Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Nothing is ever forgotten, nothing is ever new

Back in the olden days, the Bible was a mystery. Not a mystery in the "this passage is a tad unclear, and could use some sound expounding" sense, but rather in the "dude, it's written in bloody Latin, I can't read this" sense. As in literal Latin, the language of the Romans, a language that had long since gone its merry way to become French, Italian and all those romantic sounding languages.

In short, you were either a priest (and had gotten a solid education in Latin), or you weren't, and the Bible was an incomprehensible mystery. Unreadable, in all senses of the word.

This put enormous amounts of power in the hands of the (soon to be*) Catholic Church. Only its representatives could speak with any authority about the Word of God. And God, as you might remember, is a big deal - the creator of the world, the punisher of sinful, the justifier of monarchies, the foundation of all that is Good and Just and True.

You can do a lot of things with God on your side.

If you've stayed in a hotel recently, you might have noticed that there was a Bible there. And that it wasn't in Latin. And that there are, in fact, quite a number of bibles in quite a number of languages that's not Latin. Clearly, something has happened between now and then.

What happened between now and then?

Gutenberg happened. He didn't quite invent the printing press, but he made it commercially viable enough for the contemporary market. As in, you could build one, if you were mildly rich and put your will to it. And thus people did build them. And they used them to print books. Loads of them. Floods of them.

One of these books was the Bible. Not the old Latin version, but numerous localized versions, that ordinary people could read and understand. No longer did the (soon to be*) Catholic church have a monopoly on the Word of God - just about everyone who was somebody knew a guy with a strange contraption in his basement that churned out bibles at an ungodly pace.

And boy did they read. And boy were they righteously pissed off when they discovered that the (soon to be*) Catholic Church had, to put it mildly, embellished a little on the Words of God during the last thousand years or so.

Calamity ensued.

What changed with the improvement of the printing press wasn't just the means of production of written works. To be sure, that was part of it, but it was not the most important part of it. The most important part of it was that people got access to the Words of God, and with their own eyes could see what was what. And, in due course, become justifiably outraged by what they saw.

This is not without parallels in our contemporary society. There's this thing called the internet, that came into being a while back. We could say it's the same story all over again, only in a different setting, and with a less theological version of the Word of God. Though, to be honest, the intricacies of legislature could very well be written in church Latin, for all its readability to the common folk.

Until now.

There is a point to this ramble. More than one point. One of these is that my description about how Lutheranism came about is wrong, and that you can point out any number of errors if you know the details. Another point is that this doesn't matter, since the gist of it is right, and that it's right enough that one can make comparisons between then and now. Comparisons such as: hey, haven't we seen all this before somewhere?

(I am, in fact, so wrong that I've been corrected in this here blog post. Go read it. You'll learn actual things that are actually true.)

When people talk about the value of history, they don't talk about dates, facts and other things best left to Wikipedia. They talk about that "hey, I know this, this reminds me of..." feeling. It can be the vaguest, most general, least factually correct remembrance ever - it doesn't matter. As long as the general gist of it is correct, you can go from there, and find out the details and specifics and all that as you go along. And, more importantly, get a context from which to view whatever is going on at the moment.

Back in the days, the (soon to be*) Catholic Church had a monopoly on the Word of God. Then that changed.

Back in the days, you had to be an initiate of the highest order to gain access to the legal reasoning of the state. Or, indeed, to even know where and how to read them in order to make any sense out of it. Now, this has changed - as ACTA and TTP shows.

Let's hope we're not in for another session of ensuing calamity. -

*: a funny thing about the Catholic Church is that it only became Catholic after the Reformation. Before, it was simply the Church, the one and only. You only need to name things when there's a need to keep things apart, which you don't when there's only the one.**
**: the Orthodox Church doesn't count. It's far enough away for everyone to know that it's obvious to everyone that you can't really confuse apples and oranges.

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