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.