Lipsius, Justus (Joest Lips; 1547–1606)

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LIPSIUS, JUSTUS (Joest Lips; 15471606)

LIPSIUS, JUSTUS (Joest Lips; 15471606), Dutch humanist and philosopher. Justus Lipsius was the most widely published humanist of the end of the sixteenth century. With Joseph Scaliger (15401609) and Isaac Casaubon (15591614) he formed the famous triumvirate of learning that dominated the late Renaissance. The father of the Tacitist political tradition, he also led the Neostoic movement based on the works of Seneca, which Wilhelm Dilthey (18331911) regarded as one of the origins of modern individualism. Lipsius's work illustrates how a pragmatic politics, ethics, and religion grew out of the convergence of classical humanism and the wars that wracked Europe during the Counter-Reformation.

Born to a well-to-do family in Overyssche near Brussels, Lipsius began his studies as a novice in the Jesuit College of Cologne, where he was recognized as a prodigy due to his extraordinary memory and voracious intellectual appetite. He first achieved renown at the age of nineteen for Variæ Lectiones, a work of Ciceronian Latin prose commentaries on the ancients, which he dedicated to Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle (15171586), who was a minister of Philip II of Spain. Although in later life Lipsius repudiated this work for its flowery style, it caught the eye of Granvelle, who invited Lipsius to Rome as his Latin secretary. It was in Italy, between 1568 and 1570, that Lipsius blossomed as a scholar, visiting great libraries and working with famous humanists such as Paolo Manuzio (15121574) and Girolamo Mercuriale (15301606).

Lipsius's meeting with the French poet and humanist Marc-Antoine Muret (15261585), however, led to a defining intellectual epiphany. Lecturing in Rome, Muret was a pioneering scholar who was working on a set of commentaries on Tacitus's works. Lipsius now repudiated Ciceronian Latin eloquence and advocated Tacitus's concise, sententious style, effectively creating a second humanist rhetorical movement. In 1572 Lipsius accepted a chair at the Lutheran University of Jena in Germany, where he began his famed critical edition of the works of Tacitus, which was published in 1674. This work stands as one of the greatest monuments of Latin humanism. Mixing his own brilliant emendations with those of other scholars, Lipsius used his considerable philological skills to clear Tacitus's text of its medieval inaccuracies, differentiating the Annals from the Histories, and restoring the work closer to its original state. In 1581 he added historical and political commentaries and highlighted maxims with the aim of making Tacitus's work useful for practical life. Scaliger considered this his most important work and indeed, it became an international bestseller, elevating Tacitus to the status of a secular saint of practical politics and an acceptable stand-in for Machiavelli.

Of his many works, Lipsius considered De Constantia (1584; On constancy) and the Politicorum Libri Sex (1589; Six books of politics) to be his most important achievements. De Constantia explained the basic tenets of his Stoic philosophy that sought to transform contemplation and study into the basis for worldly action. Traumatized by the Spanish atrocities during the Dutch Wars and by the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre (24 August 1572), Lipsius formulated a philosophy of personal discipline, ethics, and rational judgment in response to the chaos that engulfed Counter-Reformation Europe. The following work, Politicorum Libri Sex, was an exercise in Stoic practicality. Harnessing maxims from the ancients, in particular from Tacitus, he hoped to create a collection, or cento, of political maxims to be used as a tool by monarchs to control and stabilize their kingdoms. His theory of "mixed prudence" was an attempt to translate Machiavellian practical prudence into an acceptable tool of politics regulated by the ethics of public utility. This theory later formed the basis of Libertine political philosophy and was central to the works of Pierre Charron (15411603) and Gabriel Naudé (16001653).

Lipsius lived his life according to the Stoic principle of accommodation and rejected the religious fanaticism of his day. He was a member of the secretive, proto-Deist Family of Love movement that stressed peace and unity above denominational loyalty. A true accommodator, he went from Lutheran Jena to Calvinist Leiden in 1572, and in 1591 he returned to Louvain, where he again embraced Jesuit Catholicism and lived out the rest of his days. He supported the interests of Protestant provinces, but he also counseled the emperor on the way to a peaceful settlement of the religious strife that wracked Holland. His numerous works also include a manual of letter-writing, Epistolica Institutio (1580); a history of classical libraries, De Amphiteatro Liber (1584); De Militia Romana (1595), which inspired many of the military reforms of his day; and finally his masterwork of Senecan Stoicism, Manuductionis ad Stoicam Philosophiam (1604). His works remained popular into the seventeenth century.

See also Humanists and Humanism .


Oestreich, Gerhard. Neostoicism and the Early Modern State. Edited by Brigitta Oestreich and H. G. Koenigsberger. Translated by David McKlintock. Cambridge, U.K., 1982.

Ruysschaert, José. Juste Lipse et les Annales de Tacite: Une méthode de critique textuelle au XVIe siècle. Turnhout, Belgium, 1949.

Saunders, Jason Lewis. Justus Lipsius: The Philosophy of Renaissance Stoicism. New York, 1955.

Wasznik, Jan. "Inventio in the Politica: Commonplace-Books and the Shape of Political Theory." In Lipsius in Leiden: Studies in the Life and Works of a Great Humanist, edited by K. Enenkel and C. Heesakkers, pp. 141162. Voorthuizen, 1997.

Jacob Soll

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Lipsius, Justus (Joest Lips; 1547–1606)

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