Erika Rummel and Mark Wilson

in Renaissance and Reformation

ISBN: 9780195399301
Published online May 2010 | | DOI:

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy



Desiderius Erasmus was the leading Northern humanist in the 16th century. Born circa 1466 as the illegitimate son of a priest, he entered the Augustinian order and was sent by his bishop to study theology in Paris. He did not earn a degree but was awarded a doctorate of theology per saltum (without fulfilling the regular requirements) by the University of Turin in 1506. More than three thousand letters to and from him survive. He corresponded with leaders in politics, church, letters, and academia. His services to scholarship were recognized in his time by fellow humanists, such as Thomas More, Guillaume Budé, and (until their estrangement) Ulrich von Hutten; by powerful patrons, such as William Warham, archbishop of Canterbury, John Fisher, bishop of Rochester, and the emperor Charles V, who appointed him councillor in 1516. He received invitations from Francis I of France, Henry VIII of England, and Cardinal Cisneros of Spain. Erasmus’s criticism of the church and his application of humanistic methods to biblical studies earned him the wrath of conservative theologians and involved him in numerous theological controversies, culminating in an official censure by the University of Paris (1531). He was often accused of being a Lutheran, but his original support for the Reformation movement evaporated when he recognized its schismatic nature, and in 1524 he engaged in a prolonged controversy with Martin Luther over the concept of free will. Successive popes, recognizing Erasmus’s importance as a leading voice in scholarly circles, tried to quell attacks on him, sometimes unsuccessfully. Erasmus had a strong commitment to education, and his manuals, dialogues, and anthologies were widely used as textbooks in schools. Erasmianism experienced a renaissance in the 18th century, which saw him as a forerunner of the Enlightenment. His influence as a stylist lasted as long as Latin remained the language of scholarship, and his ideas continue to be cited in modern philosophy and social criticism. The most famous of Erasmus’s works, his Praise of Folly, has been in print without interruption from its first publication in 1512.

Article.  10428 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy

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