Johannes Gutenberg & the invention of the Printing Press


American Minute with Bill Federer


Unaware of the printing innovations in China during the Song Dynasty and Korea during the Goryeo Dynasty, Johannes Gutenberg invented the Western world’s first metal moveable type printing press. Considered the first book of significance ever printed, his masterpiece, the Gutenberg Bible, was printed AUGUST 24, 1455.

No longer copied by hand and chained to pulpits, Bibles were mass produced. Gutenberg, whose name means “beautiful mountain,” wrote of his 42-line Gutenberg Bible, also called the Mazarin Bible, 1455:

“God suffers in the multitude of souls whom His word can not reach. Religious truth is imprisoned in a small number of manuscript books which confine instead of spread the public treasure. Let us break the seal which seals up holy things and give wings to Truth in order that she may win every soul that comes into the world by her word no longer written at great expense by hands easily palsied, but multiplied like the wind by an untiring machine . . .”

Gutenberg continued:

“Yes, it is a press, certainly, but a press from which shall flow in inexhaustible streams the most abundant and most marvelous liquor that has ever flowed to relieve the thirst of men. Through it, God will spread His word; a spring of pure truth shall flow from it; like a new star it shall scatter the darkness of ignorance, and cause a light hithertofore unknown to shine among men.”

In March of 1455, future Pope Pius II wrote in a letter to Cardinal Carvajal:

“All that has been written to me about that marvelous man seen at Frankfurt is true. I have not seen complete Bibles but only a number of quires of various books of the Bible. The script was very neat and legible, not at all difficult to follow – your grace would be able to read it without effort, and indeed without glasses.”

Gutenberg had borrowed 8,000 guilders from Johann Fust for his endeavor. In 1456, a dispute arose and Fust demanded his money back. He sued at the archbishop’s court and took the print shop, leaving Gutenberg effectively bankrupt. Gutenberg re-started a small printing shop, and participated in the printing of Bibles in the town of Bamberg.

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1831, book 5, Victor Hugo wrote:

“The 15th century everything changes. Human thought discovers a mode of perpetuating itself . . . Gutenberg’s letters of lead . . . supersede Orpheus’s letters of stone . . . The invention of printing is the greatest event in history. It is the mother of revolution . . .”

Victor Hugo continued:

“Whether it be Providence or Fate, Gutenberg is the precursor of Luther.”

Mark Twain wrote in A Tramp Abroad, 1880:

“We made a short halt at Frankfort-on-the-Main . . . I would have liked to visit the birthplace of Gutenberg, but . . . no memorandum of the house has been kept.”

On August 12, 1993, at Denver’s Regis University, Pope John Paul II gave a rare copy of the Gutenberg Bible to President Bill Clinton. Pope John Paul II, with Vice-President Al Gore in attendance, then addressed a crowd of over 375,000 at Cherry Creek State Park, August 15, 1993:

“In our own century, as at no other time in history, the ‘culture of death’ has assumed a social and institutional form of legality to justify the most horrible crimes against humanity…massive taking of lives of human beings even before they are born . . . In much of contemporary thinking, any reference to a ‘law’ guaranteed by the Creator is absent . . . No longer is anything considered intrinsically ‘good’ and ‘universally binding’ Vast sectors of society are confused about what is right and what is wrong and are at the mercy of those with the power to ‘create’ opinion and impose it on others . . . The family especially is under attack . . . Naturally, the weakest members of society are the most at risk. The unborn, children, the sick, the handicapped, the old, the poor and unemployed, the immigrant and refugee . . . Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places . . . This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is a time to preach it from the rooftops . . . You must feel the full urgency of the task. Woe to you if you do not succeed in defending life. The church needs . . . to make the Gospel of Life penetrate the fabric of society, transforming people’s hearts and the structures of society in order to create a civilization of true justice and love.”


The Moral Liberal contributing editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.


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