In this essay I would like to mention about the great humanist of the Renaissance period the Erasmus of Rotterdam and his most important work “The Praise of Folly”.
To begin with some information about Erasmus, I can easily say that he is remembered as the greatest theologian of the Renaissance and the Prince of humanists. He was born in Rotterdam and was named as Herasmus; but he assimilated the name to a fancied Greek original, which he Latinized into Desiderius. Finally he styled himself as Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus. His first schooling was at Gouda under Peter Winckel, who was afterwards vice-pastor of the church. From Gouda he went to the school attached to St. Lebuin’s church at Deventer, which was one of the first in northern Europe to feel the influence of the Renaissance. Erasmus was there from 1475 to 1484, and when he left, he had learnt from Johannes Sinthius and Alexander Heguis the love of letters, which was the ruling passion of his life.
About 1484 Erasmus’ father died, and left Erasmus and his brother to the care of guardians, since their mother shortly before him. Erasmus was eager to go to a university, but the guardians sent the boys to another school at Hertogenbosch to be prepared for a monastic life; the discipline was severe, and inspired Erasmus with a hatred of the pedagogic method of the day. Peter entered the monastery of Sion, near Delft; Erasmus became an Augustinian canon in St. Gregory’s at Steyn. There he was allowed to read the classics and within the Fathers he specially had a good friendship with Servatius Roger of Rotterdam. About 1494 permission was obtained for him to leave Steyn and become Latin secretary to the bishop of Cambrai. One his friend, a schoolmaster of Bergen, secured him the opportunity to go to Paris University. In August 1495 Erasmus entered the “domus pauperum” of the college of Montaigu, then under the rule of Jan Standock, a leader of the devotic moderna, the Dutch movement for the purification of the monastic orders. He was also occupied with some of the works, which, later, made his fame; to this period belong the first drafts of the Colloquies and the De Conscribendis Epistolis. In October he went to Oxford, where he found John Colet lecturing on the Epistle to the Romans, which inspired his serious theological study. He was happy in England, where he associated with Linacre Grocyn and More, as well as with Colet. In 1500 he had to turn back to Paris. He had worked hard at Greek, at the Fathers (above all at Jerome), and at the Epistles of St. Paul, fulfilling the promise made to Colet in Oxford, to give him to sacred learning. However the manuscript with which he returned to Paris at the close of 1504 – Valla’s Annotations on the New Testament, which Badius printed for him in 1505, shows the bent of his reading. In 1504 appeared at Antwerp his Enchiridion Militis Christiani. The book shows clearly the bent of his mind. It was a plea for a return to the source of Christianity in its primitive simplicity.
In the autumn of 1505 the opportunity was born for him and he had the chance of seeing Italy. For a year he stayed in Bologna and then to print the Adagia he had gone to Venice, where he did the work of two men, writing and proofreading at the same time. In the autumn he reached London, and in Thomas More’s house in Bucklersburry wrote the witty satire which Milton found “in every one’s hands” at Cambridge in 1628. The Moriae encomium remains the most read of the works of Erasmus, though he himself regarded it as of slight importance. In it kings and princes, bishops and popes alike are shown to be in trouble with Folly; and no class of men is spared. Its author was willing to be beholden to any one for leisure; but he would be no man’s slave. In April 1511, he left More’s house and took the Moria to be printed firstly in Paris. He completed his work on the New Testament, the Letters of Jerome, and Seneca; and then in 1514 he removed to Basle to superintend the publication of his works.
Erasmus as being a philosopher of humanism supported the ideas of Christian humanism. He was inspired with the belief that his society was corrupted and they lost the simple teachings of the Bible. His writings and the things he taught were generally based on the religious reform. He was against the ceremonial, dogmatic and superstitious things in Catholic life. He wanted to show irrationalism. He believed that to become a good Christian one must know what Christ’s messages were. To interpret the bible he used the help of humanist textual criticism. Besides translating and editing the New Testament, Erasmus paraphrased the hole, except the Apocalypse, between 1517 and 1524. The paraphrases were received with great applause even a translation of them were made in order to be placed in all parish churches beside the Bible. His correspondence is perhaps the part of his works, which has the most permanent value; it comprises about 3000 letters, which form an important source for the history of that period. For the same purpose his Colloquia may be consulted. They are a series of dialogues, written first for pupils in the early Paris days as formulae of polite address, but afterwards expanded into lively conversations, in which many of the topics of the day are discussed. Later in the century they were read in schools, and some of Shakespeare’s lines are direct recollections of Erasmus. It would be also useful to add that the Greek Testament is the most memorable Erasmus work. As an edition of the Greek Testament it has no critical value. Besides these, Erasmus taught how to read the Ancient Greek by his typical Erasmeic Masarotte; Difthong and Tripthong. He also wrote homiletic works, and the Institutis Christiani Matrimonii for Catherine of Aragon.
Erasmus was totally different from Luther in his ideas. Luther spoke to the people and the ignorant, while Erasmus had the ear of the classical class. His friends and admirers were distributed all over the countries of Europe, and his letters, which were mirrors of man’s liberal mind, were coveted by scholars and princes. Erasmus steadily refused to take definite sides against Luther, though he repeatedly said he was not acquainted with him and his works, and that his business was with the revival of letters. In 1524, the steady pressure on him induced him at last to enter into controversy with Luther. He chose a point on which they must always differ. Erasmus, whose life was spent in vindicating the dignity and liberty of the human spirit, would have nothing to do with the Lutheran determinism, and wrote the De Libero Arbitrio, which drove Luther in De Servo Arbitrio to formulate his own doctrine more clearly.
As a result it can be said that in Praise of Folly, Erasmus criticized scholastic dogmatism, ignorance and superstitious beliefs of masses. This work is to be criticized as a piece of his biblical humanism ironically and paradoxically. He aimed to guide, to make people understand things and find the better. In Praise of Folly suspect exists. He purposed to make people ask questions about themselves and about their values. Shortly it can be said that this work is a criticism against dogmatism.