The Reformer Who Wrote Erotic Poetry

Theodore Beza, lover of fancy hats. Portrait by an unknown artist circa 1605.

History is full of odd tales, and nowhere more so than during the Protestant Reformation. We have, for example, the much beloved story of how Martin Luther’s future wife, Katharina Von Bora, escaped from her convent in a fish barrel, giving new meaning to the phrase, “That’s a pretty kettle of fish.” The relationship between the two of them and the subsequent improvements in Herr Luther’s bowel movements are rather the stuff of legend. (More about Luther, Germans, and poop can be found here.)

Then there was Wibrandis Rosenblatt, who managed to get herself married to three different Protestant Reformers – Johannes Oecolampadius (Try saying that three times fast!), Wolfgang Capito, and Martin Bucer. Now, I must stress that this dear lady was not married to them all at the same time, but rather in succession after they each went the way of all flesh. Indeed, before she was ever married to Oecolampadius, she was already the widow of one Ludwig Keller (Ancestor of Timothy Keller? Just throwing it out there…). That makes a total of four husbands for Wibrandis, which is either incredibly unlucky or incredibly suspicious.

However, for our story today I would like to take us a bit farther south to the town of Geneva, nestled on a beautiful lake at the feet of the Alps. Long before it was nagging the rest of the world about how it should behave in times of war, Geneva hosted a rather interesting religious experiment when it invited a French expat named Jean Calvin – yes, that’s John Calvin – to carry out a reformation in the city along with Guillaume Farel. This was an important development in the history of the Reformed Protestant tradition.

But I’m not going to talk about Calvin today – sorry to burst your bubble. I know Calvin is much beloved in these parts, even by those who have never bothered to read any of The Institutes of the Christian Religion, his greatest lasting legacy. No, I would like to talk about one of Calvin’s close associates, Théodore de Bèze, better known in the English speaking world as Theodore Beza. His is a truly fascinating story with many twists and turns. Continue reading

The Worst Christmas Ever

"The Mystic Nativity" by Sandro Botticelli, circa 1500-01

“The Mystic Nativity” by Sandro Botticelli, circa 1500-01

Henry was having a terrible Christmas – possibly the worst Christmas ever.

One might almost say he was experiencing hell on earth, and not just because he was in the midst of producing a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, famous for its fanciful depictions of hell in all its ghoulish glory. He didn’t need Dante to tell him the meaning of suffering and despair. He was all too familiar with both.

Two years earlier, his beloved wife, Frances, accidentally set her dress on fire. He heard her cries from a nearby room and ran to her aid, throwing himself on top of her in an attempt to extinguish the flames. He sustained serious burns in the process, but none so bad as his wife’s. She died the following morning. Henry’s grief was absolute. He stated that he was “inwardly bleeding to death” and resorted to taking drugs in an attempt to dull the pain.

But that was only the beginning of Henry’s troubles. Indeed, his wife’s fate served as an apt metaphor for the world around him, which was in its own way going up in flames. Continue reading