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Erasmus

Erasmus Erasmus[1†]

Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, commonly known as Erasmus, was a Dutch Christian humanist, Catholic theologian, educationalist, satirist, and philosopher[1†]. He was born around October 27, 1466, in Rotterdam, Holland[1†][2†][1†]. Erasmus was the greatest scholar of the northern Renaissance and the first editor of the New Testament[1†][2†]. He was also an important figure in patristics and classical literature[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

Erasmus was born around October 27, 1466, in Rotterdam, Holland[2†][1†]. He was the second illegitimate son of Roger Gerard, a priest, and Margaret, a physician’s daughter[2†][1†]. Despite his illegitimate status and humble beginnings, Erasmus received a decent education for a young boy in the late 15th century[2†][3†].

He first attended a school in Deventer, Netherlands, which was known for its progressive education[2†][3†]. He advanced as far as the third-highest class at the chapter school of St. Lebuin’s in Deventer[2†]. One of his teachers, Jan Synthen, was a humanist, as was the headmaster, Alexander Hegius[2†]. The schoolboy Erasmus was clever enough to write classical Latin verse that impresses a modern reader as cosmopolitan[2†].

When he was 9 years old, his father sent him to a prestigious Latin grammar school, where his natural academic ability blossomed[2†][4†]. These early educational experiences played a significant role in shaping Erasmus into the influential humanist scholar he would later become.

Career Development and Achievements

Erasmus was a scholar who could see many sides of an issue[5†]. His independent scholarly temper with which he approached the text of the New Testament was for a long time submerged by the exigencies of theological polemics[5†]. His preference for putting students directly in contact with the classics gave way to the use of compendiums and manuals of humanist rhetoric and logic that resembled nothing so much as the Scholastic curriculum of the past[5†].

Erasmus helped lay the groundwork for the historical-critical study of the past, especially in his studies of the Greek New Testament and the Church Fathers[5†][2†]. His educational writings contributed to the replacement of the older Scholastic curriculum by the new humanist emphasis on the classics[5†][2†]. By criticizing ecclesiastical abuses, while pointing to a better age in the distant past, he encouraged the growing urge for reform, which found expression both in the Protestant Reformation and in the Catholic Counter-Reformation[5†][2†].

His independent stance in an age of fierce confessional controversy—rejecting both the doctrine of predestination and the powers that were claimed for the papacy —made him a target of suspicion for loyal partisans on both sides and a beacon for those who valued liberty more than orthodoxy[5†][2†].

Erasmus’s reputation began to improve in the late 17th century, when the last of Europe’s religious wars was fading into memory and scholars like Richard Simon and Jean Le Clercq (the editor of Erasmus’s works) were once again taking a more critical approach to biblical texts[5†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Erasmus’s contributions to literature and theology are vast and varied. His works, which include translations, books, essays, prayers, and letters, have had a profound influence on Western culture[1†]. Here are some of his notable works:

Erasmus’s works were not only influential during his lifetime but continue to be studied and appreciated for their insight, wit, and relevance[1†][2†][1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Erasmus’s work has had a profound impact on Western culture and continues to be studied and appreciated for its insight, wit, and relevance. His writings, which include translations, books, essays, prayers, and letters, have significantly influenced the fields of literature, theology, education, and humanism.

Erasmus’s humanist philosophy is evident in his writings, which emphasized the importance of education and the study of classical literature as a means to understand and improve society. He believed in the power of dialogue and intellectual exchange to resolve conflicts and advocated for religious tolerance.

His critical texts, such as “Praise of Folly”, display his sharp wit and ability to use satire as a tool for social criticism. His works often critiqued the Church and society, pushing for reform and the eradication of abuses.

Erasmus’s translations, particularly of the New Testament, were groundbreaking. His focus on returning to the original Greek texts for translation was a significant departure from the Latin Vulgate Bible that was commonly used at the time. This work laid the groundwork for the historical-critical study of the past.

Despite his criticisms of the Church, Erasmus remained committed to reforming the Church from within, rather than breaking away from it, as Martin Luther did. His independent stance in an age of fierce confessional controversy made him a target of suspicion for loyal partisans on both sides and a beacon for those who valued liberty more than orthodoxy.

Erasmus’s legacy is vast and varied. His contributions to humanism, education, theology, and literature have left a lasting impact on Western thought.

Personal Life

Erasmus was the illegitimate son of a priest, Roger Gerard, and Margaret, a physician’s daughter[6†]. He was ordained in 1492 and studied in Paris[6†]. From 1499, he adopted the life of an independent scholar, moving from city to city tutoring, lecturing, and corresponding with thinkers all over Europe[6†]. Despite his extensive travels and interactions, there is little recorded about his personal relationships or family life.

Erasmus never married nor had children. His life was dedicated to his work and the pursuit of knowledge. His correspondences reveal a man who valued intellectual companionship[6†]. He maintained lifelong friendships with other scholars and thinkers of his time, such as Thomas More and John Colet[6†][1†].

Erasmus’s personal life was marked by his commitment to learning and his dedication to the intellectual development of others. His influence extended beyond his own lifetime, shaping the course of humanist thought for centuries to come[6†][1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Erasmus’s influence extended far beyond his own lifetime, shaping the course of humanist thought for centuries to come[3†]. His work as a scholar, editor, and humanist laid the groundwork for the historical-critical study of the past, especially in his studies of the Greek New Testament and the Church Fathers[3†][2†]. His educational writings contributed to the replacement of the older Scholastic curriculum by the new humanist emphasis on the classics[3†][2†].

Erasmus’s independent stance in an age of fierce confessional controversy—rejecting both the doctrine of predestination and the powers that were claimed for the papacy —made him a target of suspicion for loyal partisans on both sides and a beacon for those who valued liberty more than orthodoxy[3†][2†]. His criticisms of ecclesiastical abuses encouraged the growing urge for reform, which found expression both in the Protestant Reformation and in the Catholic Counter-Reformation[3†][2†].

The value and worth of Erasmus’s life and teaching only really began to be recognized in the 17th century, once the bloody religious wars of the 16th century had finally settled[3†]. Today, Erasmus is regarded as one of the most significant thinkers of the early modern period[3†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Erasmus [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Erasmus: Dutch humanist [website] - link
  3. The Collector - Who Was Desiderius Erasmus? His Life and Legacy [website] - link
  4. Biography - Erasmus of Rotterdam [website] - link
  5. Britannica - Erasmus - Humanist, Scholar, Reformer [website] - link
  6. BBC History - Historic Figures - Erasmus (c.1466 - 1536) [website] - link
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