Erasmus, Desiderius

Erasmus, Desiderius

was born at Rotterdam, October 28, 1467 (1465). His father's name was Gerhard, his mother's Margaretha; they were never married. The boy was called Gerhardus Gerhardi, which he changed into the name Desiderius Erasmus (properly Erasmius), having the same meaning in Latin and Greek (amiable). The father went to Rome. Being informed there that Margaretha was dead, he entered into orders; but, finding her alive on his return, he and she devoted themselves to the training of their son. At six he was a chorister in the cathedral at Utrecht. At nine he was sent to school at Deventer, where he had for school-fellow a youth who afterwards became pope Adrian VI. He displayed so great talent at Deventer that it was even then predicted that he would one day be the most learned man in Germany. After the death of his parents, when he was under fourteen, his guardians determined to make a monk of him, in order, it is said, that they might secure his patrimony for themselves. He refused to enter the monastic life; but his guardians placed him in the seminary at Herzogenbusch, where, as he says, he spent three useless and unhappy years. He was then put at the monastic house of Zion, near Delft, and finally he entered the Augustinian monastery of Emaius, or Stein, near Gouda. Here, after sturdy resistance, he entered on his novitiate in 1486. His life at Stein was unhappy, except so far as it was relieved by study, to which he devoted all the time possible. His hatred of monkery increased with each year of his stay in the monastery. In 1491, the bishop of Cambray, desiring a capable Latinist as his secretary for a projected journey to Rome, obtained permission for Erasmus to leave the convent. The journey did not come off, and Erasamus (who was ordained priest in 1492) remained some years under the bishop of Cambray, who authorized him to proceed to Paris to continue his studies, instead of returning to the monastic life. At Paris, ErasError! Not a valid filename.mus barely supported himself, by taking pupils, and he suffered greatly from sickness and poverty. He afterwards attributed his weakness of constitution to his wretched food and unwholesome lodgings in Paris. After a short visit to Cambray and to Holland for his health, he returned to Paris, where his pension from the bishop failed, and he taught for his bread. Among his pupils was lord William Mountjoy, who ever after remained his friend and patron. For him he wrote the treatise De Ratione conscribendi epistolas. Mountjoy offered him a pension to accompany him to England. Erasmus passed a year there (1498-9), chiefly at London, Oxford, and Cambridge, and became acquainted with many Englishmen distinguished for piety and learning. At Oxford he studied in St. Mary's College, and formed many connections which were afterwards of use to him. Among his special friends were Colet, Grocyn, Latimer, and the celebrated chancellor Thomas More. From England Erasmus returned to Paris, where he again supported himself by pupils. In 1499 he returned to the Continent, and spent his time chiefly in studying Greek, and in translating Greek authors into Latin. He had no fixed abode; now he was in Paris, and again in the provinces of France or in Holland. The Adagia and the Enchiridion Militis Christiani were published between 1500 and 1504. He began his Biblical studies also about this time, publishing in 1505 a new edition of the Remarks of Laurentius Valla on the N.T. In 1505 he spent a short time in England, where he made the acquaintance of archbishop Warham, to whom he dedicated his translation of the Hecuba. In 1506 he accomplished his long-cherished desire of visiting Italy, where he succeeded in obtaining from pope Julius II a dispensation from his monastic vows. At Turin he was made D.D. (1506), and his time was divided between Bologna, Rome, Florence, and Padua, where he improved his knowledge of Greek under the instruction of the best Greek and Italian scholars. In 1507 he superintended, at Venice, a new edition of his Adagia, printed by the celebrated Aldus Manutius. "At Rome he met with a flattering reception, and promises of high advancement; but, having engaged to return to England, he did so in 1510, in the expectation that the recent accession of Henry VIII, with whom he had for some time maintained a correspondence, would insure to him an honorable provision." On the journey he wrote the work which gave him his greatest celebrity for the time, the Encomium Moriae (Panegyric on Folly), which he dedicated to Thomas More. He lived "for some time at Cambridge, where he was appointed Lady Margaret professor (in divinity), and also lectured on Greek. His lodging was in Queen's College, in the grounds of which Erasmus's Walk is still shown. In 1509, at the request of Colet, he published Copia Verborum ac rerum, long in use as a school-

book. He accepted an invitation from the archduke, afterwards Charles V, and went to Brabant in 1514, with the office of councillor, and a salary of 200 florins. After this we find him resident sometimes in the Netherlands, sometimes at Basel, where the great work in which he had been many years engaged, the first edition of the New Testament in Greek, was published in 1516, accompanied by a new Latin translation. Some amusing specimens of the objections made to this undertaking by the ignorant clergy will be found in his 'Letters' (6:2)" (Engl. Cyclop.). It was dedicated to pope Leo X. His fame had by this time spread all over Europe; he and Reuchlin were called the Eyes of Germany. From this period onward he resided chiefly at Basel, though his wandering habits were never entirely shaken off. The second edition of his N.T. appeared in 1519, and prefixed to it was his Ratio sen Methodus compendio perveniendi ad veram Theologiam (also published separately, 1522). In 1521 he published his Colloquia, "composed ostensibly to supply young persons with an easy school-book in the Latin language, and at the same time to teach them religion and morals. For the purpose of teaching the Latin language this little book seems peculiarly well adapted: it was long used for this purpose in England. In these 'Colloquies,' which are generally very amusing, Erasmus has made some of his smartest attacks on various superstitions of the Roman Catholic Church. On this account the book was prohibited" (Eng. Cyclop.). His Annotations in N.T. appeared at Basel (1516-22, many editions), and his Paraphrases in N.T. (1524, fol.; Berlin, 1777-80, 3 volumes, fol.) The Paraphrases were so much esteemed in England that it was made the duty of every parish church, by an order in council (1547), to possess a copy of the English translation (Lond. 1548, 2 vols. fol., by Udall, Coverdale, and others; 2d edit. 1551).

As Erasmus had decided to remain in the Church of Rome, his residence at Basel became an uneasy one when the Reformation got possession of that city. In 1529 he removed to Freiburg, in Breisgau, where he built a house with a view to permanent residence, but never liked it. His later years were embittered by literary and religious quarrels. His pecuniary affairs, however, which had always been embarrassed in his early years, were now easy. In 1535 he returned to Basel, intending, however, only a short stay before returning to his native land to die. He was soon taken ill, but recovered sufficiently to continue his literary labors, especially on his edition of Origen. He suffered from gravel; an attack of dysentery supervened, and carried him off on the night of July 11-12 (O.S.), 1536. He left his property to the poor.

The literary industry of Erasmus during his whole life was prodigious. He early imbibed a love for the ancient classics, and contributed largely to increase the taste for ancient culture by his writings in praise of them, by his editions of classic authors, and by his attacks on the scholastic theology and on the ignorance of the monks. "He worked incessantly in various branches, and completed his works with great rapidity; he had not the patience to revise and polish them, and accordingly most of them were printed exactly as he threw them out; but this very circumstance rendered them universally acceptable; their great charm was that they communicated the trains of thought which passed through a rich, acute, witty, intrepid, and cultivated mind, just as they arose, and without any reservations. Who remarked the many errors which escaped him? His manner of narrating, which still rivets the attention, then carried every one away" (Ranke, Reformation, by Austin, book 2, chapter 1). His Ciceronianus is "an elegant and stinging satire on the folly of those pedants who, with a blind devotion, refused to use in their compositions any words or phrases not to be found in Cicero. Erasmus's own Latin style is clear and elegant; not always strictly classical, but like that of one who spoke and wrote Latin as readily as his mother tongue. His 'Letters,' comprising those of many learned men to himself, form a most valuable and amusing collection to those who are interested in the manners and literary histories of the age in which they were written; and several of them in particular are highly valuable to Englishmen as containing a picture of the manners of the English of that day" (Eng. Cyclop.). But, of all his writings, the only ones that are likely to retain a lasting place in literature are the Colloquies, and the Panegyric on Folly — writings of his comparative youth, and regarded by him rather as pastime. "For neither as a wit nor as a theologian, nor perhaps even as a critic, does Erasmus rank among master intellects; and in the other departments of literature no one has ventured to claim for him a very elevated station. His real glory is to have opened at once new channels of popular and of abstruse knowledge — to have guided the few, while he instructed the many — to have lived and written for noble ends — to have been surpassed by none in the compass of his learning, or the collective value of his works — and to have prepared the way for a mighty revolution, which it required moral qualities far loftier than his to accomplish. For the soul of this great man did not partake of the energy of his intellectual faculties. He repeatedly confesses that he had none of the spirit of a martyr, and the acknowledgment is made in the tone of sarcasm rather than in that of regret. He belonged to that class of actors on the scene of life who have always appeared as the harbingers of great social changes — men gifted with the power to discern and the hardihood to proclaim truths of which they want the courage to encounter the infallible results; who outrun their generation in thought, but lag behind it in action; players at the sport of reform so long as reform itself appears at an indefinite distance; more ostentatious of their mental superiority than anxious for the well-being of mankind; dreaming that the dark page of history may hereafter become a fairy tale, in which enchantment will bring to pass a glorious catastrophe, unbought by intervening strife, and agony, and suffering; and therefore overwhelmed with alarm when the edifice begins to totter, of which their own hands have sapped the foundation. He was a reformer until the Reformation became a fearful reality; a jester at the bulwarks of the papacy until they began to give way; a propagator of the Scriptures until men betook themselves to the study and the application of them; depreciating the mere outward forms of religion until they had come to be estimated at their real value; in short, a learned, ingenious, benevolent, amiable, timid, irresolute man, who bearing the responsibility, resigned to others the glory, of rescuing the human mind from the bondage of a thousand years. The distance between his career and that of Luther was therefore continually enlarging, until they at length moved in opposite directions, and met each other with mutual animosity" (Edinburgh Review, 68:302).

The relations of Erasmus to the Reformation have been summarily stated in the paragraph just cited. He was the literary precursor of the Reformation. His exegetical writings prepared the way for later expositors, opened a new era in Biblical criticism, and also aided in giving the Bible its Protestant position as the rule of faith. His satires upon the monks, upon the scholastic theology, and upon Church abuses generally, contributed largely to prepare the minds of literarymen throughout Europe for a rupture with Rome. He taught, in anticipation of Protestantism, that Christian knowledge should be drawn from the original sources, viz. the Scriptures, which he said should be translated into all tongues. In his Encomium Morice, Folly is introduced as an interlocutor who "turns into ridicule the labyrinth of dialectic in which theologians have lost themselves, the syllogisms with which they labor to sustain the Church as Atlas does the heavens, the intolerant zeal with which they persecute every difference of opinion. She then comes to the ignorance, the dirt, the strange and ludicrous pursuits of the monks, their barbarous and objurgatory style of preaching; she attacks the bishops, who are more solicitous for gold than for the safety of souls; who think they do enough if they dress themselves in theatrical costume, and under the name of the most reverend, most holy, and most blessed fathers in God, pronounce a blessing or a curse; and, lastly, she boldly assails the court of Rome and the pope himself, who, she says, takes only the pleasures of his station, and leaves its duties to St. Peter and St. Paul. Among the curious wood-cuts, after the marginal drawings of Hans Holbein, with which the book was adorned, the pope appears with his triple crown. It produced an indescribable effect: twenty- seven editions appeared even during the lifetime of Erasmus; it was translated into all languages, and greatly contributed to confirm the age in its anticlerical dispositions" (Ranke, 1.c.). But the personal character of Erasmus was not fitted for such storms as those of the Reformation. Intellectually, he was too many-sided and too undecided; morally, he was of too flaccid a fibre, too timid, and too fond of ease, to devote himself to a certain strife with very uncertain issues. Moreover, he never had profound religious convictions or experience. The monks, nevertheless, were right to a certain extent in their saying that "Erasmus laid the egg; Luther hatched it." At first Erasmus regarded Luther with favor as a coadjutor in his attacks upon the ignorance of the monks, and in his plans for the reformation of literature. But Luther saw the weakness and spiritual poverty of Erasmus, and expressed his fears in letters to Spalatin and Lange as early as 1517; while Erasmus, in letters to Zwingle, deprecated the haste and vehemence of Luther. In 1519 (March 28) Luther wrote a friendly letter to Erasmus, who says in reply (April 30): "I hold myself aloof from the controversies of the times to devote my whole strength to literature. After all, more is to be gained by moderation than by passion; so Christ conquered the world. It is better to write against those who have abused the authority of the papacy than against individual popes." In 1520, Frederick, elector of Saxony, meeting Erasmus at Cologne, asked his opinion of Luther; his reply was, Lutherus peccavit in ducous, nempe quod tetigit coronam pontificis et ventres monachorum: "Luther has committed two blunders; he has ventured to touch the crown of the pope and the bellies of the monks ... but his language is too violent," etc. He expressed similar cautions in a letter to Justus Jonas at the time of the Diet of Worms (1521). The earnest Ulrich von Hutten sought to draw Erasmus openly to the Protestant side, but in vain. In 1522 Hutten published an Expostulatio cum Erasmo, abounding in bitter invective, to which Erasmus replied in Spongia adversus Hutteni aspergines (Basel, 1523) (see Gieseler, Church History, ed. by Smith, 4, § 3). Luther is said to have condemned both these pamphlets as disgraceful. Luther wrote (1524) to Erasmus an earnest letter, urging him, if he would not join the Reformers, at least to refrain from open opposition. "You might, indeed, have aided us much by your wit and your eloquence; but, since you have not the disposition and the courage for this, we would have you serve God in your own way. Only we feared, lest our adversaries should entice you to write against us, and that necessity should compel us to oppose you to your face. If you cannot, dear Erasmus, assert our opinions, be persuaded to let them alone, and treat of subjects more suited to your taste" (Biblioth. Sacra, 1862, page 129). "From this time Erasmus complains incessantly of the hostility of the Evangelicals. The haughty style in which Luther offered him peace (in the letter above cited) could only have the effect upon that ambitious man of giving additional weight to the request which reached him at the same time from England, that he would take revenge upon Luther for his attack upon the royal author (Henry VIII). And so, to assail the formidable Luther in the weakest part of his theological system, Erasmus wrote his treatise De Libero Arbitrio (Sept. 1524). 'Luther replied with his usual bitterness in his De Servo Arbitrio (December 1525). Erasmus replied. in like coin in his Hyperaspistes (1526). Thus the renowned Erasmus now passed over into the ranks of the enemies of the Reformation, though he did not cease to recommend conciliatory measures towards it'" (Gieseler, 1.c.).

The writings of Erasmus were collected and published in 1540-41 (9, volumes, fol.), and also by Clericus (Leclerc), under the title Des. Erasmi Opera Omlia, emendatoria et auctiora, etc. (L. Bat. 1703-6, 10 volumes in 11, fol). He edited many of the fathers, viz. Origen, Irenaeus, Cyprian, Augustine, Chrysostom, Lactalitius, and translations of selections from them are given in his Opera. The separate editions of his more popular works (the Encomium, Adagia, Colloquia, etc.) are very numerous. There are English versions of the following: Panegyric upon Folly (two translations: one by Chaloner, the other by Kennet; often printed); Colloquies (1671, and often, especially in selections); Enchiridion Militis, by W. de Worde (1533, 16mo, and often); Christian's Manual (from the Enchiridion Militis, London, 1816, 8vo); Ecclesiastes, or the Preacher (chiefly from Erasmus, London, 1797, small 8vo); De Contemptu Mundi

(Lond. 1533, 16mo); De Immensa Dei Misericordia (1533, and often). Many of Erasmus's smaller tracts were also translated. There are several biographies of Erasmus (none very good), viz. Beatus Rhenanus, in Erasmi Opera, tom. i (1540); Leclerc's, in volume 1 of Erasmi Opera (1703); Merula, Vita Erasmi (Leyden, 1607, 4to); Knight, Life of Erasmus (London, 1726, 12mo); Burigny, Vie d'Erasme (Par. 1757, 2 volumes, 12mo); Jortin, Life of Erasmus (Lond. 1758, best ed. 1808, 3 volumes, 8vo; abridged by Laycey, London, 1805, 8vo); Hess, Leben des Erasmus (Zurich, 1790); Butler, Life of Erasmus (London, 1825, 8vo); Nisard, in Etudes sur la Renaissance (Par. 1855); Miiller, Leben des Erasmus (Hamb. 1828, 8vo; reviewed by Ulllnmnn, Studien u. Krit. 1829, page 1); Glasius, On Erasnmus as Church Reformer (a crowned prize-essay in the Dutch. language, The Hague, 1850). See also Bayle, Dictionary (s.v. Erasnuis); Dupin, Auteurs Ecclesiastes tom. 13; Waddington, History of the Reformation (London, 1841), chapter 23; Merle d'Aubigne, History of the Reformation, volume 1; Hoefer, Nouv. Biogr. Generale, 16:207; Hallam, History of Literature (Harper's ed.), 1:134 sq.; Mackintosh, Miscellaneous Works (London, 1851), 1:190 sq.; Christ. Examiner, 49:80; Christian. Review, April, 1858; Quart. Review, 1859, art. 1; Theol. Quartalschrift, 1859, page 533; Bibliotheca Sacra. 19:106; Brit. and For. Ev. Review, July, 1867, page 517; H. Rogers, in Good Words, February 1868.

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