Gutenberg: The Man of the Millennium
Envision living in a society that lacked sophistication and that was deficient in possessing a rich and diverse culture. Imagine believing in values that are propagated around the public, with no apparent basis or reason for believing in them. This is the manner that society functioned in before the printing press was invented. Previous to the printing press being invented, books and literature were produced by an extensive and protracted method. This method involved books being hand copied, usually by monks. This whole process drastically changed thanks to an innovative and insightful gentleman, who is known as Johannes Gutenberg. Gutenberg was, and still is known, as an incredibly renowned inventor, as he is eulogized for fabricating an invention that has provided the fundamentals for the way information was collected and distributed throughout communities. The journey commences back to China in 1040, when a movable type apparatus made out of wood was invented. This Chinese invention didn't have a substantial impact on Chinese society during that instance in time. One rationale for this is because of the complexity of the Chinese language. The Chinese language consists of thousands of characters, which made manoeuvring the movable type a lingering procedure. With the Chinese developing a simple design, all that was needed was for one individual to further enhance this invention, and insert their personal additions to improve the functionality of the idea. “It was a goldsmith from Mainz, Germany, Johannes Gutenberg, who created a durable and interchangeable metal type that allowed him to print many different pages, using the same letters over and over again in different combinations.” (Butler, 2007) This invention commenced a transformation, and it exceedingly aided Europe, as it further shifted into the Renaissance. Gutenberg's invention of the printing press was an innovation which held the ability to perpetually revolutionize the world through the advancement of culture, knowledge and philosophy.
During the Middle Ages, before the invention of the printing press, scholars were piloted by the principles of the Catholic Church. Individuals strived to perform actions that would ultimately lead them to heaven. During the Renaissance, a new philosophy known as humanism emerged. “The basic concept of Humanism is the belief that all human beings have a capacity to reason. Humanism shows a reverend respect for the beauty of the human body and power of an individual's mind. It saw the awesome potential in each person to achieve great things, and the potential to develop his mind and body.” (Thinkquest, 2000). The printing press had a major impact on the philosophy of humanism, because it assisted in the distribution of these new, cutting-edge ideas. Humanism was especially intrigued with the classical literary works from ancient Greece and Rome. With the introduction of the printing press, these classics were able to be mass produced, so that other individuals were able to study the meaning and beauty behind these ancient civilizations. In a sense, the printing press presented humanists with the upper hand in the battle of influencing the population, over the Catholic Church. This is because humanists were able to publish their superior ideas that contradicted the previous teachings of the Catholic Church. During the Middle Ages, the European residents were informed of values pertaining to the Catholic Church, however, these values were often told aloud and not written down. This means that the values that were presented to the public could be interpreted with a radically different approach. Because individuals were kept in the dark and constrained, they were narrow minded to the situation, and they strongly agreed with these interpretations and values. Once the printing press was invented, the bible was being widely produced so that they were readily available for the public. This allowed humanists to acquire the bible, which they were able to interpret and understand on their own. By observing the bible with their own eyes, they became conscious of the true teachings of the bible, and it allowed them to realize if they agreed or didn't agree with the written text.
Before the invention of the printing press, all manuscripts were written in Latin, and only well educated individuals were able to get pleasure from literary masterpieces. After this critical invention, texts written in the vernacular began to be produced. By having these texts written in the vernacular, it allowed common folk to have the ability to read, since they were able to understand these vernacular languages. The spread of these texts marked an increase in the literacy rate of Europe. This boosted literacy rate was able to spark an alteration in the knowledge level of the citizens. By having a higher literacy rate, individuals were able to grasp new and knowledgeable information from books, which in the end resulted in a well informed society. Another considerable factor regarding the literacy rate swiftly increasing during the Renaissance was that printing books was relatively less expensive and less time consuming than hand writing them. With the texts being less expensive, it gave average people the opportunity to purchase books and open their minds to the ideas and stories that were previously unavailable for them to possess. Also, by having the books being less time consuming to produce, it allowed a variety of books to be produced and it allowed more books to be produced so that they became readily available. Another way that the printing press aided Europe to become more resourceful and knowledgeable, was through the scientific revolution. The printing press allowed scientists to easily communicate their discoveries among the public, as the discoveries were printed and distributed for review and approval. “It can also be argued that printing changed the way Europeans thought. With the older illuminated manuscripts, the emphasis was on the images and the beauty of the page. Early printed works emphasized principally the text and the line of argument.” (Spiritus Temporis, 2005) This quote explains that printing was radically different than the hand written manuscripts due to the focal point of each. Manuscripts focused on the decorations of the literary work while printing focused on the actual words and ideas being expressed. This outlines the fact that writing in Europe was concerned with the knowledge that could be delivered through flowing and superior ideas.
When the progression from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance occurred, culture became an incredibly important element for society. During the Middle Ages, culture was not a key ingredient or important aspect for the population. The culture lacked the sophistication and richness that the Renaissance possessed. No written documents were recorded during this period of time, and the artwork was basic, with the main focus of artwork being God. One of the main culture changes that can be seen during the Renaissance period is the change of the Catholic Church influencing culture. The printing press played an important part in this culture change, especially in regards to the Protestant Reformation. A monk named Martin Luther emerged, and he successfully separated himself from the Catholic Church. The main reason for this was due to the fact that Luther did not agree with the Church's practice of selling indulgences. Thus, the religion known as Protestant was created. The printing press was able to spread Luther's work that outlined the wrongdoings of the Church that was known as 95 Theses. This work was able to spread quickly due to the fact that the printing press made producing text quicker and less expensive than hand writing it. With this work being spread to the population, there was a culture shift as the population began to comprehend and grasp Luther's ideas. They began to question the actions of the Catholic Church and this led to a culture that was more secularized. “Because of the printing press, authorship became more meaningful. It was suddenly important who had said or written what, and what the precise formulation and time of composition was. This allowed the exact citing of references, producing the rule, one Author, one work, one piece of information.” (Spiritus Temporis, 2005) Because the printing press enabled the work of writers to become widespread to the whole population, it highly influenced the competition for writing works of literature that would be garnered as timeless and classics in the future. This made writing an important aspect of Renaissance culture, as it would encourage people to write so that they have the chance of obtaining fame.
In essence, the printing press proved to be a genius invention that considerably influenced many aspects of the Renaissance in a positive way. It acquired many purposes that go beyond the sole use of printing. The printing press presented itself as a catalyst pertaining to the Protestant Reformation. It also presented itself as a tool used to significantly increase the knowledge of the population. And lastly, the printing press presented itself as an instrument that was used to substantially change the culture of the Renaissance, and to add many features that in the end resulted in a rich culture and a refined society. Without a doubt, life would certainly not be the same if this invention was not invented. Life would be dull and unexciting, living in a corrupted society with no promise lying at the end. Gutenberg has certainly proved to be the man of the millennium, as he has created something that people will be discussing for thousands of years to come.
Brown, L. (2007). The Printing Press. Retrieved 2010, from Suite101: http://weuropeanhistory.suite101.com/article.cfm/the_printing_press
Butler, C. (2007). The invention of the printing press and its effects. Retrieved February 12, 2010, from The Flow of History: http://www.flowofhistory.com/units/west/11/FC74
Kreis, S. (2000). The Printing Press. Retrieved 2010, from Lectures on Modern European Intellectual History: http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/press.html
Spiritus Temporis. (2005). Impact of Printing. Retrieved 2010, from Printing Press: http://www.spiritus-temporis.com/printing-press/impact-of-printing.html
Thinkquest. (2000). Religion. Retrieved 2010, from Thinkquest Library: http://library.thinkquest.org/C006522/religion/overview.php
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