Are We Entering the New Renaissance?
by Nathan Artt, on April 2022
How the world’s largest pandemic created the greatest period of innovation in history
In 1347, twelve trade ships pulled into the port of Messina, Italy. Later, these ships would be referred to as “Death Ships”. There had been rumors all over Europe of a disease that was spreading quickly through the trade routes. When these ships pulled into port, there was something missing: People.
These trade ships were filled with sailors who had either already died from the Bubonic Plague, or “Black Death”, and others hanging on for dear life as their bodies grew black boils. The ships were ordered away from the ports, but it was too late. The Bubonic Plague had officially hit Europe, and it would go on to wipe out over 20 million people, or one third of Europe’s population.
The Bubonic Plague was incredibly contagious and deadly. While there was not a good understanding of infectious disease at that time, people did realize that proximity was causing the rapid spread and decided to isolate themselves. In fact, the word “quarantine” was created in Italy during that time, which literally means 40 days of isolation. They would keep sailors coming into port under quarantine to see if they would exhibit symptoms, which slowed the quickness of the spread tremendously.
The term “run for the hills” also comes from this time. The wealthy people in the city fled to their summer homes in the mountains to get away from the infected people in the city. The poorer class, or serfs, were left to deal with the brunt of the world’s largest and most deadly pandemic. As a result, the majority of the working class in Europe died during that time, while the rich and elite managed to escape the worst of it.
Coming out of the pandemic, there was a lot of work to do, but not a lot of people to do it. The serfs now understood that there was far more demand for their labor than there was a supply of laborers, so they began to negotiate with the wealthy landowners to receive better pay, housing, food, etc. or that they would simply move down the road to someone who was willing to meet their demands. There was a significant labor shortage. Sound familiar?
Some serfs started businesses to replace the loss of merchants. There was land available for sale simply because some landowners had died, and the serfs now had the money to purchase land for the first time in their lives. People were charging more for their services, which put some landowners out of business, and the previously poor serfs now had the money to buy up those properties at a huge discount as well.
The Bubonic Plague indirectly created for the first time in history what we now know to be the Middle Class. It also created an enormous amount of distrust in the political and religious systems of that time. During the Black Death, the church essentially blamed the pestilence on the sins of the people, and went as far as flagellants and other abusive tortures in the name of sanctification. This was more the tipping point, or the straw that broke the camel’s back, as the serfs had been abused by the politicized Church for years. They were tired of having people dictate to them what the Bible and the Law said about them. In order for them to empower themselves and their children, they had to become literate. Literacy was very much what stood in between them and their independence. However, access to books was hard to come by.
As the middle class became more prominent and more powerful, people wanted the next generation to have an education so that they would not be abused by the politicized religious systems of that time. Enter Johannes Gutenberg. He was aware of a technology invented by the Chinese in the sixth century. The Chinese had invented the printing press, but couldn't make it scale because there are more than 2,000 characters in the Mandarin language. Gutenberg figured out how to recreate that machine to meet the incredible demand for books resulting from the Bubonic Plague and the emergence of a Middle Class. In 1440, he officially introduced Europe to the printing press and forever changed the world.
The printing press put the Bible into 500,00 homes over those 30 years.
It wasn’t just that The Bible was put into so many homes. The Bible created literacy for millions of people as the book almost all people used to learn to read and write. The mass printing of the Bible created the Germanic, French, and English language as we know it today. There was no “German” language at the time. Every region of Germany had different dialects and translations, but the Bible printed in Gutenberg's “German” created the first uniform German language. When the printing press arrived in England, it also standardized the English language. Up until that point, there were no standards in the English language for vocabulary, punctuation, or grammar. In other words, the Bible created linguistic uniformity along with mass literacy.
Just a few decades later, as a result of high demand for literature, along with the supply of information created by the printing press, the Renaissance would begin, forever changing the world with art, government, law, literature, and music. This period in our history would never have existed without the printing press. But without the Bubonic Plague, there never would have been a demand for the printing press. In other words:
The world’s largest pandemic created its greatest period of innovation.
While we may not see it now, we are living in a similar time. Thankfully, we won’t see one-third of our population die off, but the world has been forever changed by Covid. How will the Church respond? Will we face this change with courage, knowing that the Lord of the Universe, the King of Kings, is using this time to bring His plan of redemption to the world, and that we get to be a part of it? Things are not going back to normal. The definition of normal is being rewritten as we speak.
- The printing press put 500,000 Bibles in living rooms in 30 years.
- In 30 years, the radio made it to 50,000,000 living rooms (100X the speed)
- It only took the television 15 years to reach 50,000,000 living rooms (200X the speed)
- Instagram grew to 50,000,000 users in 1.5 years (2,000X the speed)
Years from now, people will be reading about how the world changed during this time. As leaders who hold the opportunity of sharing the greatest message of hope during a time of intense hopelessness, what will we do with this opportunity? Will we try to get back to our old ways, making people come to us at a certain time and place to hear this message, or will we embrace this change and take advantage of the digital platform; the Gutenberg Press on steroids?
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