Tag Archives: Johann Gutenberg

Johann Gutenberg’s imprint on history, and God’s imprint on Gutenberg


Guess I’m feeling controversial these days. Here’s another post that wanders into contested territory: the theological interpretation of historical events. It’s my take on Johann Gutenberg.

I’m interested here not so much in the way Gutenberg changed the world with his invention of the printing press, or the way his invention really made the Reformation possible . . . That’s all textbook stuff.

But did you know that Johann was something of a huckster–and that many of the first documents printed on his press were those indulgences that so troubled Luther? Or that he pushed so hard to get his invention up and running that he overextended himself financially and lost all profit from it? Or that in the wake of this personal disaster, he seems to have turned to the begging friars–the Franciscans–becoming a lay camp-follower?

In other words, there was more to this guy than we learn in the textbooks, and I think his story provides great grist for theological reflection:

A God’s-Eye View of Gutenberg
The rise, fall, and redemption of the Father of the Information Age.
By Chris Armstrong

August 24, 1456. On or near this day, the great Bible from Johann Gutenberg’s press emerged complete from the bindery in Mainz, Germany. Few events merit the breathless statement, “and the world would never be the same!” But the creation of the first book printed with movable type is one of them. Thinking about this event and how it has contributed to the spread of the Gospel around the globe, I muse, “God surely worked through Gutenberg!”

But then I hesitate. Historians, even Christian ones, don’t like to say too much about where the finger of God descended to do this or that on earth. Continue reading