Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Prince of Humanists - Desiderius Erasmus (c. 1466-1536)

Born Gerrit Gerriszoon, an illegitimate child of a physician's daughter, by a man who later became a monk, Erasmus later changed his name to Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus. A gay Roman Catholic Augustinian monk and a priest, social critic, teacher, and theologian, Erasmus was a champion of religious toleration. He was very independent throughout his lifetime, and though critical of many things, not least of which was the Church, he believed in cultivating common sense to apply to human affairs, and in the value of people trying to work things out amicably and of trying to reform the Church from within. Understandably, he made few friends. When the Reformation started, he supported the Reformers, by and large, though he had major disagreements with some of their ideas and decisions, particularly those of Martin Luther. Erasmus was a prolific writer, even penning A Handbook On Manners For Children. He died on July 12, 1536, and was buried in the former Catholic cathedral, converted into a Reformed church in 1529. 

As part of his legacy, Erasmus left behind a wealth of memorable quotes:

"I consider as lovers of books not those who keep their books hidden in their store-chests and never handle them, but those who, by nightly as well as daily use thumb them, batter them, wear them out, who fill out all the margins with annotations of many kinds, and who prefer the marks of a fault they have erased to a neat copy full of faults." (Letter to an unidentified friend, 1489)

"A constant element of enjoyment must be mingled with our studies, so that we think of learning as a game rather than a form of drudgery, for no activity can be continued for long if it does not to some extent afford pleasure to the participant." (Letter to Christian Northoff, 1497)

"I have turned my entire attention to Greek. The first thing I shall do, as soon as the money arrives, is to buy some Greek authors; after that, I shall buy clothes." (Letter to Jacob Batt April 12, 1500) (Also translated as: "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.")

"The most disadvantageous peace is better than the most just war." (Adagia1508)

"I am a citizen of the world, known to all and to all a stranger." (Quoted in Erasmus (1970) by Gy√∂rgy Faludy, p. 197)

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