Lefèvre d'Étaples, Jacques
LEFÈVRE D'ÉTAPLES, JACQUES
Humanist Aristotelian, Biblical and patristic scholar;b. Étaples, Picardy, c. 1461; d. Nérac, French Navarre, March 1536. He was educated at the University of Paris (B.A., 1479). Lefèvre lectured on philosophy at the Collège Cardinal Lemoine from c. 1490 until he retired from active teaching in 1508. Between 1508 and 1520 he continued his scholarly work at the abbey of Saint-Germaindes-Prés under the patronage of the abbot Guillaume briÇonnet, subsequently bishop of Meaux. In June 1521 Briçonnet called him to Meaux to participate in a comprehensive program of diocesan reform. His chief contribution was a French translation of the New Testament (1523) and Psalms (1524). The fortuitous coincidence of the Meaux experiment with the first penetration of Lutheranism in France focused the attention of the faculty of theology on his works. In 1523 a committee of theologians detected 11 errors in his commentary on the Gospels. When summoned to appear before the Parlement of Paris on suspicion of heresy, Lefévre fled to Strasbourg in the late summer of 1525. He was recalled by Francis I in 1526 and appointed librarian at Blois and tutor of the King's children; he finished translating the Bible under royal protection and published it in a single volume at Antwerp in 1530. He passed his last years in tranquil retirement at the court of Marguerite d'Angoulême, Queen of Navarre.
Lefévre's principal intellectual interests were the philosophy of Aristotle, the Pauline Epistles, patristic literature, and the tradition of medieval Christian mysticism. By means of translations, commentaries, introductions, and paraphrases he recovered, or so his contemporaries believed, both the precise meaning of the works of Aristotle and the true elegance of their style. From Aristotle he urged his readers to turn to a reverent study of Scripture, guided by the Fathers. He himself edited a variety of patristic texts and undertook a major program of Biblical research and commentary: on the Psalms (1509), St. Paul (1512), the Gospels (1522), and the Catholic Epistles (1527). But it was in the mystics that Lefévre found the most satisfying nourishment of his own piety. He published works of Richard of Saint-Victor, Elizabeth of Schönau, and Hildegarde of Bingen; seven books by Raymond Lull; and Ruysbroeck's De ornatu spiritualium nuptiarum. Lefévre crowned his Aristotelian, patristic, and Biblical scholarship with a variety of speculative mysticism derived from the two thinkers who influenced him most profoundly, Pseudo-Dionysius and Nicholas of Cusa. After 1519 Lefévre moved toward a more self-consciously Biblical theology. He read Luther with sympathetic interest. A common devotion to St. Paul gives their doctrines of justification a superficial resemblance, while direct Lutheran influence can be detected in his last works. But he remained too attached to Catholic sentiment and practice and too committed to the image of human liberty and dignity in Aristotle and the Greek Fathers to break with tradition.
See Also: aristotelianism; renaissance philosophy; mysticism; humanism.
Bibliography: É. amann, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951–) 9.1: 132–159. a. renaudet, Préréforme et humanisme à Paris pendant les premières guerres d'Italie, 1494–1517 (2d ed. Melun 1953). m. mann, Érasme et les débuts de la Réforme fran-çaise, 1517–1536 (Paris 1934). e. f. rice, "The Humanist Idea of Christian Antiquity: Lefévre d' Étaples and His Circle," Studies in the Renaissance (New York 1954–) 9 (1962) 126–160. g. bedouelle, Lefèvre d'Étaples et l'intelligence des écritures (Geneva 1976). j. lefÈvre d'Étaples, The Prefatory Epistles of Jacques Lèfevre d'Étaples (New York 1972). e. f. rice, "Jacques Lèfevre d'Étaples and the Medieval Christian Mystics," in Florilegium Historiale, j. g. rowe and w. h. stockdale, eds. (Toronto 1971).
[e. f. rice]