Margriet Hoogvliet, ‘Questioning the “Republican Paradigm”: Evangelical Reform and Bible Reading in France before the Reformation’

Monday, December 10th, 16:00

In two groundbreaking articles, Andrew Gow has rightly demonstrated that modern ideas about the supposed ban on vernacular Bible translations during the Middle Ages are largely based on polemical and apologetical texts expressing the Protestant point of view. Whereas Gow’s articles are mainly based on examples from the German-speaking countries, in my contribution I will argue that modern historical narratives about the prohibition of vernacular French Bibles and the exclusion of laypeople are not only based on the “Protestant Paradigm”, but that in France, it is coupled by a “Republican Paradigm”, according to which, during the Ancien Régime, the Church and nobility both had a great interest in preventing laypeople to acquire knowledge in order to exclude them from religious and political participation. Furthermore, I will examine in detail the historical sources that have been advanced as a proof for the existence of a prohibition of the vernacular Bible in medieval France and I will demonstrate that these have been quoted suggestively and out of context. Moreover, modern historical research has completely overlooked texts that from the period between ca. 1400 and 1520 that advocate reading and studying the vernacular Bible (most notably the Gospels) by laypeople as a necessary way leading to personal conversion, societal improvement and religious reform. Furthermore, historical evidence shows that merchants, artisans and sometimes even the poor did possess Bibles and biblical texts. Consequently, as I will argue, it can be concluded that the sixteenth-century reform movement in France, now know as l’Évangélisme, was largely a continuation of the religious reading culture of the late Middle Ages.

Dr Hoogvliet is a Groningen postdoctoral researcher working on the project: ‘Holy Writ & Lay Readers. A Social History of Vernacular Bible Translations in the Late Middle Ages’. She works on the cultural and religious history of France (from the Middle Ages to the 17th century), on text-image discourses and on the history of cartography.

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