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Man On His Own

Man On His Own: Interpretations of Erasmus, c1750-1920

Bruce Mansfield
Series: Erasmus Studies
Volume: 11
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 512
  • Book Info
    Man On His Own
    Book Description:

    In the twentieth century, Mansfield concludes, more modern ways of studying Erasmus have emerged, notably through seeing him more precisely in his own historical context.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7695-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Illustrations
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. ONE Introduction
    (pp. 3-8)

    Erasmus had in his own time a great reputation as scholar, church reformer, and social critic. He was a vigorous polemicist. He attracted the loyalty of colleagues and disciples but he also made enemies. He had an ironic temperament which could not always forgo a witticism at the expense of an acquaintance, there was in his personality a mixture of warmth and reserve, and he could be needlessly defensive or touchy. The controversies about him that had begun in his lifetime continued after his death but they were also quickly reshaped or distorted by changing historical circumstances.

    Above all, the...


    • TWO Introduction to Part One
      (pp. 11-13)

      There is a pattern to the history of Erasmus interpretations over the two to three generations 1750–1820.¹ Advances in the scholarship of the subject were rare;² there were few subtle or discriminating analyses. One could hardly claim that understanding was significantly deeper at the end of the period than at the beginning, if the measure were (as it should be) a greater awareness of complexity (in the man and his thought), a recognition, through a tracing out, of the innumerable links between the man and his time and place, or an appreciation of the distinctive character of his society...

    • THREE Erasmus and Enlightenment
      (pp. 14-68)

      ‘Within limits, the Enlightenment was what one thinks it was.’¹ The writers of the Enlightenment, whom for the sake of simplifying we may call thephilosophes,were not of one mind and ‘carried on an unending debate with one another’ on matters both fundamental and ephemeral.² But they did have common preoccupations and these had consequences for their judgments on past ages and individual figures of the past. They were sceptical about the supernatural and concentrated on the subcelestial world; they rejected present dogmatisms and exercised their critical faculties on the authoritative institutions and the authoritative books of the past;...

    • FOUR Romanticism and Revolution
      (pp. 69-118)

      At the beginning of the last decade of the eighteenth century with revolution already begun in France, two biographies – the first since Burigny’s in the middle decade of the century – summed up the Protestant Enlightenment’s judgment of Erasmus. In that judgment Erasmus was presented as a liberator – sometimes the chief liberator – of both the intellect and Christian piety from medieval bondage. The Middle Ages appeared uniformly dark and scholasticism was everywhere the enemy. Erasmus, it was said, freed the intellect by his daring satire on clerical pretensions and the abuse of ecclesiastical power and by his critical work on the...


    • FIVE Introduction to Part Two
      (pp. 121-122)

      Writings about Erasmus since his death had produced by the beginning of the nineteenth century four stereotypes. Two had come down virtually unchanged from the confessional age. These were the hostile and rejecting judgments of Protestant and Catholic orthodoxy. Critics from the two camps shared a suspicion of his reputed scepticism with its corrosive working on dogmatic and ecclesiastical structures, but the Protestants condemned his refusal to join the religious revolution (despite, as they claimed, his actual sympathy for it) and the Catholics his betrayal of the old religious authorities. Such judgments were ready to hand for the representatives of...

    • SIX From Restoration to the Revolutions of 1848: Erasmus as Critic, Publicist, and Rebel
      (pp. 123-133)

      Modern scholarship has recognized that Erasmus, far from being a withdrawn scholar, was one of the great shapers of public opinion in his time. Naturally one thinks first of educated opinion. Erasmus’ works are found in large numbers in the libraries of thinking clergy and literate laymen.¹ But in the great propaganda battles of the sixteenth century his words and his person were also used in appeals to the ‘common man.’ One woodcut, ‘The Divine Mill,’ which turned a familiar image of the doctrine of transubstantiation into Protestant propaganda, depicts Erasmus supervising the processing of biblical truth for the people....

    • SEVEN Nineteenth-Century France: Erasmus as Writer and Moralist
      (pp. 134-151)

      We scarcely need reminding that the relation of form and substance, words and things, was a preoccupation of the sixteenth-century humanists. There was, they believed, no casual connection between what was said and how it was said; noble thought demanded noble expression; pure words exhibited a pure mind. Even in spheres hitherto seen as essentially technical and professional – theological controversy, for example – form and substance were held to be inseparable: how theological issues were presented was critical to the validity of their treatment; form and expression always carried religious and ethical overtones.¹ Recent studies have demonstrated that the thought of...

    • EIGHT Liberalism: Erasmus as Sceptic, Rationalist, and Modern Man
      (pp. 152-185)

      During the confessional age nothing in Erasmus’ writings was used against him more often than his association of himself with ancient scepticism: ‘So far am I from delighting in “assertions” that I would readily take refuge in the opinion of the Skeptics ...’ Luther’s retort, ‘The Holy Spirit is no Skeptic ...,’ has been repeated by Protestant controversialists to the present day.¹ Catholic observers have accused Erasmus of corroding – through doubt and uncertainty – the dogmatic substance of the faith. It has recently been argued that to take the sceptical position was not to state a preference for doubt but rather...

    • NINE Nineteenth-Century Catholicism: Erasmus’ Relation to Catholic Orthodoxy, the Catholic Tradition, and Scholasticism
      (pp. 186-237)

      Erasmus’ attitude to the church and the relation of his writings and ideas to Catholic orthodoxy were a matter of controversy in his lifetime. Critics of his edition of the New Testament and the writings associated with it, for example, took up textual and philological issues, but they also questioned his soundness on doctrines central to the Catholic faith.¹ These bitter and ominous controversies dogged the last twenty years of his life. Of course, they continued after his death and clouded his reputation for many Catholics throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

      The debate is not dead in our own...

    • TEN Nineteenth-Century Protestantism: Erasmus and the Reformation in Modern History
      (pp. 238-296)

      ‘The sad business of Luther had brought him a burden of intolerable ill will; he was torn in pieces by both sides, while aiming zealously at what was best for both.’¹ So wrote Erasmus of the effects of Luther’s Reformation on his life in his abbreviated autobiography of 1524. All biographers of Erasmus down to our own time have divided his life at Luther’s appearance. Protestants, especially, have made his attitude to the Reformation a test of his integrity. Did Erasmus change position after 1517 or 1520? Did he moderate his criticisms of the existing order and embrace what he...

    • ELEVEN Into the Twentieth Century
      (pp. 297-372)

      In his review of the literature in 1915 Gustav Wolf identified features of the transition from nineteenth- to twentieth-century scholarship on Erasmus. There was liberation from confessional concerns and from the related preoccupation with alleged weaknesses of Erasmus’ character. The argument may be extended thus. If the later seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries had replaced the confessional depictions of Erasmus with a picture more human and realistic but still (in its enlightened and progressive traits) somewhat superficial, the religious and theological revivals of the first half of the nineteenth century refastened the grip of confessionalism. Erasmus’ relation to the Reformation...

    • TWELVE Conclusion
      (pp. 373-376)

      Between 1930 and 1980 an interpretation of Erasmus very different from that occupying us in the last section became dominant. In this interpretation Erasmus is seen above all as a serious Christian scholar and thinker. His relation to the Christian tradition has attracted attention. He appears as a Catholic Christian but, more broadly, as a figure ecumenical, devout, theological. This interpretation is not new. We have found anticipations of it, primarily but not exclusively on the Catholic side – in Imbart de la Tour, for example. They are present also in Schlottmann on the Protestant side. And even in the last...

  8. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 377-378)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 379-454)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 455-484)
  11. Index
    (pp. 485-512)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 513-513)