Simonetta does it again -- this time in Bitesize

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Simonetta Carr, known to Ref21 readers as the lady who spots uncanny resemblances between the members of Led Zeppelin and various members of the Savoy Conference, is also a talented writer.   I have used her books for children in my monthly giveaways at church as a means of kindling interest in history among the youngest congregants.  She has also recently published for teenagers a "fictionalised biography" (interesting term: reminds me of that "genuine fake Rolex" I was offered in a marketplace in Dubai) of Olympia Morata.  Now she has broken into the adult market with a welcome addition to Evangelical Press's Bitesize Biography series on  Renee of France.

The purpose of the Bitesize series is to present the life of an important Christian in 120 pages or so.  This volume is particularly to be welcomed.  Simonetta writes very well and she knows her subject.  That she has consulted on the volume with scholars of the stature of Herman Selderhuis indicates the quality and historical integrity for which she is aiming.

Church history throws up numerous interesting women but they are often neglected in the accessible secondary literature.  In the Middle Ages, there are Julian of Norwich and the weirdly wonderful polymath Hildegard of Bingen; in Reformation and post-Reformation Protestantism, Catherine Parr, Elizabeth I, Olympia Morata, Katherine von Bora, Argula von Grumbach and that incredible over-achiever, Anna Maria van Schurman.  And then there is Renee of France, friend and correspondent of Calvin, tragic wife of a Catholic husband and a woman trapped by the brutal politics and unyielding religious conflicts of her time.

Simonetta tells her story with brio and has clearly found a subject worthy of her talents and interests.   Renee is a fascinating figure, not least because her story reminds us of how close France came to being Protestant, a fact hard to countenance today.  Hers is also a story of perennial significance: as she swung back and forth between Reformed Protestantism and the Roman Catholicism brutally imposed on her by her husband, she epitomises the complexity and humanity of the Reformation story.    Too often that story is told in terms of heroic figures of superhuman stature; Renee reminds us of the fragility, ambiguities and complexity of the individual human narratives which lie behind the simplistic epics of our favourite heroes.  And her interaction with Calvin also brings out in sharp relief the humanity and compassion of the Genevan Reformer himself.

One point of contemporary significance: as the contextualisers out there are now arguing for what are called 'Insider Movements', it is good to remember that the kind of questions being asked by them -- e.g., How should a Christian behave in a violently hostile culture? -- were very pressing at the time of the Reformation. The correspondence between Renee and Calvin touches on just such issues.   It was called 'Nicodemism' in those days.  The name has changed; the issues have not.  Truly, there is little or nothing new under the sun.

One final point of interest: the last chapter is a brief survey of the major theme's of Renee's correspondence with Calvin which is followed by a bibliography for those interested in reading further.

As with all of Simonetta's work, this is well worth a read.  It will be on the giveaway list in my church on some Sunday soon.

Renee of France.jpgOh, and in an attempt to outdo the author at her own chosen game, is it just me, or is there an uncanny Sandy Denny.jpgresemblance between Renee of France and the late great lead singer of Fairport Convention (and guest backing vocalist on the original version of "The Battle of Evermore"), Sandy Denny?   You can tell me, Simonetta, hopefully before we "meet on the ledge."

Posted February 7, 2013 @ 6:35 AM by Carl Trueman

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