Yesterday I talked about several forerunners to the Reformation. Men who laid the ground work for Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, and who said many of the same things Luther did, but they were killed or lived in hiding because of what they taught. Why was Martin Luther successful with his reformation, when they weren’t?
Changes in food production and a Middle Class
The late 1400s and early 1500s saw an increase in food production. Partialy because of new foods brought over from the Americas, partially because of better farming implements. Either way, if you aren’t having to work as long or as hard to get food you have a bit more free time, and more money on your hands. This of course led to.
A stronger middle class
That means people with more money, and more time. This leads to more education as they are not living hand to mouth, but working instead to improve their social status. A stronger middle class invests in universities. A stronger middle class also invests in new technologies as they look for ways to make more money and get that better social standing.
A middle class with time to spare, is able to read and learn more. A middle class with time on their hands is going to agitate for change (this is also why you start seeing changes in government structures around now).
Leaps forward in technology
Around 1440 Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press. Suddenly information wasn’t limited to the ultra-wealthy who could afford a hand copied book from a monastery. Books could be bought by anyone, and pamphlets were printed by the hundreds. If you can spread the news of your discovery by the hundreds with a single printing over a few days, imagine how different that is from the possible dozens from a week’s work.
It’s amazing how much the world changed because of the printed page and the invention of movable type.
Rise of the nation state
A few hundred years earlier it would have been inconceivable for anyone to stand up to the Pope. But the power struggles within the church, and some princedoms in the Holy Roman Empire that didn’t feel quite so beholden to the Pope because they felt more German than they did Catholic meant Luther had people willing to hide him.
Even with all of these things in his favor, it wasn’t a sure bet for Martin Luther. Things might have gone very differently, but for a few well placed friends, and some very loud defenders.
In my Protestant Reformation notebooking pages, there’s an entire page to go with this post.