John Calvin and the Printed Book

Jean-François Gilmont; Karin Maag, trans.


John Calvin made a significant contribution to the world of early modern printing.  (SCE&S 72)

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Sixteenth Century Essays & Studies, Vol. 72

John Calvin made a significant contribution to the world of early modern printing. Jean-François Gilmont, one of the foremost experts in the field, has thoroughly researched and presented all aspects of John Calvin’s interaction with books—from the authors he read, to the works he wrote, to his relationships with the printing and publishing world of the sixteenth century. Originally in French, Karin Maag makes Gilmont’s research available in this English translation.



Translator’s Preface
Preface: Books in the Life of Calvin

Chapter One: Introductory Remarks
Three Prefatory Anecdotes
The Journey of the Reformer
His Context—People, Ideas, and Institutions
Oral Instruction
On the Usefulness of the Pen

Chapter Two: Printed Works
The Institutes of the Christian Religion
The Scripture Commentaries
Ecclesiastical Writings
Polemical Works
The Sermons in Print

Chapter Three: Writing
Choosing to Write
Selecting a Language
Brevity and Ease of Writing
Calvin’s Work Environment

Chapter Four: Reading Practices
Calvin’s Library
The Biblical Text
Patristic and Classical Sources
Contemporary Authors
An Ordinary Christian’s Books

Chapter Five: Printing
Choosing a Printer
The Art of Dedications
Calvin’s Knowledge of the Book World

Chapter Six: Censorship
The Censor in Geneva—the Legal Foundations of Genevan Censorship
Censored by the Genevan Council
Censorship Outside Geneva—Calvin as a Censor

Chapter Seven: Conclusion

Appendix 1: Calvin’s Productivity
Appendix 2: Exegetical Commentaries and Oral Teaching
Appendix 3: Polemical Treatises in Chronological Order
Appendix 4: The Structure of the Tractatus omnes (1576)
Appendix 5: French and Latin Translations
Appendix 6: Calvin’s Dedications



Jean-François Gilmont, professor at l’Universite de Louvain-la-Neuve, is a specialist on the history of books and the Reformation of the sixteenth century. Previous books include Jean Crespin, Bibliographie des éditions de Jean Crespin, Une introduction à l’histoire du livre et de la lecture, and Le libre et ses secrets. In addition, he edited the first two volumes of the Bibliotheca calviniana.

About the Translator

Karin Maag is director of the Meeter Center for Calvin Studies and associate professor of history at Calvin College. She received her PhD in Reformation history and her MPhil in medieval and Renaissance studies at University of St. Andrews. She has many publications including Seminary or University? The Genevan Academy and Reformed Higher Education, and has edited several contributed volumes.


Karin Maag’s elegant translation makes this fundamental piece of scholarship available for the first time to the non-French speaking world and will further increase the impact of Gilmont’s research on Calvin.

Ecclesiastical History

John Calvin and the Printed Book comes from one of the foremost experts in the field of studying John Calvin, and thus deserves a place on any serious college-level library shelf as an essential reference studying John Calvin’s interactions with books and the literary world of the 16th century. Chapters use extensive archival materials and add both biographical and historical elements to the story of John Calvin. Karin Maag translates this classic from the original French.

Midwest Book Review

It is nicely laid out in sections with subsections, followed by helpful summations of the arguments.... It is of inestimable value to Calvinophiles and to the growing number of scholars who are finding fertile ground in attending to the epoch-making technology of moveable type and the cultural changes flowing from it.

Sixteenth Century Journal

Book Reviews of the French edition:

This book is a fascinating account based on extensive archival research by an experienced and skilled scholar. It provides a different side of Calvin than the typical theological analysis.

Church History

This volume is a thorough overview of Calvin as speaker, writer, author, editor, and censor. It discusses the ethereal and the practical aspects of publication and sets Calvin’s writing career firmly within the context of the process of publication.

Sixteenth Century Journal

No one in the world knows more about the publishing history of Calvin’s works than Jean-François Gilmont.

—Proceedings of the Huguenot Society

Gilmont fleshes out the story of Calvin and the printed book, revealing glimpses into the personality and character of the Reformer, as well as a foray into the world of sixteenth-century printing practices.... This is an exhaustive and well-rounded picture, not just of Calvin the reader-the preacher-the teacher-the writer, but also of Calvin the man, warts and all. Bref (as Gilmont is wont to say), a very fine book.

Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance

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