Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples

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Lefèvre d’Étaples.
Lefèvre d’Étaples.

Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples or Jacob Faber Stapulensis[] (c. 1455 – 1536) was a French theologian and humanist. He was a precursor of the Protestant movement in France. The "d’Étaples" was not part of his name as such, but used to distinguish him from Jacques Lefèvre of Deventer, a less significant contemporary, a friend and correspondent of Erasmus. Both are also sometimes called by the German version of their name, Jacob/Jakob Faber. He himself had a sometimes tense relationship with Erasmus, whose work on Biblical translation and in theology closely paralleled his own.[]

Although he anticipated some ideas that were important to the Protestant Reformation, Lefèvre remained a Roman Catholic throughout his life, and sought to reform the church without separating from it. Several of his books were condemned as heretical, and he spent some time in exile. He was, however, a favorite of the king of France, Francis I, and enjoyed his protection.



He was born of humble parents at Étaples, in Picardy. He appears later to have been possessed of considerable means. He had already been ordained priest when he entered the university of Paris for higher education. Hermonymus of Sparta was his master in Greek.

He visited Italy before 1486, for he heard the lectures of Argyropulus, who died in that year; he formed a friendship with Paulus Aemilius of Verona. In 1492 he again travelled in Italy, studying in Florence, Rome and Venice, making himself familiar with the writings of Aristotle, though greatly influenced by the Platonic philosophy. Returning to the University of Paris, he became professor in the college of Cardinal Lemoine. Among his famous pupils were F. W. Vatable and Guillaume Farel; his connection with the latter drew him closer to the Calvinistic side of the movement of reform. Farel joined Lefèvre at Meaux to help in the training of preachers, before Farel left for Switzerland where he was one of the founders of the Reformed churches.

In 1507 he took up his residence in the Benedictine Abbey of St Germain des Prés, near Paris; this was due to his connexion with the family of Briçonnet (one of whom was the superior), especially with Guillaume Briçonnet, cardinal bishop of Saint-Malo, father of Guillaume Briçonnet, the later bishop of Meaux. He now began to give himself to Biblical studies, the first-fruit of which was his Quintuplex Psalterium: Gallicum, Romanum, Hebraicum, Vetus, Conciliatum (1509); the Conciliatum was his own version. This was followed by S. Pauli Epistolae xiv. ex vulgata editione, adjecta intelligentia ex Graeco cum commentariis (1512), a work of great independence and judgment.

His De Maria Magdalena et triduo Christi disceptatio (1517), which argued that Mary the sister of Lazarus, Mary Magdalene and the penitent woman who anointed Christ's feet were different people, provoked violent controversy and was condemned by the Sorbonne (1521) and Saint John Fisher.[] He had left Paris during the whole of 1520, and, removing to Meaux, was appointed (May 1, 1523) vicar-general to Bishop Briconnet, and published his French version of the New Testament (1523). This (contemporary with Luther's German version) has been the basis of all subsequent translations into French. From this, in the same year, he extracted the versions of the Gospels and Epistles "a l'usage du diocese de Meaux." The prefaces and notes to both these expressed the view that Holy Scripture is the only rule of doctrine, and that justification is by faith alone.

He incurred much hostility, but was protected by Francis I and his intellectual sister Marguerite d'Angouleme. Francis being in captivity after the battle of Pavia (February 25, 1525), Lefèvre was condemned and his works suppressed by commission of the parlement; these measures were quashed on the return of Francis some months later. He issued Le Psautier de David (1525), and was appointed royal librarian at Blois (1526); his version of the Pentateuch appeared two years later. His complete version of the Bible (1530), on the basis of Jerome's Vulgate, took the same place as his version of the New Testament. The publication and its revised edition based on the Hebrew and the Greek texts were printed by Merten de Keyser in Antwerp in 1534.[] Marguerite (now queen of Navarre) led him to take refuge (1531) at Nerac from persecution. He is said to have been visited (1533) by John Calvin on his flight from France. He died in 1536 or 1537.


Aristotelian works (selected)
  • Paraphrases of the Whole of Aristotle's Natural Philosophy [Johannes Higman:] Parisii, 1492[]
  • Introduction to the Metaphysics (1494)
  • Introduction to the Nicomachean Ethics (1494)
  • Logical Introductions (1496)
  • Politics (1506)

The publication, with critical apparatus, of Boetius, De Arithmetica. Paris: Johannes Higman and Wolfgang Hopyl, 22 July 1496.

Biblical translations

He was a prolific translator of the Bible. He completed a translation of the Old Testament in 1528, and was famous for his French translation of the Psalms and the Pauline epistles, which he finished early in his career. His completed translation of the entire Christian Bible, published in 1530, was the first in the French language.

  • Psalterium quintuplex ; gallicum, romanum, hebraicum, vêtus, conciliatum, 1509 and 1515, published by Henri Estienne, fol. with footnotes
  • Commentaires sur saint Paul, avec une nouvelle traduction latine, Paris, 1512 and 1531. This work, in which one notices the lack of progress which had been made in criticism, was criticised by Erasmus for the grammatical section, and by Beda for the theological section, however this did not prevent it from being valued and studied
  • Commentaires sur les Évangiles, Meaux, 1525; his doctrine apears here to be very orthodox on the points disputed by the innovators, although the syndic Beda reproached him for errors in this respect
  • Commentaires sur les épitres canoniques, Meaux, 1525 ; all his commentaries on the New Testament were put on the Index by the Roman inquisitors, under Pope Clement VIII. He distanced himself from ancient barbarism
  • Traduction française du Nouveau Testament, Paris, Colines, 1523, 5 vols. 8vo, anonymous extremely rare, particularly the last volume. The translation was made from the Vulgate, because he intended it for the use of the faithful. It appeared again in his complete version of the Bible, Antwerp, fol.; later editions 1529 and 1532, 4 vol. 4to.; 1528, 4 vol. 8vo. The edition revised by the doctors of Louvain is the most correct and also the rarest because it was suppressed as was the edition of 1511. It is remarkable that while the Cordeliers of Meaux attacked Lefèvre because of his translations, those of Antwerp approved it in 1528, for printing and for sale. It is true that they did not have in their edition l'Épitre exhortatoire, which principally displeased the doctors of Paris
  • Exhortations en français sur les évangiles et les épitres des dimanches, Meaux, 1525, condemned by the Parlement
Other works
  • Traduction latine des livres de la foi orthodoxe de saint Jean de Damas ; the first translation of this work
  • De Maria Magdalena, 1517, followed in 1519 by another entitled: De tribus et unica Magdalena. This work is well done; the author retracts several points from the first work, for example his having said that these three women all bore the name of Magdalene
  • Rithmimachie ludus, qui et pugna numerorum appellatur, Paris, Henri Estienne, 1514, 4to.; opusculum of five pages, printed at the end of the Arithmetica of Jordanus Nemorarius. Here Lefèvre gives a very curious description of this ancient pythagorean game, but with such little detail that cannot understand it properly except by joining it to the extended notice which Boissière gave to the same game

See also



  • Popkin, R. H., ed. (1999) The Columbia History of Western Philosophy. New York; Chichester: Columbia University Press
  • Graf, K. H. (1842) Essai sur la vie et les écrits. Strasbourg
  • Bonet-Maury, G. in Herzog-Hauck's Realencyklopädie (1898)
  • Porrer, Sheila M. (2009) Jacques Lefèvre d’Etaples and the Three Maries Debates. Genève: Librairie Droz ISBN 978-2-600-01248-5

Further reading

  • Barnaud, Jean (1900) Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples: son influence sur les origines de la réformation française. Cahors: Coueslant

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