Barbara Burns talks to Patricia Demers, whose edition Anne Cooke’s Englishing of Bernardino Ochino was published this summer.

cover of Anne Cooke’s Englishing of Bernardino Ochino

BB. Congratulations on the publication of your second volume in the MHRA Tudor and Stuart Translations series! The subject of this one is the controversial Protestant reformer Bernardino Ochino, known as the ‘Italian Luther’, who fled to England in 1547. Why was this charismatic preacher such an important figure?

Patricia Demers

PD. Before launching this project I was aware of some of the story of Bernardino Ochino, the married ex-Capuchin firebrand preacher whose refuge in England (1547-53) lasted scarcely six years, who wrote in Italian and Latin, and whose sermons published on the Continent harmonized with the Reform movement under Edward VI and Archbishop Cranmer. His enforced frequent moves, all because of ardent beliefs and anti-Rome positions, eventually left him an outcast from Catholicism, from previous Reform colleagues, and from the Venerable Company of Pastors in Geneva. His banishment and relative obscurity impressed me as a sad conclusion of such an active, peripatetic, lifelong commitment. In coming to know his sermons through Cooke’s English translations, I came to admire their rhetorical skill, undeniable fervor, and human engagement.

A 1541 engraving of Bernardo lends him a solemn, austere authority, though he has the bargaining hands of a man of affairs; a locket portrait of Anne, painted much later in her life, has a formidable blend of puritanism and wealthy chic. (And does the locket depict itself?)

BB. Anne Cooke was only twenty years old when she translated Ochino’s sermons, but her work demonstrates a remarkable facility with language, as well as a maturity of theological understanding in a highly polemical age, and seemingly a fervent commitment to reform. Can you paint a picture for us of her family background and her cultural context?

PD. I came to know Anne Cooke in two ways. Through the writing of her courtier, philosopher son, Francis Bacon, I caught glimpses of his mother. However, through teaching courses on early modern women writers I delved more deeply into the context and contemporaries of Anne Cooke herself. Having spent time with the work of Tudor matriarch Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby translating à Kempis and de Gruitroede, Margaret Roper with Erasmus, Jane Lumley with Euripides, Princess Mary with Erasmean biblical paraphrases, Princess Elizabeth with a polyglot collection of prayers for her father, and Anne, Margaret, and Jane Seymour’s sophisticated Latin distichs as an elegy for Marguerite de Navarre, I became convinced of the creative, daring, singular nature of these sixteenth-century women’s projects, and often at very young ages. Lumley, the Seymour girls, and Princess Elizabeth were teenagers. And so, instead of looking back to Anne Cooke from the world of her son, I have concentrated on the early part of her life when she produced remarkable translations from Italian sermons and, as a young mother, a widely approved translation of Bishop Jewel’s Latin which consolidated the Elizabethan Settlement.

Anne was the daughter of the humanist scholar Anthony Cooke and his wife Anne (Fitzwilliam) Cooke, and was educated in languages (Latin Greek, French), the Bible, Church Fathers, and a range of classical texts. The Cooke household were strong supporters of the Reform cause. Although her mother did not approve of Anne’s study of Italian, Anne addressed Lady Fitzwilliam in the prefatory letter of the collection of sermons, adroitly turning the tables and stressing the fruitfulness of her undertaking.

Because he died so young, and reigned in between more flamboyant figures, Edward VI (painted here circa 1546) is not always given his due as an actor on the theological stage himself — but the theological stage was also the political stage, and Edward, raised like Anne with a firmly Humanist Protestantism, was a formidable presence there

BB. Your volume includes all nineteen sermons originally translated by Anne Cooke in 1548, the majority of them on the somewhat daunting subject of predestination. Why was this such a significant theme at the time?

PD. Sermon texts are not exactly popular research topics today. But in the tumultuous, divisive, potentially lethal world of sixteenth-century religious debate they were key revelations of the speaker and his or her audience. They also tell us a lot about the psychology of belief and aspirations.

Within these sermons today’s reader encounters difficult, even peremptory, statements, all rehearsing the theme of the inadequacy of works to guarantee salvation. As an accompanying motif the reprobate is to be entirely discounted. Wrestling as I did with this dismissal, I wondered about the iron will of both Ochino and Cooke in pronouncing about double predestination, eternal life or damnation. In the eleventh sermon, ‘Whether God Do Aggravate, Harden, and Blind the Hearts of Men or Not, and in What Manner’, the outcome is beyond question. Although ‘we are the cause of sin not God’, yet in the case of the obstinate reprobate, who is without the grace of faith, divine foresight ‘without fault, without evil … doth aggravate, harden, and blind, but it is good’. Trying to find a way out of this logical impasse by judging the ‘secrets of God’ constitutes ‘very madness’.

BB. Is there a particular sermon that stands out to you as encapsulating the spirit of the age?

PD. For me, one of the most memorable sermons in Cooke’s collection is ‘How We Should Answer the Devil When He Tempteth Us and Namely in the End of our Life’. Cooke adjusts Ochino’s Italian to underscore a legal setting, a courtroom, where judgements are final and Christ is both attorney and advocate. The pointed refutations of the Devil’s arguments are, in a preliminary way, a forecast of Paradise Regained.

BB. What insights do these sermons give us into the religious landscape in the early modern period?

PD. The informing, uncontested ‘reality’ in these sermons about predestination and election is the supremacy of faith. Without it, one is lost and damned. It seems to me, from a twenty-first-century observer’s perspective, that the gift of faith – whether received, refused, denied, or uncultivated – is both the key ingredient and the emboldening motive behind the pronouncements about salvation or damnation. Yet there is also an intimate mystery, always buttressed by Pauline citations, about the work of the spirit and the inward calling of the elect. Within the splintering belief systems in the early modern period, declared allegiance and rock-solid loyalty are paramount. Affirmations about deep-seated faith tied to antecedent election underscore the insufficiency of mere works. Although the prospect of the Council of Trent does not directly appear in these sermons, the unsuccessful attempts at mediation between Calvinist/Lutheran and Catholic representatives likely account for their anti-Rome animus.

Italian thought remained important at Court into Elizabethan times, and John Florio's first proper Italian-English dictionary, his World of Words of 1598, was a landmark of translation. An uneasy consensus had by then emerged in England, but theological argumentation remained a highly dangerous occupation, as John Florio's friend Giordano Bruno was to find.

BB. Would you like to tell us a little about your own education, and how you came to be interested in Reformation theology and translation?

PD. After wide-ranging undergraduate work in Honours English and French, I gravitated to the Renaissance in graduate studies, concentrating on Christopher Marlowe and George Chapman, with side courses in Greek and Hebrew. When I was fortunate enough to land a teaching position at the University of Alberta, I began learning about the work of early modern women. Because the exploration of language – its colours, inflections, meanings, and allusions – always fascinates me, I felt at home in the world of translated works. I’ve never considered them secondary, but rather as mysteries to be unravelled and understood.

Since I’ve also had some experience in meetings in Ottawa observing the work of simultaneous translators in their glass booths at the side of a room (as the set-up used to be configured), I was in awe at their agility in rendering the discourse in either English or French. I knew I had to be much slower in the task of understanding why a sixteenth-century woman had used the language she did. The opportunities to teach and wander in a variety of periods have allowed me to consider language in many settings – from the convents of Hrosvitha of Gandersheim and Hildegarde von Bingen, to nursery rhymes, Cree prayer books, and Indigenous cinema.

BB. Did the process of preparing this volume change your view of Ochino’s or indeed Cooke’s achievement?

PD. In the course of this project I came to know more deeply and respect both Ochino and Cooke. Yes, their judgements are firm and fixed, and reparation or transformation is not entertained. But their passionate declarations were curiously compelling. Ochino was clearly a preaching force, isolating dilemmas about life and death, relying on the Bible for evidence and support, yet avoiding verse-by-verse explication and choosing instead a more human application. For her part Cooke was proclaiming family adherences, presenting herself as a capable interpreter and porte parole, and stepping boldly into the pulpit and public commons of translation.

BB. Why do you think it’s important for these texts to appear in modern editions and to continue to be studied by today’s generation of students and researchers?

PD. Because Ochino is so little known in English, because Cooke’s early work is not readily available or widely studied, and because these sermons appeared at such a defining period in early modern political history, I’m deeply grateful to the MHRA for publishing such a hidden but valuable text.

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