Without printing, would there have been a Protestant Reformation? Would Luther have even survived?

Only a century earlier, both John Wycliffe and John Hus spawned movements of intense spiritual fervor. Wycliffe and Hus wrote prolificly also.

But, the absence of adequate printing technology limited the distribution of their works. As a result, their ideas did not spread as rapidly or as far as they might have. Wycliffe was condemned, Hus was burned at the stake, and history casts them as only harbingers of the Reformation.

Would Martin Luther have joined their ranks without access to a “modern” press? Would his revolutionary ideas have been contained? John Foxe, sixteenth-century author of the famous Book of Martyrs, would probably have said yes. “Although through might [the pope] stopped the mouth of John Huss,” he wrote, “God hath appointed the Press to preach, whose voice the Pope is never able to stop with all the puissance of his triple crown.”

Luther himself understood that books and pamphlets spoke long after he had left the pulpit. He referred to printing as “God’s highest and extremest act of grace, whereby the business of the Gospel is driven forward.”

Young Technology

It was only in the 1450s that Johann Gutenberg introduced technical printing advancements that made mass reproduction practical. When Luther posted his “95 Theses” some sixty years later, two dozen printing centers dotted Europe. Wholesale booksellers had developed distribution centers, and legions of traveling book hawkers crisscrossed the continent.

Ironically, Luther’s introduction to the press’s effectiveness may have been haphazard. Within two weeks of the posting of his “95 Theses,” they were printed, without his permission, and distributed throughout ...

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