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Bornc. 28 October 1466
Died12 July 1536(1536-07-12) (aged 69)
Other names
  • Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus
  • Erasmus of Rotterdam
Known forNew Testament translations, satire, pacifism, letters, best-selling author and editor and influencer
AwardsCounsellor to Charles V. (hon.)
Academic background
Academic work
EraNorthern Renaissance
School or tradition
Notable students
Main interests
Notable works
Notable ideas
Ecclesiastical career
ChurchCatholic Church
Ordained25 April 1492

Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (/ˌdɛzɪˈdɪəriəsɪˈræzməs/; Dutch: [ˌdeːziˈdeːriʏseˈrɑsmʏs]; English: Erasmus of Rotterdam or Erasmus; 28 October 1466 – 12 July 1536) was a Dutch Christian humanist, Catholic theologian, educationalist, satirist and philosopher.

Through his vast number of translations, books, essays and letters, he is considered one of the most influential thinkers of the Northern Renaissance and one of the major figures of Dutch and Western culture.[1][2]

A Catholic priest, he was an important figure in classical scholarship who wrote in a spontaneous and natural Latin style.[3] Developing humanist techniques for working on texts, he prepared important new Latin and Greek editions of the New Testament, which raised questions that would be influential in the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. He also wrote On Free Will, In Praise of Folly, Handbook of a Christian Knight, On Civility in Children, Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style and many other works.

Erasmus lived against the backdrop of the growing European religious Reformation. He developed a biblical humanistic theology in which he advocated tolerance, concord and free thinking on matters of indifference.[4] He remained a member of the Catholic Church all his life, remaining committed to reforming the Church from within.[5] He promoted the traditional doctrine of synergism, which some Reformers (Martin Luther, Calvinists) rejected in favor of the doctrine of monergism. His middle-road (via media) approach disappointed, and even angered, partisans in both camps.

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Erasmus' 70 years can be divided into four quarters: his childhood ending with his orphaning and impoverishment; his struggling years as a canon (a kind of monk), priest, clerk, and failing, sickly student; his flourishing years of increasing focus and productivity following his 1499 contact with a reformist English circle, and later with the Aldine New Academy; and his final years as a prime influencer of European thought through his New Testament and increasing opposition to Lutheranism.

Timeline of Erasmus

Early life

Statue of Erasmus in Rotterdam. It was created by Hendrick de Keyser in 1622, replacing a wooden statue of 1549.

Desiderius Erasmus is reported to have been born in Rotterdam on 28 October in the mid-1460s, probably 1466.[note 1][6][7] He was named[note 2] after Erasmus of Formiae, whom Erasmus' father Gerard personally favored.[8][9]

Although associated closely with Rotterdam, he lived there for only four years, never to return afterwards. Information on his family and early life comes mainly from vague references in his writings. His parents could not be legally married: his father, Gerard, was a Catholic priest and curate in Gouda.[10] His mother was Margaretha Rogerius (Latinized form of Dutch surname Rutgers),[11] the daughter of a doctor from Zevenbergen. She may have been Gerard's housekeeper.[10][12] Although he was born out of wedlock, Erasmus was cared for by his parents until their early deaths from the bubonic plague in 1483. His only sibling Peter might have been born in 1463, to Margaret and her first husband thus making him only the half brother of Erasmus. Erasmus on the other side called him his brother.[13]

Erasmus was given the highest education available to a young man of his day, in a series of monastic or semi-monastic schools. In 1475, at the age of nine, he and his older brother Peter were sent to one of the best Latin schools in the Netherlands, located at Deventer and owned by the chapter clergy of the Lebuïnuskerk (St. Lebuin's Church).[note 1] During his stay there the curriculum was renewed by the principal of the school, Alexander Hegius. For the first time in Europe north of the Alps, Greek was taught at a lower level than a university[14] and this is where he began learning it.[15] His education there ended when plague struck the city about 1483,[16] and his mother, who had moved to provide a home for her sons, died from the infection.[note 1] Following the death of his parents he was supported by Berthe de Heyden.[17]

In about 1484 he and his brother went to a grammar school at 's Hertogenbosch run by the Brethren of the Common Life.[18] He was exposed there to the Devotio moderna movement and the Brethren's famous book The Imitation of Christ but eschewed the harsh rules and strict methods of the religious brothers and educators.[note 1] The two brothers made an agreement for that they would resist the clergy but attend the university.[17] Instead, Peter left for the Augustinian canonry in Stein, which left Erasmsus feeling betrayed.[17] Eventually Erasmus entered the same monastery in 1485/86.[note 3][19]

Ordination and monastic experience

Bust by Hildo Krop (1950) in Gouda, where Erasmus spent his youth

Most likely in 1487,[20] poverty[21] forced Erasmus into the consecrated life as a canon regular of St. Augustine at the canonry of Stein, near Gouda, South Holland. He took vows there in late 1488[20] and was ordained to the Catholic priesthood on 25 April 1492.[21] It is said that he never seemed to have actively worked as a priest for a long time,[22] and certain abuses in religious orders were among the chief objects of his later calls to reform the Church from within.

While at Stein, Erasmus formed a "passionate attachment" with a fellow canon, Servatius Rogerus,[23] and wrote a series of love letters[24] in which he called Rogerus "half my soul", writing that "I have wooed you both unhappily and relentlessly."[25] This correspondence contrasts[note 4] with the generally detached and much more restrained attitude he showed in his later life.[note 5] No mentions or sexual accusations were ever made of Erasmus during his lifetime[note 6] His works praise moderate sexual desire in marriage between men and women.[26]

Soon after his priestly ordination he got his chance to leave the canonry when offered the post of secretary to the Bishop of Cambrai, Henry of Bergen, on account of his great skill in Latin and his reputation as a man of letters.[27]

In 1505 Pope Julius II granted a dispensation from the vow of poverty to the extent of allowing Erasmus to hold certain benefices, and from the control and habit of his order, though he remained a priest.[note 7] In 1517 Pope Leo X granted legal dispensations for Erasmus' defects of natality and confirmed the previous dispensation.[28]


Cities and Routes of Erasmus
Oxford, Cambridge
Delft Rotterdam
St Omer
Paris, Cambrai
Brussels, Antwerp
Freiburg im Breisgau

Erasmus traveled widely and regularly, for reasons of poverty, "escape" from his Steyn canonry (to Cambrai), education (to Paris, Turin), escape from the sweating sickness plague (to Orléans), employment (to England), searching libraries for manuscripts, writing (Brabant), royal counsel (Cologne), patronage, tutoring and chaperoning (North Italy), networking (Rome), seeing books through printing in person (Paris, Venice, Louvain, Basel), and avoiding the persecution of religious fanatics (to Freiburg.) He enjoyed horseback riding.


In 1495 with Bishop Henry's consent and a stipend, Erasmus went on to study at the University of Paris in the Collège de Montaigu, a centre of reforming zeal, under the direction of the ascetic Jan Standonck, of whose rigors he complained.[29] The university was then the chief seat of Scholastic learning but already coming under the influence of Renaissance humanism.[30] For instance, Erasmus became an intimate friend of an Italian humanist Publio Fausto Andrelini, poet and "professor of humanity" in Paris.[31]

During this time, Erasmus developed a deep aversion to Aristoteleanism and Scholasticism[32] and started finding work as a tutor/chaperone to visiting English and Scottish aristocrats.


Erasmus stayed in England at least three times.[note 8] In between he had periods studying in Paris, Orléans, Leuven and other cities.

Erasmus by Hans Holbein the Younger. Louvre, Paris.
First visit - 1499-1500

In 1499 he was invited to England by William Blount, 4th Baron Mountjoy, who offered to accompany him on his trip to England.[34] His time in England was fruitful in the making of lifelong friendships with the leaders of English thought in the days of King Henry VIII.

During his first visit to England in 1499, he studied or taught at the University of Oxford. Erasmus was particularly impressed by the Bible teaching of John Colet, who pursued a style more akin to the church fathers than the Scholastics. Through the influence of the humanist John Colet, his interests turned towards theology.[34]

This prompted him, upon his return from England to Paris, to intensively study the Greek language, which would enable him to study theology on a more profound level and to prepare a new edition of Jerome's late-4th century Bible translation. On one occasion he wrote to Colet:

I cannot tell you, dear Colet, how I hurry on, with all sails set, to holy literature. How I dislike everything that keeps me back, or retards me.[21]

Second visit - 1505-1506
Sir Thomas More, by Hans Holbein the Younger

For Erasmus' second visit, he spent over a year staying at Thomas More's house, honing his translation skills.[33]

Erasmus preferred to live the life of an independent scholar and made a conscious effort to avoid any actions or formal ties that might inhibit his individual freedom.[35] In England Erasmus was approached with prominent offices but he declined them all, until the King himself offered his support.[35] He was inclined, but eventually did not accept and longed for a stay in Italy.[35]

In 1506 he was able to accompany the sons of the Italian personal physician of the King to Italy.[35] His discovery en route in 1506 of Lorenzo Valla's New Testament Notes encouraged Erasmus to study the New Testament using philology.[36]

Third visit - 1510-1515

The University of Cambridge's Chancellor John Fisher arranged for Erasmus to be the Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity, though Erasmus turned down the option of spending the rest of his life as a professor there. He studied and taught Greek, and researched and lectured on Jerome.[33] He assisted his friend John Colet by authoring Greek textbooks and procuring members of staff for the newly established St Paul's School.[37]

Erasmus mainly stayed at Queens' College while lecturing at the university,[38] between 1510 and 1515.[39] Despite a chronic shortage of money, he succeeded in mastering Greek by an intensive, day-and-night study of three years, taught by Thomas Linacre, continuously begging in letters that his friends send him books and money for teachers.[40]

Erasmus' rooms were located in the "I" staircase of Old Court, and he showed a marked disdain for the drink[note 9] and weather of England.[citation needed] Erasmus suffered from poor health and complained that Queens' College could not supply him with enough decent wine [9][10][11] (wine was the Renaissance medicine for gallstones, from which Erasmus suffered). As Queens' was an unusually humanist-leaning institution in the 16th century, Queens' College Old Library still houses many first editions of Erasmus's publications, many of which were acquired during that period by bequest or purchase, including Erasmus's New Testament translation, which is signed by friend and Polish religious reformer Jan Łaski.[41]

During this time, Erasmus encouraged Thomas More's book Utopia, perhaps even contributing fragments.[42]

Erasmus may have made several other short visits to England or English territory while living in Brabant.[33] Both More and Tunstall were stationed in Brussels or Antwerp on government missions around 1516, More for six months, Tunstall for longer.


Frontispiece of 1508 Aldine edition Erasmus' Adagia

From 1506 onwards he was in Italy and he graduated as Doctor of Divinity from the University of Turin per saltum the same year.[35] Erasmus then was present when Pope Julius II entered victorious into the conquered Bologna which he had besieged before.[35]

Erasmus travelled on to Venice, working on an expanded version of his Adagia at the Aldine Press of the famous printer Aldus Manutius, advised which manuscripts to publish,[43] and was an honorary member of the graecophone Aldine "New Academy" (Greek: Neakadêmia (Νεακαδημία)).[44] According to his letters, he studied advanced Greek in Padua with the Venetian natural philosopher, Giulio Camillo.[45]

Subsequently, he traveled to Rome, but he had a less active association with Italian scholars than might have been expected.

Brabant (Flanders)

Erasmus had accepted an honorary position as a Councillor to Charles V. He stayed in various locations including Anderlecht.[46]

His residence at Leuven, where he lectured at the University, exposed Erasmus to much criticism from those ascetics, academics and clerics hostile to the principles of literary and religious reform to which he was devoting his life.[47] In 1514, he made the acquaintance of Hermannus Buschius, Ulrich von Hutten and Johann Reuchlin who introduced him to the Hebrew language in Mainz.[48] In 1517, he supported the foundation at the university of the Collegium Trilingue for the study of Hebrew, Latin, and Greek[49]—after the model of the College of the Three Languages at the University of Alcalá—financed by his late friend Hieronymus van Busleyden's will.[12]

In 1520 he was present at the Field of the Cloth of Gold with Guillaume Budé, his last meeting with Thomas More.[50]


Desiderius Erasmus dictating to his ammenuensis Gilbert Cousin or Cognatus (unknown woodblock)

From 1514, Erasmus regularly traveled to Basel to coordinate the printing of his books with Froben. He developed a lasting association with the great Basel publisher Johann Froben and later his son Hieronymus Froben (Eramus' godson) who together published over 200 works with Erasmus.[51] His initial interest in Froben was aroused by his discovery of the printer's folio edition of the Adagiorum Chiliades tres (Adagia) (1513).[52]

In 1521 he settled in Basel.[53] He was weary of the controversies and hostility at Louvain, and feared being dragged further into the Lutheran controversy.[13]

As the popular response to Luther gathered momentum, the social disorders, which Erasmus dreaded and Luther disassociated himself from, began to appear, including the German Peasants' War, the Anabaptist disturbances in Germany and in the Low Countries, iconoclasm, and the radicalisation of peasants across Europe. If these were the outcomes of reform, he was thankful that he had kept out of it. Yet he was ever more bitterly accused of having started the whole "tragedy" (as Erasmus dubbed the matter).[note 10]


Following iconoclastic rioting in 1529 lead by Œcolampadius,[note 11] the city of Basel definitely adopted the Reformation, and banned the Catholic mass on April 1, 1529. Erasmus left Basel on the 13 April 1529 and departed by ship to the Catholic university town of Freiburg im Breisgau, staing at the de:Haus zum Walfisch.[54]

Death in Basel

Epitaph for Erasmus in the Basel Minster

When his strength began to fail, he decided to accept an invitation by Queen Mary of Hungary, Regent of the Netherlands, to move from Freiburg to Brabant. In 1535, he moved back to Basel in preparation (Œcolampadius having died, and private practice of his religion now possible) and saw his last major works such as Ecclesiastes through publication, but his health worsened. In 1536, he died from an attack of dysentery.[55]

He had remained loyal to Roman Catholicism,[note 12] but he did not have the opportunity to receive the last rites of the Catholic Church;[note 13] the contemporary reports of his death do not mention whether he asked for a Catholic priest or not, if any were in Basel. According to Jan van Herwaarden, this is consistent with his view that outward signs were not important; what mattered is the believer's direct relationship with God. However, Herwaarden observes that "he did not dismiss the rites and sacraments out of hand but asserted a dying person could achieve a state of salvation without the priestly rites, provided their faith and spirit were attuned to God" noting Erasmus' stipulation that this was "as the (Catholic) Church believes."[56]

His last words, as recorded by his friend and biographer Beatus Rhenanus, were apparently "Dear God" (Dutch: Lieve God).[57] He was buried with great ceremony in the Basel Minster (the former cathedral). The Protestant city authorities remarkably allowed his funeral to be an ecumenical Catholic requiem mass.[58]

As his heir he instated Bonifacius Amerbach to give money to the poor and needy.[59] One of the eventual recipients was the impoverished Protestant humanist Sebastian Castellio, who had fled from Geneva to Basel, who subsequently translated the Bible into Latin and French, and worked for the repair of the breach and divide of Christianity in its Catholic, Anabaptist, and Protestant branches.[60]


Peace, peaceableness and peacemaking were central distinctives of Erasmus' writing on Christian living and his theology: "the sum and summary of our religion is peace and unanimity" [note 14][note 15] At the Nativity of Jesus "the angels sang not the glories of war, nor a song of triumph, but a hymn of peace."[61]

Erasmus was not an absolute Pacifist but promoted political Pacificism and religious Irenicism.[62] Notable writings on irenicism include de Concordia, On the War with the Turks, The Education of a Christian Prince, On Restoring the Concord of the Church, and The Complaint of Peace.

In the latter, Lady Peace insists on peace as the crux of Christian life and understanding:

"I give you my peace, I leave you my peace" (John 14:27). You hear what he leaves his people? Not horses, bodyguards, empire or riches – none of these. What then? He gives peace, leaves peace – peace with friends, peace with enemies.

— The Complaint of Peace[63]

A journal article has called him "The 16th Century's Pioneer of Peace Education and a Culture of Peace", claiming:

If any single individual in the modern world can be credited with "the invention of peace", the honour belongs to Erasmus rather than Kant whose essay on perpetual peace was published nearly three centuries later.[42]


Erasmus had experienced war as a child and was particularly concerned about wars between Christian kings, who should be brothers and not start wars; a theme in his book The Education of a Christian Prince. His Adages included "War is sweet to those who have never tasted it." (Dulce bellum inexpertis from Pindar's Greek.)

He promoted and was present at the Field of Cloth of Gold,[64] and his wide-ranging correspondence frequently related to issues of peacemaking. He saw a key role of the Church in peacemaking by arbitration.[65] He was involved in the public debate on war with the Ottoman empire, which was then invading Western Europe, notably in his book On the war against the Turks.

On the use of battle standards featuring crosses:[note 16]

That cross is the standard of him who conquered, not by fighting, but by dying; who came, not to destroy men's lives, but to save them. It is a standard, the very sight of which might teach you what sort of enemies you have to war against, if you are a christian, and how you may be sure to gain the victory. I see you, while the standard of salvation is in one hand, rushing on with a sword in the other, to the murder of your brother; and, under the banner of the cross, destroying the life of one who to the cross owes his salvation.

— The Complaint of Peace[63]

He questioned the practical usefulness and abuses of just war theory, further limiting it to feasible defensive actions with popular support and that war should never be undertaken unless, as a last resort, it cannot be avoided.[66] In his Adages he discusses (common translation) "A disadvantageous peace is better than a just war",[14] which owes to Cicero and John Colet's "Better an unjust peace than the justest war."

Erasmus was extremely critical of the warlike way of the princes of his era. He described these princes as corrupt and greedy. Erasmus believed that these princes "collude in a game, of which the outcome is to exhaust and oppress the commonwealth". He spoke more freely about this matter in letters sent to his friends like Thomas More, Beatus Rhenanus and Adrianus Barlandus: a particular target of his criticisms was the Emperor Maximilian I, whom Erasmus blamed for allegedly preventing the Netherlands from signing a peace treaty with Guelders[67] and other schemes to cause wars in order to extract money from his subjects. [note 17]

The final paragraph of The Complaint of Peace finishes with the command Latin: resipiscite, meaning a voluntary return from madness and unconsiousness:

At last! Enough and more than enough blood has been spilled, human blood, and if that were little, even Christian blood. Enough has been squandered in mutual destruction, enough already sacrificed to Orcus and the Furies and to nourish the eyes of the Turks. The comedy is at an end. Finally, after tolerating far too long the miseries of war, repent![68]

However, the subsequent European wars of religion which accompanied the Reformation resulted in the deaths of between 7 and 18 million Europeans, including up to one third of the population of Germany.

Religious toleration

Portrait of Erasmus, after Quinten Massijs (1517)

He referred to his irenical disposition in the Preface to On Free Will as a secret inclination of nature that would make him even prefer the views of the Sceptics (subject to the Scriptures and Church teaching) over intolerant assertions. He was involved in early attempts to protect Luther and his sympathisers from charges of heresy.

Certain works of Erasmus laid a foundation for religious toleration and ecumenism. For example, in De libero arbitrio, opposing certain views of Martin Luther, Erasmus noted that religious disputants should be temperate in their language, "because in this way the truth, which is often lost amidst too much wrangling may be more surely perceived." Gary Remer writes, "Like Cicero, Erasmus concludes that truth is furthered by a more harmonious relationship between interlocutors."[69] In Melancthon's view, Erasmus taught charity not faith.[70]: 10 

Erasmus' pacificism included a particular dislike for sedition:

"It was the duty of the leaders of this (reforming) movement, if Christ was their goal, to refrain not only from vice, but even from every appearance of evil; and to offer not the slightest stumbling block to the Gospel, studiously avoiding even practices which, although allowed, are yet not expedient. Above all they should have guarded against all sedition."

— Letter to Martin Bucer[71]

Erasmus wrote to limit what should be considered heresy to fractiously agitating against essential doctrines (e.g., those of the Creed), with malice and persistence; as with St Theodore the Studite,[72] Erasmus was against the death penalty merely for private or peaceable heresy, or for dissent on non-essentials: "It is better to cure a sick man than to kill him."[73] The Church has the duty to protect believers and convert or heal heretics.

Nevertheless, he allowed the death penalty against violent seditionists, to prevent bloodshed and war: he allowed that the state has the right to execute those who are a necessary danger to public order—whether heretic or orthodox—but noted (e.g., to fr:Noël Béda) that Augustine had been against the execution of even violent Donatists: Johannes Trapman states that Erasmus' endorsement of suppression of the Anabaptists springs from their refusal to heed magistrates and the criminal violence of the Münster rebellion not because of their heretical views on baptism.[74] Despite these concessions to state power, he suggested that religious persecution could still be challenged as inexpedient.[75]

Jews and Turks

In common with his times, Erasmus regarded the Jewish and Islamic religions as Christian heresies rather than separate religions, using the inclusive term half-Christian for the latter. However, there is a wide range of scholarly opinion on the extent and nature of antisemitic and anti-Moslem prejudice in his writings: Erasmus scholar Shimon Markish wrote that the charge of antisemitism could not be sustained in Erasmus' public writings,[76] however Nathan Ron has found his writing to be harsh and racial in its implications, with contempt and hostility to Islam.[77]

Erasmus was not vehemently antisemitic in the way of the later post-Catholic Martin Luther; it was not a topic or theme of his public writing. Erasmus claimed not to be personally xenophobic: "For I am of such a nature that I could love even a Jew, were he a pleasant companion and did not spew out blasphemy against Christ"[78] however Markish suggests that it is probable Erasmus never actually encountered a (practicing) Jew.[79][note 18]

The picture is complicated because when Erasmus wrote of Judaism, he frequently was not referring to contemporary Jews but, by analogy with Second Temple Judaism, to Christians who mistakenly promoted external ritualism over interior religion, notably in the monastic lifestyle.[note 19][note 20] [note 21] Terence J. Martin identifies an "Erasmian pattern" that the otherness (of Jews, Turks, Lapplanders, Indians, and even women and heretics) "provides a foil against which the failures of Christian culture can be exposed and criticized."[80]


Erasmus' two significant innovations, according to historian Nathan Ron, were that "matrimony can and should be a joyous bond, and that this goal can be achieved by a relationship between spouses based on mutuality, conversation, and persuasion."[81]: 4:43 

Erasmus' Latin and Greek New Testaments

Erasmus produced this first edition of his corrected Latin and Greek New Testament in 1516, in Basel at the print of Johann Froben, and took it through multiple revisions and editions.[82][83]

The new Latin Translation of Erasmus

The first page of the Erasmian New Testament

Erasmus had been working for years on two related projects: philological notes on the Greek texts and a fresh Latin New Testament. He examined all the Latin versions he could find to create a critical text. Then he polished the language. He declared, "It is only fair that Paul should address the Romans in somewhat better Latin."[84] In the earlier phases of the project, he never mentioned a Greek text:

My mind is so excited at the thought of emending Jerome's text, with notes, that I seem to myself inspired by some god. I have already almost finished emending him by collating a large number of ancient manuscripts, and this I am doing at enormous personal expense.

— Epistle 273[85]

While his intentions for publishing a fresh Latin translation are clear, it is less clear why he included the Greek text. Though some speculate that he long intended to produce a critical Greek text or that he wanted to beat the Complutensian Polyglot into print, there is no evidence to support this. He wrote, "There remains the New Testament translated by me, with the Greek facing, and notes on it by me."[86] He further demonstrated the reason for the inclusion of the Greek text when defending his work:

But one thing the facts cry out, and it can be clear, as they say, even to a blind man, that often through the translator's clumsiness or inattention the Greek has been wrongly rendered; often the true and genuine reading has been corrupted by ignorant scribes, which we see happen every day, or altered by scribes who are half-taught and half-asleep.

— Epistle 337[87]

So he included the Greek text to permit qualified readers to verify the quality of his Latin version.[88] But by first calling the final product Novum Instrumentum omne ("All of the New Teaching") and later Novum Testamentum omne ("All of the New Testament") he also indicated clearly that he considered a text in which the Greek and the Latin versions were consistently comparable to be the essential core of the church's New Testament tradition.

Publication and editions

Portrait of Johannes Froben by Holbein[89]

Erasmus said the first edition was "precipitated rather than edited",[90] resulting in a number of transcription errors. After comparing what writings he could find, Erasmus wrote corrections between the lines of the manuscripts he was using (among which was Minuscule 2) and sent them as proofs to Froben.[91]

His hurried effort was published by his friend Johann Froben of Basel in 1516 and thence became the first published Greek New Testament, the Novum Instrumentum omne, diligenter ab Erasmo Rot. Recognitum et Emendatum. Erasmus used several Greek manuscript sources because he did not have access to a single complete manuscript. Most of the manuscripts were, however, late Greek manuscripts of the Byzantine textual family and Erasmus used the oldest manuscript the least because "he was afraid of its supposedly erratic text."[92] He also ignored much older and better manuscripts that were at his disposal.[93]

In the second (1519) edition, the more familiar term Testamentum was used instead of Instrumentum. This edition was used by Martin Luther in his German translation of the Bible, written for people who could not understand Latin. Together, the first and second editions sold 3,300 copies. By comparison, only 600 copies of the Complutensian Polyglot were ever printed. The first and second edition texts did not include the passage (1 John 5:7–8) that has become known as the Comma Johanneum.[94] Erasmus had been unable to find those verses in any Greek manuscript, but one was supplied to him during production of the third edition. The Catholic Church decreed that the Comma Johanneum was open to dispute (2 June 1927), and it is rarely included in modern scholarly translations.

The third edition of 1522 was probably used by William Tyndale for the first English New Testament (Worms, 1526) and was the basis for the 1550 Robert Stephanus edition used by the translators of the Geneva Bible and King James Version of the English Bible. Erasmus published a fourth edition in 1527 containing parallel columns of Greek, Latin Vulgate and Erasmus's Latin texts. In this edition Erasmus also supplied the Greek text of the last six verses of Revelation (which he had translated from Latin back into Greek in his first edition) from Cardinal Ximenez's Biblia Complutensis. In 1535 Erasmus published the fifth (and final) edition which dropped the Latin Vulgate column but was otherwise similar to the fourth edition. Later versions of the Greek New Testament by others, but based on Erasmus's Greek New Testament, became known as the Textus Receptus.[95]

Erasmus dedicated his work to Pope Leo X as a patron of learning and regarded this work as his chief service to the cause of Christianity. Immediately afterwards, he began the publication of his Paraphrases of the New Testament, a popular presentation of the contents of the several books. These, like all of his writings, were published in Latin but were quickly translated into other languages with his encouragement.


Attempts at impartiality in dispute

The Protestant Reformation began in the year following the publication of his edition of the Greek New Testament (1516). The issues between the reforming and reactionary tendencies of the Catholic Church, from which Protestantism later emerged, had become so clear that few could escape the summons to join the debate. Erasmus, at the height of his literary fame, was inevitably called upon to take sides, but partisanship was foreign to his nature and his habits. Despite all his criticism of clerical corruption and abuses within the Catholic Church,[5] which lasted for years and in the view of some was also directed towards many of his Church's basic teachings,[note 22] Erasmus shunned the Reformation movement along with its most radical offshoots,[5] and, especially at first, sided with neither party.[5]

The world had laughed at his satire, In Praise of Folly, but few had interfered with his activities. He believed that his work so far had commended itself to the best minds and also to the dominant powers in the religious world. Erasmus did not build a large body of supporters with his letters. He chose to write in Greek and Latin, the languages of scholars. His critiques reached an elite but small audience.[96]

Dispute on Free Will

"Free will does not exist", according to Luther in his book On the Bondage of the Will (De servo arbitrio) (1525) to Erasmus, in that sin makes human beings completely incapable of bringing themselves to God.

Erasmus had written On Free Will (De libero arbitrio) (1524) on the Lutheran view on free will.[note 23] He lays down both sides of the argument impartially. This "Diatribe" did not encourage any definite action; this was its merit to the Erasmians and its fault in the eyes of the Lutherans. In response, Luther wrote his De servo arbitrio (On the Bondage of the Will), which attacks the "Diatribe" and Erasmus himself, going so far as to claim that Erasmus was not a Christian. Erasmus responded with a lengthy, two-part Hyperaspistes (1526–27).[note 24] In this controversy Erasmus lets it be seen that he would like to claim more for free will than St. Paul and St. Augustine seem to allow according to Luther's interpretation.[97] For Erasmus the essential point is that humans have the freedom of choice.[98] The conclusions Erasmus reached drew upon a large array of notable authorities, including, from the Patristic period, Origen, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine, in addition to many leading Scholastic authors, such as Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus. The content of Erasmus's works also engaged with later thought on the state of the question, including the perspectives of the via moderna school and of Lorenzo Valla, whose ideas he rejected.

Disagreement with Luther and "false evangelicals"

Albrecht Dürer, Portrait of Erasmus, sketch: black chalk on paper, 1520.


Noting Luther's criticism of corruption in the Catholic Church, Erasmus at one time described him as "a mighty trumpet of gospel truth" while agreeing, "It is clear that many of the reforms for which Luther calls are urgently needed."[99] He then had great respect for Luther, and Luther spoke with admiration of Erasmus's superior learning.

Luther hoped for his cooperation in a work which seemed only the natural outcome of his own.[note 25] In their early correspondence, Luther expressed boundless admiration for all Erasmus had done in the cause of a sound and reasonable Christianity and urged him to join the Lutheran party. Erasmus declined to commit himself, arguing that to do so would endanger the cause for Latin: bonae litterae[100][note 26] which he regarded as one of his purposes in life. Only as an independent scholar could he hope to influence the reform of religion. When Erasmus hesitated to support him, the straightforward Luther became angered that Erasmus was avoiding the responsibility due either to cowardice or a lack of purpose.

However, any hesitancy on the part of Erasmus may have stemmed, not from lack of courage or conviction, but rather from a concern over the mounting disorder and violence of the reform movement. To Philip Melanchthon in 1524 he wrote:

I know nothing of your church; at the very least it contains people who will, I fear, overturn the whole system and drive the princes into using force to restrain good men and bad alike. The gospel, the word of God, faith, Christ, and Holy Spirit – these words are always on their lips; look at their lives and they speak quite another language.[101]

Though he sought to remain firmly neutral in doctrinal disputes, each side accused him of siding with the other, perhaps because of his dissembling neutrality and perceived influence.[note 27] It was not for lack of fidelity with either side but a desire for fidelity with them both:

I detest dissension because it goes both against the teachings of Christ and against a secret inclination of nature. I doubt that either side in the dispute can be suppressed without grave loss.

— "On Free Will"[99]

Apart from the perceived moral failings among followers of the Reformers, Erasmus also dreaded any change in doctrine, citing the long history of the Church as a bulwark against innovation. He put the matter bluntly to Luther:

We are dealing with this: Would a stable mind depart from the opinion handed down by so many men famous for holiness and miracles, depart from the decisions of the Church, and commit our souls to the faith of someone like you who has sprung up just now with a few followers, although the leading men of your flock do not agree either with you or among themselves – indeed though you do not even agree with yourself, since in this same Assertion[102] you say one thing in the beginning and something else later on, recanting what you said before.

— Hyperaspistes I[103]

Continuing his chastisement of Luther – and undoubtedly put off by the notion of there being "no pure interpretation of Scripture anywhere but in Wittenberg"[104] – Erasmus touches upon another important point of the controversy:

You stipulate that we should not ask for or accept anything but Holy Scripture, but you do it in such a way as to require that we permit you to be its sole interpreter, renouncing all others. Thus the victory will be yours if we allow you to be not the steward but the lord of Holy Scripture.

— Hyperaspistes, Book I[105][note 28]

In his catechism (entitled Explanation of the Apostles' Creed) (1533), Erasmus took a stand against Luther's teaching by asserting the unwritten Sacred Tradition as just as valid a source of revelation as the Bible, by enumerating the Deuterocanonical books in the canon of the Bible and by acknowledging seven sacraments.[106] He identified anyone who questioned the perpetual virginity of Mary as blasphemous.[107] However, he supported lay access to the Bible.[107]

In a letter to Nikolaus von Amsdorf, Luther objected to Erasmus's catechism and called Erasmus a "viper", "liar", and "the very mouth and organ of Satan".[108]

A common accusation, supposedly started by antagonistic monk-theologians, made Erasmus responsible for Martin Luther and the Reformation: "Erasmus laid the egg, and Luther hatched it." Erasmus wittily dismissed the charge, claiming that Luther had "hatched a different bird entirely."[109] Erasmus-reader Peter Canisius commented: "Certainly there was no lack of eggs for Luther to hatch."[110]

Gerard Geldenhouwer

Again, in 1529, he wrote "An epistle against those who falsely boast they are Evangelicals" to Vulturius Neocomus (Gerardus Geldenhouwer). Here Erasmus complains of the doctrines and morals of the Reformers:[111]

You declaim bitterly against the luxury of priests, the ambition of bishops, the tyranny of the Roman Pontiff, and the babbling of the sophists; against our prayers, fasts, and Masses; and you are not content to retrench the abuses that may be in these things, but must needs abolish them entirely. ...
Look around on this 'Evangelical' generation,[112] and observe whether amongst them less indulgence is given to luxury, lust, or avarice, than amongst those whom you so detest. Show me any one person who by that Gospel has been reclaimed from drunkenness to sobriety, from fury and passion to meekness, from avarice to liberality, from reviling to well-speaking, from wantonness to modesty. I will show you a great many who have become worse through following it. ...The solemn prayers of the Church are abolished, but now there are very many who never pray at all. ...
I have never entered their conventicles, but I have sometimes seen them returning from their sermons, the countenances of all of them displaying rage, and wonderful ferocity, as though they were animated by the evil spirit. ...
Who ever beheld in their meetings any one of them shedding tears, smiting his breast, or grieving for his sins? ...Confession to the priest is abolished, but very few now confess to God. ...They have fled from Judaism that they may become Epicureans.

— Epistola contra quosdam qui se falso iactant evangelicos.[15]


Erasmus wrote books against aspects of the teaching, impacts or threats of several other Reformers:[113]

However, Erasmus maintained friendly relations with other Protestants, notably the irenic Melancthon and Albrecht Duerer.


A test of the Reformation was the doctrine of the sacraments, and the crux of this question was the observance of the Eucharist. In 1530, Erasmus published a new edition of the orthodox treatise of Algerus against the heretic Berengar of Tours in the eleventh century. He added a dedication, affirming his belief in the reality of the Body of Christ after consecration in the Eucharist, commonly referred to as transubstantiation. The sacramentarians, headed by Œcolampadius of Basel, were, as Erasmus says, quoting him as holding views similar to their own in order to try to claim him for their schismatic and "erroneous" movement. [114]

Notable writings

Erasmus by Holbein

Erasmus wrote both on church subjects and those of general human interest.[note 29][115] By the 1530s, the writings of Erasmus accounted for 10 to 20 percent of all book sales in Europe.[116]

A Catholic professor has written of a distinctively Erasmian manner of thinking - one that is capacious in its perception, agile in its judgments, and unsettling in its irony with "a deep and abiding commitment to human flourishing"[117]

Erasmus has been called a seminal, rather than a consistent or systematic thinker;[118] who nevertheless must be taken "very seriously" as a pastoral and rhetorical theologian, with a philological and historical rather than metaphysical approach to interpreting Scripture, notably averse to over-extending from the specific to the general.[119]

Adages (1500-1520)

Entry in Adagia mentioning honorificabilitudinitatibus

With the collaboration of Publio Fausto Andrelini, he formed a paremiography (collection) of Latin proverbs and adages, commonly titled Adagia. It includes the adage "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." He coined the adage "Pandora's box", arising through an error in his translation of Hesiod's Pandora in which he confused pithos (storage jar) with pyxis (box).[120]

Examples of Adages are: more haste, less speed; a dung beetle hunting an eagle.

Erasmus spent nine months in Venice at the Aldine Press expanding the Adagia to over three thousand entries;[121] in the course of 27 editions, it expanded to over four thousand entries in Basel at the Froben press.

Handbook of the Christian Soldier (1503)

His more serious writings begin early with the Enchiridion militis Christiani, the "Handbook of the Christian Soldier" (1503 – translated into English a few years later by the young William Tyndale). (A more literal translation of enchiridion – "dagger" – has been likened to "the spiritual equivalent of the modern Swiss Army knife.")[122] In this short work, Erasmus outlines the views of the normal Christian life, which he was to spend the rest of his days elaborating. The chief evil of the day, he says, is formalism – going through the motions of tradition without understanding their basis in the teachings of Christ. Forms can teach the soul how to worship God, or they may hide or quench the spirit. In his examination of the dangers of formalism, Erasmus discusses monasticism, saint worship, war, the spirit of class and the foibles of "society".[citation needed]

In the Enchiridion, Erasmus challenged common assumptions, painting the clergy as educators who should share the treasury of their knowledge with the laity. He emphasized personal spiritual disciplines and called for a reformation which he characterized as a collective return to the Fathers and Scripture. Most importantly, he extolled the reading of scripture as vital because of its power to transform and motivate toward love. Much like the Brethren of the Common Life, he wrote that the New Testament is the law of Christ people are called to obey and that Christ is the example they are called to imitate.[citation needed]

The Praise of Folly (1511)

Marginal drawing of Folly by Hans Holbein in the first edition of Erasmus's Praise of Folly, 1515

Erasmus's best-known work is The Praise of Folly, written in 1509, published in 1511 under the double title Moriae encomium (Greek, Latinised) and Laus stultitiae (Latin). It is inspired by De triumpho stultitiae written by Italian humanist Faustino Perisauli.[123] A satirical attack on superstitions and other traditions of European society in general and in the Western Church in particular, it was dedicated to Sir Thomas More, whose name the title puns.[124][125]

Opuscula plutarchi (1514), and Apophthegmatum opus (1531)

Handwriting of Erasmus of Rotterdam: Plutarch's How to profit from one's enemies

In a similar vein to the Adages was his translation of Plutarch's Moralia: parts were published from 1512 onwards, and collected as the Opuscula plutarchi[126] (c1514).

This was the basis of 1531's Apophthegmatum opus (Apophthegms), which ultimately contained over 3,000 aphophthegms: "certainly the fullest and most influential Renaissance collection of Cynic sayings and anecdotes",[127] particular of Diogenes (from Diogenes Laertius.)

One of these was published independently, as How to tell a Flatterer from a Friend, dedicated to England's Henry VIII.

Sileni Alcibiadis (1515)

Erasmus's Sileni Alcibiadis is one of his most direct assessments of the need for Church reform.[citation needed] It started as a small entry in the 1508 Adagia citing Plato's Symposium, and expanded to several hundred sentences.[128] Johann Froben published it first within a revised edition of the Adagia in 1515, then as a stand-alone work in 1517.

Sileni is the plural (Latin) form of Silenus, a creature often related to the Roman wine god Bacchus and represented in pictorial art as inebriated, merry revellers, variously mounted on donkeys, singing, dancing, playing flutes, etc. In particular, the Sileni that Erasmus referred to were small ugly or distasteful carved figures which opened up to reveal a beautiful deity inside.[16]

Alcibiades was a Greek politician in the 5th century BCE and a general in the Peloponnesian War; he figures here more as a character written into some of Plato's dialogues – an externally-attractive, young, debauched playboy whom Socrates tries to convince to seek truth instead of pleasure, wisdom instead of pomp and splendor.[129]

The term Sileni – especially when juxtaposed with the character of Alcibiades – can therefore be understood as an evocation of the notion that something on the inside is more expressive of a person's character than what one sees on the outside. For instance, something or someone ugly on the outside can be beautiful on the inside, which is one of the main points of Plato's dialogues featuring Alcibiades and in the Symposium, in which Alcibiades also appears.

In support of this, Erasmus states,

"Anyone who looks closely at the inward nature and essence will find that nobody is further from true wisdom than those people with their grand titles, learned bonnets, splendid sashes and bejeweled rings, who profess to be wisdom's peak."

— Sileni Alcibiadis

On the other hand, Erasmus lists several Sileni and then contraversially questions whether Christ is the most noticeable Silenus of them all. The Apostles were Sileni since they were ridiculed by others. He believes that the things which are the least ostentatious can be the most significant, and that the Church constitutes all Christian people – that despite contemporary references to clergy as the whole of the Church, they are merely its servants. He criticizes those that spend the Church's riches at the people's expense. The true point of the Church is to help people lead Christian lives. Priests are supposed to be pure, yet when they stray, no one condemns them. He criticizes the riches of the popes, believing that it would be better for the Gospel to be most important.[citation needed]

The Education of a Christian Prince (1516)

The Institutio principis Christiani or "Education of a Christian Prince" (Basel, 1516) was written as advice to the young king Charles of Spain (later Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor), to whom the Preface is addressed.[130] Erasmus applies the general principles of honor and sincerity to the special functions of the Prince, whom he represents throughout as the servant of the people. Education was published in 1516, three years after[131] Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince was written; a comparison between the two is worth noting. Machiavelli stated that, to maintain control by political force, it is safer for a prince to be feared than loved. Erasmus preferred for the prince to be loved, and strongly suggested a well-rounded education in order to govern justly and benevolently and avoid becoming a source of oppression.

Familiar Colloquies (1518-1533)

The Colloquia familiaria began as simple spoken Latin exercises for schoolboys to encourage fluency in colloquial Latin interaction, but expanded in number, ambition and audience. The sensational nature of many of the Colloquies made it a prime target for censorship.[132]

Notable Colloquies include the exciting Naufragium (Shipwreck), the philosophical and path-forging The Epicurean, and the zany catalogue of fantastic animal stories Friendship.

For example, A Religious Pilgrimage[133] deals with many serious subjects humorously, and scandalously includes a letter supposedly written by a Statue of the Virgin Mary, in which, while it first thanks a reformer for following Luther against needlessly invoking saints (where the listed invocations are all for sinful or wordly things), becomes a warning against iconoclasm[note 30] and stripping altars.

A Sponge to wipe away the Aspersions of Hutten (1523)

As a result of his reformatory activities, Erasmus found himself at odds with some reformers and some Catholic churchmen. His last years were made difficult by controversies with men toward whom he was sympathetic.[note 31]

Notable among these was Ulrich von Hutten, once a friend, a brilliant but erratic genius who had thrown himself into the Lutheran cause and declared that Erasmus, if he had a spark of honesty, would do the same. In his reply in 1523, Spongia adversus aspergines Hutteni, Erasmus accused Hutten of having misinterpreted his utterances about reform and reiterates his determination never to break with the Catholic Church.[134]

Liturgy of the Virgin Mother venerated at Loreto (1525)

This liturgy for a Catholic Mass, with sequences and a homily teaching that for Mary, and the Saints, imitation should be the chief part of veneration.[135]

Fair choir of angels,
take up the zither, take up the lyre.
The Virgin Mother must be celebrated in song,
in a virginal ode.
The angels, joining in the song,
will re-echo your voice.
For they love virgins,
being virgins themselves.[136]

The liturgy re-framed the existing Marian devotions: as a substitute for mentioning the Holy House of Loreto,[137] he used the meaning of Loreto as 'laurel', as in the champion's laurel wreath. The work also may have been intended to demonstrate the proper application of indulgences, as it came with one from the archbishop of Besançon.[136]

The Tongue (or Language) (1525)

The writings of Erasmus exhibit a continuing concern with language, and in 1525 he devoted an entire treatise to the subject, Lingua. This and several of his other works are said to have provided a starting point for a philosophy of language, though Erasmus did not produce a completely elaborated system.[138]

On the Institution of Christian Marriage (1526)

The Institutio matrimonii was published in 1526 as treatise about marriage.[139] He did not follow the contemporary mainstream which saw the woman as a subject to the man, but suggested the man was to love the woman similar as he would Christ, who also descended to earth to serve.[139] He saw the role of the woman as a socia (partner) to the man.[139]

The relationship should be of amicitia[140] (sweet and mutual fondness).[141] Erasmus suggested that true marriage between devout Christians required a true friendship (contrary to contemporary legal theories that required community consensus or consummation); and because true friendship never dies, divorce of a true marriage was impossible; the seeking of a divorce was a sign that the true friendship (and so the true marriage) never existed and so the divorce should be allowed, after investigation and protecting the individuals.[142]

As far as sex in marriage is concerned, Erasmus' gentle, gradualist asceticism promoted that a mutually-agreed celibate marriage, if God had made this doable by the partners, could be the ideal: in theory it allowed more opportunity for spiritual pursuits. But he controversially noted "Since everything else has been designed for a purpose, it hardly seems probable that in this one matter alone nature was asleep. I have no patience with those who say that sexual excitement is shameful and that venereal stimuli have their origin not in nature, but in sin."[143]

The Ciceronians (1528)

The Ciceronianus came out in 1528, attacking the style of Latin that was based exclusively and fanatically on Cicero's writings. Étienne Dolet wrote a riposte titled Erasmianus in 1535.[144]

The Preacher (1536)

Erasmus's last major work, published the year of his death, is the Ecclesiastes or "Gospel Preacher" (Basel, 1536), a massive manual for preachers of around a thousand pages. Though somewhat unwieldy because Erasmus was unable to edit it properly in his old age, it is in some ways the culmination of all of Erasmus's literary and theological learning and, according to some scholars, of the previous millennium of preaching manuals since Augustine. It offered prospective preachers advice on important aspects of their vocation with abundant reference to classical and biblical sources.[145]

Patristic Editions

According to Ernest Barker, "Besides his work on the New Testament, Erasmus laboured also, and even more arduously, on the early Fathers. Among the Latin Fathers he edited the works of St Jerome, St Hilary, and St Augustine;[146] among the Greeks he worked on Irenaeus, Origen and Chrysostom."[147]

Alleged forgery

In 1530, Erasmus, in his fourth edition of the works of Cyprian, introduced a treatise De duplici martyrio ad Fortunatum, which he attributed to Cyprian and presented as having been found by chance in an old library. This text, close to the works of Erasmus, both in content (hostility to the confusion between virtue and suffering) and in form, and of which no manuscript is known, contains at least one flagrant anachronism: an allusion to the persecution of Diocletian, persecution that took place long after the death of Cyprian. In 1544, the Dominican Henricus Gravius [de] denounced the work as inauthentic and attributed its authorship to Erasmus or an imitator of Erasmus. In the twentieth century, the hypothesis of a fraud by Erasmus was rejected a priori by most of the great Erasmians, for example Percy Stafford Allen, but it is adopted by academics like Anthony Grafton.[148]

Philosophy and Erasmus

Portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger and workshop

Erasmus has a problematic standing in the history of philosophy, whether he should be called a philosopher at all.[note 32] His Christianized version of Epicureanism is regarded as his own.[149] Erasmus appraised himself to be a rhetorician or grammarian not a philosopher. [150]: 66  Erasamus' writings shifted "an intellectual culture from logical disputation about things to quarrels about texts, contexts, and words."[151]

Erasmus approached classical philosophers theologically and rhetorically: their value was in how they pre-saged, explained or amplified the unique teachings of Christ: the philosophia Christi.[note 33] "A great part of the teaching of Christ is to be found in some of the philosophers, particularly Socrates, Diogenes and Epictetus. But Christ taught it much more fully, and exemplified it better..." (Paraclesis) In fact, Christ was "the very father of philosophy" (Anti-Barbieri.)[note 34]

In works such as his Enchiridion, The Education of a Christian Prince and the Colloquies, Erasmus developed his idea of the philosophia Christi, a life lived according the teachings of Jesus taken as a philosophy:

Christ the heavenly teacher has founded a new people on earth,…Having eyes without guile, these folk know no spite or envy; having freely castrated themselves, and aiming at a life of angels while in the flesh, they know no unchaste lust; they know not divorce, since there is no evil they will not endure or turn to the good; they have not the use of oaths, since they neither distrust nor deceive anyone; they know not the hunger for money, since their treasure is in heaven, nor do they itch for empty glory, since they refer all things to the glory of Christ.…these are the new teachings of our founder, such as no school of philosophy has ever brought forth.

— Erasmus, Method of True Theology

Useful "philosophy" needed to be limited to (or re-defined as) the practical and moral:

You must realize that 'philosopher' does not mean someone who is clever at dialectics or science but someone who rejects illusory appearance and undauntedly seeks out and follows what is true and good. Being a philosopher is in practice the same as being a Christian; only the terminology is different."

— Erasmus, Anti-Barbieri

Erasmus syncretistically took phrases, ideas and motifs from many classical philosophers to furnish discussions of Christian themes: academics have identified aspects of his thought as variously Platonist (duality),[note 35] Cynical (asceticism), [152] [127] Stoic (adiaphora),[153] Epicurean (ataraxia,[note 36] pleasure as virtue),[154]and realist/non-voluntarist[17].

Erasmus was sympathetic to a kind of Scepticism:

A Sceptic is not someone who doesn't care to know what is true or false…but rather someone who does not make a final decision easily or fight to the death for his own opinion, but rather accepts as probable what someone else accepts as certain…I explicitly exclude from Scepticism whatever is set forth in Sacred Scripture or whatever has been handed down to us by the authority of the Church.

— Erasmus[155]

He eschewed metaphysical, epistemological and logical philosophy as found in Aristotle,[note 37] in particular the curriculum and systematic methods of the post-Aquinas Schoolmen (Scholastics) and their dry, useless Aristoteleanism: "What has Aristotle to do with Christ?"[156] We should avoid philosophical factionalism and so "make the whole world Christian."[157]: 851 

Erasmus wrote in terms of a tri-partate nature of man, with the soul the seat of free will:

The body is purely material; the spirit is purely divine; the soul…is tossed back and forwards between the two according to whether it resists or gives way to the temptations of the flesh. The spirit makes us gods; the body makes us beasts; the soul makes us men.

— Erasmus[158]

Erasmus was the first modern scholar "to note the similarities between Plato's Symposium and John's Gospel", first in the Enchiridion then in the Adagia, pre-dating other scholarly interest by 400 years. [18]

Legacy and evaluations

Erasmus was given the sobriquet "Prince of the Humanists", and has been called "the crowning glory of the Christian humanists".[159] He has also been called "the most illustrious rhetorician and educationalist of the Renaissance".[158]

Since the origin of Christianity there have been perhaps only two other men—St Augustine and Voltaire—whose influence can be paralleled with Erasmus.

— W.S. Lily, Renaissance Types[160]

"No man before or since acquired such undisputed sovereignty in the republic of letters... The reform which he set in motion went beyond him, and left him behind. In some of his opinions, however, he was ahead of his age, and anticipated a more modern stage of Protestantism. He was as much a forerunner of Rationalism as of the Reformation. "

— 71. Erasmus, History of the Christian Church, vol 7, Philip Schaff

French biographer Désiré Nisard characterized him as a lens or focal point: "the whole of the Renaissance in Western Europe in the sixteenth century converged towards him."[158]


"Erasmus is the greatest man we come across in the history of education!" (R.R. Bolger) … with greater confidence it can be claimed that Erasmus is the greatest man we come across in the history of education in the sixteenth century. …It may also be claimed that Erasmus was one of the most important champions of women's rights in his century.

— J.K. Sowards [50]

According to scholar Gerald J. Luhrman, "the system of secondary education, as developed in a number of European countries, is inconceivable without the efforts of humanist educationalists, particularly Erasmus. His ideas in the field of language acquisition were systematized and realized to a large extent in the schools founded by the Jesuits..."[161]

In England, he wrote the first curriculum for St Paul's School and his Latin grammar (written with Lily and Colet) "continued to be used, in adapted form, into the Twentieth Century."[162]

His system of pronouncing ancient Greek was adopted for teaching in the major Western European nations.


The popularity of his books is reflected in the number of editions and translations that have appeared since the sixteenth century. Ten columns of the catalogue of the British Library are taken up with the enumeration of the works and their subsequent reprints. The greatest names of the classical and patristic world are among those translated, edited, or annotated by Erasmus, including Ambrose, Aristotle, Augustine,[146] Basil, John Chrysostom, Cicero and Jerome.[163]

Unveiling of a Dutch statue of Erasmus (1964)

In Holland

In his native Rotterdam, the Erasmus University Rotterdam, Erasmus Bridge, Erasmus MC and Gymnasium Erasmianum have been named in his honor. Between 1997 and 2009, one of the main metro lines of the city was named Erasmuslijn. The Foundation Erasmus House (Rotterdam),[164] is dedicated to celebrating Erasmus's legacy. Three moments in Erasmus's life are celebrated annually. On 1 April, the city celebrates the publication of his best-known book The Praise of Folly. On 11 July, the Night of Erasmus celebrates the lasting influence of his work. His birthday is celebrated on 28 October.[165]

In England

English translation Paraphrase of Erasmus, 1548

Erasmus' grammar, Adages, Copia, and other books continued as the core Latin educational material in England for the following centuries.

His translated Gospel paraphrases were legally required to be chained for public access in every church, in the reign of Edward VI.


Erasmus's reputation and the interpretations of his work have varied over time. Moderate Catholics recognized him as a leading figure in attempts to reform the Church, while Protestants recognized his initial support for (and, in part, inspiration of) Luther's ideas and the groundwork he laid for the future Reformation, especially in biblical scholarship.

Erasmus was continually protected by popes,[note 38] bishops and kings during his lifetime.[note 39] However, he made enemies of religious theologians in Paris, Louvain, Salamanca and Rome, notably Sepulveda, Stunica, Edward Lee, Noël Beda,[166] as well as Alberto Pío, Prince of Carpi. By 1529, his French translator Louis de Berquin was burnt in Paris. Erasmus spent considerable effort defending himself in writing, which he could not do after his death.[167]

Nevertheless, the following generation of saints and scholars included many influenced by Erasmus, notably Ignatius of Loyola,[168][169] Teresa of Ávila.[170] The near election of Reginald Pole as pope in 1546 has been attributed to Erasmianism.[171]

A work of Erasmus censored, perhaps following the inclusion of some works on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum

By the 1560s, however, there was a marked change in reception: at various times and durations, some of his works, especially in Protestantized editions, were placed on the various Roman, Dutch, French, Spanish and Mexican[172] Indexes of Prohibited Books, either to not be read, or to be censored and expurgated: each area had different censorship considerations and severity.[173]

Salesian scholars have noted Erasmus' significant influence on Francis de Sales: "in the approach and the spirit he took to reform his diocese and more importantly on how individual Christians could become better together,"[174] his optimism,[175] civility,[176] and esteem of marriage.[177]

Early Jesuit scholar Peter Canisius, who produced a complete works of Jerome 50 years after Erasmus', is known to have read, or used phrases from, Erasmus' New Testament (including the Annotations and Notes) and perhaps the Paraphrases, his Jerome biography and complete works, the Adages, the Copia, and the Colloquies: the Jesuits received a dispensations from the Roman Inquisitor General to read and use Erasmus' work, after the theological work had been placed on the Roman Index (of censored works.)[110] Canisius, having read Erasmus, had an ambivalent view on Erasmus that contrasted with the negative line of some of his contemporaries:

"Very many people applied also to Erasmus, declaring: 'Either Erasmus speaks like Luther or Luther like Erasmus' (Aut Erasmus Lutherizat, aut Lutherus Erasmizat). And yet, we must say, if we would like to render an honest judgment, that Erasmus and Luther were very different. Erasmus always remained a Catholic. ... Erasmus criticized religion 'with craft rather than with force', often applying considerable caution and moderation to either his own opinions or errors. ...Erasmus passed judgment on what he thought required censure and correction in the teaching of theologians and in the Church."

— Peter Canisius, De Maria virgine (1577), p601[note 40]

In the last hundred years, Erasmus' Catholic reputation has been gradually rehabilitated, from his deep friendships with two Saint-Martyrs Thomas More and John Fisher, his positive influence on at least four Doctors of the Church (Ignatius, Theresa, Canisius, de Sales), on St John Henry Cardinal Newman and ressourcement theologians such as Henri de Lubac.[note 41]

The Catholic scholar Thomas Cummings saw parallels between Erasmus' vision of Church reform and the vision of Church reform that succeeded at the Second Vatican Council.[171] Another scholar writes[178] "in our days, especially after Vatican II, Erasmus is more and more regarded as an important defender of the Christian religion."

For the past seventy years, the Catholic Easter Vigil mass has included a Renewal of Baptismal Promises,[179]: 3, 4  an innovation[180] first proposed[181] by Erasmus in his Paraphrases.

Erasmus' promotion of the recognition of adiaphora and toleration within bounds was taken up, to an extent, by Pope John XXIII: In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas.[182][note 42]


Protestant views on Erasmus fluctuated depending on region and period, with continual support in his native Netherlands and in cities of the Upper Rhine area. However, following his death and in the late sixteenth century, many Reformation supporters saw Erasmus's critiques of Luther and lifelong support for the universal Catholic Church as damning, and second-generation Protestants were less vocal in their debts to the great humanist. There was a tendency to downplay that many of the usages fundamental to Luther, Melancthon and Calvin, such as the forensic imputation of righteousness, grace as divine favour or mercy (rather than a medicine-like substance or habit), faith as trust (rather than a persuasion only), "repentance" over "doing penance", owed to Erasmus.[183]

Luther had attempted a Biblical analogy to justify his dismissal of Erasmus' thought: "He has done what he was ordained to do: he has introduced the ancient languages, in the place of injurious scholastic studies. He will probably die like Moses in the land of Moab…I would rather he would entirely abstain from explaining and paraphrasing the Scriptures, for he is not up to this work…to lead into the land of promise, is not his business…" [184]

Nevertheless, Erasmus' reception is demonstrable among Swiss Protestants in the sixteenth century: he had an indelible influence on the biblical commentaries of, for example, Konrad Pellikan, Heinrich Bullinger, and John Calvin, all of whom used both his annotations on the New Testament and his paraphrases of same in their own New Testament commentaries.[185] Huldrych Zwingli had a conversion experience after reading Erasmus' poem, 'Jesus' Lament to Mankind.'

Anabaptist scholars have suggested an 'intellectual dependence'[186] of Anabaptists on Erasmus.[187]

For evangelical Christianity, Erasmus had a strong influence[188] on Arminius.

Erasmus' promotion of the recognition of adiaphora and toleration within bounds was taken up by many kinds of Protestants.

Erasmus' Greek New Testament was the basis of the Textus Receptus bibles, which were used for all Protestant bible translations from 1600 to 1900, notably including the Luther Bible and the King James Version.

Name used

A peer-reviewed annual scholarly journal Erasmus Studies has been produced since 1981.[189]

The Erasmus Prize is one of Europe's foremost recognitions for culture, society or social science. It was won by Wikipedia in 2015.

The Erasmus Lectures are an annual lecture on religious subjects, given by prominent Christian (mainly Catholic) and Jewish intellectuals.

The European Erasmus Programme of exchange students within the European Union is named after him. The Erasmus Programme scholarships enable students to spend up to a year of their university courses in a university in another European country.

Several schools, faculties and universities in the Netherlands and Belgium are named after him, as is Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn, New York, USA.

Queens' College, Cambridge, has an Erasmus Building and an Erasmus Room. Until the early 20th century, Queens' College used to have a corkscrew that was purported to be "Erasmus' corkscrew", which was a third of a metre long; as of 1987, the college still had what it calls "Erasmus' chair".[190]


Political journalist Michael Massing has written of the Luther-Erasmus free will debate as creating a fault line in Western thinking: Europe adopted a form of Erasmian humanism while America has been shaped by Luther-inspired individualism.[191]

By the coming of the Age of Enlightenment, Erasmus increasingly again became a more widely respected cultural symbol and was hailed as an important figure by increasingly broad groups.

In a letter to a friend, Erasmus once had written: "That you are patriotic will be praised by many and easily forgiven by everyone; but in my opinion it is wiser to treat men and things as though we held this world the common fatherland of all."[192] Thus, the universalist ideals of Erasmus are sometimes claimed to be important for fixing global governance.[193]


Erasmus is credited with numerous quotes; some of them are not exactly original to him but take expressions from his collections such as Adages or Apophthegmata.[note 43]

  • "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes."[194]

He is also blamed for the mistranslation from Greek of "to call a bowl a bowl" as "to call a spade a spade".[195]



Portrait of Desiderius Erasmus by Albrecht Dürer, 1526, engraved in Nuremberg, Germany

Until Erasmus received his Papal dispensation to wear clerical garb, Erasmus wore versions of the local habit of his order, the Canons regular of St Augustine, which varied by region and house, unless traveling: in general, a black or perhaps white cassock with linen and lace choir rochet for liturgical contexts or sarotium (scarf), almuce (cape), perhaps with a long black cloak.[196] He arranged for his clothing to be stuffed with fur to protect him against the cold.[197] The habit counted with a collar of fur which usually covered his nape.[197] From at least 1517, he dressed as a scholar-priest.[197] He preferred warm and soft garments.[197]

Erasmus' portraits show him wearing a knitted scholar's bonnet.

Signet ring and personal motto

Painting of Erasmus as Terminus by Hans Holbein the Younger[198]

Erasmus chose the Roman god of borders and boundaries Terminus as a personal symbol[199] and had a signet ring with a herm he thought depicted Terminus carved into a carnelian.[199] The herm was presented to him in Rome by his student Alexander Stewart and in reality depicted the Greek god Dionysus.[200] The ring was also depicted in a portrait of his by the Flemish painter Quentin Matsys.[199] In the early 1530s, Erasmus was portrayed as Terminus by Hans Holbein the Younger.[198]

He chose Concedo Nulli (Lat. I concede to no-one) as his personal motto[201] and claimed it was a memento mori.


Holbein's studies of Erasmus's hands, in silverpoint and chalks, ca. 1523 (Louvre)
  • Hans Holbein painted him at least three times and perhaps as many as seven, some of the Holbein portraits of Erasmus surviving only in copies by other artists. Holbein's three profile portraits – two (nearly identical) profile portraits and one three-quarters-view portrait – were all painted in the same year, 1523. Erasmus used the Holbein portraits as gifts for his friends in England, such as William Warham, the Archbishop of Canterbury. (Writing in a letter to Wareham regarding the gift portrait, Erasmus quipped that "he might have something of Erasmus should God call him from this place.") Erasmus spoke favourably of Holbein as an artist and person but was later critical, accusing him of sponging off various patrons whom Erasmus had recommended, for purposes more of monetary gain than artistic endeavor.
  • Albrecht Dürer also produced portraits of Erasmus, whom he met three times, in the form of an engraving of 1526 and a preliminary charcoal sketch. Concerning the former Erasmus was unimpressed, declaring it an unfavorable likeness of him. Nevertheless, Erasmus and Dürer maintained a close friendship, with Dürer going so far as to solicit Erasmus's support for the Lutheran cause, which Erasmus politely declined. Erasmus wrote a glowing encomium about the artist, likening him to famous Greek painter of antiquity Apelles. Erasmus was deeply affected by his death in 1528.
Quinten Metsys (Massijs), medal commissioned by Desiderius Erasmus. 1519, bronze, 105 mm


In 1928, the site of Erasmus' grave was dug up, and a body identified in the bones and examined.[197] In 1974, a body was dug up in a slightly different location, accompanied by an Erasmus medal. Both bodies have been claimed to be Erasmus'. However, it is possible neither is.[204]


The Catalog of the Works of Erasmus (2023)[205] runs to 444 entries (344 pages), almost all from the latter half of his life.

Complete editions

The Collected Works of Erasmus (or CWE) is an 84 volume set of English translations and commentary from the University of Toronto Press. As of May 2023, 66 of 84 volumes have been released. The Erasmi opera omni, known as the Amsterdam Edition or ASD, is a 65 volume set of the original Latin works. As of 2022, 59 volumes have been released.


The best sources for the world of European Renaissance Humanism in the early sixteenth century is the correspondence of Erasmus.

— Froude, "Preface", Life and Letters of Erasmus

Over 3,000 letters exist for a 52-year period, including to and from most Western popes, emperors, kings and their staff, as well as to leading intellectuals, bishops, reformers, fans, friends, and enemies.

Religious and political

Enchiridion militis Christiani (1503).
Enchiridion militis Christiani (1503), Spanish translation
A Playne and Godly Exposition or Declaration of the Commune Crede, 2nd edition, 1533, English translation of Symbolum apostolorum

Comedy and satire

Culture and education

New Testament

The 1516 edition had Erasmus' corrected Vulgate Latin and Greek versions.[209] The subsequent revised editions had Erasmus' new Latin version and the Greek. The 1527 edition had both the Vulgate and Erasmus' new Latin with the Greek. These were accompanied by substantial annotations, methodological notes and paraphrases, in separate volumes.

Patristic and classical editions

The title page of the princeps edition of Irenaeus's Against heresies, which was published by Erasmus at Johannes Froben's, Basel, 1526.

For the patristic and classical editions[210] Erasmus was variously supervising editor and editor or translator, often working with others. He also contributed prefaces, notes and biographies.[211]

Late in his publishing career, Erasmus produced editions of two pre-scholastic but post-patristic writers:

Classical writers whose works Erasmus translated or edited include Lucian (1506), Euripides (1508), Pseudo-Cato (1513), Curtius (1517), Suetonius (1518), Cicero (1523), Ovid and Prudentius (1524), Galen (1526), Seneca (1515, 1528), Plutarch (1512-1531), Aristotle (1531, Introduction to edition of Simon Grynaeus), Demosthenes (1532), Terence (1532), Ptolemy (1533), as well as Livy, Pliny, Libanius, Galen, Isocrates and Xenophon. Many of the Adagia translate adages from ancient and classical sources, notably from Aesop; many of Apophthegmata are from Platonists or Cynics.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Nauert, Charles. "Desiderius Erasmus". Winter 2009 Edition. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 10 February 2012. Erasmus was a native of the Netherlands, born at Rotterdam in the county of Holland on 27 October of some year in the late 1460s; 1466 now seems to be the year that most biographers prefer. Erasmus's own statements on the year of his birth are contradictory, perhaps because he did not know for certain but probably because later in life he wanted to emphasize the excessively early age at which his guardians pushed him and his elder brother Peter to enter monastic life, in order to support his efforts to be released from his monastic vows.
  2. ^ Erasmus was his baptismal name, given after Erasmus of Formiae. Desiderius was an adopted additional name, which he used from 1496. The Roterodamus was a scholarly name meaning "from Rotterdam", though the Latin genitive would be Roterdamensis.
  3. ^ "Poverty stricken, suffering from quartan fever, and pressurized by his guardians"Juhász, Gergely (1 January 2019). "The Making of Erasmus's New Testament and Its English Connections". Sparks and Lustrous Words: Literary Walks, Cultural Pilgrimages.
  4. ^ However, note that such crushes may not have been scandalous at the time: the Cistercian Aelred of Rievaulx's influential book On Spiritual Friendship put intense adolescent and early-adult friendships between monks as natural and useful steps towards "spiritual friendships", following Augustine.
  5. ^ Diarmaid MacCulloch (2003). Reformation: A History. p. 95. MacCulloch further adds in a footnote "There has been much modern embarrassment and obfuscation on Erasmus and Rogerus, but see the sensible comment in J. Huizinga, Erasmus of Rotterdam (London, 1952), pp. 11–12, and from Geoffrey Nutuall, Journal of Ecclesiastical History 26 (1975), 403"; However Harry Vredeveld argues that the letters are "surely expressions of true friendship", citing what Erasmus said to Grunnius: "It is not uncommon at [that] age to conceive passionate attachments [fervidos amores] for some of your companions".Harry Vredeveld, ed. (1993), Collected Works of Erasmus, Translated by Clarence H. Miller, University of Toronto Press, p. xv, ISBN 9780802028679
  6. ^ The biographer J.J. Mangan commented of his time living with Andrea Ammonio in England "to some extent Erasmus thereby realized the dream of his youth, which was to live together with some choice literary spirit with whom he might share his thoughts and aspiration". Quoted in J.K. Sowards,The Two Lost Years of Erasmus: Summary, Review, and Speculation, Studies in the Renaissance, Vol. 9 (1962), p174
  7. ^ Dispensed of his vows of stability and obedience from his obligations "by the constitutions and ordinances, also by statutes and customs of the monastery of Stein in Holland", quoted in J.K. Sowards,The Two Lost Years of Erasmus: Summary, Review, and Speculation, Studies in the Renaissance, Vol. 9 (1962), p174
  8. ^ Some of these visits were interrupted by trips back to Europe.[citation needed]
  9. ^ "Beer does not suit me either, and the wine is horrible." Froud, J.A. (1896). Life and Letters of Erasmus. Scribner and Sons. p. 112.
  10. ^ "When the Lutheran tragedy (Latin: Lutheranae tragoediae) opened, and all the world applauded, I advised my friends to stand aloof. I thought it would end in bloodshed…", Letter to Alberto Pío, 1525, in e.g., "Froude, Life and Letters of Erasmus, p 322" (PDF).
  11. ^ A sentence previously in this article said "Prominent reformators like Oecolampad urged him to stay." However, Campion, Erasmus and Switzerland, op. cit., p26, says that Œcolampadius wanted to drive Erasmus from the city.
  12. ^ "He tried to remain in the fold of the old [Roman] Church, after having damaged it seriously, and renounced the [Protestant] Reformation, and to a certain extent even Humanism, after having furthered both with all his strength." Johan Huizinga, Erasmus and the Age of Reformation (tr. F. Hopman and Barbara Flower; New York: Harper and Row, 1924), p. 190.
  13. ^ This assertion is contradicted by Gonzalo Ponce de Leon speaking in 1595 at the Roman Congregation of the Index on the (mostly successful) de-prohibition of Erasmus' works said that he died "as a Catholic having received the sacraments." Menchi, Silvana Seidel (2000). "Sixteenth-Annual Bainton Lecture". Erasmus of Rotterdam Society Yearbook. 20 (1): 30. doi:10.1163/187492700X00048.
  14. ^ Summa nostrae religionis pax est et unanimated. Erasmus continued: "This can hardly remain the case unless we define as few matters as possible and leave each individual’s judgement free on many questions." Erasmus (1523). Letter to Carondelet: The Preface to His Edition of St. Hilary.
  15. ^ Note that the use of summa is perhaps also a backhanded reference to the scholastic summa, which he upbraided for their moral and spiritual uselessness.Surtz, Edward L. (1950). ""Oxford Reformers" and Scholasticism". Studies in Philology. 47 (4): 547–556. JSTOR 4172947. Retrieved 19 June 2023.
  16. ^ The standard of the cross image invokes, but to some extent contradicts, the imagery of St Catherine of Sienna, who used it to call for European peace in order for joint military relief of the Holy Lands: she finished many letters with "pace, pace, pace." Esther Cohen, Holy women as spokeswomen for peace in late medieval Europe, in Friedman, Yvonne (2018). Religion and peace: historical aspects. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-1138694248.
  17. ^ James D.Tracy notes that mistrust of the Habsburg government in the general population (partially due to the fact Maximilian and his grandson Charles V were absentee rulers, the secret nature of diplomacy and other circumstances) was widespread, but it is notable that intellectuals like Erasmus and Barlandus also accepted the allegations. Tracy, James D. (1 January 1996). Erasmus of the Low Countries. University of California Press. pp. 94, 95. ISBN 978-0-520-08745-3. Retrieved 4 August 2023.
  18. ^ Erasmus knew several converted Jews: his doctor Matthais Adrianus, who Erasmus recommended for the Trilingual College, and his doctor Paolo Riccio, a professor of philosophy and imperial physician.Krivatsy, Peter (1973). "Erasmus' Medical Milieu". Bulletin of the History of Medicine. 47 (2): 113–154. ISSN 0007-5140. JSTOR 44447526. PMID 4584234.
  19. ^ "Judaism I call not Jewish impiety, but prescriptions about external things, such as food, fasting, clothes, which to a certain degree resemble the rituals of the Jews." Declarationes ad censuras Lutetiae, 1532
  20. ^ For Markish, Erasmus' "theological opposition to a form of religious thought which he identified with Judaism was not translated into crude prejudice against actual Jews", to the extent that Erasmus could be described as 'a-semitic' rather 'anti-semitic'."Erasmus of Rotterdam". Jewish Virtual Library. AICE. Retrieved 15 July 2023.
  21. ^ A further complication is Erasmus' ironical idiom, especially in his letters (which made him ""slippery like a snake"" according to Luther - Visser, Arnoud (2017). "Irreverent Reading: Martin Luther as Annotator of Erasmus". The Sixteenth Century Journal. 48 (1).) and prone to misunderstanding and misquotation if taken entirely literally.
  22. ^ "Erasmus had been criticizing the Catholic church for years before the reformers emerged, and not just pointing up its failings but questioning many of its basic teachings. He was the author of a series of publications, including a Greek edition of the New Testament (1516), which laid the foundations for a model of Christianity that called for a pared-down, internalized style of religiosity focused on Scripture rather than the elaborate, and incessant, outward rituals of the medieval church. Erasmus was not a forerunner in the sense that he conceived or defended ideas that later made up the substance of the Reformation thought. [...] It is enough that some of his ideas merged with the later Reformation message." Dixon, C. Scott (2012). Contesting the Reformation. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 60. ISBN 978-1-4051-1323-6.
  23. ^ Written to refute Martin Luther's doctrine of "enslaved will", according to Alister McGrath, Luther believed that only Erasmus, of all his interlocutors, understood and appreciated the locus of his doctrinal emphases and reforms. McGrath, Alister (2012). Iustitia Dei (3rd ed.). 3.4: "Justification in Early Lutheranism": Cambridge University Press. pp. xiv+ 448.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  24. ^ Hyperaspistes means protected by a shield (i.e., self-defence) but also, countering Luther's calling of Erasmus as a viper, 'SuperSnake'.
    Note 7, "Martin Luther > Notes (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy/Winter 2022 Edition)".
  25. ^ "In the first years of the Reformation many thought that Luther was only carrying out the program of Erasmus, and this was the opinion of those strict Catholics who from the outset of the great conflict included Erasmus in their attacks on Luther." Catholic Encyclopedia
  26. ^ good/moral/honest/brave[1] literature
  27. ^ Future cardinal Aleander, his former friend and roommate at the Aldine Press, wrote "The poison of Erasmus has a much more dangerous effect than that of Luther" Catholic Encyclopedia
  28. ^ Latin: "Stipulaberis a nobis, ne quid requiramus aut recipiamus praeter Litteras sacras, sed sic ut tibi concedamus, ut eas tu solus interpreteris, submotis omnibus. Sic victoria penes te fuerit, si patiamur te non-dispensatorem, sed dominum fieri divinae Scripturae." 1294E–F Erasmus, Desiderius (1706). Opera omnia emendatiora et auctiora Volume 10. (Latin & Danish)
  29. ^ "Three areas preoccupied Erasmus as a writer: language arts, education, and biblical studies. …All of his works served as models of style. …He pioneered the principles of textual criticism." Rummel, Erika (2 November 2022). "Christian History 145 Erasmus: Christ's humanist by Christian History Institute - Issuu". (145): 7, 8.
  30. ^ "Erasmus himself deprecated excessive devotion to images, but deplored iconoclasm. For him, both extremes represented a focus on the external trappings rather than the inner truths of religion." Rex, Richard (2014). "The Religion of Henry Viii". The Historical Journal. 57 (1): 1–32. doi:10.1017/S0018246X13000368. ISSN 0018-246X. JSTOR 24528908. S2CID 159664113. p 17
  31. ^ "Against his own advice, he took part in a series of public controversies with men he called 'barking dogs.' They hounded him to his grave." Regier, Willis (1 January 2011). "Review of Erasmus, Controversies: Collected Works of Erasmus, vol. 78, trans. Peter Matheson, Peter McCardle, Garth Tissol, and James Tracy". Bryn Mawr Review of Comparative Literature. 9 (2). ISSN 1523-5734.
  32. ^ For Craig R. Thompson, Erasmus cannot be called philosopher in the technical sense, since he disdained formal logic and metaphysics and cared only for moral philosophy.
    Similarly, John Monfasani reminds us that Erasmus never claimed to be a philosopher, was not trained as a philosopher, and wrote no explicit works of philosophy, although he repeatedly engaged in controversies that crossed the boundary from philosophy to theology. His relation to philosophy bears further scrutiny.
    MacPhail, Eric. "Desiderius Erasmus (1468?—1536)". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  33. ^ "Why don't we all reflect: this must be a marvelous and new philosophy since, in order to reveal it to mortals, he who was god became man..."Erasmus (1516). Paraclesis (PDF). Retrieved 11 August 2023.
  34. ^ Similar to John Wycliffe's statement "the greatest philosopher is none other than Christ."Lahey, Stephen Edmund (1 May 2009). John Wyclif. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195183313.003.0005.
  35. ^ "Erasmus does not engage with Plato as a philosopher, at least not in any rigorous sense, but rather as a rhetorician of spiritual experience, the instigator of a metaphorical system which coheres effectively with Pauline Christianity." Dominic Baker-Smith, Uses of Plato by Erasmus and More p92
  36. ^ "Despite a lack of formal philosophical training and an antipathy to medieval scholasticism, Erasmus possessed not only a certain familiarity with Thomas Aquinas, but also close knowledge of Plato and Aristotle. Erasmus’ interest in some Platonic motifs is well known. But the most consistent philosophical theme in Erasmus’ writings from his earliest to his latest was that of the Epicurean goal of peace of mind, ataraxia. Erasmus, in fact, combined Christianity with a nuanced Epicurean morality. This Epicureanism, when combined in turn with a commitment to the consensus Ecclesiae as well as with an allergy to dogmatic formulations and an appreciation of the Greek Fathers, ultimately rendered Erasmus alien to Luther and Protestantism though they agreed on much." Abstract of Monfasani, John (2012). "Twenty-fifth Annual Margaret Mann Phillips Lecture: Erasmus and the Philosophers". Erasmus of Rotterdam Society Yearbook. 32 (1): 47–68. doi:10.1163/18749275-00000005.
  37. ^ In the Adagia, Erasmus quotes Aristotle 304 times, "making extensive use of the moral, philosophical, political, and rhetorical writings as well as those on natural philosophy, while completely shunning the logical works that formed the basis for scholastic philosophy" Mann Phillips, Margaret (1964). The 'Adages' of Erasmus. A Study with Translations. Cambridge University Press. apud Traninger, Anita (25 January 2023). "Erasmus and the Philosophers". A Companion to Erasmus: 45–67. doi:10.1163/9789004539686_005. ISBN 9789004539686.
  38. ^ "It is a remarkable fact that the attitude of the popes towards Erasmus was never inimical; on the contrary, they exhibited at all times the most complete confidence in him. Paul III even wanted to make him a cardinal," Catholic Encyclopedia
  39. ^ For example, in 1527, Pope Clement VII wrote to the Spanish Inquisitor General that he should silence those who attacked Erasmus' non-Lutheran doctrine; and Charles V (King of Spain, King of Germany, King of Sicily, Archduke of Austria, Duke of Brabant, Holy Roman Emperor) wrote to Erasmus his support. Ledo, Jorge (29 March 2018). "Which Praise of Folly Did the Spanish Censors Read?: The Moria de Erasmo Roterodamo (c. 1532–1535) and the Libro del muy illustre y doctíssimo Señor Alberto Pio (1536) on the Eve of Erasmus' Inclusion in the Spanish Index". Erasmus Studies. 38 (1): 64–108. doi:10.1163/18749275-03801004.
  40. ^ Pabel notes an ambivalent attitude: "After rehearsing the many ways in which Erasmus offended Catholic beliefs about and devotion to Mary, Canisius managed not only to think of Erasmus as more of a friend than a foe of Mary but also, bizarrely, to suggest that Erasmus was still the most distinguished voice in honour of Mary. Then he remembered that Erasmus was responsible for stirring up the controversy about Mary in the first place."
  41. ^ "De Lubac's preface to G. Chantraine's 'Mystere' et 'Philosophie du Christ' selon Erasmus (1971) presents Erasmus as, above all, a theologian who concentrated on the mysterium, philosophia Christi, and the bond between exegesis and theology. "[2]
  42. ^ The phrase was coined after Erasmus' time. A more accurate characterization of Erasmus' views might be that while a certain docility was ideal for laypeople—perhaps "In essentials (i.e., in matters defined by the Church), unity; in doubtful matters, tolerance; in everything, peace."—the quid pro quo was that theologians and bishops should keep the defined doctrines to a minimum—perhaps "In necessities (i.e., for salvation), unity; in non-essentials, tolerance; in everything, charity." For example, see Tracy, James D. (1981). "Erasmus and the Arians: Remarks on the "Consensus Ecclesiae"". The Catholic Historical Review. 67 (1): 1–10. ISSN 0008-8080. JSTOR 25020997. or Cummings, Brian (5 December 2002). The Literary Culture of the Reformation. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198187356.003.0005.: 153 
  43. ^ "No humanist inhabited, cultivated, and chased after ancient proverbs with as much passion as Desiderius Erasmus."Hui, Andrew (2018). "The Infinite Aphorisms of Erasmus and Bacon". Erasmus Studies. 38 (2): 171–199. doi:10.1163/18749275-03802003. ISSN 0276-2854. S2CID 172124407.


  1. ^ Tracy, James D. "Desiderius Erasmus Biography & Facts". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  2. ^ Sauer, J. (1909). Desiderius Erasmus Archived 13 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 10 August 2019 from New Advent:
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  5. ^ a b c d Hoffmann, Manfred (Summer 1989). "Faith and Piety in Erasmus's Thought". Sixteenth Century Journal. Truman State University Press. 20 (2): 241–258. doi:10.2307/2540661. JSTOR 2540661.
  6. ^ Gleason, John B. "The Birth Dates of John Colet and Erasmus of Rotterdam: Fresh Documentary Evidence", Renaissance Quarterly, The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Renaissance Society of America, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Spring, 1979), pp. 73–76;
  7. ^ Harry Vredeveld, "The Ages of Erasmus and the Year of his Birth", Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 46, No. 4 (Winter, 1993), pp. 754–809,
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  12. ^ The 19th century novel The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade, is an account of the lives of Erasmus's parents.
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  102. ^ A reference to Luther's Assertio omnium articulorum per bullam Leonis X. novissimam damnatorum (Assertion of all the Articles condemned by the Bull of Leo X, 1520), WA VII.
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Further reading

  • Barker, William Erasmus of Rotterdam: The Spirit of a Scholar (Reaktion Books, 2022)
  • Bietenholz, Peter G. Encounters with a Radical Erasmus. Erasmus' Work as a Source of Radical Thought in Early Modern Europe (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009)
  • Christ-von Wedel, Christine. Erasmus of Rotterdam: Advocate of a New Christianity (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013)
  • Dodds, Gregory D. Exploiting Erasmus: The Erasmian Legacy and Religious Change in Early Modern England (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009)
  • Emerton, Ephraim (1899). Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. OCLC 312661. Retrieved 18 April 2011. Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam.
  • Furey, Constance M. Erasmus, Contarini, and the Religious Republic of Letters. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  • Gulik, Egbertus van. Erasmus and His Books (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018).
  • Huizinga, Johan. Erasmus and the Age of Reformation, with a Selection from the Letters of Erasmus, in series, Harper Torchbacks, and also in The Cloister Library. New York: Harper & Row, 1957. xiv, 266 pp.
  • Payne, John B., Erasmus, His Theology of the Sacraments, Research in Theology 1970
  • MacPhail, Eric (ed). A Companion to Erasmus (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2023).
  • Martin, Terence J., Truth and Irony - Philosophical Meditations on Erasmus (Catholic University of America Press, 2016)
  • Massing, Michael, Fatal Discord - Erasmus, Luther, and the Fight for the Western Mind (HarperCollins, 2022)
  • McDonald, Grantley. Biblical Criticism in Early Modern Europe: Erasmus, the Johannine Comma, and Trinitarian Debate (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016)
  • Quinones, Ricardo J. Erasmus and Voltaire: Why They Still Matter (University of Toronto Press; 2010) 240 pp. Draws parallels between the two thinkers as voices of moderation with relevance today.
  • Ron, Nathan, Erasmus and the “Other”: On Turks, Jews, and Indigenous Peoples (Palgrave Macmillan Cham, 2019)
  • Ron, Nathan, Erasmus: Intellectual of the 16th Century (Palgrave Macmillan Cham, 2021)
  • Rummel, Erika, Erasmus (T&T Clark, 2006)
  • Swan, Jesse G. "Erasmus, Calin, Reading and Living," in: Cahier Calin: Makers of the Middle Ages. Essays in Honor of William Calin Archived 29 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine, ed. Richard Utz and Elizabeth Emery (Kalamazoo, MI: Studies in Medievalism, 2011), pp. 5–7.
  • Winters, Adam. Erasmus' Doctrine of Free Will. Jackson, TN: Union University Press, 2005.
  • Zweig, Stefan Erasmus of Rotterdam. Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul. (Garden City Publishing Co., Inc; 1937)
  • The Acrostic Study Bible. St. Louis: Gateway International Publishing. 2011. Archived from the original on 4 December 2012. The first modern Parallel Greek New Testament, using Erasmus's 1522 edition (used by Tyndale and the King James writers).


  • Bataillon, Marcel, Erasme et l'Espagne (1937), Librairie Droz (1998) ISBN 2-600-00510-2
    • Erasmo y España: Estudios Sobre la Historia Espiritual del Siglo XVI (1950), Fondo de Cultura Económica (1997) ISBN 968-16-1069-5
  • Garcia-Villoslada, Ricardo. 'Loyola y Erasmo, Taurus Ediciones, Madrid, Spain, 1965.
  • Lorenzo Cortesi, Esortazione alla filosofia. La Paraclesis di Erasmo da Rotterdam, Ravenna, SBC Edizioni, 2012, ISBN 978-88-6347-271-4
  • Pep Mayolas, Erasme i la construcció catalana d'Espanya, Barcelona, Llibres de l'Índex, 2014

Primary sources

  • Collected Works of Erasmus (U of Toronto Press, 1974–2023). 84/86 volumes published as of mid 2023; see U. Toronto Press, in English translation
  • The Correspondence of Erasmus (U of Toronto Press, 1975–2023), 21/21 volumes down to 1536 are published
  • Rabil, Albert. "Erasmus: Recent Critical Editions and Translations," Renaissance Quarterly 54#1 2001. Discusses both the Toronto translation and the entirely separate Latin edition published in Amsterdam since 1969 (online edition)
  • Desiderius Erasmus: "War is sweet to those who have no experience of it …" - Protest against Violence and War ( Publication series: Exhibitions on the History of Nonviolent Resistance, No. 1, Editors: Christian Bartolf, Dominique Miething). Berlin: Freie Universität Berlin, 2022. PDF

External links

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