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Juan Luis Vives

Spanish humanist and philosopher, b. at Valencia, March 6, 1492; d. at Bruges, May 6, 1540

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Vives, JUAN LUIS, Spanish humanist and philosopher, b. at Valencia, March 6, 1492; d. at Bruges, May 6, 1540. Through fear of the rigors of the Inquisition he left his country forever in 1509. He first studied at the University of Paris, and in 1512 settled at Bruges, which became his second fatherland, and which he left only for numerous journeys. He returned to Paris in 1514, 1519, and 1536. This city attracted him, but the commotion in the streets and the sarcastic humor of the inhabitants caused him to prefer Bruges. Nevertheless, he was several times unfaithful to it. In 1517 he became tutor to Guillaume de Croy, who at nineteen was cardinal and Archbishop of Toledo. Residing thenceforth at Louvain, he was appointed in 1519 professor at the university and attached to the college of the castle (collegium castrense). He lost his protector in 1521. After many comings and goings and vain efforts with Charles V, the Duke of Alba, and the Cardinal of Utrecht, he was attached on October 12, 1523, to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, a foundation of Wolsey. Henry VIII, Wolsey, and Queen Catherine of Aragon, to whom he had just dedicated his “De institutione feminae”, treated him benevolently. Nevertheless, he often escaped from the Court and returned to Bruges. During one of these absences he married the daughter of a worthy of the city, Marguerite Valdaura (May 26, 1524). Henry VIII‘s passion for Anne Boleyn now complicated the situation. Vives was arrested and banished for writing in defense of the queen. On his return to Flanders, Vives refrained from further intervention and declined when Catherine of Aragon appealed to him. During his stay at Louvain, Vives was associated with Erasmus and followed almost the same line of conduct. On the advice of Erasmus he had published a commentary on St. Augustine’s “City of God” (Basle, 1522). He displeased the theologians by his irreverence for the ancient commentators, and Erasmus by his prolixity. His attitude eventually made him an object of suspicion during the wars of religion. He attempted to resume his lectures at Louvain, but he spent nearly all the remainder of his life at Bruges, and died when he was undertaking a general apology for Christianity.

The works of Vives are very numerous and deal with piety, teaching and education, political economy, and philosophy. His books of devotion were very successful in their time; the “Introductio ad sapientiam” (1524) had fifty editions, and the “Ad animi exercitationem in Deum commentatiunculae”, eighteen. His chief work on teaching is the “Exercitatio linguae latinae” (1538) which passed through ninety-nine editions. This success was deserved. The book was one of the first in which the elements of Latin were clearly and simply set forth and broke with the scholastic traditions of the grammarians of the Lower Empire and Middle Ages. In his rhetorical and literary works, especially in the “De disciplinis” (20 books, 1531), Vives formulated rules of style, insisting especially on philosophy and history. He advocated that history should embrace human activity in its entirety and not confine itself to accounts of wars. He condemned the uncritical tales of the “Golden Legend”. In philosophy he mingled with original views ideas from Aristotle and even Aristotle as commentated by medieval dialecticians. Nevertheless he challenged their methods in the treatise “In pseudo dialecticos” (1519). With regard to the world and matter he professed more than one interesting opinion, such as that of evolution. His theory of knowledge was in accord with the Aristotelean Sensism. But the philosophical ideas of Vives still call for deep study conducted by a specialist.

In education he put forth exact theories regarding regimen, establishment of the school, and the conduct of the masters. He devoted a special work to the education of women, “De institutione feminae Christianae” (1523), of which forty editions appeared. Somewhat severe in spirit, subordinating woman to man and regarding the mind of woman as inferior, Vives nevertheless demands that woman be not left in ignorance and gives as definition of marriage: the legitimate union of one man and one woman for the mutual ownership of the whole of life. Finally, in various treatises and especially in the “De subventione pauperum” (1526) Vives shows himself as an organizer of public relief. He proscribes mendicancy, expels poor strangers from the city, obliges the natives to work, recommends apprenticeship for those who have no trade, advocates asylums for the insane, schools for foundlings from the age of six, and provides for the administration of all this by voluntary gifts, the sale of the products of the labor of the poor, the revenues of the hospitals, and taxes on rich ecclesiastical communities. Ypres put these ideas into practice in 1525, despite the protests of the Franciscans, which were rejected by the Parlement of Paris and by Charles V. Other cities followed this example. But Vives mingled some exaggeration with these doctrines. In the “De communione rerum” (1535) he does not seem sure of the legitimacy of private property. He had lights on many subjects, but never concentrated his efforts on a particular work.



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