Desiderius Erasmus
(1469 - 1536)

Overcoming an illegitimate birth, being orphaned, poverty, and escaping from monastic life - Erasmus became one of the first "media superstars". He wandered a great deal, making a living from his writings and the generosity of the rich and powerful.

Erasmus sought to simplify Christianity, to exalt reason, and to emphasize morality over ritual. He tried to recover the literary roots (Scripture and the Church Fathers), restoring grammatical interpretation; and seeking to achieve reform by education of the common man and woman while exposing the corruption's of the ecclesiastical structure and society through his biting satire and humor.

He was a strong advocate of passivism and toleration, in an age that wasn't. Refusing to take sides, he was ultimately condemned by both.

1469 - Born Gerrit Gerritzoon, an illegitimate 2nd Son of a soon-to-be monk in Rotterdam - his early education was in a Brethren of the Common Life School in Devanter where speaking and writing was permitted only in Latin
1484 - Death of parents by plague - placed in a Augustinian Monastery, hated life as a monk.
1492 - Loaned as a secretary to the Bishop of Cambrai who ordained him as a priest and then sent him to University of Paris in 1496. Erasmus "consuming" every library along the way. He was self taught in Greek and Greek literature.
1499 - Went to England, met Thomas More , John Colet and Hugh Latimer and others.
1500 - Returned to Paris - Wrote his Adages A collection of proverbs from the Classics (which in several editions was eventually printed in 60 editions.) established a lofe of living hand-in-mouth through gifts and patrons.
1503 -- Enchiridion Alilitis Christiani (Christian Soldier's Handbook) which was reprinted 23 times in his lifetime. This volume set forth a simple Christianity
1505 - England Pilgrimage with John Colet to shrine of Thomas A'Becket Colet was the source of his method of Biblical interpretation. Durant says of Colet: "though asserter and champion of the old theology, he astonished his time by practicing Christianity." It was Colet that Erasmus got his interest and interpretive approach to the Scriptures.
1506 - Awarded a Doctorate at Turin. Visited Padua; was at Bologna when Pope Julius II arrived as Conqueror.
1508 - Visited Rome - In contrast to Luther, Erasmsus was attracted by the "good life" of the Bishops.
1509 - England - In hopes of an appointment in the court of newly crowned King Henry VIII.
1511 - Wrote In Praise of Folly while living at More's home (40 editions)
1513 - Wrote the Anonymous Julius Exclusus 1514 - Calais then Basel (Where, long delinquent from the monestery, he sought a dispensation from his monastic vows) Froben became his printer.
Published his Colloquies (a satiric Latin textbook) -- amidst the furore over its contents, it became a bestseller, second only to the Bible
1516 - Published his Greek New Testament and Notes, dedicated to Pope Leo X (69 printings were before his death. Exposing translation errors in the Vulgate, it also became the text on which the King James Translation of the Bible was based.Erasmus' Paraphrases(Bible Commentaries) begun. He moved back and forth between Brussels and Basel.. Education of a Christian Prince dedicated to soon-to-be Emperor Arch Duke Charles, took a much different tone than that of Machiavelli.
1517 - Returned to London Complaint of Peace - suggesting its wiser to buy off the foe. (Here he got his dispensation) Erasmus frequently moved around Flanders - Brussels, Antwerp, Louvain, supported by pensions from the Emperor and the Pope. By 1520 one third of the books being sold were written by him, a simple celibate lifestyle dependent on patrons. He felt that where Lutheranism triumphed, letters declined.
1519 - Luther wrote seeking his support. Erasmus denied having read Luther's writings and urged him to quiet moderation. The talk around Europe was that "Erasmus laid the egg that Luther hatched", but he denied it saying "I laid a hen, but Luther hatched a gamecock." At first supportive of Martin Luther (Erasmus sent copies of the 95 Theses to Colet and More); as Luther began to reject the Papacy, Erasmus tried hard to distance himself from Luther, while appealing for restraints in dealing with him.
1521 - Erasmus moves to Basel, the home of the artists Holbein and Durer. During the following years he published many of the Greek and Latin Church Fathers, and engaged in much correspondence.
1524 - Pressured into attacking Luther by Clement VII , he chose what he thought would be an insignificant issue - free will. However Luther responded vigorously with On the Bondage of the Will.
1529 - Freiburg-im-Breisgau (Catholic Austria) Liberal Education of Children
1535 - Erasmus returned to Basel where in 1536 he died of illness not long after hearing of the death of Thomas More

The Other Humanists

The later Renaissance produced a number of Christian scholars in Europe who revived interest in the Classics, the Early Church Fathers and the Scriptures. As humanists, they were confident in man's rational and moral abilities. Though they did not embrace the Reformation, they often shared some of its views, and as a result experienced degrees of condemnation by the Catholic Church. Their influence on the Reformers was quite significant.

ENGLAND : John Colet and Thomas More
John Colet (1467-1519) was dean of St. Paul's Cathedral and the founder of St. Paul's School in London. A close friend and spiritual mentor of Erasmus and Thomas More. Noted for his own study of Paul's epistles, it was Colet's influence thatdirected Erasmus' attention to the Scriptures, and from him, Erasmus got his historical method of interpretation. Durant says of Colet:that though he was "an asserter and defender of the old theology, he astonished his time by practicing his Christianity."
Thomas More (1477-1535) was a close friend of Erasmus. Well known for his book: The Utopia, and to us as the "Man for All Seasons" - he was a lawyer, a family man and served as a councilor of Henry VIII - finally losing his head for refusing to go against his conscience and his Church in the matter of Henry's marriage to Anne Boelyn. Erasmus' A Praise of Folly's title is a pun on his name.

FRANCE : Jacques Lafavre 'Etaples
Jacques Lefevre d'Etaples (1455-1536) was a philosopher and Biblical and Patristic scholar who influenced William Farel and John Calvin. He translated the New Testament into French, did commentaries on the Psalms and Gospels. Apparent sympathies towards the reformers brought Catholic condemnation of many of his works. It was the protection of King Francis 1 and Marguerite, Queen of Navarre that kept him untouched. A strong advocate of ecclesiastical reforms, he did not deem a separation from the Catholic Church necessary.

GERMANY: Johannes Reuchlin
Johannes Reuchlin (1455-1522) was a professor of Latin and Greek in Wurtemburg, Stuttgart, and Heidelberg. Having a strong interest in Hebrew, during a trip to Rome in 1498, he took advantage of some learned Jewish Rabbi's to perfect his knowledge. He wrote a novel Hebrew lexicon/ Grammar in 1506 which was not a big seller, but which both Martin Luther and Huldrich Zwingli studied exhaustively. He got in trouble for his efforts to save Jewish literature from an orgy of burning by the Dominicans in 1514-16, the fall-out of which brought about the end of German humanism and severely damaged his career. An eye witness to the German Reformation, he did not join it, but despite his efforts, his grandson, Phillip Melanchthon became one of the Lutheranism's key leaders and ablest theologians.

Published Sources

Christian Humanism and the Reformation : Selected Writings of Erasmus by John C. Olin (Editor) (Fordham Univ Pr, 1987)

Erasmus : His Life, Works and Influence (Erasmus Studies, No 10) by J. C. Grayson (Translator), (Univ of Toronto Pr ,1996)

Erasmus (Past Masters) by James McConica (Oxford, 1991)

Erasmus of the Low Countries by James D. Tracy (Univ California Pr 1998)

Other biographies include: Erasmus of Europe; The Making of a Humanist, 1467-1500 by Richard Schoeck (1993) and Erasmus of Christendom by R. H. Bainton (1969) There are many more.

Discourse on Free Will by Desiderius Erasmus, Martin Luther (Continuum Pub Group, 1985); The Erasmus Reader by Desiderius Erasmus (Editor), Erika Rummel (Editor) (Univ of Toronto Pr, 1995); The Essential Erasmus, J. P. Dolan, ed. (New American Library, 1964)

On John Colet - John Colet by John B. Gleason (Univ California Press 1989); The Oxford Reformers by Frederic Seebohn (AMS Press 1970)

I used as resources for my study: The History of Civilization: The Reformation, Chapters 14 and 19 by Will Durant; A History of the Christian Church by Williston Walker; and Martin Luther: The Christian between God and Death by Richard Marius; as well as the online resources below .

Online Resources:

Published Resources on these various pages are linked to for availability and pricing information or for convenient purchase. For tracking down and purchasing used or out of print books, I recommend highly Advanced Book Exchange. For assistance in getting the "gist" of German, French, Spanish, Italian sites, etc, you can use Free or Alta Vista's Babelfish.
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