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Introduction (to the study of Clément Marot and Religion)

Portrait of Clément Marot, subscribed with the laudative phrase 'principal French Poet of his time'

The French poet Clément Marot (1496–1544) was a privileged witness to the events that shaped France in the first part of the sixteenth century. In the aftermath of the Affaire des Placards (1534/35) he almost became a ‘privileged witness’ in the patristic sense, i.e., a martyr (from the Greek word: "martys" = witness). In religious circles he is mainly remembered for his verse translations of the biblical Psalms, partly made in Geneva, which became the core of the Huguenot Psalter; in literary circles he is first and foremost known as a skilful court poet, a key figure in early Renaissance French poetry. Because of this double allegiance confessional historiography remained ambiguous concerning Marot: it deemed his life as a court poet and serious religious commitment to be incompatible;[1] in literary history his Psalm paraphrases were generally neglected or subject to denigration.[2]

In this study we will try to clarify some aspects of Marot’s life and work which are related to religious issues. This objective is modest and the ambition restrained because it is very hard to assess anything with certainty about someone who lived almost 500 years ago; and it becomes almost impossible when religious issues are concerned, a highly sensitive matter in sixteenth–century France: when the stakes are burning, one heeds one’s tongue. Marot will have had his opinions, probably quite strong convictions (his notoriety as a ‘Lutheran’ haunted him ever since the Affaire des Placards); he will very probably have discussed his views among friends, but it is highly unlikely that in the texts he published (his official texts) he really aired his feelings, and this exponentially after his narrow escape in 1534/35. Even with regard to his unofficial (un–published or not officially published) texts one also has to take into account that thoughts expressed there are not necessarily Marot’s own. Being in the service of Marguerite de Navarre (from 1519 to l526) and afterwards of her brother, King François Ier, Marot very likely inflected his voice to reflect the opinions of his employers and protectors, on whom he was dependent in many ways. This inflection is present in all his texts, published and unpublished, official and private: with his writing he not only earned a living, but he was also forced to use it to survive. How much he inflected his voice has to be assessed for each poem separately, if at all possible, because it depends on the situation. An exegete of his texts should always be aware of this aspect.[3] This mercurial quality of Marot’s writing makes the distillation of reliable personal information from it a hazardous enterprise. One can only look for indicators of religious interest, traces of theological preferences or dislikes, signs of commitment, but the findings will never transcend the level of merely suggesting what might have been on Marot’s mind or going on in his heart.[4] Expecting more would be self–delusion and scholarly unwise: unduly pressing research material is soliciting for false results.

Another reason for restraint is that more ambitious plans have often led to sweeping statements about Marot’s religious feelings, which thereupon have become an obstacle for the next researcher who wanted to approach Marot from this perspective. This is the case not only with assessments from the pre–critical period, in which this attitude was normal and the corpus of Marot’s texts was still contaminated with many unauthentic poems,[5] but also after historical and literary criticism in the 1920s had begun to gradually purge the corpus of Marot’s works of unauthentic poems.[6] Even the main seizièmistes could not resist the temptation to present the outcome of their research as historical truth, often concluding too much too soon, based on too little. The protagonist here was C.A. Mayer, who – when preparing a critical edition of the works of Marot – published a controversial book on Marot’s religion in 1960, stating that the only religion Marot really adhered to, while fiercely criticising the established Church and its practices, was a profound faith in man, combined with strong feeling of justice. The antagonist was M.A. Screech, who in 1967 claimed that Marot was a committed Evangelical with strong Lutheran traits.[7] These two visions have dominated the field until today, the position of Screech having been adopted and adapted by G. Defaux, also an editor of a critical edition of Marot’s works (1990/92). Since these leading scholars were referring to the same texts, but in matters of religion reached contradictory conclusions, something must have gone wrong on the road, i.e., in the way they interpreted the material. Since both gathered a following and much energy was spent in looking for corroboration of one’s own position and undermining the opposition, this différend started to block the progress of the status quaestionis concerning Marot’s attitude towards religious matters.[8] Lack of restraint might well be one of the main causes for this deadlock; it is simply too ambitious to strive for categorical statements on delicate subjects like this. Even when many indications have been gathered and many circumstances point in the same direction, conclusions have to remain hypothetical and should never be presented as matters of fact.[9] We will treat their assessments as what they are: more or less substantiated conjectures open to adjustment and critique. Discussion of the respective views will take place at their appropriate place, while pursuing our own less ambitious research at the end of which we hope to have clarified some aspects of Marot’s life and work, which are related to religious issues.

To achieve our aim we will ‘listen’ attentively to what Marot has written, has done, what has happened around him, and how others viewed him. Being modest does not mean that one is not demanding, on the contrary: We not only want to hear what Marot explicitly said, but also what he tried to keep silent. That is what listening is about. To be able to achieve this, it is crucial to catch all signals, even the weakest, and then do our utmost to decode them, using all skills available – literary, historical, philosophical, and theological. Moreover, when it comes to drawing conclusions, we have felt inclined to suspend them rather than to leap into them; and whatever conclusions we reach will remain tentative.

In this study we concentrate on Marot’s Psalm paraphrases, which for all kinds of reasons are often excluded (or if included, only treated superficially) in assessments of Marot’s religious stance.[10] Nevertheless, they are without a shadow of doubt Marot’s most substantial contribution to religion–related literature and occupied him – with intervals – for over ten years.[11] They were addressed to the French Court, became the nucleus of the Geneva Psalter, were censored by the Paris faculty of theology (1543 onwards), and stayed highly popular for several decades.[12] Fully aware of the multi–layered character of these texts, we are convinced that they should not be excluded while assessing Marot’s religious sensitivity.

Since texts can only be properly understood in their context, both literary and historical, a preliminary chapter is devoted to outlining this context by analysing some of Marot’s texts against their historical and biographical background.[13] We confine ourselves to (parts of) texts whose usual assessment we think has been defective, i.e., either misleading or missing opportunities to uncover valuable aspects of the way Marot related to the religious issues of his days. These soundings are placed in a loose chronological frame, providing an opportunity for the reader to get acquainted with Clément Marot and his texts (Chapter 1). A bibliographical essay will introduce the pièce de résistance of our research: over 3,000 lines of French poetry commonly referred to as Marot’s verse translation of biblical Psalms (Chapter 2). Having thus described the field of the Psalm paraphrases we will tailor our general research question to fit this highly specific material by describing the status quaestionis (Chapter 3). The next chapters (4–12) contain fundamental research, viz. a systematic analysis of Marot’s versifications from different angles to uncover philosophical, theological, and religious presuppositions implicitly present in them,[14] to conclude with a general assessment of Marot’s Psalm translation project. After completion of this part of our research, we return to the religious aspects of Marot’s Psalm translations comparing his view on the use of the Psalms with Jean Calvin’s, as worded in the latter’s preface to the Geneva Church book of 1543 (Chapter 13). A look at Marot’s post–Geneva poetry against the background of the events in Geneva will enable us to get a better picture of the way Marot in the end related to the religious issues of his days (Chapter 14), opening the way for a concluding survey to gather the harvest, trying to reassess the relation between Marot and religion (Chapter 15).

[1] This judgment can be observed in Théodore de Bèze, Les vrais pourtraits des hommes illustres en pieté et doctrine… ([Geneva], Jean I de Laon, 1581); GLN–2853. Marot is granted a place in the gallery, but not without being reproached for his lifestyle: “…il fit un notable service aux Eglises, & dont il sera memoire à jamais, traduisant en vers françois un tiers de Pseaumes de David. Mais au reste, ayant passé presque toute sa vie à la suite de Cour (où la pieté et l’honnesteté n’ont gueres d’audiance), il ne se soucia pas beaucoup de reformer sa vie peu chrestienne, ains se gouvernoit à sa manière acoustumee, mesmes en sa vieillesse…” (p. 162).
[2] For a brief survey of the reception history of Marot’s poetry in general, see ‘Clément Marot and literary history,’ in C.A. Mayer, Clément Marot et autres études sur la littérature française de la Renaissance (Paris, 1993), pp. 85–96; the Psalms, p. 88.
[3] For an assessment of the importance of this phenomenon, see Robert Griffin, Clément Marot and the inflections of poetic voice (Berkeley, 1974). Griffin not only treats the use of literary forms and conventions, but also of substantive inflections, especially in chapter V: ‘Living Faith,’ pp. 117–58.
[4] Cf. Thierry Wanegffelen, Ni Rome ni Genève. Des fidèles entre deux chaires en France au XVIe siècle (Paris, 1997), opted for the term ‘sensibilité religieuse,’ because what is at stake is not so much a set of doctrines or convictions of a believer, but “…la manière dont le dernier, à titre personnel et largement intuitif, se ressent comme chrétien du fait de telle pratique ou de telle expérience.” (pp. xii–iii). In English this is best translated by ‘sensitivity’ rather than ‘sensibility,’ even though the two terms are not completely synonymous.
[5] Concerning Marot’s religious stance, the magnum opus of Orentin Douen, Clément Marot et le psautier huguenot. Étude historique, littéraire, musicale et bibliographique, 2 vols. (Paris, 1878–79) not only revived the interest in Marot’s Psalm paraphrases but also reopened the debates on the seriousness of his Christian commitment. Unfortunately, by developing a portrait of Marot by contrasting him in an archetypal way with Jean Calvin, Douen also mortgaged decades of research. The same can be said concerning his musicological contribution and literary assessment of Marot’s works. Pertinent is the short assessment by Pierre Villey, Les grands écrivains du XVIe siècle, vol. 1, Marot et Rabelais (Paris, 1923), p. 419: “…ouvrage rempli d’indications utiles en dépit de la conception très fausse qu’il présente de l’oeuvre de Marot.”
[6] The reference is to the historico–bibliographical research of P. Villey, resulting in a Tableau chronologique of Marot’s publications and a Chronologie des oeuvres, published serially, respectively in Revue du seizème siècle (1920–21) and in Bulletin du Bibliophile et du Bibliothécaire (1920–23); first printed separately they were reprinted together (Geneva, 1973), unfortunately without the errata and additions published by Villey in Revue du seizème siècle 1922, 1924, 1928. Villey’s findings were largely corroborated by similar research of Ph.A. Becker, Clément Marot, sein Leben und seine Dichtung (Munich, 1926). Their work is not flawless and they do not agree on every detail, but it marks the beginning of scholarly Marot research. A purged version of the corpus of Marot’s works became available in the meticulous critical edition by C.A. Mayer (five volumes 1958–67, the sixth in 1980), preceded by a two–volume bibliography (1954) and concluded with a detailed biography (1972). Many overtly Protestant and lascivious poems were discarded as unauthentic or marked as ‘of dubious origin.’ Mayer’s bibliography of the sixteenth–century editions and Villey’s surveys remain indispensable working tools awaiting a more up–to–date alternative. Villey’s chronology has become obsolete and misleading, since new editions were discovered, affecting the dating of certain editions in the crucial years 1533–34. For this, see p.  REF Instruction \h  \* MERGEFORMAT 24, in particular notes 59 and 60. The bibliographical issues concerning the Psalm paraphrases will be addressed in chapter 2.
[7] C.A. Mayer, La religion de Marot (Paris, 1960; repr. 1973): “La véritable foi de Marot fut une foi humanitaire… La meilleure expression de sa pensée humaniste, c’est sans doute sa pitié pour les victimes l’iniquité judiciaire, religieuse ou sociale… La seule foi qu’il exprime constamment tout au long de sa vie, c’est la foi dans l’homme.” (pp. 137–8). In 1986 he summarised his own book: “Ce que j’ai dit et prouvé à la base de nombreux documents et témoignages, c’est que Marot fut considéré comme luthérien par les autorités tant civiles que religieuses, qu’il fut condamné à mort par contumace pour fait de luthéranisme, qu’il se défend mal de cette accusation, et que ses poèmes tous mis à l’Index sont pleins de satires de la religion catholique, satires que ne pouvaient alors signifier qu’une opposition fondamentale à l’église romaine.” (C.A Mayer, ‘Evangélisme et Protestantisme,’ Studi Francesi 88 (1986), 4). M.A. Screech, Marot Evangélique (Geneva, 1967). This already telling title became a complete summary of the main thesis of the book in the 1994 translation (with additions): Clément Marot. A Renaissance poet discovers the gospel: Lutheranism, Fabrism and Calvinism in the Royal courts of France and of Navarre and in the ducal court of Ferrara (Leiden, 1994). For a detailed assessment, see ch. 3.2.
[8] In 1992 this conflict culminated in a harsh polemics, when G. Defaux and F. Lestringant accused Mayer of an unscholarly bias in his treatment of the subject of Marot and his religious feelings: ‘Marot et le problème de l’évangélisme: à propos de trois articles récents de C.A. Mayer,’ BHR 54 (1992), 125–30. They refer to C.A Mayer, ‘Evangélisme et Protestantisme,’ Studi Francesi 88 (1986), 1–14; ‘Clément Marot et Marguerite d’Angoulême,’ Revue de l’Histoire Littéraire de la France 5 (1986), 819–30; ‘L’avocat du roi d’Espagne, Jean Bouchard, le Parlement de Paris, Guillaume Briçonnet et Clément Marot,’ BSHPF 137 (1991), 7–24. The three articles denounced by Defaux and Lestringant were subsequently – and the fact is significant – included in a collection of his articles: C.A. Mayer, Clément Marot et autres études sur la littérature française de la Renaissance (Paris, 1993). Cf. Trevor Peach in his in memoriam of C.A. Mayer in the bulletin of the Société Française d’Étude du Seizième Siècle (n° 46, July 1998), who refers to him as “…cet humaniste moderne, dont les dernières années avaient un peu été assombries par des polémiques qu’il n’avait pas cherchées.”
[9] One could write a history of the research concerning Marot’s religion along the same lines as Albert Schweitzer did concerning the Leben–Jesu–Forschung, showing that many scholars used their reconstruction of ‘who Jesus really was’ to enunciate their own set of beliefs, projecting it on to the ‘historical Jesus.’ See A. Schweitzer, Von Reimarus zu Wrede. Eine Geschichte der Leben–Jesu–Forschung (Tübingen, 1906).
[10] Both Mayer and Screech abstained from an analysis of the Psalm paraphrases when assessing Marot’s religious commitment; Defaux made the fact that Marot made these translations one of his main arguments, but without a systematic analysis of the paraphrases themselves from this angle. See ch. 3.3.
[11] The first Psalm paraphrase was published before 1532 (Psalm 6) "Psalm 6" , the final collection in 1543 (49 Psalms).
[12] For this, see F. Higman, Piety and the people: religious printing in French, 1511–1551 (Aldershot, 1996), p. 7, who, while writing about the most widespread pious texts in French, concludes: “the most popular text of all, though still ambiguous, does have a clearly Reformed connection: the versified Psalms of Clément Marot.”
[13] For a historical biography, see C.A. Mayer, Clément Marot (Paris, 1972) and G. Defaux in the introduction to his edition of Marot’s Oeuvres Poétiques, 2 vols. (Paris, 1990–92), vol. 1, pp. xvii–clxix. References to Marot’s texts are taken from this edition. The volumes will be referred to as ‘Defaux I’ and ‘Defaux II.’ A critical assessment of this edition can be found in Marie Madeleine Fontaine, ‘Notes sur quelques poèmes de l’Adolescence clémentine de Marot et les avatars de ses éditions de 1538,’ BHR 69 (2007), 157–192. In the transcription of the old texts I abstained from interfering with the contemporary spelling of the the French texts, only disambiguating i/j and u/v for the sake of readability. Neither did I try to ‘correct’ printing or writing errors, because I lack the necessary expertise. So, theoretically, orthographical oddities and errors are not mine, but the original author’s; which of course does not exclude the possibility that in transcribing I added errors to the original, for which I apologise both to the original author and to the reader. In the Latin texts I have tried to resolve the abbreviations. Unless otherwise indicated the translations of passages from French authors are mine.
[14] For a detailed outline of this section of our research, see ch. 3.4.






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