Erasmus in 1523Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (also Desiderius Erasmus
of Rotterdam) (October 27, probably 1466 – July 12, 1536) was
a Dutch humanist and theologian.
Erasmus was a classical
scholar who wrote in a "pure" Latin style. Although he remained
a Roman Catholic throughout his lifetime, he harshly criticised what
he considered the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church and even turned
down a Cardinalship when it was offered to him.
He prepared new
Latin and Greek editions of the New Testament and wrote The Praise of
Folly, Handbook of a Christian Knight and On Civility in Children.
Erasmus was born with the name Gerrit Gerritszoon (Dutch for Gerhard
Gerhardson) in or about 1466, probably in Rotterdam. Although associated
closely with this city, he lived there for only four years, never to
return. Information on his family and early life comes mainly from vague
references in his writings. He was almost certainly illegitimate. His
father later became a priest named Roger Gerard. Little is known of
his mother other than her name was Margaret and she was the daughter
of a physician. Despite being illegitimate, Erasmus was cared for by
his parents until their early deaths from the plague in 1483 and was
then given the best education available to a young man of his day, in
a series of monastic or semi-monastic schools. In 1487 Erasmus became
deeply attached to a young man, Servatius Rogerus, whom he called "half
my soul", writing, "I have wooed you both unhappily and relentlessly."
Ordination and monastic
In 1492, he was ordained to the Catholic priesthood and took Augustinian
monastic vows at about the age of 25, but he never seems to have actively
worked as a monastic priest, and monasticism was one of the chief objects
of his attack in his lifelong assault upon Church excesses. Soon after
his priestly ordination, he got his chance to leave the monastery when
offered the post of secretary to the Bishop of Cambray, Henry of Bergen,
on account of his great skill in Latin and his reputation as a man of
letters. He was given a temporary dispensation due to his poor health,
dislike of monks and love of humanistic studies. Pope Leo X later made
the dispensation permanent.
E-ducation and scholarship
In 1495, with the bishop's consent and stipend, he went on to study
at the University of Paris, in the Collège de Montaigu, a centre
of reforming zeal, under the direction of the ascetic Jan Standonck,
of whose rigours Erasmus complained. The University was then the chief
seat of scholastic learning, but already under the influence of the
revived classical culture of Italy. The chief centers of his activity
were Paris, Leuven (Louvain), England, and Basel; yet he never belonged
firmly in any one of these places. His time in England was fruitful
in the making of lifelong friendships with the leaders of English thought
in the stirring days of King Henry VIII: John Colet, Thomas More, John
Fisher, Thomas Linacre and William Grocyn. At the University of Cambridge,
he was the Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity and had the option
of spending the rest of his life as an English professor. He stayed
at Queens' College, Cambridge, and may have been an alumnus.
to live the life of an independent scholar and made a conscious effort
to avoid any actions or formal ties that might inhibit his freedom of
intellect and literary expression. Throughout his life, he was offered
many positions of honor and profit throughout the academic world but
declined them all, preferring the uncertain but sufficient rewards of
independent literary activity. From 1506 to 1509, he was in Italy and
spent part of the time at the publishing house of Aldus Manutius in
Venice, but, apart from this, he had a less active association with
Italian scholars than might have been expected.
His residence at
Leuven exposed Erasmus to much petty criticism from those hostile to
the principles of literary and religious progress to which he was devoting
his life. Feeling that this lack of sympathy was actually persecution,
he sought refuge in Basel, where under the shelter of Swiss hospitality
he could express himself freely and where he was surrounded by devoted
friends. Here he was associated for many years with the great publisher
Froben, and to him came the multitude of his admirers from all quarters
productivity began comparatively late in his life. Only when he had
mastered Latin did he begin to express himself on major contemporary
themes in literature and religion. His revolt against the forms of church
life did not result from doubts about the truth of the traditional doctrine
nor from any hostility to the organization of the Church itself. Rather,
he felt called upon to use his learning in a purification of the doctrine
and in a liberalizing of the institutions of Christianity. As a scholar,
he tried to free the methods of scholarship from the rigidity and formalism
of medieval traditions, but he was not satisfied with this. He saw himself
as a preacher of righteousness. It was this lifelong conviction that
guided Erasmus as he regenerated Europe through sound criticism applied
frankly and without fear to the Catholic Church. This conviction gives
unity and consistency to a life which might otherwise seem full of contradictions.
Erasmus held himself aloof from all entangling obligations, yet he was,
in a singularly true sense, the center of the literary movement of his
time. He corresponded with more than five hundred men of the highest
importance in the world of politics and of thought, and his advice on
all kinds of subjects was eagerly sought, if not always followed.
Publication of the
Greek New Testament
The first New Testament printed in Greek was part of the Polyglot Bible.
This portion was printed in 1514, but publication was delayed until
1522 by waiting for the Old Testament portion, and the sanction of Pope
Leo X. While in England in 1515, Erasmus became aware of the Polyglot
project and began a search for available manuscripts of the Greek New
Testament with the goal of meeting the demand for a printed edition
before the Polyglot Bible could be finished. Erasmus's rushed effort
was published by Froben of Basel in 1516 and thence became the first
published Greek New Testament, the Novum Instrumentum omne, diligenter
ab Erasmo Rot. Recognitum et Emendatum. This critical edition included
a Latin translation and annotations. Erasmus used several Greek manuscript
sources because he did not have access to a single complete manuscript.
Because of its hasty production, the 1516 edition contains numerous
In the 2nd (1519)
edition the more familiar term Testamentum was used instead of Instrumentum.
This edition was used by Martin Luther in making his German translation.
Together, the first and second editions sold 3,300 copies. The 1st-
and 2nd-edition texts did not include the passage (1 John 5:7–8)
that has become known as the Comma Johanneum. These verses appear to
be a basis of the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. Erasmus had been unable
to find those verses in any Greek manuscript, but one was supplied to
him during production of the 3rd edition. That manuscript is now thought
to be a 1520 creation from the Latin Vulgate, which likely got the verses
from a 5th-century marginal gloss in a Latin copy of I John. The Roman
Catholic Church decreed that the Comma Johanneum was open to dispute
(June 2, 1927), and it is rarely included in modern scholarly translations.
The 3rd edition
of 1522 was the basis for the 1550 Robert Stephanus edition used by
the translators of the Geneva Bible and King James Version of the Bible.
Erasmus published a definitive 4th edition in 1527 containing parallel
columns of Greek, Latin Vulgate and Erasmus's Latin texts. He used the
now available Polyglot Bible to improve this version. In 1535 Erasmus
published the 5th (and final) edition which dropped the Latin Vulgate
column but was otherwise similar to the 4th edition. Subsequent versions
of Erasmus's Greek New Testament became known as the Textus Receptus.
his work to Pope Leo X as a patron of learning and regarded this work
as his chief service to the cause of Christianity. Immediately afterward,
he began the publication of his Paraphrases of the New Testament, a
popular presentation of the contents of the several books. These, like
all of his writings, were published in Latin but were quickly translated
into other languages, with his encouragement.
and the beginnings of Protestantism
 Tries to
be impartial in dispute
Martin Luther's movement began in the year following the publication
of the New Testament and tested Erasmus's character. The issue between
European society and the Roman Church had become so clear that few could
escape the summons to join the debate. Erasmus, at the height of his
literary fame, was inevitably called upon to take sides, but partisanship
was foreign to his nature and his habits. In all his criticism of clerical
follies and abuses, he had always protested that he was not attacking
church institutions themselves and had no enmity toward churchmen. The
world had laughed at his satire, but few had interfered with his activities.
He believed that his work so far had commended itself to the best minds
and also to the dominant powers in the religious world.
 Disagreement with Luther
Erasmus was sympathetic with the main points in the Lutheran criticism
of the Church. He had great respect for Martin Luther, and Luther always
spoke with admiration of Erasmus's superior learning. Luther hoped for
his cooperation in a work which seemed only the natural outcome of his
own. In their early correspondence, Luther expressed boundless admiration
for all Erasmus had done in the cause of a sound and reasonable Christianity
and urged him to join the Lutheran party. Erasmus declined to commit
himself, arguing that to do so would endanger his position as a leader
in the movement for pure scholarship which he regarded as his purpose
in life. Only as an independent scholar could he hope to influence the
reform of religion. When Erasmus hesitated to support him, the straightforward
Luther felt that Erasmus was avoiding the responsibility due either
to cowardice or a lack of purpose. Erasmus, however, dreaded any change
in doctrine and believed that there was room within existing formulas
for the kind of reform he valued most.
 Freedom of the will
Twice in the course of the great discussion, he allowed himself to enter
the field of doctrinal controversy, a field foreign to both his nature
and his previous practice. One of the topics he dealt with was the freedom
of the will, a crucial point. In his De libero arbitrio diatribe sive
collatio (1524), he lampoons the Lutheran view on free will. He lays
down both sides of the argument impartially. The "Diatribe"
did not encourage any definite action; this was its merit to the Erasmians
and its fault in the eyes of the Lutherans. In response, Luther wrote
his De servo arbitrio (On the Bondage of the Will) (1525), which viciously
attacks the "Diatribe" and Erasmus himself, going so far as
to claim that Erasmus was not a Christian.
As the popular response
to Luther gathered momentum, the social disorders, which Erasmus dreaded
and Luther deemed unavoidable, began to appear, including the Peasants'
War, the Anabaptist disturbances in Germany and in the Low Countries,
iconoclasm and the radicalization of peasants across Europe. If these
were the outcomes of reform, he was thankful that he had kept out of
it. Yet he was ever more bitterly accused of having started the whole
"tragedy" (as the Roman Catholics dubbed Protestantism).
When the city of
Basel was definitely and officially "reformed" in 1529, Erasmus
gave up his residence there and settled in the imperial town of Freiburg
Erasmus by Holbein
 The sacraments
The test question was the doctrine of the sacraments, and the crux of
this question was the observance of the Eucharist. In 1530, Erasmus
published a new edition of the orthodox treatise of Algerus against
the heretic Berengar of Tours in the 11th century. He added a dedication,
affirming his belief in the reality of the Body of Christ after consecration
in the Eucharist. The anti-sacramentarians, headed by Œcolampadius
of Basel, were, as Erasmus says, quoting him as holding views similar
to their own in order to try to claim him for their schismatic movement.
Erasmus wrote both on ecclesiastic subjects and those of general human
interest. He seems to have regarded the latter as trifling, a leisure
He is credited with
coining the adage, "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man
is king." He formed a collection of adages, commonly called Adagia.
His more serious
writings begin early with the Enchiridion militis Christiani, the "Handbook
of the Christian Soldier" (1503) (translated into English a few
years later by the young William Tyndale). In this short work, Erasmus
outlines the views of the normal Christian life, which he was to spend
the rest of his days in elaborating. The chief evil of the day, he says,
is formalism, going through the motions of tradition without understanding
their basis in the teachings of Christ. Forms can teach the soul how
to worship God, or they may hide or quench the spirit. In his examination
of the dangers of formalism, Erasmus discusses monasticism, saint worship,
war, the spirit of class and the foibles of "society", but
the Enchiridion is more like a sermon than a satire.
work was The Praise of Folly, (Latin: Moriae encomium or sometimes Laus
stultitiae), a satirical attack on the traditions of the Catholic Church
and popular superstitions, written in 1509, published in 1511 and dedicated
to his friend, Sir Thomas More.
The Institutio principis
Christiani (Basel, 1516) (Education of a Christian Prince) was written
as advice to the young king Charles of Spain, later Charles V, Holy
Roman Emperor. Erasmus applies the general principles of honor and sincerity
to the special functions of the Prince, whom he represents throughout
as the servant of the people. The Education of a Christian Prince was
published in 1516, 26 years before Niccolò Machiavelli’s
The Prince. A comparison between the two is worth noting. Machiavelli
stated that, to maintain control by political force, it is safer for
a prince to be feared than loved. Erasmus, on the other hand, preferred
for the prince to be loved and suggested that the prince needed a well-rounded
education in order to govern justly and benevolently and avoid becoming
a source of oppression.
As a result of his
reformatory activities, Erasmus found himself at odds with both the
great parties. His last years were embittered by controversies with
men toward whom he was sympathetic. Notable among these was Ulrich von
Hutten, a brilliant but erratic genius, who had thrown himself into
the Lutheran cause and had declared that Erasmus, if he had a spark
of honesty, would do the same. In his reply, Spongia adversus aspergines
Hutteni (1523), Erasmus displays his skill in semantics. He accuses
Hutten of having misinterpreted his utterances about reform and reiterates
his determination never to break with the Church.
The most important
work of this last period is the Ecclesiastes or "Gospel Preacher"
(Basel, 1535), in which he comments on the function of preaching.
The extraordinary popularity of his books, however, has been shown in
the number of editions and translations that have appeared since the
16th century, and in the undiminished interest excited by his elusive
but fascinating personality. Ten columns of the catalogue of the British
Library are taken up with the bare enumeration of the works and their
subsequent reprints. The greatest names of the classical and patristic
world are among those translated, edited or annotated by Erasmus, including
Saint Ambrose, Aristotle, Saint Augustine, Saint Basil, Saint John Chrysostom,
Cicero and Saint Jerome.
Today in his home
town of Rotterdam, the University has been named in his honor. However,
Rotterdam has ignored the life of his most famous citizen for a long
time. Research in 2003 showed that most Rotterdammers believe Erasmus
was the designer of the "Erasmusbridge" in Rotterdam. This
shocking information led to the founding of the Erasmushuis (Erasmushouse),
a house dedicated to celebrate the legacy of Erasmus. Nowadays in Rotterdam,
three famous moments in the life of Erasmus are celebrated annually.
On April 1, the city celebrates the release of "Lof der Zotheid"
(Erasmus' most famous book). On October 28, the birthday of Erasmus
is celebrated. And, in the summer, the night of Erasmus celebrates the
lasting influence of his work in contemporary days.
reputation and the interpretations of his work have varied greatly over
time. Following his death, there was a long period of time when the
citizens of the land all mourned his death. Moderate Catholics felt
that he had been a leading figure in attempts to reform Church, while
Protestants recognized his initial support for Luther's ideas and the
groundwork he laid for the future Reformation. By the 1560s, however,
there was a marked change in reception.
The Catholic Counter-Reformation
movement often condemned Erasmus as having "laid the egg that hatched
the Reformation." Their critique of him was based principally on
his not being strong enough in his criticism of Luther, not seeing the
dangers of a vernacular Bible and dabbling in dangerous scriptural criticism
that weakened the Church's arguments against Arianism and other doctrines.
All of his works were placed on the Index of Prohibited Books by Paul
IV, and some of his works continued to be banned or viewed with caution
in the later Index of Pius IV.
of Erasmus fluctuate largely depending on region and period, with continuous
support in his native Netherlands and in cities of the Upper Rhine area.
However, following his death and in the late 16th century, Reformation
supporters see Erasmus's critiques of Luther and lifelong support for
the universal Catholic Church as damning. His reception was particularly
cold by the Reformed Protestant groups.
By the coming of
the Age of Enlightenment, however, Erasmus increasingly returned to
become a more widely respected cultural symbol and was hailed as an
important figure by increasingly broad groups.
His scholarly name Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus comprises the following
three elements: the Latin noun desiderium ("longing" or "desire";
the name being a genuine Late Latin name); the Greek adjective ???sµ???
(erasmios) meaning "beloved"; and the Latinized adjectival
form for the city of Rotterdam (Roterodamus = "of Rotterdam").
Though he learned Latin in proper monasteries and universities, Erasmus
largely taught himself Greek at the age of 30.
Several schools, faculties and universities in The Netherlands and Flanders
are named after him. In addition, Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn, New York,
USA, is also named for him.
The student exchange program in Europe in the 20th and 21st centuries,
called the Erasmus programme, was named after him. Erasmus himself studied
at different universities in 16th-century Europe. The name Erasmus programme
is actually the acronym ERASMUS for European Region Action Scheme for
the Mobility of University Students.
In the film L' Auberge espagnole (The Spanish Apartment) (2002) by Cédric
Klapisch about the Erasmus programme, he plays a role as a running gag.
The protagonist sometimes sees an actor in Barcelona, dressed in a 16th-century
outfit, and mistakens him for Erasmus.
In the 2004 election of De Grootste Nederlander (The Greatest Dutchman),
he ended in fifth place. In the election of De Grootste Belg (The Greatest
Belgian), he ended in 11th place in the Flemish edition of 2005.
Colloquia, which appeared at intervals from 1500 on
In Praise of Folly
Holbein's studies of Erasmus's hands, in silverpoint and chalks, ca.
1523. (Louvre)The portraitist Hans Holbein the Younger made a profile
half-length portrait in 1523, and Albrecht Dürer made an engraving
of Erasmus in 1526.
Hans Holbein is considered to be the greatest portraitist of Erasmus,
having painted no fewer than three, and as many as seven. His three
profile portraits of Erasmus, two (nearly identical) profile portraits
and one three-quarters view portrait were all painted in the same year,
1523. Erasmus used the Holbein portraits as gifts for his friends in
England, such as William Warham, the Archbishop of Canterbury (as he
writes in a letter to Warham regarding the gift portrait, Erasmus quips
that "he might have something of Erasmus should God call him from
this place.") Erasmus spoke favorably of Holbein as an artist and
person, but later criticized Holbein whom he had accused of sponging
off of various patrons to whom Erasmus had recommended, for purposes
more of monetary gain than artistic endeavor.
Albrecht Dürer also produced portraits of Erasmus, in the form
of an engraving and a preliminary charcoal sketch. Concerning the former
Erasmus was decidedly unimpressed, declaring it an unfavorable likeness
of him. Nevertheless, Erasmus and Dürer maintained a close friendship,
with Dürer going so far as to sollicit Erasmus's support for the
Lutheran cause, which Erasmus politely declined. Despite their disagreements,
Erasmus wrote a glowing encomium about the artist, likening him to famous
Greek painter of antiquity Apelles. Erasmus was deeply affected by his
death in 1528.
Quentin Matsys produced the earliest known portraits of Erasmus, including
an oil painting in 1517 and a medallion in 1519.
^ Collected Works of Erasmus, vol. 1, p. 12 (Toronto: University of
Toronto Press, 1974)
^ Metzger, Bruce. The Text of the New Testament, p. 96–103.
Botley, Paul (2004). Latin Translation in the Renaissance: The Theory
and Practice of Leonardo Bruni, Giannozzo Manetti and Desiderius Erasmus,
London: Cambridge University Press.
Chantraine, Georges (1971). "Philosophie erasmienne et théologie
lutérienne." "Mystère" et "Philosphie
du Christ" selon Erasme, Brussels : Duculot, pp. 374-376.
Dockery, David S. (October 19, 1995). "The Foundation of Reformation
Hermeneutics: A Fresh Look at Erasmus," Premise 2, no. 9, pp. 6–ff.
(An appreciative look at Erasmus's contribution to biblical hermeneutics
[interpretation methods] from an Evangelical Christian perspective.)
Gauss, C. (first published 1999). Introduction to 'The Prince' . New
York: Signet, p. 11.
Hoffmann, Manfred (1994). Rhetoric and Theology: The Hermeneutic of
Erasmus, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Hollis, Christopher (1931). Erasmus, London: Eyre & Spottiswode.
(Concentrates on Erasmus' quarrels with Catholic hierarchy.)
Huizinga, Johan (1957). Erasmus and the Age of Reformation, New York:
Harper Torchbooks. (Huizinga's text was translated from Dutch and first
published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1924. It is considered one of
the foundational Erasmus biographies of the 20th century.)
Jardine, Lisa (1993). Erasmus, Man of Letters: The Construction of Charisma
in Print, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993. (Argues
that Erasmus was extremely careful and skillful in creating, manipulating
and managing his own image.)
Mansfield, Bruce E. (1979). Phoenix of His Age: Interpretations of Erasmus
C. 1550-1750, Erasmus Studies 4, Toronto and Buffalo: University of
Toronto Press. (Traces the reception and interpretations of Erasmus
after his death.)
Metzger, Bruce (1992). The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission,
Corruption, and Restoration, New York and Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 3rd edition: ISBN 0-19-507297-9 – (Discusses the origin
of the Textus Receptus.)
Payne, John B. (1970). Erasmus: His Theology of the Sacraments, Richmond.
Va.: John Knox Press. (This work pays great attention to Erasmus's own
writings and analyzes the different aspects of his theology in light
of his Catholic and Humanist influences. Payne conducted extensive work
on UTP's Collected Works of Erasmus editions.)
Phillips, Margaret Mann (1949). Erasmus and the Northern Renaissance,
Teach Yourself History Library series, London: Hodder & Stoughton.
(An important classic on the topic.)
Panofsky, Erwin "Erasmus and the Visual Arts," Journal of
the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 32 (1969): 200-227. (A well
known article about Erasmus and his relationships with Hans Holbein,
Albrect Dürer and Quentin Matsys, and Erasmus's view on the visual
Rabil, Albert (1972). Erasmus and the New Testament: The Mind of a Christian
Humanist, San Antonio, Tx.: Trinity University Press.
Stevens, Forrest Tyler (1994). "Erasmus's 'Tigress': The Language
of Friendship, Pleasure and the Renaissance Letter" in Queering
the Renaissance, Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. (An illuminating
analysis of the letters to Servatius and Erasmus's De conscribendis
Tracy, James D. (1972). Erasmus: The Growth of a Mind, Travaux d'humanisme
et renaissance, 126, Geneva: Droz. (One of the standard biographies.)
 See also
Erasmus Mobility Program
Erasmus Mundus Program () ()
Dutch philosopher and Humanist, Erasmus was born on October 27th, perhaps
1466, in Rotterdam. It is believed that he was the son of a priest,
but there is some doubt about his name. It is thought his real name
was Gerard Gerardson. The name 'Erasmus' might have been taken from
the Greek word meaning 'beloved', but the correct spelling should be
“Erasmius”, the name given to his godson, son of Johann
Froben, his printer.
Erasmus was sent
to school at Gouda in Holland aged 4 years old. As he had a good voice
he was sent to Utrecht and placed in the Cathedral choir but he had
no gift for music and so when he was 9 years old he went to Deventer
school where his natural academic ability blossomed. At 13 years old
his parents died and he was left in the care of three guardians who
wished him to become a monk because it was the easiest way to dispose
of a ward. Erasmus was not at all happy at the monastic seminary at
Hertogenbosch and both his health and education suffered. However his
guardians were adamant that Erasmus’ future was to be in the priesthood
and at 18 years old Erasmus reluctantly took the vows and became a Canon
Regular in the Augustinian monastery at Stein, near Gouda. For the next
5 years Erasmus stayed at the monastery but it was during this time,
whilst secretly reading a number of the best Latin authors, that he
realised his life’s work lay beyond the cloisters. Things took
a turn for the better when he was invited by the Bishop of Cambray,
Henry de Bergis, to live with him as his Secretary. Soon after he took
orders and the Bishop enabled him to go to Paris University to study
classical literature where he stayed at Montaigu College. This was not
a great move as far as his health was concerned, which was never good,
as the work was hard, the food was poor, and the rooms were damp so
he moved to rented accommodation and worked as a tutor to help fund
He soon became known
in Paris as a very fine scholar, particularly in Latin which was then
the general language of learning and international communications. One
of his pupils, William Blunt, Lord Mountjoy, set up a pension of 100
crowns a year and soon after, in 1499, Erasmus paid his first visit
to England. His acquaintance with Lord Mountjoy opened the doors of
a new and influential world to Erasmus with opportunities to visit the
royal court, where he first met the future Henry VIII, then a boy of
9, and the ancient University at Oxford. It was at Oxford that he met
some of the men who had studied in Italy and were some of the earliest
teachers of Greek; William Grocyn, William Latimer and Thomas Linacre.
In London he also befriended two people who were to have a great influence
on him: Thomas More and John Colet. More was reading law in London when
they met whilst Colet was lecturing on St Paul’s Epistles and
encouraged Erasmus to broaden his studies to embrace theology in particular.
Over the next 10 years Erasmus divided his time between France, the
Netherlands and England, always keeping in touch with his English humanist
friends, and he also spent three years in Italy. In 1509, on his third
visit to England, Erasmus was persuaded to settle and for the next 5
years he spent much of his time at Cambridge, staying at Queen’s
College and lecturing in his new-found passion for theology and Greek.
It was at this time, while he was staying at More’s house in 1511,
that he wrote the famous work, “In Praise of Folly” offering
a revealing insight on society in general, including the various abuses
of the church and the selfish wars of Kings; as it was written in jest
no-one took offence even though the meaning was clear. In 1512 he completed
the translation of the New Testament into Greek and a year later, with
Cambridge suffering from plague, he left the University and then in
1514 he left England for Basle where his New Testament work was printed
by the famous printer, Froben. He also wrote a new Latin version of
the New Testament as well as a series of Latin Paraphrases on all the
books of the New Testament except Revelations so that they were more
accessible to the ordinary reader’s mind. They were translated
into English and every Parish Church had a copy.
People in the 14th
century were not encouraged to think or reason for themselves. Erasmus,
who was at the forefront in promoting the spread of knowledge that included
the great writers of ancient Greece and Rome, felt that to encourage
learning would turn ignorance about religious, state and daily life
on its head He felt that true knowledge would encourage a better morality
and a greater understanding between people. He sought to make things
widely known by applying authors’ wisdom or wit to the circumstances
of his own day. The Protestant Reformation, erupting with the publication
of Martin Luther’s ’95 Theses’, was never fully supported
by Erasmus, even though he is considered one of the leaders of the movement.
Although he supported its ideals he was against the radicalism of the
other leaders and in 1523 Erasmus condemned Luther’s methods in
his work, “De Libero Aribitrio”. A pioneer in Church reform,
Erasmus kept to his principles, his humanism always holding him back
from what he felt were violent and sweeping reforms. This was something
Erasmus came to be well respected for and it influenced the religious
tolerance that finally emerged across Europe. Erasmus’ literary
output was immense and continued right the way through his life until
his death in 1536.
In 1503 he wrote
“The Handbook of a Christian Knight”. He believed in rational
piety and took a critical attitude to superstition. He was an opponent
of religious bigotry, supported Luther's aims but was hostile to the
results of the Reformation.
History tells us
that Erasmus of Rotterdam has never had his due. In part, the reason
being that he founded no church to perpetuate his memory. In consequence,
he has lagged far behind not only the major reformers — Luther,
Calvin, Zwingli and Melanchthon — but even the minor reformers
such as Caspar Scwenfeld and the Anabaptists. A critical edition of
his entire corpus has been undertaken at long last, and not by a church
but by the Royal Dutch Academy out of national pride, of which Erasmus
was entirely devoid.