Desiderius Erasmus

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Erasmus, Desiderius


(Erasmus Roterodamus, or Erasmus of Rotterdam). Born Oct. 28, 1469, in Rotterdam; died July 12, 1536, in Basel. Dutch humanist scholar, writer, philologist, and theologian; one of the most prominent representatives of the northern Renaissance.

Erasmus studied at the University of Paris from 1495 to 1499. He lived in France, England, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland, and he was renowned throughout Europe. He wrote in Latin, then the universal language of educated Europeans.

Erasmus was decisively influenced by Dutch mysticism and humanist education, as well as by the circle of scholars known as the Oxford reformers (of which J. Colet was one) who called for a new, deeper, and scientifically substantiated reading of the holy texts of Christianity. In 1517, Erasmus brought out the first printed edition of the New Testament in the Greek original, with his own wide-ranging commentaries; the 1519 edition was accompanied by his own Latin translation. He created an elegant new system of theology, which he called “the philosophy of Christ.” The system is chiefly concerned with man in his relation to god and with man’s moral responsibilities before god; Erasmus circumvents the questions arising in speculative theology, such as the creation of the world, original sin, and the triadic nature of the deity, which he views as having no vital significance and as being fundamentally insoluble.

Erasmus headed a humanist trend that came to be called Christian humanism. He spoke against the spread of worldly influences in the church, the veneration of relics, monastic parasitism and false piety, and empty religious rituals, and in this sense he was a precursor of the Reformation. However, he was no less consistently opposed to the fanaticism, the rigid dogmatism, and especially the limitless abasement of man before god that characterized Lutheranism; for this reason he broke with Luther, whom he had previously supported. Neither side was satisfied with Erasmus’ position, and he was forced to flee from Louvain and from Basel to escape the religious fanaticism of Louvain’s Catholics (1521) and Basel’s church reformers (1528).

Erasmus left an enormous number of works, the most famous being the Praise of Folly (1509; Russian translation, 1960) and the Colloquies (1519–35; Russian translation, 1969). The former work is a philosophical satire and the second is primarily concerned with morals and manners; they share, however, a common foundation—a strong belief in the contradictory nature of all reality and the instability of the boundary between opposites. Mistress Folly, singing her own praises, turns easily into wisdom, self-satisfied high-mindedness into obtuse baseness, and limitless power into the worst slavery; consequently the most valuable rule in life is “Nothing in excess!” This conviction represents the essence of Erasmus’ ideological position, which his other works reflect as well. His collection of proverbs (Adagia, 1500) includes ancient Greek and Roman sayings and aphorisms with commentaries.

Many of Erasmus’ pedagogical, morally instructive, and theological works were designed to promote a particular point of view—for example, the anti-Lutheran treatise On Free Will (1524) and the Liberal Education of Children (1529). Erasmus was a great master of the epistolary genre, and his voluminous correspondence has been preserved.


Opera omnia, vols. 1–4. Amsterdam, 1971–73.
Opus epistolarum, vols. 1–12. Edited by P. S. Allen. Oxford, 1906–58.


Markish, S. P. Znakomstvo s Erazmom iz Rotterdama. Moscow, 1971.
Smirin, M. M. “O politicheskoi kontseptsii Erazma Rotterdam skogo.” In the collection Ezhegodnik germanskoi istorii 1972. Moscow, 1973.
Smith, P. Erasmus. New York, 1962.
Huizinga, J. Erasmus, 5th ed. Haarlem, 1958.
Tracy, J. Erasmus—the Growth of a Mind. Geneva, 1972.
References in periodicals archive ?
Indeed, Nock contended that Desiderius Erasmus was no game for professors or run-of-the-mill parsons and bishops and that "the less one reads about Erasmus, the better.
Donald King checked out the rare, 17th century text by Dutch theologian Desiderius Erasmus sometime in 1945.
ENGLISH: In 1499, Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus wrote to a friend urging him to visit England because, "wherever you move, there is nothing but kisses".
When the great Catholic humanist Desiderius Erasmus advocated a moderate approach to reforming the corrupt and corrupting 16th-century church, Luther the absolutist would have nothing of it.
For Olin, then, the "model" humanist is Desiderius Erasmus, almost certainly the most important Northern humanist figure in the earlier sixteenth century in Europe.
Desiderius Erasmus was a man for his times in his humanistic interest in ancient writers and concern for revitalizing Christianity in the spirit of devotio moderna.
Together with such recent work as Reinhard Strohm's The Rise of European Music 13801500 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), Keith Polk's German Instrumental Music of the Late Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), and many books and articles on particular composers, manuscripts, and music contexts, Music in the German Renaissance revises the picture of the scope and significance of German-speaking musical activity in Europe in the time of Johannes Gutenberg, Desiderius Erasmus, and Martin Luther, Dufay, Isaac, and Orlande de Lassus.
Lawrence, Desiderius Erasmus, Osip Mandelstam, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Zbigniew Herbert, Andre Brink, Breyten Breytenbach - as well as on people who aren't usually thought of as writers - the apartheid theorist Geoffrey Cronje - and on a variety of topics in the field of censorship: the feminist critique of pornography, the history of so-called publications control in South Africa, your personal experience of working under censorship.
His greatest work, however, Cloister and the Hearth, The (1861), is a brilliant historical romance that recounts the adventures of the father of Desiderius Erasmus.
The result is not one portrait of the "real" Desiderius Erasmus, but multiple vignettes; these are so varied in the way they view and assess Erasmus that the result at times verges on a complete relativism.
He was a friend of Desiderius Erasmus, the great Dutch humanist philosopher.