Budé, Guillaume

   The most famous French humanist of the first half of the 16th century. Born into a recently ennobled family of royal officials, he studied law at Orléans but left without taking a degree. In 1491 he underwent a sort of secular conversion to humanistic learning, acquiring his outstanding mastery of Greek largely through independent study. He also resumed his study of law, but this time on his own, making his mastery of classical Latin and Greek the key to a radically new, philologically based approach to the Roman civil law (Corpus Juris Civilis). These ideas constituted a rejection of mos italicus, the medieval Italian tradition of legal education, and called for application of humanistic skills to interpretation of the legal texts, a method that came to be known as mos gallicus (the French manner), introduced from about 1518 by the teaching of Budé's Italian friend Andrea Alciati at Avignon and later at Bourges.
   Though Budé never either taught or practiced law, his first major publication, Annotationes in Pandectarum libros, a linguistic explication of the pandects, became a landmark of Renaissance jurisprudence. In it he applied the philological methods developed by the Italian humanists Lorenzo Valla and Angelo Poliziano to explain legal terms that medieval law professors had debated endlessly. In 1515 he published another widely admired book, De asse, which began as a study of Roman coins, weights, and measures, but grew into a vast compilation of information on the material basis of Roman life.
   Budé was an intensely patriotic French citizen, resentful of the arrogant superiority assumed by many Italian scholars, and he dreamed of making France rather than Italy the center of Renaissance culture. He had followed other members of his family into royal service in 1497, when he became secretary to King Charles VIII, but he was not very active at court under Louis XII. The succession of the young king Francis I to the throne in 1515 filled him with hope that the new ruler would become a great patron of Renaissance learning. Not until 1522, however, did he become a regular participant in royal administration, being appointed a master of requests. This position involved spending much time in attendance on the royal court. Budé used his connections there to agitate for the founding of a trilingual college (teaching classical Latin, Greek, and Hebrew language and literature) at Paris on the model of the famous trilingual institutions founded at Alcalá and Louvain. In 1517 and again in 1524 Budé participated in unsuccessful attempts by King Francis to attract the Dutch humanist Erasmus to the French court, perhaps with the idea of making him the star attraction of such a new royal college. In 1530 Budé finally attained partial success, when the king provided salaries for royal lecturers on Hebrew and Greek, the small beginings of what later became the Collège Royal.
   Budé intervened to calm a nasty scholarly quarrel between Erasmus and the most important of the older French humanists, Jacques Lefèvre d'Etaples in 1517-1518. From 1516 until the late 1520s, Erasmus and Budé conducted an extensive correspondence. Contemporaries universally regarded them as respectively the greatest Dutch and the greatest French humanistic scholar, but there was always an undercurrent of tension over the implied question of which of the two was the greater. Budé found in Erasmus' dialogue Ciceronianus (1528) a reference to himself that he took to be slighting, and Erasmus, in turn, resented the failure of an important new book of Budé on the Greek language, Commentarii linguae graecae (1529), to include a courteous acknowledgment of Erasmus' edition of the Greek New Testament.
   Though they shared a common love of classical literature and the Greek language, the two humanists were very different. Budé's French patriotism did not square with Erasmus' explicitly cosmopolitan internationalism. While Erasmus employed satire and humor as a means of advancing ideas, Budé was an intense, humorless, and rather narrow man, perhaps superior to Erasmus in mastery of Greek but not his equal in catching the inner spirit, as distinguished from the technical details, of Greek language and literature.
   Until the Reformation became an issue in France in the 1530s, Budé had relatively little to say about religion, though like Erasmus he could be critical of clerical abuses and corruption. Erasmus, on the other hand, was more interested in the spiritual regeneration of Latin Christendom than in any other issue. Only in 1535, when a native French Protestant movement was beginning to emerge, did Budé write directly and at length on religion. His De transitu Hellenismi ad Christianismum / The Transition from Hellenism to Christianity reiterated his earlier criticisms of clerical corruption but denounced the Protestant reformers. He strove to demonstrate that the humanistic scholarship that he cherished was in no way subversive of Catholic orthodoxy and if properly subordinated to Christian goals was a valuable resource for the defense of the Catholic faith. The provisions of his will in 1540 confirm that he was a pious and obedient Catholic. The later decision of his widow and children to go into exile at Calvinist Geneva represents the conditions of a later generation and does not indicate that Budé himself ever favored Protestantism.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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