Changes in religious or magical forms are created when alterations in science or other variables acting as shifters affect degrees of survival uncertainty or existential anxiety. Some examples are obvious—modern meteorology has reduced the demand for rain dances or rituals. Other examples include the well-known attempt by the medieval Roman Catholic Church to defend doctrinal orthodoxy and orthodox science, ultimately unsuccessfully, through condemnation of late medieval scientists, including John Hus (burned at Constance in 1415), Copernicus, Giordano Bruno (burned at Rome in 1600) and, most famous, Galileo Galilei. Indeed, the case of Galileo may be interpreted in interest-group terms. His most important and notable contribution was his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems—Ptolemaic and Copernican in which he demonstrated the superiority of the theory of Copernicus that the earth revolved around the sun.24 It was this book, the eternal cause celebre for the necessity of free scientific inquiry, that was censured by the Inquisition. Galileo, reasonably early (in 1611) and under the clear influence of Copernicus, was convinced that the Aristotelean-Ptolomaic (A-P) view of the earth in relation to the universe was incorrect. The A-P universe was static, unalterable, and "incorruptible," as Galileo was taught by his Aristotelean-influenced Jesuit philosopher-teachers. But it was a group of teachers from this order, Jesuit astronomers supporting the Tychonic over the Copernican system and Dominican licensers, who formed interest groups in Rome, which were key to the eventual trial of Galileo. The shift from Italian printers in Venice and Rome to Protestant printers in Wittenberg and other Protestant areas was also at play in the prosecution of Galileo.25 While interest group economics might be factually applied to these other episodes of religious repression, we focus on a fifteenth-century invention that was a prelude to the modern world having profound implications for the form of religion.
The printing press, based on the principle of movable type, was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the middle of the fifteenth century. The rapid dissemination of printing had earthshaking implications for the course of civilization, virtually creating the foundation for widespread literacy, the development of a permanent and ongoing Renaissance in science, philosophy, and literature, and establishing the basis of the modern world. Less than seven decades after Gutenberg, the new science of printing paved the way for a new form of Christian religion. A plethora of early heresies, those of Wycliff, the Waldensians, and many others, emphasized church corruption, the sale of indulgences, and a church that had strayed from the aims of Jesus Christ, but it was only with Luther and Calvin that a reformation against Roman Catholicism was able to stick. Though not the sole cause—some Roman de-manders switched due to high and discriminatory pricing schedules, for example—printing was for the first time available as a mass medium to publicize Church abuses. A growing but incomplete literacy in parts of Europe fostered this development, but early forms of printed etching and woodcut production even bridged these gaps. The lack of literacy was bridged by what later were termed "broadsides," pictures that told a story or provided messages of abuse.26 Like the later examples of broadsides used for political purposes by Goya in Spain, Daumier in France, and Posada in Mexico, these early etchings were sometimes created by great artists such as Cranach the Elder and Albrecht Dürer.
Eisenstein notes that between 1517, when Luther published his Ninety-five Theses, and 1520, Luther's thirty publications sold over three hundred thousand copies in the vernacular.27 Rejecting the Roman Catholic Church's monopoly on scriptural interpretation, Luther transferred this power to the individual.28 The Church used the press to develop its objections to Luther and other Protestants and the resulting "pamphlet wars" between 1520 and 1525 made Luther a household name and the Reformation a reality. Historian Jean-Francois Gilmont noted that although the whole story of the emergence of Protestantism was not "justification by print alone,'' the great interaction between printing and the Reformation made the many emerging forms of Christianity possible.29 These media wars between 1517 and the Peace of Augsberg (1555) and other "settlements" that established Protestantism in most of northern
Europe were clearly made possible by Gutenberg.30 Eisenstein writes, "Heralded on all sides as a 'peaceful art,' 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. Much of the religious turbulence of the early modern era may be traced to the fact that the writings of church fathers and Scripture itself could not continue to be transmitted in traditional ways. As a sacred heritage, Christianity could be protected against most forms of change. As a heritage that was transmitted by texts and that involved the 'spreading of glad tidings,' Christianity was peculiarly vulnerable to the revolutionary effects of ty-pography.''31 Clearly, the reduced information costs to increasingly literate ordinary citizens made possible by printing and the spread of literacy were able to make "everyman his own theologian.'' This new science of printing shifted religious forms in both content and number, permitting a less rule-driven and more individual and philosophically oriented group of Christian sects to emerge. Science, literacy, and education permitted a shift in religious forms.
Was this article helpful?