Was the first paper mill in Germany built in Mainz or in Nürnberg?

Was the first paper mill in Germany built in Mainz or in Nürnberg?

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Gustav M. Bruce writes in Luther as an Educator:

The first paper mill was established in Italy in 1276, and the first paper mill in Germany was opened at Mainz in 1320."

On the other hand, a website providing information about Nürnberg writes:

"dass die früheste Papiermühle in Deutschland von Ulman Stromer im Jahre 1390 vor den Toren von Nürnberg errichtet wurde."

Translation: The first paper mill in German was build by Ulman Stromer in the year 1390 outside the gates of Nürnberg

How good is the evidence for the existence of the mill in Mainz?

In his essay Materials for Writing, and Forms of Books (available online in the 1978 History of Books and Printing edited by Paul A. Winckler), Falconer Madan reiterates the claim that a paper mill was established in Mainz, in 1320

. In Germany the first factories seem to have been established between Cologne and Mainz towards the end of the thirteenth century, and in Mainz itself about the year 1320.

In From Paper-Mill to Pressroom by William Bond Wheelwright and published in 1920:

The oldest-known document on cotton paper is a deed of King Roger of Sicily, dated 1102. It is probable that the famous mills of Fabriano sprang from Sicilian sources; their establishment was followed in 1360 by a mill in Padua, and later in Treviso, Bologna, Palma, Milan and Venice, while the first paper-mill of Germany was that of Ulman Stromer at Mainz in 1320.

At least one error in the preceding quote - Ulman Stromer was not the founder of an Mainz papermill in 1320, because: he was born in 1329, in Nuremberg, and kept a diary chronicling the founding of his Papermill in Nuremberg in 1390.

From Scribes, Script, and Books: The Book Arts from Antiquity to the Renaissance, by Leila Avrin [1991]:

In the fourteenth century, papermaking spread northward. By the 1320's there were mills in Cologne, Augsburg, and Mainz, and in 1390, Italian papermakers operated the Stromer Mill just outside Nuremberg.


The provenance of Ulman Stromer's paper mill in Nuremberg, founded 1390, is well established from his (extant) diary. There are conflicting claims of earlier mills, in the Rhineland, predating Stromer's by 70 years; however I can find no corroborating evidence of these claims beyond vague references in 20th century documents. I will give the last word to The Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, who one might expect to have a bias (if at all) favouring a Mainz claim:

Documents tell us that the first paper mill in Germany was Ulman Stromer's Gleismühl in Nuremberg which started manufacture in 1390.

Wikipedia states that paper use in Europe originated in Islamic-controlled Spain in the 11th century, migrated to Christian Spain shortly afterward, France in the 12th century, and Italy in the 13th. From there, it made its way to Germany in the 14th century, Mainz in 1320, and Nurnberg in 1390.

The source cited for the "Mainz" claim is a 2002 paper written by Neathery Fuller. She is the wife of Archaeology lecturer Michael Fuller, and the two of them together won a Distinguished Service Award in 2009 given by the Archaeological Institute of America. Mrs. Fuller is a middle school teacher who leads summer archaeology field trips to Europe and Africa.

History of paper

The word "paper" is etymologically derived from papyros, Ancient Greek for the Cyperus papyrus plant. Papyrus is a thick, paper-like material produced from the pith of the Cyperus papyrus plant which was used in ancient Egypt and other Mediterranean cultures for writing long before the making of paper in China. [1] Papyrus however are plants dried and woven, while paper is made from fibers whose properties have been changed by maceration or disintegration. [2]

Find out more

50 Things That Made the Modern Economy highlights the inventions, ideas and innovations which have helped create the economic world we live in.

Paper was another Chinese idea, from 2,000 years ago.

Initially it was used for wrapping precious objects, but soon people began to write on it because it was lighter than bamboo and cheaper than silk.

Soon the Arabic world embraced it, but Christians in Europe did not. Paper came to Germany only a few decades before Gutenberg's press.

Why? For centuries, Europeans did not need the stuff.

They had parchment, made from animal skin. It was pricey - a parchment bible required the skins of 250 sheep - but since so few people could read or write, that hardly mattered.

But as a commercial class arose, needing contracts and accounts, cheaper writing material looked more attractive.

A Continent Divides

[He]&hellipis not simply one publicist within a larger constellation. Rather, he was the dominant publicist. And he dominated to such a degree that no other person to my knowledge has ever dominated a propaganda war and mass movement since. Not Lenin, not Mao Tse-Tung, not Thomas Jefferson, John Adams or Patrick Henry.

Mark Edwards, Printing, Propaganda and Martin Luther 69

During Europe&rsquos Middle Ages, it was not plants but animals that furnished the fabric of texts books tended to be awkward, expensive and time-consuming to manufacture. Their pages were made from the pelts of calves, goats or sheep, and the surface was referred to as &lsquoparchment&rsquo, although calfskins were preferred and were often differentiated by the term &lsquovellum&rsquo, from the Old French word &lsquovélin&rsquo, meaning calfskin.

Yet whichever animal provided the raw material, its pelt would first have to be placed in a lime solution to loosen the fur before the skin was held taut by a stretcher, to which it was attached by a length of string passed through holes punched close to its edge. The skin was then scraped with a curve-bladed knife, at junctures over the course of several days, until the thickness was just right and all hair had been removed. Tiny holes were then pricked into the surface to act as guides for scribes to draw faint lines that would enable the handwriting to remain even. The writing itself was carried out with a quill pen and required exceptional delicacy and concentration.

The book might then be illuminated too, thus complementing its content with visual beauty appropriate to its subject. Finally, the book could be bound by gathering sections in sequence and adding cords or thongs.

One comparative study of medieval prices suggests how expensive such books must have been. A 126-strong book collection sold in England in 1397 sold, on average, five books for four pounds, while a year&rsquos tuition in a monastery school (for the years 1392&ndash3) cost just 2 pounds, an ox around two thirds of a pound and a cow around half a pound. 70

It is hard to step beyond such anecdotes when figures are so scarce, but books were luxuries by any standards and rarely manufactured, their size and format suggests, with private ownership in mind, particularly during the early Middle Ages. Indeed, the collapse of the Roman Empire was disastrous for the book trade across Europe and might have been fatal for book production throughout Western and central Europe. The book&rsquos salvation, however, came in the form of monasticism, which began with the foundation, in 529 AD, of the Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino, a little southeast of Rome. Private ownership of books was forbidden, with the result that the monasteries built their own libraries. Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome from 590-604, encouraged monastic scholarship still further.

In the seventh century, Benedict Biscop, founder of the twin priories of Monkwearmouth-Jarrow in the north of England, travelled to Rome to supply the libraries of his foundation. (As a result, the great Anglo-Saxon scholar Bede would be well-supplied with books when he came to write his landmark Ecclesiastical History of the English People.) Like Monkwearmouth-Jarrow, abbeys at Luxeuil in Burgundy (founded around 590) and Bobbio (614) in Northern Italy became significant book producers too, although the greatest centre of northern monasticism was Ireland, refuge of choice for many scholars fleeing the advance of the Germanic tribes across continental Europe.

The book culture of the late Middle Ages would far surpass that of the early, more exclusively monastic period. Yet even in those earlier centuries, and despite the complications and costs involved in manufacturing a book and filling it with text, manuscript culture flourished, albeit only within ecclesiastical settings. It was the Middle Ages which, more than any other period, placed the codex at the heart of Western culture. Although invented as a Christian product in the antique period, the codex&rsquos wider dominance was only achieved in Europe&rsquos Middle Ages. Much survives from the Middle Ages, of course, but nothing survives in such quantities as the book. The difficulty of making books in the Middle Ages, therefore, points not to a culture uninterested in them and thus unwilling to innovate. Instead, the thousands of manuscripts that survive point to a culture all the more devoted to books, especially in its religious life, despite the many challenges (and costs) such a devotion demanded.

In China, a bookish bamboo culture had enabled paper&rsquos rise, but an enormous shift had needed to take place first, as the concept of a book was transformed from long slips of script (in one or two columns) rolled up as a mat, to a page of multi-columned script glued in a scroll and, ultimately, bound with a spine.

In Europe, however, paper would arrive not only in a culture familiar with books, but one in which the book was already in a format ideally suited to paper. The printed book of the fifteenth century was not itself a radical innovation it was simply an imitation of the manuscript (&lsquohandwritten&rsquo) book already used across Europe for a millennium. The codex, written or printed, was cheaper than its predecessors, more compact, more comprehensive (thanks to its capacity) and better suited to referencing.

From around the turn of the sixth century AD, manuscript culture had persisted in Europe, unchanged in many of its key attributes, from the use of parchment to the practice of illumination, from the clerical emphasis to the preference for Latin (or for Latin alphabetical scripts). 71 Throughout, its form remained the codex.

Within the confines of its two covers, however, European cultures of reading and writing underwent a transformation during the Middle Ages, particularly from the early twelfth century. Large libraries housed in monasteries, cathedrals or royal courts (their collections several hundred volumes strong) had existed for centuries already, thanks in large part to the Carolingian Renaissance of the ninth century, which had sought to recover and copy out some of the Roman classics. (Without the Carolingian recovery of classical texts, the only Latin writers we could access today would be Virgil, Terence and Livy.) 72 It was the scholar Walafrid Strabo, in the ninth century, who was perhaps the first to divide the book into chapters. The codex laid the foundations for indexing, the interest in early classical manuscripts and the mass production of books: 7,200 Carolingian manuscripts survive from the ninth century.

Yet it was around the turn of the twelfth century that the greater shift began. Nascent universities in Bologna, Oxford and Paris would begin to create a reading public (albeit only, at this stage, an aristocratic one), while book copying and manufacturing began to migrate from the monastery to the city, and often to the university city, as professional scribes and illustrators set up independent businesses. The secular book trade&rsquos chain of specialists began to take shape, too, as stationers, scribes, parchment-makers and bookbinders each focused on their particular skill. This rise in secular bookmaking was germane to the growing bookishness of the Anglo-Norman nobility, and to the production of ancestral and household romances.

By the 1150s, there were too many works in circulation for any individual to manage, even among monks, and reference works were devised, such as glossaries, encyclopaedias and concordances. Paris in particular developed a healthy book trade centred on the university district, a trade oiled by the university&rsquos independent legal status. Professionalism was the result and some 58 booksellers and 68 parchmenters in thirteenth-century Paris are known to us by name. 73 As in Paris, so the emerging book trades in Oxford and Bologna served local markets as well as the university market. Pocket Bibles emerged and were widely published, while lay psalters and the first vernacular titles were also sold to a growing market.

Universities also gathered large lending libraries, adopting the medieval pecia system whereby books were divided up into quires, so that students could simply borrow one quire at a time, thereby speeding up copying. This improved access to books and suited the reference reading becoming increasingly popular in university cities around Europe &ndash today we use the word &lsquoresearch&rsquo. This moved the book out of the scriptorium, the room or section in a monastery or cathedral traditionally set aside for book production. Scribes could now work on different parts of the text in different places, the lay stationer began to establish a profile, and free monastic labour (in which the only payment was the promised remission of sins) was increasingly replaced with wage labour.

Yet despite such a bookish high culture, proliferation had its limits the slowness of manuscript production, the expense of vellum, and clerical control of book production, even outside the monasteries, set limits on how many readers and writers the expanding culture of the book could win over. The book had found its ideal form, but not its ideal surface, not its ideal manufacturing process, and certainly not its liberty. Moreover, it would not prove to be a jack of all trades, or at least not until vellum had been superseded. New formats, with new purposes, would emerge as the offspring of a new age of paper.

European papermaking began in Muslim-ruled Spain, where a stamping-mill was set up by 1056 in the Spanish town of Xativa (San Felipe), to macerate rags. Papermaking was an Arab import and water-driven trip-hammer mills were probably introduced to Iberia by the Arabs too, 74 who had used them for centuries. Manuscripts found at the monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos in the north of the peninsula prove that Spain had been using paper since the tenth century (presumably importing it from the Middle East). When domestic papermaking began, the process remained largely unchanged from its origins. Spanish papers tended to carry zigzag marks (from the draining gauze) and to be glazed, though in these details they merely reflected their Arab manufacturers&rsquo preferences. Pages were often thicker in the centre, as if the mould sagged in the middle. One manufacturing difference from East Asia was that, where bamboo and grasses had once been used for the moulds, European papermakers used metal gauzes, which left more pronounced laid and chain lines on the paper. (Laid and chain lines are the lines formed across and along the page by the grille it dries on.) The Xativa paper mill was soon followed by another in Toledo, and more in Catalonia and Bilbao (and by the first incontrovertible example of a water-powered mill, also in Xativa, in 1282). 75 Spanish papers were exported around the Mediterranean, to Morocco, Italy, Egypt and Byzantium.

It was also in the 1150s that paper was imported from the Middle East to southern Italy, but it was not widely used until the 1220s, when Germany began to import it too. In 1231 the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, ruler of Italy, Germany, Burgundy, Naples and Sicily, banned the use of paper for all public notices and records in Naples, Sorrento and Amalfi, considering it less durable than vellum and parchment. But within government circles there was already a movement among scriveners to use paper rather than parchment.

There was some small-scale papermaking under way in northern Italy by 1235, but it was not until 1276 that the first significant Italian paper mills were set up in Fabriano, which sits close to the Adriatic Sea in northern Italy. They were followed by a mill in Bologna, established in 1293, where sheets of paper were six times cheaper than sheets of parchment. The Fabriano mills acted as a launch pad for European papermaking: by the 1350s the city was famous for its paper, which it traded across the Adriatic to the Balkans as well as to southern Italy and Sicily. In fact, many of the Fabriano mills were simply converted from older grain mills. Moreover, European millers were especially efficient in using water power thanks to their use of overshot wheels, where the water flows into the apex of the mill wheel, dropping several feet down and thus adding the force of gravity to the power of the current. (Fabriano was also where gelatine-sizing was first used, giving papers a tough finish well suited to Europe&rsquos quill-pens.)

By the 1340s paper was being made in the Saint-Julien region of France. In 1390, Ulman Stromer set up Germany&rsquos first well-documented paper mill in Nuremberg, dramatically reducing Germany&rsquos reliance on imported Italian papers. More mills followed around the turn of the fifteenth century in Ravensburg and Chemnitz, in Basel and Strasbourg in the mid-fifteenth century and in Austria, Brabant and Flanders towards the century&rsquos end. Papermaking began in Poland and England late in the fifteenth century. By this time, both countries had been importing foreign papers for several decades, and many northern European countries would continue to do so, as linen rags were less readily available than in southern Europe.

But it was Italian papermakers who dislodged the Arab competition, undercutting them with the cheapest papers they could make, aided by better mills and more abundant water supplies. (The increased export of wool to the Middle East, especially from England, also meant linen rags became less widely available in the Caliphate&rsquos heartlands.) The ingredients were cheaper too, since in the late Middle Ages Europe had begun to cultivate hemp and flax in bulk, excellent raw materials for paper. Europeans used mallets rather than grindstones to pulverize the rags and added iron covers to the mallet heads too, increasing their crushing power. Where the Arabs had used vegetable glues to make the pulp sticky, Europeans were able to improve the consistency by adding animal glue and gelatine. In short, European paper had become both lower in cost and higher in quality than paper manufactured in the Middle East.

Civil servants, clergy, merchants and the literati all profited from the ascendancy of paper in Europe and men of letters were able to become their own scribes, rather than employ others. From the twelfth century, paper was used in parts of Europe for government and commercial documents, and in the thirteenth century it was used for accountancy, private letters and books. By the late fourteenth century paper was decisively subduing parchment and vellum across Europe, and Italy was the chief supplier.

European mills used a technique similar to those in China and the Middle East. As anywhere, they needed a ready water supply. But the earliest European paper mills used old rags as their raw material, so they also profited from being near to linen manufacturing centres like the Vosges region in France. First the papermakers sorted the rags to remove tougher fabrics, then steeped them and left them to ferment. The workers then took the raw rags to the mill, often a converted watermill or corn mill, where small wooden mallets hammered them down to a pulp. Sometimes nails or knives were attached to the mallet heads first. After the beating, the pulp was fed into a vat of warm water and sifted out with a framed mesh a coucheur (paper-layer) would peel off the sheet and spread it across absorbent felt to drain off some of the water. The sheets were then squeezed tight under a heavy press and put in a hanging room to dry. After they had dried, the sheets were coated with size, the glaze used as a filler to give smoothness lest they turn out too absorbent, like blotting paper. After a buff finish, they were gathered into quires of twenty-five sheets. Bundles of twenty quires, five hundred sheets in all, were then ready for market. The process, despite such European additions as the mallet head nails, was essentially unchanged from the one Cai Lun had employed in AD 105. Chinese papermakers had passed their method on to the Arabs. Now the papermakers of the Caliphate of Cordoba, thanks to their mills in Spain, had taught the technique to Europe.

These recycled rags were the carriers of a new era of reading in fourteenth-century Europe. Indeed, as paper production blossomed, some countries had to ban rag exports and the growing shortage led papermakers to seek out other products too. (Wood was not used for several centuries the first wood-pulp book would not appear until 1802.) The Low Countries were using paper for their administration by the end of the thirteenth century and England soon followed. The municipal account books of Mons and Bruges in Belgium were made of paper at this time. Some aristocratic courts had picked up on it as early as the 1270s, but the city-states of northern Italy led Christian Europe in turning out manuscripts on paper regularly, beginning in the 1280s.

Europe&rsquos fourteenth-century papers almost always carried Latin on their surfaces rather than vernacular languages. As for the content, it tended to be practical. Thus, there were books on astronomy and medicine, just as there were reference works like dictionaries and legal books. By the last quarter of the fourteenth century, vernacular works were choosing paper too and almost all were devotional. Yet monasteries still preferred parchment for their manuscripts, only using paper for their autograph (or prototype edition) copy, which they would usually throw away later. Nobody seems to have expected paper to last.

By the end of the fourteenth century, however, paper across Europe was five times cheaper than parchment. Moreover, the switch to cursive handwriting had increased the speed at which scribes wrote they could now deliver two to three folios (four to six pages) a day, a signal improvement on the old rate of just one a day. For the transfer to paper reflected the needs of writers as well as of readers the switch did not yet turn books pedestrian, but it did allow a rich man&rsquos luxury to become, say, a merchant&rsquos luxury too. As paper and cursive script brought the price of books down, they began to tap into a market less familiar with Latin, and so vernacular texts became more common.

While local languages were increasingly appearing on the page, influences from beyond Western Christendom were also making themselves widely felt in ecclesiastical and intellectual circles. During the late Middle Ages, books arrived in Europe in collections brought by the Crusaders from the Baghdad Caliphate, or through more peaceful means from the Caliphate of Cordoba and the declining Byzantine Empire.

After plague had devastated the Italian countryside, upsetting its medieval order, the rise of Italy&rsquos northern cities quickly gathered momentum through the fourteenth century. Cities like Florence and Venice developed into the commercial and intellectual hubs of Europe, trading goods and ideas across and around the Mediterranean. The pursuit of knowledge and beauty became their own ends and this was especially felt in the study of history: once considered a largely spiritual endeavour, history was now increasingly studied for its own sake. Linked to this, the Renaissance allowed for a different perspective on the world not simply the perspective of God overseeing spiritual history, but increasingly the perspective of the human participant as well. As for the viewer, so for the viewed: the Renaissance also allowed for a greater range of subjects, in both painting and writing, and thus the individual human subject gained an innate dignity and value that is often contrasted with the more exclusively spiritualized focus of art through much of Europe&rsquos Middle Ages. And yet the Renaissance began during the Middle Ages and cannot be properly defined apart from it. Moreover, even if it did mark some grand shift in meta-narratives, one played out in statues, in art and on the page, it was also very much a social phenomenon. The growing interaction of printers and binders and booksellers and readers reflects how the Renaissance was a process &ndash that is, a process of producing texts (their ideas and their formats) &ndash as well as a shift in worldview. 76

The early Renaissance was also characterized by a reconnection with classical Greece and Rome, through the media of ancient texts and ruins. In the fifteenth century, reproduction of early Christian and Classical texts in the Latin West rose 3 per cent and 8 per cent respectively, a combined rate not seen for nine centuries. 77 This reconnection was visible in several fields, none more so than architecture (which we will return to), surely the dominant art of the Renaissance and one which, although the finished product was not on paper, nevertheless relied on paper in its preparatory processes. However, in other fields the importance of paper was more direct, and in all of them it was the Renaissance interest in antiquity, in philosophy, in translation and in the arts which provided a new spur to both reading and writing.

In 1397 the Byzantine scholar Manuel Chrysoloras arrived in Florence (and others would follow) to deliver lectures on classical Greek texts. In the process, he planted the study of Greek firmly in Europe&rsquos most fertile intellectual soil. At the same time, Arab translations of Greek works had been making their way to southern Europe, whether into the 400,000-volume library of the Spanish caliph, to the cities of northern Italy or to the continent&rsquos leading university, the Sorbonne in Paris. These works were now retranslated into Latin or even into vernacular European languages. Other Byzantine émigré scholars began to arrive in the northern cities of Italy, bringing still more Greek texts with them.

In 1444 Cosimo de Medici established Florence&rsquos first public library and began to cultivate a crop of Latin scholars in the city. He believed that the study of Plato could purify Europe&rsquos Christianity of its moral depravity. Marsilio Ficino, one of the men de Medici patronized, began to elevate Socrates to a kind of sainthood, arguing that men like Socrates and Pythagoras had been so in tune with moral law that they had been saved through Jesus Christ too.

When the Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, renaming it Istanbul, still more scholars of ancient Greece fled to Italy&rsquos burgeoning northern cities. Indeed, Martin Luther believed that God had ordained the conquest precisely so that Greek scholars could bring their learning, and especially their understanding of ancient Greek, to southern Europe.

The incursions of books from Byzantium and the Middle East, especially of scientific treatises and classical Greek philosophy, led to a rise in copying in universities across Europe, as scholars sought both to reclaim Europe&rsquos classical past and to profit from the new scientific discoveries and ideas to aid it in the future. The spate of borrowings that followed fuelled the growth of reading and writing in the great cities of northern Italy and they increasingly looked to paper as their medium. Paper could stimulate production at affordable rates and in record time. In fact, if there was a bottleneck in book production, it was the skilled scribal class, and there was no easy solution to their slowness.

In the 1450s, the Florentine bookseller Vespasiano da Bisticci needed the labours of forty-five scribes and a working window of twenty-two months to copy out a commission he had received from Cosimo de Medici for 200 volumes. This was a rapid rate in a medieval manuscript culture, but Renaissance Italy had a marketplace of readers looking for books about the latest ideas and seeking out the most recent translations from the Greek. It was at least possible to train secretarial staff afresh and, as a result, the status of the writing master grew rapidly through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. New handwriting developed as Petrarch, 78 Boccaccio and other early humanists turned back to the Carolingian manuscripts of the classics and imitated not only their prose but the clear style of their script too, replacing Gothic with a quickly written, clear and angled script they called &lsquoHumanistic Cursive&rsquo. (Cursive, or joined-up writing, is of course much faster to execute.) In other words, many of the letters were joined-up. In time, Humanistic Cursive script was standardized and the scribes of the Papal chanceries adopted it in the mid-fifteenth century themselves: it achieved a better black&ndashwhite equilibrium on the page and aided silent reading, in both cases because the letters were less bunched than in Gothic script. It was renamed &lsquoChancery Cursive&rsquo, then &lsquoItalian hand&rsquo and, finally, &lsquoItalic&rsquo, not to be confused with the non-cursive Italic form now used by word processors. (Perhaps most notable was Renaissance Italic&rsquos replacement of the traditional &lsquoa&rsquo with a more efficient form: a.) This triumph of speed and clarity in scripts pointed to how the book was evolving too, laying still greater emphasis on message and author over scribe and beauty.

Despite these advances, it was handwriting, not papermaking, which remained the slowest element in the process of making a book. Thus the greatest development for paper came not from the scribes of Italy but from a goldsmith and publisher in Germany. It came in the form of a press. Since the 1420s, Europe had been practising block printing, the technique whereby an entire page of writing, illustrations or both was carved onto a block of wood and, by applying ink to the wood, printed onto a page. But carving a fresh wooden block for each page of a book made production slow &ndash and it could often be better to use a scribe for pages of text.

In the 1040s Bi Sheng, a Chinese official, had invented movable type print, a system whereby each Chinese character was separately carved onto its own clay token, which was then slotted into a metal block alongside other characters. That block was then used to print a page, so you could avoid carving a fresh woodblock for each page of a book. It was an ingenious invention, but Bi&rsquos use of clay made it fragile and impractical for rapid-fire, repeated use. (A metal version developed in Korea in the thirteenth century would be more effective.) Bi had also invented it for the wrong script. There are thousands of Chinese characters, which made his invention less of a time-saving device than it would have been for an alphabetic script with its small number of letters. His invention soon became little more than a historical curio.

European scripts, however, were a different matter. Indeed, if movable-type printing could be harnessed to any alphabet-based script, then the results would surely be dramatic, allowing mass-printing at an unprecedented speed. This link was finally made when Johann Gutenberg founded a printing office in the German city of Mainz. Gutenberg was a goldsmith, adept at smelting and forging metals into a variety of shapes. It is possible movable type was his own idea but it may have simply travelled west (as a practice or even as a concept), conceivably with the conquering Mongol armies when they reached the gates of Vienna in 1242. Either way, Gutenberg undoubtedly introduced it to the European market in the mid-fifteenth century. Yet equally crucial was Gutenberg&rsquos development of the process itself, not just introducing movable-type printing, but combining it with oil-based inks and the use of a wooden press.

One difficulty for Gutenberg was that the hard surface of European papers was fabricated to suit tough quill pens rather than gently stamped images and text. He couldn&rsquot ask the paper mills to prepare paper specially suited to his new technique, lest he release the secrets of his technology. Thus the only way Gutenberg could hope to make a clear impression on the hard rag paper pages of Europe was with considerable force. His printing machine could be neither a stainer nor a roller nor a stamp. It had to be a press.

The dimensions of European papers determined the size and efficacy of the press too. The fact that European papers were thick, unlike Chinese papers, led Gutenberg to print on both sides, which quickly became standard for European printed books. The major differences between printed books in East Asia, the Middle East and in Europe were the direct result of the type of papers with which their respective book men had to work.

Fundamentally, pressing and printing were nothing new. People had printed images and even words onto fabrics, clothes and sometimes buildings or walls for centuries already, as well as onto wax or parchment with their personal and official stamps. As for presses, European vintners had used them in winemaking for centuries and they were even used in papermaking to squeeze the fresh sheets dry after maceration. Printing on paper was important in European history not because printing or presses had suddenly been invented or discovered but because printing had been adapted, with the press, to paper and, with movable type, to Europe&rsquos alphabetical scripts.

Movable-type printing, then, is very much a technology of the paper page. Had Europe been using only vellum, parchment and papyrus, printing could never have enjoyed a fraction of the impact that paper allowed it, given the considerable cost of the other materials. Besides, it is more difficult to manufacture a vellum or parchment surface smooth and absorbent enough to suit quick-fire printing. What followed, therefore, was entirely a paper-made revolution.

Gutenberg presumably began with various different printed works, including several church titles (and probably some schoolbooks), but his greatest printed product was the Bible in Latin. A few copies were on vellum but the paper on which he printed the remainder, shipped to him from the Piedmont region in the Alps, is nothing less than remarkable. Several copies survive entirely intact and his first Bibles can still be leafed through today. It is hard to find such durable paper anywhere. Gutenberg&rsquos own contribution was, of course, movable type, and here his crucial innovation was the use of a fount, or set, of type, because it saved countless man-hours of labour. The fount was cast by a punch with a relief pattern at its end made from bronze or brass. This punch was hammered into a small block of softer metal &ndash first lead, in later years copper &ndash to create the matrix, a hollow image of the symbol. To cast a type, you had to clamp the matrix in a steel mould that usually had wooden edges. The type-caster then poured a molten alloy (usually containing antinomy, lead and tin) into the mould. It solidified very quickly. At that point, you could pull it out of the mould and it was ready for use.

Until you did use it, however, you stored it in a letters case. The case held capital letters at the top and the ordinary letters at the bottom &ndash from this we received the terms &lsquoupper case&rsquo and &lsquolower case&rsquo. The compositor then gathered the type for printing, a process called composition. He placed the source text over the visorium, or case clip. Then he slotted a line of type into a composing stick, essentially a hand-held tray of adjustable length. When he had filled the composing stick he transferred it to a galley or oblong tray, inside which a reversed image of the planned page would gradually take form.

A sheet of paper was far larger than the book it was supplying, so the bookmaker folded it up until it reached the correct dimensions. If it was folded once it became two sheets, or leaves, and was called a folio if folded twice to become four sheets it was a quarto if folded three times to become eight sheets it was called an octavo and if folded four times to make sixteen sheets it was called a sextodecimo. (The names are taken from the relevant Latin numbers &ndash double-sided printing meant a folio would have four pages, a quarto eight pages and so on.) But the paper was printed before it was folded up and printing would only usually begin when enough galleys had been filled to cover one entire side of a sheet in print.

The press itself might stand six feet high and its central feature was a large screw-thread spindle that closed downwards onto the platen, a bronze or brass flat-bottomed block that pressed onto the page beneath it. The spindle was operated with a wooden-handled iron crossbar. The carriage assembly itself included a shallow wooden box, called a coffin in English, and the galleys were placed inside it.

Two men operated the press. The first man was the inker, who beat the type with a pair of ink pads wrapped in leather and stuffed with wool, horsehair or dog-hair, ensuring the letters were always well-coated with ink. (The chosen ink was probably the same highly concentrated ink later used in Dutch Master paintings.) The second man fitted the sheet to be printed in turn and then swung the central part downwards. Next he turned the spindle handle anti-clockwise to squeeze the galley of inked type down onto the blank page. In this way, two men could produce up to 200 sheets a day or, in the most advanced Italian presses, up to 400. On exceptional occasions in the late fifteenth century a single press managed more than a thousand in a single day, as for a 1481 edition of Dante&rsquos Divine Comedy. But there were other rapid print runs too in the 1470s and 1480s &ndash Latin Bibles, other religious texts, a commentary on Avicenna and Latin poetry collections.

After the pages had been printed onto, they would be hung up to dry, and then all sheets would be folded in two once they were dry, creating the rudiments of the spine. Of course, such books were then bound but binding was a separate process, as well as an opportunity to beautify the book. Thus the purchaser would receive the printed (or written) sheets and organize the binding separately. This involved sewing each gathering into strong vellum or leather strips, strips that then formed the inner part of the book&rsquos spine. The pages could then be bound soft (with vellum or parchment) or else as hardbacks (with pasteboard &ndash a strong, thick paper). Small holes in the outer binding allowed the gathered pages to be sewn into their backing, before a leather or pig&rsquos skin cover could be added, and the title usually written not on the spine but the fore-edge (the long, thin side of the book that is opposite the spine).

Setting up a print shop was a high-risk, expensive venture, running into the hundreds of florins. It required printing equipment, paper, labour, premises, distribution and sometimes an editor and translator too. The press itself was a minor cost and could even be hired, but the price of paper could vary wildly, although it usually cost around the same as the labour needed to print onto it. There were many risks (including flood and fire) and you could usually only hope to serve a local market, yet from the middle of the 1460s presses proliferated &ndash first in two further German cities, then in the vicinity of Rome, and later in Venice. In 1470, a press was set up in Trevi and the following year more appeared in many more Italian cities, a trend that continued in 1472. By the end of the century, European presses were set up in nearly eighty cities across Italy, more than in Germany or France, but most of these were commercial failures. The upfront costs required, the need to sell to a much larger market and the general novelty of the whole enterprise (which required a very different distribution model to the old one of manuscript production) meant that the printing trade suffered a high casualty rate. Nevertheless, by 1550 one in eight Italian writers was a printer-publisher. Print brought the voice of the author and the demands of the market closer together &ndash there was no scribe intermediary any longer and print runs usually had to gauge demand in advance. Among the longer-term beneficiaries of this shift to the print shop would be women and sometimes children, since they might well help their husband or father in his print shop, and so become familiar with the processes of book production and, crucially, more familiar with the printed word itself. A print shop, unlike a scriptorium, could be a family affair.

Print was the offspring of the Renaissance, a technology born of an era intrigued by, even obsessed with, texts. Reading no longer needed to be merely an elite game and books themselves could increasingly be afforded by less privileged men, and even women. Truth itself was increasingly to be sought in studying texts, often classical texts, rather than in appealing to a higher religious institution. Books were read in the vernacular, rather than Latin and Greek, and the subjects ranged widely. Geoffrey Chaucer&rsquos Canterbury Tales (especially the 1476&ndash8 Caxton press edition) and the Spanish proto-novel La Celestina (first published in 1499) both sold well, but so too did histories of the world, among them the Nuremberg Chronicle, published in Latin and then German (both in 1493) with German print runs in the high hundreds, and Fasciculus Temporum, written by a German monk, first published in 1474 and running to probably more than thirty editions during the author&rsquos lifetime.

Thanks in great part to the book culture of the Middle Ages, the rise of Renaissance ideas in the late Middle Ages, and the emergence of printing in the 1450s, the late fifteenth century was an exciting time for European readers. For humanists and Biblical scholars alike, texts were increasingly understood less in terms of copying and manuscript preservation, and more in terms of study, translation into vernacular languages, and assessment. This was true in the secular sphere, as the great texts of classical Greece were resurrected (and often translated), and as human reason was granted increasingly privileged status in the reading of the world. But it was true in the religious sphere too, with a fresh focus on original texts. The Bible was increasingly studied not just in the fourth-century Vulgate (the Latin version) but also in the original Hebrew and Greek.

Implicit in these fresh emphases was a new approach to the long-dormant question of authority. The desire to return to the sources meant also looking to original texts for proofs of authenticity, rather than only to established mediators, most importantly, the institutional church.

In the summer of 1521 Junker (Knight) George, who knew the &lsquoreturn to the sources&rsquo movement well, sat alone in a small room in Wartburg Castle, writing. The castle follows the spur of a ridge outside the city of Eisenach, in the German heartlands, and George&rsquos room overlooked the forested Thuringian hills. The castle itself, of which some twelfth-century parts still stand today, towers over the forest beneath.

Although not as isolated as George himself (and, centuries later, the Romantics) would suggest, he was nevertheless in hiding from the authorities, even though it may have been his local ruler who orchestrated his &lsquokidnap&rsquo from imperial guards. He was also suffering, from insomnia, depression, constipation and sexual frustration.

He had brought only a few books and he wrote to friends that he was idle. But it was a strange idleness. He wrote sermons for every Sunday of the year, treatises on myriad areas of church life, tracts on celibacy and monasticism, and theological arguments addressed to theologian friends. He spoke German and Latin, and could read Greek and Hebrew, and was familiar with scholarly debates across Europe. While in the Wartburg, he began to translate ancient texts into German. In just ten months in the castle, he produced three volumes&rsquo worth of papers. His sea of writings, which ran (in their Weimar edition) to 127 volumes, could never have enjoyed such unprecedented influence before Europe&rsquos paper age.

George&rsquos focus on original sources would have greatest impact when it came to his translations and it was while at the Wartburg that he began to work on what would become the manifesto of opposition to Rome, a translation of the Bible into German from Erasmus&rsquo 1516 edition of the original Greek text. The translation took George just eleven weeks. His study in the Thuringian hills would become mythologized and, understandably so, for it was here that he began to proclaim his message to the continent, leading to an irreversible divide across the continent.

By March 1522 he was done with hiding. He left the castle, left behind his knightly robes and even dispensed with his name. He had decided to return home, to return to his old job as a local pastor, to return to the public eye, and thus to reclaim his old name. That name, of course, was Martin Luther.

Luther was known across the continent in 1522. He was, oddly enough for a pastor-professor in a minor German town, as famous as the Pope, and Europe&rsquos first mass-media celebrity. There were many reasons for his fame, from German politics to the writings of the apostle Paul, and from Luther&rsquos own prose and beliefs to the spread of print on paper. But it is Luther&rsquos own story that runs like a faultline through the tremors that shook and divided Europe in the first half of the sixteenth century. They were tremors that closed the book on Western Europe&rsquos longstanding religious and social order, sometimes with extremes of iconoclastic destruction or simply with a disregard for the sense of religious belonging that a common Church and common religious language could enable. Nevertheless, they were tremors which would help to deliver a Europe better equipped to question its institutions, its rulers, its past and itself.

Luther was born in 1483 to a mining father who had married into the professional classes. But his memories of childhood were largely of a struggle to get by. Once his parents became convinced of the strength of his intellectual ability, they decided to invest in his education. At school he had his first encounter with the varied state of scholarship and education across Europe he later complained that he was taught very poor Latin. Renaissance influences were yet to reach his hometown. Yet it was these influences that would enable him to use paper so powerfully.

Luther was sent to study law at Erfurt University, home to the best law faculty in Europe. Here, he later wrote, he was a regular at the taverns and whorehouses, but he also became known among friends as &lsquothe philosopher&rsquo. Here also, as he read the sermons printed cheaply enough for even a student to afford, he became convinced he was a sinner in need of forgiveness. It was during a thunderstorm on a summer&rsquos day in 1505, on the road to Erfurt, that Luther, terrified by the lightning strikes all around him, fell to the ground, cried out to St Anne to save him, and swore he would become a monk.

His father was far from impressed. Monks, to Hans Luther, were lazy parasites with a reputation in society at large for whoring, drinking and unearned riches, men who preached poverty but lived in luxury. Yet Luther&rsquos excesses as a monk tended towards asceticism and industriousness, part of his personal quest to find forgiveness for his sins and peace with God. Luther&rsquos failure to find either of these left him in constant spiritual torment, until his mentor told him that his works could never reconcile him with God only the death of Jesus Christ was capable of that. He suggested Luther read the Bible and the works of St Augustine.

Luther&rsquos breakthrough came as he read the letter of St Paul to the church in Rome, written in the first century AD. Where the medieval Church had developed its own laws and means for sinners to win forgiveness, Luther found Paul arguing that man could do nothing to save himself. Instead, Paul had written that salvation was God&rsquos gift, not a good man&rsquos wage:

For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last. (Rom. 1:17)

Righteousness was the state of being found just and therefore not guilty of any sin. Paul&rsquos argument was that, through Jesus, God had been the author of a topsy-turvy religion: he had switched man and God on a cross outside Jerusalem. A man could only be righteous, Paul argued, because Jesus had made him righteous. Luther himself wrote:

You will find peace in Him alone and only when you despair of yourself and your own good works&helliphe has made your sins his own and has made his righteousness yours. 79

Justification by faith alone, as this teaching became known, could still just about be plucked from the granary of church doctrines accrued over centuries of European religious history, but it had been both diluted and contradicted by other teachings &ndash and thus largely crushed under their weight. Yet if you did not need a priest or the sacraments or the Pope or even membership of the Church in order to be saved, then the established church was no longer the keeper of the keys of heaven and hell.

Luther was not the first to oppose Rome over such issues &ndash in recent centuries both the Waldensians in France and Wycliffe&rsquos Lollards in England had done just that. Moreover, like the fourteenth-century John Wycliffe, Luther was just one pastor-theologian in one corner of an expansive religious empire. He might disagree with Rome and even openly oppose her on points of doctrine or practice, but to what end? Opposition would mean nothing if the Church quashed the debate or disciplined him. Luther had no army, no political power and he worked in an unimportant German town. He was an unknown with no levers to pull.

Except, of course, for one. And even Luther had no concept of the earthquake &ndash political and social, as well as religious &ndash which deft pulling of that one lever would set in motion.

One of Luther&rsquos fellow men-of-letters in this period was Desiderius Erasmus, the Dutch figurehead of the Northern Renaissance. Erasmus wrote a scathing satire of Europe&rsquos religious life called In Praise of Folly, printed in 1511. In it, he ridiculed monks&rsquo obsession with money and sex, the worship of saints, the weight of scholastic learning and even the overlords of the established Church. Magnanimously, Rome let it pass. In 1516, he produced a new Latin translation of the New Testament, from the earliest Greek sources. In publishing it, he laid bare the mistakes made in the official Latin version of the text. In his Introduction, Erasmus even imagined a world in which the Bible could be read by all men and women for themselves and in their own tongues &ndash &lsquo&hellipnot only by Scots and Irish but also by Turks and Saracens&rsquo:

I wish every farmer to sing snatches of scripture at the plough, for weavers to hum phrases of scripture to the beat of their shuttles, and for travellers to lighten their loads with stories from scripture.

Erasmus and Luther had much in common, not least their focus on Greek. Luther&rsquos Wittenberg University was only the second university in Europe with a Greek chair. And, like Erasmus, Luther opposed indulgences, the practice whereby any member of the laity could pay off some of their sin by making financial contributions to the Church, thereby ensuring a shorter stay in Purgatory, the posthumous land of limbo which, following a period of evolution, had formally entered Roman teaching in the twelfth century. In 1515, Pope Leo X issued a Papal Bull (or command) declaring a Plenary Indulgence, under which all men were expected to make a contribution and the money would be used to fund a new basilica for the chief cathedral in Rome. Leo&rsquos ambition was to build Europe&rsquos most dazzling church, but he lacked budgeting skills and he spent much of the money he raised on his own lavish lifestyle.

When a Papal indulgence salesman, a Dominican friar called Johann Tetzel, set up shop near Wittenberg in January 1517, Luther had already been preaching against the sale of indulgences for several months. His chief concern was not with Rome but with middlemen like Tetzel, but he also opposed the concept behind indulgences, namely that salvation could be bought or earned. He sent a list of topics for debate to fellow clergy &ndash a common practice &ndash but also, more radically, to the Archbishop of Mainz. His imagery could often be powerful and pointed, as in Thesis number 50, but he still expressed hope in the pope himself:

Christians are to be taught that if the Pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that the basilica of St Peter were burned to ashes than built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep. 80

Unsurprisingly, nothing happened. No opponent came forward to debate Luther&rsquos points and all Luther had by way of reply for several weeks was silence. But Wittenberg&rsquos printing press broke the silence, as unauthorized copies began to circulate and then to travel &ndash Luther also sent copies to friends in other cities, which is probably what sparked printings beyond Wittenberg. It ensured that the Theses were known not just in Wittenberg but throughout Germany and, within weeks, across Europe too. Undoubtedly, such theological discussion points as Luther addressed would ordinarily have interested only theologians, but the Ninety-five Theses fell somewhere between high theology and popular manifesto 81 &ndash and they certainly struck a chord beyond the ecclesiastical elite, thanks perhaps to their emphasis on dealing with personal sin and guilt.

Erasmus wrote that in 1520 there were already three Latin editions of the Ninety-five Theses and one German edition. In 1521, there were six Latin and another six German editions. By 1523, the Latin version had been reprinted several times and two Dutch editions had appeared. In the year 1525, French and German editions were published, and one Latin edition was published for each of the years 1525, 1526, 1527 and 1528. A Spanish edition appeared in 1527 and two more in 1528. In 1529 three Latin editions and one French edition appeared. A Czech edition soon followed. Although these were not for popular consumption, they did arrest the interest of Europe&rsquos elites, and in the process Luther won many humanist scholars and statesmen to his cause.

As early as 1518 the leading English statesman, churchman and humanist, Sir Thomas More, was reading the Theses. (Erasmus mentioned Luther&rsquos name to More in a letter sent the same year.) Yet even then the Pope was satisfied with merely asking the vicar-general of Luther&rsquos monastic order to warn the young lecturer-priest to keep his head down. It was Tetzel who promised to have Luther burnt at the stake. Printed copies of Tetzel&rsquos counter-arguments were then publicly burnt by Luther&rsquos students in Wittenberg. Luther opposed their actions but he did take the trouble to write out the ideas contained in his Theses in more detail, convinced the Pope did not know of the indulgence business. Yet his closing words, which had said there was &lsquocertainly no chance of a recantation&rsquo, not only angered Tetzel, who determined to have Luther arrested, tried and condemned, but roused the Papacy too. Suddenly Luther found himself at the centre of a storm and, by now, all of Europe was watching.

Following his rise to fame, Luther&rsquos first paper outpouring was not printed but took the form of exchanges of letters, as students, scholars and churchmen across Europe began to write to ask him his views on a range of issues. Printing had increased the use of private postal services and paper mail was able to keep a movement&rsquos leaders in touch with one another despite a distance of hundreds of miles, and leading reformers and Renaissance humanists all made good use of the service. (In 1505 the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I had established a postal system across the empire, and this was the most prominent of the new postal systems. A similar system had already operated among the Italian city-states since the late thirteenth century.)

For Luther, the public airing of his views was a dangerous game to play since it meant his answers came up very publicly against Roman orthodoxy. At a questioning in Augsburg, he got away with saying he believed the Pope did not have the power to remit sins being paid for in Purgatory, before being smuggled out of the city by friends. Next he was brought to Leipzig in 1519, to debate Johannes Maier von Eck, chancellor of Ingolstadt University. The closing speech enabled both parties to declare themselves the winner but the debate did air Luther&rsquos view that scripture was a higher authority than the Pope and his councils, the doctrine known as sola scriptura.

Luther has been remembered by Protestant hagiographers as stout, strong and outspoken, but an eyewitness in Leipzig described him as little more than skin and bone, exhausted by the sudden limelight and pressure. Moreover, some people were already claiming Luther for very different and violent ends, while many Renaissance radicals who had supported him were already beginning to fade away, repelled by the potential personal cost of Luther&rsquos ideas. He was now a celebrity throughout Europe and men across the continent began to pin their beliefs and ambitions onto the man who had publicly disagreed with Rome, or with the clergy, or with unchecked power, or with church taxes, or with elitism &ndash there were many agendas people read into Luther&rsquos opposition to Rome.

The years 1518 to 1526 were the powerhouse of the European Reformation and Luther&rsquos printed writings lay at their heart. A paper-fed Renaissance had spurred the introduction of movable-type printing and the Reformation was now borrowing that same technology. Moreover, printing had much in common with the ideas and ambitions of the reformers themselves.

Printing meant less rote-copying, and therefore less imitation among those who wrote. Its tendency towards exact replication fitted with the Renaissance and Reformation search for literal rather than allegorical meanings. The lower price of its books favoured universal knowledge over high scholarship, empowering individual readers rather than selected interpreters. Moreover, it identified Bibles as the channels of religion rather than priests and thus encouraged questions rather than acquiescence. It pointed readers back to the author since its content carried very little sign of its middlemen printers did not seek to personally beautify, interpret or reinterpret texts in the same way that scribes and monks had done. Printing&rsquos focus on accuracy supported the return to the earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and it fostered a read religion rather than an experienced one. The printer himself lived in the city and the marketplace and knew many of his customers, rather than living removed from urban society as a scribe in a monastery.

Printing favoured private reading since for growing numbers of readers its texts were cheap enough to buy and did not therefore need to be read in a library. It was suited to leisure (or simply lay) reading too, since the size of books it produced was smaller than the large-format codices of medieval times, many of which needed a desk to carry their weight. The lower price made the physical object less innately valuable, and reduced the chance of a book being viewed as a status symbol or even as a sacred object in its own right. Thanks to European printing on paper, the author trumped the scribe and, thus, the book&rsquos content trumped its beauty and expense. Reading was transformed and the very fact of market-led printing posed a challenge to the unassailability of traditional authority. (It should come as no surprise that it was tricky for the Roman Church to devise a response that was not self-defeating.)

Luther (perhaps unwittingly) harnessed printing&rsquos possibilities to a new degree, with a staggering, even profligate output of printed sermons, books and pamphlets. In 1519, Germany printed a third as much literature in the vernacular as in Latin but, by 1521, that ratio had been reversed. Wittenberg, Nuremberg, Augsburg, Strasbourg, Leipzig and Basel became the printing engines of the Reformation, delivering tracts, cartoons, sermons, treatises, theological works and letters for Germany&rsquos market of urban readers.

Pamphlets in particular suited the reformers&rsquo aims. They were light, easy to carry and conceal, were usually printed in quarto (one of the smaller formats) and only ran to sixteen sheets (or thirty-two pages). Above all, they were not expensive. (One scholar, Mark Edwards, calculated that they cost the same as a hen, a pound of wax or a pitchfork, which suggests they were not dirt cheap but that ordinary men could still afford them. 82 )

One study found that 1517&ndash18, the first year of the Reformation, saw a more than five-fold increase in the production of printed pamphlets in Germany. In all, Germany printed more than 6,000 vernacular treatises between 1520 and 1526, running to more than 6½ million copies. Most were concerned with the Reformation, and Martin Luther alone was responsible for a fifth of the total, or close to 2,000 first editions and reprints. 83 In addition, between 1520 and 1526 the annual output of pamphlets in Germany jumped by fifty-five times from pre-1518 levels even after 1524, it still remained at twenty times its pre-1518 rate.

Although the early Reformers out-printed their rival apologists in the established Church, yet there were Catholic printing successes, too, even in German lands. In several German states, Catholics lacked Papal backing to print their views, but in Saxony Catholics readily engaged in a pamphlet war. Already, Georg of Saxony had used pamphlet printings to fight heresy in Saxony in 1511&ndash12 and when he moved against Luther, he ordered a print run of 1,000 pamphlets (written by Hieronymus Emser) which argued against Luther&rsquos position. Emser founded a print shop in Dresden in 1524.

Book printing increased in German lands too, if not at quite the same rate, rising from 416 books in 1517 (110 of them in German) to 1,331 books in 1524 (1,049 of them in German). 84 Mark Edwards found that printings of Luther&rsquos works increased from 87 in 1518 to 390 in 1523, before reducing to 200 in the late 1520s. Luther had 1,465 printings (including first and subsequent editions) of his German works, and more than 1,800 of his works were printed by 1525 a further 500 were printed by 1530. In the years 1526&ndash46 he averaged more than three reprints for every first edition. Edwards estimates that from 1518 to 1546, Luther produced five printings to every one printing produced by all the Catholic publicists &ndash even if only Luther&rsquos anti-Catholic works are counted, the ratio is still 5:3 in his favour. 85

But who was actually reading his works? After all, literacy was still uncommon. Moreover, the Reformation was a theological movement, debated among professors and priests and led, in the German states at least, by princes and theologians. Many of them held deep and sincere convictions on, most importantly, the authority of scripture, but how could the Reformation have been a popular movement unless (conversely) it was imposed from above? Even when it did involve popular agitation, it surely remained very far from a movement based on widely read texts. Viewed in this light, the supposed existence of a sixteenth-century &lsquomass-media celebrity&rsquo appears to be a logical impossibility. The historian A. G. Dickens once quipped that historians had believed too credulously in &lsquojustification by print alone&rsquo when trying to explain the European Reformation. Has Protestant mythology and hagiography not obfuscated the reality? This is a question that concerned historians of the period for half a century.

Nobody knows the exact literacy rates in sixteenth-century Germany, but urban literacy among men is often assumed to have been around 30 per cent, and at best 40 per cent (although some researchers have argued for higher rates), as against a 5 per cent national average. 86 In short, although literacy was on the rise, and the Renaissance had made reading more fashionable, there had not been a universal reading audience for Luther to galvanize. Although the Reformation enjoyed a very great impact on popular religious practice, on literacy and on politics, it had to be introduced from above.

And yet it is not easy to explain away the scale of printing in sixteenth-century Protestant territories (or in religiously tolerant European lands) if you exclude widespread urban reading from the Reformation. In a conservative estimate, Mark Edwards calculated that Luther&rsquos printed output was 3.1 million physical books or pamphlets, yet that does not even include his many editions of partial or complete Bible translations. He counts a further 2.5 million copies of treatises by other German evangelicals and 600,000 by Roman Catholics. In other words, German lands produced 6 million individual pamphlets in a population of 12 million.

Given that Europe&rsquos printers were businessmen driven by profit, the fact that evangelicals were producing so much more printed matter suggests not simply that Rome was slow to respond, but also that the market was determining the output. The 40 per cent increase in printed pamphlets in the years 1517 to 1524 led Edwards to question whether sceptical assumptions about literacy rates can really be correct. After all, while Luther&rsquos weightier books were often bought up by libraries, princes and clerics (occasionally in bulk), his pamphlets were far more populist and written in a very direct style. Above all, it is the re-publication levels that point to how high demand is likely to have been.

There is no figure available for how many people read Luther&rsquos writings for themselves but there are a number of reasons to think that publication levels probably under-represent those who, directly or indirectly, his books and pamphlets reached. There was a large second-hand audience although silent reading, which amounts to the individualization of reading, was becoming more normal in Europe even before Gutenberg invented his press, it was still common in the ensuing centuries to read out aloud, or to read to a group of colleagues or friends or to your family. (Indeed, this continued across Europe into the twentieth century.) Moreover, Robert Scribner&rsquos study of sixteenth-century reading found that German printed popular polemics were in fact designed to be read aloud. Evenings, a common time to read in groups since work was finished, required candlelight, which also favoured choosing a single reader for the group. Any contentious text was best kept out of daylight hours. 87

Strongly influenced by the church musical culture that had preceded him, including instances of vernacular congregational singing in the late Middle Ages, Luther wrote hymns by the dozen and in 1524 the first German-language Protestant hymnals were printed. His hymns probably had a greater popular impact than his writings on mainstream religion and they were undoubtedly central to religious life for longer than any of his other works, with the inevitable exception of his Bible translation. As with much sixteenth-century reading, hymnals provided a guide for the congregation but it was unlikely they could read every word often they were simply a memory aid, although familiarity bred a rise in literacy too. Music also presented Luther with a theological opportunity, since he wanted to take the Mass out of the controlling hands of the priesthood and draw the laity, already participants in the experience of the service, closer into its content. Hymns provided a way to introduce a more guttural German into church so as to make the Word of God more memorable and immediate. It was for this last reason that he distributed broadsheets in Wittenberg with words and parts, thereby hoping to enable the laity to learn scripture and its truths through song.

His catechisms had a different but no less profound impact, crystallizing biblical doctrine in a few memorable sentences. Moreover, many Lutherans believed that an education could make them better citizens. The catechism became, for many less literate converts, the sole source of religious knowledge they would read, and even if they could not read it, they could memorize it easily enough: printing could thus communicate to the illiterate too. (The Bible did not replace the catechism as the most widely text in German Lutheranism until the eighteenth century.)

Bureaucrats and schoolmasters would pass Reformation ideas on to their juniors and students too, just as ordinary conversations across the country between the lettered and unlettered would spur the passage of Luther&rsquos thought and theology. Before the Sunday papers, most ordinary lay Europeans learnt about politics and news from the Sunday sermon. 88 Thanks to print, clerics now had access to a far greater range of political and cultural updates from across Europe. (Thus print may actually have made sermons more interesting and topical.) The Reformation was very much a preaching revival and it was as they listened to the man in the pulpit that many of the laity probably had their first encounter with Reformation ideas and with Luther&rsquos writings, passed on by a reading clergy.

Printing delivered fresh possibilities for images too. The Reformation made use of woodblock printing as well as movable-type printing because its propaganda was formed not simply of letters but of images as well. The portraitist Lucas Cranach the Elder worked for the Elector of Saxony and in 1521 he and Melancthon published Passional Christi und Antichristi, a series of double engravings that compared incidents from the compassionate and holy life of Christ with incidents from the life of a greedy and licentious Pope. Luther himself had said it was a good book for the laity.

Graven images were not initially discarded by the Protestant mainstream, yet iconoclastic movements began in earnest as early as the 1520s. This organized destruction of icons illustrates the capacity of paper culture to spur people to acts of cultural destruction and desecration. Although Luther disapproved of the destructive Wittenberg riots of 1522, Reformation iconoclasm would become about more than just opposition to physical idols. It would also become a state of mind, even way of life, one that could deliver to Protestantism an extreme suspicion of the arts more broadly. Iconoclasm was linked to paper in other ways, too.

The role of the traditional Gothic cathedral, an encyclopaedia of religious stories in stone and stained glass, was inevitably changed by the rise of lay Bible reading. Moreover, Protestant iconoclasm had strong links to the rise of literacy and, in particular, to the increased accessibility of Bible translations in the vernacular, because they encouraged people away from the sacred icons and rituals of the Roman Church, pointing them instead to the words of scripture on the page. Making the Bible available to all meant that its claims would be comprehensible to all through the medium of words on a page. Ritual, hierarchy and sensory experience were necessarily relegated under the new order. Thus literacy was crucial to the Reformation&rsquos success, as paper allowed the message to trump other traditional religious and institutional media.

Moreover, arguments that a reading revolution couldn&rsquot have changed sixteenth-century Europe ignore how misleading even the concept of literacy can be. Literacy often means the ability to both read and write, but obviously Luther&rsquos print-audience only needed the simpler of these two skills, and not necessarily to an advanced level. One sixteenth-century advert in a German town offered to teach people to read properly, but how were illiterate locals meant to understand it? It is likely that a good number of &lsquoilliterate&rsquo townsfolk possessed a very rudimentary popular literacy, recognizing the letters of the alphabet and an arsenal of basic words.

Luther&rsquos pamphlets were styled for a popular readership, many of whom were probably only partially literate and who might consult a pamphlet with family and friends, or who simply read their printed matter more slowly than others, sometimes skipping difficult words. Literacy, after all, is not a zero-sum game and printing did hasten standardization, making letters and words far easier for the layman to read. Renaissance printing had already made books and pamphlets more commonplace the reformers acted as a further spur. As books became part and parcel of the urban landscape, their content (and their script) inevitably grew more familiar too.

Even if only 5 per cent of the German population were reading any of the tracts and arguments being printed across the provinces in the 1510s and 1520s, that was already a momentous expansion of reading beyond the old elite. But it was surely far more than 5 per cent, and far more again who were hearing the content of these works second-hand (and seeing the images which accompanied the texts). Just as sixteenth-century Germany was undergoing a print revolution, it was also staging the continent&rsquos greatest ideological dispute for centuries. This shared momentum was no mere coincidence.

It was in 1520 that Luther published two of his most cataclysmic tracts: To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation concerning the reform of the Christian Estate and On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church. The first of these confidently began:

The time for silence has passed.

What followed more than matched the drama of Luther&rsquos opening line, as he went on to reverse the medieval order of the two estates, placing the secular authorities above the religious authorities (as is accepted across Europe today) and thus playing into the hands of German nationalists and anti-Roman sentiment alike. This was a seismic shift, in line with the apostle Paul&rsquos own teaching in his letter to the Romans, but also archly offensive to the established Church. In fact, the work was doubly anti-hierarchical, since in it Luther also argued that the clergy were not above the laity and could therefore not claim moral superiority. All Christians were priests thus the clergy had neither different political rights nor a monopoly on divine truth. Instead, they must submit to national laws and the people must be allowed to read scripture for themselves.

In the second of these treatises, On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, he was no less forthright. Had it been written just a few decades earlier, it could never have gained much public traction. Luther might have received a warning or some kind of official sanction, but it is unlikely he would have been widely noticed. In hindsight, it is easier to see that Rome&rsquos mistake was to underestimate how movable-type printing had altered the public landscape across Europe. Coming down hard on a popular figure whose medium was the printed word would only add to Luther&rsquos growing celebrity. Rome could no longer wage its war with Luther in private and on the usual, wholly unequal terms. Pursuing him openly meant turning a troublesome German cleric into Europe&rsquos biggest name and meeting him, head-on, through a medium to which he had practically equal access. Rome&rsquos reaction to Luther&rsquos printed works would allow those works to bring him more fame than Luther could have achieved alone.

No theological debate would be more important than the debate over the Mass. In the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Luther argued that Rome had made slaves of God&rsquos people through the ball-and-chain of the seven sacraments, which had enabled the priesthood to become the means of grace for the laity. Of the three he accepted, Luther&rsquos chief target was the Mass. The Mass was not solely a priestly performance that took place far from the laity. The vast majority of laymen and women might not understand what was being said or sung in Latin but they could participate in the experience of the Mass itself: in eating the bread, in smelling the incense, in walking through the church as the service progressed, in meeting with neighbours and, above all, in being present during the miraculous transformation of simple bread and wine into the very body and blood of Jesus Christ. The Mass was the great miracle of medieval Church life.

Yet explaining that miracle, when the bread and wine remained in their original form, was complicated. The Roman Church had resorted to Aristotle&rsquos distinction between &lsquosubstance&rsquo and &lsquoaccident&rsquo to explain away the imperceptibility of the transubstantiation. In the eleventh century the word &lsquotransubstantiation&rsquo was used to describe this scientific puzzle and in 1215 Rome formally recognized it at the Fourth Lateran Council.

The early Christian believers had, as in the gospels, gathered round a table to share bread and wine. But, perhaps through reverence or else under the influence of pre-Christian religions, the kitchen and dining tables of the early Church were gradually replaced with the stone altar of sacrifice, as the bread and wine themselves rose in status. Thus official doctrine argued that, when the Mass was dispensed, Christ was sacrificed once again for the believers present. Luther disagreed, arguing that any kind of sacrifice undermined the &lsquoone for all&rsquo sacrifice of Christ on the cross. He attacked the use of Aristotle&rsquos &lsquosubstance&rsquo and &lsquoaccidents&rsquo as &lsquojuggling with words&rsquo, and he located the power of the event in the faith of the believer, not the actions of the priest. As in other areas, Luther applied his two principles &ndash sola scriptura and &lsquojustification by faith alone&rsquo &ndash in this case to the doctrine of the Mass. Yet in doing so he had struck at the heart of Church authority. And it was the weight of that authority which he finally had to face when events came to a head in 1521. What followed would spell the demise of Western Christendom as a religious unit.

The 1520 Papal Bull, Exsurge Domine (Arise, O Lord), had condemned Luther on forty-one counts of heresy and called for his books to be burnt. Luther&rsquos reply had been to publicly burn Papal books himself, throwing the Papal Bull onto the top of the bonfire. In January 1521, the Pope issued Luther&rsquos excommunication, but Emperor Charles V felt obliged to grant the cleric a hearing at the Diet of Worms before any handover. In addition to the possibility of swift punishment, the weight of expectation now hung over Luther. Many Germans admired what they considered to be Luther&rsquos patriotism, stoked by printed images that likened him to an ancient hero from Germanic mythology. Some humanist scholars portrayed him as the scourge of medieval scholasticism. Moreover, Luther had become an expression and symbol of widespread spiritual frustrations and hopes. As early as 1520, the humanist scholar George Spalatin wrote that nothing at the Frankfurt Book Fair (still the largest book trade fair in the world, it only became a major book fair in the wake of Gutenberg&rsquos invention) was bought as often or read as keenly as the works of his friend Martin Luther. As Luther arrived at Worms on 16 April 1521, crowds had lined the streets to cheer him. Luther must have wondered at the series of turns his life had taken he was, after all, just thirty-seven years old.

The trial itself was unusual: Luther was asked to recant his own writings and requested a day to reflect first. This was granted and, the following day, he was simply meant to agree or refuse. Instead, he was permitted to speak more fully and, in so doing, he challenged the emperor to take sides between the Pope and Luther. Scripture and &lsquoplain reason&rsquo were his authority, he argued, since popes and councils had too often proved themselves unreliable. He refused to go against his own conscience by renouncing his writings. Luther looked set to be delivered to the Church authorities. Instead, Elector Frederick of Saxony had the theologian kidnapped and hidden away in Wartburg Castle, where he went by the title of Knight George.

There was little of the knight about him and Luther&rsquos one attempt at hunting was not a success. What he did achieve in his ten-month exile, however, was a translation of the New Testament into German, and it would be hard to exaggerate the importance of this one work on German life. Luther believed that printing was God&rsquos great gift to the world, since through its power God would spread true religion to the ends of the earth. In this he was strikingly prophetic &ndash today, the Bible is read in more than 2,000 languages worldwide and the opening salvo of this volley of translations was Luther&rsquos printed German Bible. A handful of other German translations were already available, but all of them had been translated from the Latin Vulgate and had preserved many Latin turns of phrase. None were easily readable. Yet by the time of his death, Luther&rsquos Bible had been reprinted (in part or in whole) more than 400 times.

He laboured over the translation. Although Luther knew much of the New Testament by heart and had written a cannonade of tracts, treatises and sermons in the German language, he complained that it was fiendishly difficult to reproduce the order of the Greek in his own &lsquobarbaric&rsquo language. His answer was to couch the New Testament narrative in prose that reflected his own character: full of energy, texture and brio. Its impact on German literature was as immense as its prose was engaging. This was no less than Luther himself preaching the gospel directly to his readers in language that brought it to life, in German, for the first time. He translated it in just three months.

The Bible was Europe&rsquos book of books. For a millennium, while the clergy had debated it, the laity had been denied access to it. Even those who could occasionally access a Bible needed to read it in Latin, since vernacular translations were few in number, accessible only to scholars, and engulfed by commentary. Now, many of them could buy the book that everyone wanted to read and they could buy it in prose they could understand and enjoy. Christianity, granted new readerships by the affordability of printed paper, had been allowed to go native.

In his German New Testament, Luther added his own commentary. Much of this was necessary to explain theological terms that did not translate well into German or simply to take people back to the original Greek or Hebrew sense of words, shorn of their Latin associations. But there was out-and-out propaganda too, with cartoons and marginalia attacking the Pope and his council, most of which equated the Pope with the Antichrist. Indeed, one of Luther&rsquos weaknesses was that, having wrested control of religious publishing out of the hands of Rome, he wanted to control everything else. When Anabaptists and Spiritualists began to use this new publishing space for their own ideas, Luther foresaw the inevitable splintering of Protestants across Europe and determined to ensure that the Bible would not simply be left to suffer the exegesis of just anyone. This concern for guidance was perhaps understandable, but either the Bible needed an intermediary or it did not. It was a tension Luther never quite resolved.

Nevertheless, he could at least claim he had placed vernacular Bibles in lay hands and that it was now up to those readers to judge his comments for themselves. It was an undoubted revolution, and the sales figures leave us in no doubt of its groundswell importance. In all its history, paper had never known anything approaching this kind of immediate readership for individual works. The first edition of Luther&rsquos German New Testament, known as the September Testament, ran to an unprecedented 3,000 copies. It sold out so quickly that in December the printer produced a second edition, with a good deal more editing by Luther. A complete reprint appeared in Basel the same year.

At this point, the New Testaments were in folio format in other words, they were large, expensive and required a desk. They were aimed at wealthy customers, whether individuals or institutions. However, in 1523 a further eleven or twelve reprints appeared and as many of these were in quarto format as in folio &ndash quarto is half the size of folio and much less expensive. In the translation&rsquos peak publication year of 1524, when a further twenty complete reprints were made, most editions were in octavo format, half the size of the quartos &ndash depending on the size of the original sheet, octavos could measure just under 6 by 8 inches. By a conservative estimate, more than 85,000 copies were printed between September 1522 and the end of 1525. The Bible was being tailored to the popular market, its market popularity evident from the decision of printers to invest in reprints. And it was even shrinking to meet new audiences.

Luther&rsquos enemies were quick to notice the threat posed by printed papers. One of his Catholic rivals, Dr Johann Cochlaeus, complained that printing was driving Luther&rsquos success and that even where his books were banned the inspectors would warn the booksellers of their forthcoming inspection tours in advance. Even tailors, shoemakers, women and the ignorant were, Cochlaeus despaired, learning to read German, sometimes studying under the tuition of priests, monks and doctors. In 1529 Duke George of Saxony (a cousin of Elector Frederick, Luther&rsquos protector), lamented that &lsquomany thousands&rsquo of copies of New Testament translations were leading people towards insubordination.

Yet the ease of printing paper books fast enough to meet new levels of demand created its own problems. In 1522, eighty-seven different German New Testaments were printed outside Wittenberg without Luther&rsquos approval, even though the text, in every case, was merely a bastardization of his own translation. According to one estimate, from 1522 to 1530 four times as many unauthorized versions of Luther&rsquos New Testament were printed than there were authorized versions. In 1524 Luther even produced his own &lsquoLuther Rose&rsquo designed by Cranach&rsquos workshop as a mark of authentication but still the &lsquocopyright&rsquo problem continued. The following year he complained that he could not even recognize his own books. (The rise of printing suffered enormously from both its lack of an effective copyright law and from an excess of inaccuracies.)

The sharp rise in output had put quality at risk. As early as 1521, Luther had lamented the amateurish way printing was carried out, from the chaos of the printer&rsquos workshop and the lack of care taken by staff to the filthy type founts used and the low quality of the paper itself. Unskilled staff, poor management and the urgency of growing demand all mitigated against accuracy. Moreover, inconstant censorship policies across Europe meant printing businesses were frequently closing down and reopening, which hampered any attempt to develop good working practices. The sixteenth-century printer&rsquos workshop was hardly an ideal environment for ensuring the exact reproduction of an original.

Yet through all the mayhem of censorship, intellectual property theft (as we would call it today) and shoddy workmanship, Luther&rsquos New Testaments still made it into the hands of untold numbers of readers. The Wittenberg cleric&rsquos outpouring of pamphlets and letters also continued. In one letter written in 1531, Luther weighed in on a bizarre debate about the meaning of two verses in the dry Old Testament book of Leviticus. But it was a debate which would lead one of Europe&rsquos most powerful kings to break with Rome, adding to the momentum of the paper movement Luther had begun.

1150: Moors use cannabis to start Europe’s first paper mill

The Moorish conquest of Spain brought papermaking into Europe. Using hemp and linen rags as a source of fiber, the first recorded paper mill in the Iberian Peninsula started operating in Xativa in 1151.[2]

Both Spain and Italy claim to be the first to manufacture paper in Europe.[3] One of the first paper mills in Europe was in Xativa (now Jativa or St. Felipe de Javita in the ancient city of Valencia, and it can be dated to CE 1151. [3]

Some scholars claim that the Arabs built the Xativa mill in approximately CE 1009. Papermaking continued under Moorish rule until 1244 when the Moors were expelled. Papermaking then began to spread across Christian Europe gradually.[4]

The first paper mill in France was built in 1190, and by 1276 the first mills were established in Italy. Papermaking spread further northwards, with evidence of paper being made in Troyes, France by 1348, in Holland sometime around 1340–1350, in Mainz, Germany in 1320, and Nuremberg by 1390. The latter, established by Ulman Stromer, was the first permanent paper mill north of the Alpes.

The Edward Clark Collection covers the history and development of printing in western Europe together with some American developments. The oldest item in the collection is a leaf from the 42-line Bible printed in Mainz by Johannes Gutenberg between 1455.

By Gutenberg’s time, the techniques of papermaking and printing from wood blocks had been known in China for over 1,000 years and a form of movable type had been in use for around 200 years.

The first paper mill in Europe dates from the 12th century: the techniques were introduced to Spain by the Moors.

1455 The first known book printed by movable type in Western Europe, the Biblia latina (known as the 42-line Bible), is completed in Mainz at the press of Johannes Gutenberg.

1460s Earliest use of Roman type by Arnold Pannartz and Conrad Sweinheim, the first printers in Italy at Rome/Subiaco and of Greek type by Johannes Fust and Peter Schöffer (Cicero De officiis)

1476 William Caxton sets up his press at Westminster: the first dated book from this press was Dictes or sayengis of the philosophres in 1477

1477 Intaglio engraving is first used for book illustration

1493 Anton Koberger prints Liber Chronicarum, also known as Die Weltchronik and The Nuremberg Chronicle It is one of the first successful attempts to integrate text and illustration

1499 Aldus Manutius prints Hypnerotomachia Poliphili in Venice

1501 Aldus Manutius first uses italic type in his editions of Virgil and Juvenal. These small format books for personal use were another innovation: another example is his edition of Lucan’s Pharsalia, 1502

1515 Technique of etching is developed in Augsburg by Daniel Hopfer

1530 Roman typeface is designed in Paris by Claude Garamond

1545 Garamond establishes his typefoundry in Paris, the first to be independent of a printing office

1568-1573 Christoph Plantin prints his 8-volume Bible regia in 5 languages, known as the Polyglot Bible in Antwerp

1576 Thomas Bassandyne and Alexander Arbuthnot are the first printers of the Bible and Holy Scriptures in Scotland: this is the so-called Geneva version

1578-89 Robert Granjon cut a series of types for the Typographia Vaticana in Rome

1583 Christoph Plantin prints Biblia Sacra in Antwerp. It has an engraved title page and with copperplate illustrations throughout

1584 Cambridge University Press is established

1586 Oxford University Press is established by decree of the Star Chamber

1611 The ‘Authorized Version’ of the King James’ Bible is first published

1622-1649 Edward Raban printing in Aberdeen for the town and university

1623 Publication of the first folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays: the second folio edition was published in 1632

1655 The London Gazette (originally called the Oxford Gazette) is first published: it claims to be the oldest regularly published newspaper in the United Kingdom

1669 Dr John Fell begins working to improve the standard of printing at Oxford University Press. He bought new type from Holland and invited the punch-cutter Peter de Walpergen to move to Oxford. The types collected are known as the ‘Fell types’

1683 Joseph Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises on the Whole Art of Printing is published – first printed manual for printers

1710 Copyright legislation covering the whole United Kingdom is passed

1720 William Caslon establishes his typefoundry in London

1725 Jacob Christoph Le Blon describes three colour (red, yellow, blue) printing process in Coloritto. In 1735 he patented a four-colour process

1727 William Ged of Edinburgh develops a process of stereotyping (known as ‘block printing’ using plaster of Paris moulds

1737 Pierre-Simon Fournier first proposes a standardised measurement for type called the ‘typographical point’

1740s-1770s Robert and Andrew Foulis print fine editions of the classics and other works in Glasgow as University Printers. After their deaths the business was carried on by Robert’s son Andrew until 1795

1751/2 John Baskerville establishes his printing business in Birmingham, for which he designed the type. He was supplied with paper for printing by James Whatman

1755 Publication of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language

1757 Didot family typefoundry is established

1763 Baskerville prints the Holy Bible for Cambridge University Press using type of his own design

1764 Pierre-Simon Fournier publishes Manuel typographique

1768-71 First (Edinburgh) edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica is edited and printed by William Smellie

1771 Giambattista Bodoni publishes his first type-specimen book: his Manuale tipografico was published in 1788

1775 Thomas Bewick develops technique of wood-engraving: A general history of quadrupeds was published in 1784 and History of British birds in 2 volumes in 1797

1775 François-Ambroise Didot establishes the ‘Didot’ point for measuring type, superseding the ‘Fournier point’

1792 Vincent Figgins establishes his typefoundry in London

1796 Aloysius Senefelder develops an entirely new printing technique of lithography or ‘printing from the stone’, which relies on the repulsion between the water used to treat the limestone carrying the image to be printed, and the oil in the ink

1790 Giambattista Bodoni designs a modern Roman typeface

1800 The first all-iron press, still using a screw to apply pressure on the platen, is designed by Earl Stanhope. The size of the platen was doubled, and a system of levers meant that the

1806 Bryan Donkin, and brothers Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier perfect the design of a papermaking machine that produced a continuous roll (or ‘web’) of paper

1806 Hansard’s Debates, recording parliamentary proceedings, is first published by the Printer to the House of Commons, Luke Hansard

1810 Friedrich Koenig’s steam-powered platen press is patented. It was first used in April 1810 by Thomas Bensley to print the New Annual Register for 1811

1812 Early hand-operated cylinder press developed

1813 George Clymer invents the iron ‘Columbian’ printing press (in Philadelphia), which used linked levers to apply pressure to the platen

1814 Friedrich Koenig & Andreas Bauer install first steam-powered cylinder printing press for John Walter II at The Times. The impression is produced by passing a cylinder over the paper instead of using a flat platen

1816 William Caslon IV designed a sans-serif typeface though it is not clear if it was ever used in printing

1818 Stephenson Blake typefoundry established in Sheffield by James Blake, John Stephenson and William Garnett. The firm went by various names, becoming Stephenson, Blake & Co in 1841

1822 The iron ‘Albion’ press is invented by R W Cope in London William Church patented a machine for composing type though it was never used commercially

1825 Thomas Hansard’s Typographia: an historical sketch of the origin and progress of the art of printing is published

1826 The London General Trade Society of Compositors is established: it became the London Society of Compositors in 1848

1829 Louis Braille published his system of raised dots for printing text for blind readers

1830 Calendared paper (given a smooth finished by being passed through steel rollers) is first produced

1835 Bookbinders’ Consolidated Relief Fund is founded to support tramping members, becoming the Bookbinders’ Consolidated Union in 1840, and changing the name to the Bookbinders and Machine Rulers’ Consolidated Union in 1872. In 1911 it amalgamated with a number of other societies to become the National Union of Bookbinders and Machine Rulers

1837 Gottfried Engelmann patents technique of chromolithography in France, for producing coloured illustrations

1838 Electrotyping process is discovered by Moritz von Jacobi, a Prussian working in St Petersburg: it is a chemical process for creating metal printing plates

1838 David Bruce II invents a typecasting machine. His father, David Bruce I, emigrated from Scotland and set up the first commercial typefoundry in America

1839 William Fox Talbot publishes his treatise on photography

1840 James Hadden Young and Adrien Delcambre build a ‘Pianotype’ machine for composing type: it is often referred to as the Young-Delcambre machine

1843 Process for making paper from wood pulp is patented in Germany by Friedrich Keller of Saxony, although commercial production did not take place for some years

1845 Richard March Hoe of New York builds a rotary machine for letterpress printing: the type is fixed to a cylinder instead of being held in a flat bed. In 1848 Augustus Applegath built a type-revolving printing machine for The Times

1848 Provincial Typographical Association (later the Typographical Association) established

1850 Andreas Hamm founds Schnellpressenfabrik of Heidelberg, later known as Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG

1851 Thomas Nelson II’s reel-fed rotary printing press is exhibited at the Great Exhibition

1853 Scottish Typographical Association established

1855 The first flat-bed stop-cylinder printing machine was produced by William Dawson in Otley in Wharfedale in Yorkshire. This design became known as a ‘Wharfedale’

1859 Robert Hattersley invents a composing machine, which went into use in some newspaper printing offices

1860 The Central Association of Lithographic and Copperplate Printers’ Societies of Great Britain and Ireland is formed. This Association formed the main part of the new Amalgamated Society of Lithographic Printers when it was formed in 1880

1863 James Dellagana invents a casting box for curved stereotype plates, which can be fitted to rotary presses

1872 Karl Kastenbein’s composing machine came into use in The Times printing office. The machines continued in use until 1908

1870s Collotype or photogelatin printing comes into general use

1876 Plantin-Moretus Museum established (Antwerp)

1880 Joseph Thorne builds a prototype of his typesetting machine the Amalgamated Society of Lithographic Printers is established: the Printers’ International Specimen Exchange is first published

1881 Chandler & Price established in Cleveland, Ohio

1882 Georg Meisenbach patents his half-tone method: the original image is broken down into equally spaced dots, which vary in size according to the depth of tone in the original, by being photographed through a ruled screen, and the negative transferred to a zinc plate to be developed and etched

1885 The National Society of Lithographic Artists, Designers and Writers, Copperplate and Wood Engravers is formed: after a number of name changes it became the Society of Lithographic Artists, Designers, Engravers and Process Workers, usually referred to as SLADE, in 1922. It amalgamated with the National Graphical Association in 1982

1886 Ottmar Mergenthaler’s Linotype, the first successful hot-metal typesetting machine, is first used in the New York Tribune the Berne Convention for Protection of Literary and Artistic Works establishes international recognition of copyright

1887 Tolbert Lanston of Philadelphia patents the Monotype ‘hot metal’ system – the keyboard and caster are separate machines and individual types are cast as required

1889 Printers’ Labourers Union is formed. It was renamed the Operative Printers’ Assistants’ Society 10 years later the National Society of Operative Printers’ Assistants in 1904 and the National Society of Operative Printers and Assistants in 1912. It was almost always referred to as ‘NATSOPA’

1891 Kelmscott Press (active until 1899) is founded by William Morris: his edition of Chaucer’s works is one of the press’s most famous publications

1891 The St Bride Foundation and printing school is established just off Fleet Street in London

1893 The Doves Bindery is set up by Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson

1895 Ashendene Press established in Chelsea by C H StJ Hornby. It closed in 1935

1900 The Doves Press is founded by T J Cobden-Sanderson and Emery Walker: its most significant publication was the Bible in 5 volumes. The partnership was dissolved in 1908 and a dispute over the ownership of the type followed. Cobden-Sanderson threw the matrices into the River Thames at Hammersmith Bridge in 1913. He threw the type itself into the river at the same point between August 1916 and January 1917

1905 Commercial offset printing machines for lithographic printing on paper are developed: offset lithography took over from letterpress as the main process for printing text in the 2nd half of the 20th century

1906 Ludlow Typograph Company founded in Chicago – the current semi-mechanical Ludlow typecasting machine was introduced in 1911

1909 Vandercook and Sons, makers of flatbed cylinder proofing press is established in Chicago

1923 Stanley Morison is appointed as typographical advisor to Cambridge University Press, and to the Monotype Corporation. He also advised the Times, which commissioned him to design the Times New Roman typeface, in use from 1932

1925-28 Eric Gill designs the Perpetua and Gill Sans typefaces

1930s Introduction of polyurethane rollers for printing machines

1953 Lumitype phototypesetting machines (where the letters to be printed are projected onto film for offset printing) is first used for book-work it was first used to newspaper production in 1954

1950s Photopolymer relief printing plates are introduced

1951 The first DRUPA printing equipment exhibition is held in Düsseldorf

1957 Dye sublimation Helvetica typeface image scanner (76 pixels) introduced 1st photopolymer-based letterpress plate

1958 Xerography (photocopying) comes into commercial use

1963 Pantone Matching System Printers’ Edition is introduced

1980s Desktop publishing software becomes widely available, allowing typesetting, page design and make-up to be separated from the printing process: the PostScript typesetting language was also introduced and this period. Pagemaker, QuarkXPress and Adobe Photoshop followed

1993 First digital colour printing press launched

2014 Some of the Doves type matrices & punches are rescued from the Thames


The Erfurt oath formula, the archetype of all subsequent German oath formulas, shows the basic outline of the Jewry Oath very clearly and succinctly. 69 It calls upon God as the Creator of the world (‘the God who created heaven and earth, leaves, flowers, and grass, which were not there before’), and lists four punishments in the form of curses in the event of perjury (unnatural death, leprosy, the power of the law that Moses received on Mount Sinai, as well as all the divine punishments in the Hebrew Bible)—each connected to the Hebrew Bible or stories in the Hebrew Bible. What is special about the Erfurt Jewry Oath is that it is issued in the second person (‘You’) and that the text has lyrical, metrical elements which indicate that it must have been recited by the ‘Eidstaber’ (either the judge, the opposing party, or a helper). It was then either confirmed by the oath-taking Jew or the formula was repeated in the first person (‘I’), which is probably one of the reasons why this legal text was issued in the vernacular and not in Latin, the language of the law. The Erfurt Jewry Oath is also one of the few oaths that reveals its author: Archbishop Konrad of Mainz, who issued it for the town of Erfurt, probably between 1183 and 1200, and thus confirmed the validity of Jewry Oaths. The oath formula does not contain instructions on how to administer the Jewry Oath, but the striking document itself hints at its use. Rather than being an addition to a legal volume, it is a unique, single, square vellum leaf, the text carefully written, the individual parts introduced with an illuminated initial, and framed with a gilded border. The large, attached seal faces the text upside down, which indicates that the document was probably used in the oath ceremony itself, held by both the oath initiator and the oath taker, so that they were facing each other. 70 The ceremony was simultaneously a ritual role-play in which the speakers took turns. 71


The first underwater warship was developed by Leonardo da Vinci. da Vinci kept his plans secret because he didn't want to make war any more terrifying than it already was.

In 1578 William Borne began drawing plans for a submarine. His submarine was never built. Borne's submarine worked by using extra tanks which could be filled so the submarine would submerge. The tanks would be emptied for the submarine to surface.

In 1620 Cornelis Drebbel, a Dutch inventor, built a leather covered rowboat with oars. The oars came out through watertight seals. Twelve people could ride in the submarine. Drebbel was an engineer who worked for the British navy. Drebbel was the first to discuss the problem of air replenishment while the submarine submerged. Drebbel's submarine could only go down about fifteen feet. It could stay underwater for a couple of hours.

Congressional Allies [ edit | edit source ]

German Americans [ edit | edit source ]

German immigration to the British colonies began soon after English colonists founded Jamestown. In 1690 German colonials built the first paper mill in North America, and the Bible was printed in America in German before it was printed in English. By the mid-18th century, approximately 10% of the colonial American population spoke German. ⎻] Germans were easily the largest non-British European minority in British North America, but their assimilation and Anglicisation varied greatly. ⎼]

During the French and Indian War, Great Britain utilized the large German population in North America by forming the Royal American Regiment, whose enlisted men were principally German colonists. ⎽] The regiment's first commander was General Henry Bouquet, a Swiss native. The regiment would later be commanded by General Howe. Other Germans came to North America during the French and Indian War, including Frederick, Baron de Weissenfels, who settled in New York State as a British officer. When the Revolutionary War began, Weissenfels deserted the British forces and served with the rebellion from 1775 until the end of the war, obtaining a Congressional commission as a Lieutenant Colonel. ⎾]

Frederick Muhlenberg, Speaker of the House, was the son of a German immigrant.

As with other ethnic groups in the British colonies, German-speaking colonists were divided, supporting both the Patriot and Loyalist causes. German loyalists fought in their local militias, and some returned to Germany in exile following the war. ⎿] New York had a notably large German population during the war. Other colonies formed German regiments, or filled the ranks of local militias with German Americans. German colonists in Charleston, South Carolina, formed a fusilier company in 1775, and some Germans in Georgia enlisted under General Anthony Wayne. ⏀]

German colonists are most remembered in Pennsylvania, partly due to friendlier naturalization terms for immigrants, ⏁] and also because the German soldiers in Pennsylvania stand in contrast to the large, pacifist Quaker population in Pennsylvania. ⎽] Brothers Peter and Frederick Muhlenberg, for example, were first-generation Pennsylvanians.

Provost Corps [ edit | edit source ]

Pennsylvania Germans were recruited for the American Provost corps under Captain Bartholomew von Heer, ⏂] a Prussian officer who had immigrated to Reading, Pennsylvania, prior to the war. ⏃] During the Revolutionary War the Marechaussee Corps were utilized in a variety of ways, including intelligence gathering, route security, enemy prisoner of war operations, and even combat during the Battle of Springfield. ⏄] The Corps also provided security for Washington's headquarters during the Battle of Yorktown.

German Regiment [ edit | edit source ]

On 25 May 1776, ⏅] the Second Continental Congress authorized the 8th Maryland Regiment (aka the German Regiment) to be formed as part of the Continental Army. Unlike most continental line units, it drew from multiple states, ⏅] initially comprising eight companies: four from Maryland and four (later five) from Pennsylvania. Nicholas Haussegger, a major under General Anthony Wayne, was commissioned as the Colonel. John Adams hoped the German Regiment would free "natives of the country who were needed for Agriculture, Manufactures, and Commerce." ⏅] The regiment saw service at the Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton, and took part in campaigns against American Indians. The regiment was disbanded 1 January 1781. ⏆]

Europeans [ edit | edit source ]

Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben was a German-Prussian army officer who served as inspector general of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He is credited with teaching the Continental Army the essentials of military drill and discipline, helping to guide it to victory.

European Germans also came to the United States as allied soldiers. Some Germans came to the United States under the French flag. Johann de Kalb was a Bavarian who served in the armies of France before receiving a commission as a general in the Continental Army. France had eight German-speaking regiments with over 2,500 soldiers. ⏇] The famous Lauzun's Legion included both French and German soldiers, and was commanded in German. ⏈] There were also German soldiers and officers in the French Royal Deux-Ponts Regiment. ⎞]

Other Germans came to the United States to utilize their military training. Frederick William, Baron de Woedtke, for example, was a Prussian officer who obtained a Congressional commission early in the war he died in New York in 1776. ⏉] Gustave Rosenthal was an ethnic German from Estonia who became an officer in the Continental Army. He returned to Estonia after the war, but other German soldiers, such as David Ziegler, chose to stay and become citizens in the nation they had helped found.

Perhaps the most well-known German to support the Patriot cause was Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben from Prussia, who came to America independently, through France, and served under George Washington as inspector general. General von Steuben is credited with training the Continental Army at Valley Forge, and he later wrote the first drill manual for the United States Army. In June 1780 he was given command of the advance guard in the defense of Morristown, New Jersey from General Knyphausen – a battle briefly led by two opposing German generals. ⏊]

Von Steuben's native Prussia joined the League of Armed Neutrality, ⏋] and Frederick II of Prussia was well appreciated in the United States for his support early in the war. He expressed interest in opening trade with the United States and bypassing English ports, and allowed an American agent to buy arms in Prussia. ⏌] Frederick predicted American success, ⏍] and promised to recognize the United States and American diplomats once France did the same. ⏎] Prussia also interfered in the recruiting efforts of Russia and neighboring German states when they raised armies to send to the Americas, and Frederick II forbade enlistment for the American war within Prussia. ⏏] All Prussian roads were denied to troops from Anhalt-Zerbst, ⏐] which delayed reinforcements that Howe had hoped to receive during the winter of 1777–1778. ⏑]

However, when the War of the Bavarian Succession erupted, Frederick II became much more cautious with Prussian/British relations. US ships were denied access to Prussian ports, and Frederick refused to officially recognize the United States until they had signed the Treaty of Paris. Even after the war, Frederick II predicted that the United States was too large to operate as a republic, and that it would soon rejoin the British Empire with representatives in Parliament. ⏒]

The Reformation as Media Event

A version of this paper was published in The People’s Book: The Reformation and the Bible in April 2017, which was itself a print version of a talk given in 2016 at the Wheaton Theology Conference. The book can be purchased here and an alternate version of the video can be viewed here.

If historians are to attempt to write the history of mankind, and not simply the history of mankind as it was viewed by the small and specialized segments of our race which have had the habit of scribbling, they must take a fresh view of the records, ask new questions of them, and use all the resources of archeology, iconography, and etymology to find answers when no answers can be discovered in contemporary writings.

– Lynn White, Jr., Medieval Technology and Social Change[1]

For the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.

The 500th anniversary of the German Protestant Reformation presents an opportune time to reconsider the question of causality in regards to one of the most significant and momentous upheavals in Christian history. Particularly so, as it effected Europe, the West, and subsequent global Christianity. The discipline of Media Ecology, emerging in 1968, offers a unique framework for explaining cause due to its interdisciplinary concern with reading the “total field” of evidence in order to arrive at new understandings of cultural patterns. Media Ecology, as it sheds light on the historical event of the Reformation, may be best understood in terms of Aristotles’ philosophical study of the four causes, and specifically the study of formal cause.

For Aristotle, there were four causes which were to be studied in science: material, formal, efficient, and final. Formal cause represented the essence of a thing and final cause was an object’s purpose. Contemporary natural and social sciences have generally discarded these two types of causes and reduced everything to matter and energy (material and efficient causes).[2]

Media Ecologists study formal causality precisely so that we can know where technological determinism ends and human agency begins. What we are claiming is that formal causality is essential to understanding material, efficient, and final cause, as well as for grasping the limits of human actors in historical change. Aristotle argued that, “we do not have knowledge of a thing until we have grasped its why, that is to say, its explanation.” Of Aristotle’s four explanations — material, formal, efficient, or final explanation – formal explanation is described as a change or movement caused by the arrangement, shape or appearance of the thing changing or moving. The arrangement, shape, or appearance of a thing is its form, or formal qualities. One of media ecology’s key insights, as articulated by Robert Logan, is that societies imitate their technologies:

  1. The dominant tools or technologies of a society create patterns of usage that infiltrate or penetrate the social structures of a society,
  2. These patterns change those structures, and
  3. The social structures come to imitate or replay the patterns by which these dominant technologies are organized.[3]

So for the Gutenberg Bible, for instance, we see the layout of the Bible in the 36 line[4] or 42 line Bible as consisting of two columned rows of either 18 or 21 lines. This then became the cultural pattern of organizing pews inside churches starting in the 16th century, organizing rows of seats inside classrooms starting in the 18th century, and perhaps finally, having its last manifestation in the, organizing pattern for the arrangement of barracks at German concentration camps[5] in the early 20th century. This same phenomenon might be observed in our own time in the way that the simple aesthetic of Apple and the iPhone has spread beyond that specific brand and become the standard for visual appeal.

For McLuhan, the real message “of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.”[6] In other words, McLuhan’s interests lay in understanding how technological forms produce effects that shape our cultural, behavioral, and psychological patterns, as well as the ways in which they shape our internal perceptions of these patterns as right, good, obvious, or inevitable. For McLuhan, the “spell” of a new medium can occur immediately upon first contact by the human ability to instantly “adopt” and thereby internalize our technologies as the new normal. History reveals we have never been much good — until now — at making a study of technology’s profound formal effects. McLuhan’s aphoristic sound bite can, and should, be read in reference to this understanding of causality: the medium is the message. This paper will seek to address the question of the Reformation’s formal causality, and along the way will attempt to illuminate the ways in which these formal qualities may challenge long-held notions of historical causality in the identities of particular historical agents, as well as reveal a few long-hidden blind spots of significance for theological reflection. This intersection of Media Ecology with the interests of theology should prove more fruitful than jarring, more understanding than agitation. But the jarring may occur nevertheless: “Most people” McLuhan wrote, “are quite unable to perceive the effects of the ordinary cultural media around them because their theories about change prevent them from perceiving change itself.”[7] If theology is faith seeking understanding, then we may deepen our understanding by studying the formal cause of the Protestant Reformation.

Martin Luther wrote to a dying Johann Tetzel in 1519 and bade him “not to be troubled, for the matter did not begin on his account, but the child had quite a different father.”[8] Though it was not Luther’s opinion, the father of the Protestant Reformation was the Printing Press. That is to say, the formal cause of the Protestant Reformation was the Printing Press. That simple declarative statement should strike you as immediately violating of Elizabeth Eisenstein’s concern that historical arguments about the printing press should regard it as an agent of change, not as the agent of change, “because” she states, “the very idea of exploring the effects produced by any particular innovation arouses suspicion that one favors a monocausal interpretation or that one is prone to reductionism and technological determinism.”[9] And yet, I hope to demonstrate that the printing press’s effects are actually multicausal, expansionist, and liberating from the very forces of technological determinism it so fears. In general, most arguments about “technological determinism” are themselves misunderstandings about Aristotle’s material explanation, as though an old screw-type wine press, a goldsmith’s carefully crafted type pieces (of lead, antimony, and tin), water-powered paper mills producing linen pulp sheets, dog-skinned inking pads, and a vegetable-based ink could, in and of themselves, cause a historical revolution. To look seriously at the new medium is to look deeper than immediate causality from a historian’s point of view, and to consider its role in necessary and sufficient causation. But to consider the new communication technology is also to look at its biases — specifically to consider the epistemological, psychological, and intellectual biases of perception that the form of the technology engenders for all whom encounter its effects. And to be clear, the effects we claim for the printing press do not serve the purpose of granting the Reformation’s primary historical agency to Gutenberg nor attempt to take agency away from Luther. Gutenberg had no more understanding of the effects of his invention than anyone else of his day but I hope to demonstrate that his invention, in many senses made way for, and in some senses created, a man like Martin Luther.

To progress logically, which is to say in the visual, rational, and sequential orderly fashion that print media habituates us to and thereafter demands, we will attempt to digest seven key ingredients. You will notice, however, that the effects of technological change are neither linear nor additive they are circular and totalizing, which is to say acoustic and exponential.

The seven ingredients are these:

1.) The ways in which Johannes Gutenberg, a devout Catholic, was interested in manufacturing technologies of religious devotion, and how the Printing Press was a natural spiritual heir to the Pilgrim’s Mirrors he was previously producing.

2.) The ways in which the printing press produced the cause of the Reformation

3.) The ways in which the printing press produced the mindset of the Reformation

4.) The ways in which the printing press produced the cure of the Reformation

5.) The ways in which the Printing Press produced a multitude of other changes in religious and cultural life in Europe, and many other things independently of the Reformation, but part and parcel of its mindset and formal causality

6.) The ways in which the Printing Press produced the vast majority of the Counter-Reformation, including 13 of its major decrees, and its general sweep, leading Umberto Eco to point out that “Catholic fundamentalism cannot exist — and this is what the Counter Reformation was all about — because for Catholics the interpretation of the Scriptures is mediated by the Church”[10],

7.) The ways in which the printing press produced, in all of the above, the “technological determinism” that is the very reductionist, simplistic, and dismissive concept proposed by many contemporary scholars to buffer themselves against the percepts of the massively obvious changes that the new medium created.

Again, these ingredients work together to holistically alter one’s perception of reality. As Neil Postman put it, when you add a drop of red dye to a beaker of clear water, you don’t get a beaker of water with a drop of red inside[11] – you get a beaker of pink water.

One – A Ray of Light (Gutenberg and Technologies of Religious Devotion)

Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg[12] was born at the end of the fourteenth century in Mainz, Germany, the youngest son of Friele Gensfleisch zur Laden, an upper-class merchant and goldsmith who worked in the ecclesiastic mint[13], and his second wife, Elise Wyrich, the daughter of a shopkeeper. He grew up knowing the trade of goldsmithing and the trade of selling things. Very little is known about his early life, and much of what we do know, from 1434 and beyond, largely stems from legal disputes involving his name. In 1419 his father died and he is mentioned in the inheritance proceedings. In 1439 he was involved in a new business enterprise aimed at manufacturing Pilgerspiegel or “Pilgrim’s Mirrors” for sale to pilgrims on the Aachen pilgrimage of 1439, at the Cathedral of Aachen where the church was planning to exhibit its extensive collection of holy relics from Emperor Charlemagne.

“The focal point of what was known as the Aachen holy relics pilgrimage was the veneration of four textile relics. These were parts of the gown of the Virgin Mary, the swaddling clothes and loincloth of Jesus, and the beheading cloth of John the Baptist. From the mid-14th century on, these four relics were displayed publicly every seven years.

Initially they were displayed inside Charlemagne’s Cathedral in Aachen. However, when the number of pilgrims continued to increase (several tens of thousands daily), a special display scaffold was erected on the facade of the cathedral. Owing to the great distance, most pilgrims could not see the relics clearly any more. However, this did not reduce the number of pilgrims, as they believed in the miraculous effect of the relics from a distance.

As at all medieval places of pilgrimage, the pilgrims could purchase pilgrim’s emblems that served as material signs and reminders of the successfully completed pilgrimage…

With the display of the relics from a distance, what became known as “Aachen pilgrim’s mirrors” were developed. These were held up during the showing of the relics as it was believed that with their help, one could catch the miraculous rays of the relics and take them home. These were not mirrors in the modern sense of the word, but rather small perforated plates made of lead or pewter. Starting in the mid-15th century these consisted of three interconnected circles. The circle at the bottom featured the Virgin Mary of Aachen, above her the Virgin’s gown borne by clerics and the topmost circle portrayed Christ’s head. The smallest, middle circle contained the mirror proper.

Pilgrim’s emblems were among the first truly mass-produced articles their production was very profitable and thus strictly controlled and usually restricted to the place of pilgrimage. The huge demand by the Aachen pilgrims, however, could not be met by the manual production of local craftsmen — mainly goldsmiths and stamp cutters. Hence, for a limited time during the pilgrimage, non-residents were also allowed to produce the pilgrim’s emblems and sell them in Aachen.

Gutenberg utilized this special regulation and established his association for the production of Aachen mirrors that were intended for the pilgrimage of 1439. As these could only be sold within a limited period and competition was expected to be very strong, this was a financially risky enterprise. Nevertheless, the project promised to be very successful as Gutenberg very likely used a rationalized production method he had developed. This was a type of stamping and embossing process that offered quick and inexpensive reproduction.[14]

To this day, the Cathedral of Aachen possesses a relic that claims to be this same gown of Mary that is the subject of Gutenberg’s mirror. One of the pilgrim’s mirrors that Gutenberg made in devotion to Mary’s gown looks like this:

The purpose and nature of the mirror was to capture a ray of holy light that would emanate off of the relic, onto the bag or clothing of the pilgrim, attached to which the pilgrim’s mirror would “capture” for all eternity this ray of holy light, and thus imbue its possessor with a remnant from the fairy tale world (to use Bettelheim’s words), to grant the viewer a portion of the aura of the object (to use Walter Benjamin’s words), or to impart a perceptual keepsake of the experience. You could think of this very much the way a digital camera “captures” your experience at a live concert. You don’t get to re-experience it by looking at the keepsake, but you do get to certify that you were there, that it happened, and that it was significant.

Now for reasons that are not entirely clear, either famine, flood, or plague (depending on who you ask) the Aachen pilgrimage was delayed for one year and the sunk costs of the venture could not be repaid. To satisfy his investors, Gutenberg said he would share a secret with them: the Kunst und Aventur (Art and Adventure) research that was the basis for his yet-to-be built printing press. Now, in the printing press, Gutenberg placed two vestiges of the Pilgrim’s Mirror. The first of these was not called a mirror by Gutenberg, but was in fact the specific technique of the “mirror-image” that produced the hot metal type a typographic extension of the very same technique used by metallurgists to create and mass produce the Pilgrim’s Mirrors. As Stephan Fussel describes it:

To start with a letter was engraved on the top of a small steel bar or cube. This bar carried a single character in deep relief and in mirror image it was then struck by a hammer into softer copper so that a right-reading, deeply sunken letter resulted. This was now the matrix, which had to be correctly fitted into the casting instrument. Molten metal was poured in, and a single type cast, with the letter at its head in relief but again in mirror-image.[15]

And of course, one of the primary products of Gutenberg’s new medium was the famed Gutenberg Bible. Particularly when considered within the context of technologies of religious devotion, such as the Pilgrim’s Mirror, the reverence toward the new Art and Adventure technology grew from the understanding that it presented not only a “ray of light” from the mirror of the platen of typeset letters, but that its actual content was the “ray of light ” known as God’s word. Even to, and perhaps especially to, the predominantly illiterate population of the day, this kind of access to not just religious artifacts or relics, but to religious “source material” must have been nothing less than astounding.

The second mirror in Gutenberg’s printing press is the actual tympan that held the paper, that when folded over on with the frisket that masked the areas not to be printed on, created an overall section called “the mirror” that would receive the impression from the typeset letter pieces. This was the very spot that would receive the “mirror image” of the platen that held the arranged type. Thus we see, in the move from his pilgrim’s mirrors to his printing press, Gutenberg is actually moving from a “spiritual” mirroring of a sacred relic – by the imagination of the bearer[16] – to the physical mirroring – by physical duplication of the page – of a sacred text. It was in the context of this mass reproduction of words and texts that the words “stereotype” and the onomatopoetic “cliché” received meaning, referring to the plates and blocks which held the mirror image of the text. Perhaps the etymological trivia that traces our word for hollowed out truisms back to Gutenberg highlights the greatest contradiction of this invention in his zealous attempts to further venerate scripture, Gutenberg created the machine that would allow for its greatest devaluation via overabundance. Value, after all, is a function of scarcity. Yet, for Gutenberg, this use of his mirroring/duplicating technology must have seemed magical indeed he described the idea of the printing press himself as “coming like a ray of light.”[17] As McLuhan put it, “In the sixteenth century and after, many God-fearing readers were sure that the ‘inner light’ emanated from the black ink of the printed page.”[18] In David D’Angers 1839 statue of Gutenberg in Strasbourg, France, Gutenberg holds a page from his press with the inscription, “Et la lumiere fut” (And light was made). This metaphor carries right down through to Calvin’s Geneva, where the inscription of his and the other founders’ statues reads, “Post tenebrae, lux” (After the darkness, light).

Two – The Printing Press Mass Produced the Problem of the Protestant Reformation

It is a lesser known fact of printing press history that the Gutenberg Bible was not the first item to come hot off the presses. In fact, the medieval Catholic indulgence holds this honor. Gutenberg first printed Indulgences for the aid of the kingdom of Cyprus in 1454[19] and 1455, the first of which is dated October 21, 1454 and “represents the earliest piece of western typography with an exact date.”[20] The cost of an indulgence would have been between four and five gulden[21], or roughly 1.2 to 1.5 percent of a German citizen’s annual income.[22] Print runs of Catholic indulgences ran anywhere from as low as 1,000 to as high as 190,000[23]. Keep in mind that the city of Mainz at Gutenberg’s time had only between five and ten thousand inhabitants, and the city of Wittenberg in 1500 had only around two thousand inhabitants.

“By his own words Martin Luther only learned of the issue of indulgences from his parishioners when in around 1514, as monk and professor, he was appointed to an additional office as preacher in the parish church.”[24]

The changeover from manuscript letters of indulgence to printed letters of indulgence represents a change from scarcity and value to mass production and affordability. So under manuscript conditions, it is entirely possible that Luther would not have written so extensively and lengthily on the subject. But under printing press conditions, these were the most blatant forms of spiritual taxation without representation of his time. The Ninety-Five Theses mention the word indulgence 45 times, and all but a few of Luther’s theses are directly aimed at his grievances about them. But the visual stress that writing produces in an oral culture also produces a changeover from group salvation to individual salvation. This shift is further illustrated by the practice, under manuscript conditions, of issuing group indulgences to cloisters, families, and monasteries, which the printing press obsolesced and replaced with the near exclusive distribution of indulgences for individuals. The cultural change to writing created a new possibility of private identity, and with it came an individual conscience, and the responsibility to attain one’s private salvation. Now these matters were largely imperceptible to the illiterate masses, but in the age of the printing press, even the illiterates became aware of the power of written words that they themselves could not read. To have a piece of paper printed by the Church’s authority, with your name, date, and place of issuance handwritten upon it, was to know that you had attained a special status for your mortal state or immortal soul, or both. And to be fair, Tetzel was primarily exaggerating the official teachings of the Church when he said that “each time a coin in the coffer clings, a soul from purgatory springs” — his rhetoric and salesmanship skills were more likely products of the printing press as well than a reflection of official theology of Rome: without the press producing such a supply of the product, what could be expected of the professional pardoners (quaestores) except for the production of greater demand?

One unexplored facet of economic history lies in the fact that indulgences are the very first instance of representative money in mass-produced form, before that phenomenon officially took hold with the Bank of Stockholm issuing paper notes in 1661. As a unit of measure, store of value, and medium of exchange, the medieval printed indulgence met all the requirements of paper money, especially as their real economic value was measured by the seller against four or five golden coins (i.e., commodity money), while to the purchaser their value was measured in eternity: years off of purgatory for penance due already forgiven sins in this life. If the medium of paper could be a store holder of eternal value whose ultimate source was Christ’s unlimited treasury of merits, perhaps these documents were the Pavlovian conditioning necessary for two hundred years prior to the ultimate bait-and-switch of paper currency? Of course, if one considers indulgences as the first paper receipts (that is, indicators of money received as the medieval Latin from which the word receipt is derived indicates), it becomes feasible to perceive banking receipts as the desacralized indicator of received money as the desacralized indulgence. Without this conditioning, it seems hardly plausible that a reasonable person would exchange gold coins for paper receipts that “represented gold coins” in the late middle ages unless she had first been conditioned to believe that the medium of paper was capable of carrying the very authority of God as message.

In the particular case of Johann Tetzel, the details help to illustrate this point.

The indulgence for sale in the Archbishopric of Magdeburg from 1515, for example, served the ostensible purpose of financing the completion of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome…In reality, the 1515 indulgence was intended to raise the money that Duke Albrecht of Brandenburg, Archbishop of Magdeburg, needed to pay the debts he had made with the Holy See in his bid for the Archbishopric of Mainz. Plurality of offices was prohibited, and moreover, church law stated that Albrecht was too young for his office. Special papal licenses had to be bought for several thousand florins. The powerful Fugger banking house in Augsburg gave the hopeful candidate a loan, and Albrecht commissioned one of the most brilliant salesman of indulgences… Johann Tetzel…The money Tetzel collected was put into an indulgence chest that had at least three locks whose keys were in the custody of different persons, including representatives of the Fugger banking house and ecclesiastic notaries.[25]

The reason that the Fugger’s held one of the keys to the indulgence chest is that the security for the loan money (for Duke Albrecht to become Archbishopric of Mainz) were guaranteed to the Fugger bank by future sales of indulgences! Here the story returns us to Mainz, just 300 miles away from Wittenberg and where, only 98 years earlier, Gutenberg’s father was working for the Ecclesiastic mint. While this historical fact has largely been overlooked by academia and historians alike, this should be understood as the first instance of the “printing of money” in the contemporary fiat currency sense. Instead of running the presses and producing currency that have the commodity value of green toilet paper, as we do today, the Fugger’s loan turns into a repayment scheme by Duke Albrecht, involving printing paper indulgences in currency that would produce genuine commodity money. Roughly half of this money remained in Albrecht’s pocket and the other half was sent to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Luther began preaching against this in the spring of 1517, because his own parishioners were demanding to have absolution in confession while denying the need for contrition and satisfaction.[26] By October of that year, Luther wrote a letter to his superior in the church hierarchy, the very Archbishop Albrecht of Magdeburg who was running the local scheme, and complained about his inability to provide sufficient pastoral care under the currently soul-damaging dangers of the indulgence trade. Enclosed in his letter was a copy of the Ninety-Five Theses he nailed to the Wittenberg door. “The archbishop made no reply, but, suspecting heresy, forwarded the documents to Rome. The planned disputation never took place.”[27] As Rupp notes, Luther “had invited a public disputation and nobody had come to dispute.” Then, “by a stroke of magic, he found himself addressing the whole world.”[28] Eisenstein adds that here “is an example of revolutionary causation where normally useful distinctions between precondition and precipitant are difficult to maintain.”[29]

Note well how the fact of the Ninety-Five Theses is a series of complaints against this one product of the printing press, and yet how thesis number 62 is an explicit argument in favor of another product of the printing press: “The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.” The aforementioned theses found fulfillment by March of 1522, when Luther at the Wartburg castle translated the New Testament from the original Greek (of Erasmus’ version) to vernacular German. He had produced the world’s first best-seller, a Bible so popular it sold three thousand copies between May and September, and had to be reprinted in an edition of 1500 by December just to meet demand.[30] Note well how Luther’s choice of the vernacular put him directly in touch with the spoken word of his parishioners, the majority of whom could not read his translation even though it was in their own “mother tongue.” But also note how, in choosing to promote his translation of Scripture over the abusive indulgence trade, Luther was effectively saying — not their printing press products, but mine. Furthermore, by printing in vernacular German and thereby connecting Latin with the acoustic traditions of Rome, Luther is implying the dissemination of the monopoly of knowledge in the papacy and the rearrangement of sense ratios due to print. In a word, that which desacralizes a given reality, in turn, becomes the new sacred Luther’s Reformation depended on the devaluation of Latin and the mystic, central Roman authority. Even more, keep in mind that by 1500, books had dropped in price by 95% since 1454, so even for the illiterate the idea of buying a book as cultural accessory suddenly becomes very affordable (and is a cultural pattern not totally unlike today’s digital aliterates, who can read but choose not to, and use the book as a fashion accessory more than a source of information). So, by 1517, an entire generation would be accustomed to the fashion and social capital which had come to be associated with books not unlike the fashion and social capital we have come to associate with smart phone technology. All this to say that while it is a well-known historical truism that the printing press helped spread the “cure” of the Reformation, it needs to be mentioned that it first produced the “problem.” Without the printing press mass producing indulgences for sixty-three years in Germany prior to Luther’s posting, and three years in his own neighborhood in a way that wrecked his conscience, Martin Luther would have had very little to complain about in his Ninety-Five Theses. Perhaps so little, that he never would have come to the conclusion that the printing press might be better served creating and re-creating copies of the Scriptures in the German vernacular.

Three – Mindset of the Reformation

The printing press produced not only the products of the Reformation — the indulgences and Bibles – but, just as significantly, the mindset of the Reformation. Again, the form, not the content, of a new medium subtly but, totally and irrevocably shaped, all who encountered it. What the printing press actually did, in Harold Innis’ phrase, was destroy the “monopolies of knowledge” heretofore possessed by the literate clergy and intellectuals[31] of the day. Under manuscript conditions, a very few could read, therefore most literature was transmitted orally in sermons, in auricular confession, and in general utilized in the acoustic space of Gothic cathedrals. Under acoustic conditions such as these, man is a group animal, and his perception of or need for private identity is very minimal. Under print conditions, however, all that suddenly changes. What Gutenberg produced, and what Luther manifested, first and foremost to the common man and woman — illiterate peasants as most were – was another way of reading and interpreting sacred texts, especially Holy Scripture. While the common person could not do this for themselves for another hundred years or more, the idea was born that they could do it thanks to this new product that came off the printing presses in such volume. Furthermore, by printing in vernacular German and thereby connecting Latin with the acoustic traditions of Rome, Luther is implying the dissemination of the monopoly of knowledge in the papacy and the rearrangement of sense ratios due to print. In a word, that which desacralizes a given reality, in turn, becomes the new sacred Luther’s Reformation depended on the devaluation of Latin and the mystic, central Roman authority. The choice to translate the Bible into the vernacular German, in some ways, can be understood as a symbolic placing of the text in the hand of the people more so than a practical contribution to the illiterate masses. However, in the more immediate setting, the reading of scripture and sermon could, for the first time, be understood in a language which these illiterate medievals would understand, that is, the vernacular German as opposed to the Latin of the Vulgate. This, of course, exaggerated the growing divide between the privileged information of Rome and the distributed knowledge of the Reformers. We often simplistically point to the printing press and think it is obvious that as soon as you print a book for everyone, mass literacy automatically ensues. But the facts of the Reformation show it to be an extremely “minority” media event in the actual literacy rates of those who were leading the conversation. Overall literacy in Germany in the early sixteenth century was five percent. This was complicated by the fact that literacy in the cities was thirty percent for men, but those cities themselves held no more than ten percent of the empire’s population.[32] And only a minority of the literate could read Latin, the language of the Ninety-Five Theses and many of the early documents. Even Luther expressed his inability to comprehend the unintended consequences of the new technology when he wrote to Pope Leo X on May 30, 1518:

It is a mystery to me how my theses, more so than my other writings, indeed, those of other professors were spread to so many places. They were meant exclusively for our academic circle here… They were written in such a language that the common people could hardly understand them. They… use academic categories.[33]

Considering the severely minute percentage of the population that could read the German vernacular, let alone Latin, the Reformation was truly a minority’s minority media event. Those minority Latin literate among German literate minorities could still speak in the vernacular tongue, and have their writings read, in translation if need be, at local venues, in churches, taverns, and public and private gatherings.

As McLuhan puts it, “Print is a technology of individualism”[34] The visual outering of the vernacular language produced a reordering of the sense ratios that cannot be underestimated:

The study of the Bible in the Middle Ages achieved conflicting patterns of expression which the economic and social historian is also familiar with. The conflict was between those who said that the sacred text was a complex unified at the literal level, and those who felt that the levels of meaning should be taken one at a time in a specialist spirit. This conflict between an auditory and a visual bias seldom reached a high degree of intensity until after mechanical and typographical technology had conferred on the visual great preponderance. Prior to this ascendancy, the relative equality among the senses of sight, sound, touch, and movement in interplay in manuscript culture, had fostered the preference for light through, whether in language, art or architecture.[35]

The new medium of print, in other words, fostered a preference for light on, a distinction that makes all the difference in the psychological perception of the viewer.[36] This visual stress creates a psychological preference for the optical and art history phenomenon known as perspective. Perspective allowed the viewer’s position in front of a two-dimensional piece of art to be overrode by the “painter’s view” of three-dimensional perspective if he or she stands at the precise “point of view” in which to engage it. Point of view, of course, quickly became a metaphor for private intellectual interpretation, and this shift produced a massive internal awareness of private identity, private thought, and private point of view.

Four – Cure of the Reformation: Here This Book Made Me Stand

In light of the new paradigm of perspective bestowed by the press, Luther’s famous speech at the Diet of Worms proves the Reformer’s interiorization of the individualistic values in his theology. From January 28 to May 25, 1521, this deliberative assembly of the whole German Empire addressed Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. This was Luther’s ultimate trial, in which he had to answer for his writings and his convictions. At the conclusion of Luther’s trial, between April 16th and 18th, in what is perhaps the most well-known of all Luther’s writings, the thirty-eight-year-old monk finally stood and answered declaratively:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the Pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Therefore, I am neither willing nor able to recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against one’s conscience. So help me God. Amen.

Luther’s entire rhetorical strategy here is driven by the effects of his personal reading of Scripture and claims its legitimacy by an appeal to the private and individual conscience. From a Scriptural point of view, the term conscience is only mentioned 30 times in the King James Version, and all of these are in the New Testament. In the NIV translation, there are 34 mentions of conscience, and 28 of them are in the New Testament. A content analysis of conscience in Scripture, however, reveals it to be a somewhat malleable private identity that can — and sometimes should — be flexible in deference and consideration to another believers weaker conscience.[37] I Corinthians 10:25-29, for instance, is all about the flexibility of conscience in deference to the conscience of another that might be weaker, in regards to food offered to foreign idols. In these handwritten letters, that would have been read to an audience under acoustic conditions, Paul is primarily teaching a variation on Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” The point about eating foods offered to foreign gods is to protect your brother’s conscience — not your own — in order not to cause offense. So, if Scripture makes clear that conscience is personally malleable for the good of the other, what drives Luther to make his entire rhetorical strategy rest on the claim that it is neither right nor safe to violate conscience? I would argue that it was the effects of his literacy itself, the effects of the form of Scripture in the medium of a printed book, and not the content of Scripture, that created what Neil Postman called a “hardening of the categories” into a perceptual alley that allowed Luther to perceive only his private, individual, point of view. McLuhan writes that, “Perhaps the most significant of the gifts of typography to man is that of detachment and noninvolvement – the power to act without reacting.”[38] In the later gloss to Luther’s speech, it is most likely Philip Melanchthon who added the line attributed to Luther, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” This is about as succinct a way of stating “this book has given me the ability to act without reacting” as possible.

Five – Re-form the Church? Re-form Everything!

“A new medium is never an addition to an old one, nor does it leave the old one in peace. It never ceases to oppress the older media until it finds new shapes and positions for them.”[39] McLuhan reiterated this when he wrote, “Once a new technology comes into a social milieu it cannot cease to permeate that milieu until every institution is saturated. Typography has permeated every phase of the arts and sciences in the past five hundred years.”[40]As C.S. Lewis wrote, “At his most characteristic, medieval man was an organizer, a codifier, a builder of systems. He wanted a place for everything and everything in the right place.”[41] This of course is typified in the German phrase Alles in Ordnung which is, to this day, the hallmark of the German people’s cultural preference for order.

If the printing press produced for Luther’s Germany a cultural ideal of “a place for everything and everything in its place,” then it was the clock that produced for Calvin “a moment for everything and something for every moment.” Just twenty-six years younger than Luther, John Calvin would be doubly affected in Geneva not only by the book but by the then-new medium of the portable clock, which later evolved into today’s watch. On November 20, 1541, the Geneva city council passed the Ecclesiastical Ordinances, which not only defined four orders of ministerial functions (pastors, doctors, elders, deacons), but also called for the creation of the Consistoire, an ecclesiastical court ruled by lay elders and the ministers. One of the new rules was to rid Geneva of all jewelers and goldsmiths who should no longer use their talent to make “crucifixes, chalices, and other instruments serving papacy and idolatry.” But Calvin allowed the clock and watchmakers to stay because he saw timeliness as a virtue in keeping with his theology, which left no time in the life of the Christian for idleness or amusement. Because each Christian would one day have to give an account of every second and minute of his life, Calvin perceived the new portable clock technology as a servant of piety. According to Lewis Mumford, most people didn’t know that the day consisted of hours, minutes, and seconds until around 1345, and had previously experienced time as organic, flexible, and with eternity as its horizon.[42] Now time became mechanical, routine, and nature submitted to the ruthless machinery of the clock. As a result, punctuality now became a spiritual virtue. Gian Pozzy puts it in HH: Magazine de la Haute Horlogerie as follows:

Calvin’s ordinances, and his zealous pastors, would impose a strict framework which left time for neither idleness nor amusement. There were sermons in two churches at four and six in the morning, another sermon in three churches at eight, catechism at noon and a fourth sermon at three in the afternoon on Sundays. In 1541, Calvin inflicted a fine of three sous for whomever should miss divine service, arrive late or leave before the end. Punctuality, a totally foreign concept to ancient and medieval scholars, and even to Erasmus, Ronsard and Montaigne, was all. “Better to arrive well in advance than one second late” is a theory which the theologian Max Engamarre of Geneva University has amply illustrated. For Calvin, there was no such thing as wasted time. He delivered constant reminders from the pulpit that when the Day of Judgement came, good Christians would have to account for every moment of their lives. Previously, the minute had been largely ignored. Under Calvin, it took on new importance.[43]

Since “time is money” is itself a concept and principle not possible without the clock, we should not be surprised to discover that Geneva, Switzerland is, to this day not only the top producer of fine time-keeping devices, but one of the top five richest cities on the planet.[44] Included in the top five[45] is the capital city of Zurich, Switzerland, whose name comes from the German, “zu reich” which means, “too rich.” And a theology book has yet to be written which finally explains, to both parties’ satisfaction, that the continual misunderstanding of Calvin’s theology as the foreboding of blind, mechanical, predestined fate is in fact, nothing of the sort it is the dreadful mindset of finitude and inevitability that the clock produces, not Calvinism! Still, a full separation of Calvin and the Clock needs to occur: we still look at the 1566 portrait of him with the motto “Prompte et Sincere”[46] and at least one college named after him still uses this slogan on their website.[47]

The technologies of the clock and the book are, of course, the spiritual and physical bedrocks upon which our modern lives depend, as they are the first conceptual and then physical instance of the interchangeable part. The mass production of identical items that were unique, repeatable, and predictable made way for the unintended effect that was the eventual creation of a mass consumer society. Without them, modern capitalism as we know it simply could not exist. The printing press, using the interchangeable, identical, and unique parts of hot metal type produced books that were, for the first time in history, precisely identical to the one before and after it. Spiritual heir to the printing press, the clock produces the unique, interchangeable, and identical “product” of hours, minutes, and seconds. As a technology born to better help monks serve God by regulating their canonical hours of prayer, it was ironic that the clock ultimately ended up serving Mammon in the production of the hourly wage, the assembly line, and the culture of accelerating efficiency that we have inherited from these European technologies.

Other developments that sprang from the printing press were legion: not only Renaissance perspective paintings evolve from the new visual stress, but the need for private identity became so great that the signing of these paintings became a standard practice, whereas before this the signing of an artwork had only happened intermittently and usually on very special occasions or commissions. This heightened individualism in art, architecture, and the visual world quickly became the domain of the reading world, as readers began to discern that they too could interpret Scripture, for example, in a way that was contrary to the grain of what they had been taught under oral conditions. Under oral conditions, arguments always find resolution under the law of the literate population illiterate appeals are not based on interpretation but on the authority of the account given by the literate in the community. Under conditions of mass literacy, as made possible by print, you can not only perceive the validity of your argument for the first time, but you can reproduce your argument and share it with others. The idea was born, not only for Luther, but for the whole society, that one no longer needed the Pope to interpret Scripture, when one had his own copy of the Bible. The priesthood of all believers is practically feasible only under conditions of mass literacy. Thus, we see how the technology of printing aided and abetted, and in some sense was, a new theology. This seems massively obvious to us in hindsight. But to the Catholic Church, this was a shocking, galling, new and altogether unwelcome development that the new technology of print afforded Luther and his followers. By the nineteenth century, critiques of Protestant zeal used the line that the Bible is the Pope in paper form,[48] which Protestants took as a badge of honor.

The Protestant Reformation was, among other things, a reader’s revolution. “The Gutenberg revolution made everyone a reader.”[49] And reading killed hearing, culturally speaking, just as surely as video killed the radio star. By the end of the Reformation, another victim of the Printing Press was auricular confession as more and more books intervened between sinner and priest, complicating the once-simple confessional into a legalistic and often contradictory list of sins, punishments, and exceptions.[50] When a new technology shifts a culture from the ear to the eye as the primary mode of reception, cataclysmic changes occur. The ear is a unifying organ, McLuhan wrote, “but the eye isn’t a unifying force. It tends towards fragmentation. It allows each person to have his own point of view and to hold to it.”[51] If you want a mass of individuals to feel like they are all part of a coherent group, the number one thing to do is get them to sing the same song. If you want a mass of individuals to come to an array of different conclusions, ask them to describe what a cloud looks like. Primacy of hearing creates a culture in which the good of the group is the highest order of the day. Primacy of seeing creates a culture in which the rights of the individual come to the fore. Luther’s motto of sola scriptura implies that only the products of the printing press can be trusted anything acoustic is simply hearsay, inadmissible evidence in a court of theological law. The very nature of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants was characterized as Scripture versus Tradition as reading versus hearing. Under technological conditions that economically, politically, and psychologically favored the printing press, hearing stood little chance against a new culture of readers.

And yet it did not kill listening. Because of the relative scarcity of literacy in the early period, the primary result for the mass audience (by which I mean the actual parishioners attending mass) was that the focus of the church service changed from looking to listening. In a Gothic cathedral, the stained-glass windows, the statuary, the paintings, and the smaller side chapels were all places in which parishioners milled about until the moment of consecration. At this time, the priest would raise the host and then the crowd would kneel together. The acoustics of a Gothic cathedral are fantastic for group singing, they are terrible for group listening, causing the didactic qualities of mass (i.e. the sermon) to be minimized and the participatory qualities (i.e. the sacraments) to be held in the highest esteem. The printing press produced a changeover that made the focus of the service the sermon, and specifically the exposition of scripture, and thereby produced the effects of making the service longer and of putting pews inside the building. Prior to the printing press, most cathedrals had no pews, and what few seats or chairs there were existed for the frail and elderly, and for the clergy themselves. After the Reformation, almost all Protestant churches could be distinguished by the presence of pews or rows of chairs. The printing press also put an end to Gregorian chant and to the construction of their acoustic spaces, the Gothic cathedrals. These magnificent acoustic spaces, sometimes taking four centuries or more to complete, largely ceased to be built after the sixteenth century. This is most eloquently stated by Victor Hugo in his 1831 Notre Dame de Paris (in English: The Hunchback of Notre Dame), in which he explains the Archdeacon’s enigmatic phrase. As he looks from the Bible to the Building, Claude Frollo declares, “This will destroy that. The Book will destroy the Edifice.” Hugo continues to explain these words:

To our mind, this thought has two aspects. In the first place it was a view pertaining to the priest — it was the terror of the ecclesiastic before a new force — printing. It was the servant of the dim sanctuary scared and dazzled by the light that streamed from Gutenberg’s press. It was the pulpit and the manuscript, the spoken and the written word qualing before the printed word — something of the stupefaction of the sparrow at beholding the Heavenly Host spread their six million wings. It was the cry of the prophet who already hears the far-off roar and tumult of emancipated humanity: who, gazing into the future, sees intelligence sapping the foundations of faith, opinion dethroning belief… It meant, The Printing Press will destroy the Church… the book of stone, so solid and so enduring, was to give way to the book of paper, more solid and more enduring still… one Art would dethrone another Art: Printing will destroy Architecture.[52]

Neither Gutenberg nor Luther, of course, could have seen the unintended consequences, of course, as they saw in the new medium of print exclusively a technology for enhancing devotion. Here is how Gutenberg put it in his 1460 preface to the Catholicon:

With the help of the Most High at whose will the tongues of infants become eloquent and who often reveals to the lowly what he hides from the wise, this noble book Catholicon has been printed and accomplished without the help of reed, stylus or pen but by the wondrous agreement, proportion and harmony of punches and types, in the year of the Lord’s incarnation 1460 in the noble city of Mainz of the renowned German nation, which God’s grace has designed to prefer and distinguish above all other nations of the earth with so lofty a genius and liberal gifts. Therefore all praise and honour be offered to thee, holy Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God in three persons and thou, Catholicon, resound the glory of the church and never cease praising the Holy Virgin. Thanks be to God.[53]

Perhaps one of the biggest “proofs” that the printing press was the formal cause of the Reformation is that it was a gift that kept on giving: based on extrapolations and suggested projections from Barrett, Kurian, and Johnson’s World Christian Encyclopedia, today there are some 41,000 distinct Protestant denominations[54] that make up the one true church. And thus, we must be careful in our zeal and appreciation for Luther because to grant historical causal agency primarily to Luther is to equally lay on him the blame for the continued divisions within Protestantism it is to suggest that a spirit of rebellion abides inherently in the Protestant worldview. On the contrary, we know that Luther deeply loved both his congregation and the mother Church, and sought not to divide her but to heal her children of its abuses and actually reform her from being “the whore of Babylon.” It is neither Luther nor the spirit of Lutheranism that provides the impetus for continued division within Protestant churches for the past 500 years, but the private point of view that print media provides that allows for these continued divisions as more and more individuals come up with a “better way” to embody their faith.

Six – Reduce the Font Size, Please

So was the Printing Press really the formal cause of the Protestant Reformation? Yes — of course it was. As Bernd Moeller succinctly put it, “No printing, no Reformation.”[55] According to Dickens,

Lutheranism was from the first the child of the printed book, and through this vehicle Luther was able to make exact, standardized and ineradicable impressions on the mind of Europe. For the first time in human history a great reading public judged the validity of revolutionary ideas through a mass-medium which used the vernacular language together with the arts of the journalist and the cartoonist.[56]

According to Eisenstein, “Gutenberg’s invention probably contributed more to destroying Christian concord and inflaming religious warfare than any of the so-called arts of war ever did.”[57] It was Printing, not Protestantism, that re-formed all of Europe. To say this is simply to point out that formal causality is another way of saying necessary conditions it is to say that the “essence” of the Reformation’s cultural pattern can be found in the “essence” of the print technology itself: private point of view, visual dominance over acoustic, individual rights over group identity and cohesion. To be clear, we are not saying something as banal as that Luther played no role or a passive role in the Reformation. It is not to say that the printing press was a sufficient condition or sufficient cause of the Reformation, but the printing press was an absolutely necessary condition. Furthermore, without it Martin Luther would most likely be as unheard of as Jan Hus is today (In fact, we might argue that Jan Hus is only known to us today because his ideas were later vindicated by Luther’s protest, which took place, culturally speaking, through the print medium). This point can be partially demonstrated by the relationship between a town having a printing press and whether or not they accepted the Reformation. Fribourg, Switzerland, which never left Catholicism, didn’t get a printing press until 1585. Likewise for the municipality of Einsiedeln, which didn’t get their first printing press until 1664.[58] As Marshall McLuhan put it, “the Church was… dismembered… by a stupid historical blunder, by a technology.”[59]

The history of technology is, among other things, the history of unintended consequences. As we have discussed, the printing press produced such a ripple of effects that it will likely take another 500 years for historians to truly consider according to its full cataclysmic complexity. Some of the printing press’ unanticipated consequences were the acceleration of Humanism (which got its start largely with the Italian paper industry), The Renaissance, Capitalism and the Nation State. The press created new art and changed the perceptions of old art. It changed architecture, literacy, language, science, mass production, economics, banking, bookkeeping, libraries, universities, nationalism, patriotism, the Industrial Revolution and consumerism.[60] It put pews in the churches[61] and placed artists’ signatures on the paintings. It ended the Gothic cathedral and burnings at the stake. It produced the Index of Prohibited Books, the Counter Reformation, the standardization of the Latin rite, an explosive increase in German vocabulary, a standardizing of the German vernacular, and the basis for at least thirteen of the resolutions at the Council of Trent.[62] But the final gift of the printing press was the gift of history books that claim that it is humans who act in the course of history and cause great changes, because technologies can never be anything but instruments at our service, to aid and abet us in our eternal march of progress. In 1964 McLuhan pointed out that

Any student of the social history of the printed book is likely to be puzzled by the lack of understanding of the psychic and social effects of printing. In five centuries explicit comment and awareness of print on human sensibility are very scarce. [63]

In Euen Cameron’s The Reformation, Cameron somewhat scoffs at the idea that printing played a pivotal role. In Brad Gregory’s magisterial book, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society, the printing press and Gutenberg are mentioned on exactly two pages. Diarmaid MacCulloch devotes more considerable space to print, and Andrew Pettegree’s more recent book Brand Luther perhaps does the best job of integrating the stories of the Reformation, Printing, and Capitalism as being inextricably intertwined. His book’s subtitle is 1517, Printing, and the Making of the Reformation – which suggests Luther as immediate cause, printing as necessary cause, and the Reformation as the result. The noticeable fact is that scholarship granting any formal causality of the Reformation to the printing press generally postdates 1968, the year that the discipline of Media Ecology was first “invented.”

Seven– Magic Indeed

In one of the most curious sidebars of the printing press’s effects, we see a link between the technology of the printing press and the naming of a key principle of the Media Ecology discipline. Gutenberg’s partners Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer printed the 42-line Bible in 1456, and sales were brisk:

An early author relates that Fust carried a parcel of Bibles to Paris and attempted to sell them as manuscripts. The forty-two line Bible had no title page, no page numbers, nor other innovations to distinguish it from handmade manuscripts. Both Gutenberg and his customers probably wanted it that way. When the French observed the number and conformity of the volumes, they thought witchcraft was involved. To avoid indictment and conviction, Fust was forced to reveal his secret. This event is alleged to be the basis for the popular story, related by several authors, of the German magician Dr. Faustus (Johann Faust in an early version), who grew dissatisfied with the limits of human knowledge and sold his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge and power.[64]

To those innocent of the knowledge monopoly of a new technology, the perception of “witchcraft” is inevitable, and is precisely what science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke meant when he said that, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”[65] Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, has the famous line, “A sound magician is a mighty god.” This early Gutenberg Bible sales story in Paris would later become the basis for one of the primary analogies used by Neil Postman to describe all technologies: A Faustian Bargain.

… all technological change is a trade-off. I like to call it a Faustian bargain. Technology giveth and technology taketh away. This means that for every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage. The disadvantage may exceed in importance the advantage…[66]

In this way we might go so far as to say that the printing press is one of the formal causes of the discipline of Media Ecology itself. And of course, the question of the Faustian bargain is but an echo of the question that our Lord Jesus Christ asks when he asks, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but lose his own soul?”[67]

Indulge Me One Last Time

Finally, it is worth noticing how two significant figure-ground shifts have occurred within the Catholic church since Luther’s posting of the Ninety-Five Theses 500 years ago. The first noticeable fact is that the Catholic church is still the world’s largest religion and still offers plenary indulgences – but it no longer does so in printed form. They seem to have taken the message of the Reformation to heart, having lost the battle of print, and have kept indulgences in the acoustic realm rather than making hardcopies in the visual realm a sort of spiritual tradition pattern in the old “scripture vs. tradition” dichotomy. If the spirit gives life, and the letter kills, as Paul reminds us, then by returning indulgences to the acoustic realm the Catholic church seems to have devised a strategy for maintaining a practice that was simply unfeasible under visual, printed conditions. Today’s Catholics cannot acquire a printed letter of indulgences instead, they receive indulgences that are verbal, acoustic, and spiritual in that the indulgence is itself an invisible thing that one “receives” in exchange for some act or service. Pope Benedict offered indulgences for downloading the Catholic app (get details). Pope Francis granted indulgences to Catholic faithful who followed his Twitter feed in 2013[68], and a plenary indulgence to Legionaries of Christ in 2015[69] In neither case did the recipients of these indulgences receive a printed document with their name, or date, and the “time off” purgatory in their name. Of course, we see here, with the abandonment of the individualistic medium of print the return to the distribution of indulgences as a group activity as opposed to a personal one.

The second thing worth noticing is that in April 2016, Pope Francis issued his “Joy of Love” (Amoris Laetitia) document, in which he suggested, in his own words, that Catholics should employ “individual conscience” when handling sensitive matters related to second (but unrecognized) marriages within their own diocese. This is a longer story than can be related here[70], but significant for our understanding is how it is now the Catholic Pope, and not the Protestant Luther, making a rhetorical strategy out of “conscience.” And so we see, after five hundred years, just what a figure-ground shift, what a give and take, that the printing press has produced for Christian history.

Access the introduction, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7

[2] Clark and Jain, The Liberal Arts Tradition, p.8.

[3] Robert Logan, The Alphabet Effect, 218.

[4] The 36-line Bible is the Bamberg Bible, which some attribute to Gutenberg.

[5] The most famous concentration camp is Dachau, outside of Munich, as it was the first one built by the Nazis (on March 22, 1933, less than two months after Hitler was elected) and became a standard camp upon which most of the others were modeled. Its grounds comprise two side-by-side rows of 17 long barracks each.

[6] McLuhan, Understanding Media, 24.

[7] McLuhan, The Medium and the Light, p. 83.

[8] The letter from Luther to Tetzel is lost, but this quotation is preserved in Emser’s Auff des Stieres su Wittenberg wiettende replica. en.wikisource.org/wiki/Page:Luther…

[10] Umberto Eco, Turning Back the Clock, p. 281

[11] Neil Postman, “Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change” talk delivered in Denver, CO, March 28, 1998, accessed online at http://web.cs.ucdavis.edu/

[12] Zu Gutenberg is documented to have been used since 1427. The name Gutenberg is etymologically related to the name Bergmann in medieval German. A “Berg mann” would be a “mountain man” literally, but figuratively meant a “miner”, or a man who went into the mountains to extract its metals. A “Gutenberg” would be a “good mountain” literally, but figuratively would be more likely to mean a “good miner” or “a miner who knew where to find the best metals (i.e., gold)” In Germany, Gutenberg’s Mainz is 300km from Luther’s Wittenberg, 300km from the “good mountain” to the “white mountain.”

[13] Gutenberg’s father was “a member of the Mainz fellowship of coiners” according to Burke, p. 113.

[14] Gutenberg, Man of the Millennium, p. 169.

[16] There is some uncertainty as to the reflective or “mirrorlike” qualities of the pilgrim’s mirrors. Some texts suggest they are mirrors in name only, while others claim that highly polished metal or glass would have been in place in the center sphere. In any event, the German guild of mirror makers was not established until 1514, according to Gutenberg, Man of the Millennium, p. 170.

[18] McLuhan, The Medium and the Light, p. 90.

[28] Rupp, quoted in Eisenstein, p. 170.

[31] In a previous age, literacy and clergy were synonyms: the Egyptian hieroglyphics were only readable by the clergy because that’s what the word meant: “priestly writing.”

[33] Letter from Martin Luther, 30 May 1518, in The Reformation, ed. Hillerbrand, 54. (quoted in Eisenstein, 169)

[34] McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy, p. __

[35] McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy, pp. 112-13.

[36] McLuhan makes use of the light on vs. light through differences in media forms in his 1968 experiments at Fordham when comparing film to television, and which became the basis for many of his later studies.

[37] C.f. 1 Corinthians 8, which is primarily about the eating foods offered to idols.

[38] McLuhan, Understanding Media, 173

[42] See Mumford’s Art and Technics,

[43] Pozzy, “How Calvin invented punctuality, 500 years ago.”

[44] See Max Weber’s classic 1905 study, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism for more connections between time-keeping and money-keeping.

[45] Nick Timaros, “The Most Expensive Cities in the World to Live” The Wall Street Journal, March 10, 2016, accessed online at http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2016/03/10/the-most-expensive-cities-in-the-world-to-live/

[46] The first appearance of the “Prompte et Sincere” motto came on a portrait of Calvin made in 1566, two years after his death.

[47] Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI had the headline on their website, “My heart I offer to you Lord, promptly and sincerely” as a tribute to Calvin’s portraiture motto.

[51] McLuhan, Marshall, Medium and the Light, p. 47

[52] Hugo, Section 5, Part II, The Hunchback of Notre Dame

[54] This figure is arrived at by extrapolating from their first edition in 1982, and confirmed by the second edition that came out in 2001. The 41,000 number comes from a 2011 estimation. The current World Christian Database website states that it “represents over 9,000 Christian denominations throughout the world.” Either way you count the data, it is hard not to reach the conclusion that “Protestantism” is not one thing, but many things.

[56] Arthur Godfrey Dickens, Reformation and Society in Sixteenth Century Europe (New York, 1968), 51, quoted in Eisenstein.

[58] Contemporary demographics of Fribourg and Einsiedeln are interesting in light of this consideration: In the 2000 census Fribourg was 69% Catholic while Einsiedeln was 78% Catholic.

[59] McLuhan, The Medium and the Light, p. 46.

[61] The addition of chairs was especially ironic for the cathedrals, since the very term cathedral originally meant not only the “principle church of a diocese” but the church containing “the bishop’s throne or chair” — which is what the cathedral term meant in its original etymology, from the Greek from κατά ‎(katá, “down”) + ἕδρα ‎(hédra, “seat”), thus the word’s evolution from 1.) armchair, to 2.) ceremonial chair (of a teacher, later of a bishop), and finally to, 3.) the office or rank of a teacher or bishop. Thus, the printing press converted a building designed for one chair into a building designed for thousands of chairs in this rearranging of the chairs we see another way in which the “authority” of the church shift from the bishops to their congregations. The original chair-sitters were for those literate few who read the Bible to us. The new chair sitters were the increasingly literate congregations who could understand and interpret the Bible for themselves, and who needed chairs to sit through the longer exegetical sermons of Protestant worship services.

[62] See Schuchardt, Read Mercer “The Council of Trent 2.0: The Counter-Reformation as Media Event” unpublished paper delivered at the Media Ecology Association Conference, Bologna, Italy, June 24, 2016.

[63] McLuhan, Understanding Media, p. 172.

[65] From Clarke’s three laws, the third of which appears in his 1973 revision of his essay, “Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination” in Profiles of the Future (1962).

[66] Postman, Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change.

[68] Ryan Jacobs, “What the Pope Really Meant in His Twitter-Indulgences Announcement” The Atlantic, July 19, 2013, accessed online at http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/07/what-the-pope-really-meant-in-his-twitter-indulgences-announcement/277909/

[69] Doug G. Ware, “Pope Francis grants plenary indulgence to controversial Legionaries of Christ”, UPI, October 29, 2015, accessed online at http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2015/10/29/Pope-Francis-grants-plenary-indulgence-to-controversial-Legionaries-of-Christ/3661446146263/

[70] Perhaps most note-worthy is that it was media commentators who seized on the word “conscience” more than anyone else. While Pope Francis did use the term, he meant it not in the sense of “how I feel” but in the sense of “a conscience informed by Catholic teaching.” As in his earlier comments about sexuality and other hot-button issues of the day, the change was more a softening of the Pope’s rhetoric than a change in any official church teaching.

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