Word Made Print: Reformation and the History of the Book

Reformation Moment

Printing or the Reformation: which had the greater impact on the other? The influences were reciprocal. Soon after Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses in 1517, the text was translated into German, published, and distributed widely – all without Luther’s guidance. But within a few years, he and his associates had seized the opportunities that printing offered. Soon the Causa Lutheri – the “Luther Affair” – generated a flood of printed material, everything from theological tomes to mass-produced posters, transforming the scale of the printing business. Reformers also adapted their work to the new medium: one example is A Summary of Christian Doctrine (1524), written by Luther’s disciple, Philip Melanchthon, for larger audiences than had ever been possible before printing. Printing also made reformers visible: books like Nikolaus Reusner’s Icones…virorum literis illustrium (1587) made the physical appearance of reformers known to the world. The Reformation was the world’s first “media event,” and Luther the first “media star."