"The Revolutionary Evolution of the Media" -- Chapter 4, Part 3 - Paul Maxwell

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Chapter 4, Part 3

Last year we noted how Martin Luther became the first mass media brand as his Latin and German versions of the Bible were widely published taking his initially-envisioned reformation of some actions, particularly the selling of indulgences, by the Roman Catholic Church to a much wider reformation of the Western version of Christianity. There was also another unintended consequence of Luther's reformation as Europe began the process of becoming nation states.

In Luther's time, and even into the end of the 18th century, governance was limited to small geographic and/or ethnic areas or multi-ethnic empires such as the Austrian Empire, the Kingdom of France, the Kingdom of Hungary, the Russian Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the British Empire. Europe outside the European empires was ruled by princes in smaller areas such as Prussia and the other German and Italian mini-states.

Frederick III, the Elector of Saxony, was the founder of the University of Wittenberg where Martin Luther and his apologist Phillip Melanchthon taught. Frederick the Wise, as he was known, had pressed the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I to pressure the Pope and the Church for reforms.

Pope Leo X, though, published a Papal Bull outlining 41 rebuttals to Luther's 95 Theses. In early 1521, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V commenced the Imperial Diet of Worms and demanded Martin Luther face an inquiry and either renounce or confirm his many publications. Remembering the false promises made to the martyred Jan Hus, Frederick extracted a promise of safe passage for Luther his right to be heard at the Council of Worms.

Luther affirmed his authorship of the many books and the 95 Theses and said according to the transcripts: "Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen." (The popular story has him saying, "Here I stand, I can do no other" which makes a better sound bite.)

While the authorities were deciding what to do with Luther, he started to return to Wittenberg … but Frederick had him kidnapped and hidden in the Castle at Wartburg. The Edict of Worms (another bestseller) partially reads: "We have declared and hereby forever declare by this edict that the said Martin Luther is to be considered an estranged member, rotten and cut off from the body of our Holy Mother Church. He is an obstinate, schismatic heretic, and we want him to be considered as such by all of you. For this reason we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favor the said Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, whereupon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against the said Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work."

In short, the Church was mightily pissed by Luther's early foray into mass media but, like almost all such indignation that went nowhere. Luther spent some years under Frederick's protection. Meanwhile, Charles V was beset by wars in other areas and a number of the German princes rallied around Luther as the Reformation took shape.

It's interesting to note that this rallying happened despite the Edict's express prohibition against the publication and distribution of Luther's work. Here's more from the Edict:

"We ask you and command that "with the sounding of the trumpet" you call the people from the four corners of the villages and cities where this edict will be published and gather them where it is customary to publish our edicts and mandates. You will then read this edict word for word and with a loud voice. We order, upon the penalties contained herein, that the contents of this edict be kept and observed in their entirety; and we forbid anyone, regardless of his authority or privilege, to dare to buy, sell, keep, read, write, or have somebody write, print or have printed, or affirm or defend the books, writings, or opinions of the said Martin Luther, or anything contained in these books and writings, whether in German, Latin, Flemish, or any other language. This applies also to all those writings condemned by our Holy Father the pope and to any other book written by Luther or any of his disciples, in whatever manner, even if there is Catholic doctrine mixed in to deceive the common people.

"For this reason we want all of Luther's books to be universally prohibited and forbidden, and we also want them to be burned. We execute the sentence of the Holy Apostolic See, and we follow the very praiseworthy ordinance and custom of the good Christians of old who had the books of heretics like the Arians, Priscillians, Nestorians, Eutychians, and others burned and annihilated, even everything that was contained in these books, whether good or bad. This is well done, since if we are not allowed to eat meat containing just one drop of poison because of the danger of bodily infection, then we surely should leave out every doctrine (even if it is good) which has in it the poison of heresy and error, which infects and corrupts and destroys under the cover of charity everything that is good, to the great peril of the soul.

Therefore, we ask you who are in charge of judicial administration to have all of Luther's books and writings burned and destroyed in public, whether these writings are in German, Flemish, Latin, or in any other written language and whether they are written by himself, his disciples, or the imitators of his false and heretical doctrines, which are the source of all perversity and iniquity. Moreover, we ask you to help and assist the messengers of our Holy Pope. In their absence you will have all those books publicly burned and execute all the things mentioned above.

"To that effect, we ask and require all our subjects of your jurisdiction to consider the penalties herein mentioned, and we also ask them to assist and obey you as they would obey us.

"We also have to be careful that the books or the doctrines of the said Martin Luther not be written and published under other authors' names. Daily, several books full of evil doctrine and bad examples are being written and published. There are also many pictures and illustrations circulated so that the enemy of human nature, through various tricks, might capture the souls of Christians. Because of these books and unreasonable pictures, Christians fall into transgression and start doubting their own faith and customs, thus causing scandals and hatreds. From day to day, and more and more, rebellions, divisions, and dissensions are taking place in this kingdom and in all the provinces and cities of Christendom. This is much to be feared.

"For this reason, and to kill this mortal pestilence, we ask and require that no one dare to compose, write, print, paint, sell, buy, or have printed, written, sold, or painted, from now on in whatever manner such pernicious articles so much against the holy orthodox faith and against that which the Catholic Apostolic Church has kept and observed to this day. We likewise condemn anything that speaks against the Holy Father, against the prelates of the church, and against the secular princes, the general schools and their faculties, and all other honest people, whether in positions of authority or not. And in the same manner we condemn everything that is contrary to the good moral character of the people, to the Holy Roman Church, and to the Christian public good.

"And finally, after this edict has been published, we want all the books, writings, and pictures mentioned above to be publicly burned, including those under the name of any author that might be printed, written, or compiled in any language, wherever they may be found in our countries."

Next week: Chapter 5 – Censorship and Government Control of the Growing Press

In an almost 50-year career writing and reporting on media, Paul S. Maxwell started and/or ran some 45-plus publications ranging from CATV Newsweekly to Colorado Magazine to CableVision to Multichannel News to CableFAX and The BRIDGE Suite of daily newsletters and research publications. In between publishing stints, Maxwell served as an advisor and/or consultant to a number of major media companies and media start-ups including running a unit of MCI and managing a partnership of TCI and McGraw-Hill.

Send any and all criticisms, suggestions, rants, threats, corrections, etc. to him at cablemax@mac.com. He has a new Web site coming soon!

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