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Stoicisme et Christianisme a la Renaissance.

Alexandre Tarrete, ed. Stoicisme et Christianisme a la Renaissance.

Cahiers V. L. Saulnier 23. Paris: Editions Rue d'Ulm, 2006. 244. pp. index. bibl. [euro]24. ISBN: 2-7288-0354-4.

Originally presented at the twenty-third Colloque V. L. Saulnier, which took place at the Sorbonne in May 2005, the first eleven essays in this volume provide thoughtful insights into the complex and sometimes contradictory relationships between Christianity and Stoicism in the Renaissance. Following closely on the heels of Moreau's Le stoicisme au XVIe et au XVIIe siecle (1999) and Carabin's Les Idees stoiciennes dans la litterature morale des XVIe et XVIIe siecles (1575-1642), published in 2004, the current tome first appears to be an interesting but potentially redundant examination of the classicizing tendencies, religious views, and philosophical leanings of early modern humanists. As the study's ample bibliography demonstrates, there is no dearth of scholarship in this area. Yet the current volume, which focuses on the synergistic interplay between Stoic and Christian approaches to life and death in humanistic writings, has much to recommend it, including the uniform excellence of the essays and conclusion, the breadth and variety of material covered, and the surprising degree of interconnectedness and thematic continuity among the articles.

Given its modest length, the collection is unusually broad in scope. While a majority of the papers focus on sixteenth-century writers, the volume bridges the fourteenth (Petrarch) through the early seventeenth centuries; examines works of varying genres by Catholic (Montaigne, Pibrac, L'Hospital, d'Urfe), Evangelical (Bude, Rabelais), and Protestant (Goulart, d'Aubigne, Casaubon) writers from four countries; situates Renaissance Stoicism within the era's social and political context; and explores both the patristic (St. Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian) and classical (Seneca, Cicero, Epictetus, Plutarch) echoes in the humanists' "stoicizing" discourses. Predictably, most of these early modern writers exhibit an ambivalent attitude toward Stoicism. On the one hand, Stoic tenets and rhetoric provide a model of courage in the face of adversity that is particularly useful given the high mortality rate and political turbulence of the Renaissance. Both Catholics and Reformers draw upon Stoic encomiastic conventions to glorify their own heroes during the Wars of Religion in France, and as Frank Lestringant points out, d'Aubigne in Les Tragiques effectively popularizes "stoic grandeur," traditionally reserved for a "refined elite," by describing poor and illiterate Huguenot martyrs in stoic terms (12). In addition to being consistent with the biblical exemplum of Job, the Stoic rejection of both self-pity and excessive mourning is particularly well-adapted to certain teachings of Christianity, which advocate the acceptance of God's will and a focus not on death but eternal life. Extending this logic to the res publica, Loris Petris astutely notes the link between Neo-Stoicism and political conservatism among Renaissance magistrates, who typically view social and governmental injustice as a trial to be endured rather than changed.

On the other hand, the authors are quick to emphasize the Stoic tenets that trouble Renaissance humanists: the pride of the Stoic sage is difficult to reconcile with Christian humility, his impassivity runs counter to the emotional fervor of Reform meditation, and his radical self-reliance is unmitigated by divine grace and providence. Consequently, the Renaissance humanists whose works figure in this volume borrow discerningly from their Stoic predecessors, adopting tenets that are consistent with, or easily adaptable to, their own faith and experience. Jacqueline Lagree likens this selective syncretism to Seneca's metaphor of the bee, whose honey represents both a triage and a composite of the nectar it has appropriated from multiple sources. In the writings of these Renaissance humanists, the admixture that emerges from this "digestive" process is both a Christianized rendering of Stoicism and an eclectic, "stoicized" Christianity.

One notable omission in the volume is an essay devoted entirely to one or more women writers of the Renaissance. References to Marguerite de Navarre's rhetoric of consolation figure prominently in Jean Lecointe's excellent chapter on Bude, but a separate and in-depth paper on the use and rejection of Stoic commonplaces in women's writing would be welcome. Overall, however, the collection is distinguished by sound erudition, insightful readings, and a sense of intellectual commerce that transcends national boundaries and links humanists and literati through the ages. This impression is enhanced by the seven short tributes to Michel Simonin (1947-2000) that not only conclude the volume but also tie together the preceding two hundred pages by revisiting the themes of humanitas and collegiality, mourning and consolation, the joy of literature and learning, and the question of how to live and die well.


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Author:Zegura, Elizabeth Chesney
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2006
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