Out of the Flames

The Impulse Toward Inquisition

IMG_5548The word “inquisition” has a Middle Ages ring to it, and a distinctly religious one.  Its three best known episodes—the Medieval, the Roman and the Spanish (driven more by royalty than religion) have won a chilling place in Western cultural lore through stories of Catholic pursuit of heresy, machines of torture, and burnings at the stake.  Ad extirpanda, issued in 1232 by Pope Gregory IV, was an awful call for the systematic elimination of heretics, and gave papal sanction for the use of torture.

The Catholic Church has not been the only one to use such measures in pursuit of doctrinal purity. John Calvin, the reform founder of what would become the Presbyterian Church, pursued much the same response when his own nascent denomination was affronted by other reformers. (See Out of the Flames, by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone.)  Many secular governments, even commercial interests have done the same.  Moreover, inquisition is not only history, it is a horrifying but recurrent modern phenomenon as well.

The book God’s Jury, by Cullen Murphy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), makes this case convincingly.  He cites some recent examples and predicts there will… Continue reading

Johann Gutenberg and the Great Aldus Manutius (WHO?)

JoIMG_5632hann Gutenberg, of course, is known as the inventor of the movable-type printing press which revolutionized the spread of knowledge across all western society.

In Out of the Flames, authors Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone (Broadway Books, 2002) suggest that without the printing press, the Protestant Reformation could not have occurred.  They provide for us some history.

Tens of thousands of books were printed in the decades following the mechanical marvel of the Gutenberg Bible in the mid-1450’s.  They were large in size, cumbersome and costly (though less expensive by magnitudes than the hand-scribed and illustrated books which preceded them).  But it was not until the early fifteen hundreds, the authors relate, that two concurrent developments made books truly portable, and thus nearly ubiquitous.  They both seem simple enough, but they took almost fifty years after Gutenberg to accomplish.  Aldus Manutius, an entreprenuerial printer in Venice developed (copied from a competitor, actually,) an alphabet typeface made of tiny, uniform letters that could easily be read.  This made it possible for the second development to occur.

Until Aldus, books were printed on paper sizes referred to… Continue reading

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