A Healer of Souls in the Renaissance

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Denis Crouzet
Mark Greengrass
  • Maiden, MA: 
    Polity Books
    , December
     392 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


When people think of Nostradamus, many contemplate his predictions of the future or prophecies of end days. The reality is that Nostradamus was more of a poet and historian than he was a prophet or seer. Nostradamus’s writings, or quatrains, were indeed vague and can be interpreted in many different ways but, as Denis Crouzet explores in Nostradamus: A Healer of Souls in the Renaissance, Nostradamus had much more to say.

In his important and timely work, Crouzet deconstructs each of Nostradamus’s quatrains, carefully analyzing each within their historical context. Crouzet begins by examining Nostradamus in his role as historian, reciting personal observations of his experiences during his lifetime. Nostradamus’s goal was not to predict the future but to recount the past in an ambiguous way, allowing people to read and interpret their world accordingly.

Crouzet’s chapters each explore a specific quatrain and focus on a different theme, with various explanations of Nostradamus’s philosophy and its relationship to Renaissance-era religion. Crouzet displays this approach through careful examination, linking Nostradamus and religion throughout. Philosophy of symbols plays an extensive role in Nostradamus’s work given that religion is so heavily centered around symbols and ritual. Reminiscent of the Bible, Nostradamus’s quatrains also shaped how people could and should live their lives. Specifically, Nostradamus argues that people must have symbols and ideas to which they can relate, so they can live with a closer connection to God. Crouzet suggests that Nostradamus was providing ways for the people of his time to make that connection, as well as understand their place in the world. Nostradamus was indeed a healer for those who read his work—allowing them to investigate the past so they could glimpse what the future might hold. Though Nostradamus did not predict the future, his readers saw the history he narrated as a portend into the future, interpreting his quatrains to their own advantage. Crouzet’s book is an important interpretation of Nostradamus’s teachings and how his contemporaries utilized them. Crouzet observes, “Nostradamus wanted to captivate his readers by furnishing them the wherewithal to decrypt, unambiguously and with certitude, and reconstitute what he wanted to say” (3).

It should also be noted that Crouzet’s selection of Nostradamus as a subject of study is uncommon, often being avoided given the difficulty of interpreting his work. Crouzet addresses this question directly, explaining that the significance of Nostradamus rested in his ability to encourage people who read his work to see the importance of philosophical thought and how it could shape their lives for the better: “The power of Nostradamus’s writing is its capacity to awaken the reader to the realization that he should not read it for what it means to him, that meaning being what a feeble, sinful creature like him can make of it. The reader must passively allow Christ, present in His Word and Omniscient, to possess him and convey the message of salvation” (28). Nostradamus’s work allowed the reader to become more familiar with themselves and thereby live a better life—one closer to God, while at the same time one cognizant of sin and its forgiveness.

Crouzet’s goal is clearly to elaborate on the more realistic intentions of Nostradamus’s writings. However, a there may be a few difficulties for some readers. The first is the prevailing popular notion of who Nostradamus was and the nature his writings. Secondly, the translations of Nostradamus’s writings, and Crouzet’s book itself, was originally published in French and translated into English. Throughout several areas of the text it felt as if something had been lost in translation, especially in places where the sentence structure and lack of smooth translation inhibited Crouzet’s arguments.

Ultimately, Crouzet’s book explains Nostradamus’s work by providing insight into how he fit within the world of religion he inhabited. Nostradamus was not only a philosopher of his time, but also a religious leader and ideologist. People of the Renaissance used his writings to lead better lives and feel closer to God. Nostradamus wanted his readers to know that they had strayed from God’s plan, and he used fear to instill in them the qualities he felt that God desired. Crouzet argues, “One should therefore read the predictions of Nostradamus as a kind of compendium of divine premonitions which mankind should heed in order to protect himself against, or heal, his own presumption, the illusion that ordinary mortals can known the Unknowable” (53). Indeed, Nostradamus was a leader and philosopher, not a doomsayer.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Alanna Foster is a graduate student in the Humanities and Sociology Programs at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.

Date of Review: 
January 17, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Denis Crouzet is Professor of Modern History at the University of Paris IV-Sorbonne. His work focuses on the French Wars of Religion and the use of violence in the Renaissance.

Mark Greengrass is an Independent Scholar.


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