All of us speak French. Over 2,000 words in English are French, but that’s not exactly what I mean.
French influence is woven into our philosophy, worldviews, science, education, sociology, politics, religion, and beyond.
Few think without the influence of Descartes, Sartre, Voltaire, and Foucault. Art flows from Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, and Braque. Science is swayed by: Bacon, Curie, Coulomb, and Ampere. Faith is strengthened under Bonaventure, Aquinas, and Pascal
We do well to know these French men and women for they continue to vote in our lives from the grave as a part of the Great Democracy of the Dead. And as I have said, “As goes France goes the world.”
I was introduced to a new Frenchman in a book by Philip Edgcumbe Hughes titled, “Lefevre, Pioneer of Ecclesiastical Renewal in France” (1984, Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Company)
Philips, unfortunately, is introducing us to a gentleman lost to history for most, Jacque Lefevre d’Etaples. A Frenchman that influenced the Christian faith in a powerful way, brought back the study of original sources, drove people to the ancients for ideas, lived a life of piety and challenged the educational institutions of his day and now ours.
Philips, with great detail recounts the actions and influences of Lefevre. Of Lefevre he writes, “He was his own man, selflessly dedicated to the pursuit of authenticity, willing to abandon familiar and long traveled paths when he saw they were leading in the wrong direction, earnest in his appropriation of the truth as it was discovered, and zealous in communicating it to others.” (Pg. ix)
He continues, “He saw it his duty to lead his generation back to the pure sources of religious and philosophical knowledge, thus ending the practice of drinking from polluted academic streams that had wandered far from their origin. (Pg. xi)
Without Lefevre, there may well have been no one remembered by the name of Erasmus, Calvin, and Luther. His writings and challenges lead them all into their spheres of influence.
Lefevre, like everyone at the start of the 16th Century was ready to end the corruption within the Catholic Church. Lefevre, much like most of the earlier reformers was not interested in leaving the Catholic Church, but bringing about change from within as it related to corruption and the availability of the Bible to the common man. Lefevre was one of the men driving us to faith by grace, and not works. He did not see this as having to be counter to Catholicism, but embraced within. Luther and Calvin gave us our great schisms from which we have never been able to return, but one today must remember, none of these gentlemen were pimping the Sinner’s Prayer as the only way to confessing and believing.
Lefevre would not have us subscribe to Fideism. A Bible only education or knowledge is far from adequate and forsakes all that God has to reveal through nature, Christ, conscience, and the books of men.
For him there was no conflict for faith and philosophy. Lefevre wrote, “Platonic and Aristotelian theology harmonizes with and is conjoined to Christian wisdom with a wonderful accord and affinity, because these were pious philosophers, whom in their own day God made his priests and prophets, and beacons of light to our day.”(Pg. 2) Lefevre understood the influence of the ancients, and the gifts their thinking brought to bear on his day, and we should likewise consider what they are saying to us even today. Good luck, however, getting your pastor to share anything about the thinking of these great men, as most seminaries in all denominations fail to instill a philosophical mind into our clergy.
In a sense, even in his day, Lefevre was seeking to avoid a secular sacred split, “The Aristotelian philosophy…whatever else could be said for or against it, stressed the dignity of the physical and refused to sunder it from the spiritual.” (Pg. 37)
He upset the elite of his day by daring to return to original sources to translate great philosophical works. He then turned to the Bible and dared to point to error in the translation of the Vulgate. The Universities and the Church, both unwilling to sway from their self appointed “rightness” were enraged.
Lefevre was fortunate to live to old age thanks to the protection of the King, himself questioning the Church and University elite.
His translations of the Psalms and of Paul’s letters were a guide to Calvin, a debate for Erasmus and found to be a lead influence on Luther.
It is fortunate that he was not completely lost to history and that there are those preserving and studying his writings. Lefevre has much to say from the grave. “…the voice of Lefevre is beginning to be heard and heeded anew within the ranks of Protestantism and the Roman Catholic Church. It is not unreasonable to hope that the road that lead him from pagan philosophy to evangelical faith, has something important to say to us.”(Pg. 197)
I encourage you to stare deep into paintings from Monet. Consider the influence of Rousseau in our government and wrestle with the writings of Descartes. Look to the spark of modern science from a monk named Bacon. And challenge your theological understandings with Aquinas.
How would Lefevre have us live? His words, “The chief end of our life is to know God and to hasten to Him under full sail and with complete devotion.”