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Erasmus in the Twentieth Century

Erasmus in the Twentieth Century: Interpretations 1920-2000

Bruce Mansfield
Series: Erasmus Studies
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Erasmus in the Twentieth Century
    Book Description:

    Erasmus of Rotterdam is perhaps one of the most studied and published literary figures and religious thinkers; yet despite the lavish amount of attention paid to him and his work, scholarly opinion of his intellectual and historical importance is varied and ambiguous. Bruce Mansfield shows how shifting interpretations and changing critical regard for Erasmus and his work reflect cultural shifts of the last century.

    Placing the development of Erasmus studies in the context of religious changes as well as shifts in humanities scholarship throughout the century, Mansfield draws out several main themes: the increasing awareness of the seriousness of Erasmus' thought on religion and politics, the emergence of Erasmus as a serious religious, even theological, thinker (against the view that he was a shallow moralist) and a revival of interest in his place in the rhetorical tradition.

    Controversy nevertheless remains. The theological and rhetorical approaches have produced different results on how far Erasmus was an 'orthodox' thinker, differences that the influence of postmodernism may well enhance. Differences also remain over his personality. Above all, Mansfield shows that, despite highly impressive and convincing claims in the first half of the century, the extent and character of Erasmus' influence on his own and the following age remains an unresolved and divisive question.

    This is the final volume in Professor Mansfield's trilogy that examines Erasmus' reputation from his death to the present day. It follows on his earlier studies,Phoenix of His Age: Interpretations of Erasmus c. 1550-1750(1979) andMan on His Own: Interpretations of Erasmus c. 1750-1920(1992).

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7455-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. ONE Prologue: Quatercentenary (1936)
    (pp. 3-16)

    In 1598 a Dutch fleet sailed from Rotterdam for the Pacific. A member of the fleet once calledErasmusand nowDe Liefde, carried the wooden statuette of a man in a scholar′s cap and holding a book in one hand and a banderole in the other. The fleet came to grief on the coasts of Japan, and the Japanese received the wooden figure as that of a god or saint. Only in the twentieth century did scholars in Japan and the Netherlands identify it with Erasmus of Rotterdam, though some defended an association with St Erasmus, patron saint of...

  6. TWO Erasmus′ Liberation Theology
    (pp. 17-42)

    ′The Utopian preferential option for the poor against the rich.′ That, says Brendan Bradshaw, is the core of what Erasmus had to say about government in his most formal and substantial writing on the subject, theInstitutio principis christiani(1516). The stance was populist. Erasmus undermined shibboleths of the time: ′the inviolable rights of property and heredity, the divinely ordained wisdom of lineage and social hierarchy, the axiomatic morality of severe justice and dynastic warfare.′ The ideology, Bradshaw says, was identical with Thomas More′s inUtopia. Erasmus′ task was to apply it to sixteenth-century structures, transforming them through a reshaping...

  7. THREE Erasmus and His Audiences
    (pp. 43-76)

    From late in the nineteenth century, there had been studies of Erasmus′ influence in the different countries of Europe, of circles of his friends and admirers there, of the distribution of his books, especially in translation. They corrected the picture, common in the nineteenth century, of Erasmus as a solitary figure. Through the various Erasmian circles, the new works suggested, he became a force in European intellectual and cultural life. Accompanying this fresh view of Erasmus and his influence went an adjustment to how the lead-in to the Reformation should be seen. It crystallized in the idea of ′Préréforme,′ a...

  8. FOUR Interlude: Quincentenary (1967–70)
    (pp. 77-108)

    In 1969 students at a Dutch university shouted down a faculty member intending in an address to commemorate the five hundredth anniversary of Erasmus′ birth.¹ For the Festival of Holland in June of that year Hugo Claus and Harry Mulisch wrote the operaReconstructie, where Erasmus appears as the low-life acolyte, not only of Don Juan, but also of capitalism and colonialism. ′Erasmus,′ exclaims Cornelis Reedijk incredulously, ′as Leporello, the abject valet of imperialist powers!′² The quincentenary of 1967–70 coincided with the student rebellion and generational conflicts in Western societies and with various ′culture wars,′ as they later came to...

  9. FIVE Erasmus Theologian: In the Penumbra of Vatican 2
    (pp. 109-150)

    ′Erasmus believes he is Christian; he wishes to be Christian. He is Christian in his own way.′ So, a monograph of the 1920s, J.-B. Pineau′sErasme: Sa pensée religieuse. But, says Pineau in another place, to wish to be Catholic is not to be Catholic. Erasmus′ religion, as Pineau depicts it, is, by medieval standards and by Roman standards, a much-reduced thing. It is hard to know what of traditional theology he would maintain; for him scholasticism, with its tyrannical formulas, was ′useless, dangerous, or ridiculous speculation.′ His preference in every sphere, in his attitude to monasticism, in his philosophy...

  10. SIX Rhetoric and Reality
    (pp. 151-184)

    Jacques Chomarat′sGrammaire el rhétorique chez Erasmeoccupies a place, for the last two decades of the twentieth century, analogous to that of Bataillon′sErasme et l′Espagnefrom the 1930s to the 1960s. Each was an endorsement of trends already apparent in Erasmus scholarship, a massive crystallization of interests, to then diffused and fragmented but demanding full articulation and justification. The first interest was in Erasmus′ audiences throughout Europe and their response to him, the second in Erasmus′ relation to language, summed up in the double expression ′grammar and rhetoric,′ owed above all to his classical masters. Both in turn...

  11. SEVEN Epilogue: Sesquiquatercentenary (1986) and After
    (pp. 185-224)

    On 13 November 1986 at a ceremony in the Great or St Lawrence′s Church in Rotterdam, in the presence of Queen Beatrix, Václav Havel, Czech playwright and dissident, received the Erasmus Prize. The blitzkrieg of May 1940, with which these studies virtually began, had left standing only the walls of the late Gothic church; they were, in the war and post-war years, the chief relic of old Rotterdam. Restoration of St Lawrence′s in the centre of the modern city was complete less than twenty years before the ceremony of November 1986. Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands had founded the Praemium...

  12. Conclusion: Erasmus in 2001
    (pp. 225-230)

    What has been accomplished in Erasmus interpretation in the twentieth century is plain. The last paragraph of the last chapter summed up the two main considerations. He has emerged, finally, as an important religious thinker and contributor to the Christian tradition, many would say as a theologian. He has been related to the classical rhetorical tradition, which determined his methodologies, his literary and scholarly assumptions and expectations. These two considerations come together in his preoccupation with texts, central to both the Christian and rhetorical traditions. A third matter, dealt with here in chapter 2, deserves mention, his social and political...

  13. Abbreviations
    (pp. 231-234)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 235-282)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 283-308)
  16. Index
    (pp. 309-324)