A line in history can be traced from the first printing in 1440 to Martin Luther’s 95 theses, 70+ years later in 1517, to this newspaper.
Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press enabled Luther’s ideas to ‘go viral’ in a Medieval foretaste of the way tweets or Youtube videos can go global now. Luther’s theses were translated and reprinted. His thinking influenced the Catholic Church and the world.
About a century after Luther triggered the Reformation, newspapers as we recognise them today began to appear. A century after that, in the early 1700s, papers were being launched everywhere. The Belfast News Letter (1737) was founded a few decades after the Boston News Letter, for example (unlike most of those titles, we have survived to be the world’s oldest English language daily). The Reformation and newspapers both boosted free speech.
Some critics note that earlier Catholics pushed reform and say Luther’s success was partly a fluke. If Henry VIII had not split with Rome for personal reasons, later Protestant dominance in America might not have been so strong.
On Monday Gordon Lucy writes about Luther, on the eve of the 500th anniversary. We have already had letters page debates about Luther’s anti semitism, about Union Theological College asking Catholic speakers to its Reformation lectures. Our contributors have ranged from ministers and philosophers to the humanist Brian McClinton.
The 500th is on Tuesday but our coverage will last all year.