Monday, January 17, 2011

Mirror of the Sinful Soul

On July 7, 1530, Marguerite de Navarre (Margaret of Navarre) -- queen consort of King Henry II of Navarre; sister of the King Francis I of France; mother of French Huguenot Jeanne d'Albret; grandmother of the King Henry IV of France -- gave birth to a son, Jean. He died less than six months later, on December 25. The following year, as an expression of her grief, it is thought, Marguerite wrote and published a poem called Miroir de l'âme pécheresse (Mirror of the Sinful Soul) [available to read online in French here and here]. This poem, in which the humbled soul magnifies the grace of God, incurred the wrath of the Sorbonne, which declared the work to be heretical and added it to the Index of Prohibited Books. A French college put on a play mocking Marguerite, which John Calvin described, and Marguerite was personally threatened with death by one Franciscan prior, who called for her to be put in a sack and thrown into the River Seine, but ultimately Francis (to whom Calvin dedicated his Institutes, although he was no friend of the gospel) was so offended by the Sorbonne's actions that he threatened in fact to execute the prior in the same manner by which he desired to put Marguerite to death. To him, Marguerite was the "Pearl of Valois," distinguished for her virtue, and impeachable in her life and conduct. She, however, interceded for the prior, and his life was spared; he was stripped of his ecclesiastical office and sent to the galleys for two years. Marguerite's tenderness to her enemies was uncharacteristic of her age, and reflects the humility found in her poem. The poem was later translated into English prose by princess (later Queen) Elizabeth I, in 1544, at the age of 11 [available to read online here]. The extracts given below come from the translation of Dr. H. White, who translated the first three volumes of J.H. Merle D'Aubigné's History of the Reformation in the Time of Calvin (see Vol. 2, pp. 168-169), and were particularly cited in the Sorbonne's condemnation of the work as teaching assurance of pardon, a Reformed doctrine anathema to the Roman Catholic Church.

Jesus, true fisher thou of souls!
My only Saviour, only advocate!
Since thou God's righteousness hast satisfied,
I fear no more to fail at heaven's gate.
My Spouse bears all my sins, though great they be,
And all his merits places upon me...
Come, Saviour, make thy mercies known...
Jesus for me was crucified:
For me the bitter death endured,
For me eternal life procured.
Satan, where is now thy tower?
Sin, all withered is thy power.
Pain or death no more I fear,
While Jesus Christ is with me here.
Of myself no strength have I,
But God, my shield, is ever nigh.
Not hell's black depth, nor heaven's vast height,
Nor sin with which I wage continual fight,
Me for a single day can move,
O holy Father, from thy perfect love.
How beautiful is death,
That brings to weary me the hour of rest!
Oh! hear my cry and hasten, Lord, to me,
And put an end to all my misery.

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