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A Golden Age of Biblical Scholarship in Louvain and Douai (1550-1650)

Around the middle of the sixteenth century, the idea arose in Catholic circles that the Protestant claim to having the Scriptures on their side, could only be countered by a Catholic return to a more Bible-based theology and preaching. This insight was confirmed during the humanistically inspired fifth session of the Council of Trent (1546), giving rise to the flourishing of biblical studies everywhere in Catholic Europe. The period 1550-1650 is therefore considered to be a ‘Golden Age of Catholic Biblical Scholarship’ (Reventlov 1997). In the Low Countries, the Emperor Charles V aligned himself with this reform movement through the establishment, in that same year of 1546, of a ‘royal’ chair of Sacred Scriptures at the Faculty of Theology in Louvain. As a consequence, the theological Faculty of Louvain and its daughter University of Douai contributedsignificantly to the Golden Age through (1) the development of sound text-critical work with regard to the Latin Vulgate – which the Council ofTrent had declared during its fourth session to be the ‘authentic’ version of the Scriptures for the Church – (2) the production of Bible commentaries of high quality, including Latin postils or homileticexpositions intended as a pulpit help for priests and preachers. These biblical works, which went through several reprints in printing houses all over Europe, are now preserved in the libraries and precious book collections throughout the continent (and its old overseas missions), not least in Louvain’s heritage libraries, but have never been subjected to asystematic study. Besides examining the hermeneutical principles of both the text-critical and exegetical work, the main aim of the project is to study, through a careful selection of significant Bible pericopes, how the theological issues of grace, free will and predestination were dealt with in commentaries and postils. Precisely these questions were at stake in the main theological debates in the period under consideration, not only between Catholics and Protestants, but also between the different theological currents in post-Tridentine Catholicism, whichultimately exploded in the ‘Jansenist’ controversy. Since the correct interpretation of Augustine’s theology of grace was an inextricable part of these debates, one of the most important aims of the project is also to investigate the way in which the commentators under consideration appealed to Augustine to substantiate their interpretation of the Scriptures, without however excluding Thomas Aquinas and other authoritativecommentators. To this aim, the researcher will be able to bring to light the features of a specific group of highly skilled biblical scholars with an international reputation, but whose important contribution to thehistory of ideas in Europe has unfortunately not received the attentionit deserves.

Date:1 Oct 2013  →  30 May 2017
Keywords:Golden Age of Biblical Scholarship, Council of Trent, Exegesis
Disciplines:Theology and religious studies
Project type:PhD project