Apostolic theology and humanism at the University of Paris, 1490–1540

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Lundberg, Christa 

This PhD thesis investigates changing ideas about theology in early sixteenth–century Paris. Previous scholarship has addressed this development through a dichotomous model that pits humanists from the Republic of Letters against scholastics from the Faculty of Theology. In my study, this misleading model is replaced by a focus on how new ideas about theological competence arose within the University of Paris. The first major task of my thesis is to show how Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples developed a new programme of theological studies inspired by the apostolic era. I argue that Lefèvre read the works of ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite as a guide to a more original and pious form of Christian erudition compared to the Faculty’s curriculum. He also involved students and colleagues in this project by integrating religious perspectives into his teaching of arts and recruiting students to edit theological texts, thereby shaping an alternative theological community.

Lefèvre’s case illustrates the important yet limited role played by humanism in the reevaluation of theological competence. I argue that his scholarship resonates with humanist ideas about returning to ancient sources; however, the theology that he promoted was little concerned with textual criticism or philology. Moreover, I show that several advocates of the studia humanitatis in Paris combined their humanist eloquence with studies at the Faculty of Theology. I therefore propose that we must distinguish between the ways in which the expansion of humanist educational practices effected theology as a discipline, on the one hand, and Lefèvre’s specific argument to revive a certain form of pre-scholastic theology, on the other hand. The final two chapters of my thesis explore how conflicts arose between proponents of apostolic or patristic revival and the Faculty. I show that the Faculty’s attempts to restrain the spread of Lutheran ideas after 1520 brought them to defend a progressivist view of theology. Although Lefèvre’s model of religious scholarship did not reshape the Faculty’s curriculum, Paris became a centre for the study and printing of Greek patristics. By revealing the role that Lefèvre and his collaborators played in this development, my thesis illuminates the efficacy of the amalgamate that Lefèvre constructed between the pious imitation of the apostles and the scholarly examination of ancient sources.

Mandelbrote, Scott
Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples, University of Paris, humanism, patristic scholarship, book history
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
AHRC (1953426)
Arts and Humanities Research Council (1953426)
AHRC-Trinity DTP studentship