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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 2 of 2)

169 He had been a distinguished Humanist


was generally a passage which

seemed obscure to Marguerite; for example, "The meek shall inherit the earth." All were invited to make suggestions about its meaning. The hostess was learned, and no one scrupled to quote the Scriptures in their original languages, or to adduce the opinions of such earlier Fathers as Augustine, Jerome, Chrysostom, or the Gregories. If it surprises us to find one or other of the twenty _valets de chambre_, who were not menials and were privileged to be present, familiar with theology, and able to quote Greek and even Hebrew, it must not be forgotten that Marguerite's _valets de chambre_ included distinguished Humanists and Reformers, to whom she extended the protective privilege of being enrolled in her "Household." When the weather permitted, the whole company went for a stroll in the park after the discussion, and then seated themselves near a "pleasant fountain" on the turf, "so soft and delicate that they needed neither carpet nor cushions."[166] There one of the ladies-in-waiting (thirty _dames_ or _demoiselles_ belonged to the "Household") read aloud a tale from the _Heptameron_, not forgetting the improving conversation which concludes each story. This gave rise to an animated talk, after which they returned to the Palace. In the evening the "Household" assembled again in a hall, fitted as a simple theatre, to witness one of the Comedies or Pastorals which the Queen delighted to write, and in which, through a medium as strange as the _Contes_, she inculcated her mystical
Christianity, and gave expression to her longings for a reformation in the Church and society. Her Court was the precursor of the _salons_ which in a later age exercised such a powerful influence on French political, literary, and social life.

Marguerite is chiefly remembered as the author of the _Heptameron_, which modern sentiment cannot help regarding as a collection of scandalous, not to say licentious, tales. The incongruity, as it appears to us, of making such tales the vehicle of moral and even of evangelical instruction, causes us frequently to forget the conversations which follow the stories--conversations which generally inculcate moral truths, and sometimes wander round the evangelical thought that man's salvation and all the fruits of holy living rest on the finished work of Christ, the only Saviour. "_Voila, Mesdames, comme la foy du bon Comte ne fut vaincue par signes ne par miracles exterieurs, sachant tres bien que nous n'avons qu'un Sauveur, lequel en disant Consummatum est, a monstre qu'il ne laissoit point a un autre successeur pour faire notre salut._"[167] So different was the sentiment of the sixteenth from that of the twentieth century, that Jeanne d'Albret, puritan as she undoubtedly was, took pains that a scrupulously exact edition of her mother's _Contes_ should be printed and published, for all to read and profit by.

The Reformers with whom Marguerite was chiefly associated were called the "group of Meaux." Guillaume Briconnet,[168] Bishop of Meaux, who earnestly desired reform but dreaded revolution, had gathered round him a band of scholars whose idea was a reformation of the Church by the Church, in the Church, and with the Church. They were the heirs of the aspirations of the great conciliar leaders of the fifteenth century, such as Gerson, deeply religious men, who longed for a genuine revival of faith and love. They hoped to reconcile the great truths of Christian dogma with the New Learning, and at once to enlarge the sphere of Christian intelligence, and to impregnate Humanism with Christian morality.

The man who inspired the movement and defined its aims--"to preach Christ from the sources"--was Jacques Lefevre d'Etaples (Stapulensis).[169] He had been a distinguished Humanist, and in 1507 had resolved to consecrate his learning to a study of the Holy Scriptures. The first fruit of this resolve was a new Latin translation of the Epistles of St. Paul (1512), in which a revised version of the Vulgate was published along with the traditional text. In his notes he anticipated two of Luther's ideas--that works have no merit apart from the grace of God, and that while there is a Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Supper, there is no transubstantiation. The Reformers of Meaux believed that the Holy Scriptures should be in the hands of the Christian people, and Lefevre took Jean de Rely's version of the Bible,--itself a revision of an old thirteenth century French translation,--revised it, published the Gospels in June 1523, and the whole of the New Testament before the end of the year. The Old Testament followed in 1525. The book was eagerly welcomed by Marguerite, and became widely known and read throughout France. The Princess was able to write to Briconnet that her brother and mother were interested in the spread of the Holy Scriptures, and in the hope of a reform of the Church.[170]


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