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SPAIN: Juan Luis Vives

John Gehl's NewsScan is devoted mostly to computer technology, but most issues have an "Honorary Subscriber" section devoted to biographies. The subject (5/30/03) is the Spanish philosopher and humanist Juan Luis Vives (1492-1540), who was a friend of Erasmus and a thinker with ideas well in advance of his age.

Vives was a prolific writer. At first his writings consisted for the most part of commentaries on a wide variety of classical authors through whom he sought to introduce his readers to the Greco-Latin world. Later, as he emerged as a thinker, he wrote voluminous works on philosophy, psychology, morals, social policy and education. In education he put forth workable theories and school practices. Novel for his time, he devoted a special work on the education of women. The twentieth-century Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset has said that "for four centuries, without interruption or dissent, Vives has enjoyed the high esteem of the most outstanding minds."

Vives was born in Valencia, Spain, in 1492 or 1493. He was brought up speaking Valencian and Spanish, though he was to acquire Greek, French, Flemish, English and Italian. Latin, of course, was the language of learned communication, and he would demonstrate outstanding proficiency in it in his works. He belonged to a family of converted Jewish cloth merchants, who were repeatedly placed on trial by the Inquisition between 1491, when his mother renounced Judaism, and 1524, when his parents and paternal grandmother were convicted. He completed his primary studies at the age of 12, and then attended a two-year grammar course and a three-year arts course in the University of Valencia.

In 1517 he moved to Paris to study at the Faculty of Arts until he was appointed professor of humanities at Louvain in 1519. He went to live in England at the invitation of Henry VIII, who appointed him tutor to Mary, princess of Wales. He enjoyed a close relationship with Thomas More and Erasmus, who was also staying in England at the time. He also lectured in philosophy at Oxford. In 1527 he fell out of favor with Henry by opposing the royal divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and was imprisoned for six weeks, after which he left England for the Netherlands to devote himself to writing. He remained in Bruges for the rest of his life. Some understanding of the importance of Vives in the intellectual history of the past is found in the praise he received from Erasmus when he wrote "We have with us Juan Luis Vives, a Valencian, only 26 years of age but already well versed in all the philosophical subjects, who has made such strides in belles-lettres, eloquence, oratory and writing that I hardly know of anyone to compare with him."

See for "The Theater of Man: J.L. Vives on Society"

RH: Note that this remarkable was only 48 when he died. He is almost unknown outside of Spain. He deserves wider appreciation.

Ronald Hilton - 5/31/03