Lefèvre Taught Righteousness by Faith
JACQUES LEFÈVRE d’Étaples (aka James or Jacobus Faber) was a significant French reformer of the sixteenth century. Although he never left the Roman Catholic church, he worked closely with William Farel before Farel became the reformer of Geneva. More importantly, Lefèvre’s thinking had a strong influence on Luther.
Born around 1460, Lefèvre became a scholar, writer, and educator in France. His interests were wide. He was especially famed for his studies of Aristotle, but also published writings of medieval mystics, translated fathers of the church, and wrote several commentaries on books of the Bible. His love of the Bible inspired him to make its first complete translation into French, which became the basis for several later versions. In his introductions to books of the New Testament, he declared that Scripture was the only rule of doctrine.
On this day, 15 December 1512, the press of Henri Estienne in Paris published Lefèvre’s Commentary on the Epistles of Saint Paul. In this work, Lefèvre taught justification by “faith alone,” although what he meant by that is not clear, for he also taught that any pagan without Christ who did good up to his knowledge of right and wrong would be saved. Luther based his Pauline lectures on Lefèvre’s.
Lefèvre read the writings of several of the Reformers with pleasure and sympathized with their movement. “O good God, with what joy do I exult when I learn that the grace of knowing Christ in purity is spreading through a good part of Europe,” he wrote in 1524.
A committee of theologians found eleven “errors” in Lefèvre’s commentary on the Gospels. When summoned to the Parliament of Paris to answer for these in 1525, the scholar fled to Strasbourg. Later he returned to France under the protection of Francis I and Marguerite d’Angoulême, Queen of Navarre. He completed his life in peace, dying around 1537.