Nicholas of Lyra
Nicholas of Lyra (French: Nicolas de Lyre; c. 1270 – October 1349),
or Nicolaus Lyranus, a
Franciscan teacher, was among the most
influential practitioners of Biblical exegesis in the Middle Ages.
Little is known about his youth, aside from the fact of his birth,
around 1270, in Lyre, Normandy. Rumors from the fifteenth century that
Nicholas was born into a Jewish family have been dismissed by modern
scholars.  In 1291 he entered the
Franciscan order, in the convent
of Verneuil-sur-Avre . He was a doctor at the Sorbonne by 1309 and ten
years later was appointed the head of all Franciscans in France. His
major work, Postillae perpetuae in universam S. Scripturam, was the
first printed commentary on the Bible. Printed in
Rome in 1471, it was
later available in Venice, Basel, and elsewhere. In it, each page of
Biblical text was printed in the upper center of the page and embedded
in a surrounding commentary (illustration, right). His Postilla super
totam Bibliam was published by
Johannes Mentelin of Strasbourg in
Nicolas of Lyra's approach to explicating Scripture was firmly based
on the literal sense, which for him is the foundation of all mystical
or allegorical or anagogical expositions. He deplored the tortured and
elaborated readings being given to Scripture in his time. The textual
basis was so important that he urged that errors be corrected with
reference to Hebrew texts, an early glimmer of techniques of textual
criticism, though Nicholas recognized the authoritative value of the
"I protest that I do not intend to assert or determine anything that
has not been manifestly determined by Sacred Scripture or by the
authority of the Church... Wherefore I submit all I have said or shall
say to the correction of Holy Mother Church and of all learned men..."
(Second Prologue to Postillae).
Nicholas utilized all sources available to him, fully mastered Hebrew
and drew copiously from
Rashi and other rabbinic commentaries, the
Pugio Fidei of
Raymond Martini and of course the commentaries of St.
Thomas Aquinas. His lucid and concise exposition, his soundly-based
observations made Postillae the most-consulted manual of exegesis
until the 16th century.
Martin Luther depended upon it. He used his
commentaries extensively in his own work on the book of Genesis,
"Lectures on Genesis". He also highly praised his works in the
Table Talk. When E.A. Gosselin compiled a listing of the printed
editions of works by Nicolaus de Lyra, it ran to 27 pages (in Traditio
26 (1970), pp 399–426).
He was born in the village of La Vieille-Lyre, Normandy, hence his
name. Like others in the 14th century, he was occupied by the
possibility of the conversion of the Jews, to whom he dedicated
hortatory addresses. He wrote Pulcherrimae quaestiones Iudaicam
perfidiam in catholicam fide improbantes, which was one of the sources
Martin Luther used in his On the Jews and Their Lies. However,
Nicholas showed respect to Jews as well Christians, basically differed
from Luther's views.
^ "[A]s his fifteenth-century critic, Bishop Paul of Burgos (a
converted Jew himself) noted, Nicolas’s knowledge of Hebrew and
rabbinic interpretation was too limited to reflect a Jewish
upbringing," Deeana Copeland Klepper, *The Insight of Unbelievers:
Nicholas of Lyra
Nicholas of Lyra and Christian reading of Jewish text in the later
Middle Ages, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007,
^ Luther's Works, vol. 1-8.
^ Table Talk, DXXXIV.
Philip D. W. Krey
Philip D. W. Krey and Lesley Smith, editors, Nicholas of Lyra: The
Senses of Scripture (fifteen essays by various authors: the first
Klaus Reinhardt, "Das Werk des Nikolaus von Lyra im mittelalterlichen
Spanien", Traditio 43 (1987): 321-358.
Les Postilles et Expositions des Évangiles (in French), Pierre
Desrey, translator, Paris: Pierre et Guillaume Le Rouge, 1492
Apocalypse Commentary, P Krey, translator, Kalamazoo, MI, 1997
The Postilia of
Nicholas of Lyra
Nicholas of Lyra on the Song of Songs, JG Kiecker,
translator, Milwaukee, MI, 1998
Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Nicholas of Lyra". Catholic
Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
Luther and Lyra on the Song of Solomon: Were They Singing the Same
Tune? by James G. Kiecker
Lewis E 43 Biblical commentary at OPenn
ISNI: 0000 0001 1035 2569
BNF: cb12044698f (data)