Friday, April 30, 2010

If I get a little money, I buy books. If there is any left over, I buy food and clothes."

Today's Dead White European Male:

Desiderius Erasmus.

"I detest dissension because it goes both against the teachings of Christ and against a secret inclination of nature. I doubt that either side in the dispute can be suppressed without grave loss."


a Dutch Renaissance humanist and a Catholic priest and theologian...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."

I can see why he changed his name. Gerrit Gerritszoon. I imagine that the other Christian Humanist scholars would have made fun of him.

He accepted poverty as a necessary adjunct to his dedication to what he was doing, which I think is a great and admirable thing:

Despite a chronic shortage of money, he succeeded in learning Greek by an intensive, day-and-night study of three years, continuously begging his friends to send him books and money for teachers in his letters. Discovery in 1506 of Lorenzo Valla's New Testament Notes encouraged Erasmus to continue the study of the New Testament.

Erasmus preferred to live the life of an independent scholar and made a conscious effort to avoid any actions or formal ties that might inhibit his freedom of intellect and literary expression. Throughout his life, he was offered many positions of honor and profit throughout the academic world but declined them all, preferring the uncertain but sufficient rewards of independent literary activity.

He was an example of that thing that is so rare in our times, a Catholic thinker who criticised and critiqued, but would never have dreamed of "dissenting" in the modern sense from Catholic doctrine:

His revolt against certain forms of Christian monasticism and scholasticism was not based on doubts about the truth of doctrine, nor from hostility to the organization of the Church itself, nor from rejection of celibacy or monastical lifestyles. He saw himself as a preacher of righteousness by an appeal to reason, applied frankly and without fear of the magisterium. He always intended to remain faithful to Catholic doctrine, and therefore was convinced he could criticize frankly and virtually everyone. Erasmus held himself aloof from entangling obligations, yet he was the center of the literary movement of his time. He corresponded with more than five hundred men in the worlds of politics and of thought.

In his Catechism (entitled Explanation of the Apostles' Creed) (1533), Erasmus took stand against Luther's teaching by asserting the unwritten Sacred Tradition as just as valid a source of revelation as the Bible, by enumerating the Deuterocanonical books in the canon of the Bible and by acknowledging seven sacraments. He called "blasphemers" anyone who questioned the perpetual virginity of Mary and those who defended the need to occasionally restrict the laity from access to the Bible.

....and quite honestly, he was a very snappy dresser, if the many portraits are to be believed. I've just got to get me one of those black velvet, fur-lined scholar's robes and velvet thinking caps. Mmmboy!

(And don't get me started on those hand-tooled, leather bound books!)


Gregory said...

Erasumus was an arrogant puke, who covered those less learned than himelf with disdain and invective, but remained quiet as a well-trained mouse when his friend Thomas More was murdered by the fiend-in-human-form known as Henry VIII. "The Praise of Folly" will always be one of the lowest low points of Renaissance humanism, and his pointless obsession with "pure" classical Latin ruined the living Latin of the Christian Middle Ages.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Don't hold back now Greg...