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Mystics, Philosophers & Writers

Early Flemish Writers

Early Flemish Grammar (8th century)

Commissioned by the Frankish King Charlemagne dwelling in Paris as well as in his other royal  houses in Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle), Nijmegen and Herstal. The Frankish rulers progressively lost their knowledge of the Frankish/Dutch language, and feared to be no longer able to understand the traditional and popular king and hero tales. This Grammar is mentioned in the work (Vita Caroli Magni, paragraph 29) of monk Einhard (c. 770-840), born at Mühlheim/Seligenstadt on the Main, biographer of Charlemagne and, at a certain moment, Abbot of the Ghent St. Bavon Abbey.

   Chrétien de Troyes (c. 1150)

The legend of the knights of the Holy Grail is inextricably linked with Glastonbury in the county of Somerset (England), but Ghent also had a part in it. Abbot Dunstan of Glastonbury had fled to Flanders around 950 and enjoyed the political protection of Count Arnulf I in Ghent's Sint-Pietersabdij (St. Peter's Abbey), where he left behind a few manuscripts. Once back in his own abbey, he introduced the rule of St. Benedict, which he had experienced in Ghent. Two centuries later, during a stay in Ghent, the then count of Flanders Philip of Alsace handed a mysterious manuscript to his celebrated court poet Chrétien de Troyes, who used it in his Perceval ou le conte del Grael, which would immortalize the names of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. From this poem the later versions of King Arthur and the Grail Legend probably were inspired.

Thyl Ulenspiegel 


Halewijn van Rijsel (also Alanus, Alan, Alain, de L'Isle, de Lille, ab Insulis, Lille 1128 - Citeaux, F. 1203)

Monk, poet, preacher, theologian, and eclectic philosopher. He studied and taught for some time in Paris. In 1179 he took part in the Third Council of the Lateran. Later he entered the Monastery of Citeaux. Alain attained extraordinary celebrity in his day as a teacher and a learned man; he was called Alain the Great, The Universal Doctor, etc. To this the legend alludes, according to which a scholar, discomfited in a dialectical contest, cried out that his opponent was "either Alain or the devil".

Alain's principal work is Ars Fidei Catholicæ, dedicated to Clement III, and composed for the purpose of refuting, on rational grounds, the errors of Mohammedans, Jews, and heretics. With the same view he wrote some philosophical assays, including Tractatus Contra Hæreticos and Theologicæ Regulæ. He wrote two poems, De Planctu Naturæ and Anticlaudianus. His poems beacme famous in England. Alain's theology is characterized by that peculiar variety of rationalism tinged with mysticism which is also found in the writings of John Scotus Erigena, and which afterwards reappeared in the works of Raymond Lully.

William of Moerbeke (also Willem van Moerbeke, Guillelmus de Morbeka, Moerbeke 1215 - Corinth, Greece 1286) 

This Dominican monk was the most prolific medieval translator of philosophical, medical, and scientific texts from Greek into Latin. His translations quickly replaced the copies of Aristotle in Latin then in circulation, originated from Arabic through Syriac versions. They were already standard classics by the 14th century. 

William also translated mathematical treatises by Hero of Alexandria and Archimedes. Especially important was his translation (1268) of the Theological Elements of Proclus, one of the fundamental sources of the revived Neo-Platonic philosophical currents of the 13th Century. In all, he translated about 49 works ranging over theology, science, and philosophy. William of Moerbeke thus appears as a mind of high culture and extensive relations, a forerunner of humanism.

He held intellectual intercourse with the philosopher Thomas Aquinas, the mathematician John Campanus, the Polish naturalist and physician Witelo, and the Flemish astronomer Henri Bate of Mechlin, who dedicated to William his treatise on the astrolabe. He resided at the pontifical court of Viterbo (1268), appeared at the Council of Lyons (1274), and from 1277 until his death occupied the Bishopís See of Corinth (Greece). A little Greek village named for him, Merbaka (Agia Triada), lies between Argos and Mycenae.  (More, Google)

The Flemish Mystics

Beatrijs van Nazareth (c.1200-1268)

Beatrijs was born at Tienen, in the east of the southern Netherlands, to a family of rich merchants. When she was seven, her mother died and Beatrijs was sent to study with a community of beguines. In 1217 Beatrijs studied manuscript production at another abbey. The next year she helped to found a new abbey near her home at Tienen. From 1221 she was at Bloemendaal; then in 1236, she moved to a new monastery near Antwerp, Our Lady of Nazareth, which her father had founded at her request. In the six months preceding the move, she copied all of the choir books that would be needed at the new foundation. She was soon elected prioress, and she remained at Nazareth until her death.

Beg·uine[ Pronunciation  (big-een') n.] A member of any of several catholic lay sisterhoods and brotherhoods founded in the Netherlands in the 13th century. [Middle English begine, from Dutch "begijn", fem. of begard, beg-, root of beggaert, onewho rattles off  prayers.] 
From 1215 to 1237 Beatrijs kept a journal, describing in Dutch her spiritual experiences and theological meditations. When she was dying, "she left the account... as a perpetual memorial to all who would read them" (Vita, p. 81). About seven years after her death, an anonymous cleric was given her journal, and with this, supplemented by information from those who had known her, he wrote her biography in Latin, Vita Beatricis. In it he incorporated a treatise that Beatrijs had also written. Until the late 1800s, this Latin work was all that was known.

Beatrijs's journal is lost, but at the end of the 19th century, a copy of her treatise in the original Middle Dutch was found: Seven manieren van minne (Seven manners of love). This is a brief and clear treatise on the growth of a personal love of God. She stressed the interpersonal over the transcendent in describing a loving relationship with God. Unlike Hadewijch, Beatrijs did not speak of visionary experiences; instead, she wrote of the path to spirituality that she believed any soul could hope to take. (More)

   Hadewijch van Antwerpen (also Hadewych, van Brabant, c. 1220 - c. 1260)

We know of Hadewijch only what comes from her writings. She compiled a "List of the Perfect," describing 86 persons, living and dead, whom she described as "clothed in love"; the list includes a beguine who had been executed, probably in 1236. It is from the datable references in this list that Hadewijch has been assigned to the mid-1200s.She wrote in Medieval Dutch, and she perhaps came from the area around Antwerp. She knew French and Latin and was familiar with contemporary chivalric poetry. She appears to have been a beguine, perhaps the mistress of a beguinage. She had many mystical visions throughout her lifetime. Unlike Beatrice of Nazareth and Mechtild of Magdeburg, she believed that her visions were her "intellectual imaginations of the soul's perceptions." Her need to keep in touch with sisters in other locations and to continue to teach and encourage them seems to have led to her writings: 31 letters (Brieven), 14 descriptions of visions (Visioenen), 45 poems in stanzaic form (Strofische Gedichten), and 30 poems in mixed form (Mengeldichten).

Hadewych was greatly inspired by Love-Mysticism, which stressed the worship of Christ and God as the most perfect Love. Here descriptions of this love strongly evoke sexual images. She stressed the importance of self-knowledge in spiritual life. She believed that to become like Christ in humanity we must all be virtuous, and in being virtuous, we must use good judgement, and reason. She felt that during our longing to become more like Christ by enduring painful suffering and hardships, our soul's are guided by God's purity, perfection, wisdom, and power.

Her spirituality has strongly inspired  Ruusbroec and his students, and is a precursor to the work of the great German mystica Mechthild von Magdeburg. (More)

Both female mystics give us a good impression about emancipation in Flanders in the 11-12th century. Also, their publications in medieval Dutch precede by half a century the publication of Dante's "Commedia Divina", widely considered as the first literary text using vernacular language...

   Jan van Ruusbroec (also John, Ruysbroeck 1293-1381)

Born in Ruisbroek near Brussels, surnamed the Admirable Doctor and the Divine Doctor.He was an Augustinian canon. In middle age he retired to a hermitage at Groenendaal (near Brussels), where he was prior of a small community.  There are English translations of  his most important works: The Seven Steps of the Ladder of Spiritual Love and "De Geestelijke Bruiloft" The Spiritual Espousals. His mystical treatises are classics of Middle Dutch literature and of Christian mysticism.

In his ascetic works, his favourite virtues are detachment, humility, and charity. He loves to dwell on such themes as flight from the world, meditation upon the Life, especially the Passion of Christ, abandonment to the Divine Will, and an intense personal love of God. But it is in his mystical writings that the peculiar genius of Ruusbroec shines forth. Yet here again it is the manner rather than the matter that is new, and it is especially in the freshness, originality, boldness, variety, detail, and truth of his imagery and comparisons that the individuality of Ruusbroec stands out. He seems to stand alone, unrivalled, in his grasp of what we may term the metaphysics of mysticism, in the delicateness and sureness of his touch when describing the phenomena and progress of the mystic union, and in the combined beauty, simplicity, and loftiness of his language and style. He starts from God who comes down to man, and thence rises again to God, showing how the two are so closely united as to become one. But here he is careful to mention: "There where I assert that we are one in God, I must be understood in this sense that we are one in love, not in essence or nature." Despite this declaration some of Ruusbroec's expressions are certainly rather unusual and startling. One could see traces of unconscious pantheism in his works.

His sanctity and good counsel attracted visitors from afar, and Johannes Tauler and Geert Groote were among his followers. His influence on Groote was so great that Jan is regarded as a forerunner of the Brethren of Common Life (Broeders van het Gemene Leven), and his influence helped to mould the spirituality of the Dutch-German Windesheim School in the Northern Netherlands, which in the next generation found its most famous exponent in Thomas a Kempis. (More)

Flemish Renaissance Writers and Publishers

   Lodewijk van Gruuthuuse (Bruges c. 1427 - 1492)

"Gruuthuuse" means: the House of Groat. Groat is dried oats herb added to beer to procure it a finer taste. The Gruuthuuses were a family containing many a brewer, merchant and Maecenas.

Lodewijk was undoubtedly the greatest. Counsel to Dukes Charles the Bold and Mary of Burgundy, he was knighted to the Order of the Golden Fleece (founded at Bruges in 1430 by Philip the Good). The English King Edward IV made him Count. He enriched Bruges with several magnificent houses, including his own palace, nowadays a museum. He was an important patron and collectioner of manuscripts and miniatures. His is one of the oldest collections of Flemish music.

His also is the famous motto "Plus est en vous" (More is in you), summarizing one of the fundamental attitudes of Flemish artists, scientists and merchants. A surprising modern frame of mind for Medieval times! It was at that time usual to formulate mottoes in French (cfr England's Honny soit qui mal y pense, and Dieu et moin droit, Holland's Je maintiendrai, and the motto of Emperor Charles V Plus Oultre).

Gerardus de Lisa "de Flandria" (Flanders - Venice/Treviso: active 1471-1499)

This Flemish printer, working in Venice and Treviso, was a former companion to Peter Schöffer, himself a former companion of Gutenberg. Lisa's publications include the most famous Hermes Trismegistus, [Corpus Hermeticum] De potestate et sapientia Dei (1471), first edition of the essential work of Hermetic philosophy; Brunetto Latini's Il Tesoro the earliest Italian encyclopedia (1474); Bartholomaeus Platina's De honesta voluptate et valetudine, the  first cook book in the world (1480), Terminorum musicae diffinitorium (1495), the first theoretical book on music.

   Dirk Martens (Aalst 1446-1534 )

He introduced and perfected book printing in Flanders. He worked in Aalst, Antwerpen and Leuven. He studied the art of printing in Venice with a Flemish working there, Gerardus de Lisa. He started printing in 1473, and produced the first printed books in Flanders. His early prublications include the works of Erasmus, Thomas More's Utopia (Antwerp, 1516), the Memoires of Columbus, the first Hebrew dictionary, and the frist Latin-Dutch Dictionary.

The English merchant William Caxton learned the art od printing in Cologne but practiced it in Bruges, where he printed the first English book, the Bible (1475). Later, he set up the first printing press in England, in Westminster in 1476.

   Philippe de Comines (also spelled Commines and Commynes; Komen, South of Flanders 1447 - Argenton, France 1511)

In 1472 he left the service of Charles the Bold of Burgundy to enter that of Louis XI of France, who rewarded him richly with a pension and estates, to which marriage added the Lordship of Argenton; hence he was also known as Philippe d'Argenton. After Louisís death he plotted against Charles VIII and was banished from court. He later regained favor, accompanied Charles VIII on his Italian expedition (1494?95), and was briefly ambassador to Venice. His Mémoires de Messire Philippe de Commines sur les règnes de Louis XI et de Charles VIII (published at Leiden, Netherlands, available in many editions and translations) is a historical and literary work of the highest rank. It contains striking portraits of Charles the Bold, Louis XI, and Charles VIII and is penetrating in its analysis of men and institutions. Notable for their historical accuracy, they also stand tall for Comines's unique insights into the motives of the major characters, something successive political historians sought to copy.

Famous quotes: "The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress" and "One never repents of having spoken too little, but often of having spoken too much".

   Desiderius Erasmus (Rotterdam 1469 - 1536)

One of the greatest scholar of all times, he was called Prince of the Humanists. This renaissance scholar was born in Rotterdam, but studied and lived in Leuven.

The unparalleled popularity he had acquired made him, in his thirties, the eagerly sought after guest of kings and emperors, popes, cardinals, archbishops and bishops, lords and towns councilors, university heads, ... all people who were enjoying distinguished places in these days society.

His best known work is the Laus Stultitiae ("Praise of folly" that he wrote in Greek on his way back from Italy), a pamphlet mainly directed against the behavior of leading classes and church dignitaries while ironizing about mankind vanities.

He devoted himself to the defense of elegance and purity of Latin, the international and cultural language at the time, the revision of Christian traditions, fighting for a clearer and more humane approach of religion, the renewal of the educational system from the publishing of grammars, treaties on children education to the creation of the "Collegium Trilingue" (Dutch - Latin - Greek) in Louvain.

Thomas Morus (1478-1535) was one of his friends. More's famous Utopia was written and originally published in Antwerp (1516).

William Tyndale (1494-1536) studied in Oxford and Cambridge. He disturbed the local divines by routing them at the dinner table with chapter and verse of scripture, and by translating Erasmus's Enchiridion militis christiani (Handbook of the Christian Soldier, 1503). He was accused of heresy, but nothing was ever proved. He meant "to translate the Bible so that ploughboys should be more educated than the clergyman himself". Realizing he could not translate the Bible in England, Tyndale went to Germany (Cologne, Worms) in 1524, and to Antwerp, Flanders, in 1526. He never returned to England. In 1525, he began printing the New Testament. Copies began to arrive in England about a month later. Tunstall, the Bishop of London who, during his stay in Flanders, became friends with Erasmus and Thomas Morus, had all the copies he could trace gathered and burned at St Paul's Cross in London, and even arranged to buy them before they left the continent, so that they could be burned in bulk. Tyndale used the money this brought him for further translation and revision. He began the Old Testament in Antwerp. Tyndale's writings were popular in England. Henry VIII, at that moment still the defensor of the Catholic faith (Henry's Reformation started in 1533), and fearing Tyndale's influence, sent an ambassador to persuade him to return to England. In a secret, nighttime meeting outside Antwerp city walls, Tyndale agreed that he would return to England, if the king would print an English Bible. But in 1535, the fanatical Englishman Henry Phillips, a student at Louvain, betrayed him to the Antwerp authorities and had him kidnapped. He was imprisoned at Vilvoorde, near Brussels, for sixteen months. A letter from him, in Latin, has survived, asking for a lamp, warmer cloths, and Hebrew texts, grammar and dictionary, so that he could study. Even Thomas Cromwell, the most powerful man next to King Henry VIII, moved to get him released. But Phillips in Flanders, acting for the papal authorities, blocked all the moves. On the morning of 6 October 1536, now in the hands of the secular forces, he was taken to the place of execution, tied to the stake, strangled and burned. His last words reportedly were: "Oh Lord, open the King of England's eyes." A few years later, his translations were used for the famous King James Version of the Bible (1611). (more)

Pieter Coecke van Aelst (Aalst 1502 - Brussels 1556)

Publisher, but also painter, architect, sculptor, designer of tapestries and stained glass, and writer.

He is a pupil of Bernard van Orley, worked in Antwerp and travelled to Rome and Constantinople. His mission to gain business there for the Brussels tapestry works was unsuccessful, but the drawings he made on his journey were later published by his widow Mayken Verhulst as woodcut illustrations ("The Manners and Customs of the Turks"). He ran a large workshop and was regarded as one of the leading Antwerp painters of his day, but his work is not very creative. He is more important for his publishing activities. The translation of the architectural treatise of Sebastiano Serlio(Tutti l'opera architecttura, 1537-1547) that he issued from 1539 played a large part in spreading Renaissance ideas in the Netherlands (it was from the Dutch edition, not from the Italian original, that the English translation of 1611 was made). (more)

Pieter Bruegel the Elder was his son-in-law and his pupil.

Jan Utenhove (Ghent 1520 - London 1565)

He studied in Ghent under Cassander, and in Louvain. Was banned in 1543 from Flanders because one of his theatre pieces (that he wrote in his youth) was considered too Reformational. He could save his important family fortune. He travelled to Cologne (Köln) and Strassbourg, where he met the important Polish reformer Johannes à Lasco. He visited Zurich and Geneva, but settled in London (1548) where he organized, together with Lasco, the first Reformed community for refugees from the Netherlands. He constituted the Calvinistic Liturgy, and made many Dutch translations of religious texts, including the Psalms. In 1553 he and many of the Netherlandish protestants left London after the installation of the Catholic Queen Mary Tudor. Via Denmark, where they were expelled by the Lutheran king, they arrived in Emden, Northern Germany, where he made the first Dutch translation of the New Testament (1556), directly from the original Greek text. Because his language was considered as too influenced by German, it had not much success, and was a financial disaster for him. Around 1560 he is back in London, where in the meanwhile the more tolerant Elisabeth I  was enthroned. He took up his former functions, and continued making Dutch translations of religious texts, and lots of authentic texts, published in London by his friend Godfried van Wingen (aka Godefroy Stomins). He is considered as one of the most influential designers of Calvinism. (more)

   Christoffel Plantijn (also Christophe Plantin, Christophorus Plantinus, St-Avertin nearTours, France 1520 - Antwerp 1589)

In 1549 he settled in Antwerp, and started the first printing and publishing house in the Netherlands. He managed to get as well the king of Spain as the Reformation leaders of the Low Countries as patrons. He worked not only for the Netherlands, but for Spain and the Spanish Empire. His authors include Erasmus, Ortelius, Vesalius, Thomas Moore, Simon Stevin, the biologist Lobelius. He published several Latin-Dutch dictionaries and grammars. His son-in-law Jan Moretus continued the publishing house, and managed to print the new, brilliantly illustrated edition of the Graduale Romanum for the whole of Catholic Europe and South America. Nowadays the Plantin-Moretus house is a museum, with the Rubens house probably one of the most splendid houses in the Netherlands.

   Filips van Marnix, Lord of St-Aldegonde (Brussels 1540 - Leiden 1598)

His mother was Lady of Sainte Aldegonde at Morlanwelz, Mariemont, to the south of Brussels, and he inherited her title and property. He studied at Louvain, Dôle, Padua and, after his conversion to protestantism, at Geneva, where he was a personal disciple of Calvin and Beza. He was active with the protestant nobility, but fled to Emden, Germany, close to the Netherlandish border, at the arrival of the Spanish Duke of Alva, who started a repression in the Netherlands. There he wrote his famous pamphlet De Byencorf der H. Roomsche Kercke (1569, The Beehive of the H. Roman Church,a satirical attack on the old Church in the style of Rabelais, which was translated into English in 1579), then traveled to Heidelberg to work for the Prince of Pfalz. But Prince William of Orange called him into his service for military, diplomatic and religious tasks, including organizing the important Synod of the exiled protestant churches at Emden (1571). He was arrested by the Spanish, and passed some time in prison, where he translated the Psalms into Dutch (1573-1574). He played a prominent part in drafting the Pacification of Ghent (1576). Later he became mayor of Antwerp (1583-1585), during its period as a Calvinist republic. But the city was taken by the Spanish, and he went living in his castle-farm in West-Souburg, Zealand. In 1590 he was called back by Maurice of Nassau to fulfill important political tasks in London and Paris, where he was nominated counsel to the King of France. The Synod of Reformed Churches asked him to complete the translation of the Bible into Dutch, but he couldn't finish this task becoming ill after a mission to Orange, in the south of France (a crown property of the Prince of Holland) and died after his return to Leiden. His impressive literary production includes religious poetry, essays on religious topics and education, and the text of the Wilhelmus, the national hymn of the Netherlands. (more)

   Justus Lipsius (orig. Josse Lips,  Overijse 1547- Louvain 1606)

He studied at the Jesuit College in Köln (Cologne, Germany), where many emigrated Flemish resided, fleeing Spanish fury. He wished to enter the Society of Jesus in 1562, but this displeased his father, who recalled him and sent him to study law and literature at Leuven. There he ardently took up the critical examination of Latin texts ("Variae Lectiones"), which were published in 1569 at Antwerp, and dedicated to Cardinal Granvelle. The latter made him his Latin secretary (1569-70) at Rome. Lipsius returned to Louvain, developed Reformist tendencies as most of Flemish intellectuals, but left Flanders again in 1571, alarmed by the repressive attitude of the Duke of Alba, trying to restore catholicism in the Netherlands. He became a Lutheran and a professor in Jena, Germany. On a visit to Cologne he married a widow, a native of Louvain. As she refused to accompany him to Jena, he resigned his professorship. Settled at Cologne he supervised the publication of his "Tacitus" (Antwerp, 1574) and his "Antiquae lectiones" (Antwerp, 1575), miscellaneous criticisms devoted mainly to Plautus and to the fragmentary works of other authors from antiquity.

Lipsius was lecturing at Louvain during the following years (1576-77), but the victory of the Spanish forced him to leave for Leiden in the North, where he taught at the newly founded University (1578-91). Finally, as well for health as for religious problems, he left the city and became reconciled with Catholicism in the Jesuit Chapel at Mainz, Germany (1591). From that time began a new period in Lipsius's life. He was appointed again professor of history and Latin at Leuven (1592), then historiographer to the King of Spain (1595), and later honorary member of the State Council (1605).

His most important works include treatises on Seneca and Stoicism. He wished to explain in detail the Stoic philosophy, for which he professed the greatest admiration, objecting only to its toleration of suicide. These works are even today the most complete treatise ever written on Stoicism as a whole. (more)

Joos de Harduwijn (also Justus, Ghent 1582 - Dendermonde 1636)

Born to a noble family, he attended the Ghent Jesuit School, and studied Law in Louvain under Justus Lipsius. He was a friend of Jansenius. After his studies, in stead of a religious career as planned, he went back to his native Ghent, and had an intensive love affair. This inspired him to his first published poetry "Weerliicke Liefden tot Roose-mond" ("Real love for Rosamunde" -- a word play: Rosamund = "mouth of roses", Plantijn, Antwerp, 1613). Encouraged by friends and family he went to Douai, in the southern Netherlands (now France) to resume his studies for priest. He was ordained in 1607, and nominated in Dendermonde, near Aalst, between Ghent and Malines. He continued his literary activities and was also devoted to theater. He published many poems, psalms, and pious (and less pious) texts.

He was a great linguist, and the most important Flemish renaissance poet.

Corneel Jansen (also Cornelius Jansenius, 1585-1638)

He studied at the University of Louvain and became imbued with the idea of reforming Christian life along the lines of a return to St. Augustine. He established a close friendship with Duvergier de Hauranne (a fellow student, from 1611 spiritual leader  of the French Nuns' Citeaux Abbey at Port-Royal) with whom he shared and developed many of his theological ideas. In 1630, Jansen became professor at Leuven, where he founded the famous Library, and in 1636 bishop of Ypres. Out of his lifework, the posthumous Augustinus (1642, in Latin), arose the great movement called Jansenism.

Jansenism was strictly a Roman Catholic movement, and it had no repercussions in the Protestant world. Its fundamental purpose was a return of people to greater personal holiness, hence the characteristically mystical turn of Jansenist writings. St. Augustine's teaching on grace was especially appealing to Jansen, who stressed the doctrine that the soul must be converted to God by the action of divine grace. Consequently, predestination was accepted in an extreme form.

Jansenism came into conflict with the church for its predestinarianism, for its discouragement of frequent communion for the faithful, and for its attack on the Jesuits and their new casuistry, which the Jansenists thought was demoralizing the confessional. Jansenism took root in France, especially among the clergy. Blaise Pascal, the greatest Jansenist, aroused a storm by his anti-Jesuit Provincial Letters. Pope Clement XI virtually put the Jansenists out of the church.

In the Netherlands an organization not in submission to the pope was set up. There are, still today, Jansenist bishops of Utrecht, Haarlem, and Deventer. The independent Jansenists recognize the Council of Trent and are, except for their special differences, like Roman Catholics. The first Old Catholic bishop was consecrated by Jansenists.

   Jean Bolland (also Joannes Bollandus, Julémont near Liège 1596 - Antwerp 1665)

This well-known Flemish Jesuit and hagiographer was the editor of the first five volumes of the Acta Sanctorum (Lives of the Saints of the Christian Church, 1643-1794). In 1630, he arrived in Antwerp with the mission to bring the work on the Life of the Saints, projected by another Flemish Jesuit, Heribert Rosweyde (1569-1629) to completion. He formed a team with the Jesuits Godefroid Henschen and Daniel Paperbroch.

Bollandists, or Jesuits responsible for the collection and publication of the Acta Sanctorum, derived their name from him. When the Jesuit order was suppressed in 1773, the Bollandist Society moved to the monastery of Coudenberg in Brussels to carry on their work. Later,  the abbey of Tongerlo (in the north-east of Flanders) took up the task of carrying on the Acta Sanctorum (from 1789). After the publication in 1794 of the 53rd volume, however, the upheavals of the French Revolution and the dissolution of the abbey put an end to the work. In 1837 a new Bollandist association of Jesuits was formed under the patronage of the Belgian government, and resides now in the French speaking Brussels Jesuit college. (excerpt from Famous Belgians Net)

The Dutch speaking Flemish Writers

The Dutch speaking Flemish Writers (look at Louis Jacobs's homepage) include, among the greatest, Hendrik Conscience, Guido Gezelle, Jan Frans Willems, Ernest Claes, Felix Timmermans, August Vermeylen, Johan Daine, Karel van de Woestijne, Paul van Ostaijen, Willem Elschot, Hubert Lampo, Aster Berkhof, Paul Snoek, Hugo Claus, etc. They have produced very high quality literature, but due to the limited area of Dutch language they seldom got international recognition.

The French speaking Flemish Writers

The greatest French speaking Belgian writers in fact all were Flemish, born and educated in the North. They include:

Charles De Coster (Munich, Germany 1827 - Brussels 1879)

His Flemish father worked for the nuntius in Bavaria. After the dead of his father he continued secondary school at the Jesuit College in Brussels, and tried university. Eventually, he became a professor of literature at the Military Academy.

His major publication is a narrative of the medieval Flemish tale of  Thyl Ulenspiegel (the Flemish equivalent of Don Quichotte), translated in many languages.

GeorgesÝEeckhoud (Antwerp 1854 - Brussels 1927)

Started a military career but was dismissed. Worked as journalist and teacher.

His works treat naturalism, local traditions and the life of simple people.

Was one of the 20 founders of the Académie royale de Langue et de Littérature françaises.

Georges Rodenbach (Tournai 1855 - Paris, France 1898)

He studied at the Ghent Jesuit College. He practiced some time as a lawyer in Brussels, but was eventually totally devoted to literature.

Rodenbachís early works were known mainly in Belgium but with the 1886 publication of ìLa Jeunesse blancheî (The White Youthfulness) came general recognition in France. Following this, he settled in Paris.

He was among the first to adapt French Symbolist poetics of inwardness and indeterminacy to a theme firmly rooted in experience of his native Flanders. Rodenbach explored in his  both in his poetry and in a widely-read novel of 1898 Bruges-la-Morte, "(The dead city of Bruges)", a nostalgic novel evoking the landscape of Flanders, and moody, ruminative poems evoking the interior landscape of a self-absorbed mind. Ghent and especially Bruges were Rodenbach's sacred places, the mythicized cities of his soul and imagination. He filtered the actual geographical cities through his subjective mood, tranforming them into a literary world of solitude. His poetry is claustral and hushed; the Flemish city that is his obsessive theme is a private, interior realm, a wavering Other-World of symbolic lifelessness. (Source: Donald Flanell Friedman "An Anthology of Belgian Symbolists").

His work inspired international artists, including Thomas Mann (Death in Venice), Rainer Maria Rilke (Neue Gedichte), Konstantin Cavafis (who made translations of Rodenbach's poems).

Émile Verhaeren (Sint-Amands, between Ghent and Antwerp 1855 - Rouen, France 1916)

He made his studies at the Ghent Jesuit College and became a lawyer at Louvain University. His first poems, "Les Flamandes" (The Flemish Girls) and in 1895 his most famous work "Les Villes tentaculaires" (Cities with tentacles). Also a series of monographies on painters, including James Ensor, Khnopff and Rembrandt.

He died by accident in a railway station at Rouen, France.

   Maurice Maeterlinck ( Ghent 1862 - Nice, France 1949)

His father was a retired notary and a small land owner. Maurice attended the Ghent Jesuit College, and became interested in poetry in his youth. However, his family objected to their son's trifling with poetry and he was sent to study law at the University of Ghent. At the age of 21 Maeterlinck published his first poem, 'The Rushes.' After graduating he continued his studies in Paris. There he met the symbolist poets Stéphane Mallarmé and Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, who was much interested in occultism, and published a translation of Jan van Ruysbroeck's L'Ornement des noces spirituelles.

After returning to Ghent Maeterlinck practiced law but continued his writing. In the1890s he wrote several symbolist plays, among them Pelléas et Mélisande, a classical tragic story of lovers, with musical setting by Claude Debussy and also by Jean Sibelius. During the summers, Maeterlinck lived quietly at Oostakker near Ghent, his family's country home, and returned to Ghent for the rest of the year. In 1895 Maeterlinck met player Georgette Leblanc, and moved with her the next year to Paris. In his essays Maeterlinck rejected Schopenhaurian negativism and replaced it with a view tempered with Occidental optimism. It is possible, he though, for human being to alter the destiny if he or she so wills. From 1899 he produced several volumes of verses and plays, set in an unreal Flanders in an undetermined time.

Maeterlinck's most famous play, The Blue Bird, was first produced in 1909 by Konstantin Stanislavski at the Moskow Art Theater. The work, an allegorical fantasy conceived as a play for children, has been widely translated and adapted into screen several times. He got the Nobel Prize for literature in 1911. On the eve of World War II Maeterlinck fled to the United States. These years were hard for the writer because his works were ignored in the US and he was unable to collect royalties from the sales of his books in Europe. In 1947 he returned to his home in Nice.

Maeterlinck died of a heart attack. He was buried according to his agnostic world view.

Modern Flemish Philosophers

   Max Wildiers (Antwerp 1904-1996)

He joins the catholic religious order of Capucines, and graduated at the Gregoriana University in Rome with an essay on the theological work of dr. Albert Schweizer. Already in this period his intellectual interests included the relationship between science, philosophy and theology. As motto he choosed "Spiritus quiescit numquam", "The mind never rests". This reflects his scientific and social involvement.

He was appointed professor of theology at the priest school of his religious order in Izegem, Flanders. But his ideas and attitudes were considered as unorthodox and politically unsuitable, and he was removed to a most humble position, chaplain of a nuns' Institution for mentally handicaped children, somewhere in a forgotten rural village. In this period he met the Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin several times. The publication of Teilhard's works was forbidden by the Vatican but Wildiers regarded them as fascinating. Teilhard entrusted him, among others, with the publication of his work after his death. Wildiers supervised the translation and publication of the works of Teilhard in Europe, and some of Teilhards works were published sooner in Dutch than in their original French version or English translation.

Wildiers got international fame with these publications, and was appointed professor of Comparative Theology at the University of California at Berkeley. He was also lecturer in some other American and Canadian universities. Only at the end of his career he was appointed as professor at the Dutch speaking University of Louvain, Belgium.

His basic concept is the evolutionary process of the mind, in culture as well as in religion. He made several additions to the theories of Teilhard, especially about the place of technology within the Noosphere. He described the evolution of Christian culture, tracing it back to its Jewish but also to its several non-Christian sources, including Greek, Celtic and Renaissance world views, and its development in interaction with evolving culture.

He can be considered as one of the greatest Flemish philosophers of the 20th century. He wrote tens of books and articles, mainly in Dutch. His opus magnum, "The Theologian and his Universe: Theology and Cosmology from the Middle Ages to the Present", was tranlated into English. (more)

   Leo Apostel (Antwerp 1925 - Ghent 1995)

He studied philosophy at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. In 1950-51 he was CRB fellow at the Universities of Chicago and Yale, and 1955 member of the Centre International d'Epistémologie Génétique (Prof. J. Piaget). In 1956 he started giving university courses at Brussels (in Dutch), Ghent (1957) and Pennsylvania State University (1958) to become professor at the Ghent University (1960). With his Solvay prize he founded the inter-universitary institute "Worldviews". His major aim near the end of his life was to elaborate an integration of the fragmented approaches of reality and existence.

He writes 20 books (in Dutch, French and English) on Logics, Language and Communication, and on related topics including African Philosophy, Freemasonry and non-religious Spirituality. He was honoured by many national and international prizes, including Doctor Honoris Causa at the University of Genève (Switzerland, 1983). (more)

Flemish Strip Artists

Drawn Strip artists (School of Hergé)

Although Hergé (Georges Remi, Brussels 1907-1983), the author of Tintin, was a French speaking Belgian, many of his crew in fact were Flemish, creating an important Flemish tradition of strip art. Other artists with international recognition include Goscinny and Uderzo, the creators of Asterix, who got their training and started their career at Hergé's studios in Brussels.

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Posted on 11 July 2002, on the 700th anniversary of the Batlle of the Golden Spurs, the symbolic Independence Day of Flanders. Rev. 25 July 2002.