– What is the greatest “great book”?
– The Quadrivium
– The goal of education
– Socratic teaching
– and more—enjoy!
As sons and daughters of the Reformation, we are very grateful for the work of the Reformers – as we should be. We ought to read the Institutes. We ought to sing Goudimel. We ought to remember how the Reformers spent their lives defending the truth and authority of Scripture, and proclaiming the Lordship of Christ over all creation.
But we want to do more than just remember the Reformation. We want to be as the Reformers were – and then to go further up and further in. Semper reformanda, as they say. So how do we do that?
One way is to better understand the context of the Reformation. How did they became such effective defenders of the faith? What made them such powerful thinkers? What made their rhetoric salty and gave an edge to their wit? What gave them not only the ability to live faithfully and peaceably themselves, but also to enter the public square, to think clearly, to engage with the culture?
It is perhaps possible they could have been born in a cave and still had intellectual and theological prowess. But that’s not how it happened. The Reformation was not an isolated event marked by special revelation and divine intervention. No: the Reformation had a context.
That context was, broadly speaking, western culture. Christians had always been students of the Classics since the time of Christ, even preserving many of the classical texts from extinction through the Middle Ages. But the Renaissance brought the study of the classics back into the mainstream; it was marked by a revival of the classics. The way the Reformers thought was shaped by their world and the education it gave them. To be educated in that world meant to learn Seneca and Cicero, Plato and Aristotle, Cato and Aesop. This was the world the Reformers were born into; it was the world that raised them.
It was in part this classical foundation that gave the Reformers the tools they needed for the work of the Reformation. Take Beza for example. Theodore Beza was arguably the greatest classicist of the Reformation. When he was in his early 20s, his father wanted him to be studying practical things like law; instead Beza was perfecting his Latin poetry and reading Virgil. At the time these were merely the vain studies of a young restless poet enjoying the fame among philosophers and the fine things of the world. As it turns out, this education was very practical for the work God called him to. Over the course of his life he was a poet, classicist, scholar, professor, ambassador, theologian, and churchman. His foundation in the classics enabled him to wear those hats well.
Philip Schaff writes:
“Of the six great Continental Reformers,—Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingli, Bullinger, Calvin, and Beza,—Beza was the most finished gentleman, according to the highest standard of his time. He was not lacking in energy, nor was he always mild. But he was able to hold court with courtiers, be a wit with wits, and show classical learning equal to that of the best scholars of his age. Yet with him the means were only valued because they reached an end, and the great end he had ever in mind was the conservation of the Reformed Church of Geneva and France.”
Of course, God also uses the lowliest and the unlearned to do His work. We do not necessarily need the tools of the world to build the Kingdom: God will give us what we need to do the work He calls us to. However, when He does give us something—whether wealth or education, beauty or influence—he has given it to us to use for His glory. For the Reformers (and for us) the tradition of western culture and the tools of the classics are resources He has given to use.
The Reformers recognized this. Of all the things that they wanted to change in their own culture, the study of the classics was not one of them. Even Luther, who loved a jolly disagreement whenever he could get his hands on one, was pleased that such study had remained in the schools. He wrote: “It is a result of God’s providence that the writings of Cato and Aesop have remained in the schools, for both are significant books. Cato contains the most useful sayings and precepts. Aesop contains the most delightful stories and descriptions. Moral teachings, if offered to young people, will contribute much to their edification. In short, next to the Bible, the writings of Cato and Aesop are in my opinion the best.” The German reformer Melanchthon likewise suggested that after the children are taught the alphabet, the creed, and prayers, they should be given Donatus (a Roman grammarian and rhetorician) and Cato.
Instead of doing away with the classical tradition, they reformed it. Baptized it. Used its tools to build the Kingdom. And they passed on that tradition to their children.
This connection between the classical education of western culture and the Reformers should not surprise us. Christ’s lordship over all creation meant for the Reformers that there was no such thing as secular work, or really a truly secular world. The Great Commission, they believed, was a command to bring about what the Lord taught us to pray for: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The goal was not to merely abandon the world and seek heaven; rather, it was to transform the world through the things of heaven.
Moreover, Christ’s lordship is not merely over the physical things of the world, but also over culture and thought. What was good in the pagans was good in the providence of God. It was the fruit borne when the rain fell upon wicked as well as the righteous. The study of grammar and history and philosophy was truly Christian work, if it was used for the sake of the kingdom.
The tradition of western thought is a treasure that the wise will not bury. We will not reject it or rebel against, but rather we will reform it and build on it as Beza did with Cato and Calvin with Cicero. Where there is error, we will cut it off. Where there is truth, we will receive it and learn from it. But we will not ignore it.
So let’s celebrate the Reformation this October 31st. Let’s eat good German food and sing from the Genevan Psalter. And as we do so, let us give thanks not only for their courage and for the legacy the Reformation left us, but also for the many ways in which God prepared the world for the Reformation and the Reformers for the world. Let us thank God for western culture.
North-America’s identity as a predominantly Protestant, English-speaking continent is obvious, yet what is not so well known is the foundational role that the English Reformation had in bringing this about. It was Protestantism that served as one of the leading factors in turning the British Isles into a maritime empire and drove them to seize North America from their Catholic competitors.
In the wake of Columbus’ shocking discovery of the Americas, Spain rushed to acquire a papal bull called Inter caetera, granting them exclusive rights to the lands and wealth of the New World. A year later in 1494, with the Treaty of Tordesillas, Portugal also won from the pope rights to their own zone of influence in Asia and the eastern tip of Brazil.
Meanwhile Tudor England languished in the field of exploration. Except for a brief period during the reign of Henry V, medieval England possessed no naval fleet at all and had no oceanic aspirations. 1 Their national interests had been fixated for the last several hundred years on possessions in France and the British Isles, and even if they had wanted to expand across the Atlantic, their relationship with Spain and the papacy meant that after Inter caetera the New World was off limits to them.
In 1527, however, Henry VIII led England on a path away from the continent by divorcing his Spanish wife, Catherine of Aragon, and severing all ties with the Church of Rome. Ironically, while the Reformation grew slowly under Protestant kings Henry VIII and Edward VI, it was Catherine’s Catholic daughter, Queen Mary, who truly broke the conservative English away from their old ties. Although the largely Catholic population initially welcomed Mary to the throne, they strongly disapproved of her persecution of Protestants, and her loss of the last English holdings in France meant that upon her death bed she was despised by nearly all of her former political and religious allies. 2
Mary’s persecutions and her attachment to foreign Spain were followed by her sister Elizabeth’s tolerant policy. Nominally Protestant, Elizabeth insisted on absolute loyalty to the Church of England, but left church worship largely in the hands of the local parish. The Reformation flourished under this freedom. By the end of Elizabeth’s reign the Catholics had become a small minority mostly contained within the English aristocracy.
In 1570 the pope excommunicated Queen Elizabeth for her religious settlement. The excommunication of their Queen combined with the ever menacing threat of a Spanish invasion cemented in the English people’s imagination their identity as a Protestant country. And equally integral to their Protestant identity was their fierce opposition to the Bourbon Catholic monarchies of Spain and France. 3
As the Reformation matured, English Protestants saw dominion of the sea and colonization of the New World as the strongest weapon against papal claims to Catholic universalism. 4 For the next two hundred years following the reign of Elizabeth, staunch Protestants led the call for England to challenge Spain for dominance of the Atlantic and the New World. 5 The role of Protestants in this westward expansion cannot be underestimated. 6 Sir Francis Drake and other Protestant mariners mocked the Pope’s Treaty of Tordesillas. They ravaged treasure ships all along the Spanish Main, while championing themselves as Protestant evangelists to the natives. 7 Englishmen who had been oppressed under Bloody Mary saw a kinship of suffering, not only with other persecuted Protestants, but also with natives of the New World who were enslaved under Spanish rule. Protestant ministers called for the liberation of the Americas, and preached the need to colonize those northern lands not yet dominated by Spain. 8 And English colonists in North America saw it as their “manifest destiny” that one day they would wrest the colonies of Canada and Florida away from the idolatrous French and Spanish. 9 While the previous wars with France had merely been over royal possessions, this new conflict with Spain was seen as a bitter struggle between the people of God and the forces of the Anti-Christ.
Protestantism sent England to America, and England brought Protestantism with it. As Europe passed into the eighteenth century, England had transitioned from an island kingdom into the global empire of Great Britain. They emerged from their Atlantic wars as Europe’s most progressive maritime and industrial nation, while the Catholic empires of Spain, France, and Austria were slowly slipping away into political and economic stagnation. 10 The role that Protestantism had in accomplishing this transformation of England is unmistakable. English Protestantism championed itself as the antithesis to global, Catholic imperialism. From that drive to counterbalance the papal forces, England metamorphosed into Britain, the most powerful empire of them all, which in turn was overshadowed by the United States, its colonial prodigy and Protestant heir.
Most Christians have heard the names of John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Knox, and other giants of the Protestant Reformation in Europe. But there are many, many other men and women who worked to advance the cause of the Reformation! It is my pleasure to introduce you to 5 extraordinary women of the Reformation!
Each of these women played an important role, either in disseminating the ideas of the Reformation, or using their political power to protect the preachers and teachers of these ideas.
Marguerite de Navarre was truly a Renaissance woman. Born in the same year that Columbus discovered America, Marguerite was the older sister of one of the most famous kings of France, Francis I, to whom Calvin dedicated his Institutes of the Christian Religion. She became a queen in her own right by marriage to the king of Navarre, Henry III. Her own upbringing was unusual for the time, as she received a nearly identical education to her brother, who was being trained for the crown of France. During her lifetime, she was one of the most educated women in France, as well as a powerful diplomat, one of the king’s closest advisors, and a literary and theological patroness. During Francis I’s captivity in Spain, Marguerite even travelled in person into enemy territory to negotiate his release with Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. It was also during these years, the 1520s, that she began to gain exposure to the writings of the Reformation. Later, she was persecuted by the powerful Roman Catholic Sorbonne University for the evangelical tendencies of her own writings, and one author claims she could have been burned at the stake had she not been the King’s sister. Her patronage extended from financial sponsorship of theologians and their work, to giving refuge to those fleeing the first persecutions of the early sixteenth century. At one time, she even took in John Calvin, who was fleeing Paris before going to Geneva. Other men she protected or supported include Gerard Roussel, Lefevre d’Etaples, and Clement Marot. Her correspondence includes an even wider circle, from Erasmus to a variety of Popes, to Calvin and many other reformers. She was comfortable in every setting, from reforming corrupt abbeys, to being the hostess of the king’s court, to working with spies and diplomatic intrigue. Marguerite lived in an unusual position in the early days of Protestant development in France, and she didn’t ever formally renounce the Roman Catholic church, choosing to stay on relatively good terms with both the Vatican and Geneva. By doing this, she managed to navigate within the existing political and religious structures to work towards the changes she saw were needed.
Among these women, Marie Dentière is probably the one who stirred the most controversy within her own camp for her somewhat provocative statements and actions. She was born into an aristocratic family, and early on became an abbess in a Belgian convent. She left her convent after coming into contact with the ideas of the Reformation, and travelled first to Strasbourg, where she married a former priest, and then to Geneva. Her activities were quite varied! Marie went and encouraged nuns to join the Reformation and find husbands, started a girls’ school with her husband, wrote a history of Geneva’s “deliverance” from the Catholics, and even corresponded with Marguerite de Navarre. We know that Calvin criticized her at times for her very vocal opinions, referring in one of his letters to a time she addressed a crowd on a street corner in Geneva, apparently criticizing the reformed ministers of the city, including Calvin himself. And yet, at the end of her life, she wrote the preface for one of Calvin’s sermons on modesty—hardly something Calvin would ask of a woman he didn’t respect. I would like to think that she kept all her spunk, but tempered some of her opinions with age, thus leading Calvin to ask her to write the preface. Marie Dentière was an opinionated woman who was not afraid to witness to nuns or write on theology!
As with many of the women in this list, fire-cracker is one of the first words that comes to mind when I think of Argula von Grumbach. Born in 1492 to a noble family in Bavaria, Argula is most famous for writing a letter to the University of Ingolstadt faculty, rebuking and challenging with vim and vigor their trial forcing a student to recant his Lutheran beliefs. She viewed her public opposition as necessary when no one else would, it appeared, speak up against this miscarriage of justice. Argula even challenged the faculty to a debate on the doctrines in question! Luther himself both met and corresponded with her, and praised her highly, saying in one letter: “That most noble woman, Argula [von Grumbach], is there making a valiant fight with great spirit, boldness of speech and knowledge of Christ. She deserves that all pray for Christ’s victory in her . . . . She alone, among these monsters, carries on with firm faith, though, she admits, not without inner trembling. She is a singular instrument of Christ. I commend her to you, that Christ through this infirm vessel may confound the mighty and those who glory in their strength.” To close, here is one quote which shows her passionate and frank writing in her famous letter to the faculty at Ingolstadt: “What have Luther and Melanchthon taught save the Word of God? You have condemned them. You have not refuted them.”
Olympia Morata, I must confess, is my personal favorite of all these women. Her life was tragically short, but a brilliant testimony to her faith and her incredible breadth and depth of learning. Her father was an Italian scholar, and brought her up so that by the age of 12, she was called as a companion and tutor to the young Anna d’Este of Ferrara, the future wife of the (infamous) François, Duc de Guise. During her time at the court of Ferrara, she was invited to lecture to the court in Greek and Latin! After leaving court to care for her declining father, she fell out of favor with the Duke. It seems that it was during this time that these convictions, previously held more intellectually along with her broad philosophical and literary interests, now awakened in her a true and living faith in Jesus Christ, and marked a turning point in her life. It was also during this time that Andreas Grunthler, a Reformed German doctor, classically-trained and a lover of literature, sought her hand in marriage. Olympia fell passionately in love with him, and they married around 1550. Life was not easy, as they travelled back to Germany where her husband hoped to find a position in a university. They met with persecution, were even imprisoned, and barely escaped with their lives before finally finding peace in Heidelberg. Her health suffered as a result, and when the Elector Palatine offered her the incredible position of lecturing at a university, she seems to have turned it down. She died shortly thereafter, followed by her husband and her little brother. Olympia’s faith seems to have only grown stronger throughout her life and its trials. During her life, she wrote dialogues, Latin and Greek letters (including love letters in Latin to her husband!), a popular Greek psalter, and more. Theodore de Beze, himself one of the Reformation’s greatest classicists and theologians, even wrote a eulogy for her. Her short but faithful life was well-summed up in her own words when she wrote, “There is no part of the world so distant that we would not be glad to live in it, if we could but serve God there with full liberty of conscience.” (The Life of Olympia Morata, 128.)
One of the better-known women of the French Reformation, Jeanne d’Albret was the daughter of Marguerite de Navarre, and the mother of the future king of France, Henry IV. Jeanne was strong-willed and stubborn from childhood, qualities which prepared her well to become an unflinching leader in the Huguenot wars. She is (justly) famous for the anecdotes surrounding her first marriage to the German Duke of Cleves. Betrothed while still a child to him by King Francis, Jeanne seems to have taken it upon herself (after imploring the king to his face—an audacious act for anyone, let alone an eleven-year-old girl) to write a formal statement, complete with witness signatures, declaring her unequivocal opposition to the upcoming wedding. She did this again as the wedding approached, and when the wedding day itself arrived, had to be literally carried down the aisle. The marriage was never consummated due to her youth, and was later annulled because of changing political currents. To have showed such resolve at eleven years old, in the face of mother, father, and even king, is remarkable to say the least! How would such a young woman carry herself as an adult? The mature Jeanne took a very different approach to the Reformation than her mother, Marguerite de Navarre. Whereas Marguerite preferred to work discretely, through diplomacy and carefully-nuanced loyalties to both churches, and worked to reform the Roman Catholic church from within while protecting persecuted reformers, Jeanne decided, after her parents’ death, to convert publicly to Protestantism, and fight openly for the Reformation. Jeanne had to face opposition at court, from her own husband (a Catholic later in life), and from enemy armies as a major political leader of the Huguenots. Jeanne worked closely with men like Coligny and Condé during the Third Huguenot War, and even rallied the Huguenot troops in person. She instituted official Reformation policies in her own kingdom of Navarre and sponsored translations of the New Testament into her people’s native Basque. When Philip II of Spain sent an ambassador to pressure her at one point, Jeanne replied to him: “Although I am just a little Princess, God has given me the government of this country so I may rule it according to His Gospel and teach it His Laws. I rely on God, who is more powerful than the King of Spain.”
The Mirror of All Christian Queens – A Translation of Marguerite de Navarre’s Correspondence
By Valerie Foucachon
Queen, diplomat, reformer, philanthropist, poetess, playwright, novelist—Marguerite de Navarre seems to have deserved every epithet the Renaissance had to give. She served in many different vocations, and played many parts on the stage of life. This thesis is comprised of a translation and commentary on a selection of ten of Marguerite’s letters divided into three chapters, focusing respectively on her roles as defender of the persecuted, respected advisor to the king of France, and loyal friend of Renée de Ferrara. Understanding these roles in Marguerite’s life gives us insight into the historical context and political climate of the early Reformation in France.
Hear the incredible story of the fall of Troy, and how the Greeks were tricked! You won’t believe what was inside the horse, left by the Greeks as a so-called “gift.” After hearing this story, you’ll never trust a Greek bearing gifts again!
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Marie Durand, ( 1711-1776) spent 38 years in jail for the crime of honoring God over man’s laws. Originally posted at Huguenot Heritage.
My Huguenot ancestors were known to be courageous and strong in their faith. They believed in salvation by faith in Christ and Christ alone. Many had to pay a high price for their religious convictions. Their desire was to please God above all else. They understood that God’s Word is the authority that governs all of life. No human law is above God’s law. The Huguenots stood by that, even if it meant being imprisoned, tortured, or put to death. An example of one of these great Huguenots was a woman named Marie Durand.
The revocation of the Edict of Nantes ( 1685) made it impossible for the Protestants to freely worship the Triune God. Marie Durand was born 30 years after that revocation, but it was still illegal for the French Huguenots to gather for a worship service. From her youngest days, Marie was used to hiding in order to read her Bible and in order to gather with other like-minded believers; all worship services were clandestine, and were called the “Assemblées du Désert,” the Assemblies of the Desert. Both of Marie’s parents were denounced by neighbors for breaking the law by participating in these underground worship services. They were sent to prison, where they eventually died.
What was their crime? They disobeyed the law of the land that forbade them to follow their Christian convictions, which denied them the right to freely worship the Triune God.Marie Durand’s brother, Pierre Durand, was a Huguenot pastor and a gifted preacher in these secret Huguenot meetings. He, too, was betrayed, captured, and sentenced to death. What was his crime? He broke the law of the land by preaching God’s Word.
Left completely alone, 19-year-old Marie Durand married Matthieu Serre in April 1730. A few months later, her husband was arrested and sent to prison because his wedding ceremony took place in an “illegal” Huguenot service. His “crime” kept him a prisoner there for 20 years.
A month after Pierre’s arrest, Marie was sent to jail for the crime of being the sister of a Huguenot pastor. She was an active member of a Huguenot congregation, and was imprisoned for the crime of serving God according to her conscience when man’s laws forbade it. This 19-year-old newly-wed was sent to the infamous “Tour de Constance”, in the city of Aigues-Mortes, a prison that I visited a few years ago. The place was awful! The Tour de Constance is a circular stone tower, a merciless prison with no comfort, little air, and almost no light. Above the main floor is a six-foot high hole that let rain and snow into the room where the prisoners lived. Hot in the summer, cold in the winter, this jail held over forty Huguenot women who were packed in there for many decades.
At 19 years of age, Marie Durand was the youngest prisoner, yet the most mature Christian. Her Christian training at home from godly parents and a godly older brother enabled her by God’s grace to be light in this dark place for the next 38 years of her life. She had already experienced much suffering, and was able in the midst of this new suffering to encourage older fellow prisoners. She was a gifted writer and sent out much gracious correspondence from her miserable confinement. From her letters we know that each evening she gathered the women to read the Bible, to pray, and to sing Psalms together. She encouraged her sisters in Christ to fight against the temptation of abjuring their faith. A priest was available at the prison twenty-four hours a day, and only one word of renunciation of the faith from a prisoner would gain her freedom. All that a prisoner had to say was, “I recant,” and freedom would be granted. But these women preferred obedience to God over temporary freedom. Their conscience was free and at peace. During my visit to this prison, I saw the word “régister”—resist!—clearly engraved in the rock of the prison wall where Marie lived most of her life. These persevering women of great faith never gave up!Marie Durand was released in 1768, and returned to her home in Bouchet de Pransles. She died eight years later. She is now a part of the glorious cloud of witnesses cheering us on as we await the return of the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords–Jesus Christ.
As Christians, our freedom of religion and conscience is still today a major issue in Western societies. But as it was for my ancestors, we will always be called to submit the law of the Land to the higher Law of God. When there is a conflict between the two, we must disobey the law of the Land and obey the Law of God. God, the giver of life and the giver of law, is the supreme Authority that defines everything else.
Scythians and Persian armies were about to lock in combat, but a rabbit showed up! You won’t believe what happened next!
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Excerpt from The Histories (Old Western Culture curriculum). Trouble with video? Click HERE to play on YouTube.
Herodotus tells us of the story of Croesus, who is bound on a pyre about to be burned alive. Right as the fire is lit, Croesus remembers the words of Solon, and calls out loud, “oh, Solon, Solon – you were right!”. Watch the video to find out what happens next!
Put your thinking cap on, and write an essay in answer to the question below! The winning essay answering the question will be featured in the first issue of our magazine, Aristeia, and receive hardback, bilingual, Loeb Editions of The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid, as well as a $50 Amazon gift card!
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