Printing, Propaganda, and Martin Luther

By Mark U. Edwards Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
The Catholic Dilemma

For almost two years the vernacular press of Strasbourg had been virtually silent on the growing estrangement between Luther and the papacy. The silence came to a strident end in the fall of 1520. In a series of vernacular pamphlets Luther rejected the authority of the papacy, claimed that pope and curia had perpetrated a series of frauds on Christendom, and called for Christendom's liberation from a papal captivity that distorted the sacraments and subordinated the laity to a clerical tyranny. In rebuttal an anonymous author issued a series of counterattacks that portrayed Luther as "the destroyer of the faith of Christ," and as "a seducer of simple Christians,"1 seeking to overturn all authority in society by inappropriately involving the common people in a debate over traditional belief and practice. The propaganda battle was joined, and at its crux lay the issue of authority: who was to decide the true content and character of Christendom. From the outset the Catholic apologist was at a serious disadvantage in this battle, for both the medium and the message favored the Evangelical position.

By their very nature as objects, vernacular pamphlets were the physical embodiment of a message. Multiplied by the art of printing into hundreds of exact copies, cheap to buy and handy to pass around, these pamphlets were in some sense what they contained: an address to the laity to become involved in an unprecedented way in their own religious destiny. Anyone could buy a pamphlet. And anyone who could read it, or have it read, became a participant in the debate and

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