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Erasmus of Rotterdam

Erasmus of Rotterdam: Advocate of a New Christianity

Series: Erasmus Studies
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Erasmus of Rotterdam
    Book Description:

    Combining a biography of Erasmus with the larger theological debates and the intellectual history of his time, Christine Christ-von Wedel reveals many of previously unexplored influences on Erasmus, as well as his influences on his contemporaries.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6571-2
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. ONE Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)

    Erasmus lives on today as a symbol of ideas that are intrinsic not only to modern concepts of education but also to the notion of a supranational European culture, to pacifism, to child-appropriate pedagogy, and to the merging of classical antiquity with Christianity. Schools are named after him, as is the famous inter-European education and training program, and many of his works – among them his most celebrated satire,The Praise of Folly– can now be read on the internet in full.

    Since 1969 specialists in Amsterdam have examined and edited his works anew and have compiled scores of critically detailed...


    • TWO Yearning for the “Golden Age” Early Poems and Letters in the Monastery
      (pp. 19-24)

      When Erasmus entered the Augustinian convent at Steyn as a young orphan he had already finished his schooling. Although he later referred to his school days as “wasted time” and, with few exceptions, generally characterized his teachers as rigid and ineffective, he was nonetheless well trained in Latin and had gained a comprehensive base knowledge of classical literature and philosophy.¹

      Nearly all biographies on Erasmus agree that the sources pertaining to his life in the monastery do not hint at any deepening monastic piety but indicate, rather, his growing interest in classical studies. His correspondence reveals a young man who...

    • THREE Historical Awareness Antibarbari, Letter to Thomas Grey, Three Poems from 1499, Precatio ad Virginis filium Jesum, Encomium matrimonii
      (pp. 25-44)

      In 1495 Erasmus brought a first draft manuscript of theAntibarbariwith him to Paris. It was a dialogue that built on his and Cornelius Gerard’s poemDialogus adversus Barbaros, which was directed at those who denigrated the study of pagan literature, the “barbarians” in the title.¹ In his ardent defence of a classical education against monastic anti-intellectualism, Erasmus cited the Church Fathers Jerome and Augustine without ever acknowledging their views on the formative quality of asceticism. He did not show sympathy for their struggle to reconcile secular knowledge and Christian piety, nor did he examine his own conscience as...

    • FOUR Neoplatonism Enchiridion / Letters
      (pp. 45-54)

      In 1503 the well-known and frequently quotedEnchiridion militis christiani(the dagger for a Christian soldier) appeared for the first time, together with thePrecatio ad virginis filium Jesum. It was written shortly after thePrecatioand was also intended for lay readers. In it advancement towards God by means of a metaphorical ladder is spoken of. The ladder begins with self-knowledge and humans must climb the rungs step by step. The underlying premise of this type of Jacob’s Ladder imagery was that Christ will only draw close those who draw close to him. Erasmus declared:

      ... raise yourself as...

    • FIVE Erasmus’s Edition of Lorenzo Valla’s Collatio Novi Testamenti
      (pp. 55-60)

      Although he still struggled with financial insecurity, Erasmus continued with the ideas and plans he had first formed in England, to learn Greek so that he could better comment on the New Testament. At the end of theEnchiridionhe declared that he had already begun to read Paul in Greek and to annotate the text:

      Certainly it is a bold venture. None the less, relying on heaven’s help, I shall earnestly try to ensure that, even after Origen and Ambrose and Augustine and all the commentators of more recent date, I may not appear to have undertaken this task...

    • SIX The Praise of Folly
      (pp. 61-76)

      It was on his return from Italy, while he travelled over the Alps on horseback, that Erasmus developed his idea forThe Praise of Folly. The text, which he was still writing while a guest in Thomas More’s house in 1509 and which he eventually published in 1511, records the wonder he felt at the rich colours and scents of spring in the mountains. The allegorical figure of Folly describes her birthplace as a garden of Adonis where miraculous ambrosial flowers and aphrodisiacal herbs grow.¹ She calls this wonderful place the “Islands of the Blest” where the Golden Age reigns...


    • SEVEN The New Testament Scholar Novum instrumentum / Methodus / Letters
      (pp. 79-96)

      In order to produce the most authentic New Testament text possible, Erasmus began a critical analysis of manuscripts in Greek and Latin and of early translations and quotations of the Church Fathers. This text was to be the foundation for a new translation of the New Testament into Latin that would allow readers to more easily apply the nearly one-and-a-half-thousand-year-old text to their present lives. Erasmus was well prepared for this task: he had excellent language skills and was well trained in the historical development of meaning in specific contexts. He was aware that the biblical authors had not learned...

    • EIGHT The Paraphrast Paraphrases of the Gospels
      (pp. 97-110)

      Erasmus addressed theParaphrasesto laymen. These re-narrations of the New Testament, which he interspered almost imperceptibly with running commentary, were composed beween 1517 and 1524 and had an enormous impact. They appeared in numerous editions and were translated into several vernacular languages.¹ Erasmus’s historical approach also affected these edifying books. In hisParaphrasesof the Gospels (edited in 1522 and 1523), he challenged his broad audience with significant historical considerations by writing from the evangelists’ point of view to explain to the readers why they wrote the Gospels. For example, in Erasmus’sParaphrase, Matthew, who was regarded as the...

    • NINE How the Trinity Is Known Paraphrases and Annotations
      (pp. 111-124)

      This chapter relies heavily on Erasmus’s paraphrase of John’s Prologue, which offers new insights into not only Erasmus’s view of the Trinity, but also his reluctance to define God’s being and his doubts about the capacity of human knowledge.¹ In his paraphrase of the prologue of John’s Gospel, Erasmus professed a clear commitment to the doctrine of the Trinity. In his view the Trinity consisted of “three Persons distinct in particularity each of whom was truly God and yet there was only one God because of the one divine nature equally shared among the three.”² The subject of the prologue...

    • TEN On the Doctrine of Creation Paraphrase of John / Colloquia Puerpera, Problema, and Amicitia
      (pp. 125-132)

      In 1523 Erasmus wrote at the beginning of theParaphrase of John:

      And not only was there in this word of God the power of creating at his nod the entirety of things visible and invisible, but the life and vigour of all created things was also in him, so that through him every single thing would live by its own innate vigour and would protect itself, once the force of life was implanted, by continual procreation. For there is nothing idle or inactive in the great throng of creatures. Every grass and tree has its own life force implanted...

    • ELEVEN On the Doctrine of God The Paraphrase of John’s Prologue
      (pp. 133-144)

      In hisParaphrase of John, Erasmus described God in the following way:

      He exists entire and eternal in himself, and as he himself is, so is his Son, forever coming to birth from him, everlasting from everlasting, almighty from almighty, all-good from all-good, in short God from God, neither secondary nor subordinate to his begetter, eternal word of the eternal mind, whereby the Father forever speaks with himself as in mystic thought ...¹

      It is striking how explicitly Erasmus inserted here the Alexandrian idea of an eternal and continuous begetting and birth: “so is his Son, forever coming to birth...

    • TWELVE On the Doctrine of Justification Annotations and Paraphrases on Romans and Galatians
      (pp. 145-154)

      Erasmus’s doctrine of justification, the doctrine of how humans are reconciled to God, was as disturbing for many of his contemporaries as his doctrine on God. Several critics accused him of Pelagianism – that is, they accused him of teaching that humans are basically good and therefore responsible for their own salvation, which could be achieved through asceticism and good works. Others charged him with Lutheranism and with denying that good works were related in any way to salvation. The doctrine of justification was in no way as clearly defined in the late Middle Ages as it was later on in...

    • THIRTEEN Handling of Doctrine The Explanation of the Apostles’ Creed
      (pp. 155-164)

      Dealing with articles of faith (the doctrine of the Trinity, God, and justification) raises the question of systematic coherence and, more importantly, the question of whether Erasmus, who continually rejected the Scholastic teaching of his time and accepted the systematic work of Melanchthon only with deep reservation, offered any systematic coherence himself.¹ Erasmus’s reservations about a dogmatically fixed theology were so strong that it was still possible in 1981 for Chomarat – even after the 1970s had rediscovered Erasmus as theologian – to question whether Erasmus was a theologian at all!² Here it is important to ask what the term “theologian” means....


    • FOURTEEN The Argument with Luther Letters / De libero arbitrio / Interpretations of Romans 9
      (pp. 167-182)

      By the summer of 1520 Erasmus had to admit that a division of Christendom was imminent. At first Luther did not seem to worry him, and he sent the Ninety-five Theses to Thomas More without comment.¹ Erasmus had also complained about indulgences and saw no reason to criticize Luther on that point.² After Luther refused to recant before Cajetan in Augsburg in the autumn of 1518, half of Germany hailed him as its new spiritual leader, but Erasmus remained calm and deliberate. He conceded to Johannes Lang (to whom Luther had earlier confided his aversion for Erasmus) that theTheses...

    • FIFTEEN Erasmus and the Reformers in Zurich and Basel Letters / Advice for the Council of Basel / Contra Pseudevangelicos
      (pp. 183-200)

      After 1525 Erasmus showed much less sympathy for Zwingli, Oecolampadius, and Capito than for Luther. In 1530 he wrote that he wanted “to chase them away,” for he felt that without these troublemakers there might yet be a chance to heal the schism in the church.¹ The dispute between Zwingli, Oecolampadius, and Capito and the church concerned him personally. While living in Basel he was inevitably very close to what was happening in the Swiss Confederation and in Strasburg, and he felt that the Reformers’ break with the church was also a personal betrayal. All three Reformers were a part...


    • SIXTEEN The Question of Law Annotation on I Corinthians 7:39 / Institutio Matrimonii / Epistola de interdictu carnium / Letters / Epistola de delectu ciborum scholia / Responsio ad Phimostomum de divortio
      (pp. 203-224)

      Although he was harsh in criticizing the Reformers’ ahistorical goal of re-establishing the time of the apostles, Erasmus was nowhere near ready to abnegate his belief that a reform of the church and Christian society was long overdue. He continued to campaign with all of his persuasiveness and eloquence to reach this goal. It was not enough for him to restore theology through his exegetical work. Theology was not to remain in a vacuum; it could and should renew believers. However, if believers were to be renewed, all of their institutions, their conventions, and their intercourse must also change. What...

    • SEVENTEEN The Question of Peace Institutio principis christiani / Querela pacis / Dulce bellum inexpertis / Consultatio de bello Turcico / Declarationes ad censuras Facultatis Theologiae Parisiensis
      (pp. 225-236)

      Just as Erasmus questioned the traditional understanding of divine law, he also questioned the traditional understanding of a just war. Like the definition of divine law, the accepted definition of a just war stemmed from Augustine, who suggested that wars could not be rejected in principle. For Augustine, the concept of a just war was demonstrated in the wars of the Old Testament. War that challenged injustice was good and this could include wars against heretics and even wars of conquest if legal governments waged them for cogent reasons. If the reasons for going to war were not a breach...

    • EIGHTEEN Erasmus’s Views on Women Christiani matrimonii institutio / De vidua christiana
      (pp. 237-250)

      In Erasmus’s time the popular view of women fluctuated between an irrational fear of woman as a seductress or witch¹ to exuberant praise of her as the crown of creation,² a brazen hussy or a pure and devout virgin. One need only read Margaret of Navarre’sHeptaméron– written around 1542 and published posthumously in 1559 – to see what was possible or at least thinkable for some women in this period. The stories she collected bring together a handful of female archetypes: the passive object of a male seducer; the uncontrolled seductress who tricks and teases men; the self-denying woman, unfailingly...

    • NINETEEN Conclusion: Erasmus as Advocate of a New Christianity Purgatio / Ecclesiastes / Letters
      (pp. 251-260)

      This study developed from the public accusations Luther made against Erasmus in March 1534 in a published letter to Nikolaus von Amsdorf. As was described in the first chapter of this book, the Reformer accused Erasmus of seeking to destroy Christianity with his historical approach. The approach had led Erasmus to declare: “We dare to call the Holy Spirit true God, proceeding from the Father and the Son, which the ancients did not dare to do.”¹ Erasmus received the published form of Luther’s accusatory letter in April 1534 and responded to it immediately with hisPurgatio.

      In 1534 Erasmus was...

  9. Abbreviations
    (pp. 261-262)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 263-340)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 341-360)
  12. Index of Erasmus’s Works
    (pp. 361-362)
  13. Index of Scriptural Passages
    (pp. 363-366)
  14. General Index
    (pp. 367-374)