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Propaganda Wars in the Reformation

Print is deeply associated with the Reformation.

It fuelled the scale of the Protestant cause. For the new Protestants, print was the way of opposing Church and State power. It was the medium used to spread ideas, disseminate beliefs, circulate the Word of God and shape public opinion. Between 1517 and 1520, Luther’s publications sold over 300,000 copies. Woodcuts - or 'engraved pamphlets' – became a chief means of spreading messages during the 'propaganda wars' that raged at the time of the Protestant Reformation.

• It was common to see the Pope identified with the Antichrist in Reformation literature. Philip Melanchthon's “Pasional Christi und Antichristi”, illustrated by Lucas Cranach the Elder, is a prime example. In addition to this and other similar books, many engraved pamphlets were used to highlight the need for a radical Reformation of the church.

But not just Protestants used this new technology. It was also used by Roman Catholicism as it tried to counter the exposure of its corruption. Protestants and Catholics attacked one another’s leaders, doctrines, and practices through print and visual media.

Woodcut #1 (shown above) – Rome's Caricature of Martin Luther as the Antichrist.

Probably designed by Hans Brosamer in 1529, this engraving represents Luther as the Dragon of Apocalypse or the Antichrist described in John's text (1 John 2:18, 22; 1 John 4:3; 2 John 7). The seven heads are: a doctor, a saint, an unfaithful, a priest, a fanatic, a Church supervisor and Barrabás. Luther is portrayed as reading a book, whose opinions would presumably be as diverse as his seven heads.

Woodcut #2 (shown below) – The Reformer's Caricature of the Papacy as the Antichrist.

The year after the release of “Seven-headed Martin Luther,” the Reformers responded with this woodcut. The Antichrist sports the heads of the Pope and his lieutenants; the Beast is positioned in an Mammon altar and the altar is located over a chest plenty of money with the Devil: it is the Reign of Satan, full of demands for money for the purchase of Indulgences.

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