Juan Luis Vives, humanist and philosopher, was born in Valencia in March, 1493. He studied in Paris and later resided in Bruges and Oxford, where he became a professor at the university.
His philosophy was critical of Christian scholasticism and had an eclectic orientation. Among his outstanding works were "De anima et vita" and "De tradendis disciplinis", his main contribution to learning and teaching. He was the son of a converted Jew, which explains why he went abroad. In 1511, he entered the University of Valencia in order to study Latin, Greek and rhetoric, but he was there for only a year before moving to Paris and to the Monteagudo College, a residence for Spanish students. He spent three years in the faculty of arts before moving on to Bruges, where he was to live for most of the rest of his life, except for a five-year period in England.
In Bruges there was a colony of Spanish Jews. He was to marry Margarita Valdaura in 1524, having become friendly with the family. In Spain, meanwhile, the social and religious climate, with the Inquisition provoking terror, created a country where he could not feel at ease. The Holy Office in Majorca placed the name Vives on its list for persecution. The same happened in Valencia. And so there was the case in Valencia of Catalina, the wife of a tailor, Pere Vives, who in 1491 was imprisoned and tortured. Her life was spared but all her assets were seized. Guillem Vives had the same experience in 1490. And even a slave of this merchant was subjected to the inquisitorial persecution.
Under these circumstances, Juan Luis Vives was wise not to have remained in Spain. His writings were to be condemned by the church, firstly by the Jesuits, then by the theologians in Louvain in 1546, and also by Pope Paul IV in 1559. In 1584, these works were to be included in the index of proscribed books by order of Gaspar Quiroga, the Inquisitor General.
In England, he took up a teaching position at Corpus Christi in Oxford. He was introduced to the court of Henry VIII as a counsellor to and compatriot and friend of Catherine of Aragon, and he was to tutor Princess Mary. But fortune was to turn its back on him. This was because of Henry's decision to annul the marriage. Vives experienced a radical change to his life. During a period of financial hardship, he wrote to a friend: "Poverty horrifies me. Until now, I have lived off the generosity of princes. Now I don't have enough to live from."
He returned to Bruges and for the last twelve years of his life - from 1528 to 1540 - was forced to seek loans and aid. In 1530, Carlos V, the Holy Roman Emperor, granted him 1,500 ducats, a sum that barely covered half his expenses. He died in Bruges in May, 1540, his life having been marked by sadness and depression. His was a short life, but his literary output and philosophical contributions were to leave a deep mark.
He invented a fictional character, who mused on how a good teacher should be, i.e. himself. "Nothing should be as smooth as his conversation, nothing as sensible as his advice, nothing as thoughtful and prudent as his precepts. The anticipated pleasure of hearing him must increase the thirst to drink at the fountain of wisdom. Because in this world there are admirable sources of capacity and nature. Some are intoxicating, others take away drunkenness. Between one thing and another, experience transforms the foolish man into a thinking man; the perverse man into a humanitarian ... ."