In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Works and Translations

Renaissance and Reformation Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples
Richard J. Oosterhoff
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 August 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0469


Few major figures of the Renaissance are as difficult to capture in the round as Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples (Jacobus Faber Stapulensis, b. c. 1455–d. 1536): he does not easily fit into the dichotomies historians have used to understand the period, of humanist or scholastic, medieval or Renaissance, philosopher or theologian, Catholic or Protestant. He began his career teaching at the University of Paris in the 1490s; he traveled to Italy at least three times, and in 1492 met the generation of Italian humanists including Marsilio Ficino, Ermolao Barbaro, and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Back in Paris, he set about digesting the medieval philosophy curriculum in new handbooks and commentaries, including all of Aristotle alongside the main branches of mathematics—while also writing privately on natural magic, motivated by an attraction to the more Hermetic teachings of Ficino. From 1499, with a growing circle of students around him, Lefèvre turned his attention increasingly to Church Fathers and medieval mystics, searching out manuscripts by traveling to monasteries and drawing on his expanding network of former students and scholarly friends; this bore fruit in new editions of thinkers such as Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, Richard of St Victor, Hildegard of Bingen, Jan van Ruysbroeck, and Nicholas of Cusa. In 1507 he retired from university teaching to the Paris cloister of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, where he increasingly concentrated his energies on the Bible, commenting on the text with new attention to Greek and Hebrew, where his skills allowed. In the 1510s his commentaries led to clashes with somewhat younger humanists like Desiderius Erasmus, who faulted his Greek, as well as members of the Paris Faculty of Theology, who faulted his theological authority. A theorist of harmony attracted to the grand metaphysical visions of Pseudo-Dionysius and Nicholas of Cusa, Lefèvre avoided conflict where he could, more interested in teaching and commentary than in developing his own systematic statements. He was nevertheless committed to devotional reform, and his patron asked him to lead a reform of preaching in the diocese of Meaux, near Paris; this led to growing worries that his theological affiliation was in fact Lutheran. An elder statesman of the republic of letters amid a generation of younger firebrands—including Guillaume Farel, the Genevan reformer who would spot John Calvin’s potential—Lefèvre’s approach to these tensions has proved an irresistible puzzle for historians. Forced to flee Meaux for safety in Strassburg, he was recalled to the court of the king’s sister, Marguerite de Navarre, where he tutored young royals and lived in relative peace until his death in 1536.

General Overviews

Readers new to Lefèvre might begin with Hughes 1984 or the first part of Bedouelle 1976, for synthetic accounts of his intellectual biography. Brush 1962 sets out the usual periodization of his life. All scholarship still must depend upon the works of Renaudet and Rice. Renaudet 1953 sets Lefèvre’s early career in context; this is a many-layered description of the period and place, though hampered by assumptions about Renaissance Platonism and Italian humanism that are now out of date. Rice 1972 is the best place to start on Lefèvre’s works, with transcriptions and careful descriptions of editions. Pernot 1995 collects some important essays, updating perspectives; Oosterhoff 2015 supplies an overview for historians of philosophy.

  • Bedouelle, Guy. Lefèvre d’Étaples et l’intelligence des écritures. Geneva, Switzerland: Droz, 1976.

    A classic interpretation of Lefèvre’s intellectual interests and circles, especially in relation to the biblical scholarship he became famous for after the 1510s. Tends to emphasize Lefèvre’s Platonist moments, in relation to Italian humanists such as Ficino.

  • Brush, J. W. “Lefèvre d’Etaples: Three Phases of His Life and Work.” In Reformation Studies: Essays in Honor of Roland H. Bainton. Edited by Franklin Hamlin Littell, 117–128. Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1962.

    A helpful summary of Lefèvre’s main contributions as a university master, biblical interpreter, and finally religious reformer, interpreting continuities and breaks over his lifetime.

  • Hughes, Philip Edgcumbe. Lefèvre: Pioneer of Ecclesiastical Renewal in France. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984.

    A judicious survey of the main intellectual projects in which Lefèvre engaged over the course of his life, leading to a strong emphasis on his intellectual commitments as a religious reformer.

  • Oosterhoff, Richard J. “Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples.” In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta and Jill Kraye. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2015.

    A more recent summary of Lefèvre’s philosophical approach and interests, ranging across the philosophy curriculum of the Renaissance university. Updated 2018.

  • Pernot, Jean-Francois, ed. Jacques Lefèvre d’Etaples (1450?–1536). Actes du colloque d’Étaples les 7 et 8 novembre 1992. Paris: Champion, 1995.

    This collection offers rich perspectives from historians of print, monasticism, religious reform, philosophy, literature, humanism, and society, concluding with a round-table discussion.

  • Renaudet, Augustin. Préréforme et humanisme à Paris pendant les premières guerres d’Italie, 1494–1517. 2d ed. Paris: Champion, 1953.

    Based on decades of archival research and first published in 1916, this work remains a standard starting point for understanding Lefèvre’s late medieval theological and university context, alongside the links Paris intellectuals developed with Italian humanism.

  • Rice, Eugene F. ed. The Prefatory Epistles of Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples and Related Texts. New York: Columbia University Press, 1972.

    This unparalleled, massive, and meticulous collection transcribes Lefèvre’s own letters prefacing his books, as well as those of many others in his extensive network. The notes are a treasure trove of information on humanist letters and interests in this period, across Europe. The bibliography of Lefèvre’s works (pp. 535–568) is meticulous and near-complete, comprising 336 entries.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.