Monday, June 01, 2009

Erasmus of Rotterdam

Erasmus was a classical scholar who wrote in a "pure" Latin style and enjoyed the sobriquet "Prince of the Humanists." He has been called "the crowning glory of the Christian humanists." Erasmus lived through the Reformation period and he consistently criticized some contemporary popular Christian beliefs. In relation to clerical abuses in the Church, Erasmus remained committed to reforming the Church from within. He also held to Catholic doctrines such as that of free will, which some Protestant Reformers rejected in favor of the doctrine of predestination. His middle road disappointed and even angered many Protestants, such as Martin Luther, as well as conservative Catholics. He died in Basel in 1536 and was buried in the formerly Catholic cathedral there, recently converted to a Reformed church.

Described as having quizzical blue eyes and yellow hair and his manner was “polished and affable, and charming” (Spitz 65). He was a “curious little man and one never knew how one stood with him” (Spitz 65). He can fit in anywhere as he was described as no duplicitous but able to see the positive good in the views of those around him (Spitz 66). He was sensitive to his environment and open to immediate impressions, able to speak with whoever was in front of him. (Spitz 65).

However, Erasmus was a bit of a paradox as well. As charming as he could be he could also be condescending, petty, cruel and cutting in controversy (Spitz 68). He had enormous perseverance and drive and loved the ascetic and carefully regulated life but love amenities and was something of a hypochondriac (Spitz 66). He was a citizen of the world-common yet stranger to all and a self described “heretic to both sides” (Spitz 68).

He was moderate and didn’t like extremes, valuing simplicity, inwardness, spirituality, and was Christ centric, yet he scorned monks and had contempt for scholastic doctors (Spitz 70, 73). Good manners and civility are among his top qualities but he also harbored anti-Semitic thoughts, discriminated against women, and would not have embraced multiculturalism or sanctioned a diversity of lifestyles (Rummel 108). Luther called him an “eel no one can grasp” and Thomas Martin Lindsay stated that Erasmus had the “ability of a cuddlefish to conceal himself and his real opinions” (Rummel 107).

He will be represented as a charming yet snide observer. He will largely be making his point through sarcasm and one-liners, all the while retaining his poise. Johan Huizinga observed that Erasmus was “at his most brilliant and profound when he was being humorous in an ironic way” and that is what I intend to focus on (Rummel 106). His modern equivalent would be a Jerry Seinfeld or Jon Stewart.


Anonymous said...

What was it that Erasmus hoped to reform?

Luke said...

the Catholic Church of the Late Medieval period. good question, i usually leave out the details ;-)

Anonymous said...

Well, yes, but what about it? Everything? A few specific doctrines? What was his goal, and why? If there's no good way to summarize it, just point me to some other resources. ;p

Luke said...

there's really no good way to summarzie, he was more nebulous and was sorta anti-dogmatic but then again wanted to keep a few. mainly he wanted to end the indulgence trade and get back to a "brass tacks" style of catholicism, not the uber-complex, pope-as-infallable, and clergy higher than lay people latin mass style (mass and bible in vernacular). luther largely went to these reforms wholesale and that's why it's said "Erasmus laid the egg that Luther hatched."

i would recommend reading "In Praise of Folly" which you can find online.

of all the reformers, he's my fave. witty, sarcastic, and smart, my kinda theologian ;-).

hope this explaination helps a little.

Anonymous said...

Helps a lot, actually. Thanks! :D

Anonymous said...

I admire one thing about Erasmus - he stayed in the church to see it's change - where other people left and start the whole splintering history of the church. I can admire Erasmus for that.

Basically Erasmus wouldn't have survived in today's environment - too close minded even when he might be considered open minded for his times. My guess is his theology will lend itself to conservative positions - even with his 'challenges' - they leave him within the ruling party of the church still.

He tried - I can admit that - but what was he trying to change? I really don't see much there of any value?

Luke said...

"Basically Erasmus wouldn't have survived in today's environment - too close minded even when he might be considered open minded for his times." -SVS

so what evidence do you base this on? and won't people 500+ years from now say the same thing about our blogs and our writings?

Anonymous said...

Just a shot in the dark here, completely guesswork... Probably way off.

Reform from within doesn't make sense nowadays, of course, because we can just leave the church and worship - or not - as we please (practically unheard of in Medieval times from my understanding). Furthermore, the church in Erasmus' time held true - not just imagined - authority over the lives of people.

That said, if the reforms were made from within, then they would have perceivably benefited the greatest number of people. From a humanitarian / utilitarian standpoint, reforms from within makes perfect sense.

Anonymous said...

"so what evidence do you base this on? and won't people 500+ years from now say the same thing about our blogs and our writings?" (Luke)

I base it simply on the fact he changed nothing - fought baseless issues - and then decided to stay within the church to continue whatever struggle it is he was having with the reformers and the church. I am only going by what you have written about him (basically).

In 500 years - the stuff we write may very well be reformative in that time - cause God knows it aint in this time...whereas the reformers had the change in their times (the protestant split). So maybe that's a difference...the inspiration?

Not saying the reformers don't inspire people - they did/do...but maybe not Erasmus. He ain't my history I can yell ya that.

Luke said...

"I base it simply on the fact he changed nothing - fought baseless issues -" -SVS

well i LOVE the dude. stood for tolerance, moderation, and simplicity, something i fight for everyday. i like him because he is in my history, as an ex-Catholic. if the church would have followed his reforms, i don't think we'd have the trouble we have now... but this is speculation and i can't prove anything.

and did you read the script?!?! i think that you'll find that Erasmus has the same feelings as you do! ;-)