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Erasmus

Erasmus (ĭrăzˈməs) [key] or Desiderius Erasmus dĕsĭdērˈēəs [Gr. Erasmus, his given name, and Lat., Desiderius = beloved; both are regarded as the equivalent of Dutch Gerard, Erasmus' father's name], 1466?–1536, Dutch humanist, b. Rotterdam. He was ordained priest of the Roman Catholic Church and studied at the Univ. of Paris. Erasmus' influence began to be felt in Europe after 1500. It was exercised through his personal contacts, his editions of classical authors, and his own writings. He was acquainted with most of the scholars of Europe and his circle of friends was especially large in England; it included Thomas More, John Colet, and Henry VIII. His editions of Greek and Latin classics and of the Fathers of the Church (especially of Jerome and Athanasius) were his chief occupation for years. His Latin edition of the New Testament was based on the original Greek text. For many years he was editor for the printer Johannes Froben in Basel. Erasmus' original works are mainly satirical and critical. Written in Latin, the language of the 16th-century scholar, the most important works are Adagia (1500, tr. Adages or Proverbs ), a collection of quotations; Enchiridion militis christiani (1503, tr. Manual of the Christian Knight ); Moriae encomium (1509, tr. The Praise of Folly, 1979); Institutio principis christiani (1515, tr. The Education of a Christian Prince, 1968); Colloquia (1516, tr. Colloquies ); and his collected letters (tr., ed. by F. M. Nichols, 1904–18; repr. 1962). Erasmus combined vast learning with a fine style, a keen and sometimes sharp humor, moderation, and tolerance. His position on the Reformation was widely denounced, especially by Martin Luther, who had first looked on Erasmus as an ally because of Erasmus' attacks on clerical abuse and lay ignorance. Though eager for church reform, Erasmus remained all his life within the Roman Catholic Church. As a humanist he deplored the religious warfare of the time because of the rancorous, intolerant atmosphere and cultural decline that it induced. Erasmus was finally brought into open conflict with Luther and attacked his position on predestination in On the Freedom of the Will.

See studies by M. M. Phillips (1949, repr. 1965), J. Huizinga (tr. 1952, repr. 1957), R. H. Bainton (1969), T. A. Dorey, ed. (1970), and G. Thompson (1974).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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