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La Justice de Dieu: Les Tragiques d'Agrippa d'Aubigne et la Reforme protestante en France au XVIe siecle.

Elliott Forsyth. La Justice de Dieu: Les Tragiques d'Agrippa d'Aubigne et la Reforme protestante en France au XVIe siecle.

Etudes et Essais sur la Renaissance 57. Paris: Honore Champion Editeur, 2005. 564 pp. index. bibl. [euro]105. ISBN: 2-7453-1128-X.

By focusing this book on the problem of God's justice in Agrippa d'Aubigne's Les Tragiques, Elliott Forsyth accomplishes a number of things. He identifies the central issue and unifying principle in that "one-of-a-kind religious epic" ("epopee religieuse unique en son genre," [157]); he provides a context within which to trace the evolution toward increased apocalypticism among French and Genevan Reformed writers over the course of the sixteenth century, and he motivates his examination of the biblical passages on which d'Aubigne and others based their understanding of God's action in the world.

To d'Aubigne scholars, the book offers a detailed analysis of the preface and seven cantos of Les Tragiques, which takes into account all of the important scholarship of the past forty years. Professor Forsyth's own work makes up a portion of that scholarship, one of his significant contributions being his 1984 concordance to Les Tragiques. The present book adds another tremendously helpful research tool: in its appendices it includes a biblical index to Les Tragiques, organized in three separate lists: a list of cantos and lines of Les Tragiques with corresponding biblical references, a list of books and verses of the Bible (following the order adopted by sixteenth-century French Protestant Bibles) with corresponding passages in Les Tragiques, and, finally, a canto-by-canto listing of biblical references going from Genesis to Revelation for each canto. In all three lists, the author distinguishes between direct references and those he considers indirect allusions. These appendices constitute an extremely useful tool for anyone working on Les Tragiques.

As the book's subtitle suggests, however, this study will be of interest not only to d'Aubigne specialists but to scholars of the French Reformation in general. The first two chapters provide a discussion of the meaning of divine justice, in biblical context (chapter 1) and in the context of Reformed thought (chapter 2). In the first chapter, the author stakes out the two strands of meaning in the term justice de Dieu used in French Bibles (or iustitia Dei in the Vulgate). In the Old Testament, the "justice of God" bears both a "salvific" and a "forensic" meaning: that is, sometimes it refers to God's redemptive love for his chosen people and the bonds of reciprocal duty that tie them to him through the Covenant, and at other times it emphasizes his rendering of justice--his meting out of punishment in order to chasten his chosen people or afflict his enemies. Through an examination of the translation of various Hebrew and Greek terms into Latin and French, Forsyth demonstrates that although the term justice de Dieu continues to have both the "salvific" and the "forensic" meanings in the New Testament, it is most often used to refer to God's punitive action, particularly in the gospels and the apocalyptic scriptures (Matthew, 1-2 Thessalonians, Revelation).

In chapter 2, the author traces the evolution in sixteenth-century Reformed sermons and commentaries concerning divine justice. He observes that at each stage, the orientation of Reformed thinking on the matter reflected the experience of Protestants and the questions that experience raised about God's relations with humanity. For Calvin and his contemporaries, both the redemptive and the punitive aspects of God's justice were operational; indeed, his punishment itself was often interpreted as redemptive: it was the chastisement of his people in order to bring them back into obedience. The Catholic oppressors were the enemies of God, but they were also his instruments--his scourges--and he permitted the persecution of his chosen people, the Protestants, as punishment for their failings. However, these explanations of God's justice became untenable in the wake of the Saint Bartholomew's Day massacres in 1572, and during the last quarter of the century French Reformed writings turned increasingly toward an apocalyptic vision of history and a view of the Last Judgment as imminent.

This is the view that Forsyth discerns in Les Tragiques, and his detailed analysis of the work is organized into chapters on each of the phases of God's justice in its punitive sense: the chastisement of the elect (cantos Miseres and Princes), God's "patience," or his waiting for the sins of his enemies to reach their peak (La Chambre doree, Les Feux, and Les Fers), his vengeance against the wicked within the course of human history (Vengeances), and the Last Judgment (Jugement).


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Author:Nelson, Sarah
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2006
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