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It is challenging to enter this next era of the English Bibles without talking about Desiderius Erasmus and the Textus Receptus (Received Text) that would impact English Translations for centuries to come.
I WOULD have these words translated into all languages, so that not only Scots and Irish, but Turks and Saracens too might read them . . . I long for the ploughboy to sing them to himself as he follows his plough, the weaver to hum them to the tune of his shuttle, the traveler to beguile with them the dullness of his journey. (Clayton 2006, 230)
Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus penned those words in the early part of the 16th century. Like his English counterpart, William Tyndale, it was his greatest desire that God’s Word be widely translated and that even the plowboy would have access to it.
Much time has passed since the Reformation, and 98 percent of the world we live in today has access to the Bible. There is little wonder that the Bible has become the bestseller of all time. It has influenced men from all walks of life to fight for freedom and truth. This is especially true during the Reformation of Europe throughout the 16th century. These leading men were of great faith, courage, and strength, such as Martin Luther, William Tyndale, while others, like Erasmus, were more subtle in the change that he produced. Thus, it has been said of the Reformation that Martin Luther only opened the door to it after Erasmus picked the lock.
There is not one historian of the period who would deny that Erasmus was a great scholar. Remarking on his character, the Catholic Encyclopedia says: “He had an unequaled talent for form, great journalistic gifts, a surpassing power of expression: for strong and moving discourse, keen irony, and covert sarcasm, he was unsurpassed.” (Vol. 5, p. 514) Consequently, when Erasmus went to see Sir Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor of England, just before Erasmus made himself known, More was so impressed with his exchange that he shortly said: “You are either Erasmus or the Devil.”
The wit of Erasmus was evidenced in a response that he gave to Frederick, elector of Saxony, who asked him what he thought about Martin Luther. Erasmus retorted, “Luther has committed two blunders; he has ventured to touch the crown of the pope and the bellies of the monks.” (Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature: Vol. 3 – p, 279) However, we must ask what type of influence did the Bible have on Erasmus and, in turn, what did he do to affect its future? First, let us look at the early years of Erasmus’ life.
Erasmus’ Early Life
He was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in 1466. He was not a happy boy, living in a home as the illegitimate son of a Dutch priest. He was faced with the double tragedy of his mother’s death at seventeen and his father shortly after that. His guardians ignored his desire to enter the university; rather, they sent him to the Augustinian monastery of Steyn. Erasmus gained vast knowledge of the Latin language, the classic, as well as the Church Fathers. In time, this type of life was so detestable to him; he jumped on the opportunity, at the age of twenty-six, to become secretary to the bishop of Cambrai, Henry of Bergen, in France. This afforded him his chance to enter university studies in Paris. However, he was a sickly man, constantly ill, suffering from poor health throughout his entire life.
It was in 1499 that Erasmus was invited to visit England. It was here that he met Thomas More, John Colet and other theologians in London, which fortified his resolution to apply himself to Biblical studies. In order to understand the Bible’s message better, he applied himself more fully in his study of Greek, soon being able to teach it to others. It was around this time that Erasmus penned a treatise entitled Handbook of the Christian Soldier, in which he advised the young Christian to study the Bible, saying: “There is nothing that you can believe with greater certitude than what you read in these writings.” (Erasmus and Dolan 1983, 37)
While trying to escape the plague, make a living in an economy that had bottomed worse than our 20th century Great Depression, Erasmus found himself at Louvain, Belgium, in 1504. Here, he fell in love with the study of textual criticism while visiting the Monastery of Parc. Erasmus discovered a manuscript of Italian scholar Lorenzo Valla: Annotations on the New Testament within the library. Textual criticism is an art and science that studies manuscripts, evaluating internal and external evidence, especially of the Bible or works of literature, to determine which readings are the original or most authentic. Erasmus had commissioned himself toward the task of restoring the original text of the Greek New Testament.
Erasmus moved on to Italy and subsequently pushed on to England once again. This trip brought to mind his original meeting with Thomas More, meditating on the origin of More’s name (moros, Greek for “a fool”); he penned a write or satire, which he called Praise Folly. In this work, Erasmus takes the abstract quality “folly” as being a human being and pictured it as encroaching in all aspects of life, but nowhere is folly more obvious than amid the theologians and clergy. This is his subtle way of exposing the abuses of the clergy. It is these abuses, which had brought on the Reformation, that was now festering. “As to the popes,” he wrote, “if they claim to be the successors of the Apostles, they should consider that the same things are required of them as were practiced by their predecessors.” Instead of doing this, he perceived, they believe that “to teach the people is too laborious; to interpret the scripture is to invade the prerogative of the schoolmen; to pray is too idle.” There is little wonder that Erasmus said that he had “a surpassing power of expression”! (Nichols 2006, Vol. 2, 6)
Erasmus was given the highest education available to a young man of his day, in a series of monastic or semi-monastic schools. In 1475, at the age of nine, 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), though some earlier biographies assert it was a school run by the Brethren of the Common Life. During his stay there, the curriculum was renewed by the principal of the school, Alexander Hegius. For the first time ever in Europe, Greek was taught at a lower level than a university, and this is where he began learning it. He also gleaned there the importance of a personal relationship with God but eschewed the harsh rules and strict methods of the religious brothers and educators. His education there ended when plague struck the city about 1483, and his mother, who had moved to provide a home for her sons, died from the infection. – Nauert, Charles. “Desiderius Erasmus”. Winter 2009 Edition. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved Sunday, November 7, 2021.
Erasmus was a native of the Netherlands, born at Rotterdam in the county of Holland on 27 October of some year in the late 1460s; 1466 now seems to be the year that most biographers prefer. Erasmus’s own statements on the year of his birth are contradictory, perhaps because he did not know for certain but probably because later in life he wanted to emphasize the excessively early age at which his guardians pushed him and his elder brother Peter to enter monastic life, in order to support his efforts to be released from his monastic vows.
Ordination and Monastic Experience
Most likely in 1487, poverty forced Erasmus into the consecrated life as a canon regular of St. Augustine at the canonry of Stein, in South Holland. He took vows there in late 1488 and was ordained to the Catholic priesthood on 25 April 1492. It is said that he never seemed to have actively worked as a priest for a long time, and certain abuses in religious orders were among the chief objects of his later calls to reform the Church from within.
While at Stein, Erasmus supposedly fell in love with a fellow canon, Servatius Rogerus, and wrote a series of passionate letters in which he called Rogerus “half my soul,” writing that “I have wooed you both unhappily and relentlessly.” This correspondence contrasts sharply with the generally detached and much more restrained attitude he showed in his later life. Later, while tutoring in Paris, he was suddenly dismissed by the guardian of Thomas Grey. Some have taken this as evidence of an illicit affair. No personal denunciation was made of Erasmus during his lifetime, however, and he took pains in later life to distance these earlier episodes by condemning sodomy in his works and praising sexual desire in marriage between men and women.
Soon after his priestly ordination, he got his chance to leave the canonry when offered the post of secretary to the Bishop of Cambrai, Henry of Bergen, on account of his great skill in Latin and his reputation as a man of letters. To allow him to accept that post, he was given a temporary dispensation from his religious vows on the grounds of poor health and love of humanistic studies, though he remained a priest. Pope Leo X later made the dispensation permanent, a considerable privilege at the time.
Education and Scholarship
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 center of reforming zeal, under the direction of the ascetic Jan Standonck, of whose rigors he complained. The university was then the chief seat of Scholastic learning but already coming under the influence of Renaissance humanism. For instance, Erasmus became an intimate friend of an Italian humanist Publio Fausto Andrelini, poet and “professor of humanity” in Paris.
In 1499, he was invited to England by William Blount, 4th Baron Mountjoy, who offered to accompany him on his trip to England. According to Thomas Penn, Erasmus was “ever susceptible to the charms of attractive, well-connected, and rich young men.” 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: John Colet, Thomas More, John Fisher, Thomas Linacre and William Grocyn. At the University of Cambridge, he was the Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity and turned down the option of spending the rest of his life as a professor there. Erasmus stayed at Queens’ College, from 1510 to 1515. His rooms were located in the “I” staircase of Old Court, and he showed a marked disdain for the ale and weather of England.
Erasmus suffered from poor health and complained that Queens’ College could not supply him with enough decent wine (wine was the Renaissance medicine for gallstones, from which Erasmus suffered). Until the early 20th century, Queens’ College used to have a corkscrew that was purported to be “Erasmus’s corkscrew,” which was a third of a meter long; as of 1987, the college still had what it calls “Erasmus’s chair.” Today, Queens’ College also has an Erasmus Building and an Erasmus Room. His legacy is marked for someone who complained bitterly about the lack of comforts and luxuries to which he was accustomed. 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. From 1505 to 1508 Erasmus’s friend, Chancellor John Fisher, was president of Queens’ College. His friendship with Fisher is the reason he chose to stay at Queens’ while lecturing in Greek at the university.
During his first visit to England in 1499, he 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. This prompted him, upon his return from England, to master the Greek language, which would enable him to study theology on a more profound level and to prepare a new edition of Jerome’s late-4th century Bible translation. On one occasion he wrote to Colet:
I cannot tell you, dear Colet, how I hurry on, with all sails set to holy literature. How I dislike everything that keeps me back or retards me.
Despite a chronic shortage of money, he succeeded in learning Greek by an intensive, day-and-night study of three years, continuously begging in letters that his friends send him books and money for teachers. The discovery in 1506 of Lorenzo Valla’s New Testament Notes encouraged Erasmus to continue the study of the New Testament.
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 freedom of intellect and literary expression. Throughout his life, he was offered positions of honor and profit in academia but declined them all, preferring the uncertain but sufficient rewards of independent literary activity. He did, however, assist his friend John Colet by authoring Greek textbooks and procuring members of staff for the newly established St Paul’s School. From 1506 to 1509, he was in Italy: in 1506 he graduated as Doctor of Divinity from the University of Turin, and he spent part of the time as a proofreader at the publishing house of Aldus Manutius in Venice. According to his letters, he was associated with the Venetian natural philosopher, Giulio Camillo, but apart from this he had a less active association with Italian scholars than might have been expected.
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 and to the loose norms of the Renaissance adherents to which he was devoting his life. In 1517, he supported the foundation at the university, by his friend Hieronymus van Busleyden, of the Collegium Trilingue for the study of Hebrew, Latin, and Greek – after the model of the College of the Three Languages at the University of Alcalá. However, feeling that the lack of sympathy that prevailed at Leuven at that time was actually a form of mental persecution, he sought refuge in Basel, where under the shelter of Swiss hospitality he could express himself freely. Admirers from all quarters of Europe visited him there, and he was surrounded by devoted friends, notably developing a lasting association with the great publisher Johann Froben.
Only when he had mastered Latin did he begin to express himself on major contemporary themes in literature and religion. He felt called upon to use his learning in a purification of doctrine by returning to the historic documents and original languages of sacred scripture. He tried to free the methods of scholarship from the rigidity and formalism of medieval traditions, but he was not satisfied with this. His revolt against certain forms of Christian monasticism and scholasticism was not based on doubts about the truth of doctrine, nor from hostility to the organization of the Church itself, nor from rejection of celibacy or monastic lifestyles. Aloof from entangling obligations, Erasmus was the center of the literary movement of his time, corresponding with more than five hundred men in the worlds of politics and of thought.
The First Greek Text
While teaching Greek at Cambridge University in England, Erasmus continued with his work of revising the text of the Greek New Testament. One of his friends, Martin Dorpius, attempted to persuade him that Latin did not need to be corrected from the Greek. Dorpius makes the same error in thinking that the “King James Only” people make, arguing: “For is it likely that the whole Catholic Church would have erred for so many centuries, seeing that she has always used and sanctioned this translation? Is it probable that so many holy fathers, so many consummate scholars, would have longed to convey a warning to a friend?” (Campbell 1949, 71) Thomas More joined Erasmus in replying to these arguments, pointing out that the importance lies in having an accurate text in the original languages.
In Basel, Switzerland, Erasmus was about to be hassled by the printer Johannes Froben. Froben was alerted that Cardinal Ximenes of Toledo, Spain, had been putting together a Greek and Latin Testament in 1514. However, he was delaying publication until he had the whole Bible completed. The first printed Greek critical text would have set the standard, with the other being all but ignored. Erasmus published his first edition in 1516, while the Complutensian Polyglot (many languages) was not issued until 1522.
Erasmus was rushed to no end, resulted in a Greek text that contained hundreds of typographical errors alone. Textual scholar Scrivener once stated: ‘[It] is in that respect the most faulty book I know.’ (Scrivener 1894, 185) This comment does not even take into consideration the blatant interpolations (insert readings) into the text that were not part of the original. Erasmus was not lost to the typographical errors, which corrected a good many in later editions. This did not include the textual errors. It was his second edition of 1519 that was used by Martin Luther in his German translation and William Tyndale’s English translation. This is exactly what Erasmus wanted, writing the following in that edition’s preface: “I would have these words translated into all languages. . . . I long for the ploughboy to sing them to himself as he follows his plough.”
Sadly, the continuous reproduction of this debased Greek New Testament gave rise to it becoming the standard, being called the Textus Receptus (Received Text). It took over 400 years before it was dethroned by the critical Text of B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort in 1881. Regardless of its imperfection, the Erasmus critical edition began the all-important work of textual criticism, which has only brought about a better critical text and more accurate Bible translations.
As was true with many other early Bibles in the early days of the Reformation, it had its detractors. Like the Geneva Bible, but on a much tamer note, Erasmus was critical of the clergy in his notes. For instance, the text of Matthew 16:18, which says, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church.” (Douay) Very plainly, he rejects the idea that this text is applied to primacy Peter and that the pope is a successor of such. Imagine writing such a thing in the very edition you are going to dedicate to the pope! We can certainly see why Erasmus’ works were prohibited, even in the universities.
Erasmus was not only concerned with ascertaining the original words; he was just as concerned with achieving an accurate understanding of those words. In 1519, he penned Principles of True Theology (shortened to The Ratio). Herein he introduces his principles for Bible study, his interpretation rules. Among them is the thought of never taking a quotation out of its context nor out of the line of thought of its author. Erasmus saw the Bible as a whole work by one author, and it should interpret itself.
Another Look into Spain’s Polyglot Bible and
Erasmus’s Greek New Testament
The first translation
In 1502, in Spain, Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros had put together a team of Spanish translators to create a compilation of the Bible in four languages: Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and Latin. Translators for Greek were commissioned from Greece itself and worked closely with Latinists. Cardinal Cisneros’s team completed and printed the full New Testament, including the Greek translation, in 1514. To do so, they developed specific types to print Greek. Cisneros informed Erasmus of the works going on in Spain and may have sent a printed version of the New Testament to him. However, the Spanish team wanted the entire Bible to be released as one single work and withdrew from publication.
The information and the delay allowed Erasmus to request a “Publication Privilege” of four years for the Greek New Testament to ensure that his work would be published first. He obtained it in 1516 from both Pope Leo X, to whom he would dedicate his work, and Emperor Maximilian I. Erasmus’s Greek New Testament was published first, in 1516, forcing the Spanish team of Cisneros to wait until 1520 to publish their Complutensian Polyglot Bible.
It is hard to say if Erasmus’s actions had an effect on delaying the publication of the Complutensian Polyglot, causing the Spanish team to take more time, or if it made no difference in their perfectionism. The Spanish copy was approved for publication by the Pope in 1520; however, it was not released until 1522 due to the team’s insistence on reviewing and editing. Only fifteen errors have been found in the entire six volumes and four languages of Cisneros’s bible, an extraordinarily low number for the time. The fear of their publishing first, though, affected Erasmus’s work, rushing him to printing and causing him to forgo editing. The result was a large number of translation mistakes, transcription errors, and typos, that required further editions to be printed.
The Translation of Erasmus
Erasmus had been working for years on two projects: a collation of Greek texts and a fresh Latin New Testament. In 1512, he began his work on this Latin New Testament. He collected all the Vulgate manuscripts he could find to create a critical edition. Then he polished the language. He declared, “It is only fair that Paul should address the Romans in somewhat better Latin.” In the earlier phases of the project, he never mentioned a Greek text:
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” in Collected Works of Erasmus Vol. 2: Letters 142 to 297, 1501–1514 (tr. R.A.B. Mynors and D.F.S. Thomson; annotated Wallace K. Ferguson; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976), 253.
While his intentions for publishing a fresh Latin translation are clear, it is less clear why he included the Greek text. Though some speculate that he 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.” 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. – “Epistle 337” in Collected Works of Erasmus, Vol. 3, 134.
So, he included the Greek text to permit qualified readers to verify the quality of his Latin version. 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.
In a way, it is legitimate to say that Erasmus “synchronized” or “unified” the Greek and the Latin traditions of the New Testament by producing an updated translation of both simultaneously. Both being part of canonical tradition, he clearly found it necessary to ensure that both were actually present in the same content. In modern terminology, he made the two traditions “compatible.” This is clearly evidenced by the fact that his Greek text is not just the basis for his Latin translation, but also the other way round: there are numerous instances where he edits the Greek text to reflect his Latin version. For instance, since the last six verses of Revelation were missing from his Greek manuscript, Erasmus translated the Vulgate’s text back into Greek. Erasmus also translated the Latin text into Greek wherever he found that the Greek text and the accompanying commentaries were mixed up, or where he simply preferred the Vulgate’s reading to the Greek text.
Publication and Editions
Erasmus said it was “rushed into print rather than edited,” 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. His hurried effort was 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.” He also ignored much older and better manuscripts that were at his disposal.
In the second (1519) edition, the more familiar term Testamentum was used instead of Instrumentum. This edition was used by Martin Luther in his German translation of the Bible, written for people who could not understand Latin. Together, the first and second editions sold 3,300 copies. By comparison, only 600 copies of the Complutensian Polyglot were ever printed. The first and second edition texts did not include the passage (1 John 5:7–8) that has become known as the Comma Johanneum. Erasmus had been unable to find those verses in any Greek manuscript, but one was supplied to him during production of the third edition. The Catholic Church decreed that the Comma Johanneum was open to dispute (2 June 1927), and it is rarely included in modern scholarly translations.
The third edition of 1522 was probably used by 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’s Biblia Complutensis. 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.
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.
Erasmus, in his capacity as humanist editor, advised major printers such as Aldus Manutius on which manuscripts to publish.
Beginnings of Protestantism
Attempts at impartiality in dispute
The Protestant Reformation began in the year following the publication of his edition of the Greek New Testament (1516) and tested Erasmus’s character. The issues between the Catholic Church and the growing religious movement, which would later become known as Protestantism, had become so clear that few could escape the summons to join the debate. Erasmus, at the height of his literary fame, was inevitably called upon to take sides, but partisanship was foreign to his nature and his habits. Despite all his criticism of clerical corruption and abuses within the Catholic Church, which lasted for years and was also directed towards many of the Church’s basic doctrines, Erasmus shunned the Reformation movement along with its most radical and reactionary offshoots and sided with neither party.
The world had laughed at his satire, 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 did not build a large body of supporters with his letters. He chose to write in Greek and Latin, the languages of scholars. His critiques reached an elite but small audience.
Erasmus Contrasted with Luther
Erasmus penned a treatise called Familiar Colloquies in 1518, where again he was exposing the corruptions on the Church and the monasteries. Just one year earlier, in 1517, Martin Luther had nailed his 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg, denouncing the indulgences, the scandal that had rocked numerous countries. Many folks were likely thinking that these two could bring change and reform. This was not going to be a team effort, though, as they both were at opposite ends of the spectrum on how to bring about this reform. Luther would eventually condemn Erasmus because he was viewed as being too moderate, seeking to make change peacefully within the Church. Many have viewed it as Erasmus thinking and writing, while Luther appeared to go beyond that with his actions.
The seemingly small bond they may have shared (by way of their writings against the Church establishment) was torn down the middle in 1524 when Erasmus penned the essay On the Freedom of the Will. Luther believed that salvation results from “justification by faith alone” (Latin, sola fide) and not from priestly absolution or works of penance. In fact, Luther was so adamant on his belief of “justification by faith alone” that in his Bible translation, he added the word “alone” to Romans 3:28. What Luther failed to understand was that Paul was writing about the works of the Mosaic Law. (Romans 3:19, 20, 28) Thus, Luther denied the notion that man possesses free will. However, Erasmus would not accept such faulty reasoning in that it would make God unjust because this would suggest that man would be unable to act in such a way as to affect his salvation.
As the Reformation was growing throughout Europe, Erasmus saw complaints from both sides. Many of the religious leaders who supported the reform movement chose to leave the Catholic Church. While they could not predict the result of their decision, they moved forward, many ending in death. This would not be true of Erasmus, though, for he withdrew from the debate, yet he did refuse to be made cardinal. His approach was to try to appease both sides. Thus, Rome saw his writings as heretical, prohibiting them, while the reformers denounced him because he refused to risk his life for the cause. Here was a man who was emotionally broken over criticism but feared rocking the boat with Rome, so he cautiously sat on the sideline.
The affairs of Erasmus to the Reformation can be summarized as follows: “He was a reformer until the Reformation became a fearful reality; a jester at the bulwarks of the papacy until they began to give way; a propagator of the Scriptures until men betook themselves to the study and the application of them; depreciating the mere outward forms of religion until they had come to be estimated at their real value; in short, a learned, ingenious, benevolent, amiable, timid, irresolute man, who, bearing the responsibility, resigned to others the glory of rescuing the human mind from the bondage of a thousand years. The distance between his career and that of Luther was therefore continually enlarging, until they at length moved in opposite directions, and met each other with mutual animosity.”— (McClintock and Strong 1894, 278).
The most significant gain from the Reformation is that the typical person can now hold God’s Word in his hand. From these 16th-century life and death struggles, which Erasmus shared, there has materialized dependable and accurate Bible translations. In fact, the English person has over 150 different translations from which to choose. Consequently, the ‘plowboy’ of 98 percent of the world can pick up his Bible, or at least part of it.
Disagreement with Luther
“Free will does not exist,” according to Luther in his letter De Servo Arbitrio to Erasmus translated into German by Justus Jonas (1526), in that sin makes human beings completely incapable of bringing themselves to God. Noting Luther’s criticism of the Catholic Church, Erasmus described him as “a mighty trumpet of gospel truth” while agreeing, “It is clear that many of the reforms for which Luther calls are urgently needed.” He had great respect for Luther, and Luther spoke with admiration of Erasmus’s superior learning. Luther hoped for his cooperation in a work which seemed only the natural outcome of his own. 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 that to do so would endanger his position as a leader in the movement for pure scholarship, which he regarded as his purpose in life. Only as an independent scholar could he hope to influence the reform of religion. When Erasmus hesitated 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. – “Letter of 6 September 1524.” Collected Works of Erasmus. 10. University of Toronto Press. 1992. p. 380.
Again, in 1529, he writes “An epistle against those who falsely boast they are Evangelicals” to Vulturius Neocomus (Gerardus Geldenhouwer). Here Erasmus complains of the doctrines and morals of the Reformers:
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. …
Look around on this ‘Evangelical’ generation, 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. …
Whoever 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. – The Reformers on the Reformation (foreign), London, Burns & Oates, 1881, pp. 13–14. See also Erasmus, Preserved Smith, 1923, Harper & Brothers, pp. 391–92.
Apart from these perceived moral failings of the Reformers, Erasmus also dreaded any change in doctrine, citing the long history of the Church as a bulwark against innovation. In book I of his Hyperaspistes he puts 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 you say one thing in the beginning and something else later on, recanting what you said before. – Collected Works of Erasmus, Controversies: De Libero Arbitrio / Hyperaspistes I, Peter Macardle, Clarence H. Miller, trans., Charles Trinkhaus, ed., University of Toronto Press, 1999, ISBN 978-0-8020-4317-7 Vol. 76, p. 203
Continuing his chastisement of Luther – and undoubtedly put off by the notion of there being “no pure interpretation of Scripture anywhere but in Wittenberg” – 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. – Hyperaspistes, Book I, Collected Works of Erasmus, Vol. 76, pp. 204–05. Latin: “Stipulaberis a nobis, ne quid requiramus aut recipiamus praeter Litteras sacras, sed sic ut tibi concedamus, ut eas tu solus interpreteris, submotis omnibus. Sic victoria penes te fuerit, si patiamur te non-dispensatorem, sed dominum fieri divinae Scripturae.” Opera Omnia (1706), Vol. 10, 1294E–F
Though he sought to remain firmly neutral in doctrinal disputes, each side accused him of siding with the other, perhaps because of his neutrality. It was not for lack of fidelity with either side but a desire for fidelity with them both:
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. – Galli, Mark, and Olsen, Ted. 131 Christians Everyone Should Know. Nashville: Holman Reference, 2000, p. 344.
In his catechism (entitled Explanation of the Apostles’ Creed) (1533), Erasmus took a stand against Luther’s teaching 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. He identified anyone who questioned the perpetual virginity of Mary as blasphemous. However, he supported lay access to the Bible.
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.”
As regards the Reformation, Erasmus was accused by the monks to have:
prepared the way and was responsible for Martin Luther. Erasmus, they said, had laid the egg, and Luther had hatched it. Erasmus wittily dismissed the charge, claiming that Luther had hatched a different bird entirely. – Concordia Theological Journal Was Erasmus Responsible for Luther? A Study of the Relationship of the Two Reformers and Their Clash Over the Question of the Will, Reynolds, Terrence M. p. 2, 1977. Reynolds references Arthur Robert Pennington The Life and Character of Erasmus, p. 219, 1875.
The Textus Receptus
The Dark Ages (5th to 15th centuries C.E.) was a time when the Church had the Bible locked up in the Latin language, and scholarship and learning were nearly nonexistent. However, with the birth of the Morning Star of the Reformation, John Wycliffe (1328-1384), and more officially in the 16th century Reformation, and the invention of the printing press in 1455, the restraints were loosened, and there was a rebirth of interest in the Greek language. Moreover, with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks 1453 C. E., many Greek scholars and their manuscripts were scattered abroad, resulting in a revival of Greek in the Western citadels of learning.
About fifty years later, or at the beginning of the sixteenth century, Ximenes, archbishop of Toledo, Spain, a man of rare capability and honor, invited foremost scholars of his land to his university at Alcala to produce a multiple-language Bible, not for the common people, but for the educated. The outcome would be the Polyglot, named Complutensian, corresponding to the Latin of Alcala. This would be a Bible of six large volumes, beautifully bound, containing the Old Testament in four languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin) and the New Testament in two (Greek and Latin). These scholars had only a few manuscripts available to them for the Greek New Testament and those of late origin. One may wonder why this was the case when they were supposed to have access to the Vatican library. This Bible was completed in 1514, providing the first printed Greek New Testament, but did not receive approval by the pope to be published until 1520 and was not released to the public until 1522.
Froben, a printer in Basel, Switzerland, became aware of the completion of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible and its pending consent by the pope to be published. Immediately, he saw a prospect of making profits. He at once sent word to the Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus (1469-1536), who was the foremost European scholar of the day and whose works he had published in Latin, beseeching him to hurry through a Greek New Testament text. In an attempt to bring the first printed Greek text to completion, Erasmus was only able to locate, in July 1515, a few late cursive manuscripts for collating and preparing his text. It would go to press in October 1515 and would be completed by March 1516. In fact, Erasmus was in such a hurried mode he rushed the manuscript containing the Gospels to the printer without first editing it, making such changes as he felt was necessary on the proof sheets. Because of this great rush job, this work also contained hundreds of typographical errors. Erasmus himself admitted this in its preface that it was “rushed through rather than edited.” Bruce Metzger referred to the Erasmian text as a “debased form of the Greek Testament.” (B. M. Metzger 1964, 1968, 1992, 103)
Needless to say, Erasmus was moved to produce an improved text in four succeeding editions of 1519, 1522, 1527, and 1535. We are informed that Erasmus’ editions of the Greek text ended up being an excellent achievement, a literary sensation. Literary sensation or not, this does not negate the hundreds of textual errors. They were inexpensive, and the first two editions totaled 3,300 copies compared to the 600 copies of the large and expensive six-volume Polyglot Bible. In the preface to his first edition, Erasmus stated, “I vehemently dissent from those who would not have private persons read the Holy Scriptures, nor have them translated into the vulgar tongues.” (Baer 2007, 268)
Except for everyday practical consideration, the editions of Erasmus had little to vouch for them, for he had access to five (some say eight) Greek manuscripts of reasonably late origin, and none of these were of the whole Greek New Testament. Instead, these comprised one or more sections into which the Greek texts were typically divided: (1) the Gospels; (2) Acts and the general epistles (James through Jude); (3) the letters of Paul; (4) Revelation. In fact, of the 5,898 Greek New Testament manuscripts that we now have, only about fifty are complete.
Consequently, Erasmus had but one copy of Revelation (twelfth century). Since it was incomplete, he merely retranslated the missing last six verses from the Latin Vulgate back into Greek. He even frequently brought his Greek text in line with the Latin Vulgate; this is why there are some twenty readings in his Greek text not found in any other Greek manuscript.
Erasmus’ editions were also the foundation for further Greek editions of the New Testament by others. For instance, the four published by Robert Estienne (Stephanus, 1503-59). According to Bruce Metzger, the third of these, published by Stephanus, in 1550, became the Textus Receptus or Received Text of Britain and the basis of the King James Version. This took place through Theodore de Beza (1519-1605), whose work was based on the corrupted third and fourth editions of the Erasmian text. Beza would produce nine editions of the Greek text, four being independent (1565, 1589, 1588-9, 1598), and the other five smaller reprints. Martin Luther would use Erasmus’ 1519 edition for his German translation, and William Tyndale would use the 1522 edition for his English translation. It would be two of Beza’s editions, that of 1589 and 1598, which would become the English Received Text.
Beza’s Greek edition of the New Testament did not even differ as much as might be expected from those of Erasmus. Why do I say, as might be expected? Beza was a friend of the Protestant reformer, John Calvin, succeeding him at Geneva, and was also a well-known classical and biblical scholar. In addition, Beza possessed two important Greek manuscripts of the fourth and fifth century, the D and Dp (also known as D2), the former of which contains most of the Gospels and Acts, and a fragment of 3 John and the latter containing the Pauline epistles. The Dutch Elzevir editions followed next, which were virtually identical to those of the Erasmian-influenced Beza text. It was in the second of seven of these, published in 1633 that there appeared the statement in the preface (in Latin): “You therefore now have the text accepted by everybody, in which we give nothing changed or corrupted.” On the continent, this edition became the Textus Receptus or the Received Text. It seems that this success was in no small way due to the beauty and helpful size of the Elzevir editions.
Elsewhere, we will take a moment to look at how and what made the King James Bible so famous that it would be the bestselling Bible for four hundred years. It became so popular that the translation itself became venerated. How did the 1611 King James Version attain a unique place in the hearts and minds of the English-speaking people?
Erasmus on Free will
Twice during the great discussion, he allowed himself to enter the field of doctrinal controversy, a field foreign to both his nature and his previous practices. One of the topics he dealt with was free will, a crucial question. In his De libero arbitrio diatribe sive collatio (1524), he lampoons the Lutheran view on free will. He lays down both sides of the argument impartially. The “Diatribe” did not encourage any definite action; this was its merit to the Erasmians and its fault in the eyes of the Lutherans. In response, Luther wrote his De servo arbitrio (On the Bondage of the Will, 1525), which attacks the “Diatribe” and Erasmus himself, going so far as to claim that Erasmus was not a Christian. Erasmus responded with a lengthy, two-part Hyperaspistes (1526–27). In this controversy Erasmus let’s it be seen that he would like to claim more for free will than St. Paul and St. Augustine seem to allow according to Luther’s interpretation. For Erasmus the essential point is that humans have the freedom of choice. The conclusions Erasmus reached drew upon a large array of notable authorities, including, from the Patristic period, Origen, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine, in addition to many leading Scholastic authors, such as Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus. The content of Erasmus’s works also engaged with later thought on the state of the question, including the perspectives of the via moderna school and of Lorenzo Valla, whose ideas he rejected.
As the popular response to Luther gathered momentum, the social disorders, which Erasmus dreaded and Luther disassociated himself from, began to appear, including the German Peasants’ War, the Anabaptist disturbances in Germany and in the Low Countries, iconoclasm, and the radicalization of peasants across Europe. If these were the outcomes of reform, he was thankful that he had kept out of it. Yet, he was ever more bitterly accused of having started the whole “tragedy” (as the Catholics dubbed Protestantism).
When the city of Basel definitely adopted the Reformation in 1529, Erasmus gave up his residence there and settled in the imperial town of Freiburg im Breisgau.
Certain works of Erasmus laid a foundation for religious toleration 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.” Although Erasmus did not oppose the Catholic Counter-Reformation and the punishment of heretics, in individual cases he generally argued for moderation and against the death penalty. He wrote, “It is better to cure a sick man than to kill him.”
A test of the Reformation was the doctrine of the sacraments, and the crux of this question was the observance of the Eucharist. 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. The sacramentarians, headed by Œcolampadius of Basel, were, as Erasmus says, quoting him as holding views like their own in order to try to claim him for their schismatic and “erroneous” movement.
Death of Erasmus
When his strength began to fail, he decided to accept an invitation by Queen Mary of Hungary, Regent of the Netherlands, to move from Freiburg to Brabant. However, during preparations for the move in 1536, he suddenly died from an attack of dysentery during a visit to Basel. He had remained loyal to the papal authorities in Rome, but he did not have the opportunity to receive the last rites of the Catholic Church; the reports of his death do not mention whether he asked for a priest or not. According to Jan van Herwaarden, this is consistent with his view that outward signs were not important; what mattered is the believer’s direct relationship with God, which he noted “as the [Catholic] church believes.” However, Herwaarden observes 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.” His last words, as recorded by his friend Beatus Rhenanus, were apparently “Dear God” (Dutch: Lieve God). He was buried with great ceremony in the Basel Minster (the former cathedral). As his heir he instated Bonifacius Amerbach.
A bronze statue of him was erected in the city of his birth in 1622, replacing an earlier work in stone.
Writings of Erasmus
Erasmus wrote both on church subjects and those of general human interest. By the 1530s, the writings of Erasmus accounted for 10 to 20 percent of all book sales in Europe.
With the collaboration of Publio Fausto Andrelini, he formed a paremiography (collection) of Latin proverbs and adages, commonly titled Adagia. He is credited with coining the adage, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” Erasmus is also generally credited with originating the phrase “Pandora’s box,” arising through an error in his translation of Hesiod’s Pandora in which he confused pithos (storage jar) with pyxis (box).
His more serious writings begin early with the Enchiridion militis Christiani, the “Handbook of the Christian Soldier” (1503 – translated into English a few years later 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.”) In this short work, Erasmus outlines the views of the normal Christian life, which he was to spend the rest of his days elaborating. The chief evil of the day, he says, is formalism – going through the motions of tradition without understanding their basis in the teachings of Christ. Forms can teach the soul how to worship God, or they may hide or quench the spirit. In his examination of the dangers of formalism, Erasmus discusses monasticism, saint worship, war, the spirit of class and the foibles of “society.” The Enchiridion is more like a sermon than a satire. With it Erasmus challenged common assumptions, painting the clergy as educators who should share the treasury of their knowledge with the laity. He emphasized personal spiritual disciplines and called for a reformation which he characterized as a collective return to the Fathers and Scripture. Most importantly, he extolled the reading of scripture as vital because of its power to transform and motivate toward love. Much like the Brethren of the Common Life, he wrote that the New Testament is the law of Christ people are called to obey and that Christ is the example they are called to imitate.
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; among the Greeks he worked on Irenaeus, Origen and Chrysostom.”
Erasmus also wrote of the legendary Frisian freedom fighter and rebel Pier Gerlofs Donia (Greate Pier), though more often in criticism than in praise of his exploits. Erasmus saw him as a dim, brutal man who preferred physical strength to wisdom.
One of Erasmus’s best-known works, 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. A satirical attack on superstitions and other traditions of European society in general and the western Church in particular, it was dedicated to Sir Thomas More, whose name the title puns.
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). 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. Education was published in 1516, three years after Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince was written; a comparison between the two is worth noting. Machiavelli stated that, to maintain control by political force, it is safer for a prince to be feared than loved. Erasmus preferred for the prince to be loved, and strongly suggested a well-rounded education in order to govern justly and benevolently and avoid becoming a source of oppression.
As a result of his reformatory activities, Erasmus found himself at odds with both of the great parties. His last years were embittered by controversies with men toward whom he was sympathetic. Notable among these was Ulrich von Hutten, a brilliant but erratic genius who had thrown himself into the Lutheran cause and declared that Erasmus, if he had a spark of honesty, would do the same. In his reply in 1523, Spongia adversus aspergines Hutteni, Erasmus displays his skill in semantics. He accuses Hutten of having misinterpreted his utterances about reform and reiterates his determination never to break with the Church.
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.
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.
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, offering prospective preachers’ advice on nearly every conceivable aspect of their vocation with extraordinarily abundant reference to classical and biblical sources.
Sileni Alcibiadis (1515)
Erasmus’s Sileni Alcibiadis is one of his most direct assessments of the need for Church reform. Johann Froben published it first within a revised edition of the Adagia in 1515, then as a stand-alone work in 1517. This essay has been likened to John Colet’s Convocation Sermon, though the styles differ.
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. 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 – a young, debauched playboy whom Socrates tries to convince to seek truth instead of pleasure, wisdom instead of pomp and splendor.
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 the Symposion, in which Alcibiades also appears.
In support of this, Erasmus states, “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.” On the other hand, Erasmus lists several Sileni and then questions whether Christ is the most noticeable Silenus of them all. The Apostles were Sileni since they were ridiculed by others. He believes that the things which are the least ostentatious can be the most significant, and that the Church constitutes all Christian people – that despite contemporary references to clergy as the whole of the Church, they are merely its servants. He criticizes those that spend the Church’s riches at the people’s expense. The true point of the Church is to help people lead Christian lives. Priests are supposed to be pure, yet when they stray, no one condemns them. He criticizes the riches of the popes, believing that it would be better for the Gospel to be most important.
Legacy of Desiderius Erasmus
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 Saint Ambrose, Aristotle, Saint Augustine, Saint Basil, Saint John Chrysostom, Cicero and Saint Jerome.
In his native Rotterdam, the university 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. In 2003, a poll showing that most Rotterdammers believed Erasmus to be the designer of the local Erasmus Bridge, instigated the founding of the Foundation Erasmus House (Rotterdam), 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.
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 Luther’s ideas and the groundwork he laid for the future Reformation, especially in biblical scholarship. By the 1560s, however, there was a marked change in reception.
According to Franz Anton Knittel, Erasmus in his Novum Instrumentum omne did not incorporate the Comma from the Codex Montfortianus (concerning the Trinity), because of grammar differences, but used the Complutensian Polyglot. According to him the Comma was known to Tertullian.
Protestant views of 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. Nevertheless, his reception is 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.
However, Erasmus designated his own legacy, and his life works were turned over at his death to his friend the Protestant humanist turned remonstrator Sebastian Castellio for the repair of the breach and divide of Christianity in its Catholic, Anabaptist, and Protestant branches.
By the coming of the Age of Enlightenment, however, 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.” Thus, the universalist ideals of Erasmus are sometimes claimed to be important for fixing global governance.
Several schools, faculties and universities in the Netherlands and Belgium are named after him, as is Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn, New York, USA. The European Union’s Erasmus Programme scholarships enable students to spend up to a year of their university courses in a university in another European country.
Erasmus is credited with saying “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.”
He is also blamed for the mistranslation from Greek of “to call a bowl a bowl” as “to call a spade a spade.”
The European Erasmus Programme of exchange students within the European Union is named after him.
Attribution: This article incorporates text from the public domain: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia