Cornelius a Lapide created a Scripture Commentary so complete and scholarly that it was practically the universal commentary in use by Catholics (often available only in 30 some Latin volumes) for hundreds of years. As part of the mission of Loreto Publications’ apostolate we have spent a lot of time and money over the last four years to produce a translation and design a beautiful edition of this priceless commentary so long hidden from the eyes of most Catholics. Now is your opportunity to own this masterpiece.
This set boasts the following features:
The divorce between sanctity and scholarship that has grown ever since the Reformation is perhaps the greatest impediment today to study of the Scriptures or Theology of any kind. For the first fifteen centuries of Christianity’s existence, it was presumed that one studied and commented on the Bible as part of one’s own personal quest for holiness and salvation. The fathers of the church, those great saints of the first six hundred years, whose commentaries, for the most part have formed the Church’s scriptural exegesis, were just that—great saints. So too with the Scholastics of the Middle Ages, such as SS. Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, and Bonaventure, and Bl. Duns Scotus. But from the time of Martin Luther, biblical research has tended to degenerate ever more into either an intellectual exercise or a search for textual weapons with which to belabor ideological opponents. Perhaps one of the last major commentators to bridge the gap between piety and proficiency was the compiler of the four volumes here before you, Cornelius a Lapide (1567-1637).
The facts of his biography are, on the surface, fairly simple. The Catholic Encyclopedia informs us that:
He studied humanities and philosophy at the Jesuit colleges of Maestricht and Cologne, theology first, for half a year, at the University of Douai, and afterwards for four years at Louvain; he entered the Society of Jesus, 11 June, 1592, and, after two years’ noviciate and another year of theology, was ordained priest 24 December, 1595. After teaching philosophy for half a year, he was made professor of holy Scripture at Louvain in 1596 and next year of Hebrew also. Twenty years later, in 1616, he was called to Rome in the same capacity, where, on the 3rd of November, he assumed the office which he filled with such renown for many years after. The latter years of his life, however, he seems to have devoted exclusively to finishing and correcting his celebrated commentaries. He was a sincerely pious and zealous priest and an exemplary religious. During his professorship at Louvain he liked to spend his holidays preaching and administering the sacraments, especially at the pilgrimage of Scherpenheuvel (Montaigu).
With moving simplicity and truth he portrayed himself in an emotional prayer to the Prophets at the end of his commentary on Daniel: “For nearly thirty years I suffer with and for you with gladness the continual martyrdom of religious life, the martyrdom of illness, the martyrdom of study and writing; obtain for me also, I beseech you, to crown all, the fourth martyrdom, of blood. For you I have spent my vital and animal spirits; I will spend my blood too.” With his brethren in religion at Rome he enjoyed so high a reputation for sanctity that, when he died, they gave him a separate burial place, in order to be the more certain of finding his bones when eventually, as they hoped, he should receive the honour of beatification.
Illuminating as this account is in terms of bare facts, there is much left unsaid. Douai, where a Lapide spent a crucial half-year, was also the training ground for many of the fearless English Catholic priests who returned to spread the Faith in their unhappy homeland. Without a doubt, he would have met many a young man whose fate and joy it was to be hanged, drawn, and quartered by the minions of Elizabeth at Tyburn Tree. This taste of heroism no doubt affected his decision to join the Society of Jesus, seedbed of so many martyrs at that time, not only in the British Isles but as far afield as Japan.
Of course, the young a Lapide did not have to look so far to find heroes and martyrs for the Faith—quite the contrary! The Netherlands into which the young a Lapide was born was torn by religious and military strife. The church at Scherpenheuvel in Flemish Brabant (to the east of Brussels), for example, at whose pilgrimage a Lapide was such a renowned preacher, was very much a product of combat. Originally the site of a cross-shaped tree in whose boughs rested a statue of the Virgin (about which many miracles had clustered), the place had acquired a great reputation for answered prayers. Starting with the Beeldenstorm (“Iconoclasm”) of 1566, in which Calvinist mobs surged throughout the Netherlands (modern Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands were in those days united under the Spanish Crown), mobs of pilgrims arrived in Scherpenheuvel seeking, not just healing, but safety from the Protestants. By 1602, the numbers of visitors (and their alms) allowed a small chapel to be built to house the image. Five years later, two very illustrious pilgrims arrived: Archduke Albert of Austria, Governor of the Netherlands, and his wife, the Archduchess Isabella (who was also King Philip II of Spain’s daughter). They prayed for the defeat of the Protestant forces who were besieging Ostend, and promised that if victory were granted to the Catholic defenders, they would build a new and more beautiful church to house our Lady’s statue. The Protestants were in fact defeated and the siege raised; in 1609 the Archducal couple began a new building. By its completion in 1629, the new church was the jewel of baroque architecture we know today (Pius XI declared it a basilica), and the whole town had been reoriented around it.
Having been born the year after the Beeldenstorm, a Lapide’s entire childhood and youth were dominated by the conflict. When he was five years old, in 1572, the Calvinists executed the martyrs of Gorkum, seventeen priests and religious who refused to renounce transubstantiation and the papal supremacy—thenceforth, every Flemish child would know of their example. As the war went on (it would come to be called the “Eighty Years War”) the Calvinists came to dominate the northern part of the Netherlands, and the Catholics and Spanish the south—hence the division today between the mostly post-Protestant Dutch (although practicing Catholics now outnumber practicing Protestants in the Netherlands, and prior to the Vatican II—in part because of their history of persecution—the Dutch Catholics were renowned for their fervor) and the Catholic Flemish, for all that their language remains almost identical.
Louvain, the university where a Lapide became most renowned for his pastoral work, his scholarship, and his piety, was well protected from actual conflict by Spanish and local Catholic troops. But while this haven provided physical security, the religious conflict, in the Netherlands and throughout Northern Europe was never far away. To Louvain came such as the Presbyterian John Ogilivie from Scotland, who was received into the Church by Father a Lapide, followed his mentor into the Society of Jesus, returned to Scotland as a missionary, and after reconcili
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