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Publishing for the Popes: The Roman Curia and the Use of Printing (1527–1555). Paolo Sachet. Library of the Written Word 80; The Handpress World 61. Leiden: Brill, 2020. xii + 306 pp. €138.

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Publishing for the Popes: The Roman Curia and the Use of Printing (1527–1555). Paolo Sachet. Library of the Written Word 80; The Handpress World 61. Leiden: Brill, 2020. xii + 306 pp. €138.

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 March 2022

Paul F. Grendler*
University of Toronto, emeritus
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Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by the Renaissance Society of America

This is a study of the efforts of Cardinal Marcello Cervini (1501–55) and his collaborators to publish Catholic religious scholarship intended to rebut Protestantism. It has been argued that the Catholic Church had a restrictive attitude toward the printing press and that it relied on preventing the publication and distribution of Protestant works. Sachet demonstrates that some members of the papal Curia viewed the press as a medium that could serve the Catholic cause. Although Cervini is mostly remembered as Pope Marcellus II, who was a twenty-two-day pope, he was also the driving force in an effort that brought into print a great deal of Catholic religious scholarship.

The chronological scope of the book is 1527 to 1555. Gian Matteo Giberti established a printing press in the bishop's palace in Verona when he moved there after the Sack of Rome. Giberti recruited printers from Venice and published commentaries on the Psalms and the New Testament, plus scholarly editions of the Greek and Latin fathers. Then beginning in 1539 Cervini began to sponsor and publish Catholic religious scholarship in Rome. A man of humanistic training and outlook, Cervini was an ardent collector of books, especially Greek manuscripts. In 1539 he commissioned his first book, a reply to the second edition of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion by Albert Pighius (Pigge), a Dutch theologian. In 1542 Cervini organized and financed a Greek press in Rome. It published only two works, one of which was Theophylact of Ohrid's Greek commentary on the Gospels written around 1100. The edition was a scholarly answer to a “mendacious” work (85), a 1524 Latin translation of Theophylact by the Protestant Johannes Oecolampadius, which had considerable circulation. In other words, Cervini used the press and humanistic philology to produce an accurate Greek text that he hoped would replace a Protestant work. Sachet includes an appendix with fascinating documentary information about the costs of production and the distribution of the 1,309 copies of the print run. Unfortunately, costs were high, and the Greek press closed in late 1543.

Cervini also founded a Latin press that published six editions in Rome between 1541 and 1544. Again Sachet provides fascinating information about the people involved, press runs, and distribution. After 1544, Cervini abandoned publishing because of his other responsibilities as cardinal and bishop. Instead, he planned, encouraged, sponsored, and financed Catholic scholarship. Cervini had links to printers and publishers throughout Italy and as far away as Paris and Basel. By examining paratextual material, Sachet determines that Cervini played a role in bringing into print 124 editions, some long after his death.

Cervini and his collaborators published four kinds of Catholic religious scholarship: patristic and other early Christian authors, books related to the Council of Trent, ecclesiastical history, and oriental language material. They did not publish or sponsor works in vernacular languages. The targeted readership was the learned Catholic clergy who would refute Protestantism. Cervini saw Protestants as rebels who had departed from the historic church. By making available the works of church fathers and medieval scholars who had dealt with past heretics, readers could learn how Protestants deviated from the historic and divinely founded Catholic Church. This approach failed to realize the strong appeal of some theological insights of Luther and Calvin. Cervini and his collaborators did not publish vernacular or less learned Latin works that would respond to the attacks and insults of Protestants. On the other hand, Cervini and his collaborators anticipated the wave of early church historiography that both Catholics and Protestants produced in the later sixteenth century.

In a few pages at the end of his book, Sachet describes how Cervini and Antonio Blado, a Roman publisher connected to the papacy, helped Ignatius of Loyola found a modest printing press in the Roman College to print in-house Jesuit works. In time, the Society of Jesus would establish relationships with commercial presses, persuade princes to finance publications, and produce works that would make the Society a major publishing force. The Jesuits wrote popular works in the vernacular that Cervini and his collaborators did not produce.

This book successfully combines the history of the book and religious history. It presents an abundance of detailed information about the people and processes of publication harvested from a wide range of archival, manuscript, printed books, and secondary scholarship, and presents the results in clear prose and detailed footnotes. It is an excellent and original study.