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The “Marmite cycle”

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Gordon 1561 .E88 - L’extrême onction de la marmite papale

Gordon 1563 .P65 no. 1 & 2 - La polymachie des marmitons; Conclusion de la messe

Gordon 1572 .B48 - Beauxamis, La marmite renversée et fondue

Among the representative examples in the Gordon Collection of the appeal to “les simples” (in French and in print) are a number of key contributions to what may conveniently be called the “Marmite cycle,” a collection of somewhat extreme attacks and counter-attacks loosely organized around the motif of the “marmite papale” or “papal cooking pot.” Showing up in Lutheran-inspired early popular song and doggerel verse pre-dating Calvinism proper, the motif characterizes the Pope as the gluttonous head of a vast hierarchy living off the fat of the faithful, more interested in satisfying the temporal appetites of his followers – via the sale of offices, indulgences and other services of the Church – than in ministering to the spiritual needs of Christians. This motif was developed in numerous ways, extending most significantly to the controversy surrounding one of the primary doctrinal differences separating Catholics from Calvinists: the legitimacy of the Mass and the meaning of the Eucharist, readily caricatured as a cannibalistic feast or, more exactly, an act of theophagy, or consumption of what early Protestants had already denigrated as the “dieu de pâte,” or “pastry god.” The popularity and longevity of this motif (it shows up, co-opted by the Holy League, well into the 1580s) was no doubt due to the simplicity with which it managed to explain, or at least dismiss, a thorny but central theological issue.

The earliest example of this in the Gordon is an anonymous octavo pamphlet, L’extrême onction de la marmite papale [The Last Rites of the Papal Cooking Pot], Gordon 1561 .E88 , apparently first printed anonymously in 1561 in Lyon. As its title indicates, it purports to recount the history of the Catholic Church, reduced to its principal identifying ceremony, the Mass, as well as its inevitable last rites and death once that most “profitable” ceremony has been abolished:

"Portez la croix, portez les chandelles, disons les paroles: elle est au dernier souspir, elle tire à la mort. Voila tout faict, retirons nous au nom de Dieu, il faut que quelque Evesque la confesse, mais elle a perdu l’oye, & la parole, elle est outre, s’est faict d’elle, Allons."

[Bring the cross, bring the candles, pronounce the words: she is gasping her last breath, she is approaching death. Now all is done, let us withdraw in the name of God. We need some Bishop to confess her, but she has lost hearing and speech, she has passed on, it’s over for her. Let us go.]



Another anonymous pamphlet, La polymachie des marmitons, [The Scullions’ Polymachia], Gordon 1563 .P65 no. 1, was reproduced in 1563 (from a 1562 original) by Lyonnais printer Jean Saugrain, who published a number of similar polemical works. It scripts Lucifer’s decasyllabic call to the papacy to take up arms and save the mass, already “gastée” [“spoiled”], and the cooking pot, “desia tombée” [“already tipped over”], through the machinations of the Calvinists.



This last work has been bound, logically enough, with a 1563 Conclusion de la messe [Conclusion of the Mass], Gordon 1563 .P65 no. 2, likely printed in Lyon as well. This “conclusion” is none other than Calvinist Lausanne pastor Pierre Viret’s revised version of the original placards – Antoine Marcourt’s Articles veritables [True Articles] – so fatefully posted in the night of October 17-18 three decades earlier, in 1534. These “articles” attack the Catholic Mass and the ceremony at its heart, the Sacrament of the Altar. This was a key turning point in the fate of the Reform in France. Considered by Francis I as an attempt against his sovereignty, the event triggered a crackdown on Evangelical and Lutheran activity in France, forcing those implicated, such as Clément Marot and Jean Calvin, to flee (setting the latter, one might argue, on the road to Geneva). Viret’s later version emphasizes the material or physical aspects of eating in the consumption of the wafer, reflective of the motif exploited in the Polymachie.



Catholic apologists countered this with such works as Thomas Beauxamis’s La marmite renversée et fondue [The Cooking Pot Tipped Over and Melted Down], Gordon 1572 .B48, a post-St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre update of the 1562 original), whose preface calls for the refutation of the “false doctrine” of the “sectarian Calvinists” and fulminates against the “unprecedented and unfortunate calumny” they have spread via images and texts. Beauxamis’s goal is to prove that Calvinism, not Catholocism is the true “cooking pot,” Biblical symbol (Ezekial 24) of the impurity to be burned away.



Materials on this page were generously contributed by Jeffrey Persels, University of South Carolina.


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