Lyra (also Lyrtanus), NICHOLAS DE, so called from Lyre, in Normandy, the place of his nativity, was born about 1270. He entered the Order of the Franciscans at Verneuil in 1291, and completed his studies in Paris. Here he studied successfully, was admitted to the degree of doctor, and became a distinguished lecturer on the Bible. Besides his studies at the university, he privately devoted himself to the acquisition of a thorough knowledge of Hebrew, and his association with converts of Jewish faith at this time has probably given rise to the opinion, even now held by some, that Nicholas de Lyra was born of Jewish parents, and was himself a convert to Christianity. His own writings, however, flatly contradict this report, as has been shown by Wolf (Bibliotheca, 1 and 3, s.v.); and Nicholas himself tells us, in one of his works (the polemical treatise), that he had but little association with Jews, and depended mainly upon the experience of other Christians for his delineation of Jewish character and customs (compare Gratz, Gesch. d. Juden, 7:513). His great learning, refined taste, and eminent worth, raised him to the principal offices of his order, and secured him the friendship of the most illustrious persons of his age. He died at Paris October 23, 1340. It is especially as a writer that Lyra is justly celebrated, and, as has been frequently asserted, he became, by his thorough expositions of the Scriptures, one of the greatest aids of the reformers of the 16th century. whence the couplet on Luther's exegetical labors by the enemies of the great German reformer:
"Si Lyra non lyrasset Lutherus non saltasset."
Nicholas de Lyra's chef d'oeuvre is his Postillae perpetuae in universa Biblia (Rome, 1471-72,5 volumes fol.; best edit. Antw. 1634, 6 volumes fol.), which brought him the title of "doctor planus et utilis" — or, better, which immortalized the name of Lyra. The great merit of this commentary consists in the embodiment of the sober-spirited and ingenious explanations of Rashi, whose mode of interpretation Lyra regarded as his model, as he frankly states, "Similiter intendo non solum dicta doctorum Catholicorum, sed etiam Hebraeorum maxime rabbi Salomonis, qui inter doctores Hebraeos locutus est rationalibus, ad declarationem sensus literalis inducere." De Lyra even adopts the well-known Jewish four modes of interpretation denominated פרדם = סוד, mystical; דרוש, allegorical;
דמו, spiritual; פשט, literal, which he thus expresses in verses in the same prologue (i.e., the first), from which the former quotation is made.
"Litera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria, Moralis quid agas, quo tendas anagogia."
He gives, however, the preference to the literal sense.
"All of them, says he, in the second prologue, "presuppose the literal sense as the foundation. As a building declining from the foundation is likely to fall, so the mystic exposition which deviates from the literal sense must be reckoned unbecoming and unsuitable." Even in the interpretation of the N.T., where Rashi failed him, acquaintance with the Rabbinical writings and Jewish antiquities enabled him to illustrate largely by allusion to the manners and customs of the Hebrews. He also wrote a treatise in defense of Christianity, and against Judaism, entitled Tractatus fratris Nicolai de Lyra de Messia ejusque adventu, una cum responsione ad Judaeorum argumenta quatuordecim contra veritatem Evangeliorum, which he finished in 1309. It is generally appended to his commentary, and is also given in the polemical work entitled the Hebraeomastix of Hieronymus de Sancta-fide (Frankf. 1602, page 148 sq.). For the different editions of De Lyra's works and translations into French and German, see Grasse, Tresor des Livres rares et precieux, s.v.; see also Davidson, Sacred Hermeneutics (ed. 1843), page 175 sq.; Dr. Adam Clarke, Sacred Lit. s.v.; Kitto, Cyclop. Bibl. Lit. 2, s.v.