Erasmus, Desiderius | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy


ErasmusDesiderius Erasmus was one of the leading activists and thinkers of the European Renaissance. His main activity was to write letters to the leading statesmen, humanists, printers, and theologians of the first three and a half decades of the sixteenth century. Erasmus was an indefatigable correspondent, controversialist, self-publicist, satirist, translator, commentator, editor, and provocateur of Renaissance culture. He was perhaps above all renowned and repudiated for his work on the Christian New Testament. He was not a systematic thinker, and he did not found a system or school of philosophy. In fact, his profound contempt for the scholastic philosophers of the Middle Ages and Renaissance puts him at odds with the institution of philosophy. Perhaps Erasmus’ most important role in the history of philosophy is to have challenged and expanded the disciplinary boundaries of the field. He did so by propounding his philosophy of Christ, which displays some affinities for prior traditions including Platonism and Epicureanism, but which depends primarily on the understanding that philosophy is not an exclusive university discipline, but rather a moral obligation incumbent upon all believers. In this context he founded an ethics of speech to guide himself and others to what he regarded as the true love of wisdom.


  1. life and works
  2. erasmus and philosophy
    1. humanism
    2. Platonism
    3. philosopher kings
    4. paradox
    5. Epicureanism
    6. the word
      1. humanistic theology
      2. the ethics of speech
      3. a controversial legacy
        1. canon formation
        2. censorship
        3. scholarship
        4. references and further reading
          1. editions
          2. studies
          3. 1. life and work

            erasmus was born in the city of rotterdam in the late 1460s and was educated by the brothers of common life, first in deventer and then in s’hertogenbosch. Orphaned at an early age, he took monastic vows and entered the Augustinian monastery of Steyn in 1486. ​​In 1492 he was ordained a priest, and in 1493 he entered the service of Hendrik van Bergen, Bishop of Cambrai, who had just been appointed Chancellor of the Order of the Golden Fleece by the Court of Burgundy. His service as secretary to an ambitious prelate freed Erasmus from the tedium of monastic life and offered him the prospect of travel and advancement. When the bishop’s career stalled, Erasmus left to study theology at the University of Paris in 1495, where he stayed long enough to develop a lifelong aversion to the professional study of theology and his addiction to dialectic.

            it was in paris that erasmus joined his first important patron, william blount, lord mountjoy, whom he accompanied to england as tutor in 1499. this first stay in english, albeit brief, proved crucial to erasmus’s later career, as it was during this visit that he met thomas more and john colet, founder of st. paul’s school in london erasmus returned to paris in 1500 to publish his first collection of proverbs, the adagiorum collectanea, whose dedicatory epistle, to mountjoy, remains a crucial statement of erasmian poetics. After further tours of France and the Netherlands, he returned to England, where he was the guest of Thomas More, with whom he collaborated on a translation of selected dialogues by Lucian of Samosata. he embarked in 1506 on a long-awaited voyage to italy. In Venice, Erasmus worked with the humanist printer Aldus Manutius to publish the first major collection of adagios, the Adagiorum Chiliades in 1508. It was completed with the generous assistance of numerous Italian humanists, as gratefully recorded in the Adagio Festina Lente. From Italy he returned to England, where he stayed long enough to write the Praise of Folly (1511) and several educational writings, including the 1511 de ratione studii, a preliminary version of his manual on letter writing de conscribendis epistolis, which was published. not published until 1522, and the complete version of de copy or on abundance in style (1512).

            Having returned to the European continent in 1514, Erasmus began his association with the Swiss printer Johann Froben, for whom he prepared an expanded version of the adages in 1515. The following year he left the Froben printers (Basel, Switzerland) two Works that Erasmus considered the twin masterpieces of his career. First came the Novum Instrumentum, which consists of the Greek text and the Latin translation of the New Testament by Erasmus, with Erasmus’ annotations adapted to the Latin text of the Vulgate. then came, in nine volumes, the complete works of saint jerome, including four volumes of the letters of jerome, edited by erasmus himself and dedicated to william warham, the archbishop of canterbury. at the beginning of volume one is the life of jeronimo de erasmus. In 1517 Erasmus took up residence in Leuven. there he quickly became embroiled in a controversy with the university’s theological faculty over the role of the three languages ​​(Greek, Latin, and Hebrew) in the study of theology. This was on the immediate occasion of the founding of a trilingual college in Leuven by the legacy of Erasmus’s friend, Jérôme de Busleyden. Erasmus defended humanist theology, based on the study of ancient languages, against the reactionary position of the Louvain theologians who sought to preserve their professional prerogatives. At the same time, Erasmus launched another major academic venture, New Testament Paraphrases, beginning with the Epistle to the Romans in 1517.

            in 1521, erasmus moved to basel where he collaborated closely with the froben press on a succession of expanded editions of the adages while continuing to paraphrase the new testament. As the decade wore on, Erasmus found himself engaged in a reluctant and debilitating fight with Martin Luther over the competing doctrines of free will and predestination. Erasmus published his diatribe on free will in 1524, to which Luther responded in 1525 with his treatise The Enslaved Will, which gave rise to Erasmus’s Hyperaspistes or Squire published in two parts in 1526 and 1527. From this dispute Richard Popkin dated the advent of modern skepticism in his authoritative history of skepticism. Having alienated many Catholic clergy with his scathing criticism of the church hierarchy and Catholic devotion, Erasmus refused to join the Protestant Reformers and found himself increasingly isolated as an advocate of church unity through conciliation rather than of persecution or reform. At the end of the decade, after the sack of Rome in 1527, the Spanish Inquisition convened a conference in the city of Valladolid to discuss suspicious passages in Erasmus’s work and determine whether his books should be banned in Spain. Although the plague interrupted the Valladolid conference in August 1527 before a verdict could be reached, this did not deter Erasmus from writing a lengthy apology for the Spanish monks who had challenged his orthodoxy. The following year, 1528, Erasmus published his Dialogue Ciceronianus (1528), attacking the pagan instincts of Cicero’s strictest humanist disciples, thus ensuring his continued notoriety among European men of letters. Erasmus finally left Basel in 1529 when the city officially declared his allegiance to the Reformation and took up residence for him in the Catholic city of Freiburg. In the few moments of leisure left to him by his endless polemics and voluminous correspondence, Erasmus composed his last masterpiece, his treatise on the rhetoric of preaching, entitled Ecclesiastes, which he finished and published in 1535. Erasmus’ travels reached his end on July 12, 1536 in Basel, where he had stopped on his way back to the Netherlands.

            2. erasmus and philosophy

            scholarship has long recognized the problematic position of erasmus in the history of philosophy. For Craig Thompson, Erasmus cannot be called a philosopher in the technical sense, since he disdained formal logic and metaphysics and was only concerned with moral philosophy. Similarly, John Monfasani reminds us that Erasmus never claimed to be a philosopher, did not train as a philosopher, and did not write explicit works of philosophy, although he repeatedly became involved in controversies that crossed the line from philosophy to theology. his relationship with philosophy deserves further scrutiny.

            a. humanism

            To assess Erasmus’ relationship with philosophy, we have to understand his identity as a humanist. one of his earliest works, begun in his monastic youth, though not published until 1520, was the antibarbari. he proposes a defense of the humanities, then essentially the study of classical languages ​​and literature, against detractors who were dismissed as barbarians. one of the key themes of the work is the vital role of classical culture in a Christian society, and this theme implies a redefinition of philosophy, in contrast to the predominant university discipline of philosophy. everything of value in pagan culture, insists the main interlocutor in the dialogue, was destined by Christ to enrich Christian society, and this includes philosophy, since Christ himself was “the very father of philosophy” (cwe 23 :102; asd i-1 :121). the philosophy that he engendered is the philosophy that erasmus professed throughout his life and work, the philosophia christi. this philosophy is not so much a set of dogmas as a way of life or an ethical commitment.

            b. Platonism

            one of erasmus’s first published works and one of his most popular was the enchiridion militis christiani, or manual of the christian soldier, from 1503. written to an anonymous friend at court who had asked erasmus to compose for him a life guide, or ratio vivendi, that would lead him to a state of mind worthy of Christ. The enchiridion gained immediate notoriety for his repudiation of monasticism and his insistence that true piety consists not in outward ceremonies but in inward conversion. in the course of events these issues would become associated with the Protestant Reformation. The enchiridion espouses a philosophy of duality, the duality of body and soul, letter and spirit, which is explicitly modeled on Platonism. The author deplores the fact that Aristotle-obsessed professional philosophers have banished the Platonists and Pythagoreans from the classroom, and approvingly cites St. Augustine’s preference for Plato over Aristotle. Of the two classical philosophers, Plato’s doctrines are closer to Christianity and his allegorical style is better suited to exposing the scriptures.

            When the enchiridion defines philosophy, it invokes a Socratic precedent. Socrates, in Plato’s Phaedo dialogue, said that philosophy was nothing other than meditation on death because it gradually distances us from the material and bodily concerns of life. Philosophy takes us out of the world, the mundus, and leads us to Christ. This retreat from the world is not just for religious professionals, such as priests or monks, but for everyone in all walks of life. philosophy is a spiritual state rather than a professional identity.

            c. philosopher kings

            Among the many Platonic topoi to which Erasmus was drawn, none appears more consistently in his work than the ideal of the philosopher-king, first introduced in Plato’s Republic. Often this serves as a topos epidectic, as when Erasmus hails Charles V’s brother Ferdinand as a philosopher-king (in the conclusion of his treatise on Christian concord de sarcienda ecclesiae concordia) (asd v-3:313), or when he similarly hails King Sigismund of Poland in a letter to a Polish correspondent (ep. 2533). however, the theme also sponsors provocative thought on philosophy. When Erasmus published The Education of a Christian Prince in 1516, he dedicated the treatise to Prince Charles, King of Spain, who would soon succeed his grandfather Maximilian as Holy Roman Emperor, under the title Charles V. The dedicatory epistle evokes the well-known Platonic claim that no republic will be successful until philosophers are kings or kings adopt philosophy. By philosophy, Erasmus means not the Aristotelian physics and metaphysics that dominated the university curriculum, but the kind of philosophy that frees our minds from errors and vices, and demonstrates correct government on the model of eternal power. This model, or aeterni numinis exemplar, (asd iv-1:133) is Christ, and the new philosopher-king is a disciple of Christ.

            erasmus returns to the philosopher king in the text of his treatise on political philosophy when he once again qualifies the meaning of “philosophy”. Being a philosopher does not mean being skilled in dialectics or physics, but preferring truth to illusion. In short, being a philosopher is the same as being a Christian: “idem esse philosophum et esse christianum” (asd iv-1:145). This is the most compact and emphatic statement of Erasmus’ philosophy of Christ. His most mature and complete statement is found in the paraclesis, one of the prologues or forewords he composed for his edition of the new testament, also of 1516. in its opening lines, the paraclesis exhorts all mortals to the holiest and most salubrious study of Christian philosophy, insisting that this kind of wisdom can be learned from fewer books and with less effort than the arcane doctrines of Aristotle. The philosophy of Christ is a straight path open to all who are endowed with pure and simple faith, and not an exclusive discipline reserved for specialists. in this context, erasmus adds a controversial endorsement to the vernacular translations of the bible, so that everyone can share the message of christ.

            d. paradox

            As we have seen, Erasmus often defines philosophy in a negative way: his philosophy is not what people conventionally understand as philosophy. he repudiates conventional philosophy as too polemical, too belligerent, and dogmatic. he prefers instead to experiment with a non-assertive form of philosophy that relies on paradox and the neutralizing force of opposing arguments. His best-known experiment in the extended paradox, and his best claim to stay in the school curriculum, is In Praise of Folly, first published in Paris in 1511, and accompanied in later editions by a commentary attributed to Gerhard Lister but not It is believed that it was dictated by Erasmus himself. madness, or moria, offers its own praise of him, proudly invoking the inspiration of the ancient Greek sophists and seemingly dismissing all claims to him, except perhaps for his satire of the clergy and learned professions; This is followed by a deceptively serious exposition of Pauline spirituality, where we detect the same stylistic devices and profusion of proverbs as in the rest of the text. Erasmus described the text as a declamation of his, in the sense of a thesis intended to provoke a counter-thesis rather than to affirm a dogma. after all, the speaker is a madman, a notoriously unreliable authority on all secular and religious matters and on whom it is no disgrace to hold differing views. rather, we should be ashamed to agree with it. By resorting to this subterfuge, rather than positively affirming his beliefs on his own behalf, Erasmus was able to intervene in a number of intellectual, political, and spiritual debates in contemporary Christianity without affirming or denying anything.

            Although expressed by madness itself, the criticism of church and clergy contained in the praise of madness provoked bitter resentment among D.D.O.s, as we learn from correspondence between Erasmus and the Leuven theologian Martin Dorp. In a letter dated September 1514, Dorp testifies to the hostile reaction of professional theologians to the encomium of Moriae and their apprehension at Erasmus’s new project to edit the New Testament, news of which had already begun to circulate largely because of to the public itself erasmus relations campaign erasmus’ response to dorp in epistle 337 recapitulates many of the themes of his lifelong tirade against scholasticism. one of the key themes here is the stark contrast between the recent style of theology exemplified by the scholastics and the older style of theology associated with the church fathers, many of whose works were edited by erasmus. the transition from the old to the new has hardly been an improvement. upstarts or recentiores are so engrossed in their factional disputes and dialectical niceties that they don’t have time to read the bible. Erasmus presents his case most succinctly when he asks, “What has Aristotle to do with Christ?” indeed, he accuses the scholastics of idolatry in their substitution of pagan for Christian authority. The letter to Dorp, which was revised for publication with the Praise of Folly beginning with the 1516 Basel edition, offers a powerful and insidious repudiation of university theology and philosophy.

            s. epicurean

            erasmus had little enthusiasm for the various philosophical orthodoxies that prevailed between the ancients and the moderns. however, quite late in his life, and only late in critical recognition, he became sympathetic to one of the Hellenistic schools of philosophy, namely Epicureanism. Erasmus never embraced Epicureanism as a comprehensive system of thought, and he could not endorse the central tenet of the mortality of the human soul. however, he was drawn to the Epicurean ideal of peace of mind through withdrawal from worldly concerns and the cultivation of a clear moral conscience. As Reinier Leushuis writes, Erasmus’s last family colloquium, The Epicurean, published in 1533, contains the astonishing statement that no one is more deserving of the name “Epicurean” than the revered prince of Christian philosophy, Christ Himself (cwe 40: 1086; asd 1-3:731). Christ teaches his followers how to reach a state of complete tranquility and freedom from the torments of a guilty conscience, which corresponds to the Epicurean ideal of ataraxia. This ideal, it is worth noting, is not the same as Stoic apathy, which Erasmus carefully disassociates from Christianity in several places, including Ecclesiastes. he points out that apathy would defeat the purpose of the Christian preacher trying to arouse the emotions of the audience. the Christian must combine compassion with a clear conscience to achieve peace of mind. This understanding of Christianity has little in common with the harsher tenor of Protestant thought, and may explain why Martin Luther called Erasmus an Epicurean in the vulgar sense of an atheist or an infidel. Finally, it may not be out of place here to note that, through his mature and non-dogmatic embrace of Epicureanism, Erasmus shows some affinity for the late Renaissance prose writer Michel de Montaigne.

            3. the word

            Speech, for Erasmus, is not only a defining attribute of humanity, but also a key to the relationship between humanity and divinity, which was a central concern of his thought. the gospel of john states that in the beginning was the logos, which erasmus famously or infamously retranslated as sermo instead of the vulgate reading, verbum. Erasmus felt justified in changing the reading from the Vulgate, but only in the second edition of his New Testament published in 1519, because the received text of the scriptures is not divine. words are human, or rather, a mediation between the human and the divine. the bible is speech, and as such it must be read, interpreted and understood according to the arts of speech. besides, the arts of speech are the only means we have to approach divinity. speech brings man closer to god.

            a. humanist theology

            It is not entirely clear under what circumstances Erasmus first became interested in Biblical scholarship. It is known that his meeting with John Colet in England aroused his interest. Another factor, and perhaps an independent factor, was his discovery, in the summer of 1504 in the Praemonstratensian abbey of Parc, just outside the walls of Louvain, of the manuscript of Lorenzo Valla’s annotations on the New Testament, completed fifty years earlier. . erasmus prepared the editio princeps in paris in 1505 with a preliminary epistle addressed to christopher fisher, papal prothonotary and doctor of canon law. This preface in defense of Valla can be read as a kind of paradoxical commendation, or praise of invective, since Valla had a controversial reputation as a harsh critic and bitter polemicist. Erasmus compares Valla with Zoilo, a proverbial figure of hateful slander for his presumptuous criticism of the Homeric epic, as adages remind us; but here, in the preface, he has a positive connotation as a heroic censor. In his masterpiece on the elegance of the Latin language, Valla rescued literature from barbarism by administering the harsh medicine of criticism to the inveterate disease of scholastic Latin. Erasmus published an epitome of fence work in 1531 based on a summary he had composed many years earlier at Steyn Monastery. Valla had checked the Vulgate against the Greek text of the New Testament and amended the translation according to grammatical criteria, including the criteria of elegance. Surely, asks Erasmus, translation, whether of sacred or profane texts, is the province of grammar. a translator is not a prophet. the prophet requires the gift of the holy spirit, but the translator needs grammar and rhetoric, the arts of language. Indeed, since the word of God reaches us through human intermediaries using human language, theology cannot do without language proficiency or linguarum peritia. this is the program of humanist theology.

            The fervor with which the letter to Fisher defends Valla’s Biblical philology suggests that Erasmus had already begun a similar enterprise. in fact, the text that erasmus edited in 1505 was the model and impetus for his own annotations in the new testament first published as part of the novum instrumentum in 1516. jacques chomarat has convincingly shown how much erasmus owed to fence precedent and how little he acknowledged, often voicing severe criticism of fence’s choices, which can be taken as a kind of mimetic tribute to fence, the modern momus or god of criticism. even the substitution of sermo for verbum, which he embroiled erasmus in such endless lawsuits, and earned him a complaint from the pulpit of st. st paul’s cathedral in london was anticipated by fence in his notes on the gospel of john. Erasmian annotations often revisit themes first addressed in the preliminary epistle to Fisher, including the notion that the Bible, like all human language, is steeped in historical time.

            chomarat draws our attention to erasmus’ notation in acts 10.38, where the apostle peter is preaching to the roman soldier cornelius. Peter tells Cornelius that God anointed Jesus, which the Vulgate translates with a turn of phrase that provokes a long commentary by Erasmus, lengthened in successive editions. First of all, notice, even though the new testament is written in greek, it is not clear if peter spoke greek or hebrew, that is, the local dialect of hebrew. if he spoke Greek, he spoke it as a foreign language inflected by his own vernacular, which explains the stylistic irregularities. after all, the apostles were only human, subject to error and ignorance like the rest of us. this put erasmus in a lot of trouble. he completes his note with a disclaimer: “I am not the oracle; You can accept my opinion or leave it.” this pronouncement coincides with similar disclaimers throughout his biblical scholarship and his apology. To his implacable enemy Edward Lee, Erasmus insists that his opinions are not dogmas to be taken on faith, but only ideas to be debated: Excutienda propono non sequenceda (ASD ix-4:46). in humanistic theology, both the text and the exegete are fallible.

            b. the ethics of discourse

            erasmus’s main statement on human speech is found at the beginning of his paraphrase on the gospel of john, published in 1523 between the third and fourth edition of his annotations. Speaking in the voice of the evangelist, he acknowledges that the nature of God surpasses human understanding, and exceeds all our powers of representation. consequently, it is better to believe in god than to try to understand him through human reason. Christian philosophy is a kind of fideism, and not a speculative theology. but, in order to convey any understanding of things that are neither intelligible to us nor explicable by us, we have to use names of things that are familiar to our senses, though there is nothing in reality that is truly analogous to god. therefore, just as the bible calls that supreme mind god, so it calls his only son the speech of him. for the son, though not identical with the father, nevertheless resembles him by perfect resemblance. similarly, speech is the true mirror of the mind. In this sense, John’s logos is the paradigm of human speech. there is something miraculous in human speech which, arising from the inner recesses of the mind and passing through the ears of the listener, by a kind of hidden energy transfers the soul of the speaker to the soul of the listener. This “hidden energy” is not divine but nevertheless hints at the proximity of the human and the divine. Christ is called logos because God wanted to make himself known to us through him, so that we could be saved. speech is the gateway to eternity.

            the topos of the speaking mirror runs through the work of erasmus as the guiding thread of his ethical and religious thought. it is the figure of speech that animates his philosophy. we find the mirror in the praise of madness, in various adages and in the lingua. in the latter, it is associated with a saying of socrates, “speak so that i may see you”, which reappears in the apophetgmas, whose preliminary epistle to william of cleves quotes plutarch’s statement that, more than any fact, sayings are the true mirror. of the mind. The last work of Erasmus, Ecclesiastes dedicates quite an important development to the exalted role of speech as a true mirror and image of the soul. in all these cases, we should recognize the expression not of a linguistic theory but rather of a moral imperative. Our society and our salvation depend, according to Erasmus’ favorite rhetorical figure, on the coincidence of our words and thoughts.

            erasmus best brings out this dimension of his theme in the 1525 lingua, which identifies language as the source of our greatest benefits and ills. if speech is a mirror, he sadly explains, it certainly can be a distorting mirror. Christ wanted to be called the logos and the truth, so that we would be ashamed of lying, but now even Christians have become so accustomed to lying that they do not even realize that they are lying. this sad state of affairs is the occasion for a most solemn admonition: “once lying becomes acceptable, then we can have no more confidence, and without trust we lose all human society” (cwe 29:316; asd iv-1a: 83) . true language is the foundation of society, and once this foundation is cracked, the social edifice collapses. At the end of the 16th century, Michel de Montaigne would make the same statement in the same prophetic tones, first in his essay “On Liars” and again in his essay “On Lies.” both writers lived their time as a crisis of truth and language. If we want to do justice to the prolific and multifaceted work of Desiderius Erasmus, we could say that he dedicated his life to the ethics of speech.

            4. a controversial legacy

            a. canon formation

            Since his death in 1536, Erasmus can hardly be said to have rested in peace. His adversaries and detractors were not appeased by his earthly disappearance, and his supporters and disciples shared some of his enthusiasm for the polemic. One way to assess Erasmus’s legacy is to trace the publication history of his work, or what we might call the creation of his canon. Erasmus himself was thinking of an edition of his complete works as early as 1523, as we know from a letter he sent to Johann von Botzheim in which he drew up a preliminary catalog of his works to be published in nine separate volumes with a pending tenth volume. The first volume was to include everything related to literature and education, including all his translations of Lucian, Euripides, and Libanius. volume two was reserved for adages, and volume three for his correspondence. Volume four would be devoted to moral philosophy, including his various translations of Plutarch’s Moralia, and his original works such as Praise of Folly, The Education of a Christian Prince, and Complaint of Peace. Volume five was to deal with works of religious instruction such as the Enchiridion, his commentaries on the psalms, and all of his New Testament prefaces. eventually, his ecclesiastes would be included in this group. volume six would consist of the new testament and annotations, while volume seven would be for the paraphrases. volume eight was supposed, on a conservative estimate, to contain all apologies or polemical writings. volume nine was for the letters of st. Jerome, as if Erasmus had written them himself, and if time allowed, promised to write a commentary on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans to fill volume 10. Erasmus revised his plan in a letter to the Scottish historian Hector Boece in 1530. , partly to accommodate all that he had written in the intervening seven years. as a practical measure, the works are now distributed in series or orders, instead of individual volumes, and some other modifications are introduced. the paraphrases are joined to the new testament in ordo six to accommodate all of erasmus’s translations of the greek fathers in ordo seven. The ninth series now includes several Latino fathers in addition to Jerome, and plans for a tenth volume have been shelved. When the posthumous opera omnia was finally published, from the Froben press in Basel in the course of 1538-1540, the publishers followed Erasmus’s plan, but once again separated the New Testament and the paraphrases into orders six and seven, while the projected volume of Latino parents was cancelled. apologies occupy the ninth and last order. This is substantially the same organization adopted by the French Protestant refugee Jean Le Clerc in his ten-volume edition of the Opera Omnia published in Leiden during the first decade of the eighteenth century. this edition is known as the lb from the Latin name of the place of publication, lugduni batavorum. le clerc had to add a tenth volume to accommodate all the apologies. as an additional novelty, he even added an index expurgatorius, or repertoire of all the passages of erasmus’ work marked for expurgation from him by the spanish and roman censors, in pagination code of the basel edition. from this index it appears that the censors were particularly interested in the correspondence, and that only the ordo eight, consisting of Latin translations of the Greek fathers, escaped his surveillance.

            b. censorship

            le clerc’s index is a timely reminder that in the century and a half between the basel edition and the lb, the history of erasmus reception is largely a history of censorship. The counter-reformation devoted a good part of its institutional effort to suppressing the legacy of Erasmus in Italy. the first indexes of prohibited books were municipal lists whose scope of application was necessarily restricted. In 1555 the congregation of the index promulgated the first papal index of prohibited books, which included several erasmus titles such as the annotations on the new testament, the colloquies, the praise of madness, the enchiridion, and some writings on prayer and on the celibacy . This index was discontinued shortly after its promulgation, but it discouraged Italian printers from issuing new editions of the Erasmus work. then, in 1559, the papacy issued a new index that listed Erasmus among the first class of heretics whose works were banned in their entirety. this rate in turn led to a higher incidence of book burning in the printing capital of europe, venice. Pope Pius IV issued a revised index in the aftermath of the Council of Trent, the Tridentine Index of 1564, which relaxed the total ban on Erasmus’ work. however, it also included new enforcement provisions that resulted in the confiscation and destruction of a considerable number of Erasmus editions in the stock of Italian booksellers. The Tridentine index also included a new provision for the redaction of those Erasmus works that were not outright prohibited. this provision produced, after some delay, one of the most important printing and publishing undertakings of the Counter-Reformation, namely, the expurgated official edition of the adagios of Erasmus. It was commissioned by the Council of Trent, prepared by Paolo Manuzio, preceded by his son Aldo de El, and published in Florence by the Giunti in 1575 with the approval of Pope Gregory XIII. It was the censored edition of the adages, purged of everything that might offend pious ears, and from which all traces of its author, Desiderius Erasmus, were so scrupulously removed that the work is often classified as the adages of paolo manuzio. It is a blessing that readers beyond Italy have had access to the unabridged edition of the adagios, because if Montaigne had had to rely on Paolo Manuzio’s version, he never would have invented the essay form. subsequent revisions to the index of banned books gradually abandoned the project of further expungement. Pope Clement VIII’s 1596 index handed the task of expungement to individual readers relying on their own conscience or someone else’s instructions. eventually the papacy resigned itself to the presence of a few copies of erasmus’ literary and educational writings in private libraries in italy.

            c. scholarship

            just as the era before the lb was an era of censorship, the era after it has been, for erasmus study, an era of flourishing scholarship. the twentieth century in particular initiated several monuments of modern scholarship. from 1906 to 1958, p. s. allen and his collaborators published in twelve volumes, with the oxford university press, the complete correspondence of erasmus, the opus epistolarum desiderii erasmi roterodami. it has completely replaced the third ordo of his opera omnia. in 1933 wallace ferguson published as a supplement to the lb his erasmi opuscula, which included a biography of st. Jerome in the same year, Hajo Holborn published a major edition of several key texts, including what remains the standard edition of the Enchiridion today. in 1969 an international committee based in the netherlands began publishing the critical edition of the complete works of erasmus known as asd. finally, in 1974, the university of toronto press released his complete erasmus works in english translation known as cwe, for the complete works of erasmus. both projects are still underway in the spirit of that royal adage festina lente. every year, under the auspices of the erasmus society rotterdam (which also publishes the journal erasmus studies, formerly the yearbook of the erasmus society rotterdam), the margaret mann phillips lecture is given in spring and the birthday lecture in autumn with in order to commemorate and preserve the cultural and ethical legacy of Erasmus. the society has accredited an erasmus website at

            5. references and further reading

            a. edits

            • opus epistolarum desiderii erasmi roterodami. edit ps. Allen et al. 12 vols. oxford: clarendon press, 1906-1958.
            • opera omnia desiderii erasmi roterodami. Amsterdam, 1969-.
            • desiderii erasmi roterodami opera omnia. jean le clerc edition. 10 vols. leiden: p. van der aa, 1703-1706. (lb)
            • ausgewählte werke. Editing by Holborn. munich: c.h. Beck’sche, 1933.
            • you were my booklet. wallace ferguson edition the hague: martin nijhoff, 1933.
            • complete works of erasmus. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974-. (c.w.)
            • b. studies

              • boyle, marjorie o’rourke. Erasmus on language and method in theology. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977.
              • chomarat, jacques. “les annotations de valla, celles d’erasme et la grammaire.” en histoire de l’exégèse au xvie siècle. gin: droz, 1978.
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              • author information

                eric macphail email: indiana university u. s. a.

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