Printing Press and Protestant Reformation

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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“In the 16th century, The Roman Catholic Church had massive amounts of power. They had lots of political influence, which stopped people from speaking out in fear of being executed. This caused people to become displeased because the Church could do whatever it pleased without consequence. The people’s growing anger led to the beginning of a reformation effort targeting the Church’s practices led by a German monk named Martin Luther. This period is now known as the Protestant Reformation. Without the invention of the printing press, Martin Luther couldn’t have created as many copies of his writings or spread them quickly across Europe. Had this been the case, Luther would have likely been excommunicated by the Church before people heard what he had to say, and the Protestant Reformation may never have happened. Johannes Gutenberg, by inventing the printing press, made a significant contribution to the start of the Protestant Reformation.

In the 16th century, the Roman Catholic Church’s power extended far beyond religious matters. They had extreme political influence, and many people believed whatever the Church did was right because it was the word of God. The people who did not think the Church was doing what was right were too afraid to speak out due to fear of being executed. The Roman Catholic Church’s corrupt power led to people being dissatisfied with the Church. This dissatisfaction was the major cause of the Protestant Reformation. Beginning in Germany, the Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century European movement aimed at reforming the Church’s practices, which began in Germany. The Reformation led to the creation of Lutheranism, a new form of Christianity, and it had many lasting effects on the way people viewed Christianity and the Church. It also, according to many historians, was the beginning of the Modern Age.

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Martin Luther was a German monk and an important figure of the Protestant Reformation. When he was young, his parents who were peasants, wanted him to become a lawyer and not work as a miner like his father. Luther studied grammar, logic, and rhetoric, which is a method of persuasive speaking. However, his plans to become a lawyer changed when he was twenty-two when he found himself stuck in a large thunderstorm. After a bolt of lightning struck the ground near him, he immediately stopped to pray to Saint Anne, promising that he would become a monk if he survived the storm. When he made it through the storm unharmed, he gave away all of his possessions and followed through on his promise. Martin Luther became a German monk as a member of St. Augustine in what is now Erfurt, Germany.

As a monk, Martin Luther became increasingly dissatisfied with some of the Catholic Church’s practices. He believed that the Church’s practices were corrupt and did not truly connect people with God. Luther believed that people should be connected to God directly through the Bible, and not through the Pope. What finally caused him to speak out against the Church were Indulgences. Indulgences were a way of reducing the amount of punishment you would go through in the afterlife for your sins by paying the Church. Luther believed they corrupted people’s faith, and were simply meant for the Church to make money.

The printing press, which helped Luther to spread his ideas, was invented in 1439 by Johannes Gutenberg 78 years before the Protestant Reformation in 1517. It allowed people to print up to 250 sheets per hour. According to Encyclopædia Britannica, a long handle turned a heavy wooden screw, which would press downwards on top of a paper. Underneath the paper was a type, which was then copied onto the paper, all of which was mounted on a wooden frame. With this technology, books and other works were mass produced and became much cheaper and reachable by a wider class of people. With the printing press being used across Europe, literacy rates rose.

To protest against Indulgences, Luther wrote his 95 Theses and nailed them to the church door. Nailing things to the door of the Church was a common way to put things up for community discussion. Luther also sent a copy of the Theses to Archbishop Albert Albrecht of Mainz, asking him to stop the Church from selling Indulgences. After just a few weeks, Luther’s theses began to spread across Europe. “Aided by the printing press, copies of the 95 Theses spread throughout Germany within two weeks and throughout Europe within two months,” ( To sum up the Theses, Luther said that Indulgences don’t truly lessen the amount of punishment you would have to face. He also said that the Church was using Indulgences as a way to make money and that their existence only made the Church more greedy. In October of 1518, the Church began taking action against Luther. He was ordered to recant, or say that he no longer held the opinions included in his 95 theses. When Luther refused, the meeting turned into a heated argument and ended with his excommunication from the Church.

The spread copies of Luther’s 95 Theses convinced more and more people to start speaking out against the Church and encouraged the Protestant Reformation. If the printing press had not existed, Luther’s Theses would not have spread across Europe by word of mouth as quickly if at all, as it did in print. Luther’s excommunication would have stopped him from speaking out against the Church. That would likely have been the end of his legacy, and the Protestant Reformation may never have started.

While Martin Luther did begin the Protestant Reformation movement, it would have been much less likely without the printing press, without the ability to make affordable copied, Luther’s 95 Theses would not have spread across Europe and caused so many people to speak out against the Church. The Reformation may have occurred much later, or not at all. Johannes Gutenberg, by inventing the printing press, which improved literacy rates and made books much cheaper, influenced the Protestant Reformation. Without the printing press, the Roman Catholic Church would have excommunicated Luther before the people began to learn about his Theses. As a result, would not have had him to follow in speaking out. Had people not spoken out, the Roman Catholic Church would have continued to expand and strengthen its powerful role, and the Protestant Reformation would not have begun.”

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Printing Press and Protestant Reformation. (2021, May 27). Retrieved from