When the Saints Were the Early Adopters of Technological Innovation (and Were Accused of Being Taught by the Devil to Read)

Joseph Hutton’s History of the Moravian Church, Part 4

The ancient Church of the Brethren, the forerunner of the Moravian Church, began in 1457. At the time, the printing press had been around for less than twenty years (since 1440).

Historian Joseph Hutton said the Church of the Brethren “made a use of the printing press which in those days was astounding.”

The numbers he reported are encouraging.

Of the five printing presses in all Bohemia, three belonged to the Brethren; of sixty printed works that appeared between 1500 and 1510, no fewer than fifty were published by the Brethren.

They also taught their children to read. That was unusual. Hutton said, “Of the Bohemian people, in those days, there were few who could read or write; of the Brethren there was scarcely one who could not.”

Their high literacy rate should have made the church more attractive to the people of Bohemia. Instead, at least some of them assumed the worst. They could read so well, they said, because the devil taught them.

But in those days a man who could read was regarded as a prodigy of learning. The result was widespread alarm. As the report gained ground that among the Brethren the humblest people could read as well as the priest, the good folk in Bohemia felt compelled to concoct some explanation, and the only explanation they could imagine was that the Brethren had the special assistance of the devil. If a man, said they, joined the ranks of the Brethren, the devil immediately taught him the art of reading, and if, on the other hand, he deserted the Brethren, the devil promptly robbed him of the power, and reduced him again to a wholesome benighted condition.