Among the external resources available to the church, the printed page stands first. The invention of printing from movable type was one of the right-angle turns in history. Marshall McLuhan aptly gives his book about how we have been molded by “the print technology” this title—The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographical Man. That is what we all are—men and women who in one way or another have been conditioned through the printed page.

The origin of movable type is a complicated story. Here is an invention wholly independently at different times and with different results in Occident and Orient. Asia was first. Block printing in China goes back to the eighth century A.D. and printing from movable type to the eleventh century; yet results were not the same in China as in the West, because with its thousands of ideographs Chinese is not an alphabetical language. Therein lies one of the reasons for the difference between China and the West. Typography in Europe also began with block-printing, which was used as far back as the fourteenth century. But it is Johann Gutenberg in Germany who is generally credited with the invention toward the middle of the fifteenth century of printing from alphabetical type.

So there came into history a vast expansion of the “dimension of repeatability,” as McLuhan puts it. This quick, manifold repeatability of the written word has opened the door to modern civilization. And though we stand today on the verge of a new era through mass electronic communication, the printed page will endure. It will endure because it is the unique extension of one of our most important capabilities as human beings—the use of words to convey thought and feeling—and because it makes the verbal products of the human ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.

Tags:
Issue: