Reformation Day, 500 Years After

Happy (belated) Reformation Day!

Yesterday was October 31, 2017, which not only was All Hallows Eve (“Halloween”), but it was also the 500th anniversary of the day when Martin Luther published his Disputation on the Power of Indulgences, better known as the Ninety-Five Theses.

Most people think that Luther posted his manuscript outside of a church in Wittenberg, Germany, and that this act led to the Protestant Reformation. While this is not untrue, this widely held myth is a version of the historical account that neglects the power of a new media technology: the Gutenberg printing press was developed in Germany about seventy years earlier.

Martin Luther and his Ninety-Five Theses had a great impact, but it wasn’t the act of posting outside a few churches that made the difference. It was that he sent his manuscript to the Archbishop of Mainz on October 31, 1517, and then copies were translated, printed, and distributed throughout Germany, as pamphlets and placards. The wide ranging impact was largely because of the printing press.

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