The Printing Press

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The Renaissance spread to Germany, France, England, and Spain in the late fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries. In its migration northward, Renaissance culture adapted itself to conditions unknown in Italy, such as the growth of the monarchical state and the strength of lay piety. In England France, and Spain, Renaissance culture tended to be court-centered and hence anti-republican. In Germany, no monarchical state existed but a vital tradition of lay piety was present was present in the Low Countries. The Brethren of the Common Life, for example, was a lay movement emphasizing education and practical piety. Intensely Christian and at the same time anticlerical (shades of what was to come!), the people in such movements found in Renaissance culture the tools for sharpening their wits against the clergy -- not to undermine faith, but restore its ancient apostolic purity.

Northern humanists were profoundly devoted to ancient learning but nothing in northern humanism compares to the paganizing trend associated with the Italian Renaissance. The northern humanists were chiefly interested in the problem of the ancient church and the question of what constituted original Christianity.

Two factors operated to accelerate the spread of Renaissance culture after 1450: growing economic prosperity and the printing press. Prosperity -- the result of peace and the decline of famine and the plague -- led to the founding of schools and colleges. In these schools the sons of gentlemen and nobles would receive a humanistic education imported from Italy. The purpose of such an education was to prepare men for a career in the church or civil service.

Sometime in the 13th century, paper money and playing cards from China reached the West. They were "block-printed," that is, characters or pictures were carved into a wooden block, inked, and then transferred to paper. Since each word, phrase or picture was on a separate block, this method of reproduction was expensive and...
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