Foxe's Book of Martyrs -- 117. THE INVENTION AND BENEFIT OF PRINTING.

117. THE INVENTION AND BENEFIT OF PRINTING.

Illustration -- Printers and Printing

In following the course and order of years, we find this aforesaid year of our Lord, 1450, to be famous and memorable for the divine and miraculous inventing of printing. Nauclerus, and Wymselingus following him, refer the invention thereof to the year 1440. In Paralip. Abbatis Ursp. it is recorded this faculty to be found, A. D. 1446. Aventinus and Zieglerus do say, A. D. 1450. The first inventor thereof, as most agree, is thought to be a German, dwelling first in Argentine, afterward citizen of Mentz, named J. Faustus, a goldsmith. The occasion of this invention first was by engraving the letters of the alphabet in metal; who, then laying black ink upon the metal, gave the form of letters in paper. The man, being industrious and active, perceiving that, thought to proceed further, and to prove whether it would frame as well in words, and in whole sentences, as it did in letters. Which, when he perceived to come well to pass, he made certain other of his council, one J. Guttemberg, and P. Schafferd, binding them by their oath to keep silence for a season. After ten years John Guttemberg, copartner with Faustus, began then first to broach the matter at Strasburgh. The art, being yet but rude, in process of time was set forward by inventive wits, adding more and more to the perfection thereof. In the number of whom J. Mentell, J. Prus, Adolphus Ruschius, were great helpers. Ulricus Han, in Latin called Gallus, first brought it to Rome.

Notwithstanding, what man soever was the instrument, without all doubt God himself was the ordainer and disposer thereof, no otherwise than he was of the gift of tongues, and that for a singular purpose. And well may this gift of printing be resembled to the gift of tongues; for like as God then spake with many tongues, and yet all that would not turn the Jews; so now, when the Holy Ghost speaketh to the adversaries in innumerable sorts of books, yet they will not be converted, nor turn to the gospel.

Now to consider to what end and purpose the Lord hath given this gift of printing to the earth, and to what great utility and necessity it serveth, it is not hard to judge, who so wisely perpendeth both the time of the sending, and the sequel which thereof ensueth.

And first, touching the time of this faculty given to the use of man, this is to be marked, that when the bishop of Rome, with all the whole and full consent of the cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, lawyers, doctors, provosts, deans, archdeacons, assembled together in the council of Constance, had condemned poor John Huss and Jerome of Prague to death for heresy, notwithstanding they were no heretics, and after they had subdued the Bohemians and all the whole world under the supreme authority of the Romish see, and had made all Christian people obedienciaries and vassals unto the same, having, as one would say, all the world at their will, so that the matter now was past not only the power of all men, but the hope also of any man to be recovered; in this very time, so dangerous and desperate, where man's power could do no more, there the blessed wisdom and omnipotent power of the Lord began to work for his church, not with sword and target to subdue his exalted adversary, but with printing, writing, and reading, to convince darkness by light, error by truth, ignorance by learning. So that, by this means of printing, the secret operation of God hath heaped upon that proud kingdom a double confusion. For whereas the bishop of Rome had burned John Huss before, and Jerome of Prague, who neither denied his transubstantiation, nor his supremacy, nor yet his popish mass, but said mass and heard mass themselves; neither spake against his purgatory, nor any other great matter of his popish doctrine, but only exclaimed against his excessive and pompous pride, his unchristian, or rather antichristian, abomination of life: thus while he could not abide his wickedness only of life to be touched, but made it heresy, or at least matter of death, whatsoever was spoken against his detestable conversation and manners, God, of his secret judgment, seeing time to help his church, hath found a way by this faculty of printing, not only to confound his life and conversation, which before he could not abide to be touched, but also to cast down the foundation of his standing, that is, to examine, confute, and detect his doctrine, laws, and institutions, most detestable in such sort, that though his life were never so pure, yet his doctrine, standing as it doth, no man is so blind but he may see, that either the pope is antichrist, or else that antichrist is near cousin to the pope; and all this doth and will hereafter more and more appear by printing.

The reason whereof is this, for that hereby tongues are known, knowledge groweth, judgment increaseth, books are dispersed, the Scripture is seen, the doctors be read, stories be opened, times compared, truth discerned, falsehood detected, and with finger pointed, and all, as I said, through the benefit of printing. Wherefore, I suppose, that either the pope must abolish printing, or he must seek a new world to reign over; for else, as this world standeth, printing doubtless will abolish him. But the pope, and all his college of cardinals, must this understand, that through the light of printing the world beginneth now to have eyes to see and heads to judge: he cannot walk so invisible in a net, but he will be spied. And although, through might, he stopped the mouth of John Huss before, and of Jerome, that they might not preach, thinking to make his kingdom sure; yet, instead of John Huss and others, God hath opened the press to preach, whose voice the pope is never able to stop, with all the puissance of his triple crown. By this printing, as by the gift of tongues, and as by the singular organ of the Holy Ghost, the doctrine of the gospel soundeth to all nations and countries under heaven, and what God revealeth to one man is dispersed to many, and what is known in one nation is opened to all.

The first and best were for the bishop of Rome, by the benefit of printing, to learn and know the truth. If he will not, let him well understand that printing is not set up for nought. To strive against the stream it availeth not. What the pope hath lost, since printing and the press began to preach, let him cast his counters. First, when Erasmus wrote, and Frobenius printed, what a blow thereby was given to all friars and monks in the world! And who seeth not that the pen of Luther, following after Erasmus, and set forward by writing, hath set the triple crown so awry on the pope's head, that it is like never to be set straight again?

Briefly, if there were no demonstration to lead, yet, by this one argument of printing, the bishop of Rome might understand the counsel and purpose of the Lord to work against him, having provided such a way in earth, that almost how many printing presses there be in the world, so many block-houses there be against the high castle of St. Angel; so that either the pope must abolish knowledge and printing, or printing at length will root him out. For if a man wisely consider the hold and standing of the pope, thus he may repute with himself, that as nothing made the pope strong in time past, but lack of knowledge and ignorance of simple Christians; so contrariwise, now nothing doth debilitate and shake the high spire of his papacy so much, as reading, preaching, knowledge, and judgment, that is to say, the fruit of printing; whereof some experience we see already, and more is like (by the Lord's blessing) to follow. For although, through outward force and violent cruelty, tongues dare not speak, yet the hearts of men daily (no doubt) be instructed through the benefit of printing. And though the pope, both now by cruelty, and in times past by ignorance, had all under his possession; yet, neither must he think that violence will always continue, neither must he hope for that now which he had then; forasmuch as in those former days books then were scarce, and also of such excessive price, that few could attain to the buying, fewer to the reading and studying thereof; which books now by the means of this art, are made easy unto all men. Ye heard before, how Nicholas Belward bought a New Testament in those days for four marks and forty pence, whereas now the same price will well serve forty persons with so many books.

Moreover, it was before noted and declared by the testimony of Armachanus, how, for defect of books and good authors, both universities were decayed and good wits kept in ignorance, while begging friars, scraping all the wealth from other priests, heaped up all books that could be gotten into their own libraries, where either they did not diligently apply them, or did not rightly use them, or at least kept them from such as more fruitfully would have perused them. In this then so great rarity and also dearth of good books, when neither they which could have books would well use them, nor they that would, could have them to use, what marvel if the greediness of a few prelates did abuse the blindness of those days, to the advancement of themselves? Wherefore, Almighty God of his merciful providence, seeing both what lacked in the church, and how also to remedy the same, for the advancement of his glory, gave the understanding of this excellent art or science of printing, whereby three singular commodities at one time came to the world. First, the price of all books is diminished. Secondly, the speedy help of reading more furthered. And thirdly, the plenty of all good authors enlarged; according as Aprutinus doth truly report:

"The press in one day will do in printing,
That none in one year can do in writing."

By reason whereof, as printing of books ministered matter of reading; so reading brought learning, learning showed light, by the brightness whereof blind ignorance was suppressed, error detected, and finally, God's glory with truth of his word advanced. This faculty of printing was after the invention of guns the space of one hundred and thirty years; which invention was also found in Germany, A. D. 1380. And thus much for the worthy commendation of printing.

Previous Next