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Marguerite de Navarre, the older sister of King Francois I, had considerable influence upon religious matters in sixteenth-century France and often shared letters from her spiritual adviser Guillaume Briconnet, Bishop of Meaux, with her brother. Through these letters written between 1521 and 1524 Briconnet and Marguerite began to urge reform of the Catholic Church, which Briconnet was attempting to propagate in his own diocese, inviting reform-minded theologians like Jacques Lefevre d'Etaples and Gerard Roussel to preach and serve there. At the same time Briconnet's letters impressed upon Marguerite the concepts of negative theology that he took from Pseudo-Dionysius, then considered to be the same person as Saint Denys, the martyred first bishop of Paris. From Briconnet and his group of theologians at Meaux, Marguerite received ideas of both contemporary Church reform and medieval Catholic mysticism that she incorporated into her written works and her own theological conceptions. In the play L'Inquisiteur Marguerite presents a theology of redemption that defies easy categorization as either Catholic or "Reformed" (that is to say, belonging to the Lutheran Reformation) and serves as the most telling explanation of her idea of what the Catholic Church and Christian faith should be. Marguerite probably wrote L'Inquisiteur in 1536. (1) At this time Marguerite provided refuge for several reformist theologians, and, as V. L. Saulnier notes in the introduction to his edition of Theatre profane, Marguerite "semble vouloir former autour d'elle une veritable equipe de jeunes defenseurs de l'evangelisme, qui reprendrait le flambeau de leurs grands aines, Erasme, Lefevre d'Etaples, Briconnet, Roussel, ses premiers maitres" (38; "seem[ed] to want to form around herself a veritable team of young defenders of evangelism, which would take up the torch of their great forebears, Erasmus, Lefevre d'Etaples, Bricronnet, Roussel, her first masters"). The following year, 1537, persecution of these "defenders of evangelism" began again with a vengeance. During part of this time period, then, Marguerite had reason to hope for the cause she supported, but politics did not support the reform for long: on 24 June 1539 an edict proscribed it as heresy. Marguerites hope for religious reform was shattered, one of the great disappointments of her life. She often came into conflict with her brother over the political aspirations of her husband, King of Navarre, who occasionally attempted to negotiate secretly with the Emperor over the return of Spanish Navarre, and she disagreed with her brother in the case of her daughter's marriages. After 1536 Marguerite experienced a sort of exile from her brother's court, alienation from the increasingly anti-Protestant court of Henri II and Catherine de Medicis, and despair coupled with the anticipation of her own death. Before that descent into darkness came the period of (vain) hope that colored Marguerite's faith and its concomitant literary presentation. At this time, as throughout her poetic works, Marguerite describes the via negativa, the mystical way that human beings must travel to reach the divine, through negation of all that is human, fleshly, and worldly. At a time when she could speak more openly of her ideas of reform, Marguerite linked this mystical path--the via negativa that Briconnet, devotee and even disciple of Pseudo-Dionysius, described to her in his letters--most clearly with the teaching of the reformist theologians under her protection. (2)

Professional & Technical
June 22
Conference on Christianity and Literature
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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