I am continuing the explanation of what is truth and what is fiction in my book, Weight of a Flame - the Passion of Olympia Morata.
What is true - once again, the events are true. Olympia returned home, sometimes she met Andreas Grunthler, her father got better then worse, John Sinapius took care of him at first and then left for Germany. Finally, Fulvio died, Olympia returned to court and was rejected.
What's fiction - We don't know how any of those events really developed. I was especially trying to find how Andreas and Olympia met. In one of her later letters (after their wedding) she said, "I still love you. If I didn't, I would tell you, just like I used to tell you that I couldn't stand you." That gave me a clue. I imagined that during their first meeting she couldn't stand him for some reason.
What's true - Again, the events are true. At some point, Olympia realized that she had lost sight of what is really important - the knowledge of God.
What's fiction - No one knows how that realization came to her. The letter she finds in a drawer is really a letter her father wrote to Curio, but there is no indication that she found it at this point. It's just a tool I used to develop the story.
What's true - The main events and what is told about Fanini. The description of the prison is fairly accurate since I have visited the place, but of course I had to imagine how the same prison looked in the 16th century.
What's fiction - How the events developed and how the characters interacted. I also had to invent a way for Andreas to propose. A friend of mine who is a medieval history major told me that in those days men often proposed in writing, usually to the girls' father. Since Olympia's father had died, I imagined that the letter was addressed to her but Andreas asked for her mother's permission.
What's true - The poem was really written by Olympia. The traveling plans are true, and Renée really gave some money and a wedding dress.
What's fiction - How the plans were formulated and presented to Olympia.
What's true - It's true that Andreas went to Germany first, and then returned to take Olympia and Emilio with him. It's also true that Olympia missed him desperately. All letters are from her. The news Andreas gives are also true. The rendition of Psalm 23 is really Olympia's. It's also true that they stayed with Georg Hormann and visited the Fuggers (and the main description of the Fuggers and their financial empire is true).
What's fiction - I had to imagine Olympia's loneliness, Andreas' return, and then their trip. I actually used mapquest for parts of it! I had to also contact a Museum in Trento, a city on the border between Italy and Germany, to find how the roads had changed since then (I thank Dr. Giovanni Kezich, director at Museo degli Usi e Costumi della Gente Trentina for his kindness in answering my numerous questions). He was actually the one who suggested Olympia might have met a flock of sheep in transhumance, since it was summer (see photo). I also read Goethe's Italian Journey, where he talks about his experience crossing the Alps (he went from Germany to Italy and Olympia went from Italy to Germany, but more or less the experience was similar). About Olympia's meeting with the Fuggers, I don't know what really happened. I know that she had always wanted to give them her poems, but there is no mention of it after her visit. So I imagined what may have happened...
Photos: 1. Prison cell in the castle of Ferrara, by Massimo Baraldi, wikimedia
2. Sheep transhumance (seasonal migration), by Falken, Wikimedia
Weight of a Flame - the Passion of Olympia Morata
Truth and Fiction (part 2)
Chapter 2 -
What's true - the description of the castle of Ferrara and the background information about Renée, Ercole, and the Duchy of Este.
Fun fact - some people asked me how to pronounce Ercole. Italians don't have a separate "er" sound, so you just pronounce the initial "e" as a short English "e". The accent goes on that "e". And of course you pronounce the last "e". Don't worry about rolling the "r". If you are totally frustrated, you can call him Hercules, because that's what the name means in Italian. But then, don't be offended if I translate your name into Italian next time I see you. All the names of Ercole's children and tutors are real.
What's fiction - the whole scene. I don't know how Olympia spent the first few hours at the castle.
Chapter 3 -
What's true - Everything the teachers said about Olympia and her talents. The poem is true. It's also true that some women were saying she needed to forget the pen and pick up some bed sheets.
Fulvio's suggestions on speech are from a letter to Olympia, including the Tite Tute Tati tongue-twister. By the way, my father taught me the same tongue-twister when I was a child, so I felt a strong connection there.
Olympia's speech on Cicero's Paradoxes is recorded and what I have quoted is taken from her actual words.
What's fiction - Again, the scene and her feelings. We do know that she was sick just before giving the speech, so possibly the tension was there.
What's true - The background story and the quote of the letter from Calvin to Renée.
What's fiction - How the events progressed. We have no indication of a conversation between Renée and Ercole that was overheard by Olympia, of a discussion between Olympia and Anne, nor of one between Olympia and Renée on the Mass.
What's true - It's true that Calvin mediated in the marriage between Francoise and John Sinapius. All the facts about Lavinia and Paolo, and about Renée's earlier marriage proposals are true. Olympia's poem about nuns is by her hand. It's true that she translated (probably with Anne) two tales from the Decameron. The whole story Curio tells here is true (according to his account of it). Her questions about prayer at the end are also true. We know she discussed these doubts with Lavinia but didn't work hard to find an answer.
What's fiction - again, the various scenes. For example, Curio's tale is true, but we don't know if Olympia asked him to repeat it for her and her friends.
What's true - The whole papal visit is true, to the smallest details. Her letter at the end, praising the duke, is also true. This type of letters led me to infer some form of denial about any negative aspects at court.
What's fiction - We don't know what the pope said to Olympia (if anything). We also don't know if Olympia saw her mother and brother in the crowd.
1. View of Ferrara from the top of the castle tower.
2. My kids on the drawing bridge in front of the castle.
3. My kids on a cannon behind the castle. I wonder if kids were allowed to do this back then.
4. A photo of a print in the kitchen of the castle. I think it's a floor plan.
5. My daughter pretending to be Renée of France in her chapel. The lighting is bad. The marble is white and black.
6. The Castle of Ferrara, by Massimo Baraldi, Wikimedia (all the photos above are mine)
As promised, I am beginning to write a list of what is historically true and what is a fruit of my imagination in every chapter of my book, Weight of a Flame, the Passion of Olympia Morata. I will start with the first chapter. Your comments are welcome!
1. Cover - Olympia's looks on the cover are the fruit of the artist's imagination of Robert Papp. There is only one portrait available that depicts Olympia Morata. There she is much older, and we don't know for sure if it's an accurate portrait, so our artist has taken the liberty to take those basic features and come up with a younger Olympia.
2. Map - the map is quite accurate, between my knowledge of Italy and my map artist's (Tom Carroll) knowledge of Germany. Fun fact - we used mapquest for much of the route, including an approximate time of their trip (I chose "on foot" because the wagon probably traveled quite slowly). BTW, Tom Carroll did not get credit for the map, which was a sad oversight. We will remedy in the next edition. For the time being, please know that he has been very accurate and patient. It's not easy to find 16th century maps and retrace someone's steps.
3. Chapter One -
What's true - In 1539, Olympia went to live at the court of Duke Ercole and Duchess/Princess Renée of France. It's true that her parents were Fulvio Pellegrino Morato and Lucrezia Morata. The tailor's conversation about the duchess is based on reported facts. It's also true that Fulvio had to leave Ferrara for a while and had just returned. He was a teacher at the University and a tutor at the ducal court. And it's true that he wrote a book on colors and flowers (the quote is from the book) and taught Calvin's Institutes to his students on some occasions.
What's imagined - We don't know any of their personalities. We know nothing about Lucrezia. I deduced something of Fulvio's personality by his writings (letters and his treatise on colors and flowers). He seemed a little extravagant and pedantic, but in a letter to Celio Curione he manifested a great excitement for the Gospel. Did I capture who he was? Who knows? The tailor and his wife are a product of my imagination.
One note about clothes. Oddly, in Olympia's letter there is a recurrent interest in clothes. When she had to leave the ducal court, she was particularly upset that she was not allowed to take one of her dresses. In Germany, she describes a dress she received as a gift, even guessing its value. Even when she escaped the city, she took care to describe the ragged clothes she was wearing. I thought it was interesting, so clothes are mentioned here and there at key times in my book. You will find them here at the start and again at the close of the book.
Photo1 - Statue of Olympia Morata at Schweinfurt, by www.waymarking.com
Photo2 - Portait of Olympia Morata, Wikipedia
Weight of a Flame on blog tourDecember 2011 - January 2012Olympia Morata, arguably the most prolific woman writer of the Reformation, struggles to use her talents for God's glory despite rejection, religious persecution, and the hardship of illness, po...
Here are some questions I was asked during my seminars and talks in Indonesia. The title of the seminar was "Why Is It Important to Teach Theology to Children?" In some seminars, the word "theology" was rephrased as "doctrine."Question - How can we tea...
(This is an article I wrote for the Outlook. It was published in the March-April 2011 issue. Since my lectures and discussions in Indonesia centered on the importance of teaching the catechism to our children, I am reprinting it here with permission from the editors of Outlook Magazine.)
On the first Sunday this year, I opened with interest a small insert in our church bulletin. It was a plan for a full year of family worship. I was excited. My many years of homeschooling have left me with an instinctive appreciation of pre-made plans. I studied it carefully. On one side of the page there was a list of Bible passages, with the goal of reading through the whole New Testament in a year. On the other side, a list of catechism questions to memorize.
It didn’t look intimidating. The first few months are going to be especially easy. We know these questions already. As I turned the small pages, however, I realized that there will be new questions soon and, at that point, we will need a stronger commitment... and I was actually quite content to go without new resolutions this year!
I have lived through enough new year resolutions to know what a lasting commitment requires: a strong motivation, good planning, and lots of patience.
I became absolutely convinced of the importance of catechisms several years back, during a casual conversation with a relative on the importance of reading the Bible. I was in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) at that time, still fairly new to the Reformed faith, and was helping my children to memorize the Shorter Westminster Catechism.
In the course of our discussion, this relative asked me a familiar question, “What does the Bible teach?” Years earlier, I would have been fumbling for an answer. I might have given a generic reply, “It teaches about God,” most probably reinforcing his belief that he had already grasped that message. This time, instead, the answer came effortlessly, “It teaches what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.” (cfr. SWC, Q3)
His interest perked up. “What duty does He require?”
“Obedience to His revealed will, the moral law, which is summed up in the Ten Commandments.” (cfr. SWC, Q39-41)
As the conversation continued, covering man’s inability to perfectly keep the commandments and the answer to that problem, I realized that most of his questions were in the catechism, and I had answers - not only ready, but written and revised with amazing precision and care by godly men of old. Besides, these answers kept our conversation focused on relevant issues rather than generalities. More than ever, I wanted to pass on such an effective tool to my children.
Most of us are familiar with Dorothy Sayer's 1973 essay on "The Lost Tools of Learning," which decries the loss of clear answers and definitions in progressive education while advocating a return to the medieval trivium (grammar, dialectic, and logic). I see this loss quite frequently as an Italian instructor. While older students are a little rusty in their study and memorization habits, they have a tremendous advantage because they have studied grammar with its proper definitions. They can easily understand why the word molto, which means both “much” and “very”, changes its ending when it refers to nouns but is invariable when it refers to adjectives or adverbs. Their minds immediately relate to adjectives as modifiers of nouns and adverbs as modifiers of verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. When I talk in these terms they nod, while my younger students look absolutely puzzled.
I found the same need for definitions in my Sunday School class. A few years ago, when teaching 1st-3rd graders, I realized that in order to facilitate our communication and impress specific notions, I just had to use words like justification and sanctification, and the catechisms provided clear definitions. There was no way around them, just as a school teacher needs to explain to the class the definitions of "polygon", "triangle", and "equilateral", so that they can talk about an equilateral triangle without having to repeat each time that they are referring to “a flat shape with three straight lines, all of the same size.”
With the help of the catechisms, children can understand theological definitions quite simply. It is also reassuring to a parent or teacher to know that, when talking about realities like faith or providence, they and their children can have a common understanding of their meaning.
Katharine Olinger, a baptized member of Calvary OPC, Glenside, PA and an 8th grade student at Phil-MontChristianAcademy, shares a similar experience. "Catechism has indeed helped me in my life," she said, "especially my curricular one. As I attend a Christian school, I've found that during our Bible classes I'm always a step ahead of my peers and I can even impress my teachers with the catechism's well structured responses. In my spiritual life I more often refer to the Bible than the catechism, but I do particularly rely on the first question in the shorter catechism. It's comforting to have such a big question (what our purpose is) answered in black and white."
Marti Calderaro, a 16-year old baptized member of Chiesa Evangelica Riformata Filadelfia in Milan, a URCNA plant in Milan, Italy, agrees that the catechism is a great source of comfort. “It has helped me and my sister Erika to face not only difficult times in our lives, but also those our church is experiencing right now with the terminal illness of Elder Giuseppe Ferrari. It gives us comfort and helps us to share this comfort with our sister Ivana [Giuseppe’s wife].”
Marti began studying the Heidelberg Catechism about a year ago. She had never learned a catechism before, but didn't find it difficult. "It has been fairly easy, because our pastor, Andrea Ferrari, explains it very well."
Besides, learning the catechism as a family has other advantages. “It has set up an environment where theological questions come up naturally as we cover the various questions and answers,” said Roy Lopez, elder at Christ URC in Santee, California. “It has also deepened our love for God as we see all that He has done for us week by week. I believe it unifies us as a family, making us more of one mind (as it does for the church).
A Plan and a Method
We all know how quickly new resolutions become discarded when we don’t plan how to include them into our lives. That’s why the insert I found in our church bulletin is so helpful. The portions are well marked and within reach - a long catechism question or a few short ones every month. It's a very simple plan, and some families may choose to go beyond it.
While churches using the Westminster standards normally expect their children to memorize the Shorter Catechism in its entirety, it’s rare to find children who have memorized the entire Heidelberg Catechism, because of its length. Roy Lopez, however, has decided to challenge this trend. Last year, he has embarked on a three-year plan for memorizing the whole Heidelberg Catechism with his family.
“At the end of every year I try to plan what the family will do next in our devotions,” he explained, “something that can be done in one year. Several years ago we memorized Colossians which broke down into roughly two verses a week. It was great because we had the context and the rhythm of the whole passage. The Catechism seemed too long to memorize in a year (comfortably). So I went through all the questions and answers and broke them down into what I figured we could memorize per week. Sometimes it will be one or two per week and sometimes it will take two weeks to complete a long one. We mainly practice at night at the beginning of family worship but sometimes we practice in the car while we travel."
Roy has found that sharing the motivation with his family and coming to an united decision is very important before embarking on a long-term commitment. "I brought it up to the family and asked them what they thought about it. Everyone except Mikaela, our youngest, was enthusiastic about it. Mikaela, who is twelve, said that she didn't think she could do it. So, wanting it to be a free choice for everyone, I told her that we would be studying it and that she should just do the best that she can (no pressure). I didn't want it to become an empty ritual. Much to my surprise, she ended up being the one who was the most disciplined and is usually the one first to have the questions memorized. It started as a decision, then a discipline and it is now our habit."
Just the fact of memorizing together day by day, week after week, brings results. Some parents, however, have come up with creative ways to "spice-up" catechism memorization. “Last Spring, I used it as penmanship practice,” explained Donna Link, a homeschooling mother of ten from Tacoma, WA, “by having the kids copy the questions and answers in a composition book.” Some have used the most comforting questions and answers as calligraphy practice, crafting beautiful gifts for their friends. Others use motions or put it into songs for the little ones.
Margaret Laning, a homeschooling mother of eight from Hull, Iowa, has a simple, well-known formula for success: "The main thing I found that works best is repetition, repetition, repetition, starting early in the week to get into the long-term memory work." She is, however, aware of her children's learning styles and tries to adapt her methods to make memorization easy for all. "Some are visual learners," she said. "For them, we have played a sort of 'erase the word' game on the computer. At first, we have the whole answer or verse typed out, and then gradually take a word away while they say the missing word. Eventually all the words are gone and they say the whole thing themselves."
"Some are more auditory learners," she continued. "I have a friend who had her kids record themselves saying the questions and answers on a tape or CD-recorder and then listen to it over and over. Doing both is great. Some other kids are kinesthetic/tactile learners. They seem to enjoy working with index cards. I have also heard of some cutting out footprints and writing parts of the lesson or verse on each foot, and taping it to the floor. The next part of the verse or lesson is on the foot ahead, and then another foot ahead of that. So, they read out loud the lesson as they jump from foot to foot. I have never tried that, but some younger children may really enjoy it."
There is a large variety of activities and games that can be used in catechism memorization. Often, it's possible to modify an activity or a game suggested for academic learning or for Bible memorization. My children and my Sunday School students have a few favorites. Once they mastered a catechism answer, for example, I asked them to say one word each, going around in circle. When one makes a mistake, he or she is out. This works well in large groups. Parents and teachers, of course, participate in the game, and they are often out sooner than the children.
A variation of this, still in large Sunday School classes, is dividing the class into two groups, and dividing the white board so that each group can go up and write one word of the catechism answer at a time. It's like a catechism relay race. To win, a team has to get the whole answer right, not just finish first.
Ideas to motivate and inspire the children are countless. Of course, there is always "candychism" (a word apparently coined some years ago by Rev. Leonard Coppes to describe the practice of rewarding children with candy for memorizing catechism answers). "I am not a big fan of 'candychism,'" Roy said. "I am not opposed to others doing it. It is just not something I would do. I guess it has a place with very small children. My philosophy is that I will pay my kids when they go above and beyond their chores around the house, not for spiritual things."
Katharine, on the other hand, loves the idea. "I wish my parents used candychism! They had the same kind of thought, only instead of little things for each question, they gave a big privilege for saying the whole Shorter Catechism in front of the session. For example, when I finished, I was permitted to get my ears pierced - something I had been wanting for quite a while."
The goal, however, is not only to motivate the children to memorize but also to help them to understand what they are saying, and that can be done, in small ways, even with younger children.
Being a logical thinker, I have usually tried to break down the catechism answers for the children, memorizing one section at a time, and sometimes drawing diagrams on the board to emphasize the organization and progression of thought. For example, in HC21, the first two sentences describe one part of faith, the next two another part, and the last sentence shows three things we believe God has given us, and three ways in which He has given them (freely, merely of grace, and only for the sake of Christ's merits). I have found this useful with the long paragraphs typical of Puritan writers.
To help the children to understand the meaning of difficult words, I have tried to use them repeatedly during the same lesson (or the same day, if we are at home). For example, since most children don't know the meaning of "merely," I explained that it means "only," and then used it often in my common interaction with the children, by saying, for example, "we have merely five minutes left."
"I try to relate each question to something that was said in a sermon or something that has happened to us recently or to the children in school," said Roy. "I definitely try to explain the importance of a proper understanding of each doctrine and any heresies that are opposed to that teaching."
Catechism vs. Scripture Memorization
The most common objection I have heard to teaching the catechism to young children is the obvious need to give a strong foundation of Scriptural knowledge. The concern is quite founded. Some Reformed children today are well versed in the catechisms and basic theology but are unfamiliar with biblical narrative and find it difficult to find passages in the Bible. What we often forget, however, is that the catechisms were never meant to be a substitute for Scriptures. On the contrary, they were to be used in synergy with a thorough study of the Bible, the preached Word, and pastoral instructions. In particular, the Puritans who wrote the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity were steeped in Bible knowledge, which permeated every facet of their lives, and they expected other Christians to be likewise.
For most of us who are far from the Puritans' devotions, striking a balance between catechism and Scripture memorization can be difficult, but it is again a matter of planning, including both in our family worship or Sunday School curriculum. In this respect, Roy has found Starr Meade's devotional book, Training Hearts, Teaching Minds, very useful, with verses to look up daily.
“Memorizing the catechism is a great way to learn the doctrines of Scripture: it teaches theology in a very succinct way,” said Donna Link, a home-schooling mother of ten from Tacoma, WA. “Memorizing Scripture is also excellent and memorizing the catechism along with it gives a fuller understanding of what the different passages of Scripture are talking about.”
Used in synergy with the Bible, the catechism becomes all the more valuable. We can memorize Matthew 10:29-31 and Luke 21:18 and find comfort in the promise that every hair of our head is counted, or Romans 8:28 and know that all things work together for our good, but when we see those verses in the context of HC1, and are reminded that those same promises are given to us because we belong to Christ, in virtue of His sacrifice and in conjunction with the great benefits of forgiveness of our sins and deliverance from all the power of the devil, those words become much weightier and firmer in our minds.
This school-year, I have been teaching the trials, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ to my 4th-6th grade Sunday School group, using the Heidelberg Catechism alongside each lesson, as an aid both to emphasize the overall importance and meaning of the Bible account and to notice the significance of often neglected details, such as the mention of Pontius Pilate in the Apostles Creed and the relevance of the cross as instrument of death.
One of the most comforting thoughts I have learned as a parent in a Reformed Church is that we are just to do what we are commanded and let the Holy Spirit work in our children’s lives. We take our children to public worship every Sunday, let them hear the preached Word, and prepare them to receive the Lord’s Supper. At home, we have times of family worship and learn the catechism together. It sounds reassuringly simple.
Whatever our plan may be for memorizing the catechism as a family, whether we set a very approachable goal of one or two questions and answers per month, to allow for the unexpected and to give more time to review, or we take up the challenge of memorizing it all, small steps are easier to maintain at a regular pace.
"We memorize a different line pretty much every day and by Saturday or Sunday we recite the whole thing together," explained Roy. "On Monday, we move on to the new question. I don't put pressure on us to go back and remember all the previous questions. I am happy if we can recite the answer at the end of the week and don't want to overburden my family by making too much of it. Some weeks are better than others, but we do the best we can."
With these affordable steps, Kristen Lopez, Roy's 13-year old daughter, has learned to enjoy memorizing the catechism. "At times it is hard because of different schedules and late nights," she said, "but it is always easy to catch up on Sunday."
Roy knows that it's important not to miss a week. "We may fall behind a few days but then I try to make sure we practice it more to be caught up by week's end. If we ever had to skip a week, I would continue with the program and just try to learn that portion later on. Of course, the memory work is much easier for the children than it is for Faith and me."
Faith Lopez, Roy's wife, agrees. "My motivation are my kids. They are so good at keeping up with their reading and memorization, it puts me to shame. It is very difficult for me and I struggle to find more time in my busy schedule and more space in my head for new information. I've had to make it a priority. It's just something that we do, part of our day. Besides, so many times God has used our memory work to encourage me. I would find myself in a particular struggle, and some words that I had memorized that week have come to my mind, helping me to reflect upon His love, grace and mercy towards me in my time of weakness."
By now, the Lopez family has discovered that their persistence had paid off. "What started as a decision has become a discipline and is now our habit," Roy said. Of course, there are still obstacles. From time to time, the motivation and discipline need to be rekindled. "Sometimes it feels like no one is motivated to do it, or we get especially busy, or the schedule is off for some reason, but that is where the discipline comes in. We continue to do it because we have set a goal and I have tasked myself with the responsibility to see that we get there."
"Indonesia? What in the world were you doing there?" sometimes people ask. It all started in 2009, when I was searching the web for conferences on John Calvin so I could introduce my new book for children. It was then that I discovered a conference in ...
The winning entries in the contest issued by Carl Trueman on Reformation 21. Someone is certainly teaching these children well, and they can definitely articulate their thoughts very clearly! Maybe they should be my advisers as I write future titles......
The blog tour is nearing its end. Here you can read all the reviews. Thank you again, everyone who has taken the time to read and review! If anyone else is interested in writing a review or hosting a giveaway, let me know.
Friday, September 16
Tuesday, September 20
Thursday, September 22
Review and interview
Since one of the qualities most people praise in my books is their historical accuracy, I want to point out a couple of mistakes that, in spite of my best efforts, made it into this series. They will be corrected in our next edition, but in the meantim...