Erasmus and Renaissance RelationshipJune 26, 2021
Erasmus (1466-1536), a late humanist thinker, was born in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and died in Basel, Switzerland. He is one of the most famous humanists of the Renaissance.
He has the title of “Prince of Humanists”. He is also a Catholic priest and theologian. He was brought up as a full scholar, learned Greek and Latin at an early age, and meeting humanists John Colet and Thomas More in England in 1499 was a turning point in his intellectual life. Among his works, “Ode to Madness” is his most famous, which is still read today. His principal works are The Christian Knight’s Handbook, On the Upbringing of Children, Julius Exclusus, Essay on Free Will.
Seeing that John Colet was preaching on the Bible without knowing Greek, he learned Greek and translated the New Testament into Latin. In addition, he initiated the printing of many classical works and contributed to the development of humanism in this way. Another important contribution he made to the spirit of the Renaissance was that he tried to create a new style in literary narrative. For him, linguistic precision, syntactic accuracy, and rhetorical brilliance, both in philosophy and in theology, had to be prioritized and realized. In this respect, he found the scholastic language of education dead and insipid. For him, the ideas of the great classical writers were in harmony with the Gospels. In particular, there were great similarities between Plato’s philosophy and Jesus’ teachings. He realized that there was a deep conflict between the simple teaching of Jesus and the dogmatic and arrogant attitude of the Papacy.
Erasmus earned its first modern intellectual characterization because he tried to influence and renew the mental framework and world view of society, which thinks and acts in the shadow of the church and political rulers. In his famous book, Praise of Folly, he criticized the practices of the clergy that could be called insane, the office order in the papacy, and the illogical and illogical scholastic practices. He found the endless debates on the basic dogmas of religion such as confession, the trinity, the incarnation of God as Jesus, and the transformation of substance ridiculous, and life in monasteries was denied because of strange details and practices that were far from the essence of religion. Erasmus’s main criticism on this issue is that the real nature of religion is being estranged from, and that religious people lose their way in intricate details. For this reason, he felt that the scholastic education program should be completely overhauled and renewed. Erasmus’ tribute to the madness of the priests is truly ironic, that is, cynical. But he seriously praises another madness: it is madness identified with the simplicity of faith.
He felt that true religion was not a matter of the head, but of the heart. Thus, Erasmus was not a genuine skeptic on matters pertaining to the essence of religion, although he satirized scholastic subjects. He simply liked to argue with the church: his only desire was to harmonize the teachings of the church with the new humanistic teaching. That’s why he constantly stressed that the Catholic church needed a serious reform in itself. In keeping with this critical view, Erasmus sincerely shared the main points of Martin Luther’s criticism of the church at the beginning. Luther, too, has always expressed his admiration for the depth and breadth of Erasmus’ knowledge. He praised his work to rationalize Christianity and expressed hope that he would soon join the Lutheran party.
However, Erasmus decided to stay away from Luther, considering that his leading position in his attempt to become a pure scholar, which he saw as the goal of his life, would be jeopardized; He believed that only an independent scholar could hope to influence reform in religion. Luther accused Erasmus of avoiding responsibility either for lack of purpose or because of cowardice. However, Erasmus did not approve of a fundamental change in Christian teaching; According to him, a reform that would be made within the existing formulas would have been more meaningful and valuable. While Luther acted as a man of action, Erasmus remained a thinker, a critic. He also expressed his commitment to the Renaissance idea that humanism had a great capacity for moral progress in his Essay on Free Will. Here he emphasized his belief that education would eventually eradicate stupidity and ignorance. Although Erasmus is described as a religious humanist in the narrow sense, it can be said that he was a pure humanist as someone who defended all the values of Renaissance humanism.
Erasmus was trying to reconcile Christianity with Humanism, he thought that the true nature of religion was being moved away, and that true religion was a problem of the heart, not the head.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook