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Desiderius Erasmus

Desiderius Erasmus

The Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) was the dominant figure of the early-16th-century humanist movement. The intellectual arbiter during the last years of Christian unity, he remains one of European culture's most controversial giants.

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.

Major Publications

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.

Further Reading

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). □

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Erasmus

Erasmus

WORKS BY ERASMUS

SUPPLEMENTARY BIBLIOGRAPHY

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

WORKS BY ERASMUS

(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.

SUPPLEMENTARY BIBLIOGRAPHY

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.

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Erasmus, Desiderius

ERASMUS, DESIDERIUS

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. 14501532), and the friendship of Thomas More (14781535) 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 (14971560) 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 (15451563), 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.

See also Bible ; Humanists and Humanism ; Luther, Martin ; Melanchthon, Philipp ; More, Thomas ; Reformation, Protestant .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Source

Erasmus, Desiderius. The Collected Works of Erasmus. 22 vols. to date. Toronto, 1974.

Secondary Sources

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.

Erika Rummel

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Erasmus, Desiderius

Desiderius Erasmus

Born: October 27, 1466
Rotterdam, Netherlands
Died: July 12, 1536
Basel, Switzerland

Dutch scholar and priest

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.

Early years

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. 14671519), Sir Thomas More (c. 14771535), 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 [14431513] 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 (15111514) and settled into the occupation for which his study and travel had prepared him .

Major publications

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 (15001558) 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 (14571521) 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 (14831546) 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.

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Erasmus

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).

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Erasmus, Desiderius

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

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Erasmus, Desiderius

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).

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Erasmus

Erasmus •Lammas • Cadmus • Las Palmaschiasmus, 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

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Desiderius Erasmus

Desiderius Erasmus

1466–1536

Humanist

Sources

Dissatisfaction. The illegitimate son of a man who at some point became a priest and his housekeeper, Desiderius Erasmus was born in Rotterdam, Holland. He received a good foundation in classical literature both from his father, who knew some classical Latin, and the Brothers of the Common Life. At age twenty-one he entered a monastery and five years later was ordained a priest. Dissatisfied with life in the monastery, he received permission to leave. He went to the University of Paris to study scholastic theology but soon found that distasteful as well, later making a crack that the University was a place “where the eggs were stale and the theology was staler.” Having experienced life as a monk and a theologian and having developed a deep aversion to both lifestyles, Erasmus made monks and theologians the special targets of his biting wit.

Ancient Wisdom. Despite his complaints about the lack of learning in his monastery, Erasmus had continued his classical studies there, and while in Paris he earned a living teaching classical literature to wealthy young men. One of them, an English nobleman, took him to England in 1499. There he met the English humanist, John Colet, and became fast friends with Sir Thomas More. Colet persuaded him to improve his Greek, which allowed Erasmus to make his first mark as a humanist in 1500 by publishing Adagia (Adages), a collection of Greek proverbs. Erasmus greatly expanded it through six subsequent editions. Besides demonstrating his command of classical Greek, Erasmus intended the work to serve the cause of the reform of education. Like all humanists, he believed that ancient wisdom provided a surer guide to moral instruction and a productive life in the world than could be found in the contemporary schools. Other major works on this theme included The Handbook for the Christian Knight (1503) and Instructions for a Christian Prince, written in 1516 for the future emperor, Charles V. An important aspect of his political views was a belief in pacifism.

Folly. Erasmus traveled across Europe over the next nine years but returned to England in 1509, living for six years with More. There he wrote the best known of his literary works, The Praise of Folly (1509), which in Latin is a pun on More's name, moria being both folly and the Latinized spelling of More. Erasmus depicts Folly as a cheerful goddess who praises her followers in all elements of European society, but no groups are satirized as sharply as monks and theologians. Perhaps the sharpest piece of satire, which Erasmus always denied writing but common consensus has attributed to him, is the poem Julius Excluded. It depicts the notorious warrior Pope Julius II as having died and arriving at the gates of Heaven only to have St. Peter deny him entrance because he does not recognize him as Pope with his armor and weapons. Erasmus's purpose in his satires, directed largely against the clergy, was church reform. He believed that the Church needed to return to the purity of the early Church, from which the Church of his era had strayed in its emphasis on formal ritual and scholastic theology. His remedy for the ills of the Church was Philosophia Christi, by which he meant that ancient wisdom should be integrated into Christian belief. The tools of humanism must be put to work for the benefit of religion. Thus, Erasmus produced many critical editions of Greek classical authors. He believed that humanistic learning should be employed for the restoration of the earliest texts of the Bible and the Christian classics by the church fathers. He accordingly provided critical editions of the works of a dozen church fathers, including St. Jerome and St. Augustine.

Greek New Testament. The crowning work among Erasmus's editions was his critical edition of the Greek New Testament. In 1511 he was appointed to the faculty at the University of Cambridge, where he began work on it. Erasmus included his own Latin translation of his Greek text and pointed out places where he felt the official Latin version used by the Catholic Church, Jerome's Vulgate, was in error. In his annotations to the text, he expressed his disagreement with the scholastic theologians' interpretation of biblical texts. Although it was in itself a major accomplishment of biblical scholarship, Erasmus's Greek New Testament is best known as the source for Martin Luther's German translation of the Bible and, through a French translation of it, the King James Version. The Greek New Testament's publication in 1516, by which time Erasmus had left England, established his reputation as “Prince of Humanists.” He was lionized across Europe, and his program for both church and education reform seemed within reach.

Religious Toleration. Luther's bursting forth on the scene in late 1517 proved a disaster for him, even if Luther proclaimed at first that he was simply following Erasmus's lead. There is no question that Erasmus, with his calls for Church reform, biting satire against the clergy, and critical editions of major texts of the early Church, played a role in the first stage of the Reformation. Erasmus, however, could not accept the radical break with the Catholic Church that Luther soon was leading. Both sides in the emerging religious split castigated him: Catholics, for providing so much ammunition to the Protestants; and Protestants, as the “failed first reformer” who lacked courage to lead the Reformation. In 1525 he and Luther became involved in a bitter debate over the question of human free will, in which Erasmus defended the ability of humans to make moral judgments on their own. His disdain for debating theology led him to advocate religious toleration, one of few who did so in the sixteenth century. He remained a Catholic until his death in Basel, although the papacy later placed his books on the Index of Forbidden Books.

Significance. Perhaps no other intellectual sums up in himself the essence of a period of thought the way Erasmus does for Northern humanism. He touched on every theme found in it; he knew or corresponded with nearly every other Christian humanist; and he spent time in nearly all the centers of Northern humanism. His own path from the most respected and lionized man in Europe in 1517 to becoming almost an afterthought in the wake of the coming of the Reformation traces the destiny of Christian humanism as well.

Sources

De Lamar Jensen, Renaissance Europe: Age of Recovery and Reconciliation (Lexington, Mass.: D. C Heath, 1981).

Margaret Phillips, Erasmus and the Northern Renaissance (London: Rod-der & Stoughton, 1949).

Albert Rabil, Erasmus and the New Testament: The Mind of a Christian Humanist (San Antonio, Tex.: Trinity University Press, 1972).

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Erasmus, Desiderius

ERASMUS, DESIDERIUS

ERASMUS, DESIDERIUS (1469?1536), Dutch scholar, is called the "prince of humanists." Neither the date nor the place of Erasmus's birth is known with certainty; he was probably born in 1469 in Rotterdam (he styled himself Roterodamus).

Life and Works

Erasmus's life was wholly dedicated to scholarship. After his early education, mainly in the school of the Brethren of the Common Life at Deventer (14751483), his guardians sent him to the monastery of the Augustinian canons at Steyn. Ordained to the priesthood in 1492, he entered the service of Henry of Bergen, bishop of Cambrai, who gave him leave to study theology at the University of Paris (14951498). A visit to Oxford (14991500) brought him into the company of such kindred spirits as John Colet (1466?1519) and Thomas More (14781535). Later he visited the cradle of the Renaissance, Italy (15061509), and made further journeys to England, including Cambridge, before settling in the Netherlands, at Louvain (15171521). There, at the height of his fame, he intended to devote himself quietly to the cause of classical and sacred literature.

But from 1518, Erasmus's labors were increasingly overshadowed by the Lutheran Reformation. He could not but welcome the addition of Martin Luther's voice to his own outspoken criticisms of ecclesiastical abuses, yet he distrusted Luther's aggressive manner, which he feared could only harm the cause of learning and piety. His friends and patrons finally induced him to challenge Luther in print. The ostensible theme of his De libero arbitrio (On free choice; 1524) was the freedom denied by Luther's necessitarianism, but more fundamentally the book was a warning against theological contentiousness.

In 1521, driven from Louvain by the hostility of the Dominicans to the new learning, Erasmus moved to Basel, home of publisher Johann Froben (c. 14601527). When Basel turned Protestant, he moved to Freiburg im Breisgau (15291535), but it was in Protestant Basel that he died without the ministrations of the old church, which later placed his books on the Index.

In response to the requests of his friends, Erasmus himself drew up a "catalog" of his numerous writings in nine divisions. The items vary widely in literary form, from letters to treatises, and in readership intended, from schoolboys to princes. But many of them can be distinguished by certain dominant themes. Some embody Erasmus's research on the language, literature, and wisdom of classical antiquity. Others apply the tools of classical scholarship to the original sources of Christianity, this being what is generally meant by "Christian humanism." In 1516, Erasmus brought out the first published edition of the Greek New Testament, which he furnished with a new Latin translation, notes, and prefaces, including the famous Paraclesis (a prefatory "exhortation" to study the philosophy of Christ). In the succeeding two decades, his series of editions of Greek and Latin fathers appeared, beginning with Jerome (1516) and ending with Origen (1536), his two favorites.

In a third group of writings, Erasmus exposed to mockery the moral failures and religious abuses of the day, notably, in his Moriae encomium (Praise of folly; 1511), some of the Colloquia familiaria (Familiar colloquies; 1st ed., 1518) and, if he did indeed write it, the anonymous pamphlet Julius exclusus e coelis (Julius [the warrior pope] shut out of heaven; 1517). Finally, to a fourth group of writings, which present Erasmus's own Christian vision, may be assigned the Enchiridion militis Christiani (Handbook [or weapon] for the Christian soldier; 1503), a powerful plea for an inward, spiritual, and moral piety that does not lean on outward religious observances. The strongly pacifist vein in Erasmus's piety is reflected in his Institutio principis Christiani (Instruction for a Christian prince; 1516) and especially in Querela pacis (The complaint of peace; 1517).

The Erasmian Program

A consistent humanistic program, in which learning assumes a moral and religious character, lends unity to Erasmus's many writings. The study of ancient languages and literature is propaedeutic to following the philosophy of Christ, which can be recovered in its purity only if the theologians will leave, or at least moderate, their endless squabbles and turn back to the sources of the faith equipped with the tools of the new learning. The program is not antitheological, but it is antischolastic: Moral utility, rather than dialectical subtlety and metaphysical speculation, becomes the test of genuine theology. Erasmus proposed a new ideal of the theologian as more a scholar than a schoolman, an ideal that made a profound impact on many who did not share the Erasmian view of the gospel, including the Protestants.

What Erasmus discovered in the New Testament was, above all, the precepts and example of Christ. To be a Christian is to enlist under Christ's banner. The philosophy of Christ is not speculation or disputation, but the good lifea philosophy not essentially different from the teaching of the best classical moralists, only conveyed with unique authority and made accessible to all. It would be a mistake, however, to reduce the Erasmian imitation of Christ to mere copying of an external model; in the scriptures, as Erasmus reads them, the Savior comes alive, and Christ's philosophy is nothing less than a dying and living in him.

The work of Erasmus marked an important stage in the course of biblical and patristic scholarship. It is true that his New Testament text rested on inferior manuscripts and had no lasting usefulness, but his biblical studies, even when vitiated by overeagerness to extract an edifying lesson from the text by means of spiritual exegesis, established a new emphasis on the human and historical character of the sacred text. No less historically important is the fact that he arrived, through his study of the Gospels, at a distinctive interpretation of Christianity and of religion generally.

Stormier religious personalities, such as Luther, have found the Erasmian outlook bland. They have judged Christian existence to be neither as simple nor as placid as Erasmus supposed, because God makes a Christian not by gently strengthening a feeble will but by putting to death a vigorous, arrogant will. But the recall of Christians to a simpler, more practical ideal of discipleship has continued to win friends for Erasmus among those who doubt the usefulness of the constant refinement of dogma.

Some have hailed the Erasmian dislike of dogmatism as one source of modern undogmatic Christianity, or even of religious skepticism. Historically, that is a correct estimate of his actual influence, or at least of one strand of it. No doubt, it must be qualified by Erasmus's own professed submission to the decrees of the church. But nothing he says has quite laid to rest the suspicion that, for him, the institutional church was not so much directly salvific as a condition of that outward order and peace without which scholarship and the gospel cannot flourish.

Bibliography

Erasmus published about one hundred writings, some of which were very popular and went through several editions. Many have been translated into English. An English translation of his voluminous correspondence and all the major writings is being published as Collected Works of Erasmus, 4045 vols. projected (Toronto, 1974). Erasmus samplers are The Essential Erasmus, translated and edited by John P. Dolan (New York, 1964), and Christian Humanism and the Reformation: Selected Writings of Erasmus with the Life of Erasmus by Beatus Rhenanus, rev. ed., edited by John C. Olin (New York, 1975). Dolan has the Enchiridion, Moriae encomium, and Querela pacis; Olin includes the Paraclesis, perhaps the best statement of the Erasmian program. Other translations are Ten Colloquies of Erasmus (New York, 1957) and The Colloquies of Erasmus (Chicago, 1965), both translated and edited by Craig R. Thompson; The Education of a Christian Prince, translated and edited by Lester K. Born (New York, 1936); The Julius Exclusus of Erasmus, translated by Paul Pascal, edited by J. Kelley Sowards (Bloomington, Ind., 1968); and Erasmus-Luther: Discourse on Free Will, translated and edited by Ernst F. Winter (New York, 1961). An excellent biographical study is Roland H. Bainton's Erasmus of Christendom (New York, 1969), and a useful companion to Erasmus's writings is Essays on the Works of Erasmus, edited by Richard L. DeMolen (New Haven, Conn., 1978).

B. A. Gerrish (1987)

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Erasmus, Desiderius

ERASMUS, DESIDERIUS

Humanist, classical and patristic scholar, first editor of the Greek New Testament; b. Rotterdam, Holland, Oct. 27, 1466; d. Basel, Switzerland, July 12, 1536. He was an illegitimate child and his father eventually became a priest. Educated first at Gouda, and then from 1475 under the brethren of the common life, Erasmus remained at Deventer for eight years; there is no doubt that this tradition shaped his later educational ideals.

Career. In 1483 his parents died; his guardians sent him to a school at s' Hertogenbosch, also maintained by the Brethren. In 1487 he was persuaded, in part by a friend and in part by his guardian, to enter the Augustinian monastery of canons regular at Steyn. Although lacking a genuine vocation, he was no doubt partly attracted by the ordered life of the monastery; he found some congenial companions, and he had opportunities for the study of Christian and classical literature. However, even before his ordination (April 25, 1492) he seems to have found the intellectual horizon too confined and was ready to seek a wider opportunity for the development of his intellectual interests. This came in 1494 with an invitation from the bishop of Cambrai to enter his service. Erasmus received a dispensation from residence in his monastery, which he never entered again. Within the year he had persuaded the bishop to allow him to go to Paris to study for a degree in theology.

When Erasmus arrived in Paris in 1495, he took up residence in Montaigu College, where he soon found little to his liking the discipline imposed by the director, Jean Standonck. Equally uncongenial were the lectures on scholastic philosophy and theology at the university. Erasmus tried to escape from this environment by cultivating prominent literary figures, among whom were Italian humanist exiles who were beginning to introduce new standards of taste. At the same time, in order to improve his economic circumstances, he began to take pupils for instruction in Latin. These included some wealthy and highly placed Englishmen, and through one of them he received an invitation to visit England in 1499.

This first visit to England marks a decisive stage in Erasmus's intellectual development. He had an opportunity to meet such men as John colet, Thomas more, and Archbishop warham. Through these friends he came into more direct contact with the heritage of the Italian renaissance and realized what might be achieved by applying to the great texts of the Christian tradition the same methods of exegesis that the Italian humanists had applied to the classics. To this task Erasmus determined to devote the rest of his life. From his English visit dates his serious application to the study of Greek. A few years later his ambition to provide a more accurate knowledge of the basic texts of the Christian tradition was further confirmed by his discovery in a monastery in the Low Countries of a MS of Lorenzo valla's Annotations on the New Testament. Erasmus had already been greatly influenced by Valla's ideas on the uses of philology, and he then published the Annotations in Paris in 1505 with an enthusiastic introduction.

The English visit was the first of Erasmus's many changes of residence. He returned to France in 1500 and spent some years there and in the Low Countries. A second visit to England in 150506 was followed by three years in Italy (150609), during which he was associated with the Aldine Academy in Venice and had an opportunity to visit the Rome of julius ii. From Rome Erasmus returned to England on the accession of henry viii, in the hope of sharing in the royal patronage. In 1511 he settled in Queen's College, cambridge, where he spent two and a half years. Leaving England again in 1514, he went first to Basel and then for brief periods to Louvain and to Holland. In 1521 he returned to Basel, where he remained for the next eight years, his longest residence in one place. The official acceptance of the reformation in Basel in 1529 caused his retreat to Freiburg, where he spent the next six years.

The refusal to identify himself with any of the national cultures in Europe was characteristic of Erasmus. In spite of invitations from France, England, and the Empire he preferred to retain his independence. His increasing literary fame enabled him to lead the life of a man of letters unattached to any institution. The poor scholar who had had to take in pupils for a living became a comparatively wealthy man through the rewards bestowed on him by many patrons.

Works. At the height of his fame, Erasmus occupied a position in the history of European literature rivaled perhaps only by that of voltaire. In every country, admiring followers accepted his leadership. His letters provide the most comprehensive source for the intellectual history of his age. Of the many works that secured his reputation, the first to bring him public notice was the Adages. This collection of classical proverbs with an explanation of their meaning furnished students with a convenient handbook and digest of the subject matter of classical literature, arranged under such headings as misfortune, love, modesty, liberality, war. In 1508 Erasmus brought out at the Aldine Press (see manutius) in Venice a second edition containing three times as many adages as the first and reflecting what he had learned from the refugee Greek scholars at Venice. This remained one of the most popular of Erasmus's works; it went through many editions and its influence can be traced in the vernacular literature of every European country in the 16th century.

In the Enchiridion militis christiani, first published in Antwerp (1503), Erasmus expounded his conception of a Christianity infused with the spirit of the Gospels. This little treatise presented life as a struggle between virtue and vice. Here is found the combination of piety and learning, the docta pietas, which Erasmus emphasized in so many of his later works. In the analysis of the soul in the Enchiridion he follows, on the whole, origen and the Greek Fathers, who had a profound effect on his thinking. Erasmus later maintained that his chief purpose in writing the book had been to remedy the errors of those who confused ceremonial observances with true piety. The conclusion of the treatise is that there is a regular progression through nature to grace and that the philosophy of Christ depends on the inner action of the spirit rather than on conformity to external rites.

The message of the Enchiridion was reiterated in a very different form in the Praise of Folly, which has remained the work by which Erasmus is perhaps best known to the general public. It was composed in 1509 while Erasmus was traveling from Italy to England and was dedicated to Thomas More with the pun on his name contained in the title Encomium moriae. Erasmus imagined Folly personified delivering a classical oration in her defense. This device gave him an opportunity to satirize many aspects of contemporary society, both ecclesiastical and lay. In the end, however, Folly becomes serious and makes her hearers recognize that what is, in the eyes of the world, the greatest folly, namely Christianity, is in reality the highest wisdom.

The same themes were taken up in many of Erasmus's Colloquies of which the first authorized edition was published in 1519. Later the dramatic possibilities of these little dialogues appealed to Erasmus, and he created a whole gallery of characters, through the medium of whose conversation he managed to take up all the great issues of politics and religion of his generation. The style of these compositions was particularly consonant with Erasmus's character. The dialogue form emphasized the rhetorical arts of persuasion that had been so central to the educational curriculum of the Renaissance. Furthermore, this form had the advantage that the views of the author could be concealed beneath those attributed to one of the characters.

The homilies, satires, and colloquies that Erasmus wrote did not interrupt the course of his scholarly work. The number of his editions of classical and patristic works is formidable. Some of these represented no great labor on his part, such was the Basel Aristotle of 1531, to which Erasmus contributed only a preface. Others represented years of patient work. What the Aldine Press in Venice had accomplished at the turn of the century for classical literature, froben in Basel aspired to do for patristic literature, and it was upon Erasmus that his establishment chiefly depended. Of the patristic works edited by Erasmus, the most important were the Jerome of 1516, the Augustine of 1529, the Chrysostom of 1530, and the Origen of 1536. To the edition of jerome, with whom he felt a kind of affinity, Erasmus devoted a particular effort, not only emending the text and providing an extensive commentary, but also contributing a preface with an account of the life and works of the translator of the Vulgate.

Erasmus had decided, perhaps as early as his edition of Valla's Annotations, to occupy himself with the text of the New Testament. This project grew to be an edition of the Greek text with a new Latin translation and a commentary on which Erasmus was seriously at work from 1512. The Novum instrumentum, which appeared in 1516, was the first published version of the Greek text. Erasmus's work is far from the standards of modern scholarship in both method and content. He established his text on a limited number of MSS, rather haphazardly consulted; his knowledge of Greek was insufficient to deal with many philological problems; his footnotes contained frequent irrelevant digressions. The work, nevertheless, was of epoch-making importance. His Greek text was the basis of many of the vernacular versions produced during the sixteenth century.

Erasmus and the Reformation. The Novum instrumentum was dedicated to Leo X, whom Erasmus hailed as introducing a new age in which scholarship and the arts would flourish and peace would reign. These hopes, however, were disappointed by the religious revolution in the outbreak of which his own work had played a very large part. His widely read criticism of abuses in the Church, his revolt against formalism, and his appeal for a restoration of an earlier and purer piety awoke an enthusiastic response among his contemporaries and the younger generation. One of his readers was Martin luther, who had sought Erasmus's approval as early as 1516 but felt that "with him, human things were of greater value than divine" ("humana praevalent in eo plus quam divina"). In 1519 he begged for Erasmus's support in his struggle with the Curia. Erasmus replied not very cordially, professing ignorance of Luther's writings, but declaring that he had urged moderation in influential quarters.

With the papal condemnation and Luther's treatises of 1520, Erasmus's attitude changed. He feared the consequences of what he now saw to be a revolution, and he deplored Luther's appeal to the general public. As the Lutheran movement took shape and the gap between Rome and Wittenberg widened, Erasmus's position became increasingly uncomfortable. Many of his former friends, such as Dürer and hutten, condemned him for not supporting Luther. Others, such as Aleandro, once his roommate in Venice, accused him of having attacked the basic institutions of the Church and prepared the way for Luther. He was urged by friends on both sides to clarify his position and at first seems to have believed that it was still possible to deal with these great issues in the manner of the Colloquies. The Inquisitio de fide probably represents his attempt to explore in a dialogue the implications of the religious division. He soon saw, however, that this congenial approach was no longer possible, and he composed his treatise on the freedom of the will, published in 1524, to define his religious position against that of Luther. Luther replied with the De servo arbitrio, in which he disdainfully repudiated the theological arguments of Erasmus. This elicited from Erasmus the first and second Hyperaspistes, in which he elaborated his original argument. During the same period he had to defend himself from the attacks of his enemies on the other side, especially Alberto Pio, Prince of Carpi, and the Spanish monks.

In spite of these controversies and the bitterness that Erasmus had to face in the last years of his life, he continued his literary and scholarly publications, producing, among other works, in the years at Freiburg the treatise on preaching, Ecclesiastes, and the edition of Origen. It was to see these volumes through the press that he returned to Basel in 1535. There he died in the house of Froben, surrounded by his friends. In the absence of a priest, he did not receive the Last Sacraments. He was buried in the cathedral at Basel, which had been converted into a Protestant church.

Significance. Erasmus's significance has been as variously estimated as it was ambiguous in his own lifetime. Rightly regarded as one of those who had prepared the way for the religious revolution, he nevertheless repudiated decisively the work of Luther and zwingli. Although he was offered a cardinal's hat by Paul III, his work was put on the Index by the Council of Trent. To the Enlightenment he appeared a figure in the history of European rationalism. He has often been accused of having been wavering and cowardly in the great crisis of his generation. In fact, however, he maintained with remarkable consistency throughout his life the position defined by his ideals as a Christian humanist. As a Christian, he declared again and again that his whole life had been devoted to the cause of the gospel. He professed always his willingness to submit to the authority of the Church, even though he never committed himself in detail on how that authority was to be defined. Many of the points on which his orthodoxy was questioned were clarified only after his death by the decisions of the Council of trent. As a humanist, he believed that even the deepest commitments should be defended, and the cause of truth advanced by persuasion rather than by force. It was the tragedy of his later life that he pleaded for peace and unity in a Christian world that had become so deeply divided that a continuing dialogue was no longer possible.

Bibliography: Works. Opera omnia, ed. j. le clerc, 10 v. in 11 (Leiden 170306); Opuscula, ed. w. k. ferguson (The Hague 1933); Ausgewählte Werke, ed. h. and a. holborn (Munich 1933); Opus epistolarum, ed. p. s. allen et al., 12 v. (Oxford 190658); Poems, ed. c. reedijk (Leiden 1956); Colloquies, tr. n. bailey, ed. e. johnson, 3 v. (London 1900); Inquisitio de fide, ed. c. r. thompson (New Haven 1950); The Education of a Christian Prince, tr. and ed. l. k. born (New York 1936); Handbook of the Militant Christian, tr. and ed. j. p. dolan (Notre Dame, IN 1962); The Epistles of E., from his Earliest Letters to his Fifty-first Year, Arranged in Order of Time, tr. and ed. f. m. nichols, 3 v. (New York 190118); The Free Will in Discourse on Free Will, tr. and ed. e. f. winter (New York 1961), treatises by Erasmus and Martin Luther; The Praise of Folly, tr. h. h. hudson (Princeton 1941); Colloquies, tr. c. r. thompson (Chicago 1965). f. f. e. vander haeghen et al., 7 v. (Ghent 18971908). Collected Works of Erasmus (Toronto 1974). Studies. j. huizinga, Erasmus of Rotterdam (New York 1952). p. smith, Erasmus: A Study of his Life, Ideals and Place in History (New York 1923). p. mestwerdt, Die Anfänge des E.: Humanismus und "Devotio moderna," ed. h. von schubert (Leipzig 1917). a. hyma, The Youth of Erasmus (Ann Arbor 1930). e. f. rice, "Erasmus and the Religious Tradition, 14951499," Journal of the History of Ideas 11 (1950) 387411. Erasmus and the National Traditions. m. bataillon, É. et l'Espagne (Paris 1937). m. mann, É. et les débuts de la réforme française, 15171536 (Paris 1934). a. renaudet, É. Et l'Italie (Geneva 1954); Préréforme et humanisme à Paris pendant les premières guerres d'Italie, 14941517 (2d ed. Paris 1953). l. w. spitz, The Religious Renaissance of the German Humanists (Cambridge, Mass. 1963). Erasmus and Humanism. r. pfeiffer, Humanitas Erasmiana (Berlin 1931). o. schottenloher, Erasmus im Ringen um die humanistische Bildungsform (Münster 1933). m. p. gilmore, "Erasmus and the Cause of Christian Humanism: The Last Years, 15291536," Humanists and Jurists (Cambridge, MA 1963) 115145. s. a. nulli, Erasmus e il Rinascimento (Turin 1955). Religious Thought. l. bouyer, Erasmus and his Times, tr. f. x. murphy (Westminster, MD 1959). k. h. oelrich, Der späte Erasmus und die Reformation (Münster 1961). É. v. telle, É. De Rotterdam et le septième Sacrement (Geneva 1954). h. jedin, History of the Council of Trent, tr. e. graf (St. Louis 195760) v.1. d. knowles, The Religious Orders in England, 3 v. (Cambridge, England 194860) 3:141156. Special topics. j. hoyoux, "Les Moyens d'existence d'É.," Bibliothèque d'Humanisme et Renaissance NS 5 (1944) 759. p. smith, A Key to the Colloquies of Erasmus (Cambridge, MA 1927). Bibliotheca Erasmiana, comp. l. halkin, Erasmus: A Critical Biography, j. tonkin, tr. (Oxford 1993). l. jardine, Erasmus, Man of Letters (Princeton 1993). m. screech, Erasmus: Ecstacy and the Praise of Folly (London 1980). j. tracy, Erasmus of the Low Countries (Berkeley 1996); Erasmus, the Growth of a Mind (Berkeley 1972).

[m. p. gilmore]

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Erasmus, Desiderius

Desiderius Erasmus

October 27, 1466
Rotterdam, Netherlands
July 12, 1536
Basel, Switzerland

Humanist scholar

"In the country of the blind the one-eyed man is king."

Desiderius Erasmus.

The Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus was the foremost humanist in northern Europe (see accompanying box for a description of humanism). He promoted a method called philology (study of language used in literary texts) in the study of the Bible (the Christian holy book). Erasmus also popularized works by ancient and early Christian writers. Known as a "Christian humanist," he combined Christian teachings with classical ideals. In his own time, even critics did not dispute that he was the reigning "prince of humanists." His admirers credited him with the single-handed revival of literary study in Germany. For some years Erasmus enjoyed celebrity status. He was sought after by other scholars who conducted extensive letter exchanges with him, and visitors considered a journey to his home a cultural pilgrimage (religious journey). Many of his works, such as Handbook of the Christian Soldier and Praise of Folly, were translated into all major European languages. Erasmus's reputation began to decline in the 1520s, however, when he refused to take sides in the debate surrounding the Protestant Reformation (a movement to reform the Roman Catholic Church). By the end of his life he was being charged with disloyalty by Protestants and Catholics alike.

Criticizes scholastics

Erasmus was born in Rotterdam, Holland, the illegitimate son of Roger Gerard, a priest, and a physician's daughter. Throughout his life he was sensitive about the lowly circumstances of his birth. He was orphaned at age five and placed under the care of guardians. From 1475 until 1484, Erasmus received a classical education from the Brethren of the Common Life. The Brethren was a religious community that reformed the educational system in the Low Countries (present-day Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and parts of northern France) by replacing scholasticism with humanist concepts. Scholasticism had been the dominant method of study in the Middle Ages. Scholastics sought to combine Christian teachings with the concept of reason found in the works of ancient Greek philosophers. At the beginning of the Renaissance, a scholastic education consisted mainly of a series of exercises that subjected biblical texts to rational proof (logical reasoning). This development displeased many religious people, who felt such training failed to respond to the spiritual side of human experience. One result was the creation of the Brethren of the Common Life, which emphasized inner piety (dutifulness in religion). The Brethren schools provided a training ground for an impressive number of northern European humanists.

After completing his education, Erasmus entered the monastery (house for monks, members of a religious order) at Steyn in 1487. He was ordained a priest in 1492 and appointed secretary to the bishop of Cambrai (a city in present-day France) the following year. Erasmus's life took a significant turn in 1495, when he went to Paris, France, to study theology (religious philosophy). Paris was then the center of theological training in Europe. He lived at the Collège de Montaigu, a hostel (lodging house) for poor students. During his stay in Paris he developed a strong distaste for the scholastic method. In letters to friends Erasmus made scathing comments about the scholastic professors in Paris, whom he described as pseudotheologians (fake religious scholars) and obscurantists (those who make ideas unnecessarily complex).

Finding the living conditions at the Collège de Montaigu unbearable, Erasmus struck out on his own and began to tutor the sons of wealthy families. He never completed his degree in Paris. In 1499 he traveled to England with one of his pupils, William Blount, lord Montjoy. During his stay in England he made lifelong friends, such as the humanists Thomas More (1478–1535; see entry) and John Colet (c. 1466–1519). In 1506 Erasmus moved to Turin, Italy, where he obtained a doctorate in theology without meeting the requirement of being a resident student at the university. He then established a connection with the printing house of Aldo Manuzio (1449–1515) in Venice, which later contributed to his productive career as a writer.

Agricola Introduces Humanistic Studies

"Humanism" is the modern term for the literary movement that initiated the Renaissance. Humanism was founded by the scholar and poet Petrarch (1304–1374) and his followers in Florence, Italy, in the mid-1300s. Humanist scholars believed that a body of learning called studia humanitatis (humanistic studies), which was based on the literary masterpieces of ancient Greece and Rome, could bring about a cultural re-birth (or renaissance). Humanistic studies consisted of five academic subjects: grammar (rules for the use of a language), rhetoric (art of effective speaking and writing), moral philosophy (study of human conduct and values), poetry, and history. The texts included not only classical literature but also the Bible (the Christian holy book) and the works of early Christian thinkers. The Dutch scholar Rudolf Agricola (Roelof Huisman; 1444–1485) is credited with introducing humanistic studies in northern Europe in the late 1470s and early 1480s.

Although Agricola's career was brief, he had a strong influence on humanism in northern Europe. Among his numerous works were orations, poems, letters, and Latin translations of Greek texts, most of which were published after his death. His greatest achievement was De inventione dialectica libri tres (Three books on dialectical invention), which was inspired by his discontent with current educational methods. Agricola's book was highly influential as a statement of humanist rhetoric, partly because he illustrated rules with detailed examples from classical works. Printed in 1515, De inventione was widely read by advanced students, professors, and theoreticians during the sixteenth century. One of Agricola's letters, De formando studio (On the organization of the program of studies), also influenced humanists. This letter became popular because it included a brief description of making a commonplace book, a collection of excerpts from ancient texts that provided models for teaching writing and recitation. The commonplace book was used in Latin grammar schools throughout Europe until the eighteenth century.

Writes Praise of Folly

By the time Erasmus returned to England in 1509, he was disillusioned with the Catholic Church. He disapproved of the wars that popes were always waging, and he was critical of clergymen who failed to fulfill Christian teachings in their own lives. As a result of this experience Erasmus wrote Encomium moriae (Praise of Folly), a satire (criticism through the use of humor) of the church and the clergy. In a famous passage a character named Dame Folly ridicules human folly (foolishness or lack of good sense) in general, but she focuses particularly on the self-importance of and lack of spiritual values among theologians and clergymen. The book concludes with an appeal to Christians to embrace what appears to be folly in the eyes of the world—that is, the simple-hearted devotion to the teachings of Christ, which leads to the Kingdom of Heaven. Praise of Folly made Erasmus famous. In 1515 he was appointed councilor to Prince Charles (later Holy Roman Emperor Charles V ; see entry). To be near the royal court at Brussels in Belgium, Erasmus took up residence in Louvain, where he joined the theology faculty at the university. From the outset his relationship with other faculty members was an uneasy one because many of his writings drew criticism from theologians.

Publishes New Testament

Erasmus was an unusually learned scholar and a highly prolific writer. He published innumerable works on a wide variety of subjects, including biblical studies, education, and religious reform. During his career he also wrote more than three thousand letters to kings, popes, scholars, financiers, humanists, and reformers.

Erasmus was best known for his edition of the New Testament, the second part of the Bible pertaining to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ (also called the gospels). Erasmus started his project in 1504, when he discovered a set of notes on the New Testament made by the Italian humanist Lorenzo Valla (1407–1457). Following in Valla's footsteps, Erasmus began making notes on differences and errors he found when he compared Latin translations with the Greek biblical texts. In his New Testament he presented the original version of the biblical texts, which was written in the Greek language, and placed it alongside a Latin translation. Released in 1516 Erasmus's book was the first published Greek text. It provided scholars and reformers with a basis for further study of the New Testament. Erasmus also published Enhiridion militis Christiani (Handbook of a Christian soldier; 1503), in which he described a tightly structured patriarchal (headed by men) society built on Christian values. Although he held traditional views on the role of women, he advocated education for women and emphasized mutual respect and fellowship in marriage.

Erasmus stated his educational views in De pueris instituendis (On the education of children; 1529) and other works, which were typical of humanist philosophy. He believed that parents had a duty to educate their children. If they could not give instruction themselves, they should select a teacher who could provide the necessary moral and intellectual guidance. Erasmus did not approve of physical punishment, and he recommended motivating learners with interesting material, a healthy challenge, and positive reinforcement. His ideal curriculum (program of study) was based on language studies, the core subject of studia humanitatis. Another dimension to Erasmus's writing was Querela pacis (The Complaint of peace; 1517), in which he condemned war as an instrument of tyranny and warned rulers to fulfill their obligation to preserve Christian harmony.

Drawn into Reformation debate

In the 1520s Erasmus was drawn into the Reformation debate. His position at Louvain became increasingly difficult because he was considered a supporter of Martin Luther (1483–1546; see entry), the German priest who initiated the Protestant Reformation in 1517. To escape the hostile climate, Erasmus moved to Basel, Switzerland, where he became the center of a scholarly circle that included many prominent humanists. He remained in Basel from late 1521 until 1529, when the city formally turned Protestant. At that point he went to Freiburg, a Catholic city in Germany. During the last decade of his life, however, controversy continued to swirl around him.

At the beginning of the Reformation, Erasmus had given Luther limited support, but he also voiced disapproval of Luther's radical language. When Erasmus saw that the changes proposed by Luther and other reformers would lead to a split in the church, he distanced himself from the movement. Although he preferred to stay on the sidelines, he finally had to defend himself against Catholic charges that he was a Lutheran supporter. In 1524 he wrote De libero arbirio diatribe (Diatribe on free will), in which he quoted biblical passages for and against the concept of free will (humans' ability to choose their own actions). He argued that in cases where Scripture is not clear on the matter, the church should be the final authority. Luther issued a sharp reply in De servo arbitrio (The bondage of the will), stating that humans do not have free will and insisting that this fact is clearly stated in Scripture.

Condemned by the church

Many Catholic theologians thought Erasmus's contribution to the debate came too late, even though he had taken the side of the church. By this time he had already made theologians angry with Praise of Folly, in which he ridiculed the church. But he had caused the most controversy with his edition of the New Testament. Although the book was welcomed by humanists, it was attacked by theologians. In the sixteenth century people believed that the Vulgate Bible (official Latin version) was written by Saint Jerome, in Latin, under divine inspiration (directly from the word of God). Since Erasmus had found errors in the Latin translation, he was charged with blasphemy (insulting God) and accused of giving support to the reformers. From 1523 onward, Erasmus's works were investigated by the Paris theological faculty, whose judgment was considered the final word in religious matters. Numerous passages in his writings were censored (suppressed). In 1531 the church issued a formal condemnation and Erasmus gave a lengthy apology. Until his death in 1536 he was the focus of attacks from both Catholics and Protestants. Catholics continued to question his faithfulness to the church and Protestants called him a hypocrite (person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion) for his failure to support Luther.

The Reformation turmoil damaged Erasmus's reputation in Italy, France, and Spain. Elsewhere his books, especially his manuals of instruction and his editions of biblical texts, remained in use. The humanist tradition founded by Erasmus stayed alive in the Netherlands, and by the eighteenth century he was admired as the man who first presented a religion of reason. A resurgence of interest in Erasmus's writings also took place in the twentieth century, when world religions were seeking greater unity of thought. Historians suggest that the loss of life and devastation resulting from World War I (1914–18) and World II (1939–45) made people more susceptible to Erasmus's pacifism (opposition to war). For instance, in 1950 a translation of The Complaint of Peace by José Chapiro was presented to the United Nations (an international organization founded for the preservation of world peace).

For More Information

Books

Hyma, Albert. The Youth of Erasmus. New York: Russell & Russell, 1968.

Vernon, Louise A. The Man Who Laid the Egg. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1977.

Web Sites

"Erasmus, Desiderius." MSN Encarta. [Online] Available http://encarta.msn.com/index/conciseindex/5A/05A6E000.htm?z=1&pg=2&br=1, April 5, 2002.

Koeller, David W. Desiderius Erasmus. [Online] Available http://campus.northpark.edu/history/WebChron/WestEurope/Erasmus.html, April 5, 2002.

Radice, Betty. "Erasumus." Praise of Folly. [Online] Available http://www.stupidity.com/erasmus/eracont.htm, April 5, 2002.

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Erasmus, Desiderius

Desiderius Erasmus

c. 1466–1536

Scholar
Philosopher
Religious reformer

Life.

The early life of Desiderius Erasmus remains shrouded in some mystery, a situation that Erasmus helped foster. He was the illegitimate son of a priest, and he remained acutely sensitive about his illegitimacy throughout his life. For this reason he left little testimony behind about his youth, and some of what he did leave was deceptive. We know that he attended the Brethren of the Common Life schools at Deventer and Hertogenbosch in Holland, and that Erasmus and his brother were eventually orphaned. Their guardians suggested that they enter the Augustinian Order. Later in life Erasmus admitted that he had never felt much calling to the religious life, but instead of abandoning his monastic vows completely as Luther and other Protestants did, he sought papal dispensations that relaxed his observance of his order's rule. He was ordained a priest in 1492 and began to work in the household of the bishop of Cambrai, in modern Belgium. The bishop paid for Erasmus to attend the University of Paris where he studied theology. There he developed his strong dislike for scholasticism, nourishing instead his interest in classical literature. In 1499, Erasmus made his first journey to England where he met many scholars, including Sir Thomas More, who became a lifelong friend. At this time, too, John Colet, the dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, encouraged Erasmus to begin biblical studies. He returned to the continent, and by 1506 he was in Italy, where he received a doctorate in theology from the University of Turin. A few years later Erasmus returned to England, where he took a lectureship at Cambridge and continued his biblical studies. In 1514, he took up a post in the household of the Hapsburg Prince Charles (who later became the emperor Charles V). By this time Erasmus had already achieved considerable fame from his written works, and his several pensions from church appointments allowed him to set up a household at Louvain where he finished his Greek and Latin New Testament. These works established him as an authority on biblical matters, although some criticized his translations for inaccuracies in the first few years after they appeared. Erasmus himself admitted that he had rushed to complete the work, and he made numerous corrections to later editions. His discipline paid off as his versions became the standard critical edition of the New Testament used by scholars in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Because of the depth of learning, the 1520s saw Erasmus participating in the religious debate of the early Reformation. At Louvain, Erasmus was credited with having inspired Luther, and as his situation there grew increasingly untenable, he moved on to Basel in Switzerland in 1521. When that town converted to Protestantism in 1529, Erasmus moved again, this time to Catholic Freiburg in southwestern Germany. In the last years of his life both Protestants and Catholics attacked him—Catholics because they doubted his orthodoxy and Protestants for his failure to support Luther. At the same time his supporters, sometimes known as Erasmians, continued to be an influential group within the Roman Church, demanding reform of its institutions and working to further classical studies. While en route to the Netherlands in 1536, Erasmus died at Basel.

Works.

Erasmus was one of the most broadly educated figures of the Renaissance and one of its most creative and productive writers. Erasmus himself published a catalogue of his enormous body of works in 1523 and he divided these into nine categories. These categories ranged over educational treatises and textbooks, collections of proverbs and wisdom, devotional books, polemics, biblical studies, critical editions of Latin texts, and works of church history and theology. In addition to this voluminous output, more than 3,000 of his letters survive and these show that Erasmus was constantly in contact with the most politically important and brilliant minds of his age. He published many of these letters while he was living, often in annual installments, and students avidly studied them to imitate their author's elegant style. Although he was primarily a literary figure of unusual distinction and was known even while living as the "Prince of the Humanists," his works reveal a great deal of subtle philosophy.

Political Ideas.

In his Education of a Christian Prince, published in 1516, Erasmus revealed many of his political ideas. In contrast to the roughly contemporary portrait of Machiavelli's The Prince, Erasmus portrayed the monarch as a divinely appointed figure. He stressed that God established kings and princes to personify goodness and justice before their peoples, and his vision of the good prince was strongly patriarchal. The benevolent and effective prince, in other words, should serve as a father to his people, correcting those that err, but dispensing justice with mercy. In his Complaint of Peace Erasmus attacked war as a tool of international relations. Although he did not deny that there were times and places that wars might be justified, the tone of his Complaint was undeniably pacific. War provided an inadequate solution to nations' problems, and instead he advocated a system of mediation to resolve diplomatic issues. In many other works he outlined a vision for a highly structured Christian society under tight control by authorities. In this way his social ideas were similar to those of his close friend, Sir Thomas More, whose Utopia imagines the perfect society as an organized and disciplined community under the watchful eye of state authorities.

Christian Humanism.

Erasmus's text also outlined a program of Christian humanism designed to re-invigorate European societies' ethics and morality. Here Erasmus's most influential work was his Handbook of the Militant Christian, a manual of edification that he first published in 1503. The work was immediately influential and drew disciples to Erasmus's ideas of reform from throughout Northern Europe, Italy, and Spain. The Handbook outlines a system of Christian ethics based upon the teachings of the New Testament, particularly those that Christ preached in the Sermon on the Mount and the parables. It is a clear and elegant work that also supports the study of the classics to cultivate the moral insights and eloquent style of the ancients. Erasmus advocates the study of the scriptures together with the classics of Antiquity as the basis for a program of moral reform throughout society. The Handbook also argues that the rituals of the church are of little use without an internal spirit that enlivens one's devotion and leads to piety, good works, and the practice of charity. The entire law of Christianity or as Erasmus termed it "the philosophy of Christ" is to be understood in the law to love one's neighbors. While many found this work a vital aid to their devotional lives, others responded that Erasmus's teachings undermined the institutional church and that they transformed Christianity into a mere system of ethics. After his death, Erasmus's celebrity waxed and waned over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. More recently, modern commentators have found in his works a perennially attractive set of teachings and have sometimes called him "the first modern."

sources

Erika Rummel, Erasmus and his Catholic Critics. 2 vols. (Nieuwkoop, Netherlands, 1989).

James Tracy, Erasmus of the Low Countries (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1996).

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