Friendship and religion in the Republic of Letters; the return of Justus Lipsius to Catholicism (1591)


  • I have incurred a great number of debts in the process of writing this article. I would foremost like to thank Jeanine De Landtsheer who generously shared her knowledge of the Lipsius correspondence with me. I am grateful for the opportunity to observe – and admire – her scholarship at first hand. I firmly believe that the contents of this article complement rather than contradict her work. I would also like to thank Dirk van Miert and Howard Hotson for comments on an early version of this argument. Part of this argument was presented at the 2009 Harvard-Princeton History Graduate Conference. I am grateful to Anthony Grafton who allowed me to participate. A Scaliger fellowship gave me the opportunity to work with the original manuscripts of the Lipsius correspondence in the Leiden University Library and Kasper van Ommen was a generous host. The hospitality of the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome made research in the Jesuit archives possible. Robin Briggs has been a constant source of wisdom and advice throughout and after my graduate studies. The feedback of the anonymous reviewers of Renaissance Studies has been invaluable. I am grateful to Martin McLaughlin for proofreading the final drafts and his constructive criticism. Late night musings with David Lowe about the meaning of friendship prompted this article; those discussions make up my debt of friendship, which I hereby acknowledge and repay.


jan machielsen, Friendship and religion in the Republic of Letters; The return of Justus Lipsius to Catholicism (1591)

The return of the Flemish humanist Justus Lipsius (1547–1606) to the Spanish Netherlands and his reconciliation with Catholicism (1591) have defined his image for posterity. Debates about the sincerity of Lipsius' religious beliefs have continued to the present day. Scholars have presented Lipsius' departure from Leiden as the result of external pressure, as effortless, and conducted in secret. By contrast, this article shows that Lipsius' public engagement in the Republic of Letters was instrumental in enabling his reconciliation with Catholicism. Lipsius employed both published and private letters and the rhetoric of friendship to win support for his return to the Southern Netherlands. After his arrival, Lipsius' correspondence and friendship with the Flemish-Spanish Jesuit Martin Delrio (1551–1608) served as a public platform on which the humanist acted out his reconciliation. The article concludes with a discussion as to why Lipsius only published a fraction of his letters to Delrio.