Mankind began the invention of “writing” around 3300 B.C. Western Civilization wrote on papyrus reeds from the Nile Delta, palm leaves, parchment from animal skins, and vellum from calfskin.
The Chinese developed the process of making paper from tree pulp or rags. Beginning in 175 AD, during the Han Dynasty, Chinese scholars placed paper over stone engravings of Confucius text and made rubbings with charcoal. This developed into laying paper over raised stone letters covered with ink, a technique which spread to other countries like Japan, where a Nara Empress printed a Buddhist charm in 768 A.D.
Using a method with carved wooden or baked clay blocks, China, during the Tang Dynasty, created what could be considered the first “printed” book in 868 A.D. In China, Bi Sheng invented movable type printing with porcelain characters during the Song Dynasty, 1041, leading to China being the first to have printed “paper currency.”
Printing of currency, using copper plates, occurred on a mass scale during Kublai Khan’s Yuan Dynasty, 1215-1294, even being mentioned by Marco Polo. China’s over-printing of currency led to it being devalued, resulting in an exploding inflation. Ultimately, the currency depreciated by 1,000 percent causing the country to become politically unstable and ending the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty in 1368. The shear number of Chinese characters, though, over 50,000, discourage China from making further printing innovations.
In 1234, Korea’s Goryeo Dynasty invented the first “metal” movable type printing press. In 1443, Korean Emperor Sejong the Great introduced a 24-letter han’gul alphabet which made printing practical.
At nearly the same time, on the other side of the world, Johannes Gutenberg invented the “Western” world’s first “metal” moveable type printing press.
Western civilization had long been using a phonetic alphabet, dating back to a Semitic alphabet around 1500 B.C. It was not until 1400 A.D. that Europeans first began using carved wooden blocks applied with ink to print religious messages.
On Aug. 24, 1455, Gutenberg printed his masterpiece, the Gutenberg Bible, regarded as the first book of significance ever printed. No longer copied tediously by hand and chained to pulpits, Bibles were soon 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.”
Unfortunately for Gutenberg, he had borrowed 8,000 guilders from Johann Fust, who sued him at the archbishop’s court in 1456 and took the print shop, leaving Gutenberg bankrupt. Gutenberg re-started a smaller print shop, and participated in printing Bibles in the town of Bamberg.
Gutenberg’s invention was considered the most important event of the modern period as it began a printing revolution which significantly influenced Europe’s Renaissance, Reformation, Age of Enlightenment, and the Scientific Revolution.
Victor Hugo wrote in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” 1831, book 5: “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.”
In “A Tramp Abroad,” 1880, Mark Twain wrote: “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.”
Napoleon introduced the printing press into Egypt when he invaded in 1798.
On Aug. 12, 1993, Pope John Paul II gave a rare copy of the Gutenberg Bible to President Bill Clinton at Denver’s Regis University.
The pope, with Vice President Al Gore in attendance, addressed over 375,000 at Cherry Creek State Park, Aug. 15, 1993: “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. … 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. …”
Pope John Paul II continued: “The family especially is under attack. … The weakest members of society are the most at risk. The unborn, children, the sick, the handicapped, the old. … 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 word “Bible” comes from the Greek word “biblia,” meaning books. Since the invention of the printing press in mid-1400s, the Holy Bible has been the most printed book in all of world history, at an estimated 6 billion copies.
Franklin D. Roosevelt stated Oct. 6, 1935: “The four hundredth anniversary of the printing of the first English Bible is an event of great significance. … The … influence of this greatest of books … so greatly affected the progress of Christian civilization. … This Book continues to hold its unchallenged place as the most loved, the most quoted and the most universally read and pondered of all the volumes. … It continues to hold its supreme place as the Book of books. …”
FDR concluded: “We cannot read the history of our rise and development as a Nation, without reckoning with the place the Bible has occupied in shaping the advances of the Republic. … Its teaching … is ploughed into the very heart of the race. Where we have been truest and most consistent in obeying its precepts we have attained the greatest measure of contentment and prosperity.”
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