Lipsius, Justus

   Dutch-born humanist, one of the great classical scholars of the late Renaissance, also historically important for his philosophical works advocating a Christianized form of Stoicism, often labelled Neostoicism. His life (as well as his religious affiliation) was repeatedly upset by the violence associated with the Dutch War for Independence, which disrupted both the southern Netherlands (in which he was born) and the northern provinces which eventally gained their independence from Spain. Lipsius received his preparatory education at a Jesuit college that was part of the University of Cologne. He then studied at Louvain, where he entered the service of Antoine Perrenot, Cardinal Granvelle, whom he accompanied as secretary on a mission to Rome for King Philip II of Spain. This Roman experience contributed to his first book, Variae lectiones / Various Readings, a collection of critical commentaries on ancient Latin authors. In 1570 he returned to Louvain but soon left because of the civil war.
   In 1572 Lipsius became professor of history and rhetoric at the University of Jena, a position that required profession of Lutheran religion. In 1573, however, he married a Catholic woman whom he had met at Louvain. He returned to the Catholic faith and soon moved back to Louvain, where he received the licentiate in law. The editions of Tacitus' historical works completed there helped to make him famous throughout the world of humanist scholarship. In 1578 he accepted a professorship at the Protestant University of Leiden in the rebellious northern provinces. While in Leiden he continued his prolific work as a classical scholar and again became a Protestant. Twice he was elected rector of the university. In 1591, however, Lipsius converted back to the Catholic Church. After his reconversion, he returned for a time to Leiden, which was religiously tolerant, but in 1592 he became professor of history and Latin language and literature at Louvain. In 1595 he also became official historiographer to Philip II of Spain. During this period at Louvain he published Catholic devotional tracts and books on political philosophy and Roman history. He also brought out expurgated editions of some of his earlier books that contained passages no longer acceptable for a professor at a Catholic institution.
   Lipsius' greatest skills were in the field of philology, and his editions of Tacitus and Seneca influenced the text of those authors for several centuries. He produced important commentaries on classical (mainly Latin) authors. His work as a philosopher (shaped by his close study of the greatest author of ancient Roman Stoicism, Seneca) emphasized the value of Stoicism as a political doctrine that could help contemporaries cope with the international and civil wars that were tearing Christian Europe apart. Lipsius' most popular book of Stoic philosophy was De constantia/On Constancy (1584). A second book promoting Stoicism was his Politica (1589). Some contemporaries noted cynically that it was strange for a man who had so obviously changed his own religious identity in accord with the demands of his career to be the author of a book in praise of constancy. Yet his promotion of a Christianized Stoicism as a philosophy suitable for a man of culture and moderation contributed to the Stoic ethical code that dominated the mentality of the European ruling classes during the following centuries.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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