Thursday, April 24, 2014

BIRTH | April 11–Marguerite of Navarre (Comment)

The Basque country, Navarre and Aragon have punched
above their weight in the Counter-Reformation. 
April 11, 2014–This day was born Marguerite of Navarre in Angoulême, France in 1492, as Columbus was finalizing his exploration arrangements with Queen Isabella of Spain.

Samuel Putnam has called Marguerite "the first modern woman".  Her mother, Louise, was  well educated. When Marguerite's father died in Marguerite's childhood, Louise became the head of the household and homeschooled her children.

Marguerite spoke at least five languages. When she was a teenager, she was married Duke Charles IV of Alençon. After they were married for more than 15 years, Charles died and Marguerite married again, this time to Henry II of Navarre. She gave birth to a daughter; and then, when she was 38, to a son who died when he was a few months old. Marguerite was so distraught that she wrote Le miroir de l'âme pécheresse (The Mirror of the Sinful Soul, 1531). It combined her mysticism with her strong belief that the Church needed to be reformed.

With her brother, King Francis I, next door in France, Marguerite was brave in advocating  religious reform, and she wrote novels on the side. The French historian Brantôme said of Marguerite:
She composed most of these novels in her litter as she traveled, for her hours of retirement were employed in affairs of importance. ... My grandmother always went with her in her litter as her lady of honor and held her ink-horn for her. Marguerite wrote the novels down quickly and readily – more so than if they had been dictated to her.
Her most famous work was the Heptameron, a collection of more than 70 short stories — stories about women and their relationships with men, and whether it was possible to be virtuous and also experience real love. They are stories of unplanned pregnancies, jealous murders, women locked up for life, corrupt monks, cheating wives, and unforgiving patriarchs. Jane Smiley wrote about The Heptameron:
It is clear from her book that freedom of conscience for women can lead anywhere — if your eternal soul is your own responsibility, and cannot be saved through reliance upon a corrupt church, then it is a short and slippery slope from there to all sorts of freedom, first of belief and thought, then of feeling, then of action.

A few states in Spain just south of the border with France have outsized contributions to history. The Basque country, Navarre and Aragon punch above their weight in the production of fervent reformers. They are comparable with the Holy Land, Assisi and Padua in the number of sites of historic interest relating to religious reform. (And Lourdes is just north of the border.)

As we celebrate the birthday of Marguerite of Navarre, let's think of her as an antecedent of two other figures from the region – St. Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Jesuits (Society of Jesus) and St. Josemaria Escriva, who founded the (Prelature of)  Opus Dei. The Jesuits and Opus Dei have taken turns being very close to the Popes of the last century and before.