Desiderius Erasmus

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Erasmus was mainly self taught in Greek. He stated that he learned some Greek from George Hermonymus of Sparta, who according to Erasmus was an instructor of little worth under whom he had read in Paris. Erasmus considered a knowledge of Greek as essential to pure scholarship. He wrote to his patron Anthony of St. Bergen:  
Erasmus was mainly self taught in Greek. He stated that he learned some Greek from George Hermonymus of Sparta, who according to Erasmus was an instructor of little worth under whom he had read in Paris. Erasmus considered a knowledge of Greek as essential to pure scholarship. He wrote to his patron Anthony of St. Bergen:  
:"If you would drink deeply of the wellspring of wisdom apply to Greek. We have in Latin at best some small brooks and turbid pools; while the Greeks have
:"If you would drink deeply of the wellspring of wisdom apply to Greek. We have in Latin at best some small brooks and turbid pools; while the Greeks have the purest fountains and rivers flowing with gold."  
the purest fountains and rivers flowing with gold."  
And in the same letter he wrote even more pointedly:
And in the same letter he wrote even more pointedly:

Current revision

Desiderius Erasmus
Desiderius Erasmus

Gerrit Gerritzoon, later known as Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (/ˌdɛzɪˈdɪəriəs ɪˈræzməs/; known as Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam or simply Erasmus) (October 28[1], 1466, Rotterdam – July 12, 1536 Basel) was a was a Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, social critic, teacher, and theologian.

Erasmus was a classical scholar who wrote in a pure Latin style. Among humanists he enjoyed the sobriquet "Prince of the Humanists", and has been called "the crowning glory of the Christian humanists".[2] Using humanist techniques for working on texts, he prepared important new Latin and Greek editions of the New Testament, which raised questions that would be influential in the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation. He also wrote On Free Will[3], The Praise of Folly, Handbook of a Christian Knight, On Civility in Children, Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style, Julius Exclusus, and many other works.

Erasmus lived against the backdrop of the growing European religious Reformation; and was very critical of the abuses within the Church and called for reform. Erasmus kept his distance from Luther and Melancthon but Erasmus remained committed to reforming the Church from within, something Luther had tried to also achieve. He held to doctrines such as that of free will, which some Reformers rejected in favour of the Augustinian doctrine of predestination.

Erasmus died suddenly in Basel in 1536 while preparing to return to Brabant, and was buried in the Basel Minster, the former cathedral of the city.

A bronze statue of him was erected in his city of birth in 1622, replacing an earlier work in stone.


Early life

Bust by Hildo Krop (1950) at Gouda, where Erasmus spent his youth
Bust by Hildo Krop (1950) at Gouda, where Erasmus spent his youth

His scholarly name Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus comprises the following three elements: the Latin noun desiderium ("longing" or "desire"; the name being a genuine Late Latin name); the Greek adjective ἐράσμιος (erásmios) meaning "desired", and, in the form Erasmus, also the name of a saint; and the Latinized adjectival form for the city of Rotterdam (Roterodamus = "of Rotterdam"). His original name was Gerrit Gerritzoon

Desiderius Erasmus was born in Holland on 28 October in the late 1460s. The exact year of his birth is debated, with most biographers citing the year as 1467. Some evidence confirming 1466 can be found in Erasmus's own words: of twenty-three statements Erasmus made about his age, all but one of the first fifteen indicate 1466. He was christened "Erasmus" after the saint of that name. Although associated closely with Rotterdam, he lived there for only four years, never to return. Information on his family and early life comes mainly from vague references in his writings. His parents almost certainly were not legally married. His father, Gerard, was a Catholic priest and curate in Gouda. Little is known of his mother other than that her name was Margaretha Rogers and she was the daughter of a physician; she may have been Gerard's housekeeper. Although he was born out of wedlock, Erasmus was cared for by his parents until their early deaths from the plague in 1483; but he felt his origin to be a stain, and threw a smoke-screen around his youth.

At a young age Erasmus's parents died of the plague which resulted in him being sent to a monastery along with his brother. Erasmus was a very intelligent boy and he chose to be an Augustinian because they had the best library at that time. His behavior was not typical of those in the Augustinian order. Though he was ordained, he chose never to really function as a priest.

Erasmus was given the very best education available to a young man of his day, in a series of monastic or semi-monastic schools. At the age of nine, he and his older brother Peter were sent to one of the best Latin schools in the Netherlands, located at Deventer and owned by the chapter clergy of the Lebuïnuskerk (St. Lebuin's Church), though some earlier biographies assert it was a school run by the Brethren of the Common Life. During his stay there the curriculum was renewed by the principal of the school, Alexander Hegius. For the first time ever Greek was taught at a lower level than a university in Europe, and this is where he began learning it. He also gleaned there the importance of a personal relationship with God but eschewed the harsh rules and strict methods of the religious brothers and educators. His education there ended when plague struck the city about 1483, and his mother,who had moved there to provide a home for her sons, died of the infection.


Erasmus was mainly self taught in Greek. He stated that he learned some Greek from George Hermonymus of Sparta, who according to Erasmus was an instructor of little worth under whom he had read in Paris. Erasmus considered a knowledge of Greek as essential to pure scholarship. He wrote to his patron Anthony of St. Bergen:

"If you would drink deeply of the wellspring of wisdom apply to Greek. We have in Latin at best some small brooks and turbid pools; while the Greeks have the purest fountains and rivers flowing with gold."

And in the same letter he wrote even more pointedly:

" ... Latin erudition, however ample, is crippled and imperfect without Greek."

A. Tilley, Dawn of the French Renaissance (Cambridge, Eng. 1918) 292, affirms that on Erasmus' arrival in Italy he was a "passable Greek scholar," and that he went there "chiefly for the sake of Greek".


Erasmus visited Italy in 1506 and spent three years there. He went to Italy primarily to perfect his knowledge of Greek ("ltaliam adivimus Graecitatis potissimum causa.") Erasmus intended to obtain a doctorate from the University of Bologna, but had not acquired other necessary scholarly titles to gain admission. Thus he proceeded to the University of Turin, and then to Bologna University. He abode with Paolo Bombasio, who was the professor of Greek there, for thirteen months. This introduced Erasmus to the upper echelon of Greek scholarship of that era. On the 28th of October 1507 Erasmus wrote to Aldus Manutius the Venetian printer. At this time, the Aldus press had become the most prominent printers in Europe and had already produced many Greek works. Erasmus requested that Aldus print his Latin translation of two plays of Euripides, the Hecuba and Iphigenia in Aulis. Although both already printed at Paris, Erasmus knew the superior printing of Aldus with his invention of the famous Aldino type, or italic, would be more favorable. It was in this letter that Erasmus also mentioned the publication of the Greek text of the New Testament, a project Aldus had also said he himself desired to accomplish.


One month after writing to Aldus, in December of 1507, Erasmus arrived in Venice in in January 1508 time to see the accomplishment of the printing of his Euripidean plays. Erasmus rose to become one of the greatest Greek linguists of the entire reformation era. He spent much of his time with Venetian printer Aldus Manutius and Aldus' Greek Academy, which had within it a core of Byzantine scholars. The first publication of his Adages in Paris in 1500, followed by the Enchiridion militis christiani in 1504, caused Erasmus's to become a well known scholar. When the Aldine press published Adages in 1508, this caused Erasmus reputation as a Greek scholar to be established throughout Europe as Aldus had aimed to print all of the Greek classics of the Ancient world. Erasmus stayed in Aldus' house for seven months (January to September 1508).

The Praise of Folly

See Also The Praise of Folly

The Praise of Folly is considered one of the most notable works of the Renaissance and one of the catalysts of the Protestant Reformation.

Biblical Greek studies

Erasmus was surrounded with Bible manuscripts from his childhood in the 1460s, until the publication of his Greek Text in 1516 which was a period of over 40 years. He worked for over twelve years on the text itself. “The preparation had taken years”[3].

As early as 1505, Erasmus wrote to a friend, “I shall sit down to Holy Scripture with my whole heart, and devote the rest of my life to it...[A]ll these three years I have been working entirely at Greek, and have not been playing with it”[4]

He began working directly on the text much before 1507. Froude wrote that years before the text appeared, it was being prepared. “He had been at work over the Greek MSS. for many years. The work was approaching completion” (Froude, The Life and Letters, p. 93).

Frederick Nolan, writing in 1815, states, In addition to the manuscripts which Erasmus owned or had seen himself, he gathered readings from the whole of Europe through his broad friendships. He noted, “I have a room full of letters from men of learning...” “[W]e find by the dates of his letters that he was corresponding at length and elaborately with the learned men of his time on technical points of scholarship, Biblical criticism...” (Froude, The Life and Letters, pp. 377, 394).

While Erasmus was in Italy he spent all of his time “devouring the libraries,” states Durant. “[C]omparing two codices...for the more correct reading of some intricate passage” was his passion (Durant, p. 275; Mangan, pp. 275, 91). Erasmus states, “It may easily be guessed how large a part of the usefulness of my work would have been lacking if my learned friends had not supplied me with manuscripts” (Mangan, p. 241).

When he went to Basel to work on the printing of this Greek New Testament, he arrived “weighed down with books...and copious notes on the New Testament” (Rummel, Erika, Erasmus s Annotations on the New Testament, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986, p. 23).

In fact, Erasmus’ own manuscript collection was so large and valuable, it was covetously seized by customs when he left England to go to the Continent to finalize the Greek New Testament in 1514. He protested saying that “they had stolen the labours of his life.” The manuscripts were returned in a few days (Froude, The Life and Letters, p. 169).

Erasmus is quoted in Roland H. Bainton, Erasmus of Christendom (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969), p. 135, as follows:

"You cry out that it is a crime to correct the gospels. This is a speech worthier of a coachman than of a theologian. You think it is all very well if a clumsy scribe makes a mistake in transcription and then you deem it a crime to put it right. The only way to determine the true text is to examine the early codices."

Manuscripts Consulted

Acknowledgement page engraved and published by Johannes Froben, 1516
Acknowledgement page engraved and published by Johannes Froben, 1516

Critics often assert that ‘Erasmus did not have the manuscripts we have today.’ In fact, he had access to every reading currently extant, and rejected those matching the Catholic Vulgate (and the TNIV, NIV ESV, HCSB, and NASB today). Because Westcott and Hort followed Vaticanus as their primary manuscript, the majority of readings were also available to Erasmus and most reformers.

Floyd Nolen Jones said:

“It is indisputable that he was acquainted with every variety which is known to us; having distributed them into two principal classes, one of which corresponds with the Complutensian edition, the other with the Vatican manuscript...” “ERASMUS...published an edition, which corresponds with the text which has been since discovered to prevail in the great body of Greek manuscripts” (Nolan, pp. 413, 419).

Concerning Erasmus' access to Vaticanus Jones says:

“Erasmus was in regular correspondence with Professor Paulus Bombasius, the Papal librarian, who sent him any variant readings which he desired. In fact, in 1533, a correspondent of Erasmus (a Catholic priest named Juan Sepulveda) sent Erasmus 365 selected readings from Vaticanus B as proof of its superiority to the Textus Receptus. He offered to make the entire document available to Erasmus for use in his latest edition of the TR. However, Erasmus rejected the readings of the Vatican manuscript because he considered from the massive evidence of his day that the Textus Receptus data was correct. Thus Erasmus knew about Vaticanus nearly one hundred years before the King James Bible ever saw the light of day!” (Floyd Nolen Jones [1])

Kenneth W. Clark, the scholar who has examined more Greek manuscripts than most, admits that Erasmus did not create a new text, but faithfully collated what was already there in the Manuscript tradition:

“WE SHOULD NOT attribute to Erasmus the creation of a ‘received text,’ but only the transmission from a manuscript text, already commonly received, to a printed form, in which this text would continue to prevail for three centuries” (The Gentile Bias and Other Essays, The Erasmian Notes on Codex 2, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1980, p. 168.)

Erasmus claimed in the preface to have consulted the oldest and best manuscripts... (Hotchkiss, Valerie and Price, David, The Reformation of the Bible & The Bible of the Reformation, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996, p. 100). He said his text was “solidly based” (de Jonge, Henk J., $Novum Testamentum a Nobis Versum: The Essence of Erasmus Edition of the New Testament,# Journal of Theological Studies 35, October 1984, p. 400). Erasmus suggested that he had consulted many manuscripts (Cambridge History of the Bible, vol. III, p. 60).

Erasmus further verified his Greek New Testament with scripture quotations seen in the writings of early Christian writers. His Greek text is so perfect, because he spent the first fifteen years of his studies almost wholly given to translating the early Christian writers of the first few centuries after Christ. In these writings from the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries, one finds evidence for the Bible's oldest readings. They usually predate, by several hundred years, the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus MSS, from which modern translations get their readings. Froben published Erasmus' work on the ‘Fathers,’ as a series which included, Cyprian, Irenaeus, Chrysostom, Basil, Ambrose and numerous others. Being a theologian, Erasmus knew the origin of heretical omissions:

“[I]n many places the virus still lurked of...Marcion,” he noted (Bainton, p. 264).

Erasmus' Massive Literary Scope

Desiderius Erasmus
Desiderius Erasmus

Erasmus, through his study of the patristic writings, was well-versed in the variant readings, which have changed little over the centuries.

"One might think that all this moving around would have interfered with Erasmus' activity as a scholar and writer, but quite the reverse is true. By his travels he was brought into contact with all the intellectual currents of his time and stimulated to almost superhuman efforts. He became the most famous scholar and author of his day and one of the most prolific writers of all time, his collected works filling ten large volumes in the Leclerc edition of 1705 (phototyped by Olms in 1963). As an editor also his productivity was tremendous. Ten columns of the catalog of the library in the British Museum are taken up with the bare enumeration of the works translated, edited, or annotated by Erasmus, and their subsequent reprints."

D'Aubigne concludes:

"Nothing was more important at the dawn of the Reformation than the publication of the Testament of Jesus Christ in the original language. Never had Erasmus worked so carefully. `If I told what sweat it cost me, no one would believe me.' He had collated many Greek MSS. of the New Testament, and was surrounded by all the commentaries and translations, by the writings of Origen, Cyprian, Ambrose, Basil, Chrysostom, Cyril, Jerome, and Augustine. ... He had investigated the texts according to the principles of sacred criticism. When a knowledge of Hebrew was necessary, he had consulted Capito, and more particularly Cecolampadius. Nothing without Theseus, said he of the latter, making use of a Greek proverb." (D'Aubigne)

Many Manuscripts Consulted

Edward F. Hills explains the process of Erasmus' collation:

"When Erasmus came to Basel in July 1515, to begin his work, he found five Greek New Testament manuscripts ready for his use. ... Did Erasmus use other manuscripts beside these five in preparing his Textus Receptus? The indications are that he did. According to W. Schwarz (1955), Erasmus made his own Latin translation of the New Testament at Oxford during the years 1505-6. His friend John Colet who had become Dean of St. Paul's, lent him two Latin manuscripts for this undertaking, but nothing is known about the Greek manuscripts which he used. He must have used some Greek manuscripts or other, however, and taken notes on them. Presumably therefore he brought these notes with him to Basel along with his translation and his comments on the New Testament text. It is well known also that Erasmus looked for manuscripts everywhere during his travels and that he borrowed them from everyone he could. Hence although the Textus Receptus was based mainly on the manuscripts which Erasmus found at Basel, it also included readings taken from others to which he had access. It agreed with the common faith because it was founded on manuscripts which in the providence of God were readily available." (Edward F. Hills)

Revered by Cisneros

Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, who funded the Complutensian Polyglot tried to recruit Erasmus to work on the project twice. In November 1516 the abbot of Husillos wrote to Cisneros, praising Erasmus' Novum Instrumentum omne, his first edition of the New Testament, which had just been printed by Froben press. The abbot praised Erasmus as a good theologian, knowledgeable in Greek and Hebrew, and an elegant Latin stylist. He suggested to Cisneros that he employ Erasmus to work on the Complutensian Polyglot project:

"Given that he has anticipated Your Reverence with his publication, I believe that he could be of assistance in making your work appear somewhat more polished ... I believe that Your Reverence should not deprive yourself of a person like Erasmus. You should avail yourself of his assistance in the correction of the whole publication and hire his services for a certain period" (Bataillon, Erasmo, 72, n. 1).

Erasmus declined the invitation [Epistolae, ed. Allen, 582:9), and was again approached in May 1517 Erasmus briefly states the reason for a second refusal:

"The Cardinal of Toledo has invited me again, but I do not like Spain" (Ep. 598:47-8).

In 1527 Juan Vergara refers to the matter in a letter to Erasmus, recalling that "Cardinal Cisneros, the founder of the Complutensian university, . . . had the most wonderful esteem for you and was keen on enjoying your company" (Ep. 1814:459-61).

Desire for the average person to have the scriptures

“I would have the weakest woman read the Gospels and the Epistles of St. Paul...I would have those words translated into all languages, so that not only Scots and Irishmen, but Turks and Saracens might read them. I long for the plowboy to sing them to himself as he follows the plow, the weaver to hum them to the tune of his shuttle, the traveller to beguile with them the dullness of his journey...Other studies we may regret having undertaken, but happy is the man upon whom death comes when he is engaged in these. These sacred words give you the very image of Christ speaking, healing, dying, rising again, and make Him so present that were He before your very eyes you would not more truly see Him” Erasmus

A Humanist?

Erasmus was not a humanist as it is defined today. He was a Christian humanist, “a biblical humanist” (Erasmus, Huizinga, p. 110).

The Old English dictionary says under "Humanist" - 'a classical scholar; esp. Latinist, a professor or teacher of Latin.'

In an attempt to belittle Erasmus some have declared that Erasmus' humanism was akin to was a secular humanism. For example, James Boice, who was once head of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, writes about how those who prefer the Textus Receptus and the King James Version are out of touch:

"However, in doing that [defending the Textus Receptus], they overlook the fact that Erasmus, who produced the Greek text on which the King James Bible is based, was actually a humanist" (Letter to Tom Hale, September 13, 1985).

A Humanist by today’s definition is one who is an atheistic evolutionist, something Erasmus would be totally opposed to. These people need to be clearer when speaking about historical figures as most hearers will assume that Erasmus was a secular humanist.

Andrew Brown, of the Trinitarian Bible Society, gives the proper definition of a humanist in this context:

"Erasmus was a thoroughgoing 'Christian humanist' from his youth to his death. The use of the word 'humanist' in the Renaissance and Reformation period does not in any way share the atheistic connotations which that word now has in popular usage. A 'humanist' in that period was simply someone who was interested in classical literature, culture and education, as a means of attaining a higher standard of civilized life. Stephanus, Calvin and Beza were all humanists in this sense, and it is these 'humanist' ideals which have largely shaped Western culture in the succeeding centuries, blended with the teachings of the Christian Gospel." (David Cloud, Myths About the King James Bible: Erasmus Was a Humanist, Way of Life Literature, Oak Harbor, WA, 1986, 1993, p. 24.)

Edward Hills also defines Renaissance humanism:

"The humanistic view was well represented by the writings of Laurentius Valla (1405-57), a famous scholar of the Italian renaissance. Valla emphasized the importance of language. According to him the decline of civilization in the dark ages was due to the decay of the Greek and Latin languages. Hence, it was only though the study of classical literature that the glories of ancient Greece and Rome could be recaptured. Valla also wrote a treatise on the Latin Vulgate, comparing it with certain Greek New Testament manuscripts which he had in his possession. Erasmus, who from his youth had been an admirer of Valla, found a manuscript of Valla's treatise in 1504 and had it printed the following year. In this work, Valla favored the Greek New Testament over the Vulgate. The Latin text often differed from the Greek, he reported. Also, there were omissions and additions in the Latin translation, and the Greek wording was generally better than that of the Latin." (Hills, The King James Version Defended, p. 196.)

DeLamar Jensen, in his Reformation Europe, defines Christian humanism as "emphasizing historical study and a 'return to sources,' meaning the Bible. They placed more devotion to Scripture than did the Italian humanists." (DeLamar Jensen, Reformation Europe, Lexington MA: D.C. Heath, 1981.)

Was Erasmus just a faithful Catholic?

John Olin made the following assessment of Erasmus:

“But Erasmus is a complex and many-faceted individual. His true face is difficult to delineate. And there is also the tendency to picture him in one’s own mold or to interpret him in the light of one’s own convictions and preconceptions. A study of the studies about him and of the various judgments that have been passed reveals this quite clearly” (John Olin, Christian Humanism and the Reformation: Selected Writings of Erasmus, p. 37).

By 1495 Erasmus was studying in Paris. In 1499 he went to England where he made the helpful friendship of John Cabot, later dean of St. Paul's, who quickened his interest in biblical studies. He then went back to France and the Netherlands. In 1505 he again visited England and then passed three years in Italy. In 1509 he returned to England for the third time and taught at Cambridge University until 1514. In 1515 he went to Basel, where he published his New Testament in 1516, then back to the Netherlands for a sojourn at the University of Louvain. Then he returned to Basel in 1521 and remained there until 1529, in which year he removed to the imperial town of Freiburg-im-Breisgau. Finally, in 1535, he again returned to Basel and died there the following year in the midst of his Protestant friends, without relations of any sort, so far as known, with the Roman Catholic Church.

In Spain, Reformers were called “Erasmistas.” Erasmus was buried in a Protestant cemetery.

Erasmus about Martin Luther

Erasmus wrote many passages in letter's, relating to Martin Luther.

LUTHER’S party have urged me to join them, and Luther’s enemies have done their best to drive me to it by their furious attacks on me in their sermons. Neither have succeeded. Christ I know; Luther I know not…. I have said nothing, except that Luther ought to be answered and not crushed…. We must bear almost anything rather than throw the world into confusion…. The actual facts of things are not to be blurted out at all times and places, and in all companies…. I was the first to oppose the publication of Luther’s books. I recommended Luther himself to publish nothing revolutionary. I feared always that revolution would be the end, and I would have done more had I not been afraid that I might be found fighting against the Spirit of God.—LETTER TO BISHOP MARLIANUS, 1520.
May Christ direct Luther’s actions to God’s glory!… In Luther’s enemies I perceive more of the spirit of this world than of the Spirit of God. I wish Luther himself would be quiet for a while…. What he says may be true, but there are times and seasons. Truth need not always be proclaimed from the house-tops.—LETTER TO SPALATIN, 1520.
As to Luther himself, I perceived that the better a man was, the less he was Luther’s enemy…. Can it be right to persecute a man of unblemished life, in whose writings distinguished and excellent persons have found so much to admire?… The Pope has no worse enemies than his foolish defenders. He can crush any man if he pleases, but empires based only on terror do not last.—LETTER TO CARDINAL CAMPEGGIO, 1520.
By burning Luther’s books you may rid your book-shelves of him, but you will not rid men’s minds of him.—LETTER TO GODSCHALK, MODERATOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF LOUVAIN, 1520.
I told him that it was useless to burn Luther’s books, unless you could burn them out of people’s memories.—LETTER TO SIR THOMAS MORE, circa 1520.
Curses and threats may beat the fire down for the moment, but it will burst out worse than ever. The Bull has lost Luther no friends, and gained none for the Pope.—LETTER TO A FRIEND AT ROME, circa 1521.
All admit that the corruptions of the Church required a drastic medicine. But drugs wrongly given make the sick man worse. I said this to the King of Denmark lately. He laughed, and answered that small doses would be of no use; that the whole system needed purging. For myself, I am a man of peace and hate quarrels.—LETTER TO WARHAM, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY, 1521.
It is easy to call Luther “a fungus”; it is not easy to answer him.—LETTER TO LORD MOUNTJOY, circa 1521.
They may chain the tongues of men: they cannot touch their minds.—LETTER TO PIRKHEIMER, circa 1521.
They call me a Lutheran. Had I but held out a little finger to Luther, Germany would have seen what I could do. But I would rather die ten times over than make a schism.—LETTER TO CORONELLO, circa 1522.
Christendom was being asphyxiated with formulas and human inventions. Men needed waking. The gospel light had to be rekindled. Would that more wisdom had been shown when the moment came…. Your Highness sends me two books of Luther’s, which you wish me to answer. I cannot read the language in which they are written.—LETTER TO GEORGE, DUKE OF SAXONY, circa 1522.
I do not object generally to the evangelical doctrines, but there is much in Luther’s teachings which I dislike. He runs everything which he touches into extravagance…. Do not fear that I shall oppose evangelical truth. I left many faults in him unnoticed, lest I should injure the gospel. I hope mankind will be the better for the acrid medicines with which he has dosed them. Perhaps we needed a surgeon who would use knife and cautery.—LETTER TO MELANCHTHON, 1524.
Luther could not have succeeded so signally if God had not been with him, especially when he had such a crew of admirers behind him. I considered that it was a case for compromise and argument. Had I been at Worms, I believe I could have brought it to that.—LETTER TO DUKE GEORGE OF SAXONY, 1524.

Relationship with God

Matthew Henry, who is famous for his bible commentaries wrote concerning Erasmus: today.

"In gathering some gleaning of this harvest for others we may feast ourselves; and, when we are enabled by the grace of God to do so, we are best qualified to feed others. I was much pleased with a passage I lately met with of Erasmus, that great scholar and celebrated wit, in an epistle dedicatory before his book De Ratione Concionandi, where, as one weary of the world and the hurry of it, he expresses an earnest desire to spend the rest of his days in secret communion with Jesus Christ, encouraged by his gracious invitation to those who labour and are heavy laden to come unto him for rest (Matt. xi. 28), and this alone is that which he thinks will yield him true satisfaction. I think his words worth transcribing, and such as deserve to be inserted among the testimonies of great men to serious godliness.
—No one will easily believe how anxiously, for a long time past, I have wished to retire from these labours into a scene of tranquility, and, during the remainder of life (dwindled, it is true, to the shortest span), to converse only with him who once cried (nor does he now retract), "Come unto me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you," for in this turbulent, not to say furious, age, the many public sources of disquietude, connected with the infirmities of advancing age, leave no solace to my mind to be compared with this secret communion. In the pleasing contemplation of the divine beauty and benignity we hope to spend a blessed eternity, and therefore in this work it is good t o spend as much as may be of our time. (Preface to Vol. 3 (the wisdom books)

Erasmus and Codex Vaticanus

"The problems presented by these two manuscripts [the Vaticanus and the Sinaiticus] were well known, not only to the translators of the King James, but also to Erasmus. We are told that the Old Testament portion of the Vaticanus has been printed since 1587. The third great edition is that commonly known as the `Sixtine,' published at Rome in 1587 under Pope Sixtus V ... Substantially, the `Sixtine' edition gives the text of B ... The `Sixtine' served as the basis for most of the ordinary editions of the LXX for just three centuries" (Ottley, Handbooks of the Septuagint, p. 64).
"We are informed by another author that, if Erasmus had desired, he could have secured a transcript of this manuscript" (Bissell, Historic Origin of the Bible, p. 84).
"There was no necessity, however, for Erasmus to obtain a transcript because he was in correspondence with Professor Paulus Bombasius at Rome, who sent him such variant readings as he wished" (S.P. Tregelles, On the Printed Text of the Greek Testament, p. 22).
"A correspondent of Erasmus in 1533 sent that scholar a number of selected readings from it [Codex B], as proof [or so says that correspondent] of its superiority to the Received Text" (Frederic Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, Harper & Brothers, 1895, fourth edition 1939, p. 138).
"`Since the famous manuscripts of Rome, Alexandria, Cambridge, Paris, and Dublin were examined ... a verdict has been obtained in favor of the Vulgate. At the Reformation, the Greek Text, as it then stood, was taken as a standard, in conformity to which the versions of the Reformers were generally made; whilst the Latin Vulgate was depreciated, or despised, as a mere version'" (H. Cotton, quoted in Rheims and Douay, p. 155).

"In the margin of this edition [his fourth] Stephanus entered variant readings taken from the Complutensian edition and also 14 manuscripts, one of which is thought to have been Codex D." If this was not actually Codex D, at the very least it was another one of that small family of manuscripts which presents a similar reading that contradicts the majority text."

1 John 5:7

See Also 1 John 5:7 & Comma Johanneum

Many arguments about Erasmus and the Comma Johanneum are out of date. Bruce Metzger (the founder of textual criticism) was largely responsible for the stories of Erasmus being forced to include the Comma in the Textus Receptus stream. Yet in the 3rd and for 4th editions of Metzger's book "The Text of the New Testament" he retracted those statements. Metzger based his retraction on the work of H.J. de Jonge, the Dean of the Faculty of Theology at Rijksuniversiteit (Leiden, Netherlands) and a recognised world authority on Eramus.

The conclusions in de Jonge’s writtings are as follows:

(1) The current view that Erasmus promised to insert the Comma Johanneum if it could be shown to him in a single Greek manuscript, has no foundation in Erasmus' works Consequently it is highly improbable that he included the disputed passage because he considered himself bound by any such promise.
(2) It cannot be shown from Erasmus' works that he suspected the Codex Britannicus (Minuscule 61) of being written with a view to force him to include the Comma Johanneum.

Metzger justifies his retraction on the basis of advances in research in the last quarter of a century. Along side this new research is further strengthening of the validity of the Majority Text manuscripts and Textus Receptus mainly because of less disruption in the “transmission history” of the Byzantine Texts.


Erasmus died July 12 1534 in Basil and was buried in a Protestant cemetery. His last words, as recorded by his friend Beatus Rhenanus, were apparently "lieve God" (Dutch: Dear God)

See Also



  • 1. Harry Vredeveld, "The Ages of Erasmus and the Year of his Birth", Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 46, No. 4 (Winter, 1993), pp. 754-809,
  • 2. Latourette, Kenneth Scott. A History of Christianity. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1953, p. 661.
  • 3. Written to refute Martin Luther's doctrine of "enslaved will", according to Alister McGrath, Luther believed that only Erasmus, of all his interlocutors, understood and appreciated the locus of his doctrinal emphases and reforms.
  • 4. Froude, The Life and Letters, p. 87.

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