In certain circles, buzz around this year's celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is old hat. But, for those unfamiliar with what it is, what it meant, and how it all relates to the breeding ground for letterpress printing, allow me to give you a quick primer.
Back in the 15th Century, the Catholic church was the primary authority over Christians, and it had gotten a little off course. The system of indulgences (meaning fees that church parishioners would pay to absolve the guilt of their sin) had veered the church and its people pretty far from the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the belief in his substitutionary death for sinners—faith alone by grace alone.
In 1517, an Augustinian German monk named Martin Luther nailed a document of 95 Theses to a central door in Wittenberg to raise issues with how the church was upholding, teaching, and embodying the true Gospel. This was a common practice back then. Whenever someone held a had an announcement or wanted to raise a debate, they would put it in writing, and nail it to the door of a public building—a community bulletin board, of sorts.
This was the beginning of Luther's conflict with the church. Just five years later, he stood before bishops and papal legates at the Diet of Worms and uttered these famous words:
"My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one's conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me."
And so he stood, speaking up and correcting, one voice initiating what became a total revival, and ultimately the formation of the Protestant church. The thrust of the reform revolved around five statements that Luther made, now commonly known as the five solas:
Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
Sola Fide (Faith Alone)
Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
Solo Christo (Christ Alone)
Soli Deo Gloria (For God's Glory Alone)
As it happens, as Luther's recentering message began to spread across the map, the recently invented print press was also gaining momentum—allowing for the dissemination of printed materials in the common vernacular. It was at this time that Luther himself said, "Printing is God’s highest and extremist act of grace, whereby the business of the Gospel is driven forward.”
This month, as we celebrate the man and the moment that church history shifted, I'm releasing a Refomation Day print featuring the five solas printed with wood type to pay homage to the early traditions of printing.