Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples On Lent

“There are men nowadays who teach a foolish godliness instead of Christ’s doctrine. What does it profit me to fast new Lents or to pay my tithes? Why trust myself to formulas of prayer of unknown authors and leave aside the prescriptions of the apostles. Why die in the cassock when one has lived his whole life in the secular habit? No such thing is ordered in Christ’s doctrine. The balance may be more superstitious than religious. Let us therefore attach ourselves to Christ alone and to the doctrine of the apostles, for it is sufficient and it is first and paramount for salvation.”

Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples(c.1455–1536) quoted in James I. Good, The Reformed Reformation (Philadelphia, PA: The Heidelberg Press, 1916), 12–13. (Resources: Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Lefèvre: Pioneer of Ecclesiastical Renewal in France (1985).)

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Fascinating. Could you hepf provide some interpretation/context for these phrases? “fast new Lents” Why the word new?

    “Why die in the cassock when one has lived his whole life in the secular habit?” Don’t understand what this is referring to.

    • MJD,

      The earliest reference to any extended fasting refers to 3 days, I think. The 40 day Lenten fast dates to Canon 5 of Nicaea (325). LeFevre here seems to be alluding to medieval elaborations on Lent.

      The reference to “the cassock” is a reference to ordination. “Secular habit” refers either to the dress of those not ordained or to priests who were not in a Monastic order. Either way he is complaining about the growing scrupulosity of the medieval church.

  2. It’s time for my annual comment at this time of year, which has become a little personal tradition: “I’m giving up superstitions for Lent.”

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