Juan Louis Vives

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Juan Louis Vives was a Spanish lawyer and humanist who was part of the medieval community at Corpus Christi College, Oxford.   His Jewish family had been forced to convert to Christianity in medieval Spain at the hands of the Inquisition.  It is believed he was a crypto-Jew whilst in Oxford

Born in Valencia, Spain March 6th 1493, educated at Corpus Christi, Oxford and then at the University of Paris, he died on May 6th 1540 in Bruges Belgium.

As a child, he saw his father, grandmother and great-grandfather, as well as members of their wider family, executed as Judaizers (conversos  who secretly followed their Jewish faith), at the behest of the Spanish Inquisition; his mother was acquitted but died of the plague when he was 15 years old. Shortly thereafter, he left Spain never to return1.

Vives left Spain at the age of 17 to avoid the Inquisition.  He studied at the University of Paris from 1509 to 1512, and in 1519 was appointed professor of humanities at the University of Leuven. At the insistence of his friend Erasmus, he prepared an elaborate commentary on Augustine’s De Civitate Dei, which was published in 1522 with a dedication to Henry VIII of England. Soon afterwards in 1523, he was invited to England, where he was appointed preceptor to Mary, princess of Wales2, and lectured on philosophy at Oxford.

While in England, he resided at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he was made doctor of laws and lectured on philosophy. Having declared himself against the annulment of the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, he lost royal favour and was confined to his house for six weeks. On his release in 1527, he withdrew to Bruges, where he devoted the rest of his life to the composition of numerous works, chiefly directed against the scholastic philosophy and the preponderant unquestioning authority of Aristotle. The most important of his treatises is the De Causis Corruptarum Artium, which has been ranked with Bacon’s Organon.

Vives imagined and described a comprehensive theory of education. He may have directly influenced the essays of Michel Eyquem de Montaigne.   He was admired by Thomas More and Erasmus, who wrote that Vives “will overshadow the name of Erasmus.”

Vives is considered the first scholar to analyze the psyche directly.   He did extensive interviews with people, and noted the relation between their exhibition of affect and the particular words they used and the issues they were discussing. While it is unknown if Freud was familiar with Vives’s work, historian of psychiatry Gregory Zilboorg considered Vives a godfather of psychoanalysis. (A History of Medical Psychology, 1941) and the father of modern psychology by Foster Watson (1915.)

Vives taught monarchs. His idea of a diverse and concrete children’s education long preceded Jean Jacques Rousseau, and may have indirectly influenced Rousseau through Montaigne. Vives altered classical rhetoric to express his own sort of pro-virginity half-feminism – which remains of interest to historians of gender.   Among 16th century Spain’s numerous “treatises for and against women,” Vives “steers a middle path” (p. xxiv-xxv), neither misogynist nor sanctifying.

However influential he may have been in the 16th century, Vives now attracts minimal interest beyond specialized academic fields. The values of Vives inspired two Belgian Schools for higher education (KATHO and Katholieke Hogeschool Brugge-Oostende) to choose the name ‘Vives’ as the name for their cooperation/merger starting from September 2013. Also, the regional link of Vives with the province of West Flanders (Bruges is the capital of this province) played a role.


2for whose use he wrote De ratione studii puerilis epistolae duae (1523) and, ostensibly, De Institutione Feminae Christianae, on the education of girls (a book he dedicated to the English queen Catherine of Aragon)

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