A Brill Calendar: December 15
FIlips van Marnix: The Ultimate Right Hand Man
Few European States depended in their socio-political awakenings so completely on the Judeo-Christian Bible as the Low Countries during their struggle against Habsburg oppression.
Reformation of religion, a focal point in the rebellion, required that each Christian soul should have access to God’s own word personally, without mediation by priests or monks. It required translation into vernacular languages; which had to come to the fore often in cultures not yet benefiting from a widely disseminated literature. The ‘challenge’ – in the idiom of a later age - required not only vast erudition, inspired dedication and literary skill, but also ‘political correctness’.
Such expertise is seldom combined, ever, in one individual. For the Low Countries this ‘rara avis’ was Filips van Marnix, Lord of Saint-Aldegonde, born in Brussels in 1540, before meeting his Maker in Leyden on December 15, 1598. As trusted companion of the rebellion’s leader, Willem, Prince of Orange (1533 – ‘84), Marnix acted frequently as his spokesman and ambassador until the very day Willem was assassinated.
Saint-Aldegonde, a staunch Calvinist – educated at the University of Geneva – can’t be said to have excelled in his handling of state affairs as magistrate: the crucial loss of Antwerp to its Spanish besiegers may be blamed partly on him, for instance. However as ‘uomo universale’ during the waning of the northern Renaissance and man of letters he is second to none. His poetic rendering of the Book of Psalms in the language of his people is brilliant. It made the Estates General commission Marnix to translate the whole Bible in 1594. Since Holland could offer no better place to shoulder this formidable task than Leyden, ‘Bulwark of Freedom’, Marnix settled there that year; leaving his work largely unfinished when he died four years later; excepting, rather poignantly, the very first book of the ‘Book of Books’, ‘Genesis’. Holland had still to wait another four decades for a State-endorsed Bible translation.