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Erasmus: His Life, Works, and Influence

Cornelis Augustijn
translated by J.C. Grayson
Series: Erasmus Studies
Volume: 10
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 239
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Erasmus: His Life, Works, and Influenceis a comprehensive introduction to Erasmus's life, works, and thoughts.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7457-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-2)

    If I begin by stating that my aim in this book is to introduce the reader to the present state of research on Erasmus, this is only half the truth. Of course, that is my aim, and I hope that some readers will be helped in their own study by this introduction and stimulated to produce work of their own in the field of the history of humanism and the Reformation. The period is fascinating, if only because of the great changes that society underwent at that time. In many respects, it was then that the foundations of modern western...

  4. ONE Introduction
    (pp. 3-8)

    ʹErasmus stands apart.ʹ¹ This judgment can be found in the second part of theEpistolae obscurorum virorum(Letters of Obscure Men), in which the humanist avant-garde of 1517 gave free rein to their bitter satire against the established order in society, church, and scholarship. Erasmus, they were convinced, eluded all classification; he was a man apart. Almost twenty years later Luther called him an eel, and added: ʹNo one can grasp him but Christ alone.ʹ² There is something hard to fathom in Erasmus, and every biography must take this into account. The elusiveness is not the fault of lack of...

  5. TWO Europe in 1500
    (pp. 9-20)

    The life of Erasmus reflects the world of the last thirty years of the fifteenth century and the first thirty years of the sixteenth. His letters and writings show us the Netherlands, Paris, Oxford and Cambridge, northern Italy, Rome, the cities of the Rhineland and especially Basel. Through him we meet the princes of his age and see something of the life of the cities, especially of the prosperous bourgeoisie. Because the church and religion played a large role in his life, popes, bishops, and monasteries also call for our attention. The cultural life of the time stands in the...

  6. THREE Youth and Student Years
    (pp. 21-30)

    Hard facts about Erasmusʹ life are lacking until his ordination as a priest in 1492. Everything remains vague and uncertain, and the brief account of his early life that follows can only be given subject to that reservation. In part, this is because source material is scant. For the first twenty-five years of Erasmusʹ life we have at our disposal only thirty letters, the same number of poems, some scattered statements by Erasmus himself of a later date, and one work from his hand. A brief sketch of his life until 1524 published in the seventeenth century, which purports to...

  7. FOUR Erasmus in the World of the Humanists
    (pp. 31-42)

    In 1499 Erasmus was a young, unknown man of letters. In 1514 he described himself as old, grey-haired, and in poor health.¹ He was then probably forty-five years old, and the path to success was open to him. Although the fifteen years in between were of primary importance, we are not particularly well informed about them. The correspondence comprises about 200 letters, of which 150 are by Erasmus. This is not a great number, and they are very unevenly distributed. From the years from 1502 to 1508 we have 45 letters, while not a single letter from Erasmus has survived...

  8. FIVE The Enchiridion
    (pp. 43-56)

    ʹHis writings will best show his likenessʹ – so a saying which often occurs as a motto to portraits of Erasmus. In this chapter we discuss theEnchiridion militis christiani,¹ which may be translated as the ʹhandbook of the Christian soldier,ʹ but also as the ʹhand-swordʹ or ʹdagger.ʹ Erasmus wrote it in 1501 at the request of the wife of a soldier, the master of arms at the court of Burgundy, to win him away from his all too rough life. The present was not a great success, for the man made as much use of the book as Erasmus...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  10. SIX The Praise of Folly
    (pp. 57-70)

    Almost everyone knows thePraise of Folly(Moriae encomium) by its title. Few know the book itself. This is not a recent phenomenon. Erasmus himself prepared a commentary on it only a few years after the appearance of the first edition, an exposition that was to accompany almost all printings of the text from then on. He had to do so, for the work struts in buskins, it is stuffed with citations from and allusions to such classical authors as Homer, Plato, Virgil, Horace, and Pliny.

    Yet the origin of the book was a very human one. In the summer...

  11. SEVEN Christian Philosophy
    (pp. 71-88)

    ʹIf ever there was a golden age, then there is a good hope that ours will be one.ʹ So Erasmus wrote in a letter to Pope Leo x in April 1517.¹ He summarizes his reasons for such high hopes: Christian piety is being restored; literature, which had been forgotten and corrupted, is regaining its place; the unity of Christianity, the cradle of both godliness and culture, was assured for all time. In the years between 1514 and 1518 Erasmus repeatedly expressed this hope. For Erasmus personally, these too were golden years, and the future looked promising. He was released from...

  12. EIGHT The Bible and the Fathers of the Church
    (pp. 89-106)

    These words, addressed to Leo x, appear in the dedication of Erasmusʹ edition of the New Testament in 1516.¹ In seventeen lines Erasmus characterizes his entire enterprise. Later we shall come back to his words. They are characteristic of the works to which we turn our attention in this chapter. The most important of them was his edition of the New Testament, then the editions of the various Fathers of the church, the Paraphrases on the books of the New Testament, and the commentaries on several psalms.

    In March 1516 theNovum instrumentumappeared. It was given this name because...

  13. NINE In the Circle of the Biblical Humanists
    (pp. 107-118)

    Once again we pick up the thread of Erasmusʹ life. What filled his days in the good years between 1514 and the beginning of 1519? We are extremely well informed: many letters have been preserved. In perusing them we must bear in mind that some were explicitly intended for publication and others were not.

    The first thing to consider is his immediate environment. Between August 1514 and May 1516, Erasmus lived in Basel, apart from a four monthsʹ journey to the Netherlands and England in the early summer of 1515. From May 1516 he lived in the southern Netherlands, from...

  14. TEN The Luther Question
    (pp. 119-134)

    Luther had slipped into the scholarly world, one of many who were critical of the church and theology. He soon found supporters, especially in humanist circles, in Basel as elsewhere. In May 1518, when Erasmus travelled to Basel to see the second edition of the New Testament and a new impression of hisEnchiridionthrough the press, it appeared to him that Lutherʹs name was enjoying some notoriety. Interest in him was still unsuspecting; in Basel – and not only there – he was regarded as a kindred spirit. ʹLuther pleases all the cultivated people in Zürich, just as the...

  15. ELEVEN The Dispute on the Freedom of the Will
    (pp. 135-146)

    ʹThe die is cast, the work on the freedom of the will has appeared: believe me, a bold deed, as things now stand in Germany.ʹ¹ In this way Erasmus announced to the king of England the publication ofThe Free Will(De libero arbitrio) in September 1524.² He was not proud of this work, and felt that he had been forced by the course of events to write against Luther: Luther himself had almost forced his hand, he had been under pressure from Rome and England, and in Basel an attack on Luther was expected of him. Was this work...

  16. TWELVE Between Scylla and Charybdis
    (pp. 147-160)

    ʹI observe that it is my fate, that while I strive to be of service to both parties, I am stoned from both sides.ʹ These words from 1525 reflect Erasmusʹ position in the twenties. A schism in the church had not yet come about, but the parties were lining up, and both pointed a finger of reproach at Erasmus. ʹIn Italy and the Netherlands, I am a Lutheran, in the whole of Germany … such an anti-Lutheran that his fervent followers do not attack any mortal more violently than me,ʹ the letter continues.¹ In this chapter we discuss the twenties...

  17. THIRTEEN The Colloquies
    (pp. 161-172)

    Several references have already been made to theColloquies. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries this was Erasmusʹ best-known work, and during his lifetime certainly one of the most notorious. We have seen that the Sorbonne fell eagerly upon theColloquiesand left little of them intact. Individuals took the same view. The Dominican Ambrosius Pelargus, who was on reasonably good terms with Erasmus, wrote to him: ʹI am not against your intention, but I regret the outcome, if at least it is true, as many swear, that a good part of the youth has become much worse through your...

  18. FOURTEEN One Society at Stake
    (pp. 173-184)

    The last seven years of Erasmusʹ life, from his move to Freiburg im Breisgau in April 1529 to his death during the night of 11/12 July 1536, were a burden to him. He had suffered for many years from attacks of fever, kidney stones, and gout, but now his bodily ailments began to weigh more heavily on him. In Freiburg he felt himself completely out of his element, in spite of the honours shown to him. It was a relief when he was able to return to Basel in May 1535. Friends in Rome, England, France, Germany, and Poland were...

  19. FIFTEEN Erasmus and His Influence
    (pp. 185-200)

    Is it possible to paint a good likeness of Erasmus? In the preceding chapters we have sketched his features – do they form a whole? These are the questions that confront the biographer. They are peculiar to the genre, but they urge themselves even more insistently in the case of Erasmus. He is highly elusive; he slips away from attempts to place him exactly. His character has a great deal to do with this. ʹI always wished to be alone,ʹ he said of himself,¹ and indeed he did stand alone. But it is not simply a matter of his personality....

  20. Notes
    (pp. 201-220)
  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 221-232)
  22. Index
    (pp. 233-239)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 240-240)