Johannes Gutenberg began his life in 1400 as a merchant’s youngest son in Mainz, yet by the time he died in 1468, even the pope knew his reputation—all because this goldsmith found a way to print using movable type. His journey to fame came painstakingly slowly (detailed by Alix Christie in her novel, Gutenberg’s Apprentice).
Gutenberg decided to print Bibles as his first priority (for both spiritual and financial reasons), but the printing press also led to many other accessible, relatively affordable books that nurtured the Italian Renaissance.
Yet perhaps the greatest impact of Gutenberg’s invention came more than half a century later, when Martin Luther’s deft harnessing of the printing press enabled his message to spread quickly to sympathizers (creating a vast audience) as well as enemies (who would have happily silenced Luther’s voice).
Would the printing industry have mushroomed without Luther’s prolific writing and the Roman Church’s responses? Not likely; the relationship between Luther and the printing press proved mutually beneficial (as Andrew Pettegree points out in Brand Luther).
Without the printing press, would the Reformation have taken place in the sixteenth century? When might the printing industry have developed if not for Martin Luther’s calls for church reform?