Erasmus and the Age of Reformation

Erasmus and the Age of Reformation

JOHAN HUIZINGA
Copyright Date: 1984
Pages: 310
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7ztsd0
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  • Book Info
    Erasmus and the Age of Reformation
    Book Description:

    Johan Huizinga had a special sympathy for the complex, withdrawn personality of Erasmus and for his advocacy of intellectual and spiritual balance in a quarrelsome age. This biography is a classic work on the sixteenth-century scholar/humanist.

    Originally published in 1984.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5807-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. vi-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    G. N. Clark
  4. CHAPTER I CHILDHOOD AND EARLY YOUTH, 1466–88
    (pp. 1-9)

    When Erasmus was born Holland had for about twenty years formed part of the territory which the dukes of Burgundy had succeeded in uniting under their dominion—that complexity of lands, half French in population, like Burgundy, Artois, Hainault, Namur; half Dutch like Flanders, Brabant, Zealand, Holland. The appellation ‘Holland’ was, as yet, strictly limited to the county of that name (the present provinces of North and South Holland), with which Zealand, too, had long since been united. The remaining territories which, together with those last mentioned, make up the present kingdom of the Netherlands, had not yet been brought...

  5. CHAPTER II IN THE MONASTERY, 1488–95
    (pp. 10-19)

    In his later life—under the influence of the gnawing regret which his monkhood and all the trouble he took to escape from it caused him—the picture of all the events leading up to his entering the convent became distorted in his mind. Brother Peter, to whom he still wrote in a cordial vein from Steyn, became a worthless fellow, even his evil spirit, a Judas. The schoolfellow whose advice had been decisive now appeared a traitor, prompted by self-interest, who himself had chosen convent-life merely out of laziness and the love of good cheer.

    The letters that Erasmus...

  6. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  7. CHAPTER III THE UNIVERSITY OF PARIS, 1495–9
    (pp. 20-28)

    The University of Paris was, more than any other place in Christendom, the scene of the collision and struggle of opinions and parties. University life in the Middle Ages was in general tumultuous and agitated. The forms of scientific intercourse themselves entailed an element of irritability: never-ending disputations, frequent elections and rowdyism of the students. To those were added old and new quarrels of all sorts of orders, schools and groups. The different colleges contended among themselves, the secular clergy were at variance with the regular. The Thomists and the Scotists, together called the Ancients, had been disputing at Paris...

  8. CHAPTER IV FIRST STAY IN ENGLAND, 1499–1500
    (pp. 29-38)

    Erasmus’s first stay in England, which lasted from the early summer of 1499 till the beginning of 1500, was to become for him a period of inward ripening. He came there as an erudite poet, the protégé of a nobleman of rank, on the road to closer contact with the great world which knew how to appreciate and reward literary merit. He left the country with the fervent desire in future to employ his gifts, in so far as circumstances would permit, in more serious tasks. This change was brought about by two new friends whom he found in England,...

  9. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  10. CHAPTER V ERASMUS AS A HUMANIST
    (pp. 39-46)

    Meanwhile renown came to Erasmus as the fruit of those literary studies which, as he said, had ceased to be dear to him. In 1500 that work appeared which Erasmus had written after his misfortune at Dover, and had dedicated to Mountjoy, theAdagiorum Collectanea. It was a collection of about eight hundred proverbial sayings drawn from the Latin authors of antiquity and elucidated for the use of those who aspired to write an elegant Latin style. In the dedication Erasmus pointed out the profit an author may derive, both in ornamenting his style and in strengthening his argumentation, from...

  11. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  12. CHAPTER VI THEOLOGICAL ASPIRATIONS, 1501
    (pp. 47-54)

    The lean years continued with Erasmus. His livelihood remained uncertain, and he had no fixed abode. It is remarkable that, in spite of his precarious means of support, his movements were ever guided rather by the care for his health than for his sustenance, and his studies rather by his burning desire to penetrate to the purest sources of knowledge than by his advantage. Repeatedly the fear of the plague drives him on: in 1500 from Paris to Orléans, where he first lodges with Augustine Caminade; but when one of the latter’s boarders falls ill, Erasmus moves. Perhaps it was...

  13. CHAPTER VII YEARS OF TROUBLE—LOUVAIN, PARIS, ENGLAND, 1502–6
    (pp. 55-61)

    Circumstances continued to remain unfavourable for Erasmus. ‘This year fortune has truly been raging violently against me,’ he writes in the autumn of 1502. In the spring his good friend Batt had died. It is a pity that no letters written by Erasmus directly after his bereavement have come down to us. We should be glad to have for that faithful helper a monument in addition to that which Erasmus erected to his memory in theAntibarbari. Anna of Veere had remarried and, as a patroness, might henceforth be left out of account. In October 1502, Henry of Bergen passed...

  14. CHAPTER VIII IN ITALY, 1506–9
    (pp. 62-68)

    At Turin Erasmus received, directly upon his arrival, on 4 September 1506, the degree of doctor of theology. That he did not attach much value to the degree is easy to understand. He regarded it, however, as an official warrant of his competence as a writer on theological subjects, which would strengthen his position when assailed by the suspicion of his critics. He writes disdainfully about the title, even to his Dutch friends who in former days had helped him on in his studies for the express purpose of obtaining the doctor’s degree. As early as 1501, to Anna of...

  15. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  16. CHAPTER IX THE PRAISE OF FOLLY
    (pp. 69-78)

    While he rode over the mountain passes,¹ Erasmus’s restless spirit, now unfettered for some days by set tasks, occupied itself with everything he had studied and read in the last few years, and with everything he had seen. What ambition, what self-deception, what pride and conceit filled the world! He thought of Thomas More, whom he was now to see again—that most witty and wise of all his friends, with that curious nameMoros, the Greek word for a fool, which so ill became his personality. Anticipating the gay jests which More’s conversation promised, there grew in his mind...

  17. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  18. CHAPTER X THIRD STAY IN ENGLAND, 1509–14
    (pp. 79-86)

    From the moment when Erasmus, back from Italy in the early summer of 1509, is hidden from view in the house of More, to write thePraise of Folly, until nearly two years later when he comes to view again on the road to Paris to have the book printed by Gilles Gourmont, every trace of his life has been obliterated. Of the letters which during that period he wrote and received, not a single one has been preserved. Perhaps it was the happiest time of his life, for it was partly spent with his tried patron, Mountjoy, and also...

  19. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  20. CHAPTER XI A LIGHT OF THEOLOGY, 1514–16
    (pp. 87-99)

    Erasmus had, as was usual with him, enveloped his departure from England with mystery. It was given out that he was going to Rome to redeem a pledge. Probably he had already determined to try his fortune in the Netherlands; not in Holland, but in the neighbourhood of the princely court in Brabant. The chief object of his journey, however, was to visit Froben’s printing-office at Basle, personally to supervise the publication of the numerous works, old and new, which he brought with him, among them the material for his chosen task, the New Testament and Jerome, by which he...

  21. CHAPTER XII ERASMUS’S MIND
    (pp. 100-108)

    What made Erasmus the man from whom his contemporaries expected their salvation, on whose lips they hung to catch the word of deliverance? He seemed to them the bearer of a new liberty of the mind, a new clearness, purity and simplicity of knowledge, a new harmony of healthy and right living. He was to them as the possessor of newly discovered, untold wealth which he had only to distribute.

    What was there in the mind of the great Rotterdamer which promised so much to the world?

    The negative aspect of Erasmus’s mind may be defined as a heartfelt aversion...

  22. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  23. CHAPTER XIII ERASMUS’S MIND (continued)
    (pp. 109-116)

    Simplicity, naturalness, purity, and reasonableness, those are to Erasmus the dominant requirements, also when we pass from his ethical and aesthetic concepts to his intellectual point of view; indeed, the two can hardly be kept apart.

    The world, says Erasmus, is overloaded with human constitutions and opinions and scholastic dogmas, and overburdened with the tyrannical authority of orders, and because of all this the strength of gospel doctrine is flagging. Faith requires simplification, he argued. What would the Turks say of our scholasticism? Colet wrote to him one day: ‘There is no end to books and science. Let us, therefore,...

  24. CHAPTER XIV ERASMUS’S CHARACTER
    (pp. 117-129)

    Erasmus’s powerful mind met with a great response in the heart of his contemporaries and had a lasting influence on the march of civilization. But one of the heroes of history he cannot be called. Was not his failure to attain to still loftier heights partly due to the fact that his character was not on a level with the elevation of his mind?

    And yet that character, a very complicated one, though he took himself to be the simplest man in the world, was determined by the same factors which determined the structure of his mind. Again and again...

  25. CHAPTER XV AT LOUVAIN, 1517–18
    (pp. 130-138)

    When Erasmus established himself at Louvain in the summer of 1517 he had a vague presentiment that great changes were at hand. ‘I fear’, he writes in September, ‘that a great subversion of affairs is being brought about here, if God’s favour and the piety and wisdom of princes do not concern themselves about human matters.’ But the forms which that great change would assume he did not in the least realize.

    He regarded his removal as merely temporary. It was only to last ‘till we shall have seen which place of residence is best fit for old age, which...

  26. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  27. CHAPTER XVI FIRST YEARS OF THE REFORMATION
    (pp. 139-150)

    About the close of 1516, Erasmus received a letter from the librarian and secretary of Frederick, elector of Saxony, George Spalatinus, written in the respectful and reverential tone in which the great man was now approached. ‘We all esteem you here most highly; the elector has all your books in his library and intends to buy everything you may publish in future.’ But the object of Spalatinus’s letter was the execution of a friend’s commission. An Augustinian ecclesiastic, a great admirer of Erasmus, had requested him to direct his attention to the fact that in his interpretation of St. Paul,...

  28. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  29. CHAPTER XVII ERASMUS AT BASLE, 1521–9
    (pp. 151-160)

    It is only towards the evening of life that the picture of Erasmus acquires the features with which it was to go down to posterity. Only at Basle—delivered from the troublesome pressure of parties wanting to enlist him, transplanted from an environment of haters and opponents at Louvain to a circle of friends, kindred spirits, helpers and admirers, emancipated from the courts of princes, independent of the patronage of the great, unremittingly devoting his tremendous energy to the work that was dear to him—did he become Holbein’s Erasmus. In those late years he approaches most closely to the...

  30. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  31. CHAPTER XVIII CONTROVERSY WITH LUTHER AND GROWING CONSERVATISM, 1524–6
    (pp. 161-169)

    At length Erasmus was led, in spite of all, to do what he had always tried to avoid: he wrote against Luther. But it did not in the least resemble thegesteErasmus at one time contemplated, in the cause of peace in Christendom and uniformity of faith, to call a halt to the impetuous Luther, and thereby to recall the world to its senses. In the great act of the Reformation their polemics were merely an after-play. Not Erasmus alone was disillusioned and tired—Luther too was past his heroic prime, circumscribed by conditions, forced into the world of...

  32. CHAPTER XIX AT WAR WITH HUMANISTS AND REFORMERS, 1528–9
    (pp. 170-178)

    Nothing is more characteristic of the independence which Erasmus reserved for himself regarding all movements of his time than the fact that he also joined issue in the camp of the humanists. In 1528 there were published by Froben (the chief of the firm of Johannes Froben had just died) two dialogues in one volume from Erasmus’s hand: one about the correct pronunciation of Latin and Greek, and one entitledCiceronianusorOn the Best Diction, i.e. in writing and speaking Latin. Both were proofs that Erasmus had lost nothing of his liveliness and wit. The former treatise was purely...

  33. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  34. CHAPTER XX LAST YEARS
    (pp. 179-187)

    During the last years of Erasmus’s life all the great issues which kept the world in suspense were rapidly taking threatening forms. Wherever compromise or reunion had before still seemed possible, sharp conflicts, clearly outlined party-groupings, binding formulae were now barring the way to peace. While in the spring of 1529 Erasmus prepared for his departure from Basle, a strong Catholic majority of the Diet at Speyer got the ‘recess’ of 1526, favourable for the Evangelicals, revoked, only the Lutherans among them keeping what they had obtained; and secured a prohibition of any further changes or novelties. The Zwinglians and...

  35. CHAPTER XXI CONCLUSION
    (pp. 188-194)

    Looking back on the life of Erasmus the question still arises: why has he remained so great? For ostensibly his endeavours ended in failure. He withdraws in alarm from that tremendous struggle which he rightly calls a tragedy; the sixteenth century, bold and vehement, thunders past him, disdaining his ideal of moderation and tolerance. Latin literary erudition, which to him was the epitome of all true culture, has gone out as such. Erasmus, so far as regards the greater part of his writings, is among the great ones who are no longer read. He has become a name. But why...

  36. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  37. SELECTION FROM THE LETTERS OF ERASMUS
    (pp. 195-254)
  38. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  39. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. 257-262)
  40. INDEX OF NAMES
    (pp. 263-266)
  41. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-267)