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The Printing Press and Religious Reform Renaissance humanism spread to northern Europe in the late 15th century, and northern humanists focused more on religious concerns than did their Italian counterparts. By 1500, about half of the 40,000 titles that had been published were Bibles or other religious works. Humanists especially desired to reform the Catholic Church. (See Topic 1.3.) Such calls for reform spread slowly at first because they were written in Latin and had to be copied by hand.
However, by 1517, printing had become well established and would have extensive impacts on Europe. That year, German monk Martin Luther (1483– 1546) called for religious reform. Luther emphasized the Bible as the main source of religious truth and believed that people should be able to read and interpret the Bible themselves without the aid of priests. Luther’s ideas were quickly translated into German, printed into pamphlets, and distributed throughout German-speaking lands. A local protest by one unknown scholar ignited a raging controversy.
 Source: Getty Images
This wood engraving from 1879 shows printers
operating a press in 1520.
Soon, additional reformers added to the debate sparked by Luther. The printing press allowed them to spread their ideas faster and more widely than ideas had ever spread before.
Within a decade, a revolutionary shift in European Christianity and politics, known as the Protestant Reformation, had begun. (See Topic 2.3 for more information on the Protestant Reformation.) Scripture readings became an important part of the Protestant religious services that were replacing the Catholic mass. Since most people did not read Latin, if they were going to read the Bible, they needed one in their vernacular, or local language. With the spread of printing, affordable Bibles appeared in many vernaculars for the first time.
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