Desiderius Erasmus


Desiderius Erasmus was a Renaissance humanist and theologian committed to reforming the Catholic Church without breaking away from it. Titled “Prince of the Humanists,” his writing expressed a desire to return to a more simplistic view of religious affairs.

Although he was born out of wedlock, Erasmus was dearly cared for by his parents until their death by the Plague, and afterward he was sent to the top monastic schools of his day. There he learned the importance of a close relationship with God, though he disapproved of the strict rules and regulations imposed by the religious brothers and sisters. After he finished his schooling, poverty forced him to join the priesthood, but he happily abandoned the monastic life when he was offered a position as secretary to the Bishop of Cambray. He was given temporary leave on the grounds of ill health, although he retained the title of “secular priest.” Erasmus received the bishop’s permission to attend the University of Paris before moving to England for a time, where he befriended many powerful figures. He was especially impressed by the Bible teaching of John Colet, which prompted him to learn the Greek language so as to read the Scriptures in their original translation. Erasmus preferred the life of an independent scholar, avoiding close ties and positions of honor that might restrain his freedom. Only once he had mastered both Greek and Latin did he begin to more openly express his opinions on contemporary themes in religion, motioning for a return to the original teachings found in the Scriptures. Soon after, he published a revised addition of the New Testament, one that contained both the Latin and Greek translations for the purpose of cross-referencing. He later published a second and third edition, which would be used as the basis for the Lutheran, Geneva, and King James Bibles.

In 1517, Martin Luther began the Reformation movement with his writing of the Ninety-Five Theses, and Erasmus was at first sympathetic to his criticisms. Luther admired the theologian as well, and the two exchanged many letters, though Erasmus refused to commit to the Lutheran camp. He did not feel the need to change Church doctrine and so remained impartial, but his neutrality earned him accusations of treachery from both sides. He published several writings defending controversial doctrines, among them freedom of the will, which he saw as of the utmost importance. Despite his efforts, however, he was continually accused of having started the Reformation. He passed away after a bout of dysentery and was buried in the cathedral in Basel.

Key events during the life of Desiderius Erasmus:

Parents died from the Plague
Attended school at the Augustinian monastery Steyn
Studied at the University of Paris
Learned Greek
Published a Greek/Latin New Testament
Beginning of the Protestant Reformation
Published a second edition of his New Testament, was the basis for Martin Luther's German Bible
Published a third edition, was the basis for the Geneva and King James Bibles
Published a Catechism
Defended freedom of the will
Defended the teaching of transubstantiation

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Dutch Reformer  in  The Awakening of Europe  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

 in Back Matter

Erasmus was astonished to notice More present Prince Henry with a roll.
 in Red Book of Heroes

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