Reformation and the printing press


I was talking with a protestant and she brought this to my attention. How would you address it?

“Isn’t it interesting that the Protestant reformation followed very closely after the invention of the printing press- when scripture was in the hands of the “people” and they could compare church doctrine with scripture?”


I would say thus: “Madame, your case in point betrays the fact that any such doctrine like unto “Sola Scriptura” could never have been possible until the invention of the printing press a grand and a half years after the Church began.” Translation: Nobody even could believe in the written word alone as the guide for life, because before the printing press there was no way to do it. We see now that protestant theology is an innovation and not a restoration of ancient Christian doctrine.


I would reply, “Yes quite interesting! Also you’d have to find interesting the fact that not long after the Reformation and putting the Bible into individual hands, Protestantism began to split into hundreds, then thousands of denominations. All of them with differing opinions regarding what’s right and wrong. Whereas the Catholic Church remained unified in terms of teachings, policy and disciplines.”

If she finds causality with the first case, then she has to find causality with the second.


Thank you Pinoy.


The more freely communication and ideas can be distributed, the more likely central authorities, including the church, will lose some power.




True. But not relevant to the Reformation of which the Gutenburg Bible formed a part.

Reformation princes seized power from the Church by force. They forced citizens to convert to the new religion. They seized land and wealth. They frightened people into asquiesence under the new order by deploying widespread bloodshed.

Communication and ideas were not free during the Reformation. They were directed cold-bloodedly toward defaming and undermining not only the Church but also all power which was not vested in individual Reformist princes.

Moreover, notwithstanding that the Bible was now turned out by printing press, people could still not afford to buy bibles. These new bibles were, as they always had been, for the moneyed and the privileged. The Reformation did not improved the lot of the poor and the underprivileged – the Least of Mine, as Jesus said.

And what use is freedom if it wrongfully removes books from the Bible? That is not freedom. That is censorship.

The Reformation worsened the lot of the “Least of Mine” and moreover transformed this unfortunate segment of the new societies into mute, docile cogs in the engine of what would eventually become National Socialism: folks who would look the other way when the men in the shiny boots led their neighbours away to the death camps.

So much for freedom.


As a protestant, I can say that I’m happy God sent us the printing press. On the other hand, I also lament that fact that people see the Word differently because of it. Well meaning Evangelicals see the bible the same way the see a self help book in the religion section of Barnes & Noble. It is a simple fact the form something takes effects the way it’s understood. The bible is no different.

But not all Evangels Protestants believe that the “me and my bible” mentality is okay. Christians who thin they can interpret Scripture without taking the historic creeds and the history of the church into account are making a grave mistake.


Christians who thin they can interpret Scripture without taking the historic creeds and the history of the church into account are making a grave mistake.

looking at history often leads ppl into the catholic church


What a horrible God we have- that he would intentionally keep his children in the dark- for 1500 years-…oooo I made a mistake— like 1900 years- because the “Bible in the hand of each believer” was never possible until most recent times.

Yes Virginia, only the rich could even afford a bound edition of the Bible done by any one of the Protestant Reformers via a printing press back in the 16’th century.



Totally true. Protestants often present the Reformation as if it’s novel premises and doctrines won the day with the average man by it’s clear biblical truth, when in fact, the factors that led to it’s spread had more to do with contemporary nationalism, politics, and good old power and land grabbing. The common man in that day did not have the education to think these things through by themselves, but rather, pretty much adopted the religion, sometimes by compulsion of force, that the rulers of their land did. If the rulers saw it to their advantage to consolidate their power by defying the Church and confiscating her wealth, that was often all the motive for “conversion” needed.

If the invention of the printing press aided Protestantism in any way, it was not from the printing of Bibles, which only a few people could still afford, much less have the educational background to understand, but rather the multiplication of spurious anti-Catholic pamphlets and tracts that misled (and ironically still mislead) the ignorant. See the article below:



Moreover, over 90% of that society could not read.
Moreover, the throngs of the poor did not have the leisure time to read.


you might also point out to her the historical note that the first book Gutenberg printed was a German language Catholic Bible, long before the REformation was a gleam in Luther’s eye. Printed versions, including vernacular translations approved by the Church were in circulation for at least 100 years before the Reformation began. One could equally argue that the growth in literacy among all classes of society was one (of many) factor responsible for the Reformation. The Church has protested and supressed throughout history, before and after the 16th c., inaccurate, false, biased and spurious translations of scripture, and continues to defend the integrity of the transmission of Divine Revelation. She is the only authority on earth in which Jesus Christ entrusted that responsibility and which enjoys the protection of the Holy Spirit in so doing.

Yes, among the printers, for instance in France, spurious bible translations first circulated, and were adopted almost as a fad among members of the upper and middle classes who investigated Calvinism as a protest agains royal authority. One cannot however ignore the political forces at work in the Reformation by attributing it to one cause, because from history we see how it played out in differently in various European countries due to political factors.


In my opinion, the beubonic plagues had more to do with the reformation than the printing press. The plagues killed up to half of Europe and over 75% (I have heard estimates as high as 90%) of the clergy, forcing the Church to ordain clergy less qualified in both scripture and character. All of this social upheaval and lack of faith in corrupt clergy made the environment ripe for the reformation.

God Bless,



Yep. The Wittenburg Plague caused Luther to have a mental collapse. From that he withdrew from his religious community and from his Church with whom he had been more than passingly content from the time they gave him shelter from his violent parents. From that withdrawal he became ‘Luther-alone’ and no amount of spurious new doctrine was beyond the rapaciousness of his personal ambition.


I don’t know about 90% of society. But I don’t think you can credibly argue that the printing press did not enable Luther and Calvin to disseminate their ideas to a much larger audience then they would have been able to reach without the printing press.

Words are not the only thing that can be massed produced with the printing press. A picture is worth a thousand words. A picture of the pope being portrayed as the whore of Babylon could be understood by the literate and illiterate alike.


Yes. Thne Reformation is largely the story of power passing from the feudal landlords into the hands of the middle class.

The problem for the middle class man is that he relies on money to keep him middle class. A great landowner can treat the peasants every feast day and endow a chantry for his father’s soul, and merely reduces his pleasures. No one expects him to break up his estate. The middle class merchant eats into his substnace. So the middle classes needed an excuse for cheap churches which didn’t demand much in the way of charity to the poor. Sola Fide and all that.

The Catholic Church eventually caught up. Nowadays if a Church demands a decent percentage of a members’ income, it will almost certainly be evangelical.


[quote=Valke2]I don’t know about 90% of society.

Then do the math.

[quote=Valke2] But I don’t think you can credibly argue that the printing press did not enable Luther and Calvin to disseminate their ideas to a much larger audience then they would have been able to reach without the printing press.

Was I arguing this? Were my comments about the Gutenburg press not connected directly to the usefulness of printed Bibles for the poor?

Of course Reformation propaganda (cartoons and posters) was turned out on printing presses. I have linked to those deplorable forms of anti-Catholic defamation in a previous post.


and I was not arguing that making bibles available to the masses was the turning point of the reformation. I was simply stating that the ability to disseminate information, whether in words or pictures, is generally harmful to dictorial or central authorities.


Did the invention of the printing press help Jewish people disseminate Scripture, or were the Jewish people unable to access printers due to prejudice?

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