León, Luis de
LEÓN, LUIS DE
Augustinian friar, theologian, exegete, poet, philosopher; b. Aug. 15, 1527, Belmonte (Cuenca), Spain; d. Aug. 23, 1591. Luis was the first-born son of Lope de León and Ines de Varela; the family was of lesser nobility (hidalgos) of Jewish descent. Luis spent his childhood in Madrid and Valladolid and, after 1541, in Salamanca where he studied canon law at the prestigious university there. On Jan. 29, 1544, he made his profession as an Augustinian friar at the Convento San Agustin in Salamanca. He studied arts at that convento (1544–1546) and then theology at the University of Salamanca under such teachers as Melchor Cano, Domingo Soto, and Mancio del Corpus Christi. He became proficient in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, later studying Scripture and Semitic languages at the University of Alcala de Henares (1556–1557). It was in 1557 that he delivered his famous Discurso de las Duenas, an oratorical piece of high literary quality and profound religious insight. Continuing his theological studies at Salamanca, he earned the licentiate and masters in theology in 1560. From 1561 to 1565, while holding the Chair of St. Thomas "in opposition," he explicated a number of questions from Aquinas's Summa Theologiae, among them De religione, De simonia, De iuramento, and De fide. At about the same time, at the request of his cousin Isabel de Osorio, a nun at the convent of Sanctus Spiritus in Salamanca, he began the translation of and commentary on the Hebrew text of the "Song of Songs." A friar who cleaned Luis's cell pilfered a copy and what had been intended for private use received unexpectedly wide publication. The "Song of Songs" (Cantar de Cantares) is a brilliant display of Luis's talent. His Spanish version of the Hebrew text is a unique and unprecedented expression of the theme of divine love.
In 1563 Luis was named definitor of the Order of St. Augustine in the Province of Castille. He held the Durando Chair at the University of Castille from 1565 to 1573. During this time the impassioned academic disputes between the Augustinians and the Dominicans grew more heated. Fray Luis considered in his De Incarnatione (1566–1567) how best to reconcile the freedom of Christ with the mandate for redemption received from His Father. In 1571 he lectured on Aquinas's De Legibus, adding a number of significant new ideas, namely, the development of the concept of the common good and an examination of the juridical nature of the Law of Nations.
In 1571 Bartolome de Medina censured Fray Luis in 17 propositions presented to the Council of the Inquisition. The case was examined and in March of 1572 Fray Luis was imprisoned in Valladolid. In that same year Martin Martinez de Cantalapiedra and Alfonso Gudiel were also imprisoned, accused of "hebraizing tendencies." While imprisoned, the three professors collaborated on an effort to incorporate into scriptural interpretation the advances and insights made possible by linguistics and the study of ancient classical civilization. The Inquisition questioned Fray Luis about his Jewish ancestry, about his translation of the "Song of Songs," and about his critique of the Latin Vulgate translation. In 1575 Mancio del Corpus Christi delivered a finding favorable to Fray Luis's teaching, and in December of 1576 he was absolved from all accusations of heresy and restored to his university chair at Salamanca. In subsequent years he was appointed to the chair of moral philosophy (1578) and then the chair of Scripture (1579), which he held until his death.
Fray Luis was a born poet whose verses extol beauty, goodness, and peace, but also expresses pain, sadness, and restlessness. His odes are elegant, short, and simple. Forty years after his death, his verses were published by Francisco de Quevedo in Obras propias, y traducciones latinas, griegas, y italianas (Original Works and Translations from Latin, Greek and Italian). His literary work reaches its highest point in De los nombres de Cristo (On the Names of Christ). Published in 1583 and again in 1585, this work offers an extensive introduction to biblical, patristic, philosophical, and theological thought. His sources range from Horace to the Psalms, from Plato to Augustine, from Cicero to the Neoplatonists, and from the Church Fathers to the Hebrew exegetes. He adopted the literary form of a Renaissance Christian dialogue. The interlocutors are three Augustinians from the Convento de Salamanca, Sabino, Marcelo, and Juliano, who converse on the fundamental names attributed to Christ in the scriptures. In another work popular with newlyweds of the day, La perfecta casada (The Perfect Spouse) (1583), he draws the picture of a sixteenth-century woman in light of the Book of Proverbs. It shows an awareness of feminine psychology and the influence of the Renaissance humanist Luis Vives's De institutione feminae christianae (1524). The Comentario al libro de Job (Commentary on the Book of Job), begun in prison, was never finished. Another Augustinian friar added a conclusion and published it in 1779. In this work, possibly his most autobiographical, Fray Luis occupies the place of Job and his dramatic experience of sin and abandonment.
Fray Luis also promoted reform of the Augustinian Order by his work Forma de vivir (Way of Living) (1589) and in his role as prior and provincial counselor. He advanced reform of the Carmelite Order and was the first publisher of the works of Teresa of Avila (1588). He died nine days after being elected provincial. His remains rest in an urn in the Chapel of the University of Salamanca.
Bibliography: Works. Obras completas castellanas, prologue and notes by p. felix garcia, rev. ed. by r. lazcano, 5th ed. in 2 v. (Madrid 1991); The Names of Christ, tr. m. duran and w. kluback (New York 1974). A Bilingual Edition of Fray Luis de León's La perfecta casada, The Role of Married Women in Sixteenth-Century Spain, ed. and tr. j. a. jones and j. san jose lera (Lewiston-Queenston-Lampeter 1999). Poesias completas. Obras propias en castellano y latin y traducciones e imitaciones latinas, griegas, biblico-hebreas y romances, ed. c. cuevas (Madrid 1998); Cantar de los Cantares de Salomon, ed. j. m. blecua (Madrid 1994). Literature. g. barrientos, Fray Luis de León y la Universidad de Salamanca (San Lorenzo de El Escorial 1996). j. castillo vegas, El mundo juridico en Fray Luis de León (Burgos 2000). v. garcia de la concha and j. san jose lera, eds., Fray Luis de León: Historia, Humanismo y Letras (Salamanca 1996). i. jerico bermejo, Fray Luis de León: La Teologia sobre el articulo y el dogma de fe (1568) (Madrid 1997). r. lazcano, Fray Luis de León, un hombre singular (Madrid 1991), Eng. trans. in Augustinian Heritage 39 (1993): 3–77. r. lazcano, Fray Luis de León. Bibliografia. Segunda edicion, actualizada y ampliada (Madrid 1994). f. j. perea siller, Fray Luis de León y la lengua perfecta. Linguistica, cabala y hermeneutica en "De los nombres de Cristo" (Cordoba 1998). j. perez, El humanismo de Fray Luis de León (Madrid 1994).