What I've been thinking and what I've been reading for you to compare notes.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Will you be a Fust, Schoffer, or Gutenberg?

Familiar with the names Fust and Schoffer? Probably not unless you're a history nerd.

Fust was the man who sued Gutenberg in court and took from him the printing establishment used to mass produce the first book - the Gutenberg Bible. Schoffer was Fust's son-in-law who worked in and became rich taking over the family business after Fust's death.

Their names do not come close to the fame of Gutenberg's. But they reaped the benefits of what he began.

Just finished "Gutenberg, How One Man Remade the World with Words," by John Man. It was my Easter weekend read.

Fascinating that Gutenberg, the man who invented movable type printing - and used the Bible as his first mass-produced best seller - underwent such a roller coaster of success and failure during his lifetime.

Not only did he have difficulty with his primary partner in business, Fust, but he also lived in the midst of almost total societal chaos. The Catholic Church was rife with internal schism, including one time period where there were three popes - simultaneously! The Turks were threatening the stability of Europe after the fall of Constantinople (Byzantium) in the east, and many towns and cities fell prey to financial and military overthrow stemming from the constant bickering of would-be bishops, cardinals, popes and strife between economic classes.

But the fete Gutenberg accomplished - lauded by many as the most important event of the last millenium - was monumental. Books were no longer the result of the painstakingly long drawn out process of being hand-written by scribes (manuscripts) or stamped with wooden blocks. Moveable type printing was one of those really BIG innovations that caused a quantum shift in world history.

Maybe it's a mid-life thing for me, but the story of Guttenberg made me think about the important things in life. It's not about wealth and fame. It's about legacy.

Postscript(s): The invention of printing - Gutenberg style - was extremely influential in the Protestant Reformation. Men like Luther, Tyndale, Wycliffe, etc., were now able to translate and mass produce Bibles in the simple language of their people.

Luther said of printing that it was, "God's highest and extremest act of grace, whereby the business of the Gospel is driven forward." John Foxe put it this way in his "Book of Martyrs," (Published in 1563 - and, on a personal note, one of my top ten favorite books of all time. Read it as a teenager.) "The Lord began to work for His Church not with sword and target to subdue His exalted adversary, but with printing, writing and reading... Either the Pope must abolish knowledge and printing or printing must at length root him out."

One of Rome's major "counter-Reformation" tactics was to ban, burn and effectively attempt to eradicate all printed matter that did not support their point of view. Ha! Can you say "backfire?" For instance, if copies of Tyndale's Bible were burned by the thousands by the Pope and his minions, they were reprinted by the tens of thousands and sold like wildfire.

Fust and Schoffer may have become wealthy in their day by capitalizing on Gutenberg's creation. But Johnny Gutenberg is the man we all immortalize.


  • At Wednesday, April 02, 2008 3:21:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    This was funny because when I read this I had just finished watching a you tube segment of Barney (which he seems to love). It was such a mental switch for me! Barney to Guttenberg!! Doesn't get any better than that in a span of 10 minutes!


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