Desiderius Erasmus

Desiderius ErasmusProfile

The most important leader of German humanism. He was the illegitimate son of a citizen of Gouda who afterwards became a priest. In 1486 Erasmus was forced through poverty to enter the monastery of Canons Regular at Emaus near Gouda, a step for which he felt no vocation. Being left free to pursue his studies, he devoted himself to the classics. He was ordained in 1492 by the Bishop of Cambrai, who chose him as his secretary and sent him to Paris to complete his studies. The remainder of his life was spent in wandering from place to place and included two sojourns in England, during which he made the acquaintance of the foremost English scholars, including Saint Thomas More. He has been called the intellectual father of the Reformation, a title justified by such works as his Praise of Folly (1509), his notes for his edition of the Greek New Testament (1516), and his Colloquia’ Familiaria” (1518). With regard to Luther himself, he strove to maintain a strictly neutral attitude which amounted at times to double dealing. By degrees the Reformers withdrew from him and finally he acceded to the appeals of Adrian VI and Henry VIII and wrote an open attack on Luther, Diatribe de libero arbitro (1524), in reply to which Luther wrote his denial of free will, which was thenceforth the official programme of the new movement. Erasmus’s religious ideal was entirely humanistic: reform of the Church through the introduction of humanistic “enlightenment” into her doctrine without, however, breaking with Rome. He was a potent factor in the educational movement of the time, published many editions of the classics and Fathers of the Church, and wrote a number of theological and pedagogical treatises.