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Poetry of the Penitent Heart

Apr 2 2014
The groundbreaking writer Anne Vaughan Lock worshipped with her pen.

Editor's note: Today's post continues our Women's History Month series (yes, even though March is over), connecting our contemporary efforts for justice with the evangelical women who came before us.

Sometimes books will tell us stories about their former readers—perhaps a small doodle in the margins of a centuries-old Bible or wax stains revealing late-night reading sessions. Among the British Library's 14 million books is one volume, a small book of sermons and poems, that is quietly impressive. An inscription on the inside flyleaf, written in an elegant 16th-century hand translates from Latin to "Henry Lock's book, given by his wife Anne. 1559."

Only two copies of this volume still exist, but this one belonged to the writer's own family. Sermons of John Calvin was edited, written, and translated by Anne Lock, one of the women gradually claiming a place for themselves as writers in the 16th century. History left just enough details about Anne to tantalize us. She was a brave, educated woman who used her skills to create works of influence in the midst of tragedy.

Anne Vaughan Lock was born to what we might consider an upper middle class family. At first glance, they seem the 16th-century London version of "2.5 kids and a picket fence." A merchant by trade, Stephen Vaughan, Lock's father, recognized the importance of ideas and the power of words. He was interested in the new Lutheran theologies flowing across Europe and soon began lining his shelves with illegal pamphlets and copies of the Scripture smuggled into England from the Continent. In a radical move for the time, Vaughan ensured that both his son and daughters had access to education through a private tutor.

In her teens, Anne married Henry Lock, who had similar spiritual beliefs. In their home, they hosted John Knox, the Scottish clergyman often considered the founder of Presbyterianism. A few years later, Anne (only in her early 20s) began a correspondence with Knox. Over the course of several years he would write to Lock, encouraging her in Protestantism and even seeking her advice on spiritual matters.

In 1555, Lock's hometown of London was not a safe place for those who refused to conform to the reestablishment of Catholicism. Those refusing to obey Mary I's laws concerning religious expression faced fines, punishments, and even execution by burning. At 23, Lock fled London with two small children, for safety in John Calvin's Genevan community.

Related Topics:Calvinism; History; Poetry; Writing

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