While a history undergrad at the University of Alberta, I took a seminar on women in the time of the Reformation. I wrote a paper on women and the Reformation in Geneva. While researching this paper, I first came across the name of Marie Dentiere. She was one of a very few women writers during the sixteenth century – and she was Reformed. Recently I came across a book containing her Epistle to Marguerite of Navarre and her preface to a sermon of John Calvin. It’s not a long volume – about half of it is taken up with the series preface and the volume introduction. The actual text written by Marie Dentiere is a mere 43 pages. There are a few interesting highlights.
First, Dentiere shared a birthplace with the Belgic Confession. Both came from the lowland city of Tournai. Dentiere had been a Roman Catholic abbess before becoming Reformed. She was well-educated and apparently could read Hebrew. She consequently married Simon Robert, a Reformed preacher. When he died in 1533, she remarried. Her new husband was Antoine Froment, another Reformed preacher.
Another interesting similarity with Guido de Bres and the Belgic Confession comes from the way in which she works with the apocryphal books. De Bres quotes the apocrypha many times throughout his writings and they also appeared in the proof-texts of the earliest editions of the Belgic Confession. Marie Dentiere also referenced these writings a number of times in these two short works.
Some time ago I noted the way William Farel worked with the concepts of interior/exterior baptism. Farel made a distinction between the outward baptism and the inward. It is only the inward that communicates the saving benefits of Christ and it is the inward that must be prayed for when the outward is administered. This thinking also finds its way into Dentiere’s epistle to Marguerite. It comes in the context of a discussion about the Lord’s Supper:
One can easily come unworthily to the table of our Lord, eating and partaking in condemnation and judgment, just as one can unworthily receive baptism – or when without living, certain, and entire faith, a man comes to witness that he is renewed in life and bears witness before the assembly that he is mingled, united, and conjoined with Jesus Christ and then receives exterior and visible baptism to his condemnation, falsely letting it be understood that he is one of the members of Christ. Only interior baptism, however, which no one can give except God alone, giving his Holy Spirit, can be received worthily. For it makes the impure and unclean clean and the unworthy worthy, purifying and sanctifying them by faith, giving them his Holy Spirit. (64)
Here she seems to be influenced by the sacramentology of Farel.
Finally, the volume is part of a series “The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe.” There seems to be a feminist agenda driving this series and it’s reflected, I think, in the editing and the footnotes. The editor/translator wants Dentiere to be a proto-feminist, arguing for women in the ministry. I’m not convinced that Dentiere went that far. If she had, I rather doubt that Calvin would have allowed his sermon on 1 Timothy 2:8-12 to be introduced by her. Nevertheless, the historical record bears out that she was a firebrand and regarded as something of a provocateur by the (male) theological leadership of her day.
Epistle to Marguerite de Navarre and Preface to a Sermon by John Calvin