Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we tell the story of the Renaissance Martyr: Etienne Dolet.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 3rd of August 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

It’s like riding a bike, right? Two weeks of not writing an almanac episode, but luckily today, we have a spicy story to ease me back in- it is the story of a… nay… thee Renaissance martyr.

Let me explain why that’s a strange thing to say. The Renaissance paralleled the Reformations in time but not in violence. That is, a Catholic might kill a Lutheran, and a Lutheran might kill an Anabaptist. Still, despite differences in theories of bronze baptistries, local artisans were not as likely to get violent. To put it simply: the Renaissance did not produce martyrs.

Enter Etienne Dolet.

Dolet was born on this the 3rd of August in 1509. Plenty of legends would arise about the printer who would be put to death on this the 3rd of August in 1546 on his 37th birthday.

There was a rumor that he was the illegitimate son of Francis I- there is no evidence for this besides Francis giving Etienne a favorable license to print. Etienne was well connected enough to study Latin in the humanist style, move to Paris and eventually live in both Padua and Venice to work as a secretary and ambassador. He wrote to one of his employers that all he wanted was “study and fame.”

He would become a fierce supporter of the Ciceronian style- we don’t need to go too far into this except to say that it meant he really dug the Latin poet Cicero, thought that Cicero’s vernacular Latin was to be imitated, and this put him at odds with the great scholar Erasmus. Dolet would become fanatic in his approach to translation- he would enter at least one competition, and when he lost, he went apoplectic.

I think this is a key to understanding this curious “martyr of the Renaissance”- he was not well-liked. He liked to poke the bear. As one of his 19th-century biographers noted: modesty was not a characteristic of his. Also, he murdered a dude. According to this same biographer, a certain painter attacked him, and Dolet killed him. He was arrested but escaped with the help of friends and received a pardon in the name of self-defense.

He would make a name for himself as a printer (remember Francis gave him a license to print)- and he would print a wide variety of texts from the sacred to the secular. He would print the Bible in the vernacular, the old Latin poets, the ribald works of his friend Rabelais and others. But this time period also parallels the so-called “French Inquisition.” Here in the lead-up to what would become the French Wars of Religion, it would be dangerous to print some of what he did- from the Bible in the vernacular to the works of Calvin and Melanchthon.

He considered himself a Christian moralist and apparently had a sketchy grasp on the Trinity (or at least, he was charged with this because I think it’s probably pretty easy to get people tripped up on this one). He was arrested in 1542 on the charge of atheism. He was released but arrested again in 1544. Apparently, he escaped and was arrested again.

Meanwhile, the quarrelsome printer would insist on certain translations- usually in the vernacular and sometimes thus seen as heterodox (let me explain: he used new words when the old words were preferred and seen as the only orthodox words to use). He would be arrested again in 1546 and tried at the Sorbonne. Out of luck, out of friends, and on their last nerve, he was condemned as a “lapsed atheist,” and on this, the 3rd of August (also his 37th birthday), he was tortured, strangled, and then publicly burned at stake at the Place Maubert in Paris (where I stood about two weeks ago!).

So, here’s to that rascal and Renaissance martyr Etienne Dolet who was born on this day in 1509 and died on it 37 years later in 1546.

The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from Luke 12:

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 3rd of August 2022, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who takes no vacations from the CHA- this is his 1,165th consecutive episode. He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who loved his vacation- did not love coming home to a burst pipe and flooded living room. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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