A philosopher and a theologian
After studying in Paris and in Italy, he settled in Paris, where he taught philosophy at the college of Cardinal Lemoine.
His first works were commentaries on the philosophy of Aristotle. At the same time, towards 1508, he devoted his time to theology and the Bible. He wrote his Commentaries on the Epistles of Saint Paul in 1512, which influenced Luther and Commentaries on the Four Gospels in 1521.
In 1520, he lived in Meaux, in the service of the bishop, who appointed him vicar-general. He founded the “Cenacle of Meaux”, which advocated the preaching of the Scriptures in the parishes.
The translation of the Bible
Lefèvre d’Etaples undertook the translation of the New Testament into French, from the Latin vulgate ; he began by the Epistles and the Gospels. The complete translation appeared in 1524.
This translation into the vernacular enabled people to understand for themselves the Bible extracts which the priests read in Latin during the mass.
It met with a very enthusiastic reception and contributed to the spread of Luther’s ideas.
The doctors of the Sorbonne considered that the translation into French of the Holy Scripture could not be allowed in a country strongly influenced by the Catholic Church. The courts of law ordered Lefèvre d’Etaples’ New Testament to be burnt. Only the timely interposition of the king shielded him from further molestation. However, he sought refuge in Strasbourg in 1525.
He came back into favour and withdrew to Nérac
He was called back from exile by François Ier, and returned to France in 1526. He became a private tutor to the king’s children.
In 1530, he withdrew to Nérac to the court of Marguerite d’Angoulême and finished a complete translation of the Bible.
He had always wanted to remain absolutely faithful to the spirit and the letter of the Scriptures, which he studied meticulously. He reformed the way in which the Bible was studied, without actually joining the Reformation.
- Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples, Actes du Colloque d'Étaples, Champion, Paris, 1995
- BEDOUELLE Guy, Lefèvre d’Étaples et l’intelligence des Écritures, Droz, Genève, 1976
- HUGHES Philip E., Lefèvre, Pioneer of ecclesial renewal in France, Eedmans, Grand Rapids Mich., 1984
The "Cenacle of Meaux" (1521-1525)
The “Cenacle of Meaux” was founded in 1521 by Lefèvre d’Etaples ; its function was to encourage reflexion on the Scriptures and to spread new ideas – notably, it advocated the preaching of the Scriptures in the parishes.
Marguerite d'Angoulême (1492-1549)
Marguerite d’Angoulême was a literary person who, while fostering new ideas, was at the very centre of the cultural and spiritual life of her time.
Humanism and translations of the Bible into the vernacular
The 16th century was a turning point in the history of the Bible ; it was widely distributed due to the invention of printing. Humanism advocated a return to the original manuscripts in Greek or Latin for classical literature, and also to the original Hebrew or Greek texts for the Bible. As the Bible was translated into the vernacular, it became accessible to more and more people.
16th century translations of the Bible into Latin and French
During the 16th century, numerous translations of the Bible were made into Latin and French.
Martin Luther, translator of the Bible
As early as 1517 Martin Luther started translating the Psalms into German. In 1521, when he was imprisoned in Wartburg, he set about translating the New Testament. This great undertaking was an immediate success. Martin Luther continued with his translation of the books of the Old Testament. The translation of the whole Bible was completed in 1534. This version, though it has been revised, is still used in German speaking countries.
The revolution of printing
Block print technology was now highly developed and had a considerable impact on the dissemination of ideas – it was thanks to printing that the ideas of the Reformation spread so quickly.
Renaissance and Humanism in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries
At the end of the Hundred Years’ War in 1453, Europe was peaceful for a while as there were less disease epidemics and less conflicts. The population grew, cities developed and trade increased. Large banks financed noteworthy initiatives, such as maritime expeditions leading to Great Discoveries. In those good times, later called the Renaissance, the humanist movement evolved.
Forerunners of the Reformation
Long before Luther and Calvin others worked towards a reformation of the Catholic Church. Throughout the Middle-Ages there were constant movements calling for reformation, some were absorbed by the Catholic Church and caused new religious orders to be created, while others were rejected.
In these reformers, rejected by the atholic Church, Protestant historians saw forerunners of the Reformation, in Pierre Valdo in France in the 12th century, John Wyclif in England in the 14th century, Jan Hus and Jerome of Prague in Bohemia in the 15th century, humanists Erasmus and Lefèvre d’Étaples who both translated the Bible in the early 16th century.
However they did not retain either the Cathars in the 11th to 13th centuries, or Savonarola (1452-1498).