If Printing Press Was Invented 100 Years Sooner, Would It Have Sparked Protestant Reformation, Age of Enlightenment Sooner?

German Cleric Martin Luther, in the early 16th century, is credited with “lighting the match” that started the Protestant Reformation. When he posted his 95 Theses, or complaints against the Roman Catholic Church, on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany that encouraged many other Europeans to complain about corruption in the church, to do so IN WRITING and to distribute their complaints to anyone who could read. This rebellion set off revolts against the church throughout Europe and spread to England and Scotland. Ultimately, this rebellion or reformation broke the political power of the Catholic Church on Europe and Britain.

But 100 years earlier, in Bohemia, in what is now the Czech Republic, another cleric by the name of Jan Hus (1369-1415) demanded reforms in the church. If he had a printing press to distribute his beliefs, the Protestant Reformation would have begun 100 years earlier.

Preaching in Prague, he pointed out the moral failings not only of priests and bishops but of the pope himself. He inspired Hussitism, a key predecessor to Protestantism and a seminal figure in the Bohemian Reformation.

He and John Wycliffe of England (1320-1384) were considered the first reformers seeking changes in the church. Wycliffe, according to Wikipedia, “argued for Scriptures as the authoritative centre of Christianity, that the claims of the papacy were unhistorical, that monasticism was irredeemably corrupt, and that the moral unworthiness of priests invalidated their office and sacraments.” Wycliffe’s movement was stillborn, however, as he was felled by a stroke while worshipping in church.

Jan Hus was burned at the stake for heresy against the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, including those on ecclesiology, the Eucharist, and other theological topics.

However, within 50 years of Hus’ death, some of his followers organized as the “Bohemian Brethren” (Čeští bratři) or Unity of the Brethren (Jednota bratrská), which was founded in Kunvald, Bohemia, in 1457. (Bohemia is the western most region of what is now the Czech Republic.) Members of their sect rebelled against the Roman church 50 years before Martin Luther. They established schools and a printing press. A number of his followers were burned at the stake, but they survived and fled to the new world, ultimately to what is now North Carolina, where they created the community of Old Salem in 1753. It still exists today.

Excerpts from Old Salem Museum Exhibit

If, because the printing press became widely in use in the 1300s instead of the 1400s, people would have learned to read and think for themselves sooner. Then the Protestant Reformation would have started 100 years earlier. Would the Renaissance also have started 100 years earlier, followed by an earlier Age of Enlightenment and Reason? In other words, would Western Civilization have advanced 100 years faster?

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