An idea rooted in history
The Chinese invented paper as early as 105 A.D.. They also invented xylography, a form of printing using a wooden block on which there were engravings coated with ink.
In XIth century China, a new type of typography appeared, using mobile letters made of solid clay.
Typography developed rapidly in Korea in the XIIIth century. At the beginning of the XVth century, Laurent Coster in Holland made mobile letters out of wood.
Gutenberg greatly improved the technology of printing
The achievement of the German printer Johan Gutenberg (around 1400-1468) was to bring together in an easily usable form the elements of printing techniques :
- mobile characters which were strong (an alloy of antimony and lead) and could also be manufactured easily, by casting in moulds,
- typesetting of the text,
- the use of the hand press.
His associate, Schoeffer, had the idea of replacing the sand moulds by copper ones.
Gutenberg printed the first copy of the Bible, the « 42 lines » version, in Latin, in Mainz, around 1455.
A cultural revolution
The invention of printing was quickly taken up, first in Germany then all over Europe ; by the end of the XVth century, about 25 000 books had been published, which (assuming 500 copies were made of each one), corresponded to twelve million books.
Printed books were much less expensive than manuscripts. Prices went down. At the beginning of printing, less than 10% of the population could read. With the mass diffusion of books, literacy increased rapidly.
Printing helped to establish literary texts and encouraged the spread of ideas, especially those of the humanists, and later, those of the Reform movement. The Bible could now be read and understood because it had been fully translated into German, French and English.
Progress in the tour
- GILMONT Jean-François (dir.), La Réforme et le livre. L’Europe et l’imprimé (1517-v. 1570), Éditions du Cerf, Paris, 1990
Christianity in the West in 16th century
At the beginning of the 16th century, the Church of Rome had been in a state of moral and political crisis for two centuries, but had not managed to overcome it.
Jacques Lefèvre d'Etaples (1450-1537)
Jacques Lefèvre d’Etaples was a theologian who founded the “Cenacle of Meaux” and was the first to translate the Bible into French.
Forerunners of the Reformation
The Forerunners of the Reformation developed many ideas which inspired Luther. Among them Pierre Valdo was the first, in the XIIth century.
Renaissance and Humanism in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries
At the end of the Hundred Years’ War in 1453, Europe was peaceful for a while as there were less disease epidemics and less conflicts. The population grew, cities developed and trade increased. Large banks financed noteworthy initiatives, such as maritime expeditions leading to Great Discoveries. In those good times, later called the Renaissance, the humanist movement evolved.
Factors preceding the Reformation
Forerunning factors to the Protestant Reformations had been accumulating for many years.
Appearance of the Reformation in France
In the early 16th century the Church had already been in a moral and political crisis they could not overcome for two centuries. In the context of the Renaissance, humanism appeared, as printing ensured the spread of writings. Against this background Luther’s ideas flowed into France. In 1521 Lefèvre d’Étaples founded the Meaux Circle, a reflection group promoting preaching of Scripture in parishes. Reformed Churches appeared and soon organised themselves.