Desiderius Erasmus 1469?-1536
(Born Geert Geerts; also known as Gerhard Gerhards; adopted name Desiderius Erasmus Rotterdammensis; also known as Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus) Dutch essayist, grammarian, satirist, and theologian.
The following entry presents recent criticism on Erasmus.
The leading figure in northern humanism, Erasmus is recognized as one of the greatest intellectuals of the sixteenth century. He left behind a large and wide-ranging body of work; however, his greatest contribution to literature is not a particular text but a way of thinking about texts that literally changed the Western world. Viewing religion as a matter of morality and piety rather than of ceremony and doctrine, Erasmus attempted to syncretize the secular, critical, and rational nature of classical antiquity with devout religiosity. His ideas on religious reform brought him into contact—and eventually open conflict—with Martin Luther, placing him in the center of the Protestant Reformation. His love of both classical and scriptural study, his consistent efforts toward conciliation and peace, and his dedication to sharing the wealth of his learning through education are at the center of his substantial legacy.
Erasmus's illustrious reputation after his death stands in marked contrast to the obscurity of his birth. Erasmus himself wrote in his autobiography that he was born the illegitimate son of lovers, Gerard and Margaret, who were not allowed to marry. Gerard eventually entered the priesthood. Erasmus later maintained his birthday was October 27, 1466—prior to his father's ordination, implying that he was not the son of an ordained priest and, therefore, not the product of incest in the eyes of the Church. Other accounts give Margaret the role of the mistress to a priest in Gouda—perhaps named Gerald or Roger—with whom she lived openly in the rectory, bearing him two sons, Peter first, then Erasmus in 1467. Still others date Erasmus's birth in 1469. (The church restrictions on priests of illegitimate birth were eventually waived for Erasmus through the influence of a contact with Pope Julius II in 1506.) Erasmus and his brother went to school in Gouda, and then to the Cathedral School of St. Lebwin in Deventer, under the auspices of the Brethren of the Common Life. Erasmus stayed at Deventer until he was eighteen, gaining a reputation as a scholar and studying poetry and literature under the humanists Alexander Hegius and Rudolf Agricola. Deventer played a crucial role in Erasmus's intellectual formation, putting him in contact not only with the wave of Renaissance humanism coming from Italy but also with the spiritual movement termed devotio moderna, characterized in Thomas á Kempis's work Imitation of Christ (1425).
Erasmus's mother died of the plague in 1484, as did his father soon afterwards. His father had appointed three men to be the guardians of Erasmus and his brother; they placed the boys in another Brethren's school at Hertogenbosch, by all accounts a nonintellectual place where the brothers regularly beat their students. The Brethren were enthusiastic in inviting Erasmus to join their order, and he acceded, though with great reluctance. He entered the monastery at Steyne around 1487 and was ordained in 1492. The strict asceticism of monastery life did not suit Erasmus well—though he began work on an essay praising monastic life, De contemptu mundi (1519; On Contempt of the World)—and he seized every opportunity to be free of it. Shortly after his ordination he became the Latin secretary for the bishop of Cambrai, and the larger society he enjoyed with that post soon helped him to another position more to his liking, as a theology student at the Sorbonne in Paris. He was disappointed with the medieval approach to learning he encountered and left the college in 1496 without having obtained his doctorate, but the experience nonetheless proved fruitful. While supporting himself as a tutor, he developed several of the influential pedagogical works that he would later publish to great acclaim, including De duplici copia verborum (1512; On Abundance of Words and Ideas), De ratione studii (1511; On the Method of Study), Familiorum Colloquiorum Formulae, (1519; Familiar Discourses or Colloquies), and Libellus de conscribendis epistolis (1522; On Writing Letters).
In 1499 one of his English students, William Blount, Lord Mountjoy, invited Erasmus to England, which resulted in an ongoing exchange between Erasmus and the English literary culture that would transform each party. Among those Englishmen with whom Erasmus associated were the humanists Thomas Grey, John Colet, and Thomas More; the last would become one of his closest friends, a frequent correspondent, and the dedicatee for his masterwork Moriae encomium (1511; Praise of Folly). He also courted the patronage of major church figures, including Richard Foxe and William Warham. It was a unique opportunity for intellectual growth unhindered by either the dogmatism of his monastic order or the cares of poverty. After his return to Paris in 1500, however, Erasmus no longer enjoyed such freedom. He rushed the publication of his first book, the Adagiorum collectanea (1500; Collection of Adages), in order to support himself. The Adages became popular throughout Europe, promoting both the value of humanist learning and the reputation of Erasmus. He began traveling again, relieving his recurring poverty through the occasional discovery of a new patron, and pursued his increasing interest in religion and church history. In 1503 he published Enchiridion militis christiani (The Handbook of the Christian Soldier), a reflection of his debt to his studies with Colet in England as well as Erasmus's own theological emphasis on simplicity and morality. After some time in Holland and England, he went in 1506 to the Italian University of Turin, where he earned a master's and doctoral degree in divinity. He stayed in Italy until 1509, enjoying previously unknown access to the works of Plato, Plutarch, Homer, and other classical masters—allowing him to expand the Adages for a 1508 edition. In 1509 Erasmus returned to England at Mountjoy's request. While there he wrote the Praise of Folly, lectured at Cambridge, and completed some of the pedagogical works he had begun at the Sorbonne. He also worked on his Latin translation of the Greek New Testament. When he published it in 1516 as the Novum instrumentum he was perhaps the best-known scholar in Europe, both as a classical humanist and as a biblical scholar.
The Novum instrumentum and the philosophy behind it eventually led to conflict and controversy for Erasmus. Erasmus's philological approach to the Bible and his emphasis on individual spirituality would ally him, however briefly, with the most powerful voices of what became the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther and his followers used Erasmus's writings to advocate reform of the Church, and Luther himself contacted Erasmus in 1519 to ask for his support. Erasmus, by then a devout pacifist, hoped to stay out of the conflict, but his attempt to find a middle ground—reforming the Church without creating factions and schism—failed. Forced to choose sides, Erasmus eventually denounced Luther in De libero arbitrio, Diatribe seu collatio (1524; Discourse on Free Will), but his support of the “new learning” in such works as Antibarbari (1520; Against the Barbarians) kept him from allying fully with the conservative elements of the Church. In 1529 he left Basel, Switzerland, where he had lived for eight years, and moved to Freiburg, Germany, to distance himself from the increasing hostilities. Throughout this time he wrote for peace and reconciliation, in addition to his work on a treatise on the art of preaching, his Ecclesiastes, sive De ratione concionandi (1535). The urgings of friends in Basel and his desire to publish his manual on preaching drove him to return to Basel in May 1536. He died July 12, while living at the home of publisher Jerome Froben. He was buried at the cathedral in Basel, having remained a loyal supporter of the Catholic church to the end; he was nonetheless declared a heretic at the 1559 Council of Trent.
If Erasmus's influence in Western culture extends well beyond his written corpus, particular works nonetheless stand out as essential to his enduring reputation. Chief among these is the Praise of Folly, a mock oration in praise of foolishness, delivered by the feminine figure Folly. At one level the work is a celebration of the art and power of rhetoric—of which Erasmus was a master—applying the highest arts of persuasion to one of the lowest sorts of subjects. But the Praise of Folly is also a work of social criticism, addressing general social ills such as pride, greed, and excessive ambition. While it covertly critiques specific instances of corruption and abuse within the Church, the playful and ironic nature of the text, with its highly suspect narrator, protected Erasmus from any serious charges of attacking the Church. The work's use of humor also reflects Erasmus's consistent unwillingness to attack or join a conflict. Known as a pacifist, he preferred to use his words to encourage and to teach playfully. A prominent theme of the Praise of Folly is that of right Christian living, challenging the so-called learned to recognize that God's plan for the redemption of humankind confounds the wisdom of the world. This challenge makes notions of foolishness and wisdom ambiguous, creating a paradox that lies at the heart of work and contributes to its lasting interest. The rhetorical skills displayed in the Praise of Folly are echoed in the several pedagogical and grammatical works Erasmus published in his lifetime. Though these works are not widely read by any other than serious scholars of humanism, their influence is considerable. The Adages, his collection of Latin and Greek proverbs, enjoyed a tremendous popularity into the eighteenth century. Similar collections of classical wisdom include the 1514 Parabolae and the 1531 Apophthegmata. Works including the 1512 De copia verborum and De civilitate morum puerilium (1530; On Manners for Children) became a part of humanist schooling throughout Europe. Among his religious writings, the early work Enchiridion (1503) is a critical text that outlines Erasmus's philological approach to scripture—one that would be manifest in his later translations—and that introduces his philosophia Christi, a view of Christianity emphasizing simplicity and individual piety.
Even during his withdrawal from conflict in the later years of his life, Erasmus maintained a reputation as one of the leading minds of Europe, a reputation that was not substantially changed by the posthumous charge of heresy. In her study of the continuing influence of Erasmus, Erika Rummel observes that the popularity of Erasmus as an author and thinker of interest has continued unabated. If specific aspects of Erasmus's thought, she suggests, are no longer in mainstream use—his rhetorical style, his emphasis on teaching with the classics, his theology—his works continue to be read and admired widely. In his study of neoclassical rhetoric, Brian Vickers counters that the Erasmian ideal of true rhetoric still has value and importance in modern oratory. The author's role in the Reformation and the difficult yoking of Christian values and humanist learning has long been a subject of study and debate. His insistence on finding positions outside of conflict has made him difficult to pin down. Although he was a leading Christian humanist, his approach to the seeming paradoxes of humanism sometimes differed from those of his peers. As Katy O'Brien Weintraub points out, while humanism is often associated with natural reason, Erasmus rejected this notion and took a more spiritual view of the source of classical wisdom. Since the mid-twentieth century critics have taken a greater interest in Erasmus's writings on sexuality and gender, another area in which the author's view is difficult to characterize. While scholars have long observed in Erasmus's works a sexism characteristic of his age, many have noted that his philosophy and theology tend to support the individual worth of women in the eyes of God. More recently, such critics as Barbara Correll have revisited Erasmus's writings about women to consider what they might reveal about cultural politics more generally. Similarly, while some biographers have questioned whether Erasmus was homosexual, based on apparently amatory letters to male friends, Forrest Stevens has turned from the question of Erasmus's own sexual preference to more broadly examine how his letters speak to the construction of gender and sexuality. If the school of thought once termed Erasmianism is no longer an identifiable, viable force in modern humanist culture, as Rummel proposes, the often-quoted assessment of his good friend Colet nonetheless continues to be apt: the “name of Erasmus shall never perish.”
Adagiorum collectanea (aphorisms) 1500; revised as Adagiorum chiliades tres, ac centuriae fere totidem, 1508, 1515
Enchiridion militis christiani [The Handbook of the Christian Knight] (prose) 1503
De ratione studii [On the Method of Study] (prose) 1511
Moriae encomium [The Praise of Folly] (satire) 1511
De duplici copia verborum, commentarii duo [On Abundance of Words and Ideas] (prose) 1512
Parabolae sive similia (aphorisms) 1514
Christiani hominis Institutu Erasmi Roterodami (prose) 1515
Institutio principis christiani (prose) 1516
Novum instrumentum (prose) 1516
*Ivlivs. Dialogvs viri cvivspiam ervditissimi festiuus sane ac elegans, quomodo Ivlivs II [Julius exclusus; The dialogue between Julius the second, Genius, and Saint Peter] (satire) 1517
Querela pacis undique gentium ejectae profligataeque [The Complaint of Peace] (prose) 1517
Sileni Alcibiadis (dialogue) 1517
De contemptu mundi epistola [On Contempt of the World] (prose) 1519
Familiorum Colloquiorum Formulae [Familiar Discourses] (prose) 1519; revised as Familiarum colloquiorum opus multis...
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SOURCE: Kahn, Victoria. “Erasmus: Prudence and Faith.” In Rhetoric, Prudence, and Skepticism in the Renaissance, pp. 89-114. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1985.
[In the following essay, Kahn relates the dispute between Luther and Erasmus on free will in order to highlight the paradoxes in Erasmus's positions on folly and prudence.]
Vide, huc perpulit Diatriben imprudentem invicibilis et potentissima veritas, et stultam fecit sapientiam eius, ut contra nos dictura, pro nobis se dicere cogeretur. [See how the invincible and all-powerful truth has cornered witless Diatribe and turned her wisdom into folly, so that while meaning to speak against us, she is compelled to speak for us and against herself.]
—Luther, De servo arbitrio
When Erasmus criticized Luther's decision to publish the paradox of enslaved will (LE 41, 134) to the world for fear of the offense it would cause “pious ears,”1 Luther replied ironically that paradox is everywhere apparent in the argument of Erasmus's own Diatribe.2 The feminine personification of Diatribe and the description of her wisdom as folly suggest that Luther is alluding to Erasmus's earlier published paradox, perhaps with the implication that the Moriae encomium was a true praise of Christian wisdom and the contradictory praise of...
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SOURCE: Patrides, C. A. “Erasmus and More: Dialogues with Reality.” Kenyon Review 8, no. 1 (winter 1986): 34-48.
[In this essay, Patrides compares Erasmus's Praise of Folly and other works to the Utopia of his friend and peer Thomas More, contrasting the playful approach of the former with the darker tones of the latter.]
Sancte Socrates, ora pro nobis!”—“Saint Socrates, pray for us!” So exclaims a character in one of Erasmus's colloquies, and, ever since, readers have been either dazzled by the boldness of the great humanist or distressed by the limitations of his spiritual horizons. But perhaps we are not often enough inclined to be amused, unprepared as we are to grant readily that the intent of Erasmus, here as elsewhere, was to delineate a vision essentially dependent on a lusory apprehension of reality.
The notorious exclamation just quoted occurs in a particular colloquy, “The Godly Feast,” which Erasmus intentionally made to resound with echoes of Plato's Symposium. In deploying a dramatic form reminiscent of the greatest Platonic dialogue, Erasmus had clearly hoped to elicit responses within the framework provided. In the event, however, he was disappointed repeatedly, for readers responded in the light of personal visions not always cognizant either of Platonism or of its preferred means of exposition, the dialogue. Where satire was also...
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SOURCE: O'Malley, John W. “Grammar and Rhetoric in the Pietas of Erasmus.” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 18, no. 1 (spring 1988): 81-98.
[In the following essay, O'Malley suggests that it was as a grammarian that Erasmus chiefly defined his humanism, meaning that Erasmus tended to place greater value on texts and teaching rather than on oratory and public life. O'Malley considers how this stance influenced Erasmian theology, including his more mystical, contemplative brand of Christianity and his emphasis on Christ as a teacher of philosophy.]
When Erasmus in both 1523 and 1530 categorized into various ordines his writings up to those dates, he designated the “fifth order” as works “pertaining to piety”—pertinentium ad pietatem.1 The number of such works was large, and it was made even larger by subsequent editors who had to account for Erasmus' publications from 1530 until his death in 1536. The fifth volume of the Leiden edition, which corresponds to Erasmus' “fifth order,” lists thirty-nine distinct works, contained in 1360 folio columns. This fact alone testifies to the importance that considerations concerning pietas held for Erasmus, and confirms beyond question that a reform of piety was one of the major aims of his life.
The term itself was dense with meaning for Erasmus, and “spirituality” renders it...
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SOURCE: Carrington, Laurel. “Erasmus on the Use and Abuse of Metaphor.” In Acta Conventus Neo-Latini Torontonensis: Proceedings of the Seventh International Congress of Neo-Latin Studies, edited by Alexander Dalzell, Charles Fantazzi, and Richard J. Schoeck, pp. 111-20. Binghamton, N.Y.: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, 1991.
[In this lecture read at a 1988 conference, Carrington links Erasmus's work on metaphor and ideal language to his theology. She contends that, for Erasmus, metaphor is both the sign of a fallen language and the means through which divinely inspired understanding of scripture can occur.]
Although my paper's title points to Erasmus's concerns about metaphor, my actual subject draws on a series of issues of which this is only a part. To begin with, the place of metaphor in the classical discipline of rhetoric is extremely important, as is Erasmus's complex relationship to that tradition. Erasmus's use of metaphor in his own writing, as well as his explicit statements about metaphor, likewise bear upon my immediate concern. Above all, however, I am interested in showing how the question of metaphor can throw light on Erasmus's work and on the many areas in which Erasmus was involved with using and writing about language.
For when we look at Erasmus, we see a man who wore many hats: educator, biblical scholar, writer, and religious reformer. All of...
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SOURCE: Correll, Barbara. “Malleable Material, Models of Power: Woman in Erasmus's ‘Marriage Group’ and Civility in Boys.” ELH 57, no. 2 (summer 1990): 241-262.
[In the essay below, Correll reads some of Erasmus's Colloquies to illuminate how discourse about women serves to address cultural concerns about the masculine self. Correll includes consideration of Erasmus's writings about boys as an example of both symbolically feminine roles and weakened masculinity.]
Dic, Eutrapele: uter infirmior, qui cedit alteri, an cui ceditur?1
Renaissance studies in English literature have often looked to the figure of Elizabeth I as an unsettling force in sixteenth-century England, using investigations of her style of rule and the structure of the court to develop theories of power and subject formation in early modernity. In two notable examples of such studies, Stephen Greenblatt and Louis Montrose argue that, as monarch and as woman, Elizabeth exploited and provoked psychological anxieties in her male subjects, anxieties of male selfhood which reflected the political tensions of a society in transition; and that those tensions are dramatized, contained and preserved in works such as Spenser's Faerie Queene and Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.2
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SOURCE: Heath, Michael J. “Erasmus and the Laws of Marriage.” In Acta Conventus Neo-Latini Hafniensis: Proceedings of the Eighth International Congress of Neo-Latin Studies, edited by Rhoda Schnur, Ann Moss, et al., pp. 477-84. Binghamton, N.Y.: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, 1994.
[In this lecture, originally read at a 1991 conference, Heath discusses Erasmus's controversial proposals for reforming marriage laws and the unorthodox thought behind them. He observes Erasmus's mixed views on women's humanity as well as his then-unusual belief in the value of sexual relationships.]
Erasmus published the Christiani matrimonii institutio, dedicated with unforeseeable irony to Catherine of Aragon, in August 1526;1 it was by no means his first pronouncement on marriage, but it is his most comprehensive discussion of the subject. It also continued and developed Erasmus's polemic with a series of opponents who had taken exception to his Encomium matrimonii (1518) and to his expanded annotation (1519) on St Paul's chapter on marriage, 1 Corinthians 7.2 Like these earlier works, the Institutio expressed views which still arouse controversy today, in particular on womankind, on the vow of chastity, and on the sacramental quality of marriage. I shall discuss these three issues briefly, but devote most of this paper to a lesser-known but equally...
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SOURCE: Stevens, Forrest Tyler. “Erasmus's ‘Tigress’: The Language of Friendship, Pleasure, and the Renaissance Letter.” In Queering the Renaissance, edited by Jonathan Goldberg, pp. 124-40. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, Stevens focuses on Erasmus's letters to his friend Servatius in order to highlight the sexual rhetoric that has more often been interpreted as a nonsexual literary convention. Stevens reads those letters alongside Erasmus's manual on letter writing, De conscribendis epistolis, to show how gender conventions influence whether or not a letter with sexual or amatory language would have been considered inappropriate.]
Shortly after Desiderius Erasmus entered the monastery of Steyn in 1487, he met a young man, Servatius Rogerus, to whom he became particularly attached. Erasmus explains to his brother, Pieter Gerard, “He is, believe me, a youth of beautiful disposition and very agreeable personality and a devoted student … This young man is very anxious to meet you, and if you make your way here soon, as I hope you will, I am quite sure that you will not only think he deserves your friendship but readily prefer him to me, your brother, for I well know both your warmheartedness and his goodness.”1 We do not know whether Pieter Gerard got to know Servatius's goodness (or Servatius, Gerard's warm heart), nor do we know if...
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SOURCE: McConica, James Kelsey. “The English Reception of Erasmus.” In Erasmianism: Idea and Reality, edited by M. E. H. N. Mout, H. Smolinsky, and J. Trapman, pp. 37-46. Amsterdam: Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1997.
[In this lecture read at a 1996 colloquium, McConica discusses the early influence of Erasmus on English humanism, particularly in the schools. McConica also notes the importance of the church and state in facilitating the acceptance of Erasmian humanism.]
I propose to address the topic of this colloquium, ‘Erasmianism: Idea and Reality’ not from the aspect of text, or of authorial intention, but from evidence less dramatic but easier to verify—the channels through which his writings came to be circulated and his ideas taken in. If we can so identify the ‘audience’ for what Erasmus had to say, we can identify something of the ‘reality’ of ‘Erasmianism’, at least amongst those who thought him important enough either to follow or to oppose. I have chosen for this exercise, of which only an outline can be presented here, the first decades of the sixteenth century in England, decades crucial to the reception of Erasmus, where the mounting interest in Erasmus and his works is evident from the wide provision of translations alone, quite apart from other indications.1
FOUNDATIONAL INFLUENCES IN ENGLISH EDUCATION...
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SOURCE: Tracy, James D. “The Philosophy of Christ.” In Erasmus of the Low Countries, pp. 104-15. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
[In the essay below, Tracy considers Erasmus's reform doctrine in the context of political and religious developments of his age. In his reform writings, Tracy claims, Erasmus struggles with the failures of the contemporary church to exemplify the doctrines of the Gospels.]
Erasmus began speaking of “the philosophy of Christ” (sometimes “Christian philosophy”) in works about 1515. Already in Julius Exclusus he seems on the threshold of introducing the idea when St. Peter contrasts the divine simplicity of Christ's teaching with the worldly arrogance of Pope Julius II:
The teaching of Christ [disciplina Christi] demands a heart wholly purged of the influence of worldly anxieties. Our great master did not come down from heaven to earth to give men some easy or common philosophy. It is not a carefree or tranquil profession to be a Christian.
To shun all pleasures like poison, to trample riches as if dirt, to hold one's life as of no account: this is the profession of the Christian man. Again in The Sileni of Alcibiades, one of the 1515 adages, he contrasts the riches and power that Christ forswore with “the philosophy of His choice, worlds away from the...
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SOURCE: Jardine, Lisa. “Reading and the Technology of Textual Affect: Erasmus's Familiar Letters and Shakespeare's King Lear.” In The Practice and Representation of Reading in England, edited by James Raven, Helen Small, and Naomi Tadmor, pp. 77-101. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
[In this essay, Jardine begins with a study of Erasmus's letters as an example of a technical method of expressing and producing feeling. Erasmus's epistolary methods then provide a context for a reading of King Lear, in which the methodical expression of feeling consistently proves to be false. Jardine concludes that a Renaissance audience schooled in Erasmian ideals of rhetoric would thus experience the drama of Lear as strongly pessimistic about the possibility for honest communication.]
A letter or epistle, is the thyng alone yt maketh men present which are absent. For among those that are absent, what is so presente, as to heare and talke with those whom thou louest?
They were trained together in their childhoods, and there rooted betwixt them then such an affection which cannot choose but branch now. Since their more mature dignities and royal necessities made separation of their society, their encounters, though not personal, have been royally attorneyed...
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SOURCE: Eden, Kathy. “‘Between Friends All is Common’: The Erasmian Adage and Tradition.” Journal of the History of Ideas 59, no. 3 (July 1998): 405-19.
[In this essay, Eden shows how Erasmus takes the adage genre as a literary type and makes it a symbol of his philosophy of friendship and community. Eden focuses on Erasmus's adaptations of Pythagoras and Plato as primary instances of how the adage itself is an object or kind of property to be shared among friends in the ideal community.]
In 1508 eager readers received the Aldine edition of Erasmus's Adages, the Adagiorum chiliades. Replacing the much smaller Paris Collectanea of 1500, the Italian edition included among its many accretions and alterations both a new introduction and a different opening adage. In place of the prefatory letter to William Blount, Lord Mountjoy (Ep. 126, CWE, 1, 255-66), Erasmus substituted a fuller prolegomena or introduction (Ep. 211) that reworked portions of the earlier praefatio.1 Then, following the new introduction, he displayed much more prominently, in first position, the ninety-fourth adage of the Paris edition, which reads in Greek, τὰ τω̑ν ϕίλων κοινὰ; in Latin, amicorum communia omnia, often translated into English as “friends hold all things in common” or “between friends all is common” (LB, II,...
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SOURCE: Weintraub, Katy O'Brien. “O Sancte Socrate, Ora Pro Nobis: Erasmus on the Problem of Athens and Jerusalem.” In Cultural Visions: Essays in the History of Culture, edited by Penny Schine Gold and Benjamin C. Sax, pp. 259-70. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000.
[In the following essay, Weintraub looks at Erasmus's efforts to reconcile Christian with pre-Christian thought by focusing on his writings on Socrates, including his famous request, “O Saint Socrates, pray for us.” Weintraub finds that Erasmus does not follow the pattern of other early Christian humanists by using the notion of “natural reason” to unite the two traditions, but instead employs a theological strategy that includes ancient pagans in the unity of creation, emphasizing the omnipotence of God rather than the achievements of individual philosophers.]
For many years one simple quotation from Erasmus formed an important hallmark of the students' experience of the History of Western Civilization course at the University of Chicago: “O Sancte Socrate, Ora pro nobis,” O Saint Socrates, pray for us.1 Erasmus' creation of this sentence has come to represent an important moment in the history of Western Civilization as well. At this moment Erasmus, fully confident that the cultural tradition begun in Athens and the other cultural tradition represented by Jerusalem could be reconciled with each other, announced their union....
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SOURCE: Rummel, Erika. “Erasmian Humanism in the Twentieth Century.” Comparative Criticism 23 (2001): 57-67.
[In this essay, Rummel classifies the realms of Erasmus's influence in terms of philology, theology, pedagogy, and civility (a blend of the philosopher's commitments to community, tolerance, and peace). Rummel contends that except for a resurgence of interest in Erasmus as a theologian, most modern “Erasmian” movements are not related closely enough to the original and unique thought of Erasmus himself to qualify as truly modern Erasmianism.]
In 1996 the participants in a conference at Groningen, entitled ‘Erasmianism: Idea and Reality’, attempted to define the essence of Erasmian thought and to gauge its influence on our time. In the opinion of the keynote speaker, Cornelis Augustijn, there was little evidence of any direct influence of Erasmus' ideas. Of course people cited Erasmus ‘when they found something in him that moved them’, but this did not mean that they were embracing Erasmus' ideals. It was merely a matter of recognizing intellectual kinship.1 This quote comes from Augustijn's biography of Erasmus; at the conference he spoke even more plainly, saying that he had no use for the term Erasmianism, which was an artificial construct lacking any basis in reality.2 Undeterred by Augustijn's remarks, I am returning to the two questions today: What is...
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Augustijn, Cornelis. Erasmus: His Life, Works, and Influence, translated by J. C. Grayson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991, 239 p.
Studies Erasmus in the context of the humanist flowering of his time and attempts to draw the focus away from the conflict with Luther.
Schoeck, R. J. Erasmus Grandescens: The Growth of a Humanist's Mind and Spirituality. Nieuwkoop: De Graaf Publishers, 1988, 176 p.
Updates earlier biographies of Erasmus by giving more attention to context and attempting a more balanced view of Erasmus's position in Catholic-humanist controversies.
———. Erasmus of Europe. 2 vols. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1990-92.
Emphasizes the political climate and geographical background in which Erasmus was educated and in which he wrote.
Backus, Irena. “The Church Fathers and the Canonicity of the Apocalypse in the Sixteenth Century: Erasmus, Frans Titelmans, and Theodore Beza.” Sixteenth Century Journal 29, no. 3 (fall 1998): 651-65.
Discusses Erasmus's place in the dispute over the status of the apocalypse; Erasmus's reading of the church fathers led him to deny its place in the biblical canon.
Bance, A. The Idea of Europe: From Erasmus to ERASMUS.”...
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