Jacques Lefèvre D’Etaples – An Early French Reformer

While Lefèvre’s writings include many of the teachings of the Reformation, they are not always consistent – possibly due to his desire to remain in the Roman Catholic Church and reform it from within. But they were influential enough that Calvin’s successor, Theodore Beza allegedly spoke of Lefèvre as the man “who boldly began the revival of the pure religion of Jesus Christ”[3] in France.

The life of Jacques Lefèvre D’Etaples ran almost parallel to that of Martin Luther. Born around 1455 (28 years before Luther), Lefèvre died in 1536, when Luther was still teaching, preaching, and establishing churches.

In 1512, when Luther received his doctorate and became a professor of biblical studies, Lefèvre had already established himself as an esteemed scholar. The same year, he published a commentary to the Epistle to the Romans that explained justification by faith alone as clearly as any Protestant reformer could later do: “Let every mouth be stopped; let neither Jew nor Gentile boast that he has been justified by himself or by his own works. For none are justified by the works of the law, neither the Gentiles by the implanted law of nature nor the Jews by the works of the written law; but both Gentiles and Jews are justified by the grace and mercy of God …. …. for it is God alone who provides this righteousness through faith and who justifies by grace alone [sola gratia] unto life eternal.”[1]

This is just an example of Lefèvre’s writings, that included all the five solas of the Reformation (Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, and Soli Deo Gloria), as well as the doctrine of assurance of salvation and perseverance of believers that so irritated Cardinal Robert Bellarmine almost a century later. He affirmed in fact that “‘the forgiveness of our sins, our adoption as children of God, the assurance and certainty of life eternal, proceed solely from the goodness of God’ through faith in ‘our blessed Saviour and Redeemer Jesus,’ and that thanks to God’s love ‘we have complete confidence in him…’”

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