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Christian Humanism in France

  • H. A. Enno van Gelder

Abstract

In France, in the years round 1530, the Classical authors, their poetry and their philosophies enjoyed vivid interest and great admiration. Partly as a result of this, many people fascinated by the works of Erasmus and Lefèvre d’Etaples, displayed a critical attitude towards the Catholic Church, its cult and doctrine. They learned about the Italian Humanists and in turn more about Plato and the Neoplatonians. On the other side, the Theological Faculty at Paris, and those of other universities too, were kept busy seeking out and condemning monks and pastors who were continually proclaiming heresies, and who found protection with modern-minded courtiers, with Marguérite d’Angoulême at Nérac (now still more independent in her small court) and with many members of the noblesse de robe. It was as Lucien Febvre stated:

there prevailed in those circles of educated people a general christian belief which had, as was the case with Margaret, been borrowed from a meditation on the Gospels and Paul’s Epistles, to which both the disciples of Lefèvre d’Etaples and the adherents of Erasmus had contributed, and the Luther of the main reformational tracts of 1520, but also the writings of Plato and, even more, of the Neoplatonians of Alexandria and those of Florence. It is also the period, thus continues Febvre, of the triumph of the Erasmian cardinals, Contarini, Morone, Pole. “Their credo is the sola fide of Erasmus which, before it was to become the stumbling-block at the Council of Trent, served as a slogan for the reunion of all those who wished to unite, … the humanists à la Melanch-thon and the passionate Catholics of the Oratorio del divino amore Apart from this division we can make another: “We speak of the Christianity of the believers, but the other, that of those who did not believe ? ” asks Febvre and he alludes to those whom I have called the professors of the major Reformation: “how should this [the Christianity of the latter] not have altered to an even greater extent, because the unbelievers do not return to the sources, but are satisfied with a certain superficial idea, common to all, of Christianity, … ? What those who did not believe mainly know of Christianity is the external aspect, that by which it mingles with human life. The rites and ceremonies, all that which those who wish to remain on good terms with religion have to observe in order not to do anything unusual or to shock the faithful.”1

Keywords

Classical Author Divine Nature Classical Writer Western EUROPE Average Intellectual 
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References

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    Lucien Febvre, Autour de l’Heptaméron: 274, 275.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    This can be done all the more easily since Josef Bohatec has treated this contrast so thoroughly and excellently in Budé und Calvin, Studien zur Gedankenwelt des französischen Frühhumanismus, 1950; although Bohatec sees Calvin as having superseded Humanism and I as an adversary, I have borrowed much from his excellent elucidation of Calvin’s ideas.Google Scholar
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    necque enim accepti suramus Deo quod legi satisfaciamus, sed ex sola Christi promissione, de qua qui dubitat pie vivere non potest et gehennae incendium sibi parat (main motive of the speech, which Calvin drafted for Nicolas Cop, spoken on All Saints’ Day 1533 in Paris, shortly after the publication of De Clementia: Bakhuizen van den Brink en Lindeboom, Handboek der Kerkgeschiedenis, II: 91; — cf. Bohatec, op. cit.: 374-395).Google Scholar
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    go away, poor creatures, in the name of God the creator, who may be your constant guide, and do not in future embark on those useless journeys. Provide for your families, work, each in his profession, instruct your children, and live as the good apostle St. Paul teaches you. (Gargantua: XXXVIII).Google Scholar
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    “If you do not believe it, I don’t mind, but an honest person, a person of healthy mind, always belieyes what he is told, [….] it is not probable. 1 tell you that for that reason alone you must accept it with genuine belief. For the Sorbonnists say that belief is an argument for the improbable … For I tell you that nothing is impossible to God.” (Gargantua: VI; — that in this passage Rabelais intends an attack on the Church appears from the fact, that in a second edition, prepared when he sought a reconciliation with the pope, he suppressed it).Google Scholar
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  33. 1.
    they mumble a set of fortifying legends and psalms, never understood by them; they count innumerable Paternosters, larded with long Ave Marias, without thinking about or understanding them, and I call that ridiculing God, not praying. Nevertheless may God help them if they pray for us. All true Christians, of all states, of all places, at all times pray to God, and the Spirit prays and intercedes for them, and God accepts them in mercy [……] he is in no way bigoted, he is honest, cheerful, … he works, he labours, he stands up for the oppressed …. [……] never I am idle (Gargantua: XL).Google Scholar
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    Loc cit. V: 52.Google Scholar
  36. 1.
    and you, fortunate and blessed ones who have such a propitious star, that you have seen before you really and vividly this good God on earth, on seeing whose portrait alone we acquire complete indulgence from all our sins of which we have any reminiscence, and in addition the third part plus 18 times 40 forgotten sins. Therefore we do not see it but at the large annual festivals.Google Scholar
  37. 2.
    According to Lucien Febvre, it is not at all mentioned in Le Tiers — and Le Quart Livre and scarcely in the other volumes: op. cit.: 189.Google Scholar
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    We must, as a matter of fact, agree with Gilson when he contends that the joke of the priest who undresses himself completely when celebrating (Pantagruel: XVI) does not mean any criticism of the mass itself; for the rest Gilson’s argument, that Rabelais should have been an orthodox Catholic, does not seem very valid: Rabelais knew the religious authors very well, but that he should agree with them does not appear from the fact that he, or the persons of his novels, quotes them frequently and punctually (Gilson, “Rabelais franciscain”).Google Scholar
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    se adonnoit à révérer, adorer, prier et supplier le bon Dieu, duquel la lecture monstroit la majesté et jugement merveilleux. (Gargantua: XXIII).Google Scholar
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    leçons publicques …, les playdoyez des gentilz advocatz, les conçions des prêcheurs évangéliques.Google Scholar
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    Cf. p. 85 supra, in connection to Pierro di Cosimo.Google Scholar
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    i.e. the confessors to the doctrine of praedestinatio; this word was inserted in the edition of 1542 (Prologue to Pantagruel, ed. Lefranc etc., III: 7).Google Scholar
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    honestes gens bien nez, bien instruictz.. ont par nature un instinct et aguillon qui tous jours les poulse à faictz vertueux et retire de vice, lequel ilz nommoient honneur (Gargantua, II: 430); this ideal abbey is elaborately described: Gargantua: LII and LIII).Google Scholar
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    fayt ce que vouldras.Google Scholar
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    parce que ainsi Dieu l’a voulu, lequel nous faict en tel forme et telle fin, selon son divin arbitre, que faict un potier ses vaisseaulx.Google Scholar
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    je ne te dys pas comme les caphars.. ayde-toi, Dieu te aydera, car c’est au rebours: ayde-toi, Dieu te rompera le col (Febvre, op. cit.: 270).Google Scholar
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    M. A. Screech, “Some Stoic Elements in Rabelais’ Religious Thought”: Etudes rabelaisiennes, I: 73-97, compares this passage with Erasmus’ “Naufragium,” but the comparison is hot completely valid: Erasmus ridicules the invoking of saints in cases of need, Rabelais too only wants to invoke God, but he does it without ridicule, and he wishes to show that praying is not adequate, man must also act.Google Scholar
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    pnys qu’ainsi t’est praedestiné, vouldroys tu faire rétrograder les planètes, …, propouser erreur aux Intelligences motrices, …, défilier les pelotons des Parces? (Le Tiers Livre, V: 221).Google Scholar
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    Le Tiers Livre: XXI-XXIII.Google Scholar
  54. 1.
    Feb vre, op. cit.: 189 ff.Google Scholar
  55. 2.
    contemplant et voyant et jà, touchant et guoustant le bien et felicité que le bon Dieu a praeparé à ses fidèles et esleuz en l’aultre vie et estat de immortalité. (Le Tiers Livre: V 206).Google Scholar
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    Pantagruel: VIII; cf. also: Emile van Telle, “A propos de la lettre de Gargantua à son fils”: Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance, XIX (1957): 208 ff.Google Scholar
  57. 4.
    l’heure du jugement final, quand Jesuchrist aura rendu à Dieu le père son royaulme pacifique hors tout danger et contamination de peché.Google Scholar
  58. 1.
    for then all generation arid degeneration will cease, and the elements will be freed of their continual changes, since the peace that was so ardently desired will be enjoyed and will be perfect, and all things will be brought to their final aim and their (limited) time.Google Scholar
  59. 2.
    par de moven de propagation séminale. through which demoure es clifans ee que estoit de perdu es parens.Google Scholar
  60. 1.
    un tas de papelars et faulx prophètes (Pantagruel, IV: 296).Google Scholar
  61. 2.
    Bohatec, op. cit.: 214 ff.Google Scholar
  62. 3.
    Tel est le vouloir du très bon, très grand Dieu, auquel je acquiesce, auquel je obtempère, duquel je revère la souveraineté Parole de bonnes nouvelles, c’est l’Evangile, auquel est dit, Luc. IV, au médecin négligent: médecin, o gueriz toy toymesmes. (Febvre, op. cit.: 357).Google Scholar
  63. 1.
    les demoniacles Calvins, imposteurs de Genève (dialogue de Panurge et Dinde-nault: Le Quart Livre: V-VIII).Google Scholar
  64. 2.
    une brève et sainte exhortation, toute autorisée de propos extraictz de la Sainte Ecriture, sur l’argument de navigation [……] haut et clairfaite prière à Dieu [……] fut mélodieusement chanté le psaume du Saint Roy David (Le Quart Livre: I).Google Scholar
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    Gargantua, II: 433 ff.; — It seems to me that the interpretation which Frère Jean gives of the riddle (as an allegory of the jeu de paume) is the usual defence against any accusation of deviating opinions; naturally Rabelais means by it what Gargantua indicates: ce n’est de maintenant que les gens reduictz à la créance évange-lique [that does not need to refer to Luther, Erasmus and Lefèvre belong there as well] sont persécutez: mais bien heureux esi celuy qui ne sera scandalizé et qui tousjours tendra au but au blanc que son cher Filz nous a préfix, sans par ses affections charnelles estre distraict ny diverty … [du] cours et maintien de verité divine (it is not now that the people who have returned to the evangelical belief are persecuted; but happy is he who does not give offence and wrho will always tend towards the pure aim which His beloved Son has always determined to us, without being tempted or diverted by his carnal passions.… from the path and the maintenance of divine truth).Google Scholar
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    The reading of the last strophe is in the editions of 1535, 1535 and 1537: (… after that conflagration): Reste en apres que iceulx trop obligez Penez, lassez, travaillez, affligez Par se sainct vueil de l’éternel seigneur De ces travaulx soient refaictz en bonheur, Là verra l’on par certaine science Le bien et fruict qui soit de patience Car cil qui plus de peine aura souffert Au paravaut du lot pour lors offert Plus recepvra. O que est à reverer Cil qui pourra en fin persévérer. The edition of 1542, surely corrected by Rabelais himself, has: Reste en après ces accidens parfaictz, Que les esleuz, joyeusement refaictz Soient de tous biens et de manne céleste Et d’abondant par recompense honesté Enrichiz soient; les aultres en la fin Soient damnez [Lefranc: appauvris]. C’est la raison, affin Que, ce travail en tel poinct terminé, Un chascun ay son sort prédestiné. Tel feut l’accord. O qu’est à reverer Cil qui en fin pourra perseverer. In all editions Gargantua, after having heard this poem read, sighs, saying: “Cé n’est de maintenant que les gens reduietz à la créance Evangelique sont persecutez; mais bien heureux est celluy qui ne sera scandalizé et qui tousjours tendra au but au blanc [Lefranc: droit au but] que Dieu par son cher Filz nous a prefix, sans par ses affections charnelles estre distraict ny diverty” (Lefranc: op. cit., II: 433 ff.).Google Scholar
  67. 1.
    Screech (op. cit.: 82) considers the description of the Abbey of Thélème (i.e. the abbey of “will”: ϑέλημα is the Greek word for will in the Lord’s Prayer) a principal proof of stoic influences in Rabelais’ work, especially because Rabelais is convinced that freedom of will does not lead to disorder, rather to the contrary!Google Scholar
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    Gargantua, II: 276; of course for Rabelais human will cannot do any good, unless it is “guided by divine grace” (guidé par grâce divine).Google Scholar
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    Ferdinand C. Buisson, Sébastien Castellion, 1515-1563 (1892), I: 271; 366.Google Scholar
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    une disposition d’âme tout intime, aliquid in homine, videlicet animi sanitas et habitus injustitiae contrarias et actiones pariens injustitiae actionibus contrarias. (Buisson, op. cit.: II: 203.Google Scholar
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    Buisson, op. cit., II: 206, 183; — J. Lindeboom, “La place de Castellion dans l’histoire de l’esprit”: Autour de M. Servet: 163.Google Scholar
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    Christum comedere esse aliud nihil quam Christianitatem comedere, hoc est Christia-num sive justum fieri (Lindeboom, “La place de Castellion”: 163).Google Scholar
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    lavez au lavement de renaissance, sont nouvelles créatures, baptisez de feu et d’esprit (Bainton, “Seb. Castellio” in Castellioniana (1953): 73).Google Scholar
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    Buisson, op. cit., II: 210; — Feist, op. cit.: 255, 249.Google Scholar
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    Buisson, op. cit., II: 193; — Lindeboom, “La place”: 171, 161; — Bainton, “Seb. Castellio”: 55.Google Scholar
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    Buisson, op. cit., II: 182, 185, 194; — Feist, op. cit.: 256, 257.Google Scholar
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    Helena W. F. Stellwag, “Castellio Paedagogus”: Autour de M. Servet: 187 f.; — Liebing, op. cit.: 215; — R. H. Bainton, “Castellio Champion of Religious Liberty”: Castellianiana: 54.Google Scholar
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    Liebing, op. cit.: 222.Google Scholar
  83. 4.
    According to Liebing this means: with common sense: op. cit.: 219; 207.Google Scholar
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    omnino generalem hanc regulam teneamus: si quod dictum vel in profanis vel in sacris authoribus ejus modi est ut, nisi figurate accipiatur, manifeste rationi aut sensibus repugnet, idem figurate accipiendum atque ita interpretandum ut cum ratione aut sensibus conciliatur, … erit hujus regulae ad multos nodos solvendos incredibilis utilitas (quotation in: Buisson, op. cit., II: 224).Google Scholar
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    Buisson, op. cit., II: 198. cf. Lindeboom, “La Place”: 162, 163.Google Scholar
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    Liebing, op. cit.: 124.Google Scholar
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    Cf. (Sébastien Castellion) De haereticis an sint persequendi (1554, recently published in a reprint in facsimile by Sape van der Woude, Genève 1954) and idem, Conseil à la France désolée (1562).Google Scholar
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    He too speaks of “the divine Plato” (Albert Buisson, Michel de l’Hospital, 1503-1573 (1950): 66).Google Scholar
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    Shortly before his death, l’Hospital said: “que me font tous ces livres des Anciens, si pour eux Dieu n’est pas l’auteur des vertus, si leur lecture ne m’apprend pas la vertu, ni la droite qui puisse mener au ciel? N’y a-t-il pas plus de vérité dans la parole et la pensée de St.-Paul qui professait que le Christ était toute sa science?” (Buisson, op. cit.: 71; 45, 66).Google Scholar
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    Loc. cit.: 67-72.Google Scholar
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    Henri Amphioux, Michel de l’Hôpital et la liberté de conscience au XVle siècle (1900): 44.Google Scholar
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    Buisson, op. cit.: 184-191; — The suggestions Catharina de Medicis proposed to the Council of Trent, drawn up in a declaration by l’Hospital, are in the same vein (Amphioux, op. cit.: 294).Google Scholar
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    Amphioux, op. cit.: 180.Google Scholar
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    Brunetière, Histoire de la littérature, I: 371.Google Scholar
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    Pierre Ronsard, Œuvres complètes, nouvelle édition … par Paul Laumonier (1914-1919), V: 338.Google Scholar
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    Loc. cit., V: 369.Google Scholar
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    “Response … aux iniures et calomnies de ie ne sçay quels Predicantereaux et Ministreaux de Genere”: Œuvres V: 408.Google Scholar
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    Œuvres, V: 240, 296.Google Scholar
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    P. Ronsard, “Discours des misères de ce temps à la Royne mère du Roy,” and “Continuation du Discours des Misères de ce temps”: loc. cit. V: 329-349, cf. F. Charbonnier, Pamphlets protestants contre Ronsard, 1560-1577 (1923).Google Scholar
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    Brunetière, op. cit.: 354; — Gustave Cohen, Ronsard, sa vie et son Œuvre (nouv. éd. 1946): 21.Google Scholar
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    Loc. cit.: 19, 29.Google Scholar
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    Lefranc, Grands écrivains: 63 ff.; — F. Strowski, “La philosophie de l’homme dans la littérature française”: Revue des Cours et Conférences, XXVI, I (1924): 240 ff.Google Scholar
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    P. de Nolhac, Ronsard et l’Humanisme (1921).Google Scholar
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    Ronsard certainly received the tonsure, but was not ordained as a priest: Cohen, op. cit.: 55.Google Scholar
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    … that plague of mankind, False Belief was its nurse, and it was put at the school of Pride, Fantasy and Foolish Youth.Google Scholar
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    with a most holy knowledge discovered the treasure which a Christian must have (read: acquire).Google Scholar
  108. 3.
    Contempt was its nurse and it was put at the school of Pride, Hypocrisy and Foolish Poetry: Charbonnier, op. cit.: 42 ff.Google Scholar
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    the christian poet, changed into an idolator, and more voluptuous than the sensual heathens, renders his writings profane by using wrongly the divine lute, that should serve solely to the honour of the holy God.Google Scholar
  110. 1.
    Enjoy life, even though you do not believe in it, do not wait, rather pluck today the roses of life. (Sonnet XLII, cf. Cohen, op. cit.: 285).Google Scholar
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    Henri Busson, “Sur la philosophie de Ronsard”: Revue des Cours et Conférences, XXXI (1929/3): 32 ff., 173 ff.): 176: — Œuvres, V: 338.Google Scholar
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    nous monstrant au partir comme il falloit s’aimer: “Hercule chrestien,” Œuvres, V: 191, cf. Morçay, La Renaissance I: 420.Google Scholar
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    le pontife en chaire ne prescha: Œuvres V: 357, 500.Google Scholar
  114. 1.
    Cf. for this kind of poetry: A. M. Schmidt, La poésie scientifique en France au 16me siècle (1938): 71–108; — Ronsard wrote his hymns in 1555 and 1556, before his attack on the Huguenots; it appears from the reprints that he remained faithful to the philosophy announced in these poems.Google Scholar
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    Schmidt, op. cit.: 98.Google Scholar
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    Busson, Sur la philosophic: 174.Google Scholar
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    Cohen, op. cit.: 244; — Œuvres, V: 115.Google Scholar
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    Schmidt, op. cit.: 96, 82; — Cohen, op. cit.: 179.Google Scholar
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    Busson, op. cit.: 36; — Schmidt, op. cit.: 78 ff.; — Cohen, op. cit.: 103.Google Scholar
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    tout le mal qui vient à l’homme, prend naissance, quand parsus la raison le cuider a puissance (Œuvres, V: 351).Google Scholar
  121. 2.
    all was nothing but vice, but since we see everywhere people living, the one virtuous, the other in vice, we must recognize that ugly vice is not the victor, but keeps the same form which it received on the day when man was clothed (as if with a garment) with vice and virtue (Œuvres, V: 329).Google Scholar
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    tout seroit vertueux et perfait.Google Scholar
  123. 4.
    since Adam covered himself with vice, bereft of innocence and virtue, virtue in man could not be increased, nor be raised by his own power to a high degree, but [only] if it pleases God. (“Deuxième Palinodie”: Charbonnier, op. cit.: 42).Google Scholar
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    Cf. Ronsard, “L’excellence de l’esprit de l’homme”: Œuvres, V: 228; 163; — Œuvres, V: 337; — Cohen, op. cit.: 245; — Brunetière, op. cit.: 352.Google Scholar
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    The soul sees, hears and imagines through the senses; it has its actions from the attentive body, the spirit enclosed in the body becomes inventive, material renders it more perfect and worthy (Ronsard, Sonnets pour Hélène (1578) quoted in: Cohen, op. cit.: 261).Google Scholar
  126. 1.
    L’entendement humain, tant soit-il admirable, Du moindre fait de Dieu sans grâce n’est capable. (quoted in Busson, op. cit.: 35).Google Scholar
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    Ronsard, Discours des misères de ce temps (1562): passim; — Schmidt, op. cit.: 72, 86, 87, 92; — Busson, op. cit.: 40.Google Scholar
  128. 1.
    Tu mets les dieux au joug d’anange la fatale [ἀνάγχη: coercion and necessity] (or) Nature, bonne mère à qui mesmes les dieux font honneur (Schmidt, op. cit.: 84, 88).Google Scholar
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    pour profiter à tous les hommes se font dieux (Busson, op. cit.: 36).Google Scholar
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    Busson, Le Rationalisme dans la littérature française: 192-212; cf. Nolhac, Ronsard et l’humanisme.Google Scholar
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    Busson, La philosophie de Ronsard: 34.Google Scholar
  132. 5.
    Is it not, from now on, time to sing a christian verse, which can please christian ears better than formerly? (Œuvres, IV: 268). See: Marcel Simon, Hercule et le Christianisme (1955): 180 ff. Ronsard here links up with a long tradition, which often placed Hercules and Christ side by side, or sang of Hercules as a préfiguration of Christ. Ronsard does this latter, and it is remarkable that he does not speak about the reconciling death upon the cross, but of Christ’s deeds, the Sonship and the suffering of Jesus.Google Scholar
  133. 1.
    très cher hostesse de mon corps … [descend] dans le froid royaume des mors (quoted Cohen, op. cit.: 272).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1961

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. A. Enno van Gelder

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