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Desiderius Erasmus

                       Desiderius Erasmus



-he was the most able Humanist, and the one by whom the movement is popularly identified.

-he was the most productive of the northern humanists.

-he didn’t concern himself much with the inventions (e.g., navigational and astronomical instruments) and discoveries of the age, or with economic and political changes: he was preoccupied with letters.

-he upheld an undogmatic religion and an ethical piety founded on the Sermon on the Mount.  (Herein he is indebted to the Brethren of the Common Life and the Florentine Platonic Academy.)


-his father was a priest who fathered him prior to being ordained.

-he was raised as an orphan by relatives who gave him his name. (desiderium: longing, desire,yearning)

-he was educated in Latin.

-during his schooldays he began reading the ancient pagan philosophers (especially Seneca.)

-at 17 his guardians sent him, against his will, to be trained as a monk.

-he moved more deeply into the Latin classics.

-he was ‘taken’ with Lorenzo Valla.

-while he came to be fluent in many vernacular languages, they never appealed to him; rather he became consummately able in Latin and Greek.


-ordained and made both a canon and secretary to a bishop, he enrolled (aged 32) in the University of Paris , receiving his B.Th. in 1503.

-at U. of Paris he was steeped in scholastic theology – which theology aroused repugnance in Luther, anger in Calvin, and contemptuous mirth in Erasmus.

-he made no secret of his disdain for theologians.

-he regarded ‘theology’ as that which inspired and structured the Christian life.  Such ‘theology’ was a compend of what he called “The Philosophy of Christ” and the philosophy of the Greeks.


-in 1499 he published his Adages.

-he continued to ignore and despise Hebrew and the Hebrew scriptures, thinking his “Philosophy of Christ” to be superior to anything the Older Testament contained.  (“I prefer Christ, even Christ contaminated by Duns Scotus, to this Jewish nonsense.”)


-in 1502 he was transferred to Louvain ( Belgium ) where he wrote Dagger of the Christian Knight.


-he travelled to England at least six times, being introduced to Thomas More (Utopia) in 1499.  (More was the unrelenting foe of William Tyndale.)

-in 1509 he was given the Chair of Divinity at Cambridge , where Tyndale was one of his pupils.

-while in England he and Colet visit Canterbury and saw the relics of St.Thomas Becket (to his disgust), and then moved on to the shrine of our Lady of Walsingham.

-he moved to the University of Turin where he completed a doctorate in theology, then moved back to England where he wrote his most famous book, The Praise of Folly.


-his major contribution (and essential contribution) to the Reformation remains his Textus Receptus.


-while he and Luther hailed each other at first, by 1525 (Luther’s Bondage of the Will) it was apparent that they were not theological allies.

-while Luther faced the worst of ecclesiastical opposition, Erasmus wriggled away from it.

-Erasmus had never supported Luther publicly after L’s Babylonian Captivity of the Church 1520).

-Erasmus wrote Diverse Letters in which he attempted to rescind his earlier, pro-Luther sympathies and to declare himself a true son of Rome .  Luther commented, “Erasmus is far from the kingdom of grace.  He looks not at the cross but at peace in all his writings.”

-Erasmus died peacefully at Basle in 1536 – (the year the first edition of Calvin’s Institutes appeared.)