Interestingly enough, I care about Erasmus. After lots of research on Christian humanism, I have learned that Erasmus was a fascinating and complicated figure. For starters, in my research and reading so far, I have discovered that humanism was an important cultural phenomenon during the renaissance, but there were many variations of it, especially when considering the role of Christianity. Humanists focused on studying classic literature and philosophy to gain greater insight on human nature. Yet as humanist ideals progressed, many scholars synthesized both Christian and humanist views to create a harmonized view regarding many aspects of life such as communication, leadership, and community membership (McKay, 416). I found it interesting that humanism and Christianity were both accepted together as a single worldview, and synthesized together without discord for the most part. After learning about Erasmus though, I realized that in fact there was quite a bit of discord for some people.
Through my supplemental reading on the Christian humanist and philosopher Desiderius Erasmus, I learned that although he was a devout Catholic man, and even an ordained monk, he was critical of the church. Furthermore, he believed that many aspects of the church were too focused on an outward show of religion and formalism (“Wikipedia”). Link to wikipedia article. Reading this got me interested in whether or not Erasmus really was a radical or outspoken person during his time. Thus as a supplemental reading, I read excerpts from a book called Encounters With a Radical Erasmus, by Peter Beitenholz in order to see how radical Erasmus really was. Beitenholz argues that though in retrospect Erasmus’s views seem quite radical, he would not have been considered one during his time because there were numerous other radical reformers like Beza, Calvin, and Luther, who Erasmus was opposed to (Bietenholz). To read more about Bietenholz, follow this link here.
Though he was never part of the reformation movement, Erasmus wanted to reform the church from within and make the religion more about the study and inner appreciation of the life of Christ (McKay, 418). In his satirical book Praise of Folly (picture of cover below), he noted how Christians were too focused on rituals and certain superstitions, and did not have a deep enough understanding of the true religion itself (Nauert). It was this piece of literature, along with Erasmus’ Greek-Latin version of the New Testament that sparked the Protestant reformation (“Wikipedia”). As a primary source, I read John Wilson’s 1688 translation of Praise of Folly, and was shocked at what he said. For example, Erasmus stated, “To speak briefly, all Christian religion seems to have an alliance with folly and in no respect to have any accord with wisdom” (60). He continued to say followers of Christianity “seem senseless to common understanding, as if their minds lived elsewhere and not in their own bodies; which, what else is it than to be mad?” (60). Despite all these criticisms, Erasmus remained a Christian and an important part of the Christian community, which is absurd, and made me wonder if he truly realized the meaning of what he wrote in Praise of Folly.
Although it is hard to say looking back whether Erasmus was a radical, an outspoken community member, or a plain lunatic, it is evident that he was an important figure in the Renaissance and his legacy is still alive in today’s society.
McKay, John. A History of Western Society. 9. B. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. 407- 418.
“Desiderius Erasmus.” Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Feb 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desiderius_Erasmus>
Nauert, Charles, Desiderius Erasmus, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2009/entries/erasmus/>.
Bietenholz, Peter. Encounters With a Radical Erasmus. N.p.: n.p., 2009. Web. 13 Feb. 2012.<http://books.google.com/books?id=1cxY0mm2ZwMC&pg=PA26&dq= erasmus+radical+christianity&hl=en&sa=X&ei=LIswT6zPDsfq2AX00ci- Bw&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=erasmus%20radical%20christianity&f=false>.
Erasmus, Desiderius. Praise of Folly. Trans. John Wilson. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2012. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/erasmus/folly.pdf>.