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Home : Biography : Historical Figures
BIOGRAPHY : Historical Figures

 
 

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Desiderius Erasmus

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 traveler. 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 hypocrite).

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.


 


 

 



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