Publication of Gutenberg’s Mazarin Bible Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Gutenberg’s publication of the first book printed from movable type was a major landmark in the development of Western civilization. Arguably the first step in the creation of a distinctively modern culture, it permanently transformed, in both method and scope, the circulation of information, narratives, and ideas in society.

Summary of Event

Johann Gutenberg, a German printer from Mainz, is generally credited with inventing movable type Typography in the fifteenth century. Books printed before Gutenberg’s time, such as the Jin gang jing (868; Diamond Sutra, 1912), were made by engraving and inking woodblocks, pressing paper over their surface, and lifting off page prints. Hundreds of copies could be produced in a short time using this process, but thousands of copies could be produced in the same amount of time using movable type. This phenomenal increase in the number of books one could produce changed the very nature and function of the book within Western culture. Bible;Mazarin Mazarin Bible Printing;Gutenberg and Gutenberg, Johann Fust, Johann Schoeffer, Peter Coster, Laurens Gutenberg, Johann Coster, Laurens Fust, Johann Schoeffer, Peter Piccolomini, Aeneas Silvius

An artist’s rendering of Gutenberg looking over pages printed with movable type, which was Gutenberg’s innovation. The Mazarin Bible of 1456 was printed using movable type.

Prior to wood-block printing, literature had been painstakingly copied onto scrolls for thousands of years. By the early second century, the Romans were using notebooks made of two wooden tablets, tied together, filled with pigmented wax, and written on with a metal stylus. These tablets were later replaced by treated animal skins. By the fifth century, the codex, a manuscript made of several gatherings of parchment stitched together in leaf-book format, had replaced the notebook in the Western world. Codices, popular with early Christians, had the advantage of compactness and easy portability. (The four gospels could be contained in a single codex; 31 feet of scroll were required to contain the Gospel of Luke alone.) During the Middle Ages, monks spent years copying the scriptures. The time required to produce these manuscripts, as well as the cost of parchment, made Gutenberg’s invention a revolutionary technological breakthrough.

Born to a wealthy family in Mainz in about 1397 and trained as a goldsmith, Gutenberg was implicated in an uprising against the nobility in his hometown. As a result, he relocated to Strasbourg, probably in 1427. Legal documents from 1439 reveal that he entered into a partnership there with three persons to whom he promised to teach the secret art of printing. Some authorities claim that Gutenberg became involved in experimentation with printing in Holland with Laurens Coster, taking Coster’s types and printing apparatus after Coster’s death. They therefore attribute the invention of printing to Coster. There is no doubt, however, that it was Gutenberg who made movable-type printing practically feasible.

Gutenberg’s Strasbourg partnership ended about 1444, and by 1448, he was back in Mainz. There he entered into a partnership with Johann Fust, who advanced the capital to establish and operate a printing business. There is no known description of Gutenberg’s shop or printing press, which was probably derived from presses used in papermaking, but it is known that his type was made by striking a hard metal die shaped in the mirror image of a letter against soft metal. The resulting impression, or matrix, was then filled with a molten alloy, which when cooled hardened to form a piece of type. The letters thus formed were set into a plate, locked in, inked, and pressed against paper to make a page of type.

Fust was a skilled goldsmith and engraver, and his former apprentice, Peter Schoeffer, was a skilled penman. Their talents contributed to the exquisite Bible Gutenberg printed sometime between 1450 and 1455. Sample pages of this book—called the Mazarin Bible because the first known copy was found in the library of the French cardinal Mazarin—were exhibited at the Frankfurt trade fair in 1454 and praised by Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, the bishop of Sienna and future Pope Pius II. Buyers for all of the approximately 180 copies then in production were soon found.

By the end of 1455, however, Gutenberg and Fust had fallen out with each other. Fust sued Gutenberg and was awarded the printing equipment and materials. Fust and Schoeffer, now his son-in-law, finished production on the Bible and issued a remarkable edition of the Psalter in 1457, the first book to bear the complete imprint of printer, place, and date. The impoverished Gutenberg began afresh in 1459, but he retired in 1465 to accept an appointment to the court of the archbishop of Mainz. He died in 1468.

Meanwhile, in 1462, political disturbances in Mainz brought the printing business to a halt. The original German printers fled to other states, and the art of printing quickly spread throughout Europe. Occurring at the same time as the Renaissance, the invention of movable type ignited an explosion of new information. Within fifty years, the number of books in Europe had increased from thousands to millions. There were at least one thousand different working presses. The literacy rate, less than 2 percent in the Middle Ages, increased dramatically.

The text of the Mazarin Bible was the revised Vulgate Vulgate translation produced at the University of Paris in the early thirteenth century. Each Bible was printed in the folio format then common for Bibles that were to be used for public readings. Each set of two, sometimes four, pages was made from a single large sheet folded over once. Most pages (twelve hundred in all) had forty-two lines of text arranged in double columns—hence Gutenberg’s Bible is also known as the Forty-two-Line Bible. Made to resemble a hand-copied manuscript edition, the Bible has no title page, page numbers, or evidence of the printer’s name or place and date of printing. To further disguise the machine-made origins of his letters, Gutenberg made multiple casts of certain letters, casting a total of about 270 Gothic-style letters and 125 symbols of abbreviations. The Gutenberg Bible is the first great work of the printer’s art. The purity of the paper, the luster of the ink, and the elegant uniformity and sharpness of the type remain impressive even today.


Literature and scholarship flourished in the wake of Gutenberg’s invention. Major Latin works, many Greek classics, and more than 250 editions of the Bible or parts of the Bible appeared in publication. In Italy, pocket-sized editions of the classics were published to satisfy an ever-increasing demand. Books were prized for their rich bindings and artistic decorations, such as woodcut illustrations by artists Albrecht Dürer and Hans Holbein, the Younger. Royalty and wealthy private collectors acquired extensive libraries, many of which later became the basis for national libraries. Presses and eventually large publishing houses became established all over Europe.

Before the sixteenth century, finance, politics, and theology were beyond the scope of even the educated population. Education;Europe After the sixteenth century, especially in England and northern Europe, powerful groups—nobles, judges, and merchants—became avid readers of books and pamphlets dealing with political and religious controversies. As they read more political matter and became more cognizant of contemporary controversies, people began to demand a voice in public affairs as well. Thus, print played a significant role in the rejection of absolutism and the development of populism and democracy.

Pamphlets of the period reveal deep popular resentment against royal tax collectors representing central authority. Although kings and bishops tried to stamp out “subversive” ideas, censorship failed miserably. Books were easily transported across borders, and secret presses were hard to find and destroy. By the 1640’, political upheaval was widespread. States that managed to control the presses (Spain and eastern Europe, for example) could control religious and political thought, but the flood of printed matter in most of northern Europe contributed to the breakdown of traditional institutions and values.

Perhaps the greatest immediate effect of the printing press was its contribution to the Reformation Reformation;printing press and . Following Martin Luther’s break with the Roman Church in 1517, Bibles and Protestant writings were printed and sold by the thousands. One of the central ideas of the Protestant Reformation, that Christians should read and understand the Word for themselves rather than have it explained to them by a priest, would have been a ridiculous and literally impossible idea less than one hundred years earlier, when there simply could not be enough Bibles to go around. In a very real sense, then, the invention of print was directly responsible for one portion of the Reformation. By the same token, the Reformation itself provided a crucial impetus for the development and spread of printing. As Bibles proliferated, Christian unity collapsed worldwide, and the stage was set for secularization and the modern age.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Febvre, Lucien, and Henri-Jean Martin. The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing, 1450-1800. Translated by David Gerard, edited by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith and David Wooter. London: Foundations of History Library, 1997. Reviews the historical importance of the development of printing against the background of ideological and social upheaval in Western Europe.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Huber, Robert V., ed. The Bible Through the Ages. Pleasantville, N.Y.: Reader’s Digest General Books, 1996. Useful background for the history of books prior to Gutenberg’s invention of printing with movable type.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kapr, Albert. Johann Gutenberg: The Man and His Invention. Translated by Douglas Martin. 1986. 3d ed. Aldershot, Hampshire, England: Scolar Press, 1996. First modern biography of Gutenberg appearing in English. Scholarly account of Gutenberg’s life within a broad cultural and historical context. Includes many illustrations and reproductions of original documents and references in eight volumes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Man, John. Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World with Words. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2002. Well-written history of the invention of printing, detailing the dramatic political, religious and social consequences.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thorpe, James. The Gutenberg Bible: Landmark in Learning. 2d ed. San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library Press, 2002. Concise history of printing that includes a discussion of the status of printing today. Elegant book with color reproductions and details, issued by an institution that houses one of the rare extant copies of Gutenberg’s Bible.

Nov. 1, 1478: Establishment of the Spanish Inquisition

1486-1487: Pico della Mirandola Writes Oration on the Dignity of Man

1490’s: Aldus Manutius Founds the Aldine Press

1499-1517: Erasmus Advances Humanism in England

1516: Sir Thomas More Publishes Utopia

Oct. 31, 1517: Luther Posts His Ninety-five Theses

1528: Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier Is Published

Mar., 1536: Calvin Publishes Institutes of the Christian Religion

July 15, 1542-1559: Paul III Establishes the Index of Prohibited Books

1543: Copernicus Publishes De Revolutionibus

1543: Vesalius Publishes On the Fabric of the Human Body

1550’s: Tartaglia Publishes The New Science

1552: Las Casas Publishes The Tears of the Indians

Apr. or May, 1560: Publication of the Geneva Bible

1580-1595: Montaigne Publishes His Essays

1592: Publication of Wu Chengen’s The Journey to the West

Categories: History