Erasmus of Rotterdam
Who was Erasmus of Rotterdam?
Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (1466 – 1536), known as Erasmus of Rotterdam, was a Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, social critic, teacher, and theologian.
Erasmus was a classical scholar who wrote in a pure Latin style. Using humanist techniques for working on texts, he prepared important new Latin and Greek editions of the New Testament. These raised questions that would be influential in the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation.
He also wrote The Praise of Folly, Handbook of a Christian Knight, On Civility in Children, Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style, Julius Exclusus, and many other works.
Erasmus lived against the backdrop of the growing European religious Reformation; but while he was critical of the abuses within the Church and called for reform, he kept his distance from Luther and Melancthon and continued to recognise the authority of the pope. Erasmus emphasized a middle way, with a deep respect for traditional faith, piety and grace, and rejected Luther's emphasis on faith alone. Erasmus therefore remained a Catholic all his life.
In relation to clerical abuses in the Church, Erasmus remained committed to reforming the Church from within. He also held to Catholic doctrines such as that of free will, which some Reformers rejected in favour of the doctrine of predestination. His middle road approach disappointed and even angered scholars in both camps.
Erasmus died suddenly in Basel in 1536 while preparing to return to Brabant, and was buried in the Basel Minster, the former cathedral of the city. A bronze statue of him was erected in his city of birth in 1622, replacing an earlier work in stone.
Erasmus was his baptismal name, given after St. Erasmus of Formiae. Desiderius was a self-adopted additional name, which he used from 1496. The Roterodamus in his scholarly name is the Latinized adjectival form for the city of Rotterdam.
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 Saint Ambrose, Aristotle, Saint Augustine, Saint Basil, Saint John Chrysostom, Cicero and Saint Jerome.
In his native Rotterdam, the University and Gymnasium Erasmianum have been named in his honor. In 2003, a poll showing that most Rotterdammers believed Erasmus to be the designer of the local "Erasmus Bridge" instigated the founding of the Erasmus House, 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.
Erasmus's reputation and the interpretations of his work have varied over time. Following his death, there was a long period of time when his countrymen mourned his death. Moderate Catholics felt that he had been a leading figure in attempts to reform the Church, while Protestants recognized his initial support for Luther's ideas and the groundwork he laid for the future Reformation. By the 1560s, however, there was a marked change in reception.
The Catholic Counter-Reformation movement often condemned Erasmus as having "laid the egg that hatched the Reformation." Their critique of him was based principally on his not being strong enough in his criticism of Luther, not seeing the dangers of a vernacular Bible and dabbling in dangerous scriptural criticism that weakened the Church's arguments against Arianism and other doctrines. All of his works were placed on the Index of Prohibited Books by Pope Paul IV, and some of his works continued to be banned or viewed with caution in the later Index of Pope Pius IV.
According to Franz Anton Knittel, Erasmus in his Novum instrumentum omne did not incorporate the Comma from the Codex Montfortianus, because of grammar differences, but used Complutensian Polyglotta. According to him the Comma was known to Tertullian.
Protestant views of Erasmus fluctuated depending on region and period, with continuous support in his native Netherlands and in cities of the Upper Rhine area. However, following his death and in the late sixteenth century, Reformation supporters saw Erasmus's critiques of Luther and lifelong support for the universal Catholic Church as damning. His reception was particularly cold by the Reformed Protestant groups.
By the coming of the Age of Enlightenment, however, 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."
Several schools, faculties and universities in the Netherlands and Flanders are named after him, as is Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn, New York, USA. The European Union's Erasmus scholarships enable students to spend up to a year of their university courses in a university in another European country.
- "Desiderius Erasmus." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (with minor edits), under GFDL.