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Encounters with a Radical Erasmus

Encounters with a Radical Erasmus: Erasmus' Work as a Source of Radical Thought in Early Modern Europe

  • Book Info
    Encounters with a Radical Erasmus
    Book Description:

    Peter G. Bietenholz.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8799-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-2)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 3-12)

    This study is concerned with some early modern authors who developed radical ideas of a religious or political order and can be shown to have read the works of Erasmus of Rotterdam. Two questions arise: Did reading Erasmus help to foster their radical ideas? And if so, was this outcome intended by him? The second question is the more difficult to answer, though it must vastly intrigue anyone fascinated by Erasmus’ work and his phoenix-like personality; it will be dealt with in the concluding section. The first question will be examined in the bulk of this book. It too is...

  4. ONE Sebastian Franck Scrutinizes Erasmus’ Annotationes to the New Testament
    (pp. 13-32)

    In the vast and sustained labour he devoted to the New Testament Erasmus saw the culmination of his commitment to scholarship. It was work he did mostly in his prime, in his forties, and he worked harder than was good for his health. It was work, he believed, he owed his Creator, who had so generously endowed him to do it. And nothing else he wrote, not even theMoriae encomium, was to have so great an influence on posterity.

    The first edition of the New Testament appeared in 1516 and was followed, in his lifetime, by four more (1518...

  5. TWO Mining Antitrinitarian Ore from Erasmus’ New Testament
    (pp. 33-68)

    When a group of Spanish theologians met in 1527 at Valladolid to investigate Erasmus’ alleged lapses from orthodoxy, the doctrine of Trinity stood at the centre of their concerns. Accordingly, when Erasmus answered their charges, the Trinity filled the foremost place in hisApologia adversus monachos hispanos.¹ Right to the end of the period covered in this book, no other issue in his writings would draw so much radical interpretation. Erasmus could hardly have foreseen this development; debates on issues related to the Trinity had been dormant for centuries. By the time he published his New Testament he had formed...

  6. THREE Peace and War According to Erasmus and Sebastian Franck
    (pp. 69-94)

    In chapter 1 we have seen how Franck developed and publicized some radical views deduced from Erasmus’ scrutiny of the Gospel, and here we shall turn again to Franck for guidance. The search for peace and opposition to war was to him, as it was to Erasmus, the most vibrant concern in the field of political governance – so important indeed that both, in tune with their priorities, came to evaluate the political problem in religious terms. For the short period of their direct contacts, however, politics was the dominant factor.

    As mentioned earlier, Erasmus’ ire about Franck’sChronicaorGeschichtbibel...

  7. FOUR The Castellio Circle: Religious Toleration and Radical Reasoning
    (pp. 95-108)

    Religious toleration became an issue of intensive public debate with the trial and burning of Michael Servetus in 1553 in Geneva. Heresy and ways to end it had, of course, been a concern much earlier. The Christian fathers, both Greek and Latin, had dealt with the subject in writings that exercised great influence later on; but not before the age of printing and the new wave of persecution brought about by the Reformation did the debate about religious dissent achieve the climactic prominence that it was to retain to the end of the seventeenth century. Also, the pamphlets and books...

  8. FIVE Erasmus, His Mistress Folly, and the Garden of Epicurus
    (pp. 109-140)

    Through the centuries Epicureanism was seen by its critics as a source of misconduct and unbelief; in fact, whether or not it was understood correctly, it did usually invite radical attitudes. An examination of Erasmus’ changing views of Epicureanism must primarily rely on statements by himself that refer to Epicurus or indicate awareness of, and perhaps affinity with, some aspects of his philosophy. This is a narrow gate, and as we strive to enter by it, we should not entirely lose sight of the many intermediate sources on Epicurus’ system, critical or appreciative or both, with which Erasmus was familiar,...

  9. SIX Doctoring the Truth: Cardano’s Erasmian Physic for the Libertins
    (pp. 141-156)

    In line with some initial knowledge of Greek sceptics such as Pyrrho and Carneades,¹ probably gained from such works as Cicero’sAcademicaandDe finibus, Erasmus soon appreciated the merit of doubt. He also learned to treat veracity as a virtue that required cautious handling. A Pyrrhonist, however, he was not. Doubt had its limits. The central tenets of the Christian religion and ethics always were to him an a priori truth. The primary and indispensable source of truth was the Gospel, reporting the actions and words of Jesus and his apostles. Satan, by contrast, was the father of lying....

  10. SEVEN Epicureanism, Scepticism, and Libertinage in Early Modern France
    (pp. 157-170)

    The specific strand of Erasmus’ thinking that touched the world of thelibertinslargely thanks to Cardano is by no means the only trace of an unsettling influence the sage from Rotterdam exercised in early modern France. Rabelais, the most fervent of his French followers, will be considered later in another context.¹ In view of his enthusiasm, one is bound to be curious about the reaction of the other outstanding light of French literature in the sixteenth century, Michel de Montaigne (1533–92). It is not difficult to claim Montaigne for a culture of radicalism. While there was, and is,...

  11. EIGHT Radical Echoes of Erasmus in Seventeenth-Century England
    (pp. 171-188)

    In the seventeenth century England produced a stunning volume of radical writing, especially during the period of Civil War and Commonwealth in the middle of that century, when the official procedure for licensing books had largely ceased to function. Meanwhile Erasmus’ books continued to be widely available and read. In 1628 the young John Milton found in Cambridge theMoriae encomiumin everyone’s hands.¹ If my sampling holds true, however, an acknowledged or otherwise evident presence of Erasmus in radical books and pamphlets is rare, which does not, of course, preclude that he was read and consulted. Catholicbashing was then...

  12. NINE The Taste of Erasmian Spice in Some Classics of Early Modern Literature
    (pp. 189-226)

    The focus of this chapter differs from that of the others. The writers that it will examine for the most part lived in different epochs and cultural environments. The bond that ties them together is literary achievement. Amid a great diversity of approaches, all have written works that can be counted among the classics of world literature. Such radical ideas as their authors may have derived from their acquaintance with Erasmus’ writings were bound to reach incalculable numbers of readers. All of these works are readily available today, whereas their counterparts in other chapters languish in research libraries and on...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 227-244)

    Numerous authors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries read Erasmus and, we have seen it, were encouraged to form radical views by what they had read. We must now ask the intriguing, but difficult, question whether Erasmus had meant to be so read. Was it his intention to foster revolutionary, heterodox, subversive, in short radical views? Since in his lifetime he was persistently accused of dispensing poison, can he have ignored the radical potential that his writings might hold for future generations? Our question has been asked before. Cornelis Augustijn concluded that ‘Erasmus was subjectively a conservativepar excellence, and...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 245-306)
  15. Works Repeatedly Cited
    (pp. 307-312)
  16. Index of Biblical References
    (pp. 313-318)
  17. General Index
    (pp. 319-326)