How did the printing press help to spread Calvin's ideas?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The invention of the printing press helped all of the Protestant reformers, including John Calvin, to spread their messages quickly, cheaply, and efficiently. John Calvin used the printing press to mass produce many treatises which he then spread widely throughout Western Europe, Switzerland, and France in particular. These treatises addressed...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The invention of the printing press helped all of the Protestant reformers, including John Calvin, to spread their messages quickly, cheaply, and efficiently. John Calvin used the printing press to mass produce many treatises which he then spread widely throughout Western Europe, Switzerland, and France in particular. These treatises addressed both religious and political thought as presented by Calvin and had a great influence among other reformers. Many of Calvin's sermons were also recorded and reproduced using the printing press. This allowed people who were not able to attend his church in person to hear, or rather read, his messages.

John Calvin's first major use of printed works came in 1536 when he published the Institutio Christianae Religionis. This work outlined his major feelings and ideas concerning Christianity and set him at odds with the established thoughts and practices of the Catholic Church. It was disseminated widely, thanks to the many copies he was able to turn out with the printing press.

Simply put, without the ability to quickly and inexpensively produce these printed works, John Calvin would have had a difficult time spreading his message. Additionally, Calvin himself influenced the growth of printing. In the 16th Century, Geneva became a major center for producing printed works. This was in no small part due to the massive amounts of writing produced by the city's leading author, John Calvin.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Protestantism, of which Calvinism is one of the main variants, is a religion of the book. At the heart of Protestant theology is the belief that the Word of God, as contained in the Bible, is everything. Sole spiritual authority is vested in the pages of Holy Scripture. The invention of printing was vital to the spread of the Protestant message, as for the first time, literate Christian believers were able to read the Word of God for themselves in a language they could understand.

Calvin was a notable theologian and scholar and a man of extraordinary erudition who was steeped in humanist learning. He wrote voluminously, generating a prodigious output of tracts, biblical commentaries, polemics, letters, and sermons. All of these works were put into print, allowing Calvin's radical message to find an audience not just in Geneva but across all of Europe. Although literacy levels were much lower then than they are today, more people than ever before were learning to read. As the vast majority of these people considered themselves devout Christians, they had a real hunger for the kind of spiritual nourishment that Calvin and other Protestant Reformers were only too willing to provide.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The invention of the printing press was crucial to the spread of the Protestant Reformation. In addition to spreading Martin Luther's ideas during the early years of the Reformation, the printing press helped spread John Calvin's version of Protestantism throughout Europe. Before the invention of the printing press, scribes had to copy books by hand. This was a laborious process, so books were incredibly expensive. For example, a single scribe would have to work as long as a year to produce one copy of the Bible.

Johannes Gutenberg's printing press made the process much faster. Thus, printers could produce more books at less cost. This allowed Calvin's writings--most notably hisĀ Institutes of the Christian Religion, which outlined the main tenets of what would soon be known as Calvinism--to spread across Europe at a far more rapid pace than would have been possible several centuries earlier.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team