesus had to return to North America. But when you ask for the dates and the doctrines, the specifics as to what the Great Apostasy was, and when it occurred, they have no answer. They only have this vague assertion that Christians strayed, and so now the Mormons have the truth. As far as I can tell, the alleged straying of the Catholic Church (and the Maronites and the Orthodox and the Coptics and the Assyrian Church and all non-Protestant Christians?) from the early church is the same. I have never been able to pin it down.
As for the passage from Matthew that you are right to quote, you would also want to note two other passages from that same Gospel that shed additional light on the matter. In Chapter 25 Jesus speaks very explicitly about the judgment that awaits us all, and He explains, “Then the King will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?' Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.' And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." He does not condemn them for failing to believe or failing to worship or failing to read, but for failing to act. It could not be any plainer. Personally, I would be very nervous if I lived my life according to the proposition that all one needs is faith. In Chapter 7 of that same Gospel, Jesus says point blank that 'only the one who does the will of my father' will enter heaven. It's hard to get more explicit than those two passages, it seems to me. And of course, the only place in all of scripture where the words “faith” and “alone” appear together are in the Letter of James 2:24, where we're told that it is NOT by faith alone that we're justified, as Luther had it—which is why Luther wanted to excise James from the Bible.
Having said that, there is really terribly little difference in understanding between the Catholic and Protestant doctrines on justification and salvation, because in the Catholic and Orthodox view good works are only made possible by grace and are worthless without love. Protestants hear and believe that Catholics think they can buy their way into heaven and are saved by their own will and not by Christ, but then in my experience Protestants always tended to quote each other as the source for this view. Once I actually looked at the Catechism of the Catholic Church to see what it really teaches the picture was quite different. Also, you might enjoy reading a short discussion Pope Benedict gave at a weekly audience back in November about justification and Pauline theology about the law and Luther's misunderstanding of Paul. Paul's teaching was that one didn't need to abide by the minutia of the cultural Jewish law re who was considered “unclean,” for example. Paul never said and never meant that somehow Christ freed us from adhering to the MORAL law. On the contrary, Paul even holds the pagans to account for failing to live up to the natural moral law in Romans. Anyway, here is a link to the Benedict discussion. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/aud...
Oh, one final thought re your sources—we live in a very Anglo-Protestant culture. There is very little published by Cambridge Press that is not Protestant in outlook. (Cambridge certainly isn't known for its pro-Catholic stance over the years, that's for sure.) All of which is to say that if you are reading about a matter pertaining to the history of religion, and you are not reading a Catholic or an Orthodox source, then you are most likely reading a source with a Protestant outlook. It may still be a fabulously enlightened source, but I'm only suggesting that, since you are making statements about Church history and cathedrals and doctrine it could only be enlightening to you to add some Catholic sources to your reading.
I didn't mean to hi-jack your lovely blog—you needn't post these comments.
God bless you, and may you find truth.
Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on August 12, 2009:
Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of my article, and for your comments. You have brought up several weighty charges against the Protestant Reformation which I hope to defend. You have also brought up some good points which I plan to do research on, as I see I have more to study!
First, it sounds like I should do more research on the Renaissance and the Reformation and the connection between them. If anything, your remarks have shown that my sources may have been different than yours, and I could easily be mistaken about the correlation and timing of the two events. I do know, however, that the Reformation, though upsetting in many ways to the beauty of the cathedral, did help align the culture's perspective of beauty in relation to God. Beauty is not to be the sole source of our understanding of God, nor should it ever take the place of His Word (the Bible), or distract from worshipping the true God and instead, cause worship of an image of Him. Idolatry is a grievous sin against God, and if the cathedrals encouraged and promoted idolatry, then it is better that a beautiful thing be destroyed than that it should cause anyone to stumble. See my comment on my other article, "The Beauty of Holiness" for more on the proper relation of God's people to beauty.
The second point you brought up, concerning the Catholic church and its doctrines, is a much deeper issue. The medieval monks deserve our gratitude for their small spot of light during a relatively "dark" time. They preserved doctrine which was Biblical, for the most part, and best of all cherished and multiplied the word of God, even though it took hours of painstaking handwriting. The doctrine of the Catholic church changed over the centuries, however. By the time of the 1500s, the church officials were no longer living for the glory of the cross alone, but were using their religious power to put fear into the people, thus causing the people to buy indulgences and pay money to give undue worship to relics. Much of the money went into the pockets of the papal order, and did nothing for the people's spiritual well-being. The basic doctrine of the gospel of grace had been corrupted by the lie that good works could somehow be righteous enough to get a person into heaven. You may disagree with this, Mr. Martin, as you are now a Catholic, but search the scriptures and you will see that the shed blood of Christ alone is what saves a man, and nothing he can do or pay will profit him anything in eternity. Remember what God says to those who think they will be saved by their actions in Matthew 7.
"Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."
The salvation of a man depends on the fact that Christ knows him, not that he has done many "wonderful works."
If God did let His church experience a time of spiritual "darkness", this was not the first time. The 400 years between the Old and New Testaments was a very dark time for the Jews, and we see the result of that in the flawed doctrine of the Jewish church promoted by the church leaders during Jesus' time. I have not the time or space to do it justice, but it is possible to see many correlations between the doctrine & practice of the Jews at 30 AD and the Catholics at 1550.
My source on the printed book bringing an end to the age of the cathedral was not necessarily Christian, protestant, or "prejudiced" against catholics. It was a scholarly book published by Cambridge Univ. Press and written by Elizabeth Eisenstein called, "The Printing Press as an Agent of Change," focusing mainly on the change of communication modes. Her point was that the pre-printing press communication was primarily image-based. Visual images, art, beauty, and pictures was the primary way that doctrine was communicated, and this was the specialty of the cathedral. The "age of the cathedral" ended when it no longer was the primary influence on religion, but when the printed word became the way doctrine was communicated. She quotes Victor Hugo in "The Notre Dame de Paris." There certainly were more cathedrals built after the printing press, but we must admit that books have had a great deal more influence on our current culture than post-reformation cathedrals have.
Hope this helped clarify some things! Thank you for your comments as well.
Martin on August 06, 2009:
Thanks for your interesting note. But as a former Protestant, I would invite you to broaden your mind and challenge your presumptions and prejudices, just a bit, as they seem to lead you to some very wrong-headed conclusions, such as, “An outgrowth of the reformation was the renaissance, which gave culture a new interest in discovering God’s glory in the sciences and arts.”
Actually, the Reformation was largely a reaction against the Renaissance, which had begun a couple hundred years before the Reformation. Among the complaints of many of the so-called “Reformers” was the charge that Catholic Churchmen were teaching in their universities the humanist works of Greek and Roman pagans—even homosexuals like Aristotle, mind you!—instead of teaching only the Bible. If, as you suggest, the Renaissance was produced by the Reformation, why was the Renaissance stillborn in Protestant Germany, Geneva, Scandinavia, etc., but thriving in Catholic cities in Italy and France that never became Protestant? Not only are you incorrect, but a simple look at the map and a few tour guides to the great works of the Renaissance will show you that you have it exactly backwards.
And regarding “God gave his church the art of printing,” and “Prior to the printing press, manuscripts were copied laboriously by hand . . .. People went to church to learn what the Bible said, but were given false doctrine.” I wonder if it is your view that God allowed this false doctrine to persist for 1500 years and then finally came to the rescue with a printing press? Would that really make any sense? Jesus promised to be with his Church until the end of time, but he neglected it until . . . when, 1550 or so? On this view, how much of the doctrine given out in the Churches prior to the printing press was false? The doctrine of the trinity? The Nicene Creed? How does one decide? And Jesus protected his Church enough to ensure that the Bibles that we have, copied as they were by these medieval Catholic monks, were handled carefully to produce true and reliable and accurate copies, but he just didn’t care if these same monks taught falsely from the pulpit on Sundays? The Holy Spirit guided their work only during the week but not on Sundays? Surely not.
You seem to be reading only from sources with a vehement anti-Catholic prejudice (certainly true of Foxe and d'Aubigne), which leads you to accept wildly erroneous statements such as, e.g. “the printed book brought an end to the age of the cathedral”—the printed book did no such thing. There have been beautiful Cathedrals aplenty built in dozens of non-Protestant cities since the Reformation—e.g., Cadiz, Savior on the Blood in St. Petersburg, the Cathedral of St. Sava in Belgrade, Mosta Cathedral in Malta, all of the Cathedrals of North and South America. Protestant doctrine that rebelled against “worldly” displays of beauty brought about the demise of Cathedrals in Protestant lands, not the printing press. (It was not the existence of printed books that led the Huguenots to attack Notre Dame Cathedral in 1548, or led John Knox to destroy cathedrals in Scotland.)
Thanks for your site, and for allowing comments.
James A Watkins from Chicago on June 02, 2009:
I have not read that book but I will put it in my shopping cart right now. Thank you for calling my attention to it. And for your thoughtful response. God Bless You!
Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on June 02, 2009:
Thank you for your comments everybody! I am honored to have you read my writing.
Iconoclast? No, not me! The original aesthetic purpose of the cathedrals was to direct the eye upward, to let it light, and to cause the mind to think on spiritual things. Our modern church buildings would do well to imitate this historical Christianity and incorporate more of the practical beauty of God into its archetecture. I agree with the reformers, however, who were concerned that the icons in the church were being worshipped. These man-made icons were given more reverence than the God-inspired Word, which is idolatry.
I'm curious, Mr. Watkins, if you have read D'Aubigne's History of the Reformation. It's a treasure of a history book and full of detail from original documents! I've used it for research, but would like to read it in its entirety sometime. Thanks again for your encouragement!
James A Watkins from Chicago on June 02, 2009:
"Foxes Book of Martyrs" is right behind me on my bookshelf. Everybody should read it to be enlightened. And you know Jan Hus, too? Impressive level of knowledge you have. Is your position one of an iconoclast? I must say those Cathedrals were awesome monuments to God. A Priesthood of all Believers—that says it all!
Wonderfully composed Hub and the Truth is well told. Thanks!
Chris Ong on June 01, 2009:
I really wonder what it would be like today had not the printing press been invented and multiplied the speed at which Gods word and truth can be spread.
Rose West from Michigan on June 01, 2009:
This is an excellent article! It made me realize how much we take for granted. We should be so thankful to have the Scriptures in our own language! God truly used the printing press to further His kingdom.