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The evidence about the youth and adolescence of Erasmus is hard to evaluate. A major source of knowledge is autobiographical, a product of his middle age when international fame made him most sensitive about his illegitimate birth at Rotterdam, probably in October 1466, the second son of a priest, Roger Gerard, and a physician's daughter. School life, rather than a household environment, shaped Erasmus from his fifth year onward. He later disparaged the effort of his teachers and the guardians established after the parents' deaths about 1484; in fact, his father provided Erasmus a solid education with the Brethren of the Common Life from 1475 to 1484. From this religious community, which for a century had deflected education in the Low Countries from scholastic rigidity and had relieved its discipline of the strictest monastic severity, Erasmus obtained a firm grounding in classical Latin and an appreciation of a spirit of Christianity beyond its doctrinal basis.
From Steyn to Cambridge
His unpromising birth and his guardians' business sense gave the monastic cloister an obvious, if grim, place in Erasmus' future. He entered the Augustinian monastery at Steyn in 1487 and took monastic vows in 1488; he was ordained a priest in 1492. His reading in classical literature and Christian sources matured, but Erasmus found Steyn crude and rustic. Scholarship offered the first step out, when the bishop of Cambrai employed Erasmus as his secretary in 1493 and rewarded his work with a stipend for study at Paris in 1495.
Paris provided a diverse environment which Erasmus cultivated between recalls to the Low Countries in the late 1490s. He moved in literary circles, writing poetry and dedications and experimenting with styles of educational writing which bore fruit in the later publications Adagia and Colloquia. He sought students and patrons until, in 1499, his student Lord Mountjoy took him to England.
The visit was decisive to Erasmus. English humanists were studying Scripture and the early Church fathers and advocating reform of the Church and the educational process that served it. Friendships with John Colet, Sir Thomas More, and others restored Erasmus' interest in devotional studies and turned him to the Greek language as the key for his research. Enchiridion militis Christiani (Handbook of the Militant Christian, published 1503, though begun a decade before) outlined conduct which would foster man's spiritual capacities and usher in the ethics and piety of what Erasmus' group called the "philosophy of Christ." It gave these scholars an international audience and steady patronage among educated laymen.
In 1506 Erasmus fulfilled a long-standing ambition by traveling to Italy. He watched Pope Julius II conquer Bologna that year; the sharpest edge of his wit can be discerned in a tract, Julius exclusus (published anonymously in 1517; he never admitted authorship), in which St. Peter bars Julius from heaven and scathingly damns his wars and treasure. Erasmus polished his Greek in Italy and formed, with Aldus Manutius's press in Venice, the first of the crucial links to publishing enterprises that secured his financial and professional independence.
Back in England by 1509, disillusioned with the Church's wars and its clergy's shortcomings, Erasmus wrote Encomium moriae (The Praise of Folly), a satiric exposition of the obstacles restricting the fulfillment of Christ's teaching. Though not formally released from monastic vows until 1517, Erasmus was now effectively freed of Steyn by his mounting reputation. He held a professorship at Cambridge (1511-1514) and settled into the vocation for which his study and travel had prepared him.
Erasmus' Novum instrumentum, a heavily annotated edition of the New Testament placing texts in Greek and revised Latin side by side, appeared in 1516 from the Basel press of Johannes Froben. As the first published Greek text and a basis for further clarification of the New Testament, it was a landmark for scholars and reformers. It attuned educated Europeans more closely to Erasmus' early works, which were now widely translated from the Latin of his originals, and paved the way for the literary and educational classics of the Christian humanist fellowship.
Erasmus had now returned to the Continent to the manuscripts and printing houses on which his massive efforts relied. Froben published his nine-volume edition of St. Jerome in 1516 and in the next 2 decades issued Erasmus' comprehensive editions of early Christian authors, including St. Cyprian (1520), St. Ambrose (1527), and St. Augustine (1529); he also circulated commentaries and treatises on divinity and revised editions of the literary works.
Another dimension to Erasmus' writing appeared in 1516, while he briefly served the future emperor Charles V as councilor. Following current humanist practice, he prepared a guide for educating princes to rule justly, Institutio principis Christiani, and in 1517 composed Querela pacis (The Complaint of Peace), condemning war as an instrument of tyranny and warning temporal rulers to fulfil their obligation to preserve Christian harmony. Erasmus thus demonstrated, before Luther's impact was clear, his sensitivity to Europe's impending fragmentation.
Erasmus and Reformation Europe
Erasmus' influence could not realize the vision of Christian renovation expressed in his New Testament dedication and preface, which urged Pope Leo X to make Rome the center of reform and to make Christ's words available to every plowboy in the field. Following Luther's lead, many intellectuals, impatient for action, rejected humanism's "halfway house" and used presses and pulpits to move Europe's masses as Erasmus never had. The Erasmians' style of persuasion was countered by simpler, vernacular tracts on theology, the Sacraments, and Church structure, sometimes linked with social and political issues. In 1516 Erasmus had foreseen a golden age, but by 1521, dismayed by the partisan tone and substance of the reformers' appeals, he was calling his own times the worst since Christianity began.
Erasmus' eventual response, after an important exchange with Luther in 1524-1525 about the role of human will in salvation to which he contributed De libero arbitrio (On the Freedom of the Will), was a gradual disengagement from the disputing theologians and their secular sponsors. He avoided Europe's major courts and capitals, and he left congenial intellectual homes in Catholic Louvain in 1521 and Protestant Basel in 1529, when denominational advocacy invaded their scholarship and governance. Printing presses continued to hold his audience: they were the lifelines of this complex man, rootless at birth, whose temperament, circumstances, and dislike of permanent commitments consistently separated him from friends and institutions eager to harness his talents.
He died on July 12, 1536. The embattled Catholic Church, which he never left, condemned some of Erasmus' work for its critical attitude and moderation against heretics, while much modern opinion based on Protestant, nationalist viewpoints has judged him harshly. But there is, with the ecumenical mood of current commentary, a revival of interest in, and sympathy for, Erasmus and his conviction that tolerance and rational persuasion must prevail through discordant times.
John P. Dolan, The Essential Erasmus (1964), offers an excellent selection of Erasmus' works with commentary, while Roland H. Bainton, Erasmus of Christendom (1969), is a fine biography which lists modern editions, translations, and critical scholarship. Important modern biographies are Margaret M. Phillips, Erasmus and the Northern Renaissance (1949), and Johan Huizinga, Erasmus and the Age of Reformation (1957). For the context of Erasmian ideas recent works include Eugene F. Rice, The Renaissance Idea of Wisdom (1958); Robert Pardee Adams, The Better Part of Valor (1962); and Heiko A. Oberman, The Harvest of Medieval Theology (1963). For historical background see Myron P. Gilmore, TheWorld of Humanism, 1453-1517 (1952), and Geoffrey R. Elton, Reformation Europe, 1517-1559 (1963). □
"Desiderius Erasmus." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2014). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404702021.html
"Desiderius Erasmus." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. Retrieved April 23, 2014 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404702021.html
Desiderius Erasmus (1466?-1536) (he was baptized Erasmus Rogerii, or Gerards—Desiderius was his own addition), a Dutch humanist, spent his early youth in Gouda and later attended the Latin schools at Deventer and ’s Hertogenbosch. There he had contact with the devotio moderna and joined the canons regular of the Augustinian monastery of Steyn near Gouda, taking his monastic vows in 1488. Between 1493 and 1516 he lived a wandering life: in service with the bishop of Cambrai, studying at the University of Paris with Robert Gaguin, Jean Vitrier, and Lefevre d’Etaples, making three visits to England, where he met John Colet and Thomas More and studied theology and Greek, and visiting Italy and Basel. From 1517 to 1521 he taught at Louvain, then lived in Basel until the Reformation was instituted there, and in Freiburg from 1529 to 1535; he died in Basel.
Erasmus was above all a remarkable classical scholar. He fiercely deplored the corrupt state of the Latin of his time and advocated the use of Cicero’s language, which he used in all his writings and for which he wrote manuals. Following the example of the Italians, he sought out what, in his opinion, were the most authentic texts of the classics, of which he drew up annotated editions, the Greek with Latin translations. In addition to many classical works he edited the New Testament and the writings of the church fathers.
Erasmus also had great influence on his contemporaries through his hortatory works: humorous and satirical sketches of the life of his contemporaries (Colloquia 1518; Eng. trans. The Colloquies of Erasmus), paraphrases of the Gospels and Epistles, and his most famous essays: Enchiridion militis christiani (1503) and Moriae encomium (1511; Eng. trans. In Praise of Folly). In them he bitterly mocked stupidity, selfishness, and vanity and pointed out that man can find the true happiness that lies in harmony and peace only through leading a truly Christian life and increasing one’s knowledge. Rulers, including the pope, were sharply criticized by Erasmus for their destructive and useless wars. Education to rationality can and must be the key to a better public life; to this end he wrote, among other things, Institutio principis christiani (1515-1516; Eng. trans. The Education of a Christian Prince), dedicated to Charles v.
Erasmus took up arms early in his career against the idle disputations of the Scholastics, the formalism of the church of his time, the wealth and temporal power of the priesthood, and later, above all, against the monks, whom he regarded as his archenemies and whose monastic life he saw as useless. He hoped for a reconstruction of the church in line with what he saw as primitive Christianity: not a doctrine of redemption from sin and death, but a philosophia Christi that teaches man to live in conformity with the commandments of love of neighbor, mercy, self-control, and reason, as the best of the classics also taught. He did not regard the sacraments as means of grace. He condemned the church’s doctrine of absolution by penance and good works, the worship of saints and their relics, and the practice of pilgrimages. Edification by word and example, he held, is the only task of the priest. At the same time, he wanted to retain the principal dogmas (including papal power, provided it was confined to matters of faith). However, his interpretation of these dogmas differed so far from that professed by the church that the authorities, even after the Council of Trent, condemned his writings. But his ideas found much support and are still alive, both among Catholics and liberal Protestants.
Erasmus greeted Luther’s public stand against the church’s doctrine of penance with sympathy. But he soon realized that Luther had in mind an entirely different reformation of the church than he himself desired. At the same time, he continued to advocate a conciliatory attitude toward Luther and opposed his condemnation. It was only after much pressure had been exerted that Erasmus wrote the Diatribe de libero arbitrio (1524; Eng. trans. Discourse on Free Will) against Luther. In it he set forth his own conception of human dignity and free will, which was related to the ideas of the Italian humanists and the classics, as opposed to the total depravity of man that Luther preached. However, he did this in such a way that his book pleased the Catholics no more than the Protestants. Until his death he pleaded for reconstruction of the church and a rapprochement between the Roman and Lutheran factions.
H. A. Ennovan Gelder
(1484-1521) 1962 The Epistles of Erasmus: From His Earliest Letters to His Fifty-fifth Year. 3 vols. New York: Russell & Russell.
(1484-1536) 1906-1958 Opus epistolarum Des. Erasmi Roterodami. Edited by P. S. Allen. 12 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
(1503) 1963 The Enchiridion. Translated and edited by Raymond Himelick. Blooraington: Indiana Univ. Press.
(1511) 1942 In Praise of Folly. With a short biography of Erasmus by Hendrik Willem van Loon. New York: Black.
(1515-1516) 1936 The Education of a Christian Prince. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.
(1518) 1965 The Colloquies of Erasmus. A new translation by Craig R. Thompson. Univ. of Chicago Press.
(1524) 1961 Discourse on Free Will. Translated and edited by Ernest F. Winter. New York: Ungar.
Ausgewahlte Werke. Edited by Hajo Holborn. Munich: Beck, 1933.
Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami opera omnia. 10 vols. Leiden (The Netherlands): Vander, 1703-1706. → Volume 1: Qvae ad institvtionem literarum spectant. Volume 2: Adagia. Volume 3: Epistolae. Volume 4: Qvae ad morum institvtionem pertinent. Volume 5: Qvae ad pretatem instituunt. Volume 6: Novvm Testamentvm. Volume 7: Paraphrases in N. Testamentvm. Volume 8: Versa e patribvs graecis. Volume 9: Apologia I. Volume 10: Apologia II.
Erasmi opuscula. A supplement to the Opera omnia, edited with introduction and notes by Wallace K. Ferguson. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1933.
Poems. With introductions and notes by Cornelis Reedijk. Leiden (The Netherlands): Brill, 1956.
Bataillon, Marcel 1937 Erasme et I’Espagne: Recherches sur Vhistoire spirituelle du XVIe siecle. Paris: Droz.
Bibliotheca Erasmiana. (1897-1915) 1964 Pages 271-1048 in Bibliotheca Belgica. Volume 2: Bibliographie générate des Pays-Bas. Brussels: Culture et Civilisation.
Eijl, E. J. M. VAN 1963 Erasmus en de hervorning van de theologie. Archief voor de geschiedenis van de katholieke kerk in Nederland 5:129-219.
Flitner, Andreas 1952 Erasmus im Urteil seiner Nach-welt: Das literarische Erasmus-Bild von Beatus Rhe-nanus bis zu Jean Le Clerc. Tubingen (Germany): Niemeyer.
Gelder, H. A. ENNO VAN (1961) 1964 The Two Reformations in the Sixteenth Century: A Study of the Religious Aspects and Consequences of Renaissance and Humanism. The Hague: Nijhoff.
Huizinga, Johan (1924) 1952 Erasmus of Rotterdam. 3d ed. London: Phaidon. → First published in Dutch.
Mestwerdt, Paul 1917 Die Anfdnge des Erasmus: Humanismus und “Devotio Moderna.” Leipzig: Haupt.
Renaudet, Augustin (1916) 1954 Préréforme et hu-manisme a Paris pendant les premieres guerres d’ltalie 1494-1517. 2d ed., rev. Paris: Librairie d’Argences.
Renaudet, Augustin 1926 Erasme, sa pensee religeuse et son action d’apres sa correspondance (1518-1521). Paris: Alcan.
Renaudet, Augustin 1939 Etudes erasmiennes (1521-1529). Paris: Droz.
Renaudet, Augustin 1954 Erasme et I’ltalie. Travaux d’humanisme et renaissance, No. 15. Geneva: Droz.
Rhenanus, Beatus 1536 Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami viri incomparabilis vita, et epitaphia quaedam. Antwerp (Belgium): Vorstermann. → The first biography of Erasmus.
Rotterdam, Bibliotheek En LEESZALEN DER GEMEENTE 1937 Catalogus van geschriften over leven en werken van Desiderius Erasmus aanwezig in de Bibliotheek der gemeente Rotterdam. Rotterdam (The Netherlands): The Library.
Smith, Preserved 1923 Erasmus: A Study of His Life, Ideals and Place in History. New York and London: Harper.
Smith, Preserved 1927 A Key to the Colloquies of Erasmus. Oxford Univ. Press.
"Erasmus." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 1968. Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2014). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3045000373.html
"Erasmus." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 1968. Retrieved April 23, 2014 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3045000373.html
ERASMUS, DESIDERIUS (1466?–1536), Dutch humanist. The illegitimate son of a priest, Erasmus was born in Rotterdam c. 1466. After the premature death of his parents, his guardians persuaded him to enter an Augustinian monastery. On his request he was sent to the Collège de Montaigu in Paris in 1495, but he developed a strong distaste for the Scholastic brand of theology taught there and focused on the humanities instead. In 1499 he undertook the first of four journeys to England. The patronage of important men, foremost among them William Warham, archbishop of Canterbury (c. 1450–1532), and the friendship of Thomas More (1478–1535) and John Colet (1467?–1519) opened doors for him and stimulated his interest in classical sources and biblical studies. Over the next two decades he made a name for himself through his collection of classical proverbs (Adages, first version 1500) and his elegant translations from the Greek (Euripides, Lucian, Plutarch, etc.). His jeu d'esprit, The Praise of Folly (Encomium Moriae; 1511), was an international bestseller and remains in print to the present day. From 1506 to 1509, Erasmus traveled in Italy, where he was awarded a doctorate in theology at the University of Turin (per saltum, that is, without the requisite examinations) and worked as a corrector for the famous Venetian printer Aldo Manuzio. After the accession of Henry VIII in 1509, he left for England and taught at the University of Cambridge, but he returned to the Continent when the hoped-for royal patronage was not forthcoming.
Two church benefices, which he converted into pensions, and an appointment as councillor to Prince Charles (later Emperor Charles V) gave him a certain measure of financial and scholarly independence. For Charles's guidance, Erasmus wrote an essay on statecraft, The Education of a Christian Prince (1516), as well as two position papers on war against the Turks and ways of ending the religious strife between Catholics and Protestants. Like Luther, Erasmus suggested that the Turks were the scourge of God and that spiritual reform must precede military action. His plan for peace among the religious factions rested on the idea of negotiation and compromise and the assumption that a future general synod would be able to formulate mutually acceptable doctrinal positions. To indicate that his advice was spiritual as much as political, Erasmus incorporated the pieces into Psalm commentaries (1530 and 1533). His position as councillor made it imperative for Erasmus to live in the Low Countries. From 1517 to 1521 he therefore resided in Louvain. After Charles's departure for Spain, he settled in Basel.
Erasmus's biblical studies aroused the opposition of conservative theologians. They objected to his application of the humanistic philological method to Scripture and protested against his plan to emend the Vulgate, then widely regarded as St. Jerome's translation, written with papal authorization and under divine guidance. Erasmus had now collated numerous biblical manuscripts and studied the textual citations and exegesis of Greek and Latin fathers. He edited and translated a number of patristic works (Jerome, Augustine, Chrysostom, Origen, Theophylactus, and others). The most important fruit of his studies, however, was a critical Greek and Latin edition of the New Testament and annotations explaining the textual changes he proposed. First published by Johann Froben in Basel in 1516, the work went through five editions in Erasmus's lifetime. The annotations more than tripled in volume as Erasmus incorporated ongoing research and answered the attacks of Catholic theologians. According to his critics, Erasmus's changes laid the groundwork for heterodox interpretations and gave support to the Lutherans.
Erasmus initially sympathized with the reformers, but he withdrew his support after 1521 when it became apparent that their teaching was schismatic. The saying current at the time, "Erasmus laid the egg that Luther hatched," reflects the fact that Erasmus sharply criticized the Catholic hierarchy in such works as The Praise of Folly and the Colloquies (first version 1518). His call for inner piety rather than external compliance with ceremonies, first formulated in The Handbook of the Christian Soldier (1503), and his emphasis on Scripture and the fathers created the impression that he shared Luther's platform. He differed sharply from Luther, however, in calling only for a reform of abuses and initiating no change in doctrine. As his polemic with the reformer in 1524 over the question of free will clearly showed, Erasmus respected the traditions of the church and accepted its teaching authority. Although he voiced doubts about certain doctrinal points, for example, the divine institution of the sacrament of penance, he expressly subjected his views to the verdict of the church. Erasmus's approach to doctrinal questions may be described as "Catholic skepticism." He examined the evidence on both sides but relied on consensus and tradition as decision-making tools if the evidence was inconclusive. Schism therefore presented an epistemological challenge to Erasmus. Not surprisingly, he concentrated all his efforts on promoting a peaceful solution to the religious debate. Pacifism was also the watchword of The Education of a Christian Prince and the essays The Complaint of Peace (1517) and War Is Sweet to Inexperienced Men (1515). Erasmus's moderate and humane attitude earned him the enmity of partisans in both religious camps, who denounced him as a hypocrite and fence sitter. The decade before his death in 1536 was accordingly dominated by apologiae in which he attempted to justify his writings and protested against their retrointerpretation as "Lutheran."
Erasmus's contemporaries were uncertain how to classify him professionally. Many correspondents addressed him as "theologian," but the emphasis shifted in the mid-1520s. Philipp Melanchthon (1497–1560) famously contrasted Erasmus with Luther. In his opinion the latter was a true theologian, the former merely a humanist who taught good style and polite manners. The Louvain theologian Frans Titelmans flatly declared that "Erasmian" was synonymous with "humanistic." After the Council of Trent (1545–1563), the Catholic Church placed Erasmus's works on the Index of Prohibited Books; in Protestant countries, his textbooks (for example, Copia, 1512; On Writing Letters, 1522) and his anthologies continued to be used in schools, but it was clear that Erasmus now served only as a style model.
Interest in Erasmus revived during the Enlightenment when he was praised for his rationalism. In the literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries Erasmus is most often seen as a protagonist of pacifism. Such interpretations, however, present an unduly simplified version of Erasmus's ideas. His socalled rationalism does not meet modern criteria. It is tempered by religious sentiments and qualified by an unquestioning belief in the church. His pacifism is similarly misrepresented by writers who ignore its epistemological basis and reduce it to social concerns. Christian humanism, or as Erasmus himself called it, docta pietas ('learned piety'), remains the best term to describe the ideal he admired and indeed exemplified.
Erasmus, Desiderius. The Collected Works of Erasmus. 22 vols. to date. Toronto, 1974–.
Augustijn, Cornelis. Erasmus: His Life, Works, and Influence. Translated by J. C. Grayson. Toronto, 1991.
Rummel, Erika. The Confessionalization of Humanism. New York, 2000.
——. Erasmus and His Catholic Critics. Nieuwkoop, Netherlands, 1989.
Tracy, James. Erasmus of the Low Countries. Berkeley, 1996.
RUMMEL, ERIKA. "Erasmus, Desiderius." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2014). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404900354.html
RUMMEL, ERIKA. "Erasmus, Desiderius." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. 2004. Retrieved April 23, 2014 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404900354.html
The Dutch scholar Erasmus was the dominant figure of the early sixteenth-century humanist movement (a movement during the Renaissance period devoted to human welfare). The intellectual middleman (one who negotiates) during the last years of Christian unity, he remains one of European culture's most controversial figures.
Desiderius Erasmus was born in Rotterdam, Netherlands, probably on October 27, 1466, the second son of a priest, Roger Gerard, and Margaret, a physician's daughter. His parents were unmarried at the time of his birth. School life shaped Erasmus from his fifth year onward. His parents enrolled him and his brother at a school in Deventer with the Brethren of the Common Life from 1475 to 1484. Around 1484 his parents died of the plague (a highly contagious disease that results in the deaths of large numbers of people) and their appointed guardians sent the boys to another, more conservative school also run by the Brethren for three more years. From this religious community, Erasmus was educated in classical Latin and developed an appreciation of Christianity beyond its traditional basis.
From Steyn to Cambridge
Erasmus entered the Augustinian monastery (a house of monks who have taken vows to dedicate their lives to religion) at Steyn in 1487 and took monastic vows in 1488; he was ordained (officially installed in a church position) a priest in 1492. Erasmus found Steyn crude and rustic. His intellectual abilities offered the first step out, when the bishop of Cambrai employed Erasmus as his secretary in 1493 and rewarded his work with a salary for study in Paris, France, in 1495.
Paris provided a different environment for Erasmus. He moved in scholarly circles, writing poetry and experimenting with styles of educational writing that later became the publications Adagia and Colloquia. He sought students and patrons (people who give financial support to artists or writers) until 1499, when a student took him to England.
The visit to England was life changing for Erasmus. English humanists were studying Scripture (Biblical writings) and the early Church leaders, and working toward reform of the Catholic Church and the educational process that served it. Friendships with John Colet (c. 1467–1519), Sir Thomas More (c. 1477–1535), and others inspired Erasmus's interest in religious studies and turned him to the Greek language as the key for his research. Enchiridion militis Christiani (Handbook of the Militant Christian, published 1503, though begun a decade before) outlined conduct that would further man's spiritual growth and bring about the moral principles and godliness of what Erasmus's group called the "philosophy of Christ."
In 1506 Erasmus traveled to Italy. He anonymously (without giving a name or an identity) published Julius exclusus (he never admitted authorship), in which St. Peter bars Julius (then Pope Julius II [1443–1513] who was waging war with Bologna in Italy) from heaven and harshly speaks against his wars and treasure. Erasmus polished his Greek in Italy and formed a relationship with the printing house of Aldus Manutius in Venice, the first link to publishing his writings that secured his financial and professional independence.
Back in England by 1509, disappointed with the Church's wars and its clergy's weaknesses, Erasmus wrote Encomium moriae (The Praise of Folly), a commentary of the obstacles restricting the fulfillment of Christ's teaching. Though not formally released from monastic vows until 1517, Erasmus was now freed of Steyn by his mounting reputation. He worked as a professor at Cambridge (1511–1514) and settled into the occupation for which his study and travel had prepared him .
Erasmus's Novum instrumentum, a heavily explained edition of the New Testament placing texts in Greek and revised Latin side by side, appeared in 1516. It was a turning point for scholars and reformers that brought educated Europeans closer to Erasmus's early works, and paved the way for the literary and educational classics of the Christian humanist society.
Erasmus then returned to Europe to continue his efforts and resume the circulation of his works. Froben published his nine-volume edition of St. Jerome in 1516 and in the next two decades issued Erasmus's extensive editions of early Christian authors, including St. Cyprian (1520), St. Ambrose (1527), and St. Augustine (1529); he also circulated critical writings and essays on immortality and revised editions of the literary works.
Another type of writing by Erasmus's appeared in 1516, while he briefly served the future emperor Charles V (1500–1558) as councilor (a person who gives advice). He prepared a guide for educating princes to rule justly, Institutio principis Christiani, and in 1517 composed Querela pacis (The Complaint of Peace), speaking against war as an instrument of oppression (the act of keeping down, or suppressing, by forceful authority) and warning rulers to fulfill their obligation to preserve Christian harmony. Erasmus thus demonstrated his sensitivity to Europe's approaching split in the Christian Church.
Erasmus and Reformation Europe
Erasmus's influence could not accomplish the vision of Christian renovation expressed in his New Testament dedication and preface, which urged Pope Leo X (1457–1521) to make Rome the center of reform and to make Christ's words available to every commoner who wished to read it. Following Martin Luther's (1483–1546) lead, many intellectuals, impatient for action, used publications and speaking platforms to move Europe's masses as Erasmus never had. The Erasmians's style of persuasion was replaced by simpler, informal commentaries on theology (the study of God and the Christian religion), the Sacraments, and Church structure, sometimes linked with social and political issues.
Erasmus's eventual response, after an important exchange with Luther in 1524 and 1525, about the role of human will in salvation to which he contributed De libero arbitrio (On the Freedom of the Will), was a gradual separation from the theologians who held a different opinion and their wealthy sponsors.
Erasmus died on July 12, 1536. The Catholic Church, which he never left, rejected some of Erasmus's work for its critical attitude and moderation against those who held different beliefs, while opinion based on Protestant, authoritative viewpoints has judged him harshly. But there is a rebirth of interest in, and sympathy for, Erasmus and his belief that patience and logical reasoning must be the controlling factor through conflicting times.
For More Information
Bainton, Roland H. Erasmus of Christendom. New York: Scribner, 1969.
Dolan, John P. The Essential Erasmus. New York: New American Library, 1964.
Erasmus, Desiderius. The Adages of Erasmus. Edited by William Barker. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001.
Popkin, Richard Henry. The History of Skepticism From Erasmus to Spinoza. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979.
"Erasmus, Desiderius." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2014). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3437500294.html
"Erasmus, Desiderius." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2003. Retrieved April 23, 2014 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3437500294.html
Erasmus (Ĭrăz´məs) or Desiderius Erasmus (dĕsĬdēr´ēəs) [Gr. Erasmus, his given name, and Lat., Desiderius=beloved; both are regarded as the equivalent of Dutch Gerard, Erasmus' father's name], 1466?–1536, Dutch humanist, b. Rotterdam. He was ordained priest of the Roman Catholic Church and studied at the Univ. of Paris. Erasmus' influence began to be felt in Europe after 1500. It was exercised through his personal contacts, his editions of classical authors, and his own writings. He was acquainted with most of the scholars of Europe and his circle of friends was especially large in England; it included Thomas More, John Colet, and Henry VIII. His editions of Greek and Latin classics and of the Fathers of the Church (especially of Jerome and Athanasius) were his chief occupation for years. His Latin edition of the New Testament was based on the original Greek text. For many years he was editor for the printer Johannes Froben in Basel. Erasmus' original works are mainly satirical and critical. Written in Latin, the language of the 16th-century scholar, the most important works are Adagia (1500, tr. Adages or Proverbs), a collection of quotations; Enchiridion militis christiani (1503, tr. Manual of the Christian Knight); Moriae encomium (1509, tr. The Praise of Folly, 1979); Institutio principis christiani (1515, tr. The Education of a Christian Prince, 1968); Colloquia (1516, tr. Colloquies); and his collected letters (tr., ed. by F. M. Nichols, 1904–18; repr. 1962). Erasmus combined vast learning with a fine style, a keen and sometimes sharp humor, moderation, and tolerance. His position on the Reformation was widely denounced, especially by Martin Luther, who had first looked on Erasmus as an ally because of Erasmus' attacks on clerical abuse and lay ignorance. Though eager for church reform, Erasmus remained all his life within the Roman Catholic Church. As a humanist he deplored the religious warfare of the time because of the rancorous, intolerant atmosphere and cultural decline that it induced. Erasmus was finally brought into open conflict with Luther and attacked his position on predestination in On the Freedom of the Will.
See studies by M. M. Phillips (1949, repr. 1965), J. Huizinga (tr. 1952, repr. 1957), R. H. Bainton (1969), T. A. Dorey, ed. (1970), and G. Thompson (1974).
"Erasmus." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2013. Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2014). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Erasmus.html
"Erasmus." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2013. Retrieved April 23, 2014 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Erasmus.html
Erasmus, Desiderius (1466–1536) ( Gerhard Gerhards) Dutch scholar and teacher, the greatest of the Renaissance humanists. His Latin translation of the Greek New Testament revealed flaws in the Vulgate text. He also edited the writings of Saint Jerome and other patristic literature. Among his original works, his Enchiridion militis (‘Manual of the Christian Knight’, 1503) emphasized simple piety as an ideal of Christianity and called for reform of the Church. His works influenced Martin Luther and other Protestant reformers, although Erasmus sought change from within the Catholic Church and disagreed with the course of the Reformation. In On Free Will (1524), he clashed openly with Luther. See also humanism
"Erasmus, Desiderius." World Encyclopedia. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2014). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O142-ErasmusDesiderius.html
"Erasmus, Desiderius." World Encyclopedia. 2005. Retrieved April 23, 2014 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O142-ErasmusDesiderius.html
Erasmus, Desiderius (c.1466–1536). Christian humanist. Taught by the Brethren of the Common Life (see GROOTE, G.) at Deventer, Erasmus became an Augustinian monk in 1486 and was ordained priest in 1492. Erasmus was Europe's most outstanding scholar in the early 16th cent. His merciless satire exposed ecclesiastical abuses, but he was not remotely tempted to join the Reformers, fearing radicalism and the cost of change. His influential writings include Adagia (1500), a popular edn. of Gk. and Lat. proverbs, The Christian Soldier's Dagger or Handbook (1504), and The Praise of Folly (1509).
JOHN BOWKER. "Erasmus, Desiderius." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. 1997. Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2014). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O101-ErasmusDesiderius.html
JOHN BOWKER. "Erasmus, Desiderius." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. 1997. Retrieved April 23, 2014 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O101-ErasmusDesiderius.html
Erasmus •Lammas • Cadmus • Las Palmas •chiasmus, Erasmus •Nostradamus •famous, ignoramus, Seamus, shamus •Polyphemus, Remus •grimace • Michaelmas •Christmas, isthmus •litmus •animus, equanimous, magnanimous, pusillanimous, unanimous •anonymous, eponymous, Hieronymus, pseudonymous, synonymous •Septimus •Mimas, primus, thymus, timeous •Thomas •enormous, ginormous •brumous, hummus, humous, humus, spumous, strumous •blasphemous •bigamous, polygamous, trigamous •endogamous, monogamous •calamus, hypothalamus, thalamus •venomous •autonomous, bonhomous, heteronomous •Pyramus •dichotomous, hippopotamus, trichotomous •Thermos
"Erasmus." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. 2007. Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2014). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O233-Erasmus.html
"Erasmus." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. 2007. Retrieved April 23, 2014 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O233-Erasmus.html