- Lefèvre d'Etaples, Jacques
- (ca. 1453-1536)French humanist, known in Latin as Faber Stapulensis. He was a major influence on the "evangelical" religious reformers of the early 16th century and on the earliest French Protestants, though he never broke his own connection with the Roman Catholic church. Born at Etaples in Picardy, he studied at Paris (B.A. 1479, M.A. 1480) and became a teacher in the faculty of liberal arts. He also studied Greek under an exiled scholar, Georgius Hermonymus. His first published work was an introduction to Aristotle's Metaphysics that is notable for its rejection of the vast body of commentaries produced by medieval scholastic philosophers and for its emphasis on the original Aristotelian text and its skill at explaining the ideas of Aristotle clearly. Though about 1491 he considered entering a monastery, Lefèvre remained a secular priest.In 1491-1492 he made the first of three trips to Italy, where he met the Venetian humanist Ermolao Bárbaro and the Florentine philosophers Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Barbaro's influence inspired him to reform the teaching of Aristotle at Paris by publishing his original texts in Greek and adding a series of commentaries on them. Though also attracted by the Florentines to Platonist and Neoplatonic philosophy, he soon returned to his Aristotelian orientation. He retained a lively interest in the Hermetic literature, which he accepted as a genuine expression of the religious wisdom of the ancient Egyptians, and in the works ascribed to Dionysius the Areopagite, another late-classical forgery that he accepted as a product of the apostolic age and whose author he mistakenly identified with St. Denis, the patron saint of France.Upon his return to teaching in Paris, Lefèvre began publishing revised Aristotelian texts and commentaries. He regarded Aristotle, though a pagan, as inspired by the spirit of God and profoundly compatible with Christian belief. He also developed an increasing interest in the Bible and the works of the early Christian Church Fathers. He became the center of a group of younger disciples who shared his interest in Aristotle and collaborated with him in publishing not only Aristotle but also ancient texts on logic and mathematics. Shortly after 1500 he retired from active teaching and became a protégé of a former student, Guillaume Briçonnet, abbot of the famous monastery of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.There Lefèvre resided as a guest of the abbey and devoted himself to full-time scholarly work. He concentrated on study of the Bible and in 1509 published Quincuplex Psalterium / Fivefold Psalter, a critical study of the Psalms, and in 1512, his commentaries on the Epistles of St. Paul. His work on the Bible conceived religion (much like his contemporary Erasmus) as spiritual and based on grace rather than external and based on ritual. In 1511, if not previously, he met Erasmus at Paris. They established friendly relations but were never particularly close, and after a quarrel provoked by Lefèvre's sharp criticism of Erasmus' interpretation of a passage in Hebrews and aggravated by Erasmus' humiliating demonstration of the super-ficiality of Lefèvre's textual scholarship, the relationship (despite a formal reconciliation arranged by their mutual friend Guillaume Budé) remained civil but distant. Nevertheless, Lefèvre's scholarly work on the Bible was warmly greeted by most humanists and by those theologians who were open to the value of applying humanist textual criticism to Scripture (the young Martin Luther among them) but was eclipsed by the publication of Erasmus' annotated edition of the Greek text of the New Testament in 1516.Lefèvre's textual approach to study of the Bible earned him the hostility of conservative Paris theologians, and his short tracts criticizing certain beliefs about two female saints, Mary Magdalene and Anne, that were based solely on legend and had no foundation in Scripture called forth bitter accusations of impiety and even of heresy. Lefèvre (unlike Martin Luther and Erasmus) was no fighter, and his reaction was to withdraw from Paris and move to the diocese of Meaux, where his patron Guillaume Briçonnet had become bishop. Briçonnet, inspired by Lefèvre's idea of a moderate reform of religion led by diocesan bishops, had undertaken a reform of his own diocese. Lefèvre became one of his advisers. But the movement, which emphasized preaching of Gospel-based doctrine to the common people, attracted several radical reformers who were influenced by the thought of Luther. It eventually led to popular riots against the traditional practices. Conservative critics charged that the bishop and his advisers were unleashing a dangerous religious radicalism that would produce heresy and social unrest. At this period, Lefèvre and others of his associates were in touch with radical agitators like Guillaume Farel and were reading the works of German Reformers.Eventually, the Parlement of Paris, the mendicant orders, and the Paris faculty of theology collaborated to break up the Meaux reform movement. The bishop himself was called before a court to answer charges of reckless actions that promoted heresy, and several of his advisers, including Lefèvre himself, fled to the Protestant city of Strasbourg (a German imperial city not yet annexed by France). Lefèvre did not return to France until the king, who together with his sister Margaret of Navarre had protected the evangelical humanists from attacks by conservatives but who had been a prisoner of war in Spain, was back in France to restrain the theologians and the Parlement of Paris.In addition to his support of the abortive diocesan reform at Meaux, Lefèvre had infuriated religious conservatives by publishing further biblical commentaries and by publishing in 1523 his own French translation of the New Testament, followed in 1530 by a translation of the whole Bible (printed, however, across the border in Antwerp because of the censorship in France). When he returned from Strasbourg in the spring of 1526, Lefèvre avoided the storm-center of controversy at Paris. The king appointed him director of the royal library at Blois and tutor to the royal children. In 1530 he moved into even deeper shelter at Nérac, the residence of the king's sister Marguerite, queen of the semi-independent principality of Navarre. There he lived quietly, avoiding controversy.Lefèvre's personal doctrines, though somewhat vague on questions like the relation between faith and good works, probably never quite conformed to the doctrinal standard characteristic of Reformers like Luther, but his emphasis on the importance of inner religion rather than external actions, his questions about the validity of the sacraments unless backed by faith, and his criticism of the use of religious images and prayers to the saints suggested tacit support for the German heresies. He had been a house guest of the German Protestant theologian Martin Bucer during his exile in Strasbourg. In the end, unlike many of his young disciples, he found much to admire in the German Protestants but was unwilling to break away from the traditional church.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.