The Renaissance & Erasmus Essay

The Renaissance was a period of great change, characterized by a revision of many concepts and the birth of many ideas. One of the greatest scholars of this time was Desiderius Erasmus. He was born in Rotterdam, Holland. His birth name was Gerrit . He attended the school of the Brothers of the Common Life at Deventer after which he joined a monastery, the Augustinian college of Stein near Gouda where he stayed for six years. He was ordained to the Catholic priesthood at Steyn at about the age of 25, but he did not last in the priesthood for long.

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Later, he became a personal secretary of the Bishop of Cambrai. His experience working for the church made him aware of the many evils that plagued it. He was a great critic of the church and its leaders before and during the reformation. It has been said by many that Erasmus was one of the few humanists who left a lasting mark in the history of human kind.

His fearless criticism of the manner in which the church handled various issues prepared people for the subsequent work of another humanist and reformist, Martin Luther. 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. He was also a theology scholar and a writer. He published the Greek version of the New Testament in Latin, so that Europeans could read it. Thesis Statement This paper examines the humanist actions of Erasmus and his contribution to the history of the Christian faith. Literature Review As a great humanist in the 1500’s, Erasmus wrote many books which were widely read all across. His ideas and 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 and a great many other evils which had seeped to the core of the Church. Erasmus was a renowned writer of his time. One of his greatest works include ed The Praise of Folly, a satire which pointed out major problems in the clergy, depicting monks as beggars, the clergy as being greedy. He also made reference to the pope saying that he had no resemblance to the apostles.

He also wrote a short satirical skit in which Pope Julius II had trouble getting into heaven. This kind of writing earned him considerable hostility in the church, but then, this kind of courage also helped the church. Some of the subjects he attacked were superstitious religious practices and the vanity of Church leaders. One such superstition was the sale of Indulgences by the Church, which its leaders sold in order to raise money for building projects. Indulgences were supposed to reduce the time a sinner would spend in purgatory.

Erasmus felt that this was an abuse of priestly power. He was against the idea of people praying to the Saints instead of God, because he recognized that salvation came only through Christ. His goal was to promote basic Christian values. Erasmus was accused of being only a specialist in grammar and rhetorician, not a theologian, and some modern scholars have shared that same sentiment. Recent scholarship has been more agreeable to the view that Erasmus was in some sense a theologian even if not a systematic one.

Erasmus was, to be sure, a rhetorician, but one whose rhetoric was “in service of his theology and whose rhetorical theology thus reveals some truths that would otherwise remain hidden”. Erasmus is known today as a great 16th century pacifist. He used his gift of writing to preach peace. He felt that war was senseless since it only caused destruction and death. He rebuked those who engaged in war he saying that they had no greater morality than beasts. According to Kreis, Erasmus stands as the ‘supreme type of cultivated common sense applied to human affairs’.

He rescued theology from the lack of creativity of the schoolmen, exposed the abuses of the Church, and did more than any other single person to advance the revival of learning’. In the sixteenth century when literature was used to conceal the truth about a number of issues, Erasmus admired and despised by both Catholics and Protestants, by both liberals and radicals; but according to theological scholar, Abraham Friesen the theological views of Erasmus can today reconcile Evangelical and liberal Christians. Methodology

I collected my information through book and article research, most of which came from the internet. I also interviewed two theologians on what they thought about Erasmus. Data Analysis The data I gathered was mostly from books and articles. I found out that Erasmus work elicited a lot of ill-feeling among Christians during the reformation, with many clergy accusing him of pioneering the reformation that led to the split of the church. However some scholars point out that the church began appreciating the work of Erasmus later in his life.

One of the people I interviewed said that although Erasmus was much hated for his criticisms against the church, his work proved to be beneficial to the Christian faith, in that he was able and courageous enough to pinpoint the evils in the church. Thus, he gave the church a reason to examine and reform itself. Results The method of data collection was limited to book research and interviews. These were not enough to prepare a comprehensive and detailed research. I also faced some difficulties finding interviewees who were conversant with the life and works of Erasmus. Discussion

A lot of scholars agree that Erasmus actually was for rather than against the church. He was a fierce critic of both the liberal and radical wings of the church. He spoke against anything that to him appeared to be against Biblical teachings. He was alienated from both sides of the church, though the same people who had earlier alienated him later sought him out. His courage and relentlessness bore fruit. The church began to examine itself in light with what Erasmus and other critics of the time had talked about. The role that Erasmus played in the 16th century reformation cannot be downplayed.

Midmore contends that Erasmus sought peace and unity if necessary by compromise, and he also promoted the corporate rather than the individual renewal of the church. Conclusion The debate on what Erasmus did or did not do will undoubtedly rage on for a long time to come. However form what I have gathered in this research, it is clear that he left an indelible mark in the history of the church. He was a fearless critic of the abuses in the Catholic Church, even before the reformation. He might not have been in most people’s good books, but he his work served as a form of checks and balances against the excesses of the church.

That is why he will forever be remembered as the man who laid the egg of reformation, though he did not hatch it– Martin Luther did, as the 16th century aphorism goes.


Biography of Historical Figures [database on-line]. Available from studyworld. com Friesen, Abraham. Erasmus, the Anabaptists, and the Great Commission. (Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998). Midmore Brian. The reformation – Erasmus and Luther. (2000) [database on-line]. Available from ‘A Passion for Grace and Faith’ website. Rummel, Erika. Erasmus (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004)

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