LYRA, NICOLAS DE:
French exegete; born at Lyre, near Evreux, Normandy, about 1270; died at Paris Oct. 23, 1340. The only certain dates in connection with his life are furnished by his epitaph in the monastery of the Minorites at Paris, which has been edited by Wadding. He entered the Franciscan order at Verneuil in 1291 and studied later at Paris, where he became doctor of theology and taught at the Sorbonne until 1325, when he was appointed provincial of his order for Burgundy.
Lyra, who was later declared to be of Jewish descent, wrote an anti-Jewish work entitled "De Messia Ejusque Adventu Præterito." His most important activities, however, were exegetical. Of the four methods of interpretation indicated in the mnemonic verse
"Littera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria, Moralis quid agas, quo tendas anagogia,"
he was the first to emphasize as the most important that dependent upon the literal sense ("sensus litteralis"), and he endeavored to apply this system of Biblical exegesis to the exclusion of all others. Hischief work, to which he devoted himself from 1322 to 1330, is his "Postillæ Perpetuæ, sive Brevia Commentaria in Universa Biblia" (first printed at Rome 1471-72, Cologne 1478, Venice 1482, and often since, either in whole or in part). After his death his book was supplemented by such additions as the general introduction, "De Libris Canonicis et Non Canonicis," and by numerous prefaces. The "Postillæ" includes fifty books of commentary on the entire Old and New Testaments and the Apocrypha, which latter is regarded as less binding in character. There are also thirty-five books of "Moralities" ("Moralia"). The author presents his point of view in the three prologues to his work, especially in the second—"De Intentione Autoris et Modo Procedendi." Even in cases which tradition has interpreted mystically he still considers the literal meaning as the decisive one; he offers esoteric explanations but seldom, and then almost always with a Christological tendency, for he seeks to find the deeds of the New Testament the fulfilment of the words of the Old.
Lyra used the original texts of the Old and New Testaments rather than the corrupt Latin translations. His knowledge of Jewish tradition was drawn from Rashi, whom he transcribes almost word for word, and who also was an advocate of literal exegesis ("peshaṭ"). Raymond Martin was his authority for Aramaic and Arabic, and he was frequently indebted to many others, particularly to Thomas Aquinas on the Book of Job. During the Middle Ages, Lyra was highly esteemed and widely read on account of his sound scholarship, judicious interpretation, and freedom from dogmatic prejudice. Luther frequently used Lyra's works; to them he owed his rabbinical knowledge, especially his acquaintance with Rashi, and it is to this influence that the well-known verse alludes—"Si Lyra non lyrasset, Lutherus non saltasset."
- Wadding, Annales Minorum, v. 264 et seq., vii. 237 et seq.;
- Fabricius, Bibliotheca Latina, xiii. 350 et seq., Hamburg, 1736;
- Herzog-Hauck, Real-Encyc. xii. 28 et seq.;
- Nicolas von Lyra und Seine Stellung in der Gesch. der Mittelalterlichen Schrifterklärung, in Katholik, ii. 940 et seq. (1859);
- Fischer, Des Nicolas von Lyra Postillœ Perpetuœ, in Jahrbuch für Protestantische Theologie, 1889;
- Siegfried, Raschis Einfluss auf Nicolas von Lyra und Luther, in Archiv für Erforschung des Alten Testaments, i. 428, ii. 36;
- Maschkowski, Raschis Einfluss auf Nicolas von Lyra in der Auslegung des Exodus, in Stade's Zeitschrift, 1891.
- See also the works of Richard Simon, Diestel, and Reuss.