The Influence of Humanism on Post-Reformation Catholic Preachers in France

Article excerpt

Prior to the reformation, most sermons given in France were structured according to the "modern method" of division and subdivision, which proceeded in rather artificial fashion from theme to protheme, then to the elaboration of theological points and exempla. Those who deviated from this form, such as Jean Vitrier, were lavishly praised by humanists such as Erasmus, but were often sufficiently heterodox in other respects to attract the attention of the Paris Faculty of Theology.(1) In the first decade after the outbreak of the Reformation in France, the modern method persisted, but by the 1530s it had been replaced almost completely by a much freer and more expressive rendering of theological and Biblical material. This was accompanied by an equally major change in the language of printing: by the mid-sixteenth century, almost all popular sermons were primed in French, whereas their earlier counterparts had been printed exclusively in Latin. Many of these changes can be attributed to the effects of the Protestant Reformation, when Catholics changed their style and structure out of a positive realization of the need for simplification, and more negatively to combat the Protestants on their own turf. But to see the changes in sermons as simply a result of the Reformation is to ignore the rich intellectual heritage of the last decades before the Reformation in France. The seeds of change were first sown in a group of men born roughly between 1490 and 1510, whom I will refer to as the "generation of 1490." They were the intellectual elite, most of whom studied in Paris, and whose lives and outlooks were permanently changed by a conjuncture of political, cultural and intellectual events that began in the last decade of the fifteenth century. Although I would not call these men "prereformers" for a variety of reasons, my debt to Augustin Renaudet and some of the themes he first enunciated are substantial.(2)

The French Renaissance did not simply happen during the reign of Francis I (1515-47), for many of the "new" literary and artistic currents had been present since the fourteenth century. But the pioneering efforts of the Savoyard Guillaume Fichet (d. 1480) and Robert Gaguin (d. 1501) truly introduced Italian humanist thought to the University of Paris. In the 1490s, several developments took place that would permanently mark off a new generation from its predecessors. The monastic Observantine movement made important progress in France especially after 1494, through the work of such religious reformers as Olivier Maillard, Jean Cleree, Jean Raulin and Jan Stan-donck. In that same year, the Italian Wars began, exposing a whole generation of princes, nobles and soldiers to the cultural achievements of the Italian Renaissance. And last, but certainly not least, a 29-year-old scholar named Erasmus came to Paris in 1495. I will show that humanism, especially the Christian humanism espoused by Erasmus, had a critical effect even on men whom we would not call humanists, and who might have been expected to be hostile to it in view of two factors: humanism's early, albeit tenuous, links to Protestantism, and its emphasis more on human potentiality than soteriological concerns. It is significant that the two most inveterate opponents of humanism at the University of Paris, Noel Beda and Pierre Cousturier, were both born in the 1470s and died in 1537. Most of those born after 1490, even when they publicly disavowed humanism, were nevertheless changed by it in ways that separated them inexorably from the formal scholastic past.

I will examine these changes in the lives of four men whose careers as popular preachers reached their peak in the years between 1530 and 1560. The first three will be discussed briefly: Jean de Gaigny (1495-1549), the king's librarian and chancellor of the church of Paris and the University of Paris; Claude Guilliaud (1493-1551), canon and theologus of Autun cathedral, for whom there is one funeral oration and an inventory of his 1500-volume library; and Etienne Paris (1495-1561), a provincial of the Dominican order and auxiliary bishop of both Rouen and Orleans, who has left twenty homilies. …