Desiderius Erasmus was one of the great humanists. He was well
educated and practice scholasticism. He was also a great writer, who wrote
books of many types. He is even called the greatest European scholar of the
16th century (Britannica Macropedia). He was also courageous, as he
criticized the Church harshly. It was said by R. C. Trench that “Erasmus
laid the egg of the Reformation and Luther hatched it.”
Erasmus was the illegitimate son of a priest named Gerard. This fact
would haunt him for his entire life. He feared that, if this fact was
widely known, his life would be ruined. Therefore, there has been much
confusion about his early life. It has been discerned that he as born in
Gouda, Holland in 1469 and that he had a brother. Erasmus tried to keep all
these facts hidden, confusing modern day historians. He died in 1536.
Erasmus’s writings included The Praise of Folly, a satire which pointed
out major problems in the clergy, saying that monks were beggars, the
clergy was greedy, and that the pope had no resemblance to the Apostles. He
also wrote a short satirical skit in which Pope Julius II had trouble
getting into heaven. In the skit, Pope Julius II is made out to be more of
a Muslim than a Catholic. Writing this had to take considerable courage,
for, though the Church was in decline, it still had considerable power. He
also published the Greek version of the New Testament in Latin, so
Europeans could read it.
Erasmus was a traveller. He lived in many places in Europe at different
times. He had lived in Rome, Paris, England, and many other European
countries. His worked as a writer, but was dependant on gifts of nobles as
most writers of the time were. In his travels he befriended many humanists.
Erasmus became a humanist because of his education. He studied both
ancient Greek and Latin. He had tried to be monk and a priest, but could
not. He went to Paris where he mastered Latin. He received a good education
there. This education, combined with his morality, made him a great
humanist. He had both the knowledge and the ethics to criticize the Church
(a person who lacked ethics and criticized the Church would be a
Surprisingly, Erasmus was both tolerant and a pacifist. He, apparently,
picked up these traits when in England. I find this extremely unusual and
admirable, considering that, at that time, it was considered wrong for a
person to be tolerant. I imagine that Erasmus had to be tolerant, as he
visited many places in his lifetime, some Anglican, some Catholic, some
Lutheran, and probably some Calvinist settlements also.
Erasmus was one of the great humanists of the 1500’s. His books were
widely read, so his ideas were spread throughout Europe. His criticism of
the Church was therefore heard throughout Europe. He preferred reasoning to
bloodshed, unlike many others of his time. While he did not criticize the
Church as much as Luther had, he did call for an end to the corruption
which had seeped to the core of the Church.
In my opinion, Erasmus was a great man . He reasoned while others
fought. He was courageous in his criticism of the Church. He had morality
and was well educated. He was a pacifist and a man of tolerance. I can only
say that he was a great man and a superb humanist.