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Short description: Dutch philosopher (c1469–1569)
Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam (1523)
by Hans Holbein the Younger
resting his hands on a Greek The Labours of Hercules,[1] "arguably…the most important portrait in England"
Bornc. 28 October 1466
Rotterdam or Gouda, Burgundian Netherlands, Holy Roman Empire
Died12 July 1536(1536-07-12) (aged 69)
Other names
  • Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus
  • Erasmus of Rotterdam
Known forNew Testament translations and exegesis, satire, pacificism, letters, best-selling author and editor, and influencer
AwardsCounsellor to Charles V. (hon.)
Academic background
Academic work
EraNorthern Renaissance
School or tradition
Main interests
Notable works
  • The Praise of Folly
  • Handbook of a Christian Knight
  • On Civility in Children
  • Julius Excluded
  • The Education of a Christian Prince
  • Novum Instrumentum omne
  • On Free Will
Notable ideas
Ecclesiastical career
ChurchCatholic Church
Ordained25 April 1492

Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (/ˌdɛzɪˈdɪəriəs ɪˈræzməs/; Dutch: [ˌdeːziˈdeːriʏs eˈrɑsmʏs]; English: Erasmus of Rotterdam or Erasmus; 28 October c.1466 – 12 July 1536) was a Dutch Christian humanist, Catholic theologian, educationalist, satirist and philosopher. Through his vast number of translations, books, essays, prayers and letters, he is considered one of the most influential thinkers of the Northern Renaissance and one of the major figures of Dutch and Western culture.[2][3]

He was an important figure in classical scholarship who wrote in a spontaneous, copious and natural Latin style. As a Catholic priest developing humanist techniques for working on texts, he prepared important new Latin and Greek editions of the New Testament, which raised questions that would be influential in the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. He also wrote On Free Will, The Praise of Folly, Handbook of a Christian Knight, On Civility in Children, Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style and many other works.

Erasmus lived against the backdrop of the growing European religious Reformation. He developed a biblical humanistic theology in which he advocated tolerance, concord and free thinking on matters of indifference. He remained a member of the Catholic Church all his life, remaining committed to reforming the Church from within. He promoted the traditional doctrine of synergism, which some prominent Reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin rejected in favor of the doctrine of monergism. His middle-road approach disappointed, and even angered, partisans in both camps.


Erasmus's almost 70 years can be divided into four quarters.

  • First was his medieval Dutch childhood, ending with his being orphaned and impoverished;
  • second, his struggling years as a canon (a kind of monk), a clerk, a priest, a failing and sickly university student, a would-be poet, and a tutor;
  • third, his flourishing but peripatetic years of increasing focus and productivity following his 1499 contact with a reformist English circle, then with French Fransiscan Jean Vitrier and later with the Aldine New Academy in Venice; and
  • fourth, his final more secure and settled Black Forest years as a prime influencer of European thought through his New Testament and increasing opposition to Lutheranism.

Early life

Statue of Erasmus in Rotterdam. Gilded bronze statue by Hendrick de Keyser (1622), replacing a stone (1557), and a wooden (1549).

Desiderius Erasmus is reported to have been born in Rotterdam on 28 October in the late-1460s. He was named[note 1] after Erasmus of Formiae, whom Erasmus' father Gerard (Gerardus Helye)[4] personally favored.[5][6] Although associated closely with Rotterdam, he lived there for only four years, never to return afterwards.

The year of Erasmus' birth is unclear: in later life he calculated his age as if born in 1466, but frequently his remembered age at major events actually implies 1469.[7][8]:8 (This article currently gives 1466 as the birth year.[9][10] To handle this disagreement, ages are given first based on 1469, then in parentheses based on 1466: e.g., "20 (or 23)".)

His parents could not be legally married: his father, Gerard, was a Catholic priest[11] who may have spent up to six years in the 1450s or 60s in Italy as a scribe and scholar.[12]:196 His mother was Margaretha Rogerius (Latinized form of Dutch surname Rutgers),[13] the daughter of a doctor from Zevenbergen. She may have been Gerard's housekeeper.[11][14] Although he was born out of wedlock, Erasmus was cared for by his parents, with a loving household and the best education, until their early deaths from the bubonic plague in 1483. His only sibling Peter might have been born in 1463, and some writers suggest Margaret was a widow and Peter was the half-brother of Erasmus; Erasmus on the other side called him his brother.[8] There were legal and social restrictions on the careers and opportunities open to the children of unwed parents.

Erasmus' own story, in his 1524 Compendium vitae Erasmi was along the lines that his parents were engaged, with the formal marriage blocked by his relatives (presumably a young widow or unmarried mother with a child was not an advantageous match); his father went to Italy to study Latin and Greek, and the relatives mislead Gerard that Margaretha had died, on which news grieving Gerard romantically took Holy Orders, only to find on his return that Margaretha was alive; many scholars dispute this account.[15]:89

In 1471 his father became the vice-curate of the small town of Woerden (where young Erasmus may have attended the local vernacular school to learn to read and write) and in 1476 was promoted to the vice-curate of Gouda.[4]

Erasmus was given the highest education available to a young man of his day, in a series of monastic or semi-monastic schools. In 1476, at the age of 6 (or 9), his family moved to Gouda and he started at the school of Mr Pieter Winckel,[4] who later became his guardian (and, perhaps, diverted Erasmus and Peter's inheritance.) (Historians who date his birth in 1466 have Erasmus in Utrecht at the choir school at this period.[16])

In 1478, at the age of 9 (or 12), he and his older brother Peter were sent to one of the best Latin schools in the Netherlands, located at Deventer and owned by the chapter clergy of the Lebuïnuskerk (St. Lebuin's Church).[9] Towards the end of his stay there the curriculum was renewed by the new principal of the school, Alexander Hegius, a correspondent of pioneering rhetorician Rudolphus Agricola. For the first time in Europe north of the Alps, Greek was taught at a lower level than a university[17] and this is where he began learning it.[18] His education there ended when plague struck the city about 1483,[19] and his mother, who had moved to provide a home for her sons, died from the infection. Following the death of his parents and 20 students at his school[8] he moved back to his patria (Rotterdam?)[4] where he was supported by Berthe de Heyden,[20] a compassionate widow.[8]

Hieronymous Bosch, Temptation of St Anthony, tryptich (c. 1501), painted in 's-Hertogenbosch, later owned by friend Damião de Gois

In 1484, around the age 14 (or 17), he and his brother went to a cheaper[21] grammar school or seminary at 's-Hertogenbosch run by the Brethren of the Common Life.[22][note 2] He was exposed there to the Devotio moderna movement and the Brethren's famous book The Imitation of Christ but resented the harsh rules and strict methods of the religious brothers and educators.[9] The two brothers made an agreement that they would resist the clergy but attend the university;[20] Erasmus longed to study in Italy.[7]:804 Instead, Peter left for the Augustinian canonry in Stein, which left Erasmus feeling betrayed.[20] Around this time he wrote forlornly to his friend Elizabeth de Heyden "Shipwrecked am I, and lost, 'mid waters chill'."[8] He suffered Quartan fever for over a year. Eventually Erasmus moved to the same abbey as a postulant in or before 1487,[4] around the age of 16 (or 19.)[note 3]

Vows, ordination and canonry experience

Bust by Hildo Krop (1950) in Gouda, where Erasmus spent his youth

Poverty[23] had forced Erasmus into the consecrated life, entering the novitiate in 1487[24] at the canonry at rural Stein, very near Gouda, South Holland: the Chapter of Sion community largely borrowed its rule from the larger monkish Congregation of Windesheim.[note 4] In 1488-1490, the surrounding region was plundered badly by armies fighting the Jonker Fransen war of succession and then suffered a famine.[7]:759 Erasmus professed his vows as a Canon Regular of St. Augustine[note 5] there in late 1488 at age 19 (or 22).[24] Historian Fr. Aiden Gasquet later wrote: "One thing, however, would seem to be quite clear; he could never have had any vocation for the religious life. His whole subsequent history shows this unmistakeably."[27] According to one Catholic biographer, Erasmus had a spiritual awakening at the monastery.[28]

Certain abuses in religious orders were among the chief objects of his later calls to reform the Western Church from within, particularly coerced or tricked recruitment of immature boys (as "victims of Dominic and Francis and Benedict"): Erasmus felt he had belonged to this class, joining "voluntarily but not freely" and so considered himself, if not morally bound by his vows, certainly legally, socially and honour- bound to keep them, yet to look for his true vocation.[25]:439

While at Stein, 18-(or 21-)year-old Erasmus fell in unrequited love, forming what he called a "passionate attachment" (Latin: fervidos amores), with a fellow canon, Servatius Rogerus,[29] and wrote a series of love letters[30][note 6] in which he called Rogerus "half my soul",[note 7] writing that "it was not for the sake of reward or out of a desire for any favour that I have wooed you both unhappily and relentlessly. What is it then? Why, that you love him who loves you."[31][note 8] This correspondence contrasts[note 9] with the generally detached and much more restrained attitude he usually showed in his later life,[note 10] though he had a capacity to form and maintain deep male friendships, such as with More, Colet, and Ammonio.[note 11] No mentions or sexual accusations were ever made of Erasmus during his lifetime.[note 12] His works praise moderate sexual desire in marriage between men and women.[32]

In 1493 he was permitted[33] to leave the canonry when offered the post of Latin secretary to the ambitious Bishop of Cambrai, Henry of Bergen, on account of his great skill in Latin and his reputation as a man of letters.[34][note 13]

He was ordained to the Catholic priesthood either on 25 April 1492,[23] or 25 April 1495, at age 25 (or 28.)[note 14] Either way, he did not actively work as a choir priest for very long,[35] though his many works on confession and penance suggests experience of dispensing them.

From 1500, he avoided returning to the canonry at Stein even insisting the diet and hours would kill him,[note 15] though he did stay with other Augustinian communities and at monasteries of other orders in his travels. Rogerus, who became prior at Stein in 1504, and Erasmus corresponded over the years, with Rogerus demanding Erasmus return after his studies were complete. Nevertheless, the library of the canonry[note 16] ended up with by far the largest collection of Erasmus' publications in the Gouda region.[36]

In 1505 Pope Julius II granted a dispensation from the vow of poverty to the extent of allowing Erasmus to hold certain benefices, and from the control and habit of his order, though he remained a priest and, formally, an Augustinian canon regular[note 17] the rest his life.[25] In 1517 Pope Leo X granted legal dispensations for Erasmus' defects of natality[note 18] and confirmed the previous dispensation, allowing the 48-(or 51-)year-old his independence[37] but still, as a canon, capable of holding office as a prior or abbot.[25]

Template:Horizontal timeline Many of Erasmus' convictions seem to spring from his early biography: esteem for the married state and appropriate marriages, support for priestly marriage, concern for improving marriage prospects for females, opposition to inconsiderate rules notably institutional dietary rules, a desire to make education engaging for the participants, interest in classical languages, horror of poverty and spiritual hopelessness, distaste for friars begging when they could study or work, unwillingness to be in the control of authorities, laicism, the need for those in authority to act in the best interest of their charges, a prizing of mercy and peace, an anger over unnecessary war especially between avaricious princes, an awareness of mortality, etc.



Erasmus traveled widely and regularly, for reasons of poverty, "escape" from his Stein canonry (to Cambrai), education (to Paris, Turin), escape from the sweating sickness plague (to Orléans), employment (to England ), searching libraries for manuscripts, writing (Brabant), royal counsel (Cologne), patronage, tutoring and chaperoning (North Italy), networking (Rome), seeing books through printing in person (Paris, Venice, Louvain, Basel), and avoiding the persecution of religious fanatics (to Freiburg.) He enjoyed horseback riding[38]


In 1495 with Bishop Henry's consent and a stipend, Erasmus went on to study at the University of Paris in the Collège de Montaigu, a centre of reforming zeal,[note 19] under the direction of the ascetic Jan Standonck, of whose rigors he complained.[39] The university was then the chief seat of Scholastic learning but already coming under the influence of Renaissance humanism.[40] For instance, Erasmus became an intimate friend of an Italian humanist Publio Fausto Andrelini, poet and "professor of humanity" in Paris.[41]

During this time, Erasmus developed a deep aversion to exclusive or excessive Aristotelianism and Scholasticism[42] and started finding work as a tutor/chaperone to visiting English and Scottish aristocrats.


Erasmus stayed in England at least three times.[note 20] In between he had periods studying in Paris, Orléans, Leuven and other cities.

Erasmus by Hans Holbein the Younger. Louvre, Paris.
First visit - 1499-1500

In 1499 he was invited to England by William Blount, 4th Baron Mountjoy, who offered to accompany him on his trip to England.[44] His time in England was fruitful in the making of lifelong friendships with the leaders of English thought in the days of King Henry VIII.

During his first visit to England in 1499, he studied or taught at the University of Oxford. Erasmus was particularly impressed by the Bible teaching of John Colet, who pursued a style more akin to the church fathers than the Scholastics. Through the influence of the humanist John Colet, his interests turned towards theology.[44] Other distinctive features of Colet's thought that may have influenced Erasmus are his pacifism,[45] reform-mindedness,[46] anti-Scholasticism and pastoral esteem for the sacrament of Confession.[47]:94

This prompted him, upon his return from England to Paris, to intensively study the Greek language, which would enable him to study theology on a more profound level.[citation needed]

Erasmus also became fast friends with Thomas More, a young law student considering becoming a monk, whose thought (e.g., on conscience and equity) had been influenced by 14th century French theologian Jean Gerson.[48][49]

Erasmus left London with a full purse from his generous friends, to allow him to complete his studies. However, the English Customs officials confiscated all gold and silver, leaving him with nothing except a night fever that lasted several months.

Second visit - 1505-1506
Sir Thomas More, by Hans Holbein the Younger

For Erasmus' second visit, he spent over a year staying at recently-married Thomas More's house, now a lawyer and Member of Parliament, honing his translation skills.[43]

Erasmus preferred to live the life of an independent scholar and made a conscious effort to avoid any actions or formal ties that might inhibit his individual freedom.[50] In England Erasmus was approached with prominent offices but he declined them all, until the King himself offered his support.[50] He was inclined, but eventually did not accept and longed for a stay in Italy.[50]

Third visit - 1510-1515

In 1510, Erasmus arrived at More's bustling house, was parked in bed to recover from his recurrent illness, and wrote The Praise of Folly, which was to be a best-seller. More was at that time the undersheriff of the City of London.

After his glorious reception in Italy, Erasmus had returned broke and jobless,[note 21] with strained relations with former friends and benefactors on the continent, and he regretted leaving Italy, despite being horrified by papal warfare. There is a gap in his usually voluminous correspondence: his so-called "two lost years", perhaps due to self-censorship of dangerous or disgruntled opinions;[note 12] he shared lodgings with his friend Andrea Ammonio (Latin secretary to Mountjoy, and the next year, to Henry VIII) provided at the London Austin Friars' compound, skipping out after a disagreement with the friars over rent that caused bad blood.[note 22]

He assisted his friend John Colet by authoring Greek textbooks and securing members of staff for the newly established St Paul's School[52] and was in contact when Colet gave his notorious 1512 Convocation sermon which called for a reformation of ecclesiastical affairs.[53]:230–250 At Colet's instigation, Erasmus started work on De copia.

In 1511, the University of Cambridge's Chancellor John Fisher arranged for Erasmus to be the Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity, though Erasmus turned down the option of spending the rest of his life as a professor there. He studied and taught Greek and researched and lectured on Jerome.[43][note 23]

Erasmus mainly stayed at Queens' College while lecturing at the university,[55] between 1511 and 1515.[note 24] Erasmus' rooms were located in the "I" staircase of Old Court.[56] Despite a chronic shortage of money, he succeeded in mastering Greek by an intensive, day-and-night study of three years, taught by Thomas Linacre, continuously begging in letters that his friends send him books and money for teachers.[57]

Erasmus suffered from poor health and was especially concerned with heating, clean air, ventilation, draughts, fresh food and unspoiled wine: he complained about the draughtiness of English buildings.[58] He complained that Queens' College could not supply him with enough decent wine[note 25] (wine was the Renaissance medicine for gallstones, from which Erasmus suffered).[59] As Queens' was an unusually humanist-leaning institution in the 16th century, Queens' College Old Library still houses many first editions of Erasmus's publications, many of which were acquired during that period by bequest or purchase, including Erasmus's New Testament translation, which is signed by friend and Polish religious reformer Jan Łaski.[60]

During this time, Erasmus encouraged Thomas More's book Utopia (pub. 1516),[note 26] perhaps even contributing fragments.[62] By this time More was a judge on the poorman's equity court (Master of Requests) and a Privy Counsellor.

France and Brabant

Following his first trip to England, Erasmus returned first to poverty in Paris, where he started to compile the Adagio for his students, then to Orleans to escape the plague, and then to semi-monastic life, scholarly studies and writing in France, notably at the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Bertin at St Omer (1501,1502) where he wrote the initial version of the Enchiridion (Handbook of the Christian Knight.) A particular influence was his encounter in 1501 with Jean (Jehan) Vitrier, a radical Franciscan who consolidated Erasmus' thoughts against excessive valorization of monasticism, ceremonialism and fasting[47]:94,95 in a kind of conversion experience,[12]:213,219 and introduced him to Origen.[63]

In 1502, Erasmus went to Brabant, ultimately to the university at Louvain, then back to Paris in 1504.


In 1506 he was able to accompany and tutor the sons of the personal physician of the English King through Italy to Bologna.[50]

His discovery en route of Lorenzo Valla's New Testament Notes was a major event in his career and prompted Erasmus to study the New Testament using philology.[64]

In 1506 they passed through Turin and he arranged to be awarded the degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology (Sacra Theologia)[65]:638 from the University of Turin per saltum[50] at age 37 (or 40.) Erasmus stayed tutoring in Bologna for a year; in the Winter, Erasmus was present when Pope Julius II entered victorious into the conquered Bologna which he had besieged before.[50]

Book printed and illuminated at Aldine press, Venice (1501), Horace, Works

Erasmus traveled on to Venice, working on an expanded version of his Adagia at the Aldine Press of the famous printer Aldus Manutius, advised him which manuscripts to publish,[66] and was an honorary member of the graecophone Aldine "New Academy" (Greek: Neakadêmia (Νεακαδημία)).[67] From Aldus he learned the in-person workflow that made him productive at Froben: making last-minute changes, and immediately checking and correcting printed page proofs as soon as the ink had dried. Aldus wrote that Erasmus could do twice as much work in a given time as any other man he had ever met.[27]

In 1507, according to his letters, he studied advanced Greek in Padua with the Venetian natural philosopher, Giulio Camillo.[68] He found employment tutoring and escorting Scottish nobleman Alexander Stewart, the 24-year old Archbishop of St Andrews, through Padua, Florence, and Siena[note 27] Erasmus made it to Rome in 1509, visiting some notable libraries and cardinals, but having a less active association with Italian scholars than might have been expected.

In 1510, William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Lord Mountjoy lured him back to England, now under its new humanist king, paying £10 journey money.[70] On his trip back over the Alps, down the Rhein, to England, Erasmus mentally composed The Praise of Folly.

Brabant (Flanders)

His residence at Leuven, where he lectured at the University, exposed Erasmus to much criticism from those ascetics, academics and clerics hostile to the principles of literary and religious reform to which he was devoting his life.[71] In 1514, en route to Basel, he made the acquaintance of Hermannus Buschius, Ulrich von Hutten and Johann Reuchlin who introduced him to the Hebrew language in Mainz.[72] In 1514, he suffered a fall from his horse and injured his back.

Erasmus may have made several other short visits to England or English territory while living in Brabant.[43] Happily for Erasmus, More and Tunstall were posted in Brussels or Antwerp on government missions around 1516, More for six months, Tunstall for longer. However, in 1517, his great friend Ammonio died in England of the Sweating Sickness.

Erasmus had accepted an honorary position as a Councillor to Charles V with an annuity of 200 guilders,[73] and tutored his brother, the teenage future Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand of Hapsburg. At this time he wrote The Education of a Christian Prince (Institutio principis Christiani).

In 1517, he supported the foundation at the university of the Collegium Trilingue for the study of Hebrew, Latin, and Greek[74]:s1.14.14—after the model of Cisneros' College of the Three Languages at the University of Alcalá—financed by his late friend Hieronymus van Busleyden's will.[75]

Field of the Cloth of Gold, w. Henry VIII (British - prev. attrib. Hans Holbein the Younger)

In 1520 he was present at the Field of the Cloth of Gold with Guillaume Budé, probably his last meetings with Thomas More[76] and William Warham. His friends and former students and old correspondents were the incoming political elite, and he had risen with them.[note 28]

He stayed in various locations including Anderlecht (near Brussels) in the Summer of 1521.[77]


Desiderius Erasmus dictating to his ammenuensis Gilbert Cousin or Cognatus. From a book by Cousin, and itself claimed to be based on fresco in Cousin's house in Nozeroy, Burgundy. Engraving possibly by :fr:Claude Luc.

From 1514, Erasmus regularly traveled to Basel to coordinate the printing of his books with Froben. He developed a lasting association with the great Basel publisher Johann Froben and later his son Hieronymus Froben (Eramus' godson) who together published over 200 works with Erasmus,[79] working with expert scholar-correcters who went on to illustrious careers.[78] His initial interest in Froben's operation was aroused by his discovery of the printer's folio edition of the Adagiorum Chiliades tres (Adagia) (1513).[80] Froben's work was notable for using the new Roman type (rather than blackletter) and Aldine-like Italic and Greek fonts, as well as elegant layouts using borders and fancy capitals;[78]:59 Hans Holbein (the Younger) cut several woodblock capitals for Erasmus' editions.

In 1521 he settled in Basel.[81] He was weary of the controversies and hostility at Louvain, and feared being dragged further into the Lutheran controversy.[82] He agreed to be the Froben press' literary superintendent writing dedications and prefaces[27] for an annuity and profit share.[54] Apart from Froben's production team, he had his own household[note 29]with a formidable housekeeper, stable of horses, and up to eight boarders or paid servants: who acted as assistants, correcters, amanuenses, dining companions, international couriers, and carers.[84] It was his habit to sit at times by a ground-floor window, to make it easier to see and be seen by strolling humanists for chatting.[85]

In collaboration with Froben and his team, the scope and ambition of Erasmus' Annotations, Erasmus' long-researched project of philological notes of the New Testament along the lines of Valla's Adnotations, had grown to also include a lightly-revised Latin Vulgate, then the Greek text, then several edifying essays on methodology, then a highly-revised Vulgate—all bundled as his Novum testamentum omne and pirated individually throughout Europe— then finally his amplified Paraphrases.

Pope Adrian VI (1522-1523

In 1522, Erasmus' compatriot, former teacher (c. 1502) and friend from University of Louvain unexpectedly became Pope Adrian VI,[note 30] after having served as Regent (and/or Grand Inquisitor) of Spain for six years. Like Erasmus and Luther, he had been influenced by the Brethren of the Common Life. He tried to entice Erasmus to Rome. His reforms of the Roman Curia which he hoped would meet the objections of many Lutherans were stymied (party because the Holy See was broke), though re-worked at the Council of Trent, and he died in 1523.[87]

As the popular and nationalist responses to Luther gathered momentum, the social disorders, which Erasmus dreaded and Luther disassociated himself from, began to appear, including the German Peasants' War (1524-1525), the Anabaptist insurrections in Germany and in the Low Countries, iconoclasm, and the radicalisation of peasants across Europe. If these were the outcomes of reform,Erasmus was thankful that he had kept out of it. Yet he was ever more bitterly accused of having started the whole "tragedy" (as Erasmus dubbed the matter).[note 31]

In 1523, he provided financial support to the impoverished and disgraced former Latin Secretary of Antwerp Cornelius Grapheus, on his release from the newly-introduced Inquisition.[88]:558 In 1525, a former student of Erasmus who had served at Erasmus' father's former church at Woerden, Jan de Bakker (Pistorius) was the first priest to be executed as a heretic in the Netherlands. In 1529, his French translator and friend Louis de Berquin was burnt in Paris, following his condemnation as an anti-Rome heretic by the Sorbonne theologians.


Portrait of Damião de Góis by Albrecht Dürer

Following iconoclastic rioting in 1529 lead by Œcolampadius his former assistant,[note 32] the city of Basel definitely adopted the Reformation, and banned the Catholic mass on April 1, 1529.[89] Erasmus left Basel on the 13 April 1529 and departed by ship to the Catholic university town of Freiburg im Breisgau to be under the protection of his former student, Archduke Ferdinand of Austria,[12]:210 staying for two years on the top floor of the Whale House,[90] then buying and refurbishing a house of his own,[note 33] where he took in scholar/assistants as table-boarders[91] such as Damião de Góis, some of them fleeing persecution.

Despite increasing frailty[note 34] Erasmus continued to work productively, notably on a new magnum opus, his manual on preaching Ecclesiastes, and his small book on preparing for death. His boarder for five months, the Portuguese scholar/diplomat Damião de Góis,[88] worked on his lobbying on the plight of the Sámi in Sweden and the Ethopian church, and stimulated[93]:82 Erasmus' increasing awareness of foreign missions.[note 35]

There are no extant letters between More and Erasmus from the start of More's period as Chancellor until his resignation (1529-1523), almost to the day. Erasmus wrote several important non-political works under the surprising patronage of Thomas Bolyn: his Ennaratio triplex in Psalmum XXII or Triple Commentary on Psalm 23 (1529); his catechism to counter Luther Explanatio Symboli or A Playne and Godly Exposition or Declaration of the Commune Crede (1533) which sold out in three hours at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and Praeparatio ad mortem or Preparation for Death (1534) which would be one of Erasmus' most popular and most hijacked works.[95][note 36]

Fates of Friends
William Warham (c.1450–1532), Archbishop of Canterbury, after Hans Holbein
Cuthbert Tunstall (1474–1559), Bishop of Durham

In the 1530s, life became more dangerous for Spanish Erasmians when Erasmus' protector, the Inquisitor General Alonso Manrique de Lara fell out of favour with the royal court and lost power within his own organization to friar-theologians. In 1532 Erasmus' friend, conversos Juan de Vergara (Cisneros' Latin secretary who had worked on the Complutensian Polyglot and published Stunica's criticism of Erasmus,) was arrested by the Spanish Inquisition and had to be ransomed from them by the humanist Archbishop of Toledo Alonso III Fonseca, also a correspondent of Erasmus', who had previously rescued Ignatius of Loyola from them.[96]:80

There was a generational change in the Catholic hierarchy. In 1532 his beloved long-time mentor English Primate Warham died of old age.[note 37] In 1534 his distrusted protector Clement IV died, his recent Italian ally Cardinal Cajetan died, and his old ally Cardinal Campeggio retired.

As more friends died (in 1533, his friend Pieter Gilles; in 1534, William Blount; in early 1536, Catherine of Aragon;) and as Luther and some Lutherans and some powerful Catholic theologians renewed their personal attacks on Erasmus, his letters are increasingly focused on concerns on the status of friendships and safety as he considered moving from bland Freiburg despite his health.[note 38]

In 1535, Erasmus' friends Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher were executed as pro-Rome traitors by Henry VIII, who Erasmus and More had first met as a boy. Despite illness Erasmus wrote the first biography of More (and Fisher), the short, anonymous "Expositio Fidelis, which Froben published, at the instigation of de Góis.[88]

After Erasmus' time, numerous of Erasmus' translators later met similar fates at the hands of Anglican, Catholic and Reformed sectarians and autocrats: including Margaret Pole, William Tyndale, Mary Tudor, Michael Servetus. Others, such as Charles V's Latin secretary Juan de Valdés, fled and died in self-exile.

Erasmus' friend Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall died in prison under Elizabeth I for refusing the Oath of Supremacy. His correspondent Bishop Stephen Gardiner, who Erasmus had known as a teenaged student in Paris and Cambridge,[98] was later imprisoned in the Tower of London for five years under Edward VI for impeding Protestantism.[note 39] Damião de Góis was tried before the Portuguese Inquisition at age 72,[88] detained almost incommunicado, finally exiled to a monastery, and on release perhaps murdered.[100] His amanuensis Gilbert Cousin died in prison at age 66, shortly after being arrested on the personal order of Pope Pius V.[84]

Death in Basel

Epitaph for Erasmus in the Basel Minster

When his strength began to fail, he finally decided to accept an invitation by Queen Mary of Hungary, Regent of the Netherlands (sister of his former student Archduke Ferdinand I and Emperor Charles V), to move from Freiburg to Brabant. In 1535, he moved back to the Froben compound in Basel in preparation (Œcolampadius having died, and private practice of his religion now possible) and saw his last major works such as Ecclesiastes through publication, though he grew more frail. On July 12, 1536 he died at an attack of dysentery.[101]

He had remained loyal to Roman Catholicism,[102] but biographers have disagreed whether to treat him as him as an insider or an outsider.[note 40]

He may not have received or had the opportunity to receive the last rites of the Catholic Church;[note 41] the contemporary reports of his death do not mention whether he asked for a Catholic priest or not, if any were in Basel.[note 42]

His last words, as recorded by his friend and biographer Beatus Rhenanus, were apparently "Dear God" (Dutch: Lieve God).[104] He was buried with great ceremony in the Basel Minster (the former cathedral). The Protestant city authorities remarkably allowed his funeral to be an ecumenical Catholic requiem mass.[105]

As his heir he instated Bonifacius Amerbach to give seed money[note 43] to the poor and needy:[106] he had received a dispensation to make a will rather than his wealth reverting to his order, the Chapter of Sion, and had pre-sold his personal library to Jan Łaski.[107] One of the eventual recipients was the impoverished Protestant humanist Sebastian Castellio, who had fled from Geneva to Basel, who subsequently translated the Bible into Latin and French, and who worked for the repair of the breach and divide of Christianity in its Catholic, Anabaptist, and Protestant branches.[108]

Thought and views

Erasmus had a distinctive manner of thinking, a Catholic historian suggests: one that is capacious in its perception, agile in its judgments, and unsettling in its irony with "a deep and abiding commitment to human flourishing"[109] "In all spheres, his outlook was essentially pastoral."[12]:225

Erasmus has been called a seminal rather than a consistent or systematic thinker,[110] notably averse to over-extending from the specific to the general; who nevertheless should be taken very seriously as a pastoral and rhetorical theologian, with a philological and historical approach—rather than a metaphysical approach—to interpreting Scripture[111][note 44] and interested in the literal and tropological senses.[12]:145 A theologian has written of "Erasmus’ preparedness completely to satisfy no-one but himself."[112] He has been called moderate, judicious and constructive even when being critical or when mocking extremes.[113][note 45]


Peace, peaceableness and peacemaking, in all spheres from the domestic to the religious to the political, were central distinctives of Erasmus' writing on Christian living and his mystical theology:[114] "the sum and summary of our religion is peace and unanimity" [note 46][note 47] At the Nativity of Jesus "the angels sang not the glories of war, nor a song of triumph, but a hymn of peace.":[115]

He (Christ) conquered by gentleness; He conquered by kindness; he conquered by truth itself

Erasmus was not an absolute Pacifist but promoted political Pacificism and religious Irenicism.[116] Notable writings on irenicism include de Concordia, On the War with the Turks, The Education of a Christian Prince, On Restoring the Concord of the Church, and The Complaint of Peace. Erasmus' ecclesiology of peacemaking held that the church authorities had a divine mandate to settle religious disputes,[note 48] in an as non-excluding way as possible, including by the preferably-minimal development of doctrine.

In the latter, Lady Peace insists on peace as the crux of Christian life and for understanding Christ:

I give you my peace, I leave you my peace" (John 14:27). You hear what he leaves his people? Not horses, bodyguards, empire or riches – none of these. What then? He gives peace, leaves peace – peace with friends, peace with enemies.

A historian has called him "The 16th Century's Pioneer of Peace Education and a Culture of Peace".[note 49]


Erasmus had experienced war as a child and was particularly concerned about wars between Christian kings, who should be brothers and not start wars; a theme in his book The Education of a Christian Prince. His Adages included "War is sweet to those who have never tasted it." (Dulce bellum inexpertis from Pindar's Greek.)

He promoted and was present at the Field of Cloth of Gold,[117] and his wide-ranging correspondence frequently related to issues of peacemaking. He saw a key role of the Church in peacemaking by arbitration,[118] and the office of the Pope was necessary to reign in tyrannical princes and bishops.[27]:195

He questioned the practical usefulness and abuses[note 50] of Just War theory, further limiting it to feasible defensive actions with popular support and that "war should never be undertaken unless, as a last resort, it cannot be avoided."[119] In his Adages he discusses (common translation) "A disadvantageous peace is better than a just war", which owes to Cicero and John Colet's "Better an unjust peace than the justest war."

Erasmus was extremely critical of the warlike way of important European princes of his era, including some princes of the church.[note 51] He described these princes as corrupt and greedy. Erasmus believed that these princes "collude in a game, of which the outcome is to exhaust and oppress the commonwealth".[74]:s1.7.4 He spoke more freely about this matter in letters sent to his friends like Thomas More, Beatus Rhenanus and Adrianus Barlandus: a particular target of his criticisms was the Emperor Maximilian I, whom Erasmus blamed for allegedly preventing the Netherlands from signing a peace treaty with Guelders[120] and other schemes to cause wars in order to extract money from his subjects.[note 52]

One of his approaches was to send, and publish, congratulatory and lionizing letters to princes who, though in a position of strength, negotiated peace with neighbours: such as to King Sigismund I the Old of Poland in 1527.[93]:75

Christian religious toleration

Portrait of Erasmus, after Quinten Massijs (1517)

He referred to his irenical disposition in the Preface to On Free Will as a secret inclination of nature that would make him even prefer the views of the Sceptics over intolerant assertions, though he sharply distinguished adiaphora from what was uncontentiously explicit in the New Testament or absolutely mandated by Church teaching.[121] Concord demanded unity and assent: Erasmus was anti-sectarian[note 53] as well as non-sectarian.[122] To follow the law of love, our intellects must be humble and friendly when making any assertions: he called contention "earthly, beastly, demonic"[123]:739 and a good-enough reason to reject a teacher or their followers. In Melancthon's view, Erasmus taught charity not faith.[124]:10

Certain works of Erasmus laid a foundation for religious toleration of private opinions and ecumenism. For example, in De libero arbitrio, opposing certain views of Martin Luther, Erasmus noted that religious disputants should be temperate in their language, "because in this way the truth, which is often lost amidst too much wrangling may be more surely perceived." Gary Remer writes, "Like Cicero, Erasmus concludes that truth is furthered by a more harmonious relationship between interlocutors."[125]

Erasmus' pacificism included a particular dislike for sedition, which caused warfare:

It was the duty of the leaders of this (reforming) movement, if Christ was their goal, to refrain not only from vice, but even from every appearance of evil; and to offer not the slightest stumbling block to the Gospel, studiously avoiding even practices which, although allowed, are yet not expedient. Above all they should have guarded against all sedition.

Erasmus had been involved in early attempts to protect Luther and his sympathisers from charges of heresy. Erasmus wrote Inquisitio de fide to limit what should be considered heresy to fractiously agitating against essential doctrines (e.g., those of the Creed), with malice and persistence. As with St Theodore the Studite,[126] Erasmus was against the death penalty merely for private or peaceable heresy, or for dissent on non-essentials: "It is better to cure a sick man than to kill him."[127] The Church has the duty to protect believers and convert or heal heretics; he invoked Jesus' parable of the wheat and tares.[12]:200

Nevertheless, he allowed the death penalty against violent seditionists, to prevent bloodshed and war: he allowed that the state has the right to execute those who are a necessary danger to public order—whether heretic or orthodox—but noted (e.g., to :fr:Noël Béda) that Augustine had been against the execution of even violent Donatists: Johannes Trapman states that Erasmus' endorsement of suppression of the Anabaptists springs from their refusal to heed magistrates and the criminal violence of the Münster rebellion not because of their heretical views on baptism.[128] Despite these concessions to state power, he suggested that religious persecution could still be challenged as inexpedient (ineffective).[129]

In a letter to Cardial Lorenzo Campeggio, Erasmus lobbied diplomatically for toleration: "If the sects could be tolerated under certain conditions (as the Bohemians pretend), it would, I admit, be a grievous misfortune, but one more endurable than war."[citation needed]

Jews and Turks

While the focus of most of his writing was about peace within Christendom with a sole focus on Europe until his last decade, he was involved in the public policy debate on war with the Ottoman Empire, which was then invading Western Europe, notably in his book On the war against the Turks (1530), with Pope Leo X promoting going on the offensive with a new crusade.[note 54]

Juan Luis Vives

In common with his times,[130] Erasmus regarded the Jewish and Islamic religions as Christian heresies rather than separate religions, using the inclusive term half-Christian for the latter. However, there is a wide range of scholarly opinion on the extent and nature of antisemitic and anti-Moslem prejudice in his writings: Erasmus scholar Shimon Markish wrote that the charge of antisemitism could not be sustained in Erasmus' public writings,[131] however historian Nathan Ron has found his writing to be harsh and racial in its implications, with contempt and hostility to Islam.[132] Biographer James Tracy sees an anti-semitic edge in Erasmus' comments against Johannes Pfefferkorn in the Ruechlin affair, which expresses Erasmus' general "suspicion of those who, behind the scenes, manipulate influence and opinion for nefarious ends."[note 55]

Erasmus was not vehemently antisemitic in the way of the later post-Catholic Martin Luther; it was not a topic or theme of his public writing. Erasmus claimed not to be personally xenophobic: "For I am of such a nature that I could love even a Jew, were he a pleasant companion and did not spew out blasphemy against Christ"[133] however Markish suggests that it is probable Erasmus never actually encountered a (practicing) Jew.[134][note 56]

Unusually for a Christian theologian of any time, he perceived and championed strong Hellenistic rather than exclusively Hebraic influences on the intellectual milieux of Jesus, Paul and the early church.[note 57]

Interpretation caveats: analogy, irony, foils
  • The picture is complicated because when Erasmus wrote of Judaism, he frequently was not referring to contemporary Jews but, by analogy with Second Temple Judaism, to Christians of his time who mistakenly promoted external ritualism over interior piety,[note 58] notably in the monastic lifestyle.[note 59] Erasmus' pervasive anti-ceremonialism treated the early Church debates on circumcision, food and special days as manifestations of cultural chauvinism by the initial Jewish Christians, a general human characteristic.[note 60]
  • Erasmus often wrote in a highly ironical idiom,[109] especially in his letters,[note 61] which makes them prone to different interpretations when taken literally rather than ironically.[note 62] Erasmus chided Ulrich von Hutten's claims that Erasmus was a Lutheran, saying that von Hutten had not detected the irony in Erasmus' public letters enough.[85]:27
  • Terence J. Martin identifies an "Erasmian pattern" that the supposed (by the reader) otherness (of Jews, Turks, Lapplanders, Indians, and even women and heretics) "provides a foil against which the failures of Christian culture can be exposed and criticized."[136] [note 63] Erasmus wrote: we should "kill the 'Turk' (in us), not the man."[93]

On the subject of slavery, Erasmus characteristically treated it in passing when dealing with tyranny: Christians were not allowed to be tyrants, which slave-owning required, but especially not to be the masters of other Christians.[137] Erasmus had various other piecemeal arguments against slavery: for example, that it was not legitimate to have slaves taken in an unjust war, but it was not a subject that occupied him.

Domestic and community peace

Erasmus' emphasis on peacemaking reflects a typical pre-occupation of medieval lay spirituality as historian John Bossy (as summarized by Eamon Duffy) puts it: "medieval Christianity had been fundamentally concerned with the creation and maintenance of peace in a violent world. “Christianity” in medieval Europe denoted neither an ideology nor an institution, but a community of believers whose religious ideal—constantly aspired to if seldom attained—was peace and mutual love."[138]

In marriage, Erasmus' two significant innovations, according to historian Nathan Ron, were that "matrimony can and should be a joyous bond, and that this goal can be achieved by a relationship between spouses based on mutuality, conversation, and persuasion."[139]:4:43

Religious reform

Erasmus expressed much of his reform program in terms of the proper attitude towards the sacraments, and their ramifications:[140] notably for the underappreciated sacraments of Baptism and Marriage (see On the Institution of Christian Marriage) considered as vocations more than events; and for the mysterious Eucharist, pragmatic Confession, the dangerous Last Rites (writing On the Preparation for Death),[note 64] and the pastoral Holy Orders (see Ecclesiastes.)[141] Historians have noted that Erasmus commended the benefits of immersive, docile scripture-reading in sacramental terms.[note 65]


Reacting from his own experiences, Erasmus believed that monastic life and institutions no longer served the positive spiritual or social purpose they once may have: in the Enchiridion he controversially put it "Monkishness is not piety."[note 66] Better to live as "a monk in the world" than in the monastery.

Many of his works contain diatribes against supposed monastic corruption, and particularly against the mendicant friars (Franciscans and Dominicans): these orders also typically ran the university Scholastic theology programs and from whose ranks came his most dangerous enemies. He was scandalized by superstitions, such as that if you were buried in a Franciscan habit you would go direct to heaven, crime[144] and child novices. He advocated various reforms, including a ban on taking orders until the 30th year, the closure of corrupt and smaller monasteries, respect for bishops, requiring work not begging (reflecting the practice of his own order of Augustinian Canons,) the downplaying of monastic hours, fasts and ceremonies, and a less mendacious approach to gullible pilgrims and tenants.

However, he was not in favour of speedy closures: in his account of his pilgrimage to Walsingham, he noted that the funds extracted from pilgrims typically supported houses for the poor and elderly.

These ideas widely influenced his generation of humanists, both Catholic and Protestant,[145]:152 and the lurid hyperbolic attacks of his half-satire The Praise of Folly were later treated by Protestants as objective reports of near-universal corruption. Furthermore, "what is said over a glass of wine, ought not to be remembered and written down as a serious statement of belief," such as his proposal to marry all monks to all nuns or to send them all away to fight the Turks and colonize new islands.[27]

He believed the only vow necessary for Christians should be the vow of Baptism, and others such as the vows of the evangelical counsels, while admirable in intent and content, were now mainly counter-productive.

Catholic reform

Albrecht Dürer, Portrait of Erasmus, sketch: black chalk on paper, 1520.

The Protestant Reformation began in the year following the publication of his pathbreaking edition of the New Testament in Latin and Greek (1516). The issues between the reforming and reactionary tendencies of the church, from which Protestantism later emerged, had become so clear that many intellectuals and churchmen could not escape the summons to join the debate.

According to historian C. Scott Dixon, Erasmus' not only criticized church failings but questioned many of his Church's basic teachings;[note 67] however, according to biographer Erika Rummel, "Erasmus was aiming at the correction of abuses rather than at doctrinal innovation or institutional change."[note 68]

Erasmus, at the height of his literary fame, was called upon to take one side, but partisanship was foreign to his nature and his habits. Despite all his criticism of clerical corruption and abuses within the Western Church,[note 69] especially at first he sided unambiguously with neither Luther nor the anti-Lutherans publicly (though in private he lobbied assiduously against extremism from both parties), but eventually shunned the breakaway Protestant Reformation movements along with their most radical offshoots.[102]

"I have constantly declared, in countless letters, booklets, and personal statements, that I do not want to be involved with either party."

The world had laughed at his satire, The Praise of Folly, but few had interfered with his activities. He believed that his work so far had commended itself to the best minds and also to the dominant powers in the religious world. Erasmus chose to write in Latin (and Greek), the languages of scholars. He did not build a large body of supporters in the unlettered; his critiques reached a small but elite audience.[147]

Disagreement with Luther

Cranach (1520), Portraits of Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon

Erasmus and Luther impacted each other greatly. Each had misgivings about each other from the beginning (Erasmus on Luther's rash and antagonistic character, Luther on Erasmus' focus on morality rather than grace) but strategically agreed not to be negative about the other in public.

The early reformers built their theology by generalizing Erasmus' philological analyses of specific verses in the New Testament: repentance over penance (the basis of the first thesis of the Luther's 95 Theses), justification by imputation, grace as favour or clemency, faith as hoping trust,[148] human transformation over reformation, congregation over church, mystery over sacrament, etc. In Erasmus' view, they went too far and irresponsibly fomented bloodshed.

Noting Luther's criticism of corruption in the Church, Erasmus at one time described him as "a mighty trumpet of gospel truth" while agreeing, "It is clear that many of the reforms for which Luther calls" (e.g., the sale of indulgences) "are urgently needed."[149] Behind the scenes Erasmus forbade his publisher Froben from handling the works of Luther[78]:64 and tried to keep the reform movement focused on institutional rather than theological issues, yet he also privately wrote to authorities to prevent Luther's persecution. In the words of one historian, "at this earlier period he was more concerned with the fate of Luther than his theology."[150]

Luther hoped for his cooperation in a work which seemed only the natural outcome of Erasmus' own,[note 70] and spoke with admiration of Erasmus's superior learning. In their early correspondence, Luther expressed boundless admiration for all Erasmus had done in the cause of a sound and reasonable Christianity and urged him to join the Lutheran party. Erasmus declined to commit himself, arguing his usual "small target" excuse, that to do so would endanger the cause of Latin: bonae litterae[note 71][151] which he regarded as one of his purposes in life. Only as an independent scholar could he hope to influence the reform of religion. When Erasmus declined to support him, the straightforward Luther became angered that Erasmus was avoiding the responsibility due either to cowardice or a lack of purpose.

However, any hesitancy on the part of Erasmus may have stemmed, not from lack of courage or conviction, but rather from a concern over the mounting disorder and violence of the reform movement. To Philip Melanchthon in 1524 he wrote:

I know nothing of your church; at the very least it contains people who will, I fear, overturn the whole system and drive the princes into using force to restrain good men and bad alike. The gospel, the word of God, faith, Christ, and Holy Spirit – these words are always on their lips; look at their lives and they speak quite another language.[152]

Though he sought to remain firmly neutral in doctrinal disputes, each side accused him of siding with the other, perhaps because of his perceived influence and what they regarded as his dissembling neutrality,[note 72] which he regarded as peacemaking accommodation:

I detest dissension because it goes both against the teachings of Christ and against a secret inclination of nature. I doubt that either side in the dispute can be suppressed without grave loss.
Dispute on free will

By 1523, and first suggested in a letter from Henry VIII, Erasmus had been convinced that Luther's ideas on necessity/free will were a subject of core disagreement deserving a public airing, and strategized with friends and correspondents[153] on how to respond with proper moderation[154] without making the situation worse for all, especially for the humanist reform agenda. He eventually chose a campaign that involved an irenical 'dialogue' "The Inquisition of Faith", a positive, evangelical model sermon "On the Measureless Mercy of God", and a gently critical 'diatribe' "On Free Will."

The publication of his brief book On Free Will initiated what has been called "The greatest debate of that era" [155] which still has ramifications today.[156] They bypassed discussion on reforms which they both agreed on in general, and instead dealt with authority and biblical justifications of synergism versus monergism in relation to salvation.

Luther responded with On the Bondage of the Will (De servo arbitrio) (1525).

Erasmus replied to this in his lengthy two volume Hyperaspistes and other works, which Luther ignored. Apart from the perceived moral failings among followers of the Reformers—an important sign for Erasmus—he also dreaded any change in doctrine, citing the long history of the Church as a bulwark against innovation. He put the matter bluntly to Luther:

We are dealing with this: Would a stable mind depart from the opinion handed down by so many men famous for holiness and miracles, depart from the decisions of the Church, and commit our souls to the faith of someone like you who has sprung up just now with a few followers, although the leading men of your flock do not agree either with you or among themselves – indeed though you do not even agree with yourself, since in this same Assertion[157] you say one thing in the beginning and something else later on, recanting what you said before.

Continuing his chastisement of Luther – and undoubtedly put off by the notion of there being "no pure interpretation of Scripture anywhere but in Wittenberg"[158] – Erasmus touches upon another important point of the controversy:

You stipulate that we should not ask for or accept anything but Holy Scripture, but you do it in such a way as to require that we permit you to be its sole interpreter, renouncing all others. Thus the victory will be yours if we allow you to be not the steward but the lord of Holy Scripture.

"False evangelicals"

In 1529, Erasmus wrote "An epistle against those who falsely boast they are Evangelicals" to Vulturius Neocomus (Gerardus Geldenhouwer).

You declaim bitterly against the luxury of priests, the ambition of bishops, the tyranny of the Roman Pontiff, and the babbling of the sophists; against our prayers, fasts, and Masses; and you are not content to retrench the abuses that may be in these things, but must needs abolish them entirely. ...[159]

Here Erasmus complains of the doctrines and morals of the Reformers, applying the same critique he had made about public Scholastic disputations:

Look around on this 'Evangelical' generation,[160] and observe whether amongst them less indulgence is given to luxury, lust, or avarice, than amongst those whom you so detest. Show me any one person who by that Gospel has been reclaimed from drunkenness to sobriety, from fury and passion to meekness, from avarice to liberality, from reviling to well-speaking, from wantonness to modesty. I will show you a great many who have become worse through following it. ...The solemn prayers of the Church are abolished, but now there are very many who never pray at all. ...
I have never entered their conventicles, but I have sometimes seen them returning from their sermons, the countenances of all of them displaying rage, and wonderful ferocity, as though they were animated by the evil spirit. ...
Who ever beheld in their meetings any one of them shedding tears, smiting his breast, or grieving for his sins? ...Confession to the priest is abolished, but very few now confess to God. ...They have fled from Judaism that they may become Epicureans.


A test of the Reformation was the doctrine of the sacraments, and the crux of this question was the observance of the Eucharist. Erasmus was concerned that the sacramentarians, headed by Œcolampadius of Basel, were claiming Erasmus held views similar to their own in order to try to claim him for their schismatic and "erroneous" movement. In 1530, Erasmus published a new edition of the orthodox treatise of Algerus against the heretic Berengar of Tours in the eleventh century. He added a dedication, affirming his belief in the reality of the Body of Christ after consecration in the Eucharist, commonly referred to as transubstantiation. [161]


Erasmus wrote books against aspects of the teaching, impacts or threats of several other Reformers:[162]

  • Ulrich von Hutten Spongia adversus aspergines Hutteni (1523) see below
  • Martin Bucer Responsio ad fratres Inferioris Germaniae ad epistolam apologeticam incerto autoreproditam (1530)
  • Heinrich Eppendorf Admonitio adversus mendacium et obstrectationem (1530)

However, Erasmus maintained friendly relations with other Protestants, notably the irenic Melancthon and Albrecht Duerer.

A common accusation, supposedly started by antagonistic monk-theologians, made Erasmus responsible for Martin Luther and the Reformation: "Erasmus laid the egg, and Luther hatched it." Erasmus wittily dismissed the charge, claiming that Luther had "hatched a different bird entirely."[163] Erasmus-reader Peter Canisius commented: "Certainly there was no lack of eggs for Luther to hatch."[164][note 73]

Philosophy and Erasmus

Portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger and workshop

Erasmus has a problematic standing in the history of philosophy: whether he should be called a philosopher at all,[note 74] (as, indeed, some question whether he should be considered a theologian either.[12]:205) Erasmus deemed himself to be a rhetorician or grammarian rather than a philosopher.[165]:66 He was particularly influenced by satirist and rhetorician Lucian.[note 75] Erasmus' writings shifted "an intellectual culture from logical disputation about things to quarrels about texts, contexts, and words."[166]

Philosophia Christi

(Not to be confused with his Italian contemporary Chrysostom Javelli's Philosophia Christiana.)

Erasmus approached classical philosophers theologically and rhetorically: their value was in how they pre-saged, explained or amplified the unique teachings of Christ (particularly the Sermon on the Mount[12]:117): the philosophia Christi.[note 76][note 77] "A great part of the teaching of Christ is to be found in some of the philosophers, particularly Socrates, Diogenes and Epictetus. But Christ taught it much more fully, and exemplified it better..." (Paraclesis) In fact, Christ was "the very father of philosophy" (Anti-Barbieri.)[note 78]

In works such as his Enchiridion, The Education of a Christian Prince and the Colloquies, Erasmus developed his idea of the philosophia Christi, a life lived according to the teachings of Jesus taken as a (spiritual-ethical-social-political-legal[167]) philosophy:[note 79]

Christ the heavenly teacher has founded a new people on earth,…Having eyes without guile, these folk know no spite or envy; having freely castrated themselves, and aiming at a life of angels while in the flesh, they know no unchaste lust; they know not divorce, since there is no evil they will not endure or turn to the good; they have not the use of oaths, since they neither distrust nor deceive anyone; they know not the hunger for money, since their treasure is in heaven, nor do they itch for empty glory, since they refer all things to the glory of Christ.…these are the new teachings of our founder, such as no school of philosophy has ever brought forth.

In philosopher Étienne Gilson's summary: "the quite precise goal he pursues is to reject Greek philosophy outside of Christianity, into which the Middle Ages introduced Greek philosophy with the risk of corrupting this Christian Wisdom."[169]

Useful "philosophy" needed to be limited to (or re-defined as) the practical and moral:

You must realize that 'philosopher' does not mean someone who is clever at dialectics or science but someone who rejects illusory appearance and undauntedly seeks out and follows what is true and good. Being a philosopher is in practice the same as being a Christian; only the terminology is different."


Erasmus syncretistically took phrases, ideas and motifs from many classical philosophers to furnish discussions of Christian themes: academics have identified aspects of his thought as variously Platonist (duality),[note 80] Cynical (asceticism),[170] [171] Stoic (adiaphora),[172] Epicurean (ataraxia,[note 81] pleasure as virtue),[173] realist/non-voluntarist,[174] and Isocratic (rhetoric, political education, syncretism.)[175]:19 However, his Christianized version of Epicureanism is regarded as his own.[176]

Erasmus was sympathetic to a kind of Scepticism:[note 82]

A Sceptic is not someone who doesn't care to know what is true or false…but rather someone who does not make a final decision easily or fight to the death for his own opinion, but rather accepts as probable what someone else accepts as certain…I explicitly exclude from Scepticism whatever is set forth in Sacred Scripture or whatever has been handed down to us by the authority of the Church.

He eschewed metaphysical, epistemological and logical philosophy as found in Aristotle,[note 83] in particular the curriculum and systematic methods of the post-Aquinas Schoolmen (Scholastics)[note 84] and their dry, useless Aristoteleanism: "What has Aristotle to do with Christ?"[179] We should avoid philosophical factionalism and so "make the whole world Christian."[180]:851 Indeed, Erasmus thought that Scholastic philosophy actually distracted participants from their proper focus on immediate morality,[note 85][note 86] unless used moderately.[note 87] And, by "excluding the Platonists from their commentaries, they strangle the beauty of revelation."[note 88]

Erasmus wrote in terms of a tri-partite nature of man, with the soul the seat of free will:

The body is purely material; the spirit is purely divine; the soul…is tossed back and forwards between the two according to whether it resists or gives way to the temptations of the flesh. The spirit makes us gods; the body makes us beasts; the soul makes us men.

According to theologian George van Kooten, Erasmus was the first modern scholar "to note the similarities between Plato's Symposium and John's Gospel", first in the Enchiridion then in the Adagia, pre-dating other scholarly interest by 400 years.[183][citation needed]

Theology of Erasmus

Three key distinctive features of Erasmus' theology are accomodation, inverbation, and scopus christi. [note 89] (Scopus is the unifying reference point, the navigation goal, or the organizing principle of topics.)


Historian Manfred Hoffmann has described accommodation as "the single most important concept in Erasmus' hermeneutic." [note 90]

For Erasmus, accommodation is a universal concept: humans must accommodate each other, we must accommodate the church and vice versa, and we must take as our model how Christ accommodated the disciples in his interactions with them, and accommodated humans in his incarnation, which in turn merely reflects the eternal mutual accommodation within the Trinity. And the primary mechanism of accommodation is language, which mediates between reality and abstraction, which allows disputes of all kinds to be resolved and the gospel to be transmitted:[186] in his New Testament, Erasmus notably translated the Greek logos in John 1 "In the beginning was the Word" using Latin sermo (discourse, conversation, language) not verbum (word) emphasizing the dynamic and interpersonal communication rather than static principle: more like "In the beginning was Speech".[187]

In this light, Erasmus' ability to have friendly correspondence with both Thomas More and Thomas Bolyn,[95] and with both Philip Melancthon and Pope Adrian VI, can be seen as outworkings of his theology, rather than slippery insincerity[note 61] or flattery of potential patrons. Similarly, it show the theological basis of his pacificism, and his view of ecclesiastical authorities—from priests like himself to Church Councils—as necessary mediating peace-brokers.


Further to accommodating humans in his Incarnation, Christ accommodated us by inverbation:[note 91] being captured in the Gospels in a way that we can know him better by reading him (in the awareness of the resurrection) than those who actually heard him speak;[note 92] this will or may transform us.[note 93]

Since the Gospels become, in effect, like sacraments,[188] reading them becomes a form of prayer which is spoiled by taking single sentences in isolation and using them as syllogisms. Instead, learning to understand the genres and literary expression in the New Testament becomes a spiritual exercise.[186] Erasmus' has been called rhetorical theology (theologia rhetorica.)[143]:32

Scopus christi

In Hoffmann's words, for Erasmus "Christ is the scopus of everything": "the focus in which both dimensions of reality, the human and the divine, intersect" and so he himself is the hermeneutical principle of scripture": "the middle is the medium, the medium is the mediator, the mediator is the reconciler."[186]:9 In Erasmus' early Enchiridion he had given this scopus in typical medieval terms of an ascent of being to God (vertical), but from the mid 1510s life he moved to an analogy of Copernican planetary circling around Christ the centre (hoizontal) or Columbian navigation towards a destination.[12]:135

One effect is that scriptural interpretation must be done starting with the teachings and interactions of Jesus in the Gospels, with the Sermon on the Mount serving as the starting point,[note 94][123] and arguably with the Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer at the head of the queue.[citation needed] This privileges peacemaking, mercy, meekness,[note 95] purity of heart, hungering after righteousness, poverty of spirit, etc. as the unassailable core of Christianity and piety and true theology.

The Sermon on the Mount provides the axioms on which every legitimate theology must be built; Erasmus' philosophia christi treats the primary and initial teaching of Jesus in the first Gospel as a theological methodology.[note 96]

So, for example, "peacemaking" is a possible topic for Christian theology; but, from the Beatitude, it must be a starting-, reference- and ending-point when discussing any other theological notions, such as church authority, the Trinity, etc. Moreover, Christian theology must only be done in a peacemaking fashion for peacemaking purposes. [note 97]

Mystical Theology

Another important concept to Erasmus was "the Folly of the Cross"[12]:119 (which The Praise of Folly explored):[190] the view that Truth belongs to the exuberant, perhaps ecstatic,[12]:140 world of what is foolish, strange and unexpected to us,[191] rather than to the cold worlds which intricate scholastic dialectical and syllogistic philosophical argument generate; this produced in Erasmus a profound disinterest in hyper-rationality,[note 98] and an emphasis on verbal, rhetorical, mystical, pastoral and personal/political moral concerns instead.

Notable writings

Erasmus wrote for educated audiences on both Christian subjects and those of general human interest.[note 99][192] By the 1530s, the writings of Erasmus accounted for 10 to 20 percent of all book sales in Europe.[193] "Undoubtedly he was the most read author of his age."[194]:608

He usually wrote books in particular classical literary genres with their different rhetorical conventions: complaint, diatribe, dialogue, encomium, epistle, commentary, liturgy, sermon, etc. His letter to Ulrich von Hutten on Thomas More's household has been called "the first real biography in the real modern sense."[195]

His writing method (recommended in De copia and De ratio studii)[196] was to make notes on whatever he was reading, categorized by theme: he carted these commonplaces in boxes that accompanied him. When assembling a new book, he would go through the topics and cross out commonplace notes as he used them. This catalog of research notes allowed him to rapidly create books, though woven from the same topics. Towards the end of his life, as he lost dexterity, he employed secretaries or amanuenses who performed the assembly or transcription, re-wrote his writing, and in his last decade, recorded his dictation; letters were usually in his own hand, unless formal.

Adages (1500-1520)

Entry in Adagia mentioning honorificabilitudinitatibus
Main page: Philosophy:Adagia

With the collaboration of Publio Fausto Andrelini, he made a collection of Latin proverbs and adages, commonly known as the Adagia. It includes the adage "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." He coined the adage "Pandora's box", arising through an error in his translation of Hesiod's Pandora in which he confused pithos (storage jar) with pyxis (box).[197]

Examples of Adages are: more haste, less speed; a dung beetle hunting an eagle.

Erasmus later spent nine months in Venice at the Aldine Press expanding the Adagia to over three thousand entries;[198] in the course of 27 editions, it expanded to over four thousand entries in Basel at the Froben press. It "introduced a fairly wide audience to the actual words and thoughts of the ancients."[199]:81

Handbook of the Christian Soldier (1501)

His more serious writings begin early with the Enchiridion militis Christiani, the "Handbook of the Christian Soldier" (1501 and re-issued in 1518 with an expanded preface – translated into English in 1533 by the young William Tyndale). (A more literal translation of enchiridion – "dagger" – has been likened to "the spiritual equivalent of the modern Swiss Army knife.")[200] In this short work, Erasmus outlines the views of the normal Christian life, which he was to spend the rest of his days elaborating. He has been described as "evangelical in his beliefs and pietistic in his practise."[note 100]:82

A Scholar Treads on a Market Woman's Basket of Eggs, marginal drawing by Hans Holbein the Younger in The Praise of Folly: Erasmus is foolishly distracted by a woman.

The Praise of Folly (1511)

Erasmus's best-known work is The Praise of Folly, written in 1509, published in 1511 under the double title Moriae encomium (Greek, Latinised) and Laus stultitiae (Latin). It is inspired by De triumpho stultitiae written by Italian humanist Faustino Perisauli.[201] A satirical attack on superstitions and other traditions of European society in general and in the Western Church in particular, it was dedicated to Sir Thomas More, whose name the title puns.[202][203]

de Copia (1512)

De Copia (or Foundations of the Abundant Style or On Copiousness) is a textbook designed to teach aspects of classical rhetoric: having a large supply of words, phrases and grammatical forms is a gateway to formulating and expressing thoughts, especially for "forensic oratory", with mastery and freshness. Perhaps as a joke, its full title is "The twofold copia of words and arguments in a double commentary" (Latin: De duplici copia verborum ac rerum commentarii duo).[204]:118,119 It was "the most often printed rhetoric textbook written in the renaissance, with 168 editions between 1512 and 1580."[205]

The first part of the book is about verborum (words). It famously includes 147 variations on "Your letter pleased me very much",[206] and 203 variations on "Always, as long as I live, I shall remember you."[note 101][204]:119

The second part of the book is about rerum (arguments) to learn critical thinking and advocacy. Erasmus advised students to practice the rhetorical techniques of copiousness by writing letters to each other arguing both side of an issue (Latin: in utramque parte).

Opuscula plutarchi (1514), and Apophthegmatum opus (1531)

Handwriting of Erasmus of Rotterdam: Plutarch's How to profit from one's enemies

In a similar vein to the Adages was his translation of Plutarch's Moralia: parts were published from 1512 onwards and collected as the Opuscula plutarchi[207] (c1514).

This was the basis of 1531's Apophthegmatum opus (Apophthegms), which ultimately contained over 3,000 aphophthegms: "certainly the fullest and most influential Renaissance collection of Cynic sayings and anecdotes",[171] particular of Diogenes (from Diogenes Laertius.)

One of these was published independently, as How to tell a Flatterer from a Friend, dedicated to England's Henry VIII.

Julius exclusus e coelis (1514) attrib.

Julius excluded from Heaven is a biting satire usually attributed to Erasmus[208] perhaps for private circulation, though he publicly denied writing it, calling its author a fool. The recently deceased Pope Julius arrives at the gates of heaven in his armour with his dead army, demanding from St Peter to be let in based on his glory and exploits. St Peter turns him away.

Sileni Alcibiadis (1515)

Statue of Silenus in Palazzo Massimo alle Terme
Hern of Alcibiades, Musei Capitolini

Erasmus's Sileni Alcibiadis is one of his most direct assessments of the need for Church reform.[209]:105 It started as a small entry in the 1508 Adagia citing Plato's Symposium and expanded to several hundred sentences.[183] Johann Froben published it first within a revised edition of the Adagia in 1515, then as a stand-alone work in 1517.

Sileni is the plural (Latin) form of Silenus, a creature often related to the Roman wine god Bacchus and represented in pictorial art as inebriated, merry revellers, variously mounted on donkeys, singing, dancing, playing flutes, etc. In particular, the Sileni that Erasmus referred to were small, coarse, ugly or distasteful carved figures which opened up to reveal a beautiful deity or valuables inside.[210]

Alcibiades was a Greek politician in the 5th century BCE and a general in the Peloponnesian War; he figures here more as a character written into some of Plato's dialogues – an externally-attractive, young, debauched playboy whom Socrates tries to convince to seek truth instead of pleasure, wisdom instead of pomp and splendor.[211]

The term Sileni – especially when juxtaposed with the character of Alcibiades – can therefore be understood as an evocation of the notion that something on the inside is more expressive of a person's character than what one sees on the outside. For instance, something or someone ugly on the outside can be beautiful on the inside, which is one of the main points of Plato's dialogues featuring Alcibiades and in the Symposium, in which Alcibiades also appears.[note 102]

On the other hand, Erasmus lists several Sileni and then controversially questions whether Christ is the most noticeable Silenus of them all. The Apostles were Sileni since they were ridiculed by others. The scriptures are a Silenus too.[209]:105

The work then launches into a biting endorsement of the need for high church officials (especially the Pope) to follow the evangelical counsel of poverty (simplicity): this condemnation of wealth and power was a full two years before the notional start of the Reformation; the church must be able to act as a moderating influence on the ambition and selfishness of princes.[note 103]

The Education of a Christian Prince (1516)

Entry of Francis of France, Emperor Charles V, and Cardinal Farnese (later Pope Paul III) into Paris - 1540 (detail)

The Institutio principis Christiani or "Education of a Christian Prince" (Basel, 1516) was written as advice to the young king Charles of Spain (later Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor), to whom the Preface is addressed.[212] Erasmus applies the general principles of honor and sincerity to the special functions of the Prince, whom he represents throughout as the servant of the people.

Latin and Greek New Testaments

First page of Preface, Annotations of the New Testament (1521), with characteristic Froben decoration

Erasmus produced this first edition of his corrected Latin and Greek New Testament in 1516, in Basel at the print of Johann Froben, and took it through multiple revisions and editions.[213][214] An integral and motivating part was the substantial philological annotations. Erasmus independently brought out Paraphrases of the books of the New Testament, suited for a less academic readership.

Erasmus had, for his time, relatively little interest in the Old Testament, apart from the Psalms.[note 57] Similarly, he was relatively disinterested in the Book of Revelation, which he did not produce a paraphrase for, and he provocatively reported the doubts in the early Greek church about its status in the canon:[215] Erasmus had none of the apocalypticism of his times which so animated Savonarolan and Protestant rhetoric:[216] only one percent of his Annotations on the New Testament concerned the Book of Revelation.[217]

New Latin translation

Title page of Erasmus' Novum instrumentum omne

Erasmus had been working for years on two related projects to help theologians: philological notes on the Latin and Greek texts[note 104] and a fresh Latin New Testament. He examined all the Latin versions he could find to create a critical text. Then he polished the language. He declared, "It is only fair that Paul should address the Romans in somewhat better Latin."[219] In the earlier phases of the project, he never mentioned a Greek text.

While his intentions for publishing a fresh Latin translation are clear,[note 105] it is less clear why he included the Greek text. Though some speculate that he long intended to produce a critical Greek text or that he wanted to beat the Complutensian Polyglot into print, there is no evidence to support this. He wrote, "There remains the New Testament translated by me, with the Greek facing, and notes on it by me."[220] He further demonstrated the reason for the inclusion of the Greek text when defending his work:

But one thing the facts cry out, and it can be clear, as they say, even to a blind man, that often through the translator's clumsiness or inattention the Greek has been wrongly rendered; often the true and genuine reading has been corrupted by ignorant scribes, which we see happen every day, or altered by scribes who are half-taught and half-asleep.

So he included the Greek text to permit qualified readers to verify the quality of his Latin version.[221] But by first calling the final product Novum Instrumentum omne ("All of the New Teaching") and later Novum Testamentum omne ("All of the New Testament") he also indicated clearly that he considered a text in which the Greek and the Latin versions were consistently comparable to be the essential core of the church's New Testament tradition.

Publication and editions

Portrait of Johannes Froben by Holbein[222]
First page of Gospel according to Matthew, Froben (1521)

Erasmus said the printing[223]:105 of the first edition was "precipitated rather than published",[224] resulting in a number of transcription errors. After comparing what writings he could find, Erasmus wrote corrections between the lines of the manuscripts he was using (among which was Minuscule 2) and sent them as proofs to Froben.[225] His access to Greek manuscripts was limited compared to modern scholars and he had to rely on Jerome's late-4th century Vulgate to fill in the blanks.[226]

His effort was hurriedly published by his friend Johann Froben of Basel in 1516 and thence became the first published Greek New Testament, the Novum Instrumentum omne, diligenter ab Erasmo Rot. Recognitum et Emendatum. Erasmus used several Greek manuscript sources because he did not have access to a single complete manuscript. Most of the manuscripts were, however, late Greek manuscripts of the Byzantine textual family and Erasmus used the oldest manuscript the least because "he was afraid of its supposedly erratic text."[227] He also ignored some manuscripts that were at his disposal which are now deemed older and better.[228]

In the second (1519) edition, the more familiar term Testamentum was used instead of Instrumentum. Together, the first and second editions sold 3,300 copies.[229] By comparison, only 600 copies of the Complutensian Polyglot were ever printed. This edition was used by Martin Luther in his German translation of the Bible, written for people who could not understand Latin. The first and second edition texts did not include the passage (1 John 5:7–8) that has become known as the Comma Johanneum.[230] Erasmus had been unable to find those verses in any Greek manuscript, but one was supplied to him during production of the third edition. [note 106]

The third edition of 1522 was probably used by William Tyndale for the first English New Testament (Worms, 1526) and was the basis for the 1550 Robert Stephanus edition used by the translators of the Geneva Bible and King James Version of the English Bible. Erasmus published a fourth edition in 1527 containing parallel columns of Greek, Latin Vulgate and Erasmus's Latin texts. In this edition Erasmus also supplied the Greek text of the last six verses of Revelation (which he had translated from Latin back into Greek in his first edition) from Cardinal Ximenez de Cisneros's Biblia Complutensis.[note 107] In 1535 Erasmus published the fifth (and final) edition which dropped the Latin Vulgate column but was otherwise similar to the fourth edition. Later versions of the Greek New Testament by others, but based on Erasmus's Greek New Testament, became known as the Textus Receptus.[232]

Erasmus dedicated his work to Pope Leo X as a patron of learning and regarded this work as his chief service to the cause of Christianity. Immediately afterwards, he began the publication of his Paraphrases of the New Testament, a popular presentation of the contents of the several books. These, like all of his writings, were published in Latin but were quickly translated into other languages with his encouragement.

The Complaint of Peace (1517)

Erasmus by Holbein

Lady Peace complains about warmongering. This book was written at the request of the Burgundian Chancellor, who was then seeking a peace deal with France, to influence the zeitgeist.[116]

On the use of battle standards featuring crosses:[note 108]

That cross is the standard of him who conquered, not by fighting, but by dying; who came, not to destroy men's lives, but to save them. It is a standard, the very sight of which might teach you what sort of enemies you have to war against, if you are a christian, and how you may be sure to gain the victory. I see you, while the standard of salvation is in one hand, rushing on with a sword in the other, to the murder of your brother; and, under the banner of the cross, destroying the life of one who to the cross owes his salvation.

The final paragraph of The Complaint of Peace finishes with the command Latin: resipiscite, meaning a voluntary return from madness and unconsiousness:

At last! Enough and more than enough blood has been spilled, human blood, and if that were little, even Christian blood. Enough has been squandered in mutual destruction, enough already sacrificed to Orcus and the Furies and to nourish the eyes of the Turks. The comedy is at an end. Finally, after tolerating far too long the miseries of war, repent![233]

However, the subsequent European wars of religion which accompanied the Reformation resulted in the deaths of between 7 and 18 million Europeans, including up to one third of the population of Germany.

Paraphrases of the New Testament (1517-1524, 1532, 1534)

Title page of Paraphrase of Pauline Epistles(1520) Abraham and Isaac lower right, the goat lower left, God the Father top left, the printer's mark top right
Paraphrase (1520s), with initial capital woodcut by Hans Holbein

Erasmus described his editorial intent with the Paraphrases of the New Testament as philological rather than theological: "to fill in the gaps, to soften the abrupt ones, to digest the confused ones, to develop the developed ones, to explain the knotty ones, to add light to the dark ones, to give (Paul's) Hebraicisms a Roman polish ... and thus to moderate παραφρασιννε παραφρόνησις: that is, 'to say otherwise so as not to say otherwise.'"[note 109]

He brought out the Paraphrases progressively: Romans (1517), Corinthians (1519), the rest of the Epistles throughout 1520 and 1521, and the four Gospels and Acts from 1522 to 1524. He did not put out a paraphrase of the Book of Revelation.[178]

According to Erasmus: "A paraphrase is not a translation but something looser, a kind of commentary in which the writer and his author retain separate roles."[234]:557

The Paraphrases allowed Erasmus to amplify the text of the New Testament by integrating philological and theological points from his scholarly Annotations, allowing more of a role for his personal opinions or angles, but in a less scholarly format. Unusually, Erasmus gives paraphrases of the speech of Christ in the persona of Christ in the Gospels, and for each Epistle uses the voice of the Apostle, not Erasmus or a neutral third person as is conventional.[235] Unlike traditional medieval exegesis, which for some authors treated the whole the scriptures as a single unified document of propositions which, because they had the same divine author, could be mixed and matched as necessary, Erasmus treated each individual book as the literary unit that limited intertextual combination.[235]:24–38

Erasmus wrote his paraphrases of the Gospels at the same time as his study of Luther's work in preparation for 1524's On Free Will, On the Immense Mercy of God, etc. Some scholars see an increased explicit promotion of faith and grace in these paraphrases, with Erasmus attempting to accommodate some of Luther's exegesis, and Protestant thematic requirements, though not their theology.[150]

The Paraphrases were very well-received, particularly in England, by most[236] parties.

Biographer Roland Bainton nominated this passage as "the essence of Erasmus"[123] (its positivity to natural affection has none of the Lutheran total depravity doctrine, and it accords with the Catholic analogia entis pattern):

"Now in the natural love of this father for his son behold the goodness of God, who is far more clement to sinful man, if only he repents and despises himself, than any father to his son, however tenderly he may love him."

Familiar Colloquies (1518-1533)

The Colloquia familiaria began as simple spoken Latin exercises for schoolboys to encourage fluency in colloquial Latin interaction, but expanded in number, ambition and audience. The sensational nature of many of the Colloquies made it a prime target for censorship.[237]

Notable Colloquies include the exciting Naufragium (Shipwreck), the philosophical and path-forging The Epicurean, and the zany catalogue of fantastic animal stories Friendship.

For example, A Religious Pilgrimage[238] deals with many serious subjects humorously, and scandalously includes a letter supposedly written by a Statue of the Virgin Mary, in which, while it first thanks a reformer for following Luther against needlessly invoking saints (where the listed invocations are all for sinful or wordly things), becomes a warning against iconoclasm[note 110] and stripping altars.

Amicitia (Friendship) can be considered a sweet companion piece to the vinegary Spongia of the same year.

A Sponge to wipe away the Spray of Hutten (1523)

As a result of his reformatory activities, Erasmus found himself at odds with some reformers and some Catholic churchmen. His last years were made difficult by controversies with men toward whom he was sympathetic.[note 111]

Ulrich von Hutten (1988)

Notable among these was Ulrich von Hutten, once a friend, a brilliant but erratic genius who had thrown himself into the Lutheran cause (and militant German nationalism.[239]) Erasmus claimed that von Hutten, who had a long history of adventure, violence and manslaughter, and had proposed a literal war against the clergy, had extorted money from a Carthusian monastery, highway robbed three Abbots, and cut the ears off two Benedictines.[85]

Von Hutten declared that Erasmus, if he had a spark of honesty, would throw himself into Luther's cause and help to subdue the Pope. Hutten published a book in 1523 Ulrichi ab Hutten cum Erasmo Rotirodamo, Presbytero, Theologo, Expostulatio. In his reply in the same year, Spongia adversus aspergines Hutteni, Erasmus accused von Hutten of having misinterpreted his utterances about reform and reiterates his determination never to break with the Catholic Church.[240]

Erasmus returns multiple times to the issue that old friendships should be maintained (not betrayed) and that scholarly expertise should be acknowledged, but that neither of these should imply agreement or endorsement in total or in part with each other's views. Nor should the acknowledgement of a strained relationship or the absence of some polite title be construed as necessarily an avowal of an opposing view. Erasmus advocated being a moderating friend and a constructive voice of sanity, even to sincere but civil partisans of either side.

Historian Francis Aidan Gasquet regarded this book as necessary for understanding Erasmus' true position on Rome, quoting:

"I have never approved of (the Roman See's) tyranny, rapacity, and other vices about which of old common complaints were heard from good men. Neither do I sweepingly condemn ‘Indulgences,’ though I have always disliked any barefaced traffic in them. What I think about ceremonies, many places in my works plainly show.… What it may mean ‘to reduce the Pope to order’ I do not rightly understand. First, I think it must be allowed that Rome is a Church, for no number of evils can make it cease to be a Church, otherwise we should have no Churches whatever. Moreover, I hold it to be an orthodox Church; and this Church, it must be admitted, has a Bishop. Let him be allowed also to be Metropolitan, seeing there are very many archbishops in countries where there has been no apostle, and Rome, without controversy, had certainly SS. Peter and Paul, the two chief apostles. Then how is it absurd that among Metropolitans the chief place be granted to the Roman Pontiff?"

Erasmus noted that he would not renounce old friends because they took sides for or against Luther, noting that several had changed their minds again.[27]

The paradoxes of Luther are not worth dying for. “There is no question of articles of faith, but of such matters as ‘Whether the supremacy of the Roman Pontiff was established by Christ:’ ‘whether cardinals are necessary to the Christian Church:’ ‘whether confession is de jure divino:’ ‘whether bishops can make their laws binding under pain of mortal sin:’ ‘whether free will is necessary for salvation:’ ‘whether faith alone assures salvation,’ &c. If Christ gave him grace,” Erasmus hopes that “he would be a martyr for His truth, but he has no desire whatever to be one for Luther.”

Erasmus' break with the endangering Lutheran poet-scholar-knight von Hutten was complete, even refusing (or making it too difficult) to see him when von Hutten, homeless and dying of syphilis, passed through Basel in 1523 and found refuge with humanists there.[note 112]

On Free Will (1524)

Erasmus wrote On Free Will (De libero arbitrio) (1524) against Luther's view on free will: that everything happens by strict necessity.[note 113]

Erasmus lays down both sides of the argument impartially. In this controversy Erasmus lets it be seen that, from the thrust of Scripture, he would like to claim more for free will than St. Paul and St. Augustine seem to allow according to Luther's interpretation.[242] For Erasmus the essential point is that humans have the freedom of choice,[243] when responding to prior grace (synergism).

In response, Luther wrote his De servo arbitrio (On the Bondage of the Will) (1525), which attacked "On Free Will" and Erasmus himself, going so far as to claim that Erasmus was not a Christian. "Free will does not exist", according to Luther in that sin makes human beings completely incapable of bringing themselves to God (monergism).

Erasmus responded with a lengthy, two-part book Hyperaspistes (1526–27).[note 114]

On the same day as publishing De libero arbitrio diatribe sive Erasmus also published Concio de immensa Dei misericordia (Sermon on the Immense Mercy of God) which presented his positive alternative to Lutheranism.[244]

Liturgy of the Virgin Mother venerated at Loreto (1525)

The Translation of the Holy House of Loreto, anonymous, Italian (1510)

Editions: 1523, 1525, 1529[244]

This liturgy for a Catholic Mass, with sequences and a homily teaching that for Mary, and the Saints, imitation should be the chief part of veneration.[245]

 Fair choir of angels,
  take up the zither, take up the lyre.
 The Virgin Mother must be celebrated in song,
  in a virginal ode.
 The angels, joining in the song,
  will re-echo your voice.
 For they love virgins,
  being virgins themselves.[246]

The liturgy re-framed the existing Marian devotions: as a substitute for mentioning the Holy House of Loreto,[247] he used the meaning of Loreto as 'laurel', as in the champion's laurel wreath. The work also may have been intended to demonstrate the proper application of indulgences, as it came with one from the archbishop of Besançon.[246]

The Tongue (or Language) (1525)

The writings of Erasmus exhibit a continuing concern with language, and in 1525 he devoted an entire treatise to the subject, Lingua. This and several of his other works are said to have provided a starting point for a philosophy of language, though Erasmus did not produce a completely elaborated system.[248]

On the Institution of Christian Marriage (1526)

The Institutio matrimonii was published in 1526 as treatise about marriage,[249] and dedicated to Catherine of Aragon, who had befriended Erasmus and More. He did not follow the contemporary mainstream which saw the woman as a subject to the man, but suggested the man was to love the woman similar as he would Christ, who also descended to earth to serve.[249] He saw the role of the woman as a socia (partner) to the man.[249]

The relationship should be of amicitia[note 115] (sweet and mutual fondness).[250] Erasmus suggested that true marriage between devout Christians required a true friendship (contrary to contemporary legal theories that required community consensus or consummation); and because true friendship never dies, divorce of a true marriage was impossible; the seeking of a divorce was a sign that the true friendship (and so the true marriage) never existed and so the divorce should be allowed, after investigation and protecting the individuals.[251]

As far as sex in marriage is concerned, Erasmus' gentle, gradualist asceticism promoted that a mutually-agreed celibate marriage, if God had made this doable by the partners, could be the ideal: in theory it allowed more opportunity for spiritual pursuits. But he controversially noted

Since everything else has been designed for a purpose, it hardly seems probable that in this one matter alone nature was asleep. I have no patience with those who say that sexual excitement is shameful and that venereal stimuli have their origin not in nature, but in sin.[252]

The Ciceronians (1528)

The Ciceronianus came out in 1528, attacking the style of Latin that was based exclusively and fanatically on Cicero's writings. Étienne Dolet wrote a riposte titled Erasmianus in 1535.[253] Erasmus' own Latin style[254] was late classical (i.e., from Terence to Jerome) as far as syntax and grammar, but freely used medievalisms in its vocabulary.[255]:164,164

Explanation of the Apostles' Creed (1530)

In his catechism (entitled Explanation of the Apostles' Creed) (1530), Erasmus took a stand against Luther's recent Catechisms by asserting the unwritten Sacred Tradition as just as valid a source of revelation as the Bible, by enumerating the Deuterocanonical books in the canon of the Bible and by acknowledging seven sacraments.[256] He identified anyone who questioned the perpetual virginity of Mary as blasphemous.[257] However, he supported lay access to the Bible.[257]

In a letter to Nikolaus von Amsdorf, Luther objected to Erasmus's catechism and called Erasmus a "viper", "liar", and "the very mouth and organ of Satan".[258]

The Preacher (1536)

Erasmus's last major work, published the year of his death, is the Ecclesiastes or "Gospel Preacher" (Basel, 1536), a massive manual for preachers of around a thousand pages. Though somewhat unwieldy because Erasmus was unable to edit it properly in his old age, it is in some ways the culmination of all of Erasmus's literary and theological learning and indeed, according to some scholars, the culmination of the previous millennium of preaching manuals since Augustine. It offered prospective preachers advice on important aspects of their vocation with abundant reference to classical and biblical sources.[259]

It is also notable for calling for a mission program to outside Christendom to usefully occupy friars, castigating that commercial exploitation was prioritized over the Gospel. It called out the practice of taking criminal religious convicts and transferring them to the New World as missionaries.[93]

Patristic Editions

According to Ernest Barker, "Besides his work on the New Testament, Erasmus laboured also, and even more arduously, on the early Fathers. Among the Latin Fathers he edited the works of St Jerome, St Hilary, and St Augustine;[260] among the Greeks he worked on Irenaeus, Origen and Chrysostom."[261]

Alleged forgery

In 1530, Erasmus, in his fourth edition of the works of Cyprian, introduced a treatise De duplici martyrio ad Fortunatum, which he attributed to Cyprian and presented as having been found by chance in an old library. This text, close to the works of Erasmus, both in content (hostility to the confusion between virtue and suffering) and in form, and of which no manuscript is known, contains at least one flagrant anachronism: an allusion to the persecution of Diocletian, persecution that took place long after the death of Cyprian. In 1544, the Dominican Henricus Gravius (de) denounced the work as inauthentic and attributed its authorship to Erasmus or an imitator of Erasmus. In the twentieth century, the hypothesis of a fraud by Erasmus was rejected a priori by most of the great Erasmians, for example Percy Stafford Allen,[citation needed] but it is adopted by academics like Anthony Grafton.[262][263][264]

Legacy and evaluations

Holbein's studies of Erasmus's hands, in silverpoint and chalks, ca. 1523 (Louvre)

Erasmus was given the sobriquet "Prince of the Humanists", and has been called "the crowning glory of the Christian humanists".[265] He has also been called "the most illustrious rhetorician and educationalist of the Renaissance".[182]

Since the origin of Christianity there have been perhaps only two other men—St Augustine and Voltaire—whose influence can be paralleled with Erasmus.
—W.S. Lily, Renaissance Types[266]
No man before or since acquired such undisputed sovereignty in the republic of letters... The reform which he set in motion went beyond him, and left him behind. In some of his opinions, however, he was ahead of his age, and anticipated a more modern stage of Protestantism. He was as much a forerunner of Rationalism as of the Reformation.

French biographer Désiré Nisard characterized him as a lens or focal point: "the whole of the Renaissance in Western Europe in the sixteenth century converged towards him."[182][note 116]

Erasmus's reputation and the interpretations of his work have varied over time. Moderate Catholics recognized him as a leading figure in attempts to reform the Church, while Protestants recognized his initial support for (and, in part, inspiration of) Luther's ideas and the groundwork he laid for the future Reformation, especially in biblical scholarship. However, at times he has been viciously criticized, his works suppressed, his expertise corralled, his writings misinterpreted, his thought demonized, and his legacy marginalized.


Erasmians: Erasmus frequently mentioned that he did not want office[97] nor to be the founder or figurehead of a sect or movement, despite his vigorous branding and self-promotion.[268] Nevertheless, historians do identify de facto "Erasmians" (ranging from the early Jesuits[note 117] to the early reformers,[269] and both Thomas More and William Tyndale)—Christian humanists who picked up on some or other aspects of Erasmus' agenda.[note 118]

Erasmianism: This has been described as a "more intellectual form of spiritualized Christianity"[271] that is "an undercurrent of religious thought between Catholicism and Lutheranism."[272] It had a notable influence in Spain.[273] :39 The near election of Reginald Pole as pope in 1546 has been attributed to Erasmianism in the electors.[274] However, a precise definition is not possible;[note 119] it is not, for example, a set of systematic doctrinal propositions.

French historian Jean-Claude Margolin has noted an Erasmian stream in French culture putting "the concrete before the abstract and the ethical before the speculative", though not without noting that it is not clear whether Erasmus influenced the French or vice versa.[12]:213

Erasmian Reformation: Some historians such as Edward Gibbon and Hugh Trevor-Roper have even claimed an "'Erasmianism after Erasmus,' a secret stream which meandered to and fro across the Catholic/Protestant divide, creating oases of rational thought impartially on either side." For some, this amounted to a third church: or even that "Luther's and Calvin's Reformations were minor affairs" compared to the Reformation of Erasmus and the humanists' which swept away the Middle Ages.[12]:149

Erasmian liberalism: This has had an enduring run: described by philosopher Edwin Curley[275] that "the spirit of Erasmian liberalism was to emphasize the ethical aspects of Christianity at the expense of the doctrinal, to suspend judgment on many theological issues, and to insist that the faith actually required for salvation was a simple and uncontroversial one."[276]

Erasmus has frequently been described as "proto-liberal"[74]:s.3.12 (both, e.g., in the UK "Lloyd George" sense of liberalism as a form of conservatism that wants moderate but real reform to prevent immoderate and destructive revolution, or the ethical sense of socio-economic Socinianism[277]:70)

Protestant historian Roland Bainton is quoted "no-one did more than Erasmus to break down the theory and practice of the medieval variety of intolerance."[276]:4 Other popular or scholarly writers have suggested that Erasmus' tolerant but idealistic agenda failed,[278][279] certainly at the political level, evidenced by the wars and persecutions of the Protestant Reformation.


Erasmus is the greatest man we come across in the history of education! (R.R. Bolger) … with greater confidence it can be claimed that Erasmus is the greatest man we come across in the history of education in the sixteenth century. …It may also be claimed that Erasmus was one of the most important champions of women's rights in his century.

According to scholar Gerald J. Luhrman, "the system of secondary education, as developed in a number of European countries, is inconceivable without the efforts of humanist educationalists, particularly Erasmus. His ideas in the field of language acquisition were systematized and realized to a large extent in the schools founded by the Jesuits..."[280][note 120]

In England, he wrote the first curriculum for St Paul's School and his Latin grammar (written with Lily and Colet) "continued to be used, in adapted form, into the Twentieth Century."[282]

His system of pronouncing ancient Greek was adopted for teaching in the major Western European nations.

Erasmus "tried to realize a practical goal: a modern education as preparation for administrators from the higher estates."[167]

Erasmus was a key part of the humanist program to get Greek and Hebrew taught at the major Universities, inspired by Cardinal Cisneros' Trilingual College of San Ildefonso/Alcalá (1499/1509) and Bishop John Fisher's establishment of Greek and Hebrew lectures at Cambridge: the Trilingual Colleges at Louvain (1517) and Paris (1530) (where students included Loyola and Calvin)[283] spawned programs in Zurich, Rome, Strasbourg and Oxford (c.1566).[284]

Historian and Germanist Fritz Caspari saw education as the core of Erasmus' program:

"Erasmus hoped that the education of all individuals, especially of princes and nobles, in the spirit and disciplines of antiquity and Christianity would bring the rational element in them to full fruition. Ratio, reason, was in his mind almost synonymous with "goodness" and "kindness." The rule of reason, achieved through education,would therefore result in men's living together in universal peace and harmony in accord with the lessons of Christ's Sermon on the Mount."
—Frtz Caspari (1941)[177]


The popularity of his books is reflected in the number of editions and translations that have appeared since the sixteenth century. Ten columns of the catalogue of the British Library are taken up with the enumeration of the works and their subsequent reprints. The greatest names of the classical and patristic world are among those translated, edited, or annotated by Erasmus, including Ambrose, Aristotle, Augustine,[260] Basil, John Chrysostom, Cicero and Jerome.[285]

Unveiling of a Dutch statue of Erasmus (1964)

In the Netherlands

In his native Rotterdam, the Erasmus University Rotterdam, Erasmus Bridge, Erasmus MC and Gymnasium Erasmianum have been named in his honor. Between 1997 and 2009, one of the main metro lines of the city was named Erasmuslijn. The Foundation Erasmus House (Rotterdam),[286] is dedicated to celebrating Erasmus's legacy. Three moments in Erasmus's life are celebrated annually. On 1 April, the city celebrates the publication of his best-known book The Praise of Folly. On 11 July, the Night of Erasmus celebrates the lasting influence of his work. His birthday is celebrated on 28 October.[287]

In Spain

Enquiridio o manual del caballero Christiano, translation by Alonso Fernandez, published by Miguel de Eguía (1528) into Spanish of Erasmus' Enchiridion

Erasmus became extraordinarily popular and influential in Spain, including in and around the talent pool (often from converso families) that formed the early Jesuits. There were at least 120 translations, editions, or adaptations of Erasmus' writings between 1520 and 1552,[288] though not The Praise of Folly. Erasmians and their associates faced, at times, extraordinary pushback from the theologians at Salamanca and Vallodolid, for being associated with the alumbrado and illuminist tendencies, with many (notably Ignatius of Loyola, who had lived in the house of publisher Miguel de Eguía at the time the Spanish edition of the Enchiridion was being published)[289]:175[note 121] resorting to exile rather than facing the Inquisition, house arrest, imprisonment or worse. However, at times the heads of the Inquisition were themselves Erasmians.

Erasmus faced a notable semi-secret trial in Vallodolid in 1527, attended by numerous bishops, abbots and theologians. Its records still exist. It disbanded without condemning Erasmus as a heretic, as most of his contentious beliefs were regarded as respectable by at least some important bishops, and the fanciful interpretations of the accusers did not stand up to scrutiny.[290]

From the 1530s, historians note the start of a widespread disenchantment with these ideas: however his ideas and works were circulating enough that even fifty years later Miguel Cervantes' Erasmianism may not have required him to have read any Erasmus.[291]:37,38

In Poland

According to historian Howard Louthan "Few regions embraced Erasmus as enthusiastically as Poland, and nowhere else did he have such a concentration of allies positioned at the highest levels of society including the king himself." [note 122]

In England

English translation Paraphrase of Erasmus, 1548
Statue (1870), Canterbury Cathedral

Erasmus' grammar, Adages, Copia, and other books continued as the core Latin educational material in England for the following centuries. His works and editions (in translation) are regularly connected with William Shakespeare, to Shakespeare's education, inspirations and sources (such as the shipwreck scene in The Tempest.)[293][294][295]

His translated Gospel paraphrases were legally required to be chained for public access[296] in every church, in the reign of Edward VI.

After reading Erasmus' 1516 New Testament, Thomas Bilney "felt a marvellous comfort and quietness," and won over his Cambridge friends, future notable bishops, Matthew Parker and Hugh Latimer to reformist biblicism.[297] One of William Tyndale's earliest works was his translation of Erasmus' Enchiridion (1522,1533).[298] Both Lutheran Tyndale and his Catholic theological opponent Thomas More are considered Erasmians.[299]:16 Following their deaths in 1536, Tyndale's English New Testament and anti-Catholic Preface was often printed in diglot editions paired with Erasmus' Latin translation and Paraclecis or Preface to the Paraphrase of St Matthew, sometimes omitting Tyndale's name.[270]:156–168

Historian Lucy Wooding argues (in Christopher Haigh's paraphrases) that "England nearly had a Catholic Reformation along Erasmian lines –but it was cut short by (Queen) Mary’s death and finally torpedoed by the Council of Trent."[note 123]

The initial Henrican closure of smaller monasteries followed the Erasmian agenda, which was also shared by Catholic humanists such as Reginald Pole;[145]:155 however the later violent closures and iconoclasm were far from Erasmus' program.

Historian of literature Cathy Schrank has written that Erasmus' reputation and status changed over the course of the English "Long Reformation" from "being presented as a proto-Reformer, to problematically orthodox, to irenic martyr."[note 124] For some Restoration Anglicans, both those promoting enforced anti-extremism and latitudinarians, and into the Age of Enlightenment, Erasmus' moderation represented "an alternative to the belligerent Protestantism that characterized English political and social discourse".[301] It has been claimed that William of Orange's Toleration Act owed to Erasmus' inspiration.[12]:186

For Edward Gibbon, Erasmus was "the father of rational theology."[302]:157

By 1929, G.K. Chesterton could write "I doubt if any thinking person, of any belief or unbelief, does not wish in his heart that the end of mediaevalism had meant the triumph of the Humanists like Erasmus and More, rather than of the rabid Puritans like Calvin and Knox."[303]:84


Thomas Aquinas inspiring himself on Free Will from the writings of previous theologians such as Augustine. (1652)

Erasmus was continually protected by popes,[note 125] bishops, inquisitors-general, and Catholic kings[note 28] during his lifetime.[note 126] The following generation of saints and scholars included many influenced by Erasmian humanism or spirituality, notably Ignatius of Loyola,[note 127][305][306][307] Teresa of Ávila,[308][note 128] and John of Ávila.[310][note 129]

However, Erasmus attracted enemies in contemporary theologians in Paris, Louvain, Valladolid, Salamanca and Rome, notably Sepúlveda, Stúñica, Edward Lee,[note 130] Noël Beda (who Erasmus had known in France in the 1490s, but who opposed Greek and Hebrew),[311] as well as Alberto Pío, Prince of Carpi, who read his work with dedicated suspicion. These were theologians, usually from the mendicant orders that were Erasmus' particular target (such as Dominicans, Carmelites and Franciscans), who held a positive "linear view of history" for theology [note 131] that privileged recent late-medieval theology[312] and rejected the ad fontes methodology. Erasmus believed the vehemence of the attacks on Luther was a strategem to blacken humanism (and himself) by association, part of the centuries-long power struggle at the universities between scholastic "theologians" and humanist "poets".[312]:724 [note 132]

A particularly powerful opponent of Erasmus was Italian humanist Aleander, Erasmus' former close friend and bedmate in Venice at the Aldine Press and future cardinal. They fell out over Aleander's violent speech against Luther at the Diet of Worms, and with Aleander's identification of Erasmus as "the great cornerstone of the Lutheran heresy."[163][note 133] They periodically reconciled in warm personal meetings, only to fall into mutual suspicion again when distant.

Erasmus spent considerable effort defending himself in writing, which he could not do after his death.[315]

The Council of Trent addressed many of the controversies Erasmus had been involved with: including free will, accumulated errors in the Vulgate, and priestly training,[note 134] and followed his call for a renewed positive focus on the Creed.


A work of Erasmus censored, perhaps following the inclusion of some works on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum

By the 1560s, there was a marked downturn in reception: at various times and durations, some of Erasmus' works, especially in Protestantized editions, were placed on the various Roman, Dutch, French, Spanish and Mexican[317] Indexes of Prohibited Books, either to not be read, or to be censored and expurgated: each area had different censorship considerations and severity.[318]

Erasmus' work had been translated or reprinted throughout Europe, often with Protestantizing revisions and sectarian prefaces. Sometimes the works of Martin Luther were sold with the name of Erasmus on the cover.

Erasmus' works were prohibited in England under Queen Mary I, from 1555.

For the Roman Index as it emerged at the close of the Council of Trent, Erasmus' works were completely banned (1559), mostly unbanned (1564), completely banned again (1590), and then mostly unbanned again with strategic revisions (1596) by the Indexes of successive Popes.[319] In the 1559 Index, Erasmus was classed as a heretic. The Colloquies were especially but not universally frowned on for school use, and many of Erasmus' tendentious prefaces and notes to his scholarly editions required adjustment.[320] In Spain's Index, the translation of the Enchiridion only needed the phrase "Monkishness is not piety" removed to become acceptable.

By 1896, the Roman Index still listed Erasmus' Colloquia, The Praise of Folly, The Tongue, The Institution of Christian Marriage, and one other as banned, plus particular editions of the Adagia and Paraphrase of Matthew. All other works could be read in suitable expurgated versions.[321]

Because Erasmus' scholarly editions were frequently the only sources of Patristic information in print, the strict bans were often impractical, so theologians worked to produce replacement editions building on, or copying, Erasmus' editions.

The Jesuits received a dispensation from the Roman Inquisitor General to read and use Erasmus' work[164] (not kept on the open shelves of their libraries),[322] as did priests working near Protestant areas such as Francis de Sales.


Early Dutch Jesuit scholar Peter Canisius (fl. 1547 - 1597), who produced several works superseding Erasmus',[note 135] is known to have read, or used phrases from, Erasmus' New Testament (including the Annotations and Notes) and perhaps the Paraphrases, his Jerome biography and complete works, the Adages, the Copia, and the Colloquies:[note 136] Canisius, having actually read Erasmus, had an ambivalent view on Erasmus that contrasted with the negative line of some of his contemporaries:

Very many people applied also to Erasmus, declaring: 'Either Erasmus speaks like Luther or Luther like Erasmus' (Aut Erasmus Lutherizat, aut Lutherus Erasmizat). And yet, we must say, if we would like to render an honest judgment, that Erasmus and Luther were very different. Erasmus always remained a Catholic. ... Erasmus criticized religion 'with craft rather than with force', often applying considerable caution and moderation to either his own opinions or errors. ...Erasmus passed judgment on what he thought required censure and correction in the teaching of theologians and in the Church.

In contrast, Robert Bellarmine's Controversies mentions Erasmus (as presented by Erasmus' opponent Albert Pío) negatively over 100 times, categorizing him as a "forerunner of the heretics";[324]:10 though not a heretic.[note 137] [note 138] Alphonsus Ligouri, who also had not read Erasmus, judged that Erasmus "died with the character of an unsound Catholic but not a heretic," putting it all in the context of a dispute between Theologians and Rhetoricians.[note 139]

His patristic scholarship continued to be valued by academics, as were un-controversial parts of his biblical scholarship,[194]:614,617 though Catholic biblical scholars started to criticize Erasmus' limited range of manuscripts for his direct New Testament as undermining his premise of correcting the Latin from the "original" Greek.[194]:622

The Jesuit mission to China, lead by Matteo Ricci,[326] adopted the approach of cultural accommodation[327] linked to Erasmus.[note 140] The early Jesuits were exposed to Erasmus at their colleges,[328] and their positioning of Confucius echoed Erasmus' positioning of "Saint" Socrates.[329]:171

Salesian scholars have noted Erasmus' significant influence on Francis de Sales: "in the approach and the spirit he (de Sales) took to reform his diocese and more importantly on how individual Christians could become better together,"[330] his optimism,[331] civility,[332] esteem of marriage.[333] and, according to historian Charles Béné, a piety addressed to the laity, the acceptance of mental prayer, and the valuing of pagan wisdom.[12]:212

A famous 17th century Dominican library featured statues of famous churchmen on one side and of famous "heretics" (in chains) on the other: those foes including the two leading anti-mendicant Catholic voices William of Saint-Amour (fl. 1250) and Erasmus.[334]:310

By 1690, Erasmus was also, rather perversely, labelled as the forerunner of the heretical tendecies in the Jansenists. [note 141]

From 1648 to 1794 and then 1845 to the present, the mainly-Jesuit Bollandist Society has been progressively publishing Lives of the Saints, in 61 volumes and supplements. Historian John C. Olin notes an accord of approach with the hitherto "unique" method, mixing critical standards and devotional/rhetorical purpose, that Erasmus had laid out in his Life of St Jerome.[281]:97,98

By the 1700s, Erasmus' even indirect influence on Catholic thought had waned.

Twentieth Century

A historian has written that "a number of Erasmus' modern Catholic critics do not display an accurate knowledge of his writings but misrepresent him, often by relying upon hostile secondary sources," naming Yves Congar as an example.[181]:39

A major turning point in the popular Catholic appraisal of Erasmus occurred in 1900 with rosy Benedictine historian (and, later, Cardinal) Francis Aidan Gasquet's The Eve of the Reformation which included a whole chapter on Erasmus based on a re-reading of his books and letters. Gasquet wrote "Erasmus, like many of his contemporaries, is often perhaps injudicious in the manner in which he advocated reforms. But when the matter is sifted to the bottom, it will commonly be found that his ideas are just."[note 142]

Over the last century, Erasmus has been un-cancelled and his Catholic reputation has gradually started to be rehabilitated: favourable factors may include:

  • the increasingly active modern historical and theological scholarship on Erasmus suggested chinks in the traditional partisan characterzations of Erasmus;
  • the retirement of the Roman Index librorum prohibitorum in 1966;
John Fisher, after Hans Holbein
  • increased support for a view of Erasmus that portrays him as a conservative[note 143] endorsed by and responsive to the hierarchy[note 144] as much as a maverick, with him voicing and crystalizing mainstream and respectable Catholic thought of his time as much as innovating;[note 145]
  • his deep friendships and interactions with two Saint-Martyrs Thomas More[note 146] and John Fisher,[note 147]
  • his acknowledged or retro-fitted influence on perhaps five Doctors of the Church (Ignatius, Theresa of Ávila, John of Ávila, Canisius, de Sales), the positive normalization of his views in influential new orders such as the Jesuits, Oratorians, Redemptorists and Salesians,[note 148] and an increasing list of exemplary Catholics whose views channel or parallel Erasmus', such as Bartolomé de las Casas' De unico vocationis modo (1537),[337] and De la Salle's Decorum & Civility;[note 149]
  • the acceptance of St John Henry Cardinal Newman's "development of doctrine", to some extent a chick hatched from the egg of Erasmus' theological historicism[note 150] and his appeal to tradition (sensus fidei fidelium) on the Eucharist;[12]:129
  • the reinvigouration of patristic ad fontes and a re-surfacing of several ideas associated with Erasmus (but ideas sometimes with a longer, forgotten patrimony, and sometimes from an even more problematic figure than Erasmus)[note 151] by ressourcement and Communio theologians, such as
    • Henri de Lubac[note 152]
    • Hans Urs von Balthasar, who ranked Erasmus with Augustine, Bonaventure, and Thomas Aquinas as the great theologians/exegetes;[340]
    • Oratorian Louis Bouyer, who wrote that the Method of True Theology (or Ratio) of Erasmus "represents, for the first time and in admirable fashion, the use of principles and methods entirely adequate to effect a really fruitful renewal of Catholic faith and theology;"[341]
    • Joseph Ratzinger, whose famous Regensberg Address emphasized the fundamental influence of Hellenic philosophy on primitive Christianity.[note 153]
  • his promotion of the recognition of adiaphora and toleration within bounds was taken up, to an extent, by Pope John XXIII: In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas.[342][note 154]

His instrumentalist approach to Christian humanism has been compared to that of John Henry Newman and the personalism of John Paul II,[note 155]:151–164 but also has been criticized as treating the Church's doctrines merely as aids to piety.[note 156]

The Catholic scholar Thomas Cummings saw parallels between Erasmus' vision of Church reform and the vision of Church reform that succeeded at the Second Vatican Council.[274] Theologian J. Coppens noted the "Erasmian themes" of Lumen Gentium (e.g. para 12), such as the sensus fidei fidelium and the dignity of all the baptized.[12]:130,138,150 Another scholar writes "in our days, especially after Vatican II, Erasmus is more and more regarded as an important defender of the Christian religion."[343] John O'Malley has commented on a certain closeness between Erasmus and Dei Verbum.[note 157]

In 1963, Thomas Merton suggested "If there had been no Luther, Erasmus would now be regarded by everyone as one of the great Doctors of the Catholic Church. I like his directness, his simplicity, and his courage."[344]:146

Notably, since the 1950s, the Roman Catholic Easter Vigil mass has included a Renewal of Baptismal Promises,[345]:3,4 an innovation[346] first proposed[347] by Erasmus in his Paraphrases. [note 158]

In his 1987 collection The Spirituality of Erasmus of Rotterdam historian Richard deMolen, later a Catholic priest, called for Erasmus' canonization.[28]


Commemorative coins or medals of Erasmus by Göbel, Georg Wilhelm (1790)

Protestant views on Erasmus fluctuated depending on region and period, with continual support in his native Netherlands and in cities of the Upper Rhine area. However, following his death and in the late sixteenth century, many Reformation supporters saw Erasmus's critiques of Luther and lifelong support for the universal Catholic Church as damning, and second-generation Protestants were less vocal in their debts to the great humanist.

There was a tendency to downplay that many of the usages fundamental to Luther, Melancthon and Calvin, such as the forensic imputation of righteousness, grace as divine favour or mercy (rather than a medicine-like substance or habit), faith as trust (rather than a persuasion only), "repentance" over "doing penance" (as used by Luther in the first theses of the 95 Theses), owed to Erasmus.[note 159]

Luther had attempted a Biblical analogy to justify his dismissal of Erasmus' thought: "He has done what he was ordained to do: he has introduced the ancient languages, in the place of injurious scholastic studies. He will probably die like Moses in the land of Moab…I would rather he would entirely abstain from explaining and paraphrasing the Scriptures, for he is not up to this work…to lead into the land of promise, is not his business…" [348] "Erasmus of Rotterdam is the vilest miscreant that ever disgraced the earth…He is a very Caiaphas."[note 160] However Erasmus corresponded cordially with Melancthon until the end.[148]

Some historians have even said that "the spread of Lutheranism was checked by Luther’s antagonizing (of) Erasmus and the humanists."[349]:7

Erasmus' reception is also demonstrable among Swiss Protestants in the sixteenth century: he had an indelible influence on the biblical commentaries of, for example, Konrad Pellikan, Heinrich Bullinger, and John Calvin, all of whom used both his annotations on the New Testament and his paraphrases of same in their own New Testament commentaries.[350] Huldrych Zwingli, the founder of the Reformed tradition, had a conversion experience after reading Erasmus' poem, 'Jesus' Lament to Mankind.' Zwingli's moralism, hermeneutics and attitude to patristic authority owe to Erasmus, and contrast with Luther's.[351]

Anabaptist scholars have suggested an 'intellectual dependence'[352] of Anabaptists on Erasmus.[353]

For evangelical Christianity, Erasmus had a strong influence[354] on Arminius.

Erasmus' promotion of the recognition of adiaphora and toleration within bounds was taken up by many kinds of Protestants.

Erasmus' Greek New Testament was the basis of the Textus Receptus bibles, which were used for all Protestant bible translations from 1600 to 1900, notably including the Luther Bible and the King James Version.

Character attacks

Writers have often explained Erasmus' failure to adopt their favoured position as manifesting some deep character flaw.[note 161] In historian Bruce Mansfield's words, "a smallness of character in Erasmus stood in the way of his greatness of mind."[12]:6–10

Luther's antipathy to Erasmus has continued to more recent times in some Lutheran teachers:

Oh how Erasmus placed honor above truth! To seek honor is a human frailty. To ever permit it to go to the point of placing honor and for that matter friendship, expediency, or anything else, above truth is to be blinded by the devil himself and to set a snare for others to be entrapped in his delusions. Such delusions Erasmus would support in pride, weakness, vacillation, and false love for peace and harmony." "Erasmus, the Judas of the Reformation" "this cultured and eloquent theological midget

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1917) explained "His inborn vanity and self-complacency were thereby increased almost to the point of becoming a disease; at the same time he sought, often by the grossest flattery, to obtain the favour and material support of patrons or to secure the continuance of such benefits."[356] According to Catholic historian Joseph Lortz (1962) "Erasmus remained in the church…but as a half Catholic…indecisive, hesitating, suspended in the middle."[357]:299

A 1920s American historian wrote "Erasmus's ambitions, fed by an innate vanity which at times repels by its frank self-seeking, included both fame and fortune" yet pulls back on another historian's view that his "irritable self-conceit, shameless importunity,…may lead one to a sense of contempt for the scholar", pointing out the reality of Erasmus' dire poverty in Paris.[358] An inter-war Anglican historian judges "He is a worm, a pigmy, a sheep able only to bleat when the gospel is destroyed ... Erasmus was a book-man and an invalid.”[270]:143 A Victorian Scottish biographer of Tyndale contrasted Erasmus' weak constitution with the "more masculine energy" of Luther and Tyndale.[270]:143

In the 20th century, various pyschoanalyses were made of Erasmus by practitioners: these diagnosed him variously as "supremely egotistic, neurasthenic, morbidly sensitive, volatile, variable, and vacillating, injudicious, irritable, and querulous, yet always ... a baffling but interesting chararacter"; a "volatile neurotic, latent homosexual, hypochondriac, and psychasthenic"; having "a form of narcissistic character disorder," a spiritualized, vengeful, "paranoid disposition" driven by "injured narcissism", "repeated persecutory preoccupations...(with) delusional states of paranoia toward the end of his life", repressed anger directed "father figures such as prelates and teachers," needing a "sense of victimization" [359]:598–624

Huizinga's biography (1924) treats him more sympathically, with phrases such as: a great and sincere need for concord and affection, profoundly in need of (physical and spiritual) purity, a delicate soul (with a delicate constitution), fated to an immoderate love of liberty,[note 162] having a dangerous fusion between inclination and conviction, restless but precipitate, a continual intermingling of explosion and reserve, fastidious, bashful, coquettish, a white-lier, evasive, suspicious, and feline.[360] Yet "compared with most of his contemporaries he remains moderate and refined."[361]:Ch.xiv

Name used

  • The European Erasmus Programme of exchange students within the European Union is named after him. The Erasmus Programme scholarships enable students to spend up to a year of their university courses in a university in another European country, commemorating Erasmus' impulse to travel.
  • The Erasmus Journal of Philosophy and Economics[362] is produced at the Erasmus Institute for Philosophy and Economics (EIPE)[363] at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Rotterdam also an Erasmus Bridge.
  • A peer-reviewed annual scholarly journal Erasmus Studies has been produced since 1981.[364]
  • The Erasmus Prize is one of Europe's foremost recognitions for culture, society or social science. It was won by Wikipedia in 2015.
  • The Erasmus Lectures are an annual lecture on religious subjects, given by prominent Christian (mainly Catholic) and Jewish intellectuals,[365] most notably by Joseph Ratzinger in 1988.[366]
  • The Erasmus Building in Luxembourg was completed in 1988 as the first addition to the headquarters of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).[367] The building houses the chambers of the judges of the CJEU's General Court and three courtrooms.[367]
  • Several schools, faculties and universities in the Netherlands and Belgium are named after him, as is Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn, New York, USA.
  • Queens' College, Cambridge, has an Erasmus Tower,[368] Erasmus Building[369] and an Erasmus Room.[370] Until the early 20th century, Queens' College used to have a corkscrew that was purported to be "Erasmus' corkscrew", which was a third of a metre long; as of 1987, the college still had what it calls "Erasmus' chair".[371]
  • From 1997 to 2008, the American University of Notre Dame had an Erasmus Institute.[372]


  • Literary theorist Hans Urs von Balthasar listed Erasmus in one of three key intellectual "events" in the Germanic age:[373]
  • Political journalist Michael Massing has written of the Luther-Erasmus free will debate as creating a fault line in Western thinking: Europe adopted a form of Erasmian humanism while America has been shaped by Luther-inspired individualism.[156]
  • By the coming of the Age of Enlightenment, Erasmus increasingly again became a more widely respected cultural symbol and was hailed as an important figure by increasingly broad groups.
  • In a letter to a friend, Erasmus once had written: "That you are patriotic will be praised by many and easily forgiven by everyone; but in my opinion it is wiser to treat men and things as though we held this world the common fatherland of all."[374] Thus, the universalist ideals of Erasmus are sometimes claimed to be important for fixing global governance.[375]
  • Catholic historian Dom David Knowles wrote that a just appreciation of traditional Catholic doctrine was a necessary condition for appreciating Erasmus, "without which many otherwise gifted writers have repeated meaningless platitudes."[145]
  • According to two Dutch historians, "his legacy irreversibly inspired researchers to a hermeneutical approach that in the end could not but result in irrefutable attacks on the self-evident complete inerrancy of Holy Writ."[194]:632


Erasmus is credited with numerous quotes; many of them are not exactly original to him but are taken from his collections of sayings such as Adages or Apophthegmata.[note 163]

  • In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Adages
  • The most disadvantageous peace is better than the justest war. Adages
  • Bidden or unbidden, God is always there. Adages
  • "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes."[376]
  • "Monkishness is not piety" Enchiridion
  • "Christ said (to St Peter) 'Feed my sheep', not 'Devour my sheep'." [citation needed]
  • "All the ups and downs of comedy usually end in marriage. It looks as though the Lutheran tragedy will end the same way."[377]
  • Martin Luther is "a snake without a snakecharmer" Hyperaspistes II
  • "If I have my way, the farmer, the smith, the stone-cutter will read him (Christ), prostitutes and pimps will read him, even the Turks will read him. …If it be the ploughman guiding his plough, let him chant in his own language the mystic psalms." Paraphrase of St Matthew

He is also blamed for the mistranslation from Greek of "to call a bowl a bowl" as "to call a spade a spade",[378] and the rendering of Pandora's "jar" as "box".[379]



Visitation Momento mori, painter unknown, c.1500, juxtaposing pregnancy and death, with four Augustinan canons regular of the Chapter (Abbey) of Sion. Left, with little lion, is St Jerome; right, holding a heart, is St Augustine. Rijksmuseum[380]

Until Erasmus received his (1505 and 1517) Papal dispensations to wear clerical garb, Erasmus wore versions of the local habit of his order, the Canons regular of St Augustine, Chapter of Sion, which varied by region and house, unless traveling: in general, a white or perhaps black cassock with linen and lace choir rochet for liturgical contexts or sarotium (scarf), almuce (cape), perhaps with an asymmetrical black cope of cloth or sheepskin (cacullae) or long black cloak.[381]

From 1505, and certainly after 1517, he dressed as a scholar-priest.[382] He preferred warm and soft garments: according to one source, he arranged for his clothing to be stuffed with fur to protect him against the cold, and his habit counted with a collar of fur which usually covered his nape.[382]

All Erasmus' portraits show him wearing a knitted scholar's bonnet.[383]

Signet ring and personal motto

Signet rings of Erasmus of Rotterdam: Amerbach Kabinett

Erasmus chose the Roman god of borders and boundaries Terminus as a personal symbol[384] and had a signet ring with a herm he thought depicted Terminus carved into a carnelian.[384] The herm was presented to him in Rome by his student Alexander Stewart and in reality depicted the Greek god Dionysus.[385] The ring was also depicted in a portrait of his by the Flemish painter Quentin Matsys.[384]

Painting of Erasmus as Terminus by Hans Holbein the Younger[386]

The herm became part of the Erasmus branding at Froben, and is on his tombstone.[387]:215 In the early 1530s, Erasmus was portrayed as Terminus by Hans Holbein the Younger.[386]

Quinten Metsys (Massijs), medal commissioned by Desiderius Erasmus. 1519, bronze, 105 mm

He chose Concedo Nulli (Lat. I concede to no-one) as his personal motto.[388] The obverse of the medal by Quintin Matsys featured the Terminus herm. Mottoes on medals, along the circumference, included "A better picture of Erasmus is shown in his writing",[389] and "Contemplate the end of a long life" and Horace's "Death is the ultimate boundary of things,"[387]:215 which re-casts the motto as a memento mori.


Portrait of Desiderius Erasmus by Albrecht Dürer, 1526, engraved in Nuremberg, Germany

Erasmus frequently gifted portraits and medals with his image to friends and patrons.

  • Hans Holbein painted him at least three times and perhaps as many as seven, some of the Holbein portraits of Erasmus surviving only in copies by other artists. Holbein's three profile portraits – two (nearly identical) profile portraits and one three-quarters-view portrait – were all painted in the same year, 1523. Erasmus used the Holbein portraits as gifts for his friends in England, such as William Warham, the Archbishop of Canterbury. (Writing in a letter to Warham regarding the gift portrait, Erasmus quipped that "he might have something of Erasmus should God call him from this place.") Erasmus spoke favourably of Holbein as an artist and person but was later critical, accusing him of sponging off various patrons whom Erasmus had recommended, for purposes more of monetary gain than artistic endeavor. There were scores of copies of these portraits made in Erasmus' time.[390]
  • Albrecht Dürer also produced portraits of Erasmus, whom he met three times, in the form of an engraving of 1526 and a preliminary charcoal sketch. Concerning the former Erasmus was unimpressed, declaring it an unfavorable likeness of him. Nevertheless, Erasmus and Dürer maintained a close friendship, with Dürer going so far as to solicit Erasmus's support for the Lutheran cause, which Erasmus politely declined. Erasmus wrote a glowing encomium about the artist, likening him to famous Greek painter of antiquity Apelles. Erasmus was deeply affected by his death in 1528.
  • Quentin Matsys produced the earliest known portraits of Erasmus, including an oil painting in 1517[391] and a medal in 1519.[392]
  • In 1622, Hendrick de Keyser cast a statue of Erasmus in (gilt) bronze replacing an earlier stone version from 1557, itself replacing a wooden one of 1549, possibly a gift from the City of Basel. This was set up in the public square in Rotterdam, and today may be found outside the St. Lawrence Church. It is the oldest bronze statue in the Netherlands.
  • Actor Ken Bones portrays Erasmus in David Starkey's 2009 documentary series Henry VIII: The Mind of a Tyrant
  • Canterbury Cathedral, England has a statue of Erasmus on the North Face, placed in 1870.


In 1928, the site of Erasmus' grave was dug up, and a body identified in the bones and examined.[382] In 1974, a body was dug up in a slightly different location, accompanied by an Erasmus medal. Both bodies have been claimed to be Erasmus'. However, it is possible neither is.[393]


The Catalogue of the Works of Erasmus (2023)[394] runs to 444 entries (120 pages), almost all from the latter half of his life.

Complete editions

The Collected Works of Erasmus (or CWE) is an 84 volume set of English translations and commentary from the University of Toronto Press. As of May 2023, 66 of 84 volumes have been released. The Erasmi opera omni, known as the Amsterdam Edition or ASD, is a 65 volume set of the original Latin works. As of 2022, 59 volumes have been released.


Erasmus, Letter to George, Duke of Saxony, (1524) giving Erasmus' view of Luther and the Reformation
The best sources for the world of European Renaissance Humanism in the early sixteenth century is the correspondence of Erasmus.

Erasmus wrote or answered up to 40 letters per day,[27] usually waking early in the morning and writing them in his own hand. Over 3,000 letters exist for a 52-year period, including to and from most Western popes, emperors, kings and their staff, as well as to leading intellectuals, bishops, reformers, fans, friends, and enemies.

His letters have been published in translation in the Complete Works of Erasmus. This has been accompanied by a three-volume reference book Contemporaries of Erasmus giving biographies of the over 1900 individuals he corresponded with or mentioned.[395]

His private letters were eventually written in the knowledge that they could be intercepted by hostile opponents; he revised and rewrote letters for publication; his letters have a high amount of accommodation of his correspondents' views and strong irony, and a tendency to muddy the waters where danger is involve.

"I have never censured anything but human superstition and abuses. I only wish that I could drag the universal church to where I was struggling to lead it, so that, throwing off superstition, hypocrisy, worldly attachments, and frivolous little questions, we would all serve the Lord with pure hearts, each in his own vocation."

Religious and political

Enchiridion militis Christiani (1503).
Enchiridion militis Christiani (1503), Spanish translation
Marginal drawing of Folly by Hans Holbein in the first edition of Erasmus's Praise of Folly, 1515
A Playne and Godly Exposition or Declaration of the Commune Crede, 2nd edition, 1533, English translation of Symbolum apostolorum
  • Handbook of a Christian Knight (Enchiridion militis Christiani) (1503)
  • Sileni alcibiadis (1515)
  • The Education of a Christian Prince (Institutio principis Christiani) (1516)
  • The Quarrel of Peace (Querela pacis) (1517)
    • (English translation[396])
  • On the Immense Mercy of God (De immensa misericordia dei) (1524)
  • On Free Will (De libero arbitrio diatribe sive collatio) (1524)
  • Hyperaspistes 2 volumes (1526)
  • The Institution of Christian Marriage (Institutio matrimonii) (1526)[249]
  • Consultations on the War on the Turks (Consultatio de bello turcis inferendo) (1530)
  • On the Preparation for Death (De praeparatione ad mortem) (1533)
  • On the Apostles' Creed (Symbolum apostolorum)
  • The Preacher (Ecclesiastes) (1535)

Comedy and satire

  • The Praise of Folly (Moriae encomium - Stultitiae laus) (1511)
    • (English translations[397])
  • Preface to Plutarch's How to tell a Flatterer from a Friend (1514) (Dedication to Henry VIII)
  • Julius Excluded from Heaven (1514) (attrib.)
  • Colloquies (Colloquia) (1518)
    • (English translation [398])
  • Ciceronianus (1528)

Culture and education

  • Adages (Adagiorum collectanea) (1500) all editions usually called Adagia
    • Three Thousand Adages (Adagiorum chilliades tres) (1508)
    • Four Thousand Adages (Adagiorum ciliades quatuor) (1520)
  • Foundations of the Abundant Style (De utraque verborum ac rerum copia) (1512) often called De copia
  • Introduction to the Eight Parts of Speech (De constructione octo partium prationis) (1515) - Erasmus' version of Lily's Grammar, sometimes called Brevissima Institutio
  • Language, or the uses and abuses of language, a most useful book, (Lingua, Sive, De Linguae usu atque abusu Liber utillissimus) (1525)
  • On the Correct Pronunciation of Latin and Greek (De recta Latini Graecique sermonis pronuntiatione) (1528)
  • On Early Liberal Education for Children (De pueris statim ac liberaliter instituendis) (1529)
  • On Civility in Children (De civilitate morum puerilium) (1530)
  • Apophthegmatum opus (1531)
    • includes Opusculi plutarchi (c.1514)
      • includes How to tell a flatterer from a friend

New Testament

The 1516 edition had Erasmus' corrected Vulgate Latin and Greek versions.[399] The subsequent revised editions had Erasmus' new Latin version and the Greek. The 1527 edition had both the Vulgate and Erasmus' new Latin with the Greek. These were accompanied by substantial annotations, methodological notes and paraphrases, in separate volumes.

  • Novum Instrumentum omne (1516)
    • Novum Testamentum omne (1519, 1522, 1527,1536)
  • In Novum Testamentum annotationes (1519, 1522, 1527,1535)
  • Paraphrases of Erasmus (1517-1524)
    • The first tome or volume of the Paraphrase of Erasmus vpon the newe testamente (1548)

Patristic and classical editions

The title page of the princeps edition of Irenaeus's Against heresies, which was published by Erasmus at Johannes Froben's, Basel, 1526.

Froben was keen to exploit Erasmus' name as a brand: for the patristic and classical editions that came out under his name[400] Erasmus was variously commissioning editor, acquisitions editor, and supervising editor often working with others. He was usually the primary translator and contributed at least prefaces, notes and biographies.[401]

  • Complete Works of Jerome, nine volumes (1516) with biography, ed. ii (1526), ed. iii (1537, posthumous)
  • Complete Works of Cyprian (1520)
  • Commentary on the Psalms Arnobius the Younger (1522)
  • Complete Works of Hilary of Poitiers (1523)
  • Against Heresies, Irenaeus (1526)
  • Complete Works of Ambrose (and Ambrosiaster), four volumes (1527)
  • Works of Athanasius of Alexandria (1522-1527)
  • On Grace (De gratia) Faustus of Riez (1528)
  • Complete Works of Augustine (1528, 1529)
  • Works of Lactantius (1529)
  • Epiphanius (1529)
  • Complete Works of John Chrysostom, five volumes (1525-1530) with biography
  • Works of Basil of Caesarea (1530)
  • Homilies of Gregory of Nazianzus (1531)
  • Complete Works of Origen, two volumes (1536) with biography (posthumous)

Late in his publishing career, Erasmus produced editions of two pre-scholastic but post-patristic writers:

  • On the sacrament of the Lord's body and blood (De sacramento corporis et sanguinis Domini) Alger of Liège (1530)
  • Commentary on Psalms of Haymo of Halberstadt attrib. (1533)

Classical writers whose works Erasmus translated or edited include Lucian (1506), Euripides (1508), Pseudo-Cato (1513), Curtius (1517), Suetonius (1518), Cicero (1523), Ovid and Prudentius (1524), Galen (1526), Seneca (1515, 1528), Plutarch (1512-1531), Aristotle (1531, Introduction to edition of Simon Grynaeus), Demosthenes (1532), Terence (1532), Ptolemy (1533), as well as Livy, Pliny, Libanius, Galen, Isocrates and Xenophon. Many of the Adagia translate adages from ancient and classical sources, notably from Aesop; many of Apophthegmata are from Platonists or Cynics.



  1. Erasmus was his baptismal name, given after Erasmus of Formiae. Desiderius was an adopted additional name, which he used from 1496. The Roterodamus was a scholarly name meaning "from Rotterdam", though the Latin genitive would be Roterdamensis.
  2. Painter Hieronymous Bosch lived nearby, on the marketplace, at this time.
  3. "Poverty stricken, suffering from quartan fever, and pressurized by his guardians"Juhász, Gergely (1 January 2019). "The Making of Erasmus's New Testament and Its English Connections". 
  4. Canons regular of St Augustine, Chapter of Sion (or Syon), Emmaus house, Stein (or Steyn).
  5. This is a non-mendicant order of clerics which followed the looser Rule of St Augustine, who do not withdraw from the world, and who take a vow of Stability binding them to a House in addition to the usual Poverty (common life, simplicity), Chastity and Obedience. Erasmus described the Canons Regular as "an order midway between monks and (secular priests):...amphibians, like the beaver...and the crocodile." Also "for the so-called Canons formerly were not monks, and now they are an intermediate class: monks where it is an advantage to be so; not monks where it is not."[25] The kind of world-involved, devout, scholarly, loyal, humanistic, non-monkish, non-mendicant, non-ceremonial, voluntaristic religious order without notions of spiritual perfection that may have suited Erasmus better arose soon after his death, perhaps in response to the ethos Erasmus shared: notably the Jesuits, Oratorians[26]:52 and subsequent congregations such as the Redemptorists.
  6. Historian Julian Haseldine has noted that medieval monks used charged expressions of friendship with the same emotional content regardless of how well-known the person was to them: so this language was sometimes "instrumental" rather than "affective." However, in this case we have Erasmus' own attestation of the genuine rather than formal fondness. Haseldine, Julian (2006). "Medieval Male Friendship Networks". The Monastic Review Bulletin (12).  p.19.
    D.F.S. Thomson found two other similar contemporary examples of humanist monks using similar language in letters. Thomson, D.F.S. (1969). "Erasmus as a poet in the context of northern humanism" (in nl). De Gulden Passer 47: 187–210. 
  7. Erasmus used similar expressions in letters to other friends at the time.[8]:17
  8. Erasmus editor Harry Vredeveld argues that the letters are "surely expressions of true friendship", citing what Erasmus said to Grunnius: "It is not uncommon at [that] age to conceive passionate attachments [fervidos amores] for some of your companions". However, he allows "That these same letters, which run the gamut of love's emotions, are undoubtedly also literary exercises—rhetorical Greek: progymnasmata—is by no means a contradiction of this."Harry Vredeveld, ed. (1993), Collected Works of Erasmus: Poems, Translated by Clarence H. Miller, University of Toronto Press, p. xv, ISBN 9780802028679, 
  9. However, note that such crushes or bromances may not have been scandalous at the time: the Cistercian Aelred of Rievaulx's influential book On Spiritual Friendship put intense adolescent and early-adult friendships between monks as natural and useful steps towards "spiritual friendships", following Augustine. Huizinga (p.12) notes "To observe one another with sympathy, to watch and note each other's inner life, was a customary and approved occupation among the Brethren of the Common Life and the Windesheim monks."
  10. Diarmaid MacCulloch (2003). Reformation: A History. p. 95. MacCulloch further adds in a footnote "There has been much modern embarrassment and obfuscation on Erasmus and Rogerus, but see the sensible comment in J. Huizinga, Erasmus of Rotterdam (London, 1952), pp. 11–12, and from Geoffrey Nutuall, Journal of Ecclesiastical History 26 (1975), 403" In Huizinga's view: "Out of the letters to Servatius there rises the picture of an Erasmus whom we shall never find again—a young man of more than feminine sensitiveness; of a languishing need for sentimental friendship. ...This exuberant friendship accords quite well with the times and the person. ... Sentimental friendships were as much in vogue in secular circles during the fifteenth century as towards the end of the eighteenth century. Each court had its pairs of friends, who dressed alike, and shared room, bed, and heart. Nor was this cult of fervent friendship restricted to the sphere of aristocratic life. It was among the specific characteristics of the devotio moderna."
  11. But also a capacity to feel betrayal sharply, as with his brother Peter, Aleander, and Dorp.
  12. 12.0 12.1 The biographer J.J. Mangan commented of his time living with Andrea Ammonio in England "to some extent Erasmus thereby realized the dream of his youth, which was to live together with some choice literary spirit with whom he might share his thoughts and aspiration". Quoted in J.K. Sowards,The Two Lost Years of Erasmus: Summary, Review, and Speculation, Studies in the Renaissance, Vol. 9 (1962), p174
  13. This was his entry to the European network of Latin secretaries, who were usually humanists, and so to their career path: a promising secretary could be appointed tutor to some aristocratic boy, when that boy reached power they were frequent kept on as a trusted counselor, and finally moved over to some dignified administrative role.
  14. 25 was the minimum age under canon law to be ordained a priest. However, Gouda church records do not support the 1492 year given by his first biographer, and 1495 has been suggested as more plausible.[4]
  15. Erasmus suffered severe food intolerances, including to fish, beer and many wines, which formed much of the diet of Northern European monks, and caused his antipathy to fasts.
  16. The canonry burnt down in 1549 and the canons moved to Gouda. Klein, Jan Willem; Simoni, Anna E.C. (1994). "Once more the manuscripts of Stein monastery and the copyists of the Erasmiana manuscripts". Quaerendo 24 (1): 39–46. doi:10.1163/157006994X00117. 
  17. Dispensed of his vows of stability and obedience from his obligations "by the constitutions and ordinances, also by statutes and customs of the monastery of Stein in Holland", quoted in J.K. Sowards,The Two Lost Years of Erasmus: Summary, Review, and Speculation, Studies in the Renaissance, Vol. 9 (1962), p174. Erasmus continued to report occasionally to the prior, who disputed the validity of the 1505 dispensation.
  18. Undispensed illegitimacy had various effects under canon law: it was not possible to be ordained a secular priest or to hold benefices, for example. Clarke, Peter (2005). "New sources for the history of the religious life: the registers of the Apostolic Penitentiary". Monastic Research Bulletin 11. 
  19. Subsequent students included Ignatius of Loyola, Noël Béda, Jean Calvin, and John Knox.
  20. Some of these visits were interrupted by trips back to Europe.[citation needed]
  21. Even in good times, Erasmus had a "frequent inability to understand the details of his own finances" which caused him disappointment and suspicion.[51]
  22. Erasmus claimed a monk/poet had promised to cover the rent. Roth, F. (1965). "A History of the English Austin Friars (continuation)". Augustiniana 15: 567–628. ISSN 0004-8003.  p.624. It may also show the practical difficulty of being dispensed from wearing the habit of his order without being entirely dispensed from his vow of poverty: indeed, Erasmus had said his order of Augustinian Canons regular were priests when that suited and monks when that suited.[8]
  23. He wrote to Servatius Rogerus, the Prior at Stein, to justify his jobs: "I do not aim at becoming rich, so long as I possess just enough means to provide for my health and free time for my studies and to ensure that I am a burden to none."[54]
  24. It is reported that the commission of theologians Henry VIII assembled to identify the errors of Luther was made up of three of Erasmus' former students: Henry Bullock, Humphrey Walkden and John Watson. Schofield, John (2003). The lost Reformation :why Lutheranism failed in England during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI (Thesis). Newcastle University. hdl:10443/596. p28
  25. "Beer does not suit me either, and the wine is horrible." Froud, J.A. (1896). Life and Letters of Erasmus. Scribner and Sons. p. 112. 
  26. Historians have speculated that Erasmus passed on to More an early version of Bartholome de las Casas' Memoria which More used for Utopia, due to 33 specific similarities of ideas, and that the fictional character Raphael Hythloday is de las Casas.[61]:45 Coincidentally, de las Casas' nemesis Sepúlveda, arguing for the natural slavery of American Indians, had previously been Erasmus' opponent as well, initially supporting the anti-decadence of Erasmus' Ciceronians but then finding heresy in his translations and works.
  27. Movingly remembering later, how Alexander would play the monochord, recorder or lute in the afternoon after studies.[69]
  28. 28.0 28.1 By 1524, his disciples included, in his words, "the (Holy Roman) Emperor, the Kings of England, France, and Denmark, Prince Ferdinand of Germany, the Cardinal of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and more princes, more bishops, more learned and honourable men than I can name, not only in England, Flanders, France, and Germany, but even in Poland and Hungary…" quoted in Trevor-Roper, Hugh (30 July 2020). "Erasmus". 
  29. In his own house "Zur alten Treu" which Froben had bought in 1521 and fitted with Erasmus' required fireplace.[83]
  30. Engineered by reformer Cardinal Cajetan and, later, a supporter of Erasmus.[86]
  31. "When the Lutheran tragedy (Latin: Lutheranae tragoediae) opened, and all the world applauded, I advised my friends to stand aloof. I thought it would end in bloodshed…", Letter to Alberto Pío, 1525, in e.g., "Froude, Life and Letters of Erasmus, p 322". 
  32. A sentence previously in this article said "Prominent reformators like Oecolampad urged him to stay." However, Campion, Erasmus and Switzerland, op. cit., p26, says that Œcolampadius wanted to drive Erasmus from the city.
  33. He spent the first two years in Freiburg as a guest of the city in the unfinished mansion Haus zum Walfisch and was indignant when an attempt was made to charge back-rent: he paid this rent, and that of another refugee from Basel in his house, a fellow Augustinian Canon, Bishop Augustinus Marius, the humanist preacher who had lead the efforts in Basel to resist Œcolampadius. Emerton (1889), p.449.
  34. His arthritic gout[92] kept him housebound and unable to write: "Even on Easter Day I said mass in my bedroom." Letter to Nicolaus Olahus (1534)
  35. De Góis then proceeded to Padua, meeting with the humanist cardinals Bembo and Sadeleto, and with Ignatius of Loyola. He had previously dined with Luther and Melancthon, and met Bucer.[94]
  36. The last was released at the time of Henry VIII and Anne Bolyn's wedding; Erasmus appended a statement that indicated he opposed the marriage. Erasmus outlived Anne and her brother by two months.
  37. Erasmus writing a moving letter to William Blount's teenaged son Charles: "I wrote this in sorrow and grief, my mind totally devastated… We had made a vow to die together; he had promised a common grave…I am held back here half-alive, still owing the debt from the vow I had made, which …I will soon pay. …Instead, even time, which is supposed to cure even the most grievous sorrows, merely makes this wound more and more painful. What more can I say? I feel that I am being called. I will be glad to die here together with that incomparable and irrevocable patron of mine, provided I am allowed, by the mercy of Christ, to live there together with him." [97]:86
  38. "I am so weary of this region...I feel that there is a conspiracy to kill me...Many hope for war." Letter to Erasmus Schets (1534)
  39. During which he occupied himself copying out quotations from Erasmus' Adages etc and formally complaining about the protestantized English translation of Erasmus' Paraphrases of the New Testament.[99]
  40. Contrast the "outsider" interpretation of Huizinga "He tried to remain in the fold of the old [Roman] Church, after having damaged it seriously, and renounced the [Protestant] Reformation, and to a certain extent even Humanism, after having furthered both with all his strength." Johan Huizinga, Erasmus and the Age of Reformation (tr. F. Hopman and Barbara Flower; New York: Harper and Row, 1924), p. 190. with the "insider" interpretation of Francis Aidan Gasquet "He was a reformer in the best sense, as so many far-seeing and spiritual-minded churchmen of those days were. He desired to better and beautify and perfect the system he found in vogue, and he had the courage of his convictions to point out what he thought stood in need of change and improvement, but he was no iconoclast; he had no desire to pull down or root up or destroy under the plea of improvement. That he remained to the last the friend of Popes and bishops and other orthodox churchmen, is the best evidence, over and above his own words, that his real sentiments were not misunderstood by men who had the interests of the Church at heart, and who looked upon him as true and loyal, if perhaps a somewhat eccentric and caustic son of Holy Church. Even in his last sickness he received from the Pope proof of his esteem, for he was given a benefice of considerable value."[27]:200
  41. This assertion is contradicted by Gonzalo Ponce de Leon speaking in 1595 at the Roman Congregation of the Index on the (mostly successful) de-prohibition of Erasmus' works said that he died "as a Catholic having received the sacraments." Menchi, Silvana Seidel (2000). "Sixteenth-Annual Bainton Lecture". Erasmus of Rotterdam Society Yearbook 20 (1): 30. doi:10.1163/187492700X00048. 
  42. According to historian Jan van Herwaarden, it is consistent with Erasmus' view that outward signs were not important; what mattered is the believer's direct relationship with God. However, van Herwaarden states that "he did not dismiss the rites and sacraments out of hand but asserted a dying person could achieve a state of salvation without the priestly rites, provided their faith and spirit were attuned to God" (i.e., maintaining being in a State of Grace) noting Erasmus' stipulation that this was "as the (Catholic) Church believes."[103]
  43. "He left a small fortune, in trusts for the benefit of the aged and infirm, the education of young men of promise, and as marriage portions for deserving young women - nothing, however, for Masses for the repose of his soul." Kerr, Fergus (2005). "Comment: Erasmus". New Blackfriars 86 (1003): 257–258. doi:10.1111/j.0028-4289.2005.00081.x. ISSN 0028-4289. 
  44. For Erasmus, "dogmatics do not exist for themselves; they take on meaning only when they issue, on the one hand, in the exegesis of scripture and, on the other, in moral action" according to Manfred Hoffmann's Erkenntnis und Verwirklichung der wahren Theologie nach Erasmus von Rotterdam (1972) [12]:137
  45. However, "his wit can be gentle; it can break out into bitterness. In controversy, resentments and anxieties can get loose, countermanding the Christian imperative of love to which he was devoted and which runs as a leitmotiv through all his writings." Mansfield [12]:230
  46. Summa nostrae religionis pax est et unanimated. Erasmus continued: "This can hardly remain the case unless we define as few matters as possible and leave each individual’s judgement free on many questions." Erasmus (1523). Letter to Carondelet: The Preface to His Edition of St. Hilary. 
  47. Note that the use of summa is perhaps also a backhanded reference to the scholastic summa, which he upbraided for their moral and spiritual uselessness.Surtz, Edward L. (1950). ""Oxford Reformers" and Scholasticism". Studies in Philology 47 (4): 547–556. Retrieved 19 June 2023. 
  48. Bruce Mansfield summarizes historian Georg Gebhart's view: "While recognizing the teaching authority, but not the primacy, of Councils, Erasmus adopted a moderate papalism, papal authority itself being essentially pastoral."[12]:132
  49. If any single individual in the modern world can be credited with "the invention of peace", the honour belongs to Erasmus rather than Kant whose essay on perpetual peace was published nearly three centuries later.[62]
  50. "I do not deny that I wrote some harsh things in order to deter the Christians from the madness of war, because I saw that these wars,which we witnessed for too many years, are the source of the biggest part of evils which damage Christendom. Therefore, it was necessary to come forward not only against these deeds, which are clearly criminal, but also against other actions, which are almost impossible to do without committing many crimes." Apology against Albert Pío [116]:11
  51. Erasmus was not out-of-step with opinion within the church: Archbishop Bernard II Zinni of Split speaking at the Fifth Council of the Lateran (1512) denounced princes as the most guilty of ambition, luxury and a desire for domination. Bernard proposed that reformation must primarily involve ending war and schism. Minnich, Nelson H. (1969). "Concepts of Reform Proposed at the Fifth Lateran Council". Archivum Historiae Pontificiae 7: 163–251. ISSN 0066-6785.  p. 173,174
  52. James D.Tracy notes that mistrust of the Habsburg government in the general population (partially due to the fact Maximilian and his grandson Charles V were absentee rulers, the secret nature of diplomacy and other circumstances) was widespread, but it is notable that intellectuals like Erasmus and Barlandus also accepted the allegations.[74]:94,95
  53. "I have made my support of the church sufficiently clear...The only thing in which I take pride is that I have never committed myself to any sect." Erasmus, Letter to Georgius Agricola (1534)
  54. "…the goal of De bello Turcico was to warn Christians and the Church of moral deterioration and to exhort them to change their ways.… Erasmus’ objection to crusades was by no means an overall opposition to fighting the Turks. Rather, Erasmus harshly condemned embezzlement and corrupt fundraising, and the Church’s involvement in such nefarious activities, and regarded them as inseparable from waging a crusade." Ron, Nathan (1 January 2020). "The Non-Cosmopolitan Erasmus: An Examination of his Turkophobic/Islamophobic Rhetoric". Akademik Tarih ve Düşünce Dergisi (Academic Journal of History and Idea).  pp. 97,98
  55. In the case of the Reuchlin affair, Erasmus sided with Reuchlin, a gentile who advocated Hebrew studies (which Erasmus never undertook seriously himself but promoted) and interaction with Jewish scholars (which Erasmus never felt the professional occasion for) to learn of things such as the kaballa (which Erasmus scorned), against the attacks of Johannes Pfefferkorn, a converted Jew (which Erasmus approved of) who saw dangers in re-Judaizing Christianity (like Erasmus) but who went into fanaticism, e.g., advocating that Jews be compelled to hear Christian sermons, and that all copies of the Talmud be destroyed; both called out the blood libel.[12]:223
  56. Erasmus knew several converted Jews: his doctor Matthais Adrianus, who Erasmus recommended for the Trilingual College, and his doctor Paolo Riccio, a professor of philosophy and imperial physician.Krivatsy, Peter (1973). "Erasmus' Medical Milieu". Bulletin of the History of Medicine 47 (2): 113–154. ISSN 0007-5140. PMID 4584234.  Erasmus's Spanish friend Juan Luis Vives came from a conversos family and his father had been executed as a Judaizer heretic.
  57. 57.0 57.1 "If only the Christian church did not attach so much importance to the Old Testament!" Ep 798 p. 305, Rummel, Erika (1989). "Review of Opera Omnia. vo. V-2. Opera Omnia vol. V-3. Opera Omnia. II-4.". Renaissance Quarterly 42 (2): 304–308. doi:10.2307/2861633. ISSN 0034-4338. </ref>
    "To Erasmus, Judaism was obsolete. To Reuchlin, something of Judaism remained of continuing value to Christianity."[135]
  58. For Markish, Erasmus' "theological opposition to a form of religious thought which he identified with Judaism was not translated into crude prejudice against actual Jews", to the extent that Erasmus could be described as 'a-semitic' rather 'anti-semitic'."Erasmus of Rotterdam". AICE. 
  59. "Judaism I call not Jewish impiety, but prescriptions about external things, such as food, fasting, clothes, which to a certain degree resemble the rituals of the Jews." Declarationes ad censuras Lutetiae, 1532. Erasmus' counter-accusation of Judaizing may have been particularly sharp and bold, given the prominent role that some friars were playing in the lethal persecution of some conversos at the time in Spain. Historian Kevin Ingram suggests "The conversos also clearly reveled in Erasmus’s comparison, in the Enchiridion, of Old-Christians mired in ceremonial practice to Pharisees who had forgotten the true message of Judaism, a statement they used as a counter-punch against Old-Christian accusations of converso Judaizing. The conversos conveniently ignored the anti-semitic aspect of Erasmus’ statement."[96]:71
  60. "The Jews" (i.e. the earliest Jewish Christians in Antioch) "because of a certain human tendency, desire(d) to force their own rites upon everyone, clearly in order under this pretext to enhance their own importance. For each one wishes that the things which he himself has taught should appear as outstanding." Erasmus, Paraphrase of Romans and Galations[112]:321
  61. 61.0 61.1 His mode of expression made him "slippery like a snake" according to Luther - Visser, Arnoud (2017). "Irreverent Reading: Martin Luther as Annotator of Erasmus". The Sixteenth Century Journal 48 (1): 87–109. doi:10.1086/SCJ4801005. )
  62. For example, his quote on the persecution of Reuchlin "if it is Christian to hate Jews, we are all abundantly Christians here" is taken literally by Theodor Dunkelgrün[135]:320 as being approving; the alternative view would be that it was sardonic and challenging.
  63. "If we really want to heave the Turks from our necks, we must first expel from our hearts a more loathsome race of Turks, avarice, ambition, the craving for power, self-satisfaction, impiety, extravagance, the love of pleasure, deceitfulness, anger, hatred, envy." Erasmus, de bello Turcico, apud Ron, Nathan The Non-Cosmopolitan Erasmus: An Examination of his Turkophobic/Islamophobic Rhetoric, op. cit. p 99: Ron takes this as an affirmation by Erasmus of the low nature of Turks; the alternative view would take it as a negative foil (applying the model of the Mote and the Beam) where the prejudice is appropriated in order to subvert it.
  64. According to historian Thomas Tentler, few Christians from his century gave as much emphasis as Erasmus to a pious attitude to death: the terrors of death are "closely connected to guilt from sin and fear of punishment" the antidote to which is first "trust in Christ and His ability to forgive sins", avoiding (Lutheran) boastful pride, then a loving, undespairing life lived with appropriate penitence. The focus of the Last Rites by priests should be comfort and hope. Tentler, Thomas N. (1965). "Forgiveness and Consolation in the Religious Thought of Erasmus". Studies in the Renaissance 12: 110–133. doi:10.2307/2857071. ISSN 0081-8658. 
  65. "It is because Christ is in the pages of the bible that we meet him as a living person. As we read these pages we absorb his presence, we become one with him." Robert Sider[142]
  66. monachatus non est pietas: Being a monk is not piety but he adds ‘but a way of life that may be useful or not useful according to each man’s physical make-up and disposition’.[143]:36
  67. "Erasmus had been criticizing the Catholic church for years before the reformers emerged, and not just pointing up its failings but questioning many of its basic teachings. He was the author of a series of publications, including a Greek edition of the New Testament (1516), which laid the foundations for a model of Christianity that called for a pared-down, internalized style of religiosity focused on Scripture rather than the elaborate, and incessant, outward rituals of the medieval church. Erasmus was not a forerunner in the sense that he conceived or defended ideas that later made up the substance of the Reformation thought. [...] It is enough that some of his ideas merged with the later Reformation message." Dixon, C. Scott (2012). Contesting the Reformation. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 60. ISBN 978-1-4051-1323-6. 
  68. "Unlike Luther, he accepted papal primacy and the teaching authority of the church and did not discount human tradition. The reforms proposed by Erasmus were in the social rather than the doctrinal realm. His principal aim was to foster piety and to deepen spirituality." [143]:37
  69. Writer Gregory Wolfe notes however "For Erasmus, the narrative of decline is a form of despair, a failure to believe that the tradition can and will generate new life."[146]
  70. "In the first years of the Reformation many thought that Luther was only carrying out the program of Erasmus, and this was the opinion of those strict Catholics who from the outset of the great conflict included Erasmus in their attacks on Luther." Catholic Encyclopedia
  71. An expression Erasmus coined. Bonae connotes more than just good, but also moral, honest and brave [1] literature
  72. Future cardinal Aleander, his former friend and roommate at the Aldine Press, wrote "The poison of Erasmus has a much more dangerous effect than that of Luther" Catholic Encyclopedia
  73. Another commentator: "Erasmus laid the egg that Luther broke" Midmore, Brian (7 February 2007). "The differences between Erasmus and Luther in their approach to reform". 
  74. For Craig R. Thompson, Erasmus cannot be called philosopher in the technical sense, since he disdained formal logic and metaphysics and cared only for moral philosophy.
    Similarly, John Monfasani reminds us that Erasmus never claimed to be a philosopher, was not trained as a philosopher, and wrote no explicit works of philosophy, although he repeatedly engaged in controversies that crossed the boundary from philosophy to theology. His relation to philosophy bears further scrutiny.
    MacPhail, Eric. "Desiderius Erasmus (1468?—1536)". 
  75. "According to Erasmus, Lucian’s laughter is the most appropriate instrument to guide pupils towards moral seriousness because it is the denial of every peremptory and dogmatic point of view and, therefore, the image of a joyful pietas (“true religion ought to be the most cheerful thing in the world”; De recta pronuntiatione, CWE 26, 385). By teaching the relativity of communicative situations and the variability of temperaments, the laughter resulting from the art of rhetoric comes to resemble the most sincere content of Christian morality, based on tolerance and loving persuasion." Bacchi, Elisa (2019). "Hercules, Silenus and the Fly: Lucian's Rhetorical Paradoxes in Erasmus' Ethics". Philosophical Readings Online Journal of Philosophy CI (2). 
  76. "Why don't we all reflect: this must be a marvelous and new philosophy since, in order to reveal it to mortals, he who was god became man..."Erasmus (1516). Paraclesis. Retrieved 11 August 2023. 
  77. A Lutheran view: "Philosophia christiana as taught by Erasmus has never been factual reality; wherever it was philosophia, it was not christiana; wherever it was christiana, it was not philosophia." Karl Barth[167]:1559
  78. Similar to John Wycliffe's statement "the greatest philosopher is none other than Christ."Lahey, Stephen Edmund (1 May 2009). John Wyclif. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195183313.003.0005. 
  79. Philosopher Étienne Gilson has noted "Confronted with the same failure of philosophy to rise above the order of formal logic, John of Salisbury between 1150 and 1180, Nicolas of Autrecourt and Petrach in 1360, Erasmus of Rotterdam around 1490, spontaneously conceived a similar method to save Christian faith," i.e. a sceptical-about-scholasticism ad-fontes religious moralism promoting peace and charity.[168]:102–107
  80. Baker-Smith, Dominic (1994), "Uses of Plato by Erasmus and More", Platonism and the English Imagination, pp. 86–99, doi:10.1017/CBO9780511553806.010, ISBN 9780521403085, "Erasmus does not engage with Plato as a philosopher, at least not in any rigorous sense, but rather as a rhetorician of spiritual experience, the instigator of a metaphorical system which coheres effectively with Pauline Christianity." 
  81. "Despite a lack of formal philosophical training and an antipathy to medieval scholasticism, Erasmus possessed not only a certain familiarity with Thomas Aquinas, but also close knowledge of Plato and Aristotle. Erasmus’ interest in some Platonic motifs is well known. But the most consistent philosophical theme in Erasmus’ writings from his earliest to his latest was that of the Epicurean goal of peace of mind, ataraxia. Erasmus, in fact, combined Christianity with a nuanced Epicurean morality. This Epicureanism, when combined in turn with a commitment to the consensus Ecclesiae as well as with an allergy to dogmatic formulations and an appreciation of the Greek Fathers, ultimately rendered Erasmus alien to Luther and Protestantism though they agreed on much." Abstract of Monfasani, John (2012). "Twenty-fifth Annual Margaret Mann Phillips Lecture: Erasmus and the Philosophers". Erasmus of Rotterdam Society Yearbook 32 (1): 47–68. doi:10.1163/18749275-00000005. 
  82. Historian Fritz Caspari quipped that Machiavelli "appears as a sceptic whose premise is the badness of man", while Erasmus is a sceptic whose general premise is "man is or can be made good."[177]
  83. In the Adagia, Erasmus quotes Aristotle 304 times, "making extensive use of the moral, philosophical, political, and rhetorical writings as well as those on natural philosophy, while completely shunning the logical works that formed the basis for scholastic philosophy" Mann Phillips, Margaret (1964). The 'Adages' of Erasmus. A Study with Translations. Cambridge University Press.  apud Traninger, Anita (25 January 2023). "Erasmus and the Philosophers". A Companion to Erasmus. pp. 45–67. doi:10.1163/9789004539686_005. ISBN 9789004539686. 
  84. "However learned the works of those men may be, however ‘subtle’ and, if it please them, however ‘seraphic,’ it must still be admitted that the Gospels and Epistles are the supreme authority." Erasmus, Paraclesis, apud' [178]
  85. Rice puts it "Philosophy is felt to be a veil of pretense over an unethical reality…pious disquisitions cannot excuse immorality." Rice, Eugene F. (1950). "Erasmus and the Religious Tradition, 1495-1499". Journal of the History of Ideas 11 (4): 387–411. doi:10.2307/2707589. ISSN 0022-5037.  pp. 402-404
  86. "For I am ready to swear that Epimenides came to life again in Scotus." Erasmus to Thomas Grey Nichols, ep. 59; Allen, ep 64
  87. "Like Jean Gerson before him, he recommended that (scholastic method) be practiced with greater moderation and that it be complemented by the new philological and patristic knowledge that was becoming available." [181]:26
  88. "I find that in comparison with the Fathers of the Church our present-day theologians are a pathetic group. Most of them lack the elegance, the charm of language, and the style of the Fathers. Content with Aristotle, they treat the mysteries of revelation in the tangled fashion of the logician. Excluding the Platonists from their commentaries, they strangle the beauty of revelation." Enchiridion, Erasmus, apud Markos, Louis A. (April 2007). "The Enchiridion of Erasmus". Theology Today 64 (1): 80–88. doi:10.1177/004057360706400109.  p. 86
  89. Accommodation and scopus christi were ideas significant later, in Calvin's theology.[184]:231,131
    Scopus comes from Origen and was also picked up by Melancthon. Saarinen, Risto. Luther and the Reading of Scripture in [185]
  90. Furthermore, "the role allegory plays in Erasmus' exegesis is analogous to the crucial place accommodation obtains in his theology."[186]:7)
  91. "The gospel text for Erasmus, and many others, possessed “the capacity to transform our inner self by the presence of God as incarnated in the text (or ‘inverbation’) Leushuis, Reinier (3 July 2017). "Emotion and Imitation: The Jesus Figure in Erasmus's Gospel Paraphrases". Reformation 22 (2): 82–101. doi:10.1080/13574175.2017.1387967. :93
  92. Mansfield[12]:166 summarizes Robert Kleinhan that "In contrast to contemporary theologies which centred on grace (Luther) or church and sacraments (the Council of Trent), Erasmus' theology 'stressed the acquisition of peace through the virtue obtainable by union with Christ through meditation apon the documents of the early church's witness to him.'"
  93. For Erica Rummel "In content, Erasmian theology is characterized by a twin emphasis on inner piety and on the word as mediator between God and the believer."[143]
  94. According to philosopher John Smith "The core of his theological thought he traced back to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, rather than Paul."[189]
  95. Historical theologian Carl Meyer writes "Because the Scriptures are the genuine oracles of God, welling forth from the deepest recesses of the divine mind, Erasmus said they should be approached with reverence. Humility and veneration are needed to find the secret chambers of eternal wisdom. "Stoop to enter," Erasmus warned, "else you might bump your head and bounce back!" [123]:738
  96. I.e., Erasmus' method is that Jesus' primary teachings are not things you (whether lay person or theologian) interpret in the light of everything else (particularly some novel, post-patristic theological schema, even if ostensibly biblically coherent), but what you base your interpretation of everything else on.
  97. This is quite contrary to Luther's privileging of his scheme of justification, its associated verses of Romans and Galatians, and his prizing of vehement assertions and insults. Erica Rummel notes "The similarities between his and Luther’s thought were of course superficial."[143]:36
  98. "Erasmus saw the scholastic exercise, in its high intellectualism, as fundamentally wrong-headed."[12]:148
  99. "Three areas preoccupied Erasmus as a writer: language arts, education, and biblical studies. …All of his works served as models of style. …He pioneered the principles of textual criticism." Rummel, Erika (2 November 2022) (in en). Christian History 145 Erasmus: Christ's humanist by Christian History Institute - Issuu. pp. 7, 8. 
  100. "Erasmus is so thoroughly, radically Christ-centered in his understanding of both Christian faith and practice that if we overlook or downplay this key aspect of his character and vision, we not only do him a grave disservice but we almost completely misunderstand him." Markos, Louis A. (April 2007). "The Enchiridion of Erasmus". Theology Today 64 (1): 80–88. doi:10.1177/004057360706400109. 
  101. These eulogize Thomas More (25 by name), such as: "More is inscribed in my heart in letters that no injurious time can erode."
  102. "Anyone who looks closely at the inward nature and essence will find that nobody is further from true wisdom than those people with their grand titles, learned bonnets, splendid sashes and bejeweled rings, who profess to be wisdom's peak." Sileni Alcibiadis
  103. Philologist Lucca Baratta summarized Erasmus' arguments as follows: "The ignorance and poor judgement of the people, surreptitiously encouraged by the powerful, are the foundations of bad government. The king therefore needs a true counsellor, who will guide his choices rather than flatter him; so it is essential to unmask the deception of those who brand as heretics whomever seeks to bring the Church back to the road (of poverty and virtue) trodden by Christ. Only thus can abuse of the temporal and spiritual power be avoided. //It is therefore essential to recapture the original purity of the Christian message, and to follow the clear division of the roles of power, without undue mingling of the worldly and the celestial: the infidelity to Christ of the men of the Church produces only the bloated and grotesque figures of power oblivious to its own spiritual ends. There can be only one solution: the men of the Church must despise earthly goods." Baratta, Luca (1 September 2022). "'A Scorneful Image of this Present World': Translating and Mistranslating Erasmus's Words in Henrician England". Critical Survey 34 (3): 100–122. doi:10.3167/cs.2022.340307.  p. 105
  104. "My mind is so excited at the thought of emending Jerome's text, with notes, that I seem to myself inspired by some god. I have already almost finished emending him by collating a large number of ancient manuscripts, and this I am doing at enormous personal expense. Epistle 273"[218]
  105. "He welcomed vernacular translations with great enthusiasm, but they could mean nothing for Europe as a whole. … Latin was…the only language in which the Bible could play a role in the culture of Europe."de Jong, Henk Jan (1984). "Novum Testamentum a nobis versum: the Essence of Erasmus' Edition of the New Testament". The Journal of Theological Studies 32 (2). 
  106. The Catholic Church decreed that the Comma Johanneum was open to dispute (2 June 1927), and it is rarely included in modern scholarly translations.
  107. Erasmus had a good relationship with Cisneros, who defended Erasmus against Stunica: "Cisneros was very open to the northern influences particularly the writings of the humanist (Erasmus) because of its focus on mental prayer, and piety which were consistent with his Franciscan mysticism."[231] Cisneros was at times Archbishop of Toledo, the nominal head of the Inquisition and the co-regent of Spain. Erasmus was also personal friends with Cisneros' Latin secretary Juan de Vergara, and exchanged polite-ish letters with several of the Complutensian team, some of whom vehemently opposed his translation.
  108. The standard of the cross image invokes, but to some extent contradicts, the imagery of St Catherine of Sienna, who used it to call for European peace in order for joint military relief of the Holy Lands: she finished many letters with "pace, pace, pace." Esther Cohen, Holy women as spokeswomen for peace in late medieval Europe, in Friedman, Yvonne (2018). Religion and peace: historical aspects. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-1138694248. 
  109. Latin: "hiantia committere, abrupta mollire, confusa digerere, evoluta evolvere, nodosa explicare, obscuris lucem addere, hebraismum romana civitate donare ... et ita temperare παράφρασινne fiat παραφρόνησις, h. e. sic aliter dicere ut non dicas alia."
    Dedicatory preface ad Card. Grimanum to Paraphrase of the Pauline Epistles, apud Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation - Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Retrieved 5 August 2023. 
  110. "Erasmus himself deprecated excessive devotion to images, but deplored iconoclasm. For him, both extremes represented a focus on the external trappings rather than the inner truths of religion." Rex, Richard (2014). "The Religion of Henry Viii". The Historical Journal 57 (1): 1–32. doi:10.1017/S0018246X13000368. ISSN 0018-246X.  p 17
  111. "Against his own advice, he took part in a series of public controversies with men he called 'barking dogs.' They hounded him to his grave." Regier, Willis (1 January 2011). "Review of Erasmus, Controversies: Collected Works of Erasmus, vol. 78, trans. Peter Matheson, Peter McCardle, Garth Tissol, and James Tracy.". Bryn Mawr Review of Comparative Literature 9 (2). ISSN 1523-5734. 
  112. Von Hutten was fleeing after fighting on the losing side in the Knights' Revolt (1522), and finally was directed by Zwingli in Zurich to a small island[241] owned by a Benedictine abbey, where he died in relative seclusion in what may have been a syphilis hospice, supported by the local Protestant pastor.
  113. Written to refute Martin Luther's doctrine of "enslaved will", according to Alister McGrath, Luther believed that only Erasmus, of all his interlocutors, understood and appreciated the locus of his doctrinal emphases and reforms. McGrath, Alister (2012). Iustitia Dei (3rd ed.). 3.4: "Justification in Early Lutheranism": Cambridge University Press. pp. xiv+ 448. 
  114. Hyperaspistes means protected by a shield (i.e., self-defence) but also, countering Luther's calling of Erasmus as a viper, 'SuperSnake'.
    Note 7, "Martin Luther > Notes (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy/Winter 2022 Edition)". 
  115. Erasmus wrote a colloquy Amicitia considered generally, which mentioned the mutual sympathy of Thomas More and his monkey. Cummings, Brian (12 November 2020). "Erasmus and the Colloquial Emotions". Erasmus Studies 40 (2): 127–150. doi:10.1163/18749275-04002004. 
  116. An comment mirrored by historian Fr James Kelsey McConica: "Erasmus commanded the allegience of the best minds of his day for a reason. It as his genius to fuse into a single stream of thought the converging currents of the late fifteenth century: humanistic textual scholarship, Florentine neo-Platonism, Netherlands piety of the devotio moderna and the Windesheim reform movement, and the manifold discontents of a middle class suddenly aware of its power and needs." [267]:14–15
  117. The Jesuits have been described as intermediaries for the ideas of Erasmus in the Counter-reformation, such as in Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises. Kallendorf, Hilaire (2019). "Quevedo, Reader of Erasmus". La Perinola 23: 67–84. doi:10.15581/017.23.67-84. 
  118. "Describing Tyndale merely as an Erasmian, however, is not particularly helpful" as, theologically, he followed Luther.[270]
  119. "As Erasmus himself has taken on more substance, achieved a firmer outline, the notion ("Erasmianism") has become more wraithlike or, at least, more problematic and lacking in definition."[12]:227
  120. 20th Century historian John C. Olin recounts that his Latin and Greek education at a Jesuit school in Buffalo, NY "followed substantially the Messina program" set up in 1548 in Sicily by Canesius, et. al, which used Erasmus' non-theological works, such as De copia, his letter-writing guide De conscribendis epistolis, and his Latin syntax De constructione.[281]
  121. One historian reports that the translation was undertaken at the behest of Ven. Cardinal Cisneros (d. 1517), the Archbishop of Toledo.[231]:51
  122. "More than any other figure from western Europe, Erasmus helped shape the intellectual and religious agenda of the Polish kingdom during this period."[292]
  123. "Even before Henry VIII fell out with the pope, Erasmian humanism had given some English Catholics an evangelical enthusiasm for Scripture and a distaste for popular devotions thought to be superstitious. Catholic evangelicals and moderate Protestants differed little on the authority of Scripture and the roles of faith and works in justification." Haigh, Christopher (June 2002). "Catholicism in Early Modern England: Bossy and Beyond". The Historical Journal 45 (2): 481–494. doi:10.1017/S0018246X02002479. 
  124. "…from the Henrician period, when a nexus of evangelically-minded authors, printers, and publishers worked to co-opt Erasmus as a Reformer; through the early Stuart period, when Erasmus’ colloquies were adapted by Puritan writers, often portraying the “righteous” being derided by the ignorant and ill-informed; to a post-Restoration phase, which commemorated Erasmus as an orthodox figure and proponent of the via media, critiquing the Church from within."[300]
  125. "It is a remarkable fact that the attitude of the popes towards Erasmus was never inimical; on the contrary, they exhibited at all times the most complete confidence in him. Paul III even wanted to make him a cardinal," Catholic Encyclopedia
  126. For example, in 1527, Pope Clement VII wrote to the Spanish Inquisitor General that he should silence those who attacked Erasmus' non-Lutheran doctrine; and Charles V (King of Spain, King of Germany, King of Sicily, Archduke of Austria, Duke of Brabant, Holy Roman Emperor) wrote to Erasmus his support. Ledo, Jorge (29 March 2018). "Which Praise of Folly Did the Spanish Censors Read?: The Moria de Erasmo Roterodamo (c. 1532–1535) and the Libro del muy illustre y doctíssimo Señor Alberto Pio (1536) on the Eve of Erasmus' Inclusion in the Spanish Index". Erasmus Studies 38 (1): 64–108. doi:10.1163/18749275-03801004.  Erasmus corresponded with a succession of protective Inquisitor Generals of Castille/Spain in the 1510s and 1520s, consulting with them on his work and attacks on it.[96]:72
  127. "A.H.T. Levi notes that the preface to Erasmus’s commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, published in 1522, 'contains all the major features of Ignatius’s spirituality embryonically, including the principle of the discretio spirituum (the discernment of the spirits) and, among much else taken by Ignatius, the idea of imaginatively reconstructing the episodes of Jesus’ life for meditative prayer that was to form the body of the Spiritual Exercises.[96]:94
    Ignatius claimed to have given up reading the Enchiridion finding it cold, however historian Moshe Sluhovsky traces an influence on Ignatius' Exercises from Ven. Cardinal Cisneros' postumous Compendio breve de ejercidos espirituales (1520) on which he in turn traces an influence from Erasmus' Enchiridion. [304]
  128. Spanish scholar Antonio Pérez-Romero has claimed a bias in New World traditionalist Spanish Catholic biographers dealing with "the apparent affinity between St. Teresa and Erasmus": "the traditional castizo line that all alleged foreign influences must be discarded. However, ... whether St. Teresa was influenced by Erasmus or by pre-Erasmian spirituality is really irrelevant; what matters is that this spirituality went against castizo religiosity."[309]:72
  129. John recommended a friend, García Arias, read Erasmus, but to be discrete about it: "What happens in your heart in relation to God, be careful to keep to yourself, as a woman should keep to herself that which occurs in the marriage bed with her husband." (Decades later, Arias was prior of a monastery attacked by the Inquisition for having a cell of secret Lutherans; one of the monks who fled this persecution, Casiodoro de Reina, became a Protestant in exile and translated the Biblia del Oso and works of the irenical Sebastian Castellion.)[96]:141–143
  130. See Erasmus' response titled Apologia by Erasmus of Rotterdam Which Is neither Arrogant nor Biting nor Angry nor Aggressive in Which He Responds to the Two Invectives of Edward Lee- I Shall Not Add What Kind of Invectives: Let the Reader Judge for Himself.
    Thomas More, who was old friends with both Erasmus and Lee, wrote to Lee "Not only do all learned men both in Louvain and here disagree with you on each of these points, but the pope, best and greatest of primates, who ought to take precedence over all learned men’s votes, disagrees with you.… For at his pious urging Erasmus obediently undertook that task, which with God’s help he has now performed twice with success, and thereby he has twice earned the pope’s special thanks and approval, as his solemn missives acknowledge."[97]:97
  131. "The linear paradigm puts the emphasis on a one-dimensional human history which heads to a point of perfection, where it should come to an end." However, the views of reformers such as Giles of Viterbo tended to a negative linear view of spiritual decay, or was cyclical. Semonian, Narik (2016). Desiderius Erasmus: a spoiler of the Roman Catholic tradition? (Thesis). Leiden University. Retrieved 5 December 2023. 
  132. His riposte—against the idea that less biblicism and more scholasticism was the answer—was that Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, Oecolampadius, the Anabaptists, and Hubmaier all were trained in Scholastic theology (as to an extent was he, though he claimed to have slept through the classes, particularly on Scotus): he implied that scholastic training had more caused than prevented any argumentative, doctrinaire, unbalanced, un-historical, distracted and intellectually-proud mindset. This was an implied rebuke also to the antagonistic university Scholastic theologians, to the extent that they exhibited the same mindset.[313]
  133. It was not helped by Erasmus' Ciceronians nor when Erasmus insultingly made Aleander a thinly-disguised character Verpius in his collequy on the miserly Manutius household Opulentia sordida (1531).[314] Erasmus suspected Aleander tried to have him poisoned.[85]:73
  134. Erasmus promoted the idea of priestly seminaries, and a historian was written "Erasmus’ contribution to the reform of Catholic preaching at Trent was in fact substantial, though certainly unacknowledged and probably suppressed, and ...(Erasmus' book) Ecclesiastes anticipated and informed Catholic preaching in the inter- and post- Tridentine years."[316]
  135. Catechisms, preaching manuals, works of St Cyril of Alexandria, and a collection of St Jerome intended to counter the anti-monastic spin given in Erasmus'.Donnelly, John (1 January 1981). "Peter Canisius". Shapers of Religious Traditions in Germany, Switzerland, and Poland, 1560-1600. doi:10.2307/j.ctt211qw0c.13. :142
  136. Canisius' comment against personal attacks on Reformers "With words like these, we don't cure patients, we make them incurable"[323] re-works Erasmus' "It is better to cure a sick man than to kill him."[127]
  137. "As a consultor to the Congregation of the Index, Robert Bellarmine recommended removing Erasmus from the list of heretics of the first class, since he did not consider Erasmus a heretic, despite his errors.""Entries - Erasmus". The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Jesuits: 11–858. 16 August 2017. doi:10.1017/9781139032780.002. 
  138. Bellarmine himself had books placed on the same Roman Index as Erasmus'. Chapter 2, Blackwell, Richard J. (1991). Galileo, Bellarmine, and the Bible. University of Notre Dame Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctvpg847x. ISBN 9780268010270. 
  139. However, Ligouri re-transmits Albert Pío's libel, which Luther also repeated garbled, but which was denied by Erasmus in his lifetime, that Erasmus' statement "We dare to call the Holy Spirit true God, proceeding from the Father and the Son, something the ancients did not dare to do" as asserting it is rash to call the Holy Spirit God.[325]:ch XI In context, Erasmus' claim concerned the objective historical record, used the language of the Mass about boldness not rashness, affirmed the Trinity and, in retrospect, proposed the development of doctrine.
  140. "The method of accommodation, central in the missionary activity of Matteo Ricci, has its theological roots in the thought of Thomas Aquinas and Erasmus of Rotterdam" according to the Dean of Studies of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions Criveller, Gianni (28 October 2010). "The Method of 'Accommodation'". IHS. 
  141. In 1688, a Jansenist book was written to English Catholic King James II, with the argument that in persecuting good Jansenists, the Church was being as wrong-headed as when it denounced critical but loyal Erasmus, blaming sleeping German bishops for the Reformation. Jansenists should be kept in the Church not repelled towards Prtestantism. Erasmus' Catholic spirituality was held to be a reliable guide for King James, much to the puzzlement of John Locke, who reviewed the book. A book written in rebuttal saw nothing good in Erasmus' teachings and attacks on orthodoxy.[335]
  142. "He may fairly be taken as a type of the critical attitude of mind in which many even of the best and the most loyal Catholics of the day approached the consideration of the serious religious problems which were, at that time, forcing themselves upon the notice of the ecclesiastical authorities. Such men held that the best service a true son of the Church could give to religion was the service of a trained mind, ready to face facts as they were, convinced that the Christian faith had nothing to lose by the fullest light and the freest investigation, but at the same time protesting that they would suffer no suspicion to rest on their entire loyalty of heart to the authority of the teaching Church."[27]
  143. Viz. Giles of Viterbo's comment on internality at the Fifth Lateran Council that "Religion should change men, not men religion" (i.e. doctrine) O'Malley, John W. (September 1967). "Historical Thought and the Reform Crisis of the Early Sixteenth Century". Theological Studies 28 (3): 531–548. doi:10.1177/004056396702800304. 
  144. Erasmus nearly attended the Fifth Lateran Council: in 1512, Bishop John Fisher invited Erasmus to join his delegation, but Erasmus was prevented by circumstance.Porter, H. C. (26 January 1989). "Fisher and Erasmus". Humanism, Reform and the Reformation: 81–102. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511665813.006. ISBN 9780521340342. 
  145. Historian Bruce Mansfield notes a 1936 doctoral dissertation Die Stellung des Erasmus von Rotterdam zur scholastischen Methode by a Redemptorist scholar Christian Dolfen that suggested that Erasmus was in fact not anti-Scholastic but wanted it practiced in moderation, as had Jean Gerson, and in any case was against the scholasticism of Duns Scotus not Aquinas.[12]:11
  146. "Thomas More was an unflagging apologist for Erasmus for the thirty-six years of their adult lives (1499–1535)."[97]
    Erasmus scholar, Fr. Keith McConica notes "The whole meaning of his (More's) reply to Tyndale…is that Erasmianism did not necessarily lead to heresy, and that in itself it was a highly salutary, if tragically unsuccessful attempt to awake the Church to urgent reform."[336]
  147. Scheck 2021, op cit., pits the discernment of one pair of canonized saints (More and Fisher) against another pair (Canesius and Bellarmine), quoting historian Rudolph Padberg "They (More and Fisher) knew Erasmus, they defended him…their assessment of Erasmus weighs more heavily than the assessment of the next generation and of the period of Church revolution, which saw itself compelled to turn all instruments of peace into weapons." R. Padberg, Erasmus als Katechet (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1956) 18–19
  148. There are other connections as well: in England in 1505, Erasmus was friendly with then-humanist Gian Pietro Carafa, later co-founder of the Theatines and much later still the Pope who first placed Erasmus; works on the Index.
  149. Which builds on the genre Erasmus started with De Civilitate Morum Puerilium (1530), including his advice on the social necessity of knowing how to carve meat.[338]
  150. Erasmus "surpassed his predecessors and contemporaries in his attempts to understand the Christian textual and theological tradition, not as one where we may cast back dogmatic formulations, onto first-century writers who had no notion of them, for example, but as one which developed according to the norms of particular times and places" Essary, Kirk (1 January 2014). "Review, Christine Christ-von Wedel, Erasmus of Rotterdam: Advocate of a New Christianity". Erasmus Studies. doi:10.1163/18749275-03401006. 
  151. "Origen (who was for me, as once for Erasmus, more important than Augustine) became the key to the entire Greek patristics, the early Middle Ages and, indeed, even to Hegel and Karl Barth." Hans Urs von Balthasar, My Work, apud Polanco, Rodrigo (2017). "Understanding Von Balthasar's Trilogy" (in en). Theologica Xaveriana 67 (184): 411–430. doi:10.11144/javeriana.tx67-184.uvbt. 
  152. "De Lubac's preface to G. Chantraine's 'Mystere' et 'Philosophie du Christ' selon Erasmus (1971) presents Erasmus as, above all, a theologian who concentrated on the mysterium, philosophia Christi, and the bond between exegesis and theology. "[2] De Lubac thought Erasmus "bravely tried to relaunch spiritual exegesis at an unpropitious time." Nichols, Aidan (2007). Divine fruitfulness: a guide through Balthasar's theology beyond the trilogy. London: T & T Clark. ISBN 978-0567089335.  p67
  153. Summarized as "The evolution of Greek thought represented by Socrates ‘stands in close analogy’ with the evolution of Old Testament religiosity. Christianity is the result of their actual convergence." Gagné, Renaud (17 September 2020). "Whose Handmaiden? 'Hellenisation' between Philology and Theology". Classical Philology and Theology: 110–125. doi:10.1017/9781108860048.006. ISBN 978-1-108-86004-8. 
  154. The phrase was coined after Erasmus' time. A more accurate characterization of Erasmus' views might be that while a certain docility was ideal for laypeople in theological matters, the quid pro quo was that theologians and bishops should keep the defined doctrines to a minimum. For example, see Tracy, James D. (1981). "Erasmus and the Arians: Remarks on the "Consensus Ecclesiae"". The Catholic Historical Review 67 (1): 1–10. ISSN 0008-8080.  or Cummings, Brian (5 December 2002). The Literary Culture of the Reformation. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198187356.003.0005. :153
  155. He believed that "learning and scholarship were a powerful weapon both for the cultivation of personal piety and institutional church reform." Cunningham, Lawrence S. (1 March 2002) (in en). The Catholic Heritage: Martyrs, Ascetics, Pilgrims, Warriors, Mystics, Theologians, Artists, Humanists, Activists, Outsiders, and Saints. Wipf and Stock Publishers. ISBN 978-1-57910-897-7. 
  156. Catholic dogmatic theologian Aidan Nichols however notes that, in justice, "for Erasmus himself, the doctrine of redemption (understood as beginning with the incarnation of the Word) remained central as giving the whole world a Christocentric orientation: the goal of all living things is the harmony of all things, and especially human beings, with God, a harmony realized, in principle, in Christ." Nichols, Aidan (28 August 2003) (in en). Shape of Catholic Theology: An Introduction To Its Sources, Principles, And History. A&C Black. ISBN 978-0-8264-4360-1.  p.313
  157. Even more important and impressive is how close Erasmus came in the “Paraclesis” to anticipating the teaching in Dei Verbum that Revelation is the revelation of a person." O’Malley, John W. (June 2019). "Theology before the Reformation: Renaissance Humanism and Vatican II". Theological Studies 80 (2): 256–270. doi:10.1177/0040563919836245. 
  158. For which he was predictably accused of heresy by his university opponents, who claimed he was inventing a new sacrament.
  159. According to Lutheran historian Lowell Green, "credit is due Erasmus for providing the terminology of " faith" and "grace" for the Protestestant Reformation" as well as "imputation"[148]:186–188
  160. Luther, Martin (1857). "The Table Talk of Martin Luther" (in en). H. G. Bohn. ':283 (translation: Hazlitt) Also "Whenever I pray, I pray a curse upon Erasmus." "I hold Erasmus of Rotterdam to be Christ’s most bitter enemy." "With Erasmus it is translation and nothing else. He is never in earnest. He is ambiguous and a caviller" apud Armstrong, Dave; Catholicism, Biblical Evidence for (2 February 2017). "Luther's Insults of Erasmus in "Bondage of the Will" & "Table-Talk"" (in en). 
  161. Even a friendly biographer described him as "half Oedipus and half Don Quixote".[355]
  162. Historian Erik Wolf elaborates "Out of the need for personal independence, he remained his entire life a man in the middle. Averting everything fanatical, extreme, or absurd, he was easily frightened by the prospect of unilateral personal engagement, even when it appeared to be ethically demanded. He preferred to persist in intellectual and spiritual self-discipline…"[167]
  163. "No humanist inhabited, cultivated, and chased after ancient proverbs with as much passion as Desiderius Erasmus."Hui, Andrew (2018). "The Infinite Aphorisms of Erasmus and Bacon". Erasmus Studies 38 (2): 171–199. doi:10.1163/18749275-03802003. ISSN 0276-2854. 


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Further reading



  • (in en-CA) Contemporaries of Erasmus: a biographical register of the Renaissance and Reformation ; volumes 1 - 3, A - Z (Paperback, [Nachdr. der 3-bändigen Ausg. 1985 - 1987] ed.). Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press. 2003. ISBN 9780802085771. 
  • Bietenholz, Peter G. (2009). Encounters with a Radical Erasmus. Erasmus' Work as a Source of Radical Thought in Early Modern Europe. Toronto: University of Toronto Press
  • Dart, Ron (2017). Erasmus: Wild Bird.
  • Dodds, Gregory D. (2010). Exploiting Erasmus: The Erasmian Legacy and Religious Change in Early Modern England. Toronto: University of Toronto Press
  • Furey, Constance M. (2009). Erasmus, Contarini, and the Religious Republic of Letters. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press
  • Gulik, Egbertus van (2018). Erasmus and His Books. Toronto: University of Toronto Press
  • Payne, John B. (1970). Erasmus, His Theology of the Sacraments, Research in Theology
  • Martin, Terence J. (2016). Truth and Irony - Philosophical Meditations on Erasmus. Catholic University of America Press
  • MacPhail, Eric (ed) (2023). A Companion to Erasmus. Leiden and Boston: Brill
  • Massing, Michael (2022). Fatal Discord - Erasmus, Luther, and the Fight for the Western Mind. HarperCollins
  • McDonald, Grantley (2016). Biblical Criticism in Early Modern Europe: Erasmus, the Johannine Comma, and Trinitarian Debate. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press
  • Ron, Nathan (2019). Erasmus and the “Other”: On Turks, Jews, and Indigenous Peoples. Palgrave Macmillan Cham
  • Ron, Nathan (2021). Erasmus: Intellectual of the 16th Century. Palgrave Macmillan Cham
  • Quinones, Ricardo J. (2010). Erasmus and Voltaire: Why They Still Matter. University of Toronto Press, 240 pp. Draws parallels between the two thinkers as voices of moderation with relevance today.
  • Winters, Adam. (2005). Erasmus' Doctrine of Free Will. Jackson, TN: Union University Press.


  • Bataillon, Marcel (1937) Erasme et l'Espagne , Librairie Droz (1998) ISBN 2-600-00510-2
    • Erasmo y España: Estudios Sobre la Historia Espiritual del Siglo XVI (1950), Fondo de Cultura Económica (1997) ISBN 968-16-1069-5
  • Garcia-Villoslada, Ricardo (1965) 'Loyola y Erasmo, Taurus Ediciones, Madrid, Spain.
  • Lorenzo Cortesi (2012) Esortazione alla filosofia. La Paraclesis di Erasmo da Rotterdam, Ravenna, SBC Edizioni, ISBN:978-88-6347-271-4
  • Pep Mayolas (2014) Erasme i la construcció catalana d'Espanya, Barcelona, Llibres de l'Índex

Primary sources

  • Collected Works of Erasmus (U of Toronto Press, 1974–2023). 84/86 volumes published as of mid 2023; see U. Toronto Press, in English translation
  • The Correspondence of Erasmus (U of Toronto Press, 1975–2023), 21/21 volumes down to 1536 are published


External links



  • Works by Erasmus at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
  • In Our Time podcast from BBC Radio 4 with Melvyn Bragg, and guests Diarmaid MacCulloch, Eamon Duffy, and Jill Kraye.
  • Desiderius Erasmus: "War is sweet to those who have no experience of it …" - Protest against Violence and War ( Publication series: Exhibitions on the History of Nonviolent Resistance, No. 1, Editors: Christian Bartolf, Dominique Miething). Berlin: Freie Universität Berlin, 2022. PDF
  • Sporen van Erasmus (Traces of Erasmus), documentary TV series, 5 episodes,[1]