The 3 Impacts of the Printing Press on the Protestant Reformation

Invention NamePrinting Press
Invention Date1440 A.D.
Cultural Impact LevelHigh
InventorJohannes Gutenberg
Region of WorldCentral Europe, 15th century

During the 15th century Johannes Gutenberg, a German goldsmith, would invent the world’s first printing press the impact of which would help to create the protestant reformation.

There are 3 impacts that the printing press had upon the protestant reformation. First, the printing press allowed for another religious ideology to be printed in central Europe. Second, the Printing Press allowed for protestant’s to gather and share information to create a community. Third, the Printing Press allowed for mass production of critical literary text.

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Without further ado; here are the 3 impacts of the Printing Press on the Protestant Reformation.

1.) The Printing Press Allowed for Another Religious Ideology In Europe

One of the main influences of the printing press upon the protestant reformation was the ability to have another religious ideology spread across Europe in the 16th century.

Up until the 16th century the Catholic church was the dominant power in Europe. This started during the 4th century when the Roman Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan. This allowed freedom of religion throughout the empire and legalized Christianity.

Over the next 1,200 years the Roman Catholic church would become the dominant ideology across Europe. The reason for this trend was that the Catholic church held the power over knowledge.

Monks in monasteries would spend their entire lives hand copying approved books to be spread across the Christian world. The Printing Press for the first time took this book making ability and gave it back to the general public.

This was one of the main impacts of the printing press upon the protestant reformation. The mass production of religious texts allowed for another ideology to grow in Europe. This would have been impossible without the printing press as the catholic church would not have allowed separate religious books to be produced.

2.) The Printing Press Allowed for Protestants to Gather and Spread Knowledge

Another large impact of the printing press upon the protestants’ reformation was the ability for protestants to gather and spread their knowledge.

The ability to share knowledge with like minded people through the form of text is vital to group formation. A great example of this theory is Benedict Anderson’s famous book Imagined Communities where Anderson directly looks at group formation in relation to the printing press.

The printing press therefore would have allowed protestant’s to gather and share their knowledge through written pamphlets and texts. They no longer had to interact with the catholic church but could create their own.

The result of this would be a huge expansion of protestants across Europe. The established church no longer held a monopoly on knowledge production and dissemination. Now with the printing press any wealthy shop owner could provide their own form of religion.

Further, one of the major impacts of the printing press upon the protestant reformation was the ability to print in local languages. The Catholic monks were instructed and trained to only print texts in Latin. This means that in order to interact with text you would have to be trained to read Latin.

The printing press allowed texts to be rapidly translated into local languages so that everyone could read and interact with them.

Both of these facets of the printing press allowed huge numbers of local Europeans to gather through text and share their knowledge. As a result this remains one of the primary impacts of the printing press upon the protestant reformation.

3.) The Printing Press Allowed for the Mass Production of Critical Literary Text

One of the main impacts of the printing press upon the protestant reformation was the mass production of critical literary texts.

The protestant reformation was not one unified group of people. Once the printing press was created and knowledge was able to be spread across Europe in local languages several smaller protestant groups formed.

This is often an overlooked fact about the protestant reformation. It was not two monolithic ideologies fighting against one another, rather it was the established Catholic church trying to stop hundreds of smaller protestant groups from forming.

Germany had Lutheranism, Czech was Jan Hus, Switzerland was Zwingli and Calvin, and in Sweden there was Gustav Vasa. There was no monolithic group of protestants who opposed the Catholic church.

Each of these reformers used the power of the printing press to influence their own reformation process. They would all publish critical literary texts and influence the development of the overall protestant reformation.

Further, each of these critical literary texts were in the local dialects of the local community. This community would turn around and publish another critical text and the cycle would continue. Each time the texts would build off each other furthering the overall reformation.

As a result the ability to mass produce critical literature heavily influenced the overall development of the protestant reformation.

Conclusion

There you have it; an entire article that goes over the 3 impacts of the printing press upon the protestant reformation.

The protestant reformation would start in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses upon the castle door of Wittenberg, Germany. Over the next 141 years Europe would fight amongst itself using violence and the printing press. In 1648 the Peace of Westphalia marked the end of the reformation period.

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Until next time.

Nick