The Impact of Printing in Europe
Even though reading and writing skills were regarded advantageous in medieval Europe, it remains a practical skill for many, a criterion rather than a cultural requirement. Numerous medieval rulers and even Church prelates were uneducated; however, they were urbane or civilized, for they had appointed scribes and readers. The significance of literacy as a sensible qualification is shown in the laws formulated by an archbishop of York in 1483 for a university he established in which one of the objectives of the college was alleged to be that “youths may be rendered more capable for the mechanic arts and other worldly affairs” (Kamen 2000: 212). The practical value of literacy would at all times be essential. The ultimate practical use was apparently in the purposes of the Church, since merely a knowledgeable clergy may be the authorities of religious life. In other words, literacy was the Church’s protection, which had supreme control over education. The invention of printing, entailing more efficient and more economical means of book production, transformed the dilemma of illiteracy. Francis Bacon, living in the period directly after the introduction of Gutenberg’s printing press, illustrated as one of the remarkable inventions of the century which had revolutionized the form and condition of the entire world (Hill 2001). The objective of this paper is to explore the impact of the printing press on the authority of the Church and aristocracy in Europe as well as its contribution in the profound social and political changes that the continent experienced in the iron century. The Impact of the Printing Press on the Authority of the Church and Aristocracy in Europe The absolute goal of making the population literate was to persuade them of the rightness of their own points of view. The period of the Counter Reformation can hence be viewed as an extended practice in the development of methods of persuasion. It was the printed ideas, circulated through manuscripts, newspapers and pamphlets that eventually surfaced as the most persuasive technique of propaganda. In the Middle Ages, the pulpit had been the primary arbiter of public judgment, and this important role persisted all over the seventeenth century. Unparalleled victory was attained by the clerics of the Counter Reformation, who, through this method originated the remarkable progresses initiated by Lutherans through the effective exploitation of the pulpit. Sermons realized a twofold victory, further. They were transmitted by word of mouth; then, they were printed and circulated in order to get to an even wider audience (Kamen 1971). So enormous was the influence of the podium that ecclesiastical authority was mandated so as to acquire an authorization to sermonize. The continental Reformation freed the podium from the domination of the Catholic Episcopal, yet bishops in Episcopal England continued their rigid control on the public opinion of opposing perspectives. The competition for the pulpit was, in fact, a competition for the minds of men. In 1641, Lord Falkland declared that the bishops had “cried down lectures, either because other men’s industry in that duty appeared a reproof of their neglect of it, or with intention to have brought in darkness that they may easier sow their tares while it was night” (Hill 2001: 89). Influential indeed was the spoken word, but temporary: it was the eternalness of the printed word that distressed Church authorities and the aristocracy. Subjugation and power over information was primarily aimed against printed works. As it was the Church and aristocracy that were on the self-protective agenda against new thoughts, the printing businesses fell under suspicion in Catholic territories, and printing presses initially operated freely in Protestant areas. The period of the post-Reformation thus witnessed a major evacuation of printing presses from Catholic to Protestant regions in Europe...
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