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German contributions to journalism: Martin Luther

Posted by: | February 9, 2016 | No Comment |

In 1455 Johannes Gutenberg created what may be the greatest invention in the history of journalism. In 1517, a young man named Martin Luther would challenge Gutenberg for the position as the most influential German in the history of journalism when he nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg.Unknown-1

At the time, nailing messages to the door of the church was a common way to start discussion in Luther’s time. One thing that had changed recently was the amount of people who would be able to read and understand what Luther was saying.

Up until Gutenberg invented movable type, printing was an arduous and incredibly expensive process, making books available to only the elite members of society. After Gutenberg perfected his invention, literacy rates among the populous soared and created a new audience for Luther’s arguments to be heard.

With this new larger audience and with the ease of printing increasing, what would have been a message for the church to debate internally quickly turns into a countrywide discussion. For Luther, this naturally came as a shock, but instead of hiding from his highly controversial and provocative ideas about the church, he stood by and even expanded on them.

Luther’s message was simple. He argued that the corruption of the Catholic church was causing millions of people to lose salvation or place false hopes on indulgences sold by the church. As the leading global authority at the time, the church naturally was outraged with Luther, and Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther when he refused to recant.

Even though his life was now literally in danger as he could be arrested thanks to the excommunication, Luther still refused to recant, and was eventually summoned to the Diet of Worms thanks to the help of Germany’s leader at the time, Frederick the Wise. Frederick was able to set up this meeting to hold a vote on whether Luther was a heretic.

Frederick was certainly wise enough to realize this young monk in his territory was weakening the position of the church he had to pay royalties to so regularly, so he took advantage of the situation and prevented the vote from being unanimous as to keep Luther alive. Ultimately Luther would survive the vote at Worms, and continue his attacks on the papacy, the church, and even Jews in his later years. Unknown

Overall Luther had two main contributions that still impact the world and journalism today.
The first was his posting of the 95 theses, which helped shape journalism as a discussion within the community rather than a discussion amongst elites. The second, his translation of the bible into German, again reinforced the importance of citizens learning for themselves, and advocated for the spread of knowledge and discussion within the community.

Though his first contribution may have been accidental, his second contribution was completely deliberate and arguably more meaningful. Whatever the case may be, Martin Luther was certainly one of Germany’s greatest contributions towards the journalism we know today.


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