Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Juan Luis Vives and Thomas More

Juan Luis Vives was born on March 6, 1492/1493 in Valencia, Spain. He was a great humanist scholar, friend of Erasmus, educational adviser to Katherine of Aragon to prepare her daughter (also Henry VIII's daughter) to be Queen of England. His family had suffered during the Spanish Inquisition under Katherine's parents, Ferdinand and Isabella, but he was willing to serve as her daughter's tutor and to disagree with Henry VIII on the grounds of the annulment Henry eventually sought from Katherine (he had to leave England).

He was also a friend of Sir Thomas More. As this UNESCO publication describes his career in England, More had a real influence on him:

His commentary on Saint Augustine’s City of God (Comentaria ad libros De Civitate Dei D. Aurelii Agustini) (Louvain-Bruges, 1521-22), a work commissioned by Erasmus and dedicated to King Henry VIII, is a brilliant critical, historical and philological interpretation surpassing anything he had previously published. He had close contacts with the Court. Cardinal Wolsey honoured him with his friendship; it was he who dubbed Vives as ‘doctor melifluo’ because his prose flowed like honey. Although he had established a worldwide reputation and was in receipt of a royal pension, Vives lived in strained circumstances. 

An outstanding member of the brilliant humanist cultural group at the English Court with which Vives communicated was Thomas More, the most famous of the English humanists and the most admired and respected by Henry VIII. More would eventually send Henry to the block for opposing his divorce from Queen Catherine. Vives also opposed this divorce and was obliged on that account to return to Louvain in 1528. His friendship with the powerful never caused him to waver in his convictions. 

Thomas More, whom he met as early as 1520, had a profound influence on Vives. Until then, his works had been basically humanist in character, with a religious dimension that he never failed to cultivate. The bulk of his writings consisted of commentaries on a wide variety of classical authors through whom he sought to introduce his pupils to the Graeco-Latin world. But from that time onwards, he emerged as a thinker dedicated to the writing of voluminous works on philosophy, morals, social policy and education—from the time of his retirement to Bruges until his death in 1540. The impact of Thomas More is particularly significant because of his deep social commitment, clearly expressed in Utopia. Utopia is the name of an island discovered by a Portuguese navigator, who begins a new wholesome life there, based on natural morals and religion in opposition to the corrupt, debased, bellicose environment around him. 

De subventione pauperam [Help for the Poor] (Bruges, 1526) by Vives and a large number of letters on the virtues of peace reveal the political, social and ethical influence of Thomas More. The title of Chapter IX, Book I, of this book reflects the thinking of both: ‘What God gives to each person is not given for each person alone.’

In 2015, an exhibition in Valencia and a conference at the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House in London, supported by the Spanish Embassy explored the friendship between More and Vives.

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