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Erasmus

  • H. A. Enno van Gelder

Abstract

Desiderius Erasmus (1467–1536) was to travel an important stage further along the road to modern times and was quickly to understand that there was a vast difference between his views and those of Colet. Something of this was already evident from that remarkable conversation with Colet in 1499 on “the Agony in the Garden.”1 It is not important for our study to discuss the subject of that conversation, but the manner in which Erasmus writes about it in his letters shows both what separates him from Colet and that he had learnt from him: (1) to combine platonic metaphysics with the Gospel to form a docta pietas, (2) to turn away from an all too exclusive literary interest and to direct his attention more to the religious element, in order to use his knowledge of Latin — rapidly extended also by a knowledge of Greek — to understand the Holy Scriptures better,2 (3) to understand the Bible not as a collection of texts, to be interpreted theologically, but to try to understand each gospel and each epistle as a treatise, to be understood in its entirety, in a similar way to a treatise or poem by a classical author.3 Erasmus was to apply this manner of reading the Bible more and more thoroughly and, in the footsteps of Laurentius Valla, to amplify it with a philologically critical search for the original text and the correct meaning of the words.

Keywords

Latin Translation Religious Matter Western EUROPE Christian Manner True Service 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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References

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    cf. Padberg, op. cit.: 6. Kapittel.Google Scholar
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    Renaudet, Etudes: 147 (quoted from Paraphrases in Evang. Marci 6, 16).Google Scholar
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    Renaudet, Etudes erasmiennes: 112, 49.Google Scholar
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    Renaudet, Etudes: 31, 35.Google Scholar
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    hoc. cit.: chap. IV.Google Scholar
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    Quotation from “De pueris instituendis” in: Hans Treinen, Studien zur Idee der Gemeinschaft bei Erasmus von Rotterdam und zu ihrer Stellung in der Entwicklung des humanistischen Universalismus (1955): 142.Google Scholar
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    “Bildung ist bei Erasmus nicht eruditio, sondern Durchbildung des Menschen zu seiner höchsten sittlichen Würde als Mensch und als Christ” (Köhler, Briefe: XXXVIII).Google Scholar
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    Köhler, op. cit.: XVII.Google Scholar
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    Enchiridion (Holborn): 135.Google Scholar
  56. 2.
    Renaudet, Erasme: 15.Google Scholar
  57. 1.
    Renaudet, Préréforme et Humanisme, 434, 435.Google Scholar
  58. 2.
    Latin: religio, liter.: union, bond, was often used for monastic life or rule, but it signifies also: religion.Google Scholar
  59. 3.
    Sed tu forsitan bonam foelicitatis partem existimas inter confratres emori. At fallit et imponit ista persuasio non solum tibi verumetiam prope universis. In loco, in cultu, in victu, in ceremoniis quibusdam Christum et pietatem collocamus. Actum putamus de illo qui véstem albam commutarit in nigram, aut qui cuculum pileo verterit, qui locum subinde mutet. Ausim illud dicere, magnam pietatis per-niciem ex istis quas vocant religionibus exortam esse, tametsi pio fortasses studio pri-mum inductae sunt. Deinde paulatim creverunt et in sex milia discriminum sese sparserunt. Accessit summorum Pontificum autoritas nimium ad multa facilis et indulgens. Quid enim laxis istis religionibus conspurcatius aut magis impium? lam ad laudatas si te conferas, imo ad laudatissimas, praeter frigidas quasdam et Iudaicas ceremonias, haud scio quam Christi reperias imaginem. Ex iis sibi placent, ex iis alios iudicant et condemnant. Quanto magis est e Christi sententia totum orbem christianum unam domum et velut unum habere monasterium, omnes concanonicos et confratres putare, baptismi sacramentum summam religionem ducere, neque spectare ubi vivas sed quam bene vivas. (Allen, Opus epistolarum, I no. 296; the letter was never published, but copies were in circulation before Erasmus died, op. cit.: 564).Google Scholar
  60. 1.
    Laus Siultitiae, cap. LIV.Google Scholar
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    Cf. the Dialogues: “Virgo misogamos” and others, and, more elaborate, the treatise Matrimonii) christiani institutio.Google Scholar
  62. 3.
    Erasmus’ own commentary: “De utilitate colloquiorum ad lectorem”: Colloquia, ed. P. Rabi (1712): 860.Google Scholar
  63. 1.
    Renaudet, Erasme: 19.Google Scholar
  64. 2.
    La doctrine de la réversibilité des mérites … eut violemment heurté son sens de la justice et lui eut semblé pure déraison (Renaudet, op. cit.: 17).Google Scholar
  65. 3.
    Enchiridion (ed. Holborn): 34.Google Scholar
  66. 4.
    Laus Stultitiae, cap. LIV.Google Scholar
  67. 1.
    Loc. cit.: cap. XLVII.Google Scholar
  68. 2.
    Enchiridion (ed. Holborn): 118.Google Scholar
  69. 3.
    Loc. cit.: 52, 41.Google Scholar
  70. 4.
    Quoted in: Lindeboom, Erasmus: 72.Google Scholar
  71. 5.
    Laus Stultitiae, cap. XXXIX.Google Scholar
  72. 6.
    Quid autem aliud est Christi philosophia, quam ipse renascentiam vocat, quam instauratio bene conditae naturae? (Paraclesis, ed. Holborn: 145).Google Scholar
  73. 1.
    Quotation from Hyperaspistes in Lindeboom, op. cit.: 73.Google Scholar
  74. 2.
    Cassirer, Die platonische Renaissance: 75.Google Scholar
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    For this controversy cf.: Karl Zickendraht, Der Streit zwischen Erasmus und Luther Uber den Willensfreiheit (1909).Google Scholar
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    Jacques Etienne, Spiritualisme érasmien et théologiens louvanistes, Un changement de problématique au début du XVIe siècle (1956): 110, 113 f., 138, 144 (Driedo against Erasmus).Google Scholar
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    Enchiridion (Holborn): 113.Google Scholar
  79. 7.
    Cassirer, Die platonische Renaissance: 75.Google Scholar
  80. 8.
    Quotation from De magnitudine misericoridiae Dei in: Lindeboom, Erasmus: 75.Google Scholar
  81. 1.
    Dilthey, Analyse und Weltanschauung: 76.Google Scholar
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    Padberg, op. cit.: 63.Google Scholar
  83. 3.
    De magnitudine (cf. n. 8, p. 152).Google Scholar
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    Zickendraht, op. cit.: 80.Google Scholar
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    Loc. cit.: 152.Google Scholar
  86. 6.
    Cf. the dialogue “Pietas puerilis”; in the passage relating to this “Colloquium” in his own commentary (De utilitate Colloquiorum ad lectorem) Erasmus doubts whether the confession was established and therewith deprives it of compelling respects: “suscipiendam esse … quasi nobis esset instituta a Christo:” Auer, Die vollkommene Frömmigkeit: 168, and supra p. 134.Google Scholar
  87. 1.
    For Erasmus’ idea about prayer: Enchiridion (Holborn): 29; on other observances cf. the dialogues “Cyclops sive Evangeliophorus” and “Pietas puerilis.”Google Scholar
  88. 2.
    hoc. cit., the opposite was specially defended by one of the most violent Louvain opponents of Erasmus, Jacobus Latomus (Etienne, Spiritualisme: 166). With regard to this point too Erasmus remained faithful to his old views, although he later says, with somewhat more emphasis, that he will always maintain the institutions, without however attaching any value to them.Google Scholar
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    ”Militis confessio”; — Laus Stultitiae, cap. XL, XLI.Google Scholar
  90. 4.
    Luther blames Erasmus that he does not wish to include, amongst the “Jewish works,’ judged by Paul as of no importance, all works, including the opera moralia, while Erasmus only includes the formalistic, opera ceremonalia. (Padberg, op. cit.: 108; — Zickendraht; op. cit.: 146).Google Scholar
  91. 5.
    ”Colloquium militis et Carthusiani”: Colloquia éd. P. Rabi: 245 ff.Google Scholar
  92. 1.
    Renaudet, Préréforme et Humanisme: 279; — amongst his poems, chiefly those written prior to 1510, there are some dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but in them too there is less mention of her “intercession” than of the example she gave, cf. The Poems of Des. Erasmus, introd. and edited by C. Reedijk (1956).Google Scholar
  93. 2.
    Laus Stultitiae, cap. XLI.Google Scholar
  94. 3.
    ”Apotheosis capnionis, De imcomparabüi heroe Johanne Reuchlino in divorum numerum relato” (Reuchlin was the target of sharp persecution led by the Dominicans!): Colloquia ed. P. Rabi, 186-195).Google Scholar
  95. 4.
    Laus Stultitiae, cap. XL; — Renaudet, Etudes: 236.Google Scholar
  96. 5.
    Lindeboom, Erasmus: 113; — Laus Stultitiae: XLVII; — Rudolf Stähelin, Erasmus’ Stellung zur Reformation, hauptsächlich von seinen Beziehungen zu Basel aus beleuchtet (1873): 24-29.Google Scholar
  97. 1.
    ”Pietas puerilis.”Google Scholar
  98. 2.
    Enchiridion, ed. Holborn: 73.Google Scholar
  99. 3.
    Lindeboom, Erasmus: 138 (quotation from the letters of Erasmus).Google Scholar
  100. 4.
    Loc. cit.: 143; Renaudet, Erasme: 12; In the Catechism of 1514 he speaks of Christ’s presence sub imagine panis vinique (in the image of bread and wine), and when in that of 1533 he uses the word “sacrifice,” he adds “mystic” to it, to which Padberg remarks: “curious here is precisely the avoidance of the terminology of religious mediaeval theology” (Padberg, op. cit.: 56, 107).Google Scholar
  101. 1.
    Lindeboom, Erasmus: 137; — in Christiani Matrimonii institutio he also stresses the element of community in the Lord’s supper and the moral effect of the eucharist; — Auer, Die vollkommene Frömmigkeit: 166, 169.Google Scholar
  102. 2.
    Lindeboom, op. cit.: 65 (from Supputatio errorum Beddae).Google Scholar
  103. 3.
    hae (evangelicae litterae) tibi sacrosanctae mentis illius vivam referunt imaginem ipsumque Christum loquentem, sanantem, morientem, resurgentem, denique totum ita praesentem reddunt …… (Paraclesis, ed. Holborn: 149; this “admonition to the pious reader,” of Erasmus’ Ratio seu methodus, is one and all an encouragement to read the Gospel and that it may come in the hands of all, of whatever status they are).Google Scholar
  104. 1.
    unicurn multoque omnium efficacissimum adversus omne vel adversitatis vel tentationis genus est crux Christi, quae eadem est et errantibus exemplum et laboran-tibus refrigerium et pugnantibus armatura. Haec est una contra omnia tela nequissimi obicienda. Proinde convenit in hac diligenter exerceri, non quidem vulgi more, quo quidam dominicae passionis historiam cotidie relegunt aut crucis imaginem adorant aut millenis signis eius totum undique corpus communiunt aut fragmentum aliquod sacrati ligni domi servant aut ita certis horis supplicium Christi recolunt, ut ei tanquam homini iusto et indigna patienti humano affectu condoleant atque illacriment (Enchiridion (Holborn): 117).Google Scholar
  105. 2.
    See p. 113 above.Google Scholar
  106. 1.
    Enchiridion (Holborn): 45.Google Scholar
  107. 2.
    This in contrast to Luther, who still has a very clear idea of the devil and hell, cf. inter alia: Ein Sermon von der Bereitung zum Sterben (1519, Werke, Weimarer Ausgabe, II); for Erasmus the devil is not a demon, but the evil which must not be exorcized, but combated, cf. Auer, Die vollkommene Frömmigkeit: III.Google Scholar
  108. 3.
    ”Inquisitio fidei.”Google Scholar
  109. 4.
  110. 5.
    Enchiridion (Holborn): 120.Google Scholar
  111. 6.
    Lindeboom, Erasmus: 107.Google Scholar
  112. 1.
    In psalmum LXXXV expositio, quoted: Lindeboom, op. cit.: 107.Google Scholar
  113. 2.
    Supputatio errorum Beddae, quoted: loc. cit.; — Enchiridion (Holborn): 176.Google Scholar
  114. 3.
    M. van Rhijn, Studien: 47.Google Scholar
  115. 4.
    A. Auer bases Erasmus’ whole piety on the 5th canon from the Enchiridion: “ut in hoc uno constituas perfectam pietatem, si coneris semper a rebus visibilibus, quae fere vel imperfectae vel mediae sunt, ad invisibilia proficere iuxta superiorem hominis divisionem” (that you should see this as perfect piety, if you always try to proceed from the visible things, which are either imperfect or neither good nor bad, towards the invisible, in accordance with the above mentioned division of man). (A. Auer, Die vollk. Frömmigkeit: 81). That is something quite different from mediaeval symbolism. Renaudet, Erasme: 14, quotes from a letter of Erasmus: “I have taught that the least part of religious life consists in ceremonies and abstinences, that the principal is in the purgation of desires and the exercising of charity.”Google Scholar
  116. 1.
    Enchiridion (Holborn): 25, 119, 120; — compare: Cassirer, Die platonische Renaissance: 75.Google Scholar
  117. 2.
    What Renaudet (Études: XVIII) formulates as: “cette religion du pur esprit et de la libre foi qui s’achève en une spiritualité nourrie de St. Paul et de l’Evangile, conseillée et modérée par la raison classique.”Google Scholar
  118. 3.
    What he expresses in De praeparatione ad mortem in a rather old-fashioned way by saying that the devil leads us to many doubtful questions [just those which are of great importance for the Catholic and the Reformed person] about the nature of creation, immortality, resurrection of the flesh, predestination, the power of sacraments, etc.Google Scholar
  119. 4.
    Cf. the numerous passages referring to this point in: Padberg, op. cit.: 84; Zickendraht, op. cit.: 25-29; Auer, Die vollkommene Frömmigkeit: 46; Etienne, Spiritualité: 35, 46.Google Scholar
  120. 1.
    An nescis, ? Christiane miles, iam tum, cum vivifici lavacri mysteriis initiabaris, nomen dédisse te duci Christo, cui bis vitam debebas, pariter et donatam et restitu-tam, cui plusquam teipsum debebas ? Non succurrit te verbis conceptis in tarn benigni imperatoris iurasse sententiam, eius sacramentis veluti donariis auctoratum tuumque ipsius diris devovisse caput, si minus pacto stares? (Enchiridion (Holborn: 24).Google Scholar
  121. 2.
    Padberg, Erasmus als Katechet: 104, quotes the main Catechism (1533): “Qui exactius locuti sunt, sacramentum appellant jus jurandum aut obligationem, numinis ac religionis interventu,…”Google Scholar
  122. 3.
    He expresses himself disapprovingly about the resultant customary “exorcism and formulae, through which Satan and his lusts are renounced.” (“Convivium re-ligiosum”: Colloquia ed. P. Rabi: 130 f.; Auer, op. cit.: III.Google Scholar
  123. 4.
    Etienne, op. cit.: 15, 27, 28.Google Scholar
  124. 1.
    Laus Stultitiae, cap. LXVII.Google Scholar
  125. 2.
    Enchiridion (Holborn): 36; — Erasmus gave his opinion about the religious observances particularly clearly in a letter which he wrote to the Bishop of Uten-heim (1522, Epistola apologetica de interdicto esu carnium), referring to the fact that some Evangelically-minded had broken the order concerning fasting on Palm Sunday in Basle: he finds fault with the spectacular aspect of the act, but demands freedom for all to follow the order or break it, and finishes with these words: “he sins less who eats meat throughout his whole life than he who, in the question of food and drink, treats his neighbour, who is willing to love God’s commandments, in a neglectful and hostile manner.” (Rud. Stähelin, Erasmus’ Stellung zur Reformation: 19).Google Scholar
  126. 1.
    When he made his will in 1524, he does not, in contrast to the frightened man who is about to die in “Funus,” instruct his friends to recite psalms or to have a mass read, but to bring about with care an edition of his works (Renaudet, Études érasmiennies, 230).Google Scholar
  127. 1.
    The story of Erasmus’ last hours and his attitude to death is now definitive in: Cornelis Reedijk, “Das Lebensende des Erasmus”: Basler Zeitschrift, Band 57 (1958): 23-66; all arguments which intend to prove, that Erasmus died as a true son of the Orthodox Church, are by this article completely refuted.Google Scholar
  128. 2.
    iam olim fractus, fusus, exutus atque adeo triumphatus a nobis, sed in Christo, capite nostro a quo procul dubio vicissim vincetur et in nobis: Enchiridion (Hol-born): 28.Google Scholar
  129. 1.
    Lat. pietas, i.e. faithful service [to a person, one’s country or the gods] from a feeling of respect and dependence.Google Scholar
  130. 2.
    Enchiridion (Holborn): 85.Google Scholar
  131. 3.
    Quid igitur faciet Christianus? Negliget ecclesiae mandata? …. damnabit pias consuetudines Immo si infirmus est, servabit ut necessarias, sin firmus est et per-fectus, tanto magis observabit, ne sua scientia fratrem offendat infirmum …. Haec oportet non omittere, sed ilia necesse est facere. Non damnantur opera corpo-ralia, sed praeferuntur invisibilia. Non damnatur cultus visibilis, sed non placatur deus nisi pietate invisibili. Spiritus est deus, et spiritualibus victimis flectitur. Turpe sit Christianis ignorare, quod gentilis quidam poeta non ignoravit. (Enchiridion (Holborn): 85). — Ne tu mihi caritatem esse in templo frequentem esse, signis divo-rum procumbere, cereolos accendere, numeratas preculas iterare. Nihil istis opus habet deus (loc. cit.: 82). — Num ut his aut his caerimoniis utamur? num ut sic aut sic vestiamur? ut his aut his cibis victitemus? ut tantum psalmorum exhauriamus? Nihil horum. (loc. cit.: 79)Google Scholar
  132. 1.
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Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1961

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. A. Enno van Gelder

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