Uranus/Pluto Conjunction–Breaking the Vessel part 3Its purchase price was 30 florins, which was three times the yearly salary of the average worker. In today’s dollars, it sold at about $95,000, more than a car, less than a house. And only about 150 to 180 copies were printed. Yet the mass production of the Holy Bible by Johannes Gutenberg was as revolutionary in how people received information as as the introduction of Facebook to the American Public.
Tracking down exact dates is impossible. The passage of time and the paucity of written records obscured what happen when. We know that Gutenberg had a working press with movable type in 1450. 1450 is when Pluto and Uranus moved within ten degrees of each other in the zodiac sign of Leo. In March 1455, completed sets of 1272 unbound pages of the Bible were available for sale.
The march the Black Plague through Europe loosened the economic shackles of workers tied to the land, and eroded the faith of common and nobility alike in the power of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. The social contract between the workers and the wealth holders was broken. Wages rose for workers squeezing the profits of the wealth holders. Social unrest fermented.
The gap between the rich and the poor widened as the elite closed ranks to protect their holdings and positions. Close-knit and exclusive guilds were organized by occupation to regulate workers and eliminate outside competition.
Attempts by the nobility and mercantile elite to legislate the wages and services of the peasantry and to protect their market monopolies led to violent revolts that were often ruthlessly suppressed. The French Jacquerie of 1358 was followed by the Florentine Ciompi Revolt in 1378 and the English Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. Similar popular uprisings occurred in Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. Still, the ruling classes managed to maintain their power.
On the spiritual front, things weren’t looking good either:
During the 1300’s and 1400’s, many Christians lost faith in some of the teachings of the Catholic Church and its religious leadership. The Middle Ages is also referred to as the Age of Faith because it was a time when most members of European society believed not only in the Christian concept of God, but in the notion that the only way to salvation (going to heaven) was through the Catholic Church. This fact put the Church in a position of tremendous power, as few Europeans would dare doubt the institution that could ensure their eternal life, or more ominously, banish them to damnation
The most lucrative and controversial corrupt practice used to raise funds for the Church was the selling of indulgences. Developed during the 13th century, indulgences were based on the idea that a truly repentant sinner could work to reduce his or her years in purgatory. The notion was that the pope had control over a treasury of merit, or spiritual wealth, which could be dispensed to the faithful for the remission of sins. When a Christian was deemed to have sinned, he or she could confess the sin and perform good deeds, or pay a certain amount of money to the local church in place of doing standard penance, to work off time in purgatory. The practice of offering indulgences easily lent itself to abuse. Initially, repentant Christians who purchased indulgences would receive documents, signed personally by the pope, absolving the purchaser of his or her sins. In time, however, a person could buy what amounted to a form letter from any number of Church officials, who were usually attended by bankers in charge of calculating the proceeds. Although the Church never officially stated it, some clergy taught that all sins could be forgiven by indulgences, for yourself, for deceased family members, and even sins that you were planning to commit in the future.
Many Christians found these events most troubling and the notion of trusting the Church was a long forgotten idea. No longer was the Catholic Church seen as the being in the position as Protector of the Truth.
That the start of the practice of selling indulgences coincided with the time the Plague was ravaged Europe is telling. The ranks of the clergy were so depleted by the Plague that essential holy rites to cleanse the dying and dead of their sins could not be performed. Those that could afford it were forced to buy their heavenly reward from the the very church that promised obedience to the church would ensure entrance into heaven. This “double dipping” into the social contract corrupted it.
In the early centuries of the first millenium, the Catholic version of the bible, stitched together by committee, was meant to unify the various Christian churches, each practicing their own flavor of Christianity. Once, however, the composition of the bible was decided on, and the central authority of the Roman Church established, the book become the sole province of the clergy to control the message of the church. Though various attempts were made from 1000 CE to translate the bible in languages other than Latin, church official forbid making and owning such translations. Only monasteries hand scribed copies of the bibles, sealing the monopoly on the flow of information.
Particularly in the 1400s, learned churchmen disagreed about such fundamental issues as God’s sovereignty, the place of human effort in gaining salvation, and the effects of sin and grace on the human soul.
Who authorized a layman to print the Bible? What were the motivations behind the decision to print the bible? Where did Gutenberg get a rare copy of the bible to copy the text? These are the mysteries, perhaps Plutonian in nature, that surround this singular event in history. We know that Gutenberg was commissioned, as his early work on his press, to mass produce plenary indulgences, so he had some connections in the church that patronized his work. However, the names of any patrons are lost to history. Maybe, because of the trials of the age, some important cleric was angling to redeem heaven through introducing mass produced copies of God’s word to the faithful. We don’t know.
However, we know the effect. The mass production of the Bible for the first time made the complete bible available not just to the clergy but into the hands of the intellectuals and philosophers for study and discussion. This laid the groundwork of Reformation where the emphasis switched from total obedience to church authorities to criticism of and separation from church practices.
The chart below is an approximation of when Gutenberg’s started work on (1450) and completed first copies (1455) the bible were available for distribution. As such only the outer planets are close in position for the actual events.
Next–The American Experiment and The Breakdown of Puritanism
Photo of Gutenberg Bible published under a Creative Commons license as issued by Wikimedia.