Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536)
Along with Savanorola of Florence, the Dutchman Erasmus, from Rotterdam, was one of the shining lights of the Renaissance. The Renaissance (from the French – ‘re-birth’), was a movement seeking to throw off the ignorance produced in large measure by the exclusivity of the clergy, and which drew inspiration from classical literature and art for inspiration.
Erasmus attended several of the universities of Western Europe including Oxford where he began to turn his attention to Biblical studies.
He made two important contributions to the Reformation. Firstly, he wrote extensively against the corruption and abuses by both priests and monks (e.g., his book ‘In Praise of Folly’). His style was sarcastic, witty, dismissive. His was a daring, sharp and hugely popular way of pointing out the tragic failings of the Mediaeval church, although he never left the Catholic Church and hoped for an internal reformation.
But in his criticisms he was aiming for genuine devotion:
‘No veneration of Mary is more beautiful than the imitation of her humility. No devotion to the saints is more acceptable to God than the imitations on their virtues.
Say you have a great devotion to St Peter and St Paul. Then by all means imitate the faith of the former and the charity of the latter. This will certainly be more rewarding than a dozen trips to Rome.’ (Quoted in The Protestant Reformation of Europe, Andrew Johnston, Longman, UK)
The Greek New Testament in print
Secondly, he edited and published the first printed Greek New Testament in 1516. The New Testament immediately drew attention to the obvious differences of the state of the Roman Church and the church in the Scriptures themselves.
The doctrines of Grace, hardly anywhere to be seen in Erasmus’ pre-Reformation Church, were everywhere in the Scriptures, and the nature and practices of the early church made the differences all the more obvious. It was now just a matter of time.
Erasmus opened the door for the clear testimony of truth to impact both church and society. When his critics complained that he had laid the egg that Luther hatched, Erasmus defended himself with good humour, saying that he had expected a different kind of bird to emerge!
NB. A point of interest: Andrew Johnston is not only the author of The Protestant Reformation of Europe but now pastors a church in the UK
© 2008 Lex Loizides