Erasmus, Desiderius

Erasmus, Desiderius

(born Oct. 27, 1469, Rotterdam, Holland—died July 12, 1536, Basel, Switz.) Dutch priest and humanist, considered the greatest European scholar of the 16th century. The illegitimate son of a priest and a physician's daughter, he entered a monastery and was ordained a priest in 1492. He studied at the University of Paris and traveled throughout Europe, coming under the influence of St. Thomas More and John Colet. The book that first made him famous was the Adagia (1500, 1508), an annotated collection of Greek and Latin proverbs. He became noted for his editions of Classical authors, Church Fathers, and the New Testament as well as for his own works, including Handbook of a Christian Knight (1503) and Praise of Folly (1509). Using the philological methods pioneered by Italian humanists, he helped lay the groundwork for the historical-critical study of the past. By criticizing ecclesiastical abuses, he encouraged the growing urge for reform, which found expression both in the Protestant Reformation and in the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Though he saw much to admire in Martin Luther, he came under pressure to attack him; he took an independent stance, rejecting both Luther's doctrine of predestination and the powers claimed for the papacy.

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