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Erasmus, Desiderius (1467?–1536)

Article by Jean-Claude Margolin

Erasmus-DesideriusThe fact that the creators of the ‘Erasmus’ Programme2, which over a number of years now has been bringing an ever-increasing number of European students and teachers together around given subjects of reflection and research, chose to adopt the name of the famous Dutch humanist is assuredly no passing administrative fancy. But Erasmus himself is more often quoted than read despite almost being a household name and despite the title of one of his works (‘In praise of folly’), not to mention the two portraits left to us by Holbein the Younger. As his life and works are closed books for many, we thought we might usefully direct attention to some of the landmarks in this exceptional life, lived during a period which was not lacking in outstanding personalities.

A sketch of a life and work

Erasmus was born without a name in mysterious, if not shameful, circumstances—his father was a priest who had seduced the daughter of a doctor of Zevenbergen called Geert—and his destiny continued to be exceptional. He was born in Rotterdam in 1467 (or 1469, 1466 or 1468 depending on the source) and, a few decades later, was to win fame for his town, which in this latter part of the fifteenth century was only a little fishing village, by adding its name to his. The obscure son of Geert (which means ‘the desired one’ in Dutch) was thus to became famous as Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, known subsequently as the ‘Prince of Humanism’.3

His celebrity raises more questions than it answers for the historian of ideas Erasmus (we shallnow call him by the name which he chose for himself, using a Greek verb which means ‘to love’, perhaps indicating a need to love and be loved) was neither a leader of men nor a great philosopher. Unlike Luther, Zwingli or Calvin, he did not found a religion. He escaped all forms of persecution at a time of civil and international warfare and religious revolution, while his best friends perished on the field of battle or by the executioner’s axe, victims of their commitment to a cause. One such example was his best friend Thomas More, the author of Utopia,4 who was Chancellor of England before being beheaded in London in July 1535. Erasmus wrote all his works in Latin, the language of the élite of Europe at that time; he could thus count on only a few thousand readers. Apart from a small number of academics and students, who could claim today to be able to read Erasmus in the original? However this man, who spoke Dutch and German only to inn keepers and servants, wanted the most important books (such as the New Testament, of which he was to produce an original Latin version5) to be translated into modern languages so that, in his words, ‘the labourer at the plough and the weaver at the loom could pray to God in a language which they themselves could understand’.6 Erasmus’ wish is now being fulfilled beyond his expectations.

Although much still remains to be done, most of his works have been translated into many languages. To cite just one example, the poorest students anywhere in the world can now read a pocket edition in their own language of ‘In praise of folly’, an ironical and at times moving sermon of Dame Folly (who is a mouth piece for Erasmus himself).

Erasmus, a sickly and extremely sensitive child, was to remain throughout his life in thrall to what he called his ‘corpusculum’.7 He first attended Peter Winckel’s school in Gouda, then that of the chapter of the Cathedral of Utrecht where he was a chorister, and lastly, when he was 9 or 10 years old, that of the then famous Brethren of the Common Life at Deventer. From 1480 to 1485, this was one of the first centres of humanism in the Netherlands in which instruction in the Greek and Latin masters was combined with instruction in a Christianity no longer clogged by the scholastic and formalist accretions of the Middle Ages.

The Netherlands then formed part of the Hapsburg Empire and, more particularly, with Franche-Comté, of the Burgundy ‘sphere of influence’. In the mosaic which then constituted the Holy Roman Empire, Erasmus was thus a subject of the Charles of Burgundy who became Charles I of Spain and, subsequently, the Emperor Charles V. In this context one remembers that his love for peace inspired him to address audacious ‘remonstrance’s’ to the two enemy kings Francis I and Charles V.

After the death of his parents, the young Desiderius was put in the care of three tutors who quickly sent him to Bois-le-Duc, to a mediocre and ‘antiquated’ school where the adolescent was later to admit that he had ‘wasted his time’. He fled back to Gouda from the plague, and in 1487 thought he had a vocation to join the monastery of the Augustinian canons of Steyn where he took his vows a few years later. But his enthusiasm was lukewarm. Above all, the monastery provided a setting which suited his meditative nature and his craving for culture. He was also to form firm friendships there,especially with a young monk, Servatius Roger, who later became its prior.

Having been ordained a priest on 25 April 1492, he left Steyn to become the secretary of the bishop of Cambrai, Henry of Bergen. He went to Paris in 1495 where he was initially a resident at the austere Collège de Montaigu. Thereafter, he led an independent existence, giving Latin lessons to the sons of rich bourgeois and aristocratic English and German families, writing textbooks which later became teaching manuals, and which certain countries and schools—such as St. Paul’s School and Eton College in England—were to use for centuries. He had yet to publish anything, but had already established a reputation as an ‘orator’ and ‘poet’ in the humanist circles of Paris. In 1499—he was then, at least, 30—one of his pupils, the rich Lord William Mountjoy,8 took him to England. The course of his life then took a decisive turn thanks to the friendship and respect of some of the most influential figures of the time. He was the guest of the royal family, became the friend of John Colet,9 a theologian at Oxford and future Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, met Thomas More10 and,subsequently, grammarians, scholars and theologians of a reformist persuasion.

While discovering England and appreciating the hospitality extended to him, Erasmus found himself. He became conscious of his worth, and set himself an ambitious schedule of work which was based on the two ideals which would henceforth govern his life: to make the masterpieces of Greek and Latin antiquity accessible to the adolescents who possessed the intellectual gifts and material resources required to attend the ‘Latin’ schools or to have a private tutor; and to make the riches of the Bible and patristic literature accessible to all the faithful, and, first and foremost, to those responsible for their spiritual guidance. He thus began to study Greek intensively, and Hebrew, in which he failed to acquireany real proficiency. Many publications and translations were produced in the course of a life11 that one of his famous adages12 and a painting by Holbein would compare to the labours of Hercules. These translations were, naturally, translations from Greek to Latin, given that, with but rare exceptions, Greek, known to only a handful of scholars—but a larger number after the influx of the Greeks from Byzantium into Italy and Western Europe—was not a language which was spoken or written fluently.

The most significant works that he was to write on his return to the Continent in 1500 were in keeping with the two goals that he had set himself in England. He began by publishing 818 ‘Adages’13 in Paris. These were proverbs which were principally derived from Greek and Latin antiquity, accompanied by his own grammatical literary, historical and even religious commentaries. For some thirty years these adages were to increase unceasingly in number—over 4,000 in the 1536 edition—and, in the case of most, in length. Examples of the latter are ‘The sileni of alcibiades’, ‘Festina lente’, ‘The scarab in pursuit of the eagle’ and ‘Dulce bellum inexpertis’ or, in other words, ‘war is sweet to those who have not known it’. But what is even more noticeable than the number and length of some of the adages, some of which had become full-blown philosophical, social or religious essays, is their increasingly personal character. After first giving an explanation of the historical or mythical origins and the linguistic structure of the Latin or Greek proverb which formed the title (for example, man preys on man like a wolf, richer than Croesus, an ass at the lyre), he used it as a pretext for personal musings of all kinds. This would result, in one instance, in a picturesque and fanciful essay, in another in the critique of a social or religious institution and, in yet another, in the formulation of audacious views on human relations. Three years later, in Antwerp, he published the Enchiridion militis Christiani or ‘Manual for a Christian Soldier’,14 with a pun on the Greek term enchiridion which, first of all, means ‘dagger’ and, secondly only, ‘a familiar book which is always within reach’. It contains both advice to Christians to defend themselves—with a spiritual ‘dagger’—against the temptations of the ‘world’, and bold personal suggestions for the internal reform of the Church which would reinstate the spirit of the Gospels in a central place, excluding purely superficial practices, an excessive devotion to the saints, outdated formulations, theological disputes and ratiocinations. In short, it is a theological essay strongly inspired by Saint Paul, but also by Plato and Origen, which constitutes the beginnings of a corpus of precepts and modes of behaviour based on the spirit of the Gospel; what Erasmus was later to call the ‘Philosophy of Christ’.

Until his death in Basel in July 1536, Erasmus would be forced, for a variety of reasons, to lead a wandering life. His enemies, first among them Luther after their break in 1524–25, called him an errans mus, a ‘roving rat’. He stayed in Louvain, then in Venice and Rome; spent longer periods in Basel, Freiburg-im-Breisgau and, again, in Paris, Orléans and Lyon.

Fleeing from the plague in Paris at the beginning of 1500, and returning to the monastery at Steyn after an absence of several years, he went back to the Netherlands. But it was primarily with the intention of asking for another year’s freedom to pursue his studies outside the cloister. In Tournehem, not far from Saint Omer, he began a ‘heroic’ study of Greek15 with his friend Jacques Batt. But he also made fresh travel plans: England, Paris or perhaps Italy? The thought of Italy had been haunting him for years, being for him, as for all humanists, the cradle of Latinity, while Rome was that of Christianity.

In Saint Omer he met the theologian Jean Vitrier,16 a virulent preacher who inveighed against unreformed religious houses, the profligacy of monks and other people of the Church, and the worship of the saints and of images. He was the source of many of the ideas and themes that illustrated the Enchiridion. When the Franciscan died, Erasmus composed one of his finest funeral orations, both forhim and John Colet, who had died at about that same time. The text can be found in Letter 1211 of the Opus epistolarum which was published by P.S Allen.17 This letter was sent in June 1521 ‘from the countryside around Anderlecht’18 to Josse Jonas, the Rector of the University of Erfurt.

Erasmus moved to Louvain in the autumn of 1502, worked intensely and finished his first translations from the Greek, including Lucian and Euripides. As a subject of the Hapsburgs, it fell to his lot, in January 1504, to deliver the panegyric of Philip the Handsome, the King of Spain, before anillustrious assembly. In this academic speech he took the opportunity to speak in praise of peace. In the summer of that same year, he discovered in the library of the park monastery in Louvain a manuscript of the illustrious Lorenzo Valla19 that suggested making corrections to the Vulgate on the basis of collations with the Greek text. This discovery, which was of much more than philological and historical significance, was to be the point of departure for what could be called the Biblicism of Erasmus, that is, his Biblical exegesis, one of the most sturdy pillars of his ‘Philosophy of Christ’.20 Erasmus was to be unrelenting in his efforts to ‘reconcile good literature’ with theology as envisaged by Valla, that is theology based on the Greek translation of the Septuagint from the Hebrew and not on the traditionalLatin translation known as the Vulgate. This work of collating manuscripts, correcting the Vulgate, translating and making commentaries (or ‘annotations’) was to lead twelve years later to the first edition of the New Testament (Novum instrumentum),21 which he would dedicate to the humanist Pope Leo X, but whose philological and exegetical daring exposed him to violent criticism from traditionalist theologians of the universities of Paris, Louvain and Salamanca, and from many other scholars as well.

Valla, as the author of the ‘Elegances of the Latin Language’,22 also enabled Erasmus to fulfil the wish that underlay the second part of his programme to restore the purity of the Latin language. He was in fact to publish a summary of and a commentary on the ‘Elegances’.

Without forgetting the time spent by Erasmus—who clearly did all he could not to return to his monastery—in Paris and England, or his professional and, at times, friendly contacts with the publishers Badius and Martens, let us now consider his journey to Italy, where he stayed from August 1506 until the summer of 1509. This period marked another turning point in his life and in his intellectual and spiritual evolution, in particular, the time spent in Venice with the celebrated publisher Aldus Manutius23 and his Academy, attended mainly by Greek scholars from Byzantium who had in their possession a great many unpublished manuscripts. In Venice Erasmus not only improved his knowledge of Greek language and literature, but made many additions to his book of ‘Adages’, chiefly due to the Greek authors with whose manuscripts he was supplied at the Academy. By contrast, his stay in Rome was far less edifying: the luxury of the Pope’s court, the wealth and magnificence of thecardinals and the detestable morals of far too many prelates seemed to him to be in flagrant contradiction with the humility preached by the Gospels and the poverty of Christ.24 And what was one to think of the warrior pope, Julius II, who marched, wearing helmet and armour, at the head of his troops? An anonymous pamphlet—that historians attribute to Erasmus—entitled Julius exclusus acoelis [Julius forbidden to enter the gates of heaven]25 fully expresses the contempt in which the authorheld the pontiff. But it was this same Julius II who had granted Erasmus a very useful dispensation and who had sought out Bramante and Michelangelo to construct and decorate Saint Peter’s in Rome! Erasmus was not very sensitive to this type of beauty or to artistic greatness.

Erasmus claimed to have composed ‘In praise of folly’26 in July 1509 as he crossed the Swiss Alps ‘on horseback’ while returning to England in short stages at the invitation of the young Henry VIII. In actual fact, he wrote this scintillating, paradoxical work at the end of the summer in the London home of his friend Thomas More, to whom he dedicated it. The Greek title of the work, Encomium moriae,27 is a pun on the name Morus, with the result that it is also in praise of More. Hewas to remain in England for almost three years, making short business trips to the Continent. He gave lectures on Greek and theology at the University of Cambridge28 where his friend, John Fisher,29 the Bishop of Rochester, was now chancellor. Warham,30 the Archbishop of Canterbury, provided him with a benefice in Kent which was quickly converted to an annuity. He used these years to prepare his edition of the New Testament and throw himself into patristics (Saint Jerome, Saint Augustine, Chrysostom, Basil, Athanasius, etc.). He began with an edition of the works of Saint Jerome, the Father of the Church, to whom Erasmus felt closest and of whom he was to write a biography. From London he established contact with the master-printer of Basel, Johann Froben,31 who was to acquire exclusive rights to all Erasmus’ works, whether already published or yet to be written. In 1514 he wasinvited to Basel after a stay in the south of the Netherlands and an ecstatic journey up the Rhine which he described as ‘the light of life’. In the same way that he had appreciated the company of scholars who frequented the workshop of Aldus Manutius in Venice, in this dynamic Rhine city, which had justacquired a large university and was a major economic centre, he not only made friends—among them the Frobens, the Amerbachs, the painter Holbein, the Alsatian Beatus Rhenanus—but also established very useful professional relationships (often with the same people). They could be the young people, famuli,32 who transcribed his texts and ran errands in search of manuscripts for him in exchange for board and lodging and a few lessons from the master, or scholars of Hebrew such as Capiton, who introduced him to that language.

The years 1515 and 1516—which witnessed the accession to the French throne of the young Francis I and to that of Spain of the Duke Charles, to whom Erasmus had just been appointed counsellor—marked an improvement in the political situation in Europe. Erasmus took advantage of this situation, on his return to Brabant, to write pacifist works that were not merely in tune with the times but had universal significance. Outstanding among them is the Institutio principis Christiani [The education of the Christian prince] (1516),33 a subject which had been suggested to him by the chancellor of Brabant, Jean Le Sauvage, who wanted to encourage peace between the two nations. Ina dozen or so chapters, Erasmus produced a veritable manual for the all-round education of the Christian prince, encompassing intellectual, moral and political instruction, without forgetting religion, which was at the very heart of this treatise.

But the peace was to be short-lived, promptly vindicating the prosopopoeia to which he gavethe title ‘The complaint of peace’, who is made unwelcome wherever she goes (Querela Pacis, 1517).34 Other storms were looming on the European horizon, and their effects can still be felt more than 400 years after they first broke over Germany and gradually spread to most of the countries of northern and central Europe: the violent challenge to the Church of Rome and its abuses under Luther’s aegis35 and, more generally, by the Reformation, when other intellects attacked the dogma and practices of Catholicism or ‘popery’. We all know that Erasmus was said to have ‘laid eggs which Luther hatched’, a statement that more or less reflects reality. At first Erasmus and Luther, the formerAugustine monk, were on very good terms: they both wanted a return to the teaching of the Gospel; they both criticized sterile scholasticism; they both ardently desired a radical reform of the Church; and they both opposed the sale of indulgences. But after Luther’s break with Rome, his excommunication and the excesses of all kinds, in word and deed, of his most radical disciples, Erasmus felt obliged to review his position. The need for this was all the more urgent as the best qualified representatives of the Church of Rome were urging, if not forcing, him to ‘choose sides’. This was done, reluctantly, by the peace-loving Erasmus, for whom the love of Christ and Christian fellowship took precedence over even the most venerable dogmas, including that of the eucharist and of original sin, and who would not allow himself to persecute a heretic. The break was made final in 1524 by the publication in Basel of the treatise entitled De libero arbitrio [On free will]36 in which he defends the thesis of human freedom and human co-operation with God, with the creature aspiring to salvation, and by Luther’s scathing rejoinder in 1525, in his thesis entitled De servo arbitrio [Concerning the bondage of the will],37 which states that humankind are slaves of sin and that only the unfathomable will of God can deliver them from their fundamental misery.

Together with his theological writings and books concerning particular aspects of the ‘philosophy of Christ’ on which he concentrated his attention during the final years of his life (‘Preparing for death’,38 ‘The prohibition of meat-eating’,39 ‘How to confess’,40 etc.), Erasmus continued with his editing and translation of the ‘ancients’ and the Fathers of the Church, revised his translation of the New Testament, and added to successive editions of his collection of Colloquia,41 one of his major works, composed of animated discussions between two or more characters.Theoretically intended for students, these texts deal frankly and forthrightly with the most controversial social, political, economic, educational, religious, and even medical, issues of the day.

When, exhausted by illness and shattered by the wars which had broken out in Europe withrenewed vigour—the sack of Rome in 1527, the invasion of Hungary by the Turks, the siege of Viennain 1530—and disappointed by the repeated failures of attempts to reconcile all the ‘separated brothers’ with the Church of Rome, Erasmus came back to die in Basel where he had so many friends, it was after having accomplished a truly Herculean task. But it was only little by little, and despite periods of eclipse and the Catholic censorship which would put all his works on the Index (as did the Roman Index of 1559 which was promulgated by Pope Paul IV), that the prediction made by his friend Colet: ‘Nomen Erasmi nunquam peribit’ (the name of Erasmus will never perish) came to be vindicated.

The tutor of Europe

The works of Erasmus are so wide-ranging and varied in both content and form, and often the first edition published in his lifetime is so different from the last—the first edition of his Opera omnia, published by Froben in Basel in 1540, comprises ten large folio volumes, while the Amsterdam critical edition, now being published, will comprise over fifty volumes—that it is not easy to identify a focal point or guiding principle for his work. One could, of course, consult the catalogue that Erasmus himself compiled of his works in 1523 for the benefit of his friend Jean Botzheim,42 or the one which hecompleted seven years later for Hector Boece.43 The works they list could then be divided, as Erasmus himself considered doing, into, for example, a first volume composed of the works dealing with education, a third containing his correspondence, a fifth devotional and religious works 44 and a sixth entirely devoted to his translation of the New Testament, with his Annotations. The eighth could comprise the Apologia, ‘pro domo’ pieces written to counter attacks by declared or secret enemies who resented the boldness of his philosophical and theological positions on marriage, the worship oft he saints and the Virgin, the rejection of the Vulgate, etc.

In fact, it would be no overstatement to say that all of Erasmus’ works, in which he wielded words like weapons—the only ones he would allow—in lifelong combat, are a defense and illustration of liberal education. Erasmus was first and foremost an educator or, as I like to say, ‘the tutor of Europe’45 (just as his friend, the Lutheran Melanchthon,46 was called ‘the tutor of Germany’). It is on this aspect of his work that his considerable reputation rests today.

The titles and contents of many of Erasmus’ works do, indeed, deal with education and form the first volume of his Catalogus lucubrationum of 1523 and 1530: the De ratione studii [Study plan] (1512),47 composed at the request of John Colet who had just opened a new type of Latin school in London; the De pueris instituendis [On a liberal education for children] (1529),48 written for the youngprince William, Duke of Cleves; the Institutio principis Christiani [The education of the ChristianPrince] (1516), dedicated to the young Charles of Hapsburg; the Christiani matrimonii institutio [Institution of Christian marriage] (1526), and a poem bearing the title Institutum hominis Christiani [Education of the Christian man] (1514).

This list could also include works which were originally written for his own pupils and whose publication, some time afterwards, benefited all Europe’s young people, as each and every country had its schoolmasters who would obtain this or that edition or adaptation, and its publishers, who took his works to the annual and biennial trade fairs, such as that of Frankfurt. This category would include works such as the De duplici copia verborum ac rerum [The twofold abundance of words andthings]49 which deals with rhetoric, grammar and syntax, style and Latin elegance; the Deconscribendis epistolis [On letter-writing],50 an absorbing manual on the art of writing which draws onthe best sources of ancient (Cicero, Pliny the Younger, Seneca) and modern (Politian, Vergerio, Filelfo) Latinity and which one could compare with Erasmus’ own copious correspondence (over 3,000 letters by Erasmus and his correspondents have survived);51 the De recta Latini Graeciquesermois pronuntiatione [On the correct pronunciation of Latin and Greek] 52 which expands a philological and cultural point into a mini-study in comparative philology; the Latin translation of the‘Grammar’ by the Byzantine Greek Theodore Gaza, in co-operation with the Englishman WilliamLily;53 and all his translations of Lucian of Samosata,54 many of which comprise ‘declamations’, that is, rhetorical exercises on imaginary subjects which were given to pupils as models. In this category ofworks of rhetoric with an explicitly educational purpose (even if Erasmus took the opportunity to slipin the odd ironical remark on this or that individual or institution), one could include the Parabolae sivesimilia [Comparisons or similarities]55 which consist of hundreds of short texts by Greek and Latin authors (primarily Plutarch, Pliny the Elder and Seneca) involving two orders of reality or meaning which are usually quite far removed from each other (such as this example from Seneca: ‘a ship whichis large for a river looks small at sea; in the same way, people thought to be mediocre here can be regarded as outstanding elsewhere’). One could put into this same category his dialogue on the Ciceronian (Ciceronianus),56 a dialogue on literary style and imitation and, at a deeper level, a very profound reflection on culture and the adaptation of a given cultural tradition to a new type of civilization. Lastly—but the list could be extended further—the short text published in 1530, De civilitate morum puerilium [On the civility of children’s behaviour],57 which can be considered to be the first treatise in Western Europe on the health, moral and practical education of very young children. In it the bachelor priest concerns himself with matters as apparently trivial as the art of wiping one’s nose, cutting one’s bread, dressing and undressing! For him education was all-encompassing. One ofhis books had the title De pueris statim ac liberaliter instituendis [Children should be given a liberal education from a very early age], immediately followed by the programme proposed: ad virtutem etbonas litteras instituendi (so that they can acquire virtue and a literary education).

These titles alone would seem to indicate that Erasmus saw himself, or indeed was, the tutor of Europe. But one can go further and say that Erasmus’ works are united in their diversity and that the common denominator of all his writings, the focus of all his efforts, is education. There is, however, a paradox here which occurs quite often where education is concerned: this European schoolmaster,who on several occasions was given responsibility for the education of young people—in Paris and in Cambridge, in Italy, and notably Siena, not to mention the education of his god son in Basel, the son ofhis friend John Froben, and in Louvain—was not overly fond of this occupation and does not seem to have been a very gifted teacher. This would have been difficult to understand if Erasmus had beendealing with intelligent and industrious young people. But when he came up against persistent stubbornness—and such was the case with his godson, to whom he none the less dedicated an edition of his Colloquia 58—he felt he was wasting his time and thought he could do more for the education of young people by writing works which would be rapidly circulated throughout Europe rather than byspending precious hours endeavouring to raise the moral and intellectual level of a few recalcitrant individuals. One might add that he made little effort to win over his average pupil. In England, he refused, even when not giving lessons, to speak English, a language which he never had any desire to learn. Today we would say that Erasmus’ temperament was more that of a researcher than that of a teacher; but his writings made him an excellent educational adviser and an excellent theoretician of practical pedagogy.

In fact, the methods expounded in his major educational works are surprisingly modern, not only in their historical context in that they broke with the scholastic methods of the Middle Ages which were based on learning ‘by rote’ and the servile imitation of models considered to be untouchable, but even in a modern educational context. Examples of his methods are a progressive training in literary ‘invention’ and in the acquisition of a personal style by studying different writers and adopting a critical approach to them, be they Plato or Cicero; the preference given to individual tuition over a collective education which takes no account of differences in the characteristics and aptitudes of the learners; the use of competition when exercises are given to children or young people, the best being singled out without triumphalism; the abolition of the barbarous and/or stupid habit of striking talkative or careless children, and humiliating those who come bottom of the class by making them wear the dunce’s cap.

One should, naturally, be careful not to over emphasize the relevance of Erasmus’ teaching methods to the present day. Times have changed since the sixteenth century, and the conditions and objectives of education have changed too. Latin no longer forms the basis of education; nor even do the ‘humanities’, as they used to be called. The ‘hard’ sciences, like mathematics, physics and biology—not to mention electronics and computer programming—have revolutionized the cultural, social, economic and even political landscape. The time is now past when Erasmus could write nonchalantly about pupils’ interest in arithmetic: ‘As long as they’ve had a taste of it!’.59

And although Erasmus had rather advanced views on women and marriage, the education of girls and the woman’s role in our modern societies have changed radically since his time. Erasmus shares the view of all his contemporaries, educationists included (such as the Spaniard Juan Luis Vives 60 and the Englishman Thomas Elyot 61) which was that girls had no need of advanced intellectual education since their lot was either to marry, have children and keep house, or to enter a convent. None the less, he admires Magdalena, the educated woman in one of his Colloquia, 62 who comes upwith lively rejoinders to Antronius, a stupid anti-feminist abbot. Erasmus often sings the praises of extremely cultured ‘viragins’ such as the Venetian Cassandra Fedele and Margaret, the eldest daughter of Thomas More.

One final point concerns what in modern parlance would be called the democratization of education—the access of every child to instruction and education. In Erasmus’ day only a very small minority of children and young people had such opportunities. Erasmus preferred education at home under the guidance of a tutor carefully chosen by the parents. When asked: ‘What will you do with poor children?’ he would quote Terence: ‘When we can’t do what we want, we do what we can.’ He realized that there was a problem, and his own tormented childhood was a sharp reminder of all the difficulties that even gifted children had to overcome.

For Erasmus, to educate young people was to educate adults, in as much as—and this he deeply believed—the future of individuals and the quality of their lives depended, in large measure, on the education they had received in their youth. ‘A man is not born a man, but becomes one’, is the vigorous assertion of one of the sayings in the De pueris 63 whereby Erasmus distinguishes humankindfrom all other creatures. A dog remains a dog and an oak, an oak, because they are no more than that with which nature has endowed them, once and for always. But human beings, thanks to the reason with which God endowed them when He created them, can improve their primitive nature: education will achieve this on condition that it is ‘liberal’, which means based on free will (which even children possess), and that the tutor has the wisdom and skill to use persuasion and gentleness, rather than brutally imposing precepts and dogmas.

Even during his lifetime, the many reprints and translations of his works formed the basis of averitable Erasmian network in Europe which extended from London to Cracow, Antwerp to Alcalá deHerares, Paris to Strasbourg, and Nuremberg to Naples, with Basel as its centre. The Prince ofHumanism was truly the tutor of Europe.

A teacher and educational adviser to the schoolmasters of his time, Erasmus became, by vocation and also because circumstances required it of him, the theoretician at one and the same time of a political philosophy based on peace and the protection of the people by their prince; of a code of religious ethics concerning the status of women; and of a renovated theology based on scrupulous interpretation of the Gospels and on rhetoric which is used by the preacher in the exercise of his function. We shall now examine these three aspects of the educational vocation of Erasmus.


Erasmus was a militant supporter of peace 64 who took every opportunity to ‘wage war on war’ and continually maintained that there was no such thing as a just war. In the tormented period in which he lived—even if he always managed to flee regions threatened by or embroiled in war—he found many situations to support his views. These were simple—politicians inspired by Machiavelli might say they were simplistic. They can be summed up the few points made in the Institutio principis Christiani.65


Erasmus could envisage none but a prince who was a Christian in a Europe that had not as yet adopted the name, or if it had, gave it no political significance. Even the Empire of the Hapsburgs was not in aposition to impose federative unity, although it occupied a large part of the European Continent and took precedence over all the kingdoms of Europe. Not only was the Emperor not in full control of his own territories—especially what were called the imperial cities, not to mention the mosaic of peoples and nations who hated each other cordially and were waiting for the first opportunity to ‘fight it out’—he also had to keep a watchful eye on powerful rivals like Francis I and the King of England who were potential candidates for his throne. For Erasmus and his contemporaries, Europe was, above all, Christendom. Even when it was torn apart by the Lutheran schism and the transfer of whole territories to the Reformation camp, it would still be Christendom as opposed to the Ottoman Empire, whose extension in eastern and central Europe was posing a great threat to Christianity.

Although a pacifist, Erasmus was aware of the limitations of pacifism. He taught and wrote—in the ‘Complaint of Peace’, the adage Dulce bellum,66 the colloquy Militaria,67 and in his letters to the European princes—that war did as much, if not more, harm to the victors as vanquished, and the victims in either camp were always in the ranks of the common people and never, or almost never, among those who had started the war. But, at the same time, he made an exception for self-defence. This was the gist of the reply he gave in 1530 to the German jurist Rinck who had consulted him on whether or not war should be waged on the Turks, who already controlled a large part of Hungary and were encamped outside Vienna. This letter is written in the form of a commentary on David’s Psalm2868 which extols the virtues of peace (Verses 7 and 8: ‘The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him […] The Lord is their [the people’s] strength, and he is the saving strength of his anointed’). This implies that, for Erasmus the Christian, the nature of the problem of war and peace is, first and foremost, religious and, more particularly, Christian, and only secondarily political. If, after having exhausted all the resources of diplomacy and agreed to all the concessions compatible with liberty, dignity and the preservation of his people’s fundamental values, a prince is still directly threatened by a brutal and uncompromising enemy, he can then take up arms to defend himself. It is indeed his duty, as he must protect his subjects in the same way as he must defend their spiritual and material goods.

He is not to fight ‘like a Turk’, however, since Christians are expected to observe certain rule seven when at war. Thus, civilian populations should be respected, prisoners treated humanely, and all barbarous and degrading acts avoided. In other words, war should never be waged with ‘no holds barred’, it should be short, if possible, and involve minimal bloodshed. Some will think that this is utopian, given the atrocities perpetrated in the course of our own twentieth century, and particularly at its closing, which clearly flout the Erasmian desire to humanize war. Not so! To present the adage‘ man preys on man like a wolf’ as the law governing relations between people and nations would be tantamount to negating the efforts which have been made over the centuries: by jurists like Grotius andPufendorf who established the laws of war and peace, by the International Red Cross, the League of Nations, the United Nations and UNESCO, not to mention humanitarian associations and charitable institutions of all kinds.

Erasmus’ faith in education is made clear in his analysis of the main causes of conflict—his basic position is that prevention is better than cure. The causes which he identifies are various and, in general, of a psychological nature: the ambition of a sovereign avidly seeking military glory and wishing to extend his territory; the weakness of a prince who is incapable of disregarding unscrupulous, greedy and ambitious councillors who vie with one another to flatter him; an old injustice never forgotten, for which one craves crushing revenge. In addition to these psychological factors, which Erasmus attributed to diabolical passions and instincts uncontrolled by reason or Christian piety, there is the weight of historical tradition: for instance, dynastic marriages.69 Instead of marrying a girl of noble birthin his own country, the prince would contract a marriage outside his borders to gain dominion over other peoples or territories, or to avoid foreseeable conflict. But this is quite the opposite of good policy; peoples do not easily conclude alliances with men and women who do not speak their language, who dress differently or have a different diet, and do not share their beliefs. In short, the prince—which means all the princes of Europe—must follow the teaching of the Gospel, whose many precepts, he tells us, come down to two, and perhaps even one: peace and concord.70

The status of women

The advice given by Erasmus concerning the education of women during the different stages of their lives, as girl, wife, mother and widow, depending on the social class to which they belong, is scattered throughout much of his work, more particularly in ‘In praise of folly’, the Colloquia (five or six of which deal with marriage,71 freedom of choice, the religious vocation, divorce, etc.), ‘Encomium matrimonii’ [In praise of marriage],72 ‘Christiani matrimonii institutio’ [The institution of Christianmarriage],73 and Vidua Christiana [The Christian widow].74 The question of women and their marriage was a matter of great concern in those times of social and religious change. While the humanist Agrippa of Nettesheim proclaimed the ‘precellence’ of women over men 75 (although, as his work belongs to the declamatory genre, one wonders how seriously the author took this rhetorical exercise) and Margaret of Navarre wrote her Heptaméron,76 theologians continued to maintain that the most noble estate for a woman was that of a virgin, and better still a virgin consecrated to God. These same theologians asserted that a widow could not remarry, despite the fact that canon law was not absolutely opposed to it, as she could not belong to two men. This was certainly not the opinion of enlightened individuals like Erasmus who could think of examples, including that of Thomas More, whose second marriage was with a widow.77 As to virginity, he believed that it was more a moral and spiritual than a physical state, and he did not think that a girl who entered a convent under family or social pressure would lead a more edifying life than a young woman who had married the man of her choice.

He was much occupied with the question of marriage and how to prepare for it. Some people might see in this the persistence of the trauma inflicted upon him by his parents’ situation and the circumstances of his own birth. Erasmus, who was a reader of Galen, Hippocrates and the Moralia of Plutarch, who was concerned about questions of personal hygiene, healthy nutrition and clothing, and who shared in the tradition of the medical school of Salerno, often declares that good physical and moral health has to be prepared not from a child’s birth, but many years previously, during the education of his or her parents. Neither he nor any of his contemporaries had any conception of what was to be called, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, ‘genetics’, but he sensed the close relationship between the character and physical traits of an individual and his or her dual ancestry. In a personal interpretation of the First Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians,78 he also develops interesting ideas on the relationship between marriage and sexuality which, unlike the Fathers of the Church who were often ferocious misogynists, he holds to be natural and innocent.

Erasmus was also to write as a matrimonial adviser, producing, for example, an Encomium matrimonii 79 that his adversaries immediately interpreted as a challenge to the monastic institution andan attack on celibacy. Defend himself as he might, claiming that this Encomium was merely an exercise in rhetoric and argumentation and that he had composed it at the same time as an Epistola dehortatoria [Epistle against marriage]80 which contains the opposite case, the reader is not so easily fooled. Not only does the praise of marriage take up much more space than the criticism, but there is a persuasiveness in the former that is absent in the latter exercise.

The teacher of theology

An educator of women and the family, in lieu of establishing one of his own, Erasmus also saw himself as a teacher of theology for future preachers. In a number of texts, and more especially in the prefaces to his different editions of the New Testament, in that of the Enchiridion of 1518 which is entitled ‘Letter to Paul Volz’,81 and his ‘How to Confess’, he establishes the rules for a new theology. Having himself wrested a doctorate from the University of Turin with doubtful dispatch, he did not feel that theology was the preserve of specialists.82 Those who wish to ‘talk of God’ do need to be well versedin the study of patristics, to know something about the history of the Church and the great councilswhich, little by little, gave it its character. But, above all, Erasmus thought—and it is in this that he is a revolutionary—that ordinary believers could become theologians of a kind if they were thoroughlyversed in the Gospels and put their precepts into practice. That scholars ‘disputed’ dogmas, well and good! The credo of good Christians was, above all, based on their faith, on their love of God and humankind, and their belief in the eternal life towards which all their efforts in this world should be directed. This is the idea Erasmus develops in his Confabulatio pia [Pious conversation],83 in which he makes the little Erasmius, his godson, converse with another child called Gaspar.

ERASMIUS: So, what is religion?

GASPAR: It is the worship of God in His purety, and the observation of His precepts.

ERASMIUS: And what are they?

GASPAR: It will take a long time to say, but I can summarize them in four points.

ERASMIUS: What are they?

GASPAR: First of all, to feel devotion to God and the Holy Scriptures; not to fear Him as one would a master but rather to love from deep within the heart the most benevolent of fathers. Second, to protect innocence with extreme solicitude. Third, to practise charity, which means helping everyone as circumstances require. Fourth, to remain constant in one’s ability to endure anything.

But, despite the fundamental importance of these precepts within the context of the Gospel, they are not sufficient for the training of preachers, priests and teachers of theology. This is why Erasmus constantly advocated the study of languages—meaning the three basic languages, Latin, Greek and Hebrew—which would make the trainee theologian an experienced philologist. But, unlike the commentator or translator of profane authors whose texts do not bear the mark of divine inspiration, the commentator of sacred texts must be aware of the rich multiplicity of meanings of Holy Scripture.84 Hence his recommendation to observe in the reading of the Gospels the doctrine of the four senses inherited from the Middle Ages: the historical or literal sense; the tropological or moral sense; the allegorical sense; and the anagogical sense. Erasmus, a born pedagogue, always kept to essentials and very often reduced these four senses to two: the literal or historic sense, and the allegorical or spiritual sense.

Erasmus wrote an enormous work on the training of preachers, who played a very significant role at the time, with the mass of the faithful thronging around their pulpits, in the Ecclesiastes or Deratione concionandi [The sacred orator or the method of preaching]85 which dates from 1535. Once again, the philologist and the ‘Philosopher of Christ’ come together in this reconciliation, which he constantly recommended and practised himself, of profane with sacred literature. This work can be seen as the crowning achievement of Erasmus’ career. He was convinced that truth needed to be communicated and transformed into belief in the hearts and minds of the faithful,86 and he gives the future preacher all the advice he could need, including individual and crowd psychology, as well as the rules of rhetoric, to be effective: the art of argumentation, the controlled use of metaphor and allegory, clarity and simplicity, the appropriate use of examples, use of pathos, indignation, pity, etc. It is an undeniable masterpiece, a combination of all the knowledge and intuition of the ‘Prince of Humanism’.

Having briefly outlined the life and thought of the obscure Dutch child who was for so long roughly treated by life before becoming, at age 40 to 45, the cynosure of Europe, I should like to emphasize particularly his unwavering fidelity to the principles he had set himself. Although he could change his attitude or language to suit the occasion or the people he was dealing with, he never gave ground on essential points. A lover of truth, he never wished to belong to any faction, sect or school that only observed one aspect of this truth. Indeed, he indignantly rejected the expression ‘Erasmians’ or ‘Erasmists’ that was used to describe his followers. Although the famous motto ‘Nulli concedo’ (‘I make concessions to no one’) on the medal which Quentin Metsys 87 engraved for him was that of Terminius, the god of death, I do not think it would be a misrepresentation of this paper to apply it to Erasmus himself. Far from being a token of pride, I see it rather as the motto of a courageous and dignified man who was incapable of straying from the straight and narrow path. His great friend, Thomas More, carried this principle to the point of martyrdom. Erasmus was not called upon to show how far resoluteness in word and thought would have led him if he had found himself in the same situation as his friend. What we do know about him through his writings and the testimony of those who knew him well makes us reject the image of a dry academic or chilly scholar reluctant to take a stand or commit himself. When barbarism is rampant, does not true courage often lie in refusing to come down on any side in unceasing exhortations to: ‘Stop the barbarians!’? This is what the author ofthe Antibarbari 88 did, at all times, in an endless variety of ways.


1. Jean-Claude Margolin (France). A specialist on Erasmus, the European Renaissance and the history of thought in the sixteenth century. Emeritus Professor of the University of Tours (Centre d’Etudes Supérieures de la Renaissance). Chairman of the International Federation of Societies and Institutes of the Renaissance. Corresponding member of the Lisbon Academy of Sciences. A member of several international scientific committees. Author of numerous books and articles (particularly on Erasmus) of which the list has been published in Language et verite: melanges offerts à Jean–Claude Margolin [Language and truth: miscellanies offered to Jean-Claude Margolin] (Geneva, Droz, 1992). Author’s original title: ‘Erasme, pionnier de l’Europede la culture’ [Erasmus, Pioneer of a Cultural Europe] [The Editor].

2. The reader is referred to a number of fairly recent monographs: J.-C. Margolin, Erasme par lui-même, Paris, Le Seuil, 1965; P. Mesnard, Erasme ou le christianisme critique, Paris, Seghers, 1969; L.E. Halkin, Erasme et l’humanisme chrétien, Paris, Classiques du XXe siècle, 1969; L.E. Halkin, Erasme parmi nous, Paris, Fayard,1987 (German, Italian, English trans.); C. Augustijn, Erasmus von Rooterdam: Leben, Werk, Wirkung, Munich,C.H. Beck, 1986 (original version in Dutch, Baarn, 1986).

3. Original edition: Louvain, 1516.

4. First edition (there were to be five, each one with many changes): Novum instrumentum, Basel, Froben, 1516.

5. See text in Paraclesis, French translation in: Erasme, Oeuvres choisies, J. Chomarat (ed.), Paris, Hachette, 1991, p. 451.

6. See J.-P. Vanden Branden, ‘Le corpusculum d’Erasme’, in Actes du Colloque international Erasme, Tours, 1986, studies compiled by J. Chomarat, A. Godin and J.-C. Margolin, Geneva, Droz, 1990, p. 215–31.

7. Concerning this personality, as with all the contemporaries of Erasmus who left their mark on history, see: P. Bietenholz (ed.), Contemporaries of Erasmus, Toronto, University Press, 1985-87. On William Blount, Lord Mountjoy, see vol. I, p. 154–56.

8. On Colet, see P. Bietenholz, op. cit., vol. I, p. 324–28.

9. In addition to their correspondences, much has been written on the relations between Erasmus and More. To cite just one example, the review Moreana by the Abbé G. Marc’hadour, which now runs to over 100 issues (Angers, 1963 and following years), contains many articles on the subject. A profile of More appears in the third volume of the present series.

10. For a bibliography of the works of Erasmus, see F. Vander Haeghen, Bibliotheca Erasmiana: Catalogue of the Works of Erasmus, Ghent, 1983, 3 v. (photomechanical reproduction, Nieuwkoop, B. de Graaf, 1961).13

11. ‘Herculei labores’, ad. 2001 (Leiden, Oper omnia, 1703-06, vol. II, col. 707D).

12. Published by Jean Philippi in June 1500. See Margaret Mann Phillips, The ‘Adages’ of Erasmus, Cambridge,UK, Cambridge University Press, 1964. Critical edition: Erasmi opera omnia, Amsterdam, North-Holland Publishing Company (in press).

13. Published by Thierry Martens in 1503. French translation by A.J. Festugière, Paris, Vrin, 1971.

14. See J. Hadot, ‘Erasme à Tournehem et à Courtebourne’, in: Colloquia Erasmiana Turonensia, vol. I, Paris, Vrin;Toronto, Toronto University Press, 1972, p. 87–96.

15. On Vitrier, see P. Bietenholz, op. cit., vol. III, p. 408–09.

16. P.S. Allen et al., Opus epistolarum Desiderii Erasmi Roderodami, vol. IV, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1906–58, p. 507–27.

17. See J.-P. Vanden Branden, ‘La Maison d’Erasme et son histoire’, in Terre d’Europe (Brussels), no. 34, June1969, p. 47–52.

18. On Erasmus and Valla, see J. Chomarat, Grammaire et rhétorique chez Erasme, Paris, Belles-Lettres, 1981,p. 225–65. See also: S. Camporeale, Lorenzo Valla: Umanesimo e teologia, Florence, Instituto Palazzo-Strozzi,1972.

19. See G. Chantraine, ‘Mystère’ et ‘Philosophie du Christ’ selon Erasme, Namur/Gembloux, Belgium, Bibliothèque de la Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres de Namur, 1971.

20. See Note 3 above.

21. Lorenzo Valla, Oper omnia, 2 vols., Basel, Henri Petit, 1540, vol. I, p. 1–235.

22. See P. Bietenholz, op. cit., vol. II, p. 376–80. See also: J.C.H. Lowry, The World of Aldus Manutius, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1979.

23. See, inter alia: A. Chastel, ‘L’ennemi de la magnificence’, in: Dix conférences sur Erasme, Paris/Geneva,Champion-Slatkine, 1988, p. 161–68.

24. Text in W.K. Ferguson, Erasmi opuscula. A supplement to the Opera omnia, The Hague, Nijhoff, 1933, p. 38–124.

25. See the critical edition by C.H. Miller, Erasmi opera omnia, Amsterdam, North-Holland Publishing Company,IV-3, 1979.

26. Moria = stultitia [madness].

27. See D.F.S. Thomson and H.C. Porter (eds.), Erasmus and Cambridge, Toronto, Toronto University Press, 1963.

28. See P. Bietenholz, op. cit., vol. II, p. 36–39.

29. Ibid., vol. III, p. 427–31.

30. Ibid. vol. II, p. 60–64.

31. See F. Bierlaire, La familia d’Erasme, Paris, Vrin, 1968.

32. Published in Basel by Froben, April-May 1516.

33. Basel, Froben, December 1517.

34. The literature on Luther is immense. To cite just one work: Jean Delumeau, Le cas Luther, Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 1983. See also: Naissance et affirmation de la Réforme, Paris, Presses universitaires de France, 1968.

35. French translation by A. Godin in Erasme, Paris, Robert Laffont, 1992.

36. Werke, Weimar critical edition, vol. 18, p. 600–787.

37. French translation by C. Blum, in Erasme, op. cit., 1992.

38. De interdicto esu carnium, Basel, Froben, 1522; French translation: R. Galibois, Montreal, Editions Cosmos,1971.

39. Exomologesis sive modus confitendi, Basel, Froben, October 1524; Erasmi opera omnia, op. cit., V-1, 1977.

40. See: F. Bierlaire, Erasme et ses colloques: le livre d’une vie, Geneva, Droz, 1977; Les colloques d’Erasme:réforme des études, réforme des moeurs, et réforme de l’Eglise au XVIe siècle, Paris, Belles-Lettres, 1978.

41. P.S. Allen et al., op. cit., vol. I, p. 1–45: namely, Catalogus omnium Erasmi lucubrationum. The letter to Botzheim heads the first of the twelve volumes.

42. P.S. Allen et al., op. cit., vol. VIII, p. 372–77 (Letter 2283).

43. See J. O’Malley, ‘Grammar and rhetoric in the “pietas” of Erasmus’, in: Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies (College Station, NC), 18(1), 1988, p. 81–98.

44. See the author’s work: Erasme, précepteur de l’Europe, Paris, Editions F. Bourin (in press).

45. On Melanchthon, see P. Bietenholz, op. cit., vol. II, p. 424–29.

46. Basel, Froben, 1529. See French edition translated by the author, Geneva, Droz, 1966.

47. Basel, Froben, 1529. See author’s critical edition, Erasmi opera omnia, op. cit., I–2, 1971, p. 1–78.

48. Critical edition by Betty I. Knott, Erasmi opera omnia, op. cit., I–6, 1988.

49. See author’s critical edition, Erasmi opera omnia, op. cit., I–2, 1971, p. 153–579.14

50. In addition to the above-mentioned critical edition of P.S. Allen et al., see L.E. Halkin, Erasmus ex Erasmo, Aubel, Belgium, Ed. Gason, 1983.

51. Critical edition by M. Cytowska, Erasmi opera omnia, op. cit., I–4, 1973, p. 1–103.

52. De constructione octo partium orationis libellus, Basel, Froben, August 1515.

53. See the critical edition by C. Robinson, in Erasmi opera omnia, op. cit., I–1, 1969, p. 361–617. See also C.R.Thompson, The Translations of Lucian by Erasmus and St. Thomas More, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University, 1940.

54. See author’s critical edition, Erasmi opera omnia, op. cit., I-4, 1975, p. 1–352.

55. Dialogus, cui titulus Ciceronianus, sive, de optimo dicendi genere, Basel, Froben, 1528. See edition by A.Gambaro (with Italian trans.), Il Ciceroniano […], Brescia, La Scuola, 1965.

56. Basel, Froben, 1530. French translation by A. Bonneau, Paris, Isidore Liseux, 1977.

57. See J.-C. Margolin, ‘Unité et diversité dans l’oeuvre d’Erasme de Rotterdam’, in Protrepticon, Milan, 1989, p.67–80.

58. See the critical edition by L.E. Halkin et al., Erasmi opera omnia, op. cit., I-3, 1972. The dedication to Johannes Erasmius Froben dates from 14 March 1522 (p. 123–24).

59. See M. Cytowska, op. cit., p. 31.

60. See the monograph written on Vives by A. Guy, Paris, Seghers, 1972 and P. Bietenholz, op. cit., vol. III, p. 409–13. See also C. Noreña, Juan Luis Vives, The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff, 1970. A profile of Vives appears in thefourth volume of the present series.

61. See T. Elyot, The Boke Named ‘The Governour’, London, 1531.

62. ‘Abbas et erudita’, in: L.E. Halkin et al., Erasmi opera omnia, op. cit., I-3, p. 403–08.

63. ‘Homines non nascuntur, sed effinguntur’, Erasmi opera omnia, op. cit., I-2, p. 31, 1.21.

64. See author’s anthology, Guerre et paix dans le pensée d’Erasme de Rotterdam, Paris, Aubier, 1973.

65. See the critical edition by O. Herding, Erasmi opera omnia, op. cit., IV-1, 1974. See also P. Mesnard, L’Essor dela philosophie politique, Paris, Vrin, 1969, Ch. II, p. 86–140.

66. Opera omnia, Leiden, 1703–06, vol. II, col 951A sq. See the Latin text and its Italian translation in S. Seidal Menchi, Erasmo de Rotterdam: Sei saggi politici in forma di proverbi, Turin, Einaudi, 1980, p. 196–285.

67. L.E. Halkin et al., Erasmi opera omnia, op. cit., p. 154–57.

68. ‘Consultatio de bello Turcico’, ed. A.G. Weiler, Erasmi opera omnia, op. cit., V-3, 1986, p. 1–82.

69. See E.V Telle, ‘Erasme et les mariages dynastiques’, Bibliothèque humanisme et renaissance, Paris, Vrin, 1950, vol. XII, p. 7–13.

70. He uses these very words (pax et unanimitas) in a prefatory letter to Jean Carondelet, the Archbishop of Palermo (P.S. Allen et al., op. cit., vol. V, no. 1334).

71. Concerning these philogamic colloquies and Erasmus’ treatment of the question of marriage, see E.V. Telle, Erasme de Rotterdam et le septième sacrement: Etude d’évangélisme matrimonial au XVIe siècle et contribution à la biographie intellectuelle d’Erasme, Geneva, Droz, 1954.

72. ‘Encomium matrimonii’. See author’s critical edition, Erasmi opera omnia, op. cit., I-5, 1975, p. 333–416.

73. ‘Christiani matrimonii institutio’, Opera omnia, Leiden, 1703-06, vol. V, col. 613–724.

74. ‘Vidua Christiana’, ibid., col. 723C-766E.

75. De nobilitate et praecellentia foeminei sexus […], Antwerp, 1529. (See also the edition and French translation by Antonioli et al., Geneva, Droz, 1990.)

76. See the S. de Reyff edition, Paris, Garnier-Flammarion, 1982.

77. See the description given by Erasmus of More in his family setting in a letter dated 23 July 1519 to Ulrich vonHutten, P.S Allen et al., op. cit., vol. IV, no. 999.

78. See Paraphrase I Cor VII, 4, in which Erasmus discussed the point of view of Saint Augustine who states that sexual intercourse is a venial sin.

79. See Note 71 above.

80. ‘Epistola dehortatoria’ (see author’s introduction to the ‘Encomium matrimonii’, op. cit.).

81. P.S. Allen et al., op. cit., vol. III, No. 858. French translation by A.J. Festugière, op. cit., p. 67–88.

82. See E.W. Kohls, Die Theologie des Erasmus, Basel, Reinhardt, 1966.

83. L.E. Halkin et al., Erasmi opera omnia, op. cit., I-3, p. 171–81.

84. See H. de Lubac, Exégèse médiévale. Les quatre sens de l’Evangile, Paris, Aubier, 1964. The study concerning Erasmus is in the fourth volume, p. 427–53.

85. See the critical edition by J. Chomarat, Erasmi opera omnia, op. cit., V-4, 1991, for the first three books, and V-4, 1993, for the last three.

86. See J.-C. Margolin, ‘Erasme et la vérité’, in Colloquium Erasmianum, Mons, Centre universitaire de l’Etat, 1968, p. 135–70. Reprint in Recherches érasmiennes, Geneva, Droz, 1969, p. 45–69.15

87. See A. Gerlo, Erasme et ses portraitistes: Metsij, Dürer, Holbein, Nieuwkoop, B. de Graaf, 1969. See also L. Smolderen, ‘Quentin Metsys, médailleur d’Erasme’, in Scrinium Erasmianum, II, ed. J. Coppens, Leiden, Brill, vol. II, 1969, p. 513–25.

88. See the critical edition by K. Kumaniecki, Erasmi opera omnia, op. cit., I-1, 1969, p. 1–138.

Selected works by Erasmus

Adagia. Sei saggi politici in forma di proverbi. Translated into Italian by S. Seidel Menchi. Turin, Einaudi, 1980.

Il Ciceroniano. Ed. A. Gambaro. Brescia, La Scuola Editrice, 1965. (Latin text and Italian translation.)

Collected Works of Erasmus. Toronto, University Press, 1974-. (An English edition of the works of Erasmus; 23 v.published to date.)

Les Colloques. Translated into French by E. Wolff. Paris, Imprimerie Nationale, 1992. 2 v.

The Colloquies of Erasmus. Translated by C.R. Thompson. Chicago, IL, The University of Chicago Press, 1965.

La Correspondance d’Erasme. French translation edited by A. Gerlo. Brussels, Presses Universitaires, 1967–84. 12 v.

De pueris statim ac liberaliter instituendis. Translated and edited by J.-C. Margolin. Geneva, Droz, 1966.

Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami opera omnia. Ed. J. Clericus. Leiden, 1703-06. 11 v. Reissued by Hildesheim, Olms, 1962.

L’educazione del principe cristiano. Translated into Italian by M. Isnardi Parente. Naples, Murano Editore, 1977.

La Formazione cristiana dell’uomo. Introduction, translation, preface and notes by E. Orlandini Traverso. Milan, Rusconi, 1989. (Translation into Italian of works on pedagogy, religion and political philosophy.)

Literary and Educational Writings. Ed. J. Kelley Swards. Toronto, Toronto University Press, 1985.

Opera omnia Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami. Amsterdam, North-Holland Publishing Company, 1969–(A critical editionthat began publication in 1969; 20 v. published by 1992.)

Oeuvres choisies. Translated into French by J. Chomarat. Paris, Hachette, 1991.

Oeuvres choisies. Translated into French by C. Blum, A. Godin, J.-C. Margolin and D. Ménager. Paris, Robert Laffont,1992.

Allen, P.S.; Allen, H.M.; Garrod, H.W. Opus epistolarum Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1906–58. 12 v.

Ferguson, W.K. Erasmi opuscula. The Hague, Nijhoff, 1933. (A supplement to the Opera omnia.)

Festugière, A.J. [French translation of the] Enchiridion militis Christiani. Paris, Vrin, 1971.

Margolin, J.-C. Guerre et paix dans la pensée d’Erasme. Paris, Aubier, 1973. (Full or partial French translations of pacifist writings.)

Mesnard, P. Erasme. La Philosophie chrétienne. Paris, Vrin, 1970. (French translation of ‘In Praise of Folly’, ‘On freewill’, and ‘The Ciceronian’.)

Vaander Haeghen, F. Bibliotheca erasmiana. Ghent, 1893.

Welzig, Werner, (ed.) Erasmus von Rotterdam. Ausgewühlte Schriften, latienisch und deutsch. Darmstadt,Wissenschaftlich Buchgesellschaft, 1967–80. 8 v.

Works about Erasmus

Actes du Colloque international Erasme. Tours, 1986. Studies compiled by J. Chomarat, A. Godin and J.-C. Margolin.Geneva, Droz, 1990.

Bataillon, M. Erasme et l’Espagne. 2nd ed. Geneva, Droz, 1991. 3 v.

Bielaire, F. Les Colloques d’Erasme: réforme des études, réforme des moeurs et réforme de l’Eglise au XVIe siècle. Paris,Belles-Lettres, 1978.

Chomarat, J. Grammaire et rhétorique chez Erasme. Paris, Belles-Lettres, 1981, 2 v.

Colloque érasmien de Liège. Ed. J.P. Massaut. Paris, Belles-Lettres, 1987.

Colloquia Erasmiana Turonensia. Ed. J.-C. Margolin. Paris, Vrin; Toronto, Toronto University Press, 1972, 2 v.

Colloquium Erasmianum. Ed. R. Crahay. Mons, Belgium, Centre Universitaire de l’Etat, 1968.

Etienne, J. Spiritualisme érasmien et théologiens humanistes. Paris, B. Nauwelaerts, 1956.

Halkin, L.E. Erasme, sa pensée et son comportement. London, Variorum Reprints, 1988.

Holeczek, H. Erasmus deutsch I. Stuttgart, Fromann Verlag, 1983.

Huizinga, J. Erasmus of Rotterdam. New York, Haarlem; H.D. Tjeenk Willink & Zoom, 1924. (Reprinted and translated into many languages.)

Godin, A. Erasme lecteur d’Origène. Geneva, Droz, 1982.

Kohls, E.W. Die Theologie des Erasmus. Basel, Reinhardt, 1966. 2 v.

——. Erasmus oder Luther: Luthers Theologie in der Auseinandersetzung mit Erasmus. Basel, Fried. Reinhardt, 1972.

Lecler, J. Histoire de la tolérance au siècle de la Réforme. Paris, Aubier, 1955. 2 v.

Mansfield, B. Phoenix of his Age. Toronto, University Press, 1979.

Margolin, J.-C. Recherches érasmiennes. Geneva, Droz, 1969.

——. Erasme, le pri des mots et de l’homme. London, Variorum Reprints, 1986.

Mesnard, P. L’essor de la philosophie politique au XVIe siècle. 3rd ed. Paris, Vrin, 1969.

Nulli, S.A. Erasme e il Rinascimento. Turin, Einaudi, 1955.

Petruzellis, N. Erasmo pensatore. Bari-Naples, Adriatica Editrice, 1948.

Pfeiffer, R. Humanitas erasmiana. Leipzig-Berlin, Studien der Bibliothek Wurburg, 1931.

Rabil, A. Erasmus and the New Testament. San Antonio, TX, Trinity University Press, 1972.

Renaudet, A. Erasme: sa pensée religieuse d’après sa correspondance (1518–1521). Paris, F. Alcan, 1926.

——. Etudes érasmiennes (1521–1529). Paris, Droz, 1939.

Screech, M.A. Ecstasy and the praise of folly. London, Duckworth, 1980. (French translation: Erasme: l’extase et l’élogede la folie. Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 1991).

Seiudel Menchi, S. Erasmo in Italia (1520–1580). Turin, Bollati Boringhieri, 1987.

Telle, E.V. Erasme et le septième sacrement. Geneva, Droz, 1954.

Tracy, J.D. Erasmus, the Growth of a Mind. Geneva, Droz, 1972.

Woodward, W.H. Erasmus concerning the aim and method of education. Cambridge, 1904. (Reprinted: New York, Columbia University, 1964.)

Copyright notice

This text was originally published in Prospects: the quarterly review of comparative education (Paris, UNESCO: International Bureau of Education), vol. XXIII, no. 1/2, 1993, p. 333–352

Reproduced with permission. For a PDF version of the article, use:

Photo source: Museum Boijmans van Beuningen exhibition. Photo based on Portrait of Desiderius Erasmus, c. 1530, panel 35,4×26,5 cm. Zurich, private collection.


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