Philosopher on the Move


(1492 - 1540)

Beginnings of a Life's Journey

Valencia became more than a place for growing famous Spanish oranges when on March 6, in that most famous year, 1492, it became the birthplace of its accomplished expatriate, Juan Luis Vives. The student, upon becoming a young man, and developing into somewhat of a free-thinker, (though he would always stay a faithful Roman Catholic) felt it a safer educational climate elsewhere than the seat of the Spanish Inquisition; so he left for Paris. The seventeen year-old would ultimately never return to his homeland.

Higher Learning, Further Yearning

Though he began his studies in 1509 at the University of Paris, he would settle in Bruges starting in 1512; (but would return to Paris and its haughty hustle in the years 1514, 1519, {the year he would meet Erasmus} and in 1536; and he was in Louvain in 1517 (more below)

It was at the University of Paris that he fostered his inclination against scholasticism -- it was at odds with proper philosophical disciplines. Especially piquing his intellectual sensibilities was the Scholastic method which used debates to develop thought.

Tutor, Teacher, Traveler

In 1517 he obtained a position tutoring the nineteen year old Cardinal Archbishop of Toledo, Guillame de Croy and moved to Louvain where two years later he also was given a lecturing professorship of Humanities at the College of the Castle (Collegium Casrense).

Following the year before's history of philosophy, De initiis, severis, et laudibus philosophiae here he wrote In pseudo dialecticos that questioned Medieval methods of philosophy such as using dialectics and 'Golden Legends' while using some of the same Aristotlean ideas against them. Erasmus was exhilarated by the work, and recommended it to Thomas More (who had already been aware of this genius), who hinted that his friend had better 'look over his shoulder' at this brilliant newcomer.

In 1521 he returned to Bruges, losing his protector, but now Erasmus encouraged Vives to write a commentary on Augustine's City of God, which he did publish in Basle in 1522. His opinions caused some concern among religious conservatives, while his peer, Erasmus, was more disappointed with it's verbosity. But he was also busy at this time trying to find futile favor with Charles V and others, and hit pay-dirt (maybe after dedicating to Aragon Queen Catherine his relatively for time progressive (men still had the predominant place) piece on the education of women, and promoting the sacramental union wholistically, De institutione feminae) when he became attached to English King Henry VIII's, and Wolsey's new Corpus Christi College in October of 1523. Now living in Oxford, he became even closer with Catherine and More; and joined Princess Mary's personal education staff. Perhaps inspiring him to write his work, published in forty editions on child education, De ratione studii peurilis.

Marriage and Mayhem

He made several returns to Bruges, but the one on May 26, 1524 was to marry a connected woman, Marguerite Valdaura. In 1526 he wrote a radical cry to help rid poverty in his treatise, Ad animi exercitationmen in Deum commentatiumculae which he summarized what he learned when he put his 'workfare' techniques in practice. His ideas included skill training programs and insane asylums; and had the money come from his apprenticed labor, taxes and donations. Vives' ideas were upheld by the Parliament of Paris despite the Franciscans' attempted blockade of his novel ideas. However, Vives public critique of Henry VIII's proposed divorce and marriage to Anne Boleyn subsequently resulted in no paycheck, then house arrest for a month and a half. Then he was exiled in 1528 back to Flanders despite Catherine of Aragon's pleas.

Rolling up those Big Fat Sleeves

This period on the continent was at least for a legacy in publications' worth, productive. He was extremely idealistic even as an adult in his prime at thirty-seven as witnessed in his 1529 Erasmian type appeal, De concordia et discordia in humano to Charles V for him to consider courts settling disputes over martial bloodshed. He wrote in 1531 his better known pioneering educational treatise, De tradendis disciplinis (On the Transmission of Studies) which rewrote the book on how philosophy and history should be promoted. He emphasized the study in school, which he considered "a holy temple," of all human and natural events, not just the obsession with wars. He advocated the use of the vernacular language along with the classical Latin. He also wrote another philosophy essay attacking 'Scholasticism' that year De causis corruptarum artium. He was unbelievably avant garde in thinking: inclining all to read 'life' as it was around one, not books alone, whether it was dabbling in evolution (In pseudo dialecticos {1519})or psychology. He wrote something on the latter, De anima et vita that was unique as well as way ahead of its time. (He was an antique behaviorist, believing the focus should not be just on the mind bu one's actions.) He was a Renaissance man: eclectic anthropologist cum naturalist cum anatomist, recommending the wisdom of the workers of woods and fields to be added to one's references. He also wrote devotionals, the Introductio ad sapientiam was successful to the point of fifty editions, and there were eighteen editions of Ad animi exercitationmen in Deum commentatiumculae. In that work from 1535, maybe heeding some of those other Orders' rebukes, he seemed to now question private property. His most published work of 1538 that reached the century mark, was his major teaching discourse, Exercitatio linguae latinae. This approach freed and simplified Latin from previous scholastic traditions. The next year he wrote a children's Latin text, Linguae Latinae exercitatio which also advanced humanistic ideas born out of his own Christian vision.

During the wars of religion he was never able to take refuge on any side or the other, and he was basically a poor and deliberately forgotten man, not able to finish his next major project, Apologetics, though he did see The Instruction of a Christian Woman published in English before fever took his mortal life in Bruges on May 6, 1540.

Fortunately, his work is seen in hindsight as what was incredible in foresight.

Durant, Will, The Reformation: A History of European Civilization from Wyclif to Calvin: 1300 - 1564 (The Story of Civilization VI), Simon and Schuster, New York: 1957.

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