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this request sets forth, in the strongest terms, his objections to monastic life. “ What,” he exclaims, “ can be more corrupt and wicked than these relaxed religious houses? Consider even those which are in the best repute, and you will find in them nothing which resembles Christianity, but only cold, Judaical observances. Upon these the religious orders value themselves, and by them they judge and despise others. Would it not be better, according to the doctrine of our Saviour, to look upon all Christendom as one house, one family, one monastery, and upon all Christians as one brotherhood? Would it not be better to regard the sacrament of baptism as the most sacred of all vows, and never trouble ourselves where we live, if we only live well?"
For the next six or seven years Erasmus seems not to have cared much where he lived. We find him in Flanders, at Basle, at Brussels, and in several other places, always busy, always poor, and ever complaining of feeble health. He wrote many letters, made many valuable acquaintances, and published some of the more important of his works, particularly his New Testament, in Greek and Latin, and his valuable edition of the works of Jerome.
These were printed at Basle, by Frobenius, who was ever afterward the friend of Erasmus, and aided him in most of his publications.
In the year 1515, Martin Dorpius published strictures upon Erasmus's “ Encomium Moriae,” or “ Praise of Folly." He is said to have been the first who ever wrote against him. But from this time onward his adversaries multiplied thick and fast, and too much of his time was taken up in replying to them.
We have now pursued the history of Erasmus to the opening of the Reformation from Popery. A poor, friendless boy at the first, - a wanderer, for most of the time, from one country to another, and dependent entirely on his own efforts and on the charity of friends, — he now stood before the world as one of the first scholars and theologians in Europe. Reuchlin, alias Caprio, was his superior in Hebrew and Oriental learning, to which Erasmus made no
pretensions ; Budaeus was thought to excel him in Greek; the Ciceronians of Italy might surpass him in the purity and elegance of their Latin ; but he was more than their equal in the command of a free, vigorous, idiomatic style. In wit and satire he had no rivals, unless it were in the author of the "Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum,” which were persistently, though falsely, ascribed to him.
Nothing can more clearly show the position of Erasmus at this time, than the earnest desire of the great potentates of Europe, civil and ecclesiastical, for the honor of his residence in their dominions. Charles V., both before and after his advancement to the empire, had shown him distinguished honor. Francis I. had repeatedly urged him to take up his abode in France, and become connected with the University of Paris. Henry VIII. had with reluctance allowed him to depart from England, and would have welcomed him back on almost any terms. The Archduke Ferdinand of Austria had paid him the highest court. The Elector of Bavaria made him splendid offers to undertake the Presidency of his University of Ingolstadt.
There may be ostentation in some of the epistles of Erasmus, in which he recounts the letters, the invitations, and the magnificent presents which he had received from different prelates and potentates. " From the Emperor Charles V.,"
says he, “ I have many letters, written with so much affection and esteem, that I prize them even more than his
· These once celebrated Letters purport to have been written by monks, in which they discourse together, in their barbarous Latin, of the affairs of the times, and of religious subjects. They address to one Eratius, their correspondent at Cologne, the most trivial and senseless questions. They discover, with the utmost simplicity, their gross ignorance, credulity, and superstition ; their low and vulgar spirit; and at the same time their pride, and their fanatical and persecuting zeal. They relate to him many of their low adventures and debaucheries, and the scandalous conduct of some of their leaders. These Letters are so much to the life, that many of the monks were completely duped by them. They thought them to have been written in the interest and for the defence of their order. A prior of Brabant is said to have bought a large number of copies, to be distributed among the Dominicans.
In his paroxysms of laughter over these letters, Erasmus is said to have broken a painful abscess on his face, which the physicians were about to open. Vol. XIX. No. 73.
kindness to me; to which I owe a great part of my fortune. From King Ferdinand I have as many not less friendly, and always accompanied by some honorary gift. How often, too, have I been invited, and on the most liberal terms, by the king of France ? The king of England, by frequent letters and unsolicited presents, is always declaring his singular good will. His Queen Catharine, the best of women in this age, vies with her husband in this respect. Sigismund, the king of Poland, sent me a letter with a royal gift. The Duke of Saxony often addresses letters to me, and never without a valuable present."
Leo X. was among the correspondents and patrons of Erasmus, and accepted the dedication of his New Testament. Adrian VI., who had been his school-fellow at Dav. enter, offered him a deanery, which he thought proper to decline. Clement VII. sent him a present of two hundred florins, and made him still greater promises, which were not fulfilled. Near the close of his life, Paul III. offered him the provostship of Daventer, worth six hundred florins a year, and had serious thoughts of making him a cardinal. We might proceed, and fill a page with distinguished names, cardinals, bishops, and men of letters, all of whom had correspondence with Erasmus, and deemed it an honor to be reckoned among his friends.
It may be inquired here: How had Erasmus, the poor, friendless scholar, achieved so lofty a position? What had he done to attract the notice and admiration of Christendom, and make kings and princes, popes and prelates, so anxious to be near him, and to enjoy his friendship? The answer to these questions must be sought in the circumstances of the times, and in the indefatigable and highly successful labors of Erasmus for their development. The darkness of the Middle Ages was now passing away; the light of sound learning was beginning to shine; and those who labored successfully for its diffusion were greater celebrities at that period than they could have been at almost any other. Besides, the distinguished men of that age felt their indebted. ness to Erasmus ; they felt under obligations to him for
what he had done; and this sense of obligation they were led to manifest in ways such as have been mentioned.
In the first place, Erasmus had been the chief promoter of polite literature and of classical learning, in central and western Europe. By his translations of the Greek, and his improved editions of the Latin classics, - to say nothing of his own merely literary publications, — he had awakened an interest in subjects of this nature, and opened a new world to the gaze and the admiration of future explorers.
Then he was the declared enemy of the dominant scholasticism, monkery, and other superstitions of the Middle Ages, of which the world was becoming weary -- which were “ waxing old, and ready to vanish away.” He knew what monkery was, for he had been forced into it in early life; and he lost no opportunity to avenge himself of it in maturer years. And the more his works on this subject were opposed, the more they circulated. Of his “ Praise of Folly," twenty-seven editions were published during the lifetime of the author. His “
His “Colloquies” were in every library, and in almost every school. Not less than twenty thousand copies were sold by a single publisher.
Erasmus may also be regarded as the father of true Biblical criticism ; which was another reason for his extended fame. By his publication of the New Testament, and by his Notes and Paraphrases on the sacred writings, he introduced a new era in sacred learning, and gave the Bible to western Europe. It is said that there was never a Greek Testament in northern and western Europe until that of Erasmus was published. The Latin Vulgate was the standard in the whole Romish church, as it is to this day.
Still another reason for the extended fame of Erasmus grew out of his new and corrected editions of the early Fathers. Among these were the works of Jerome, his first and favorite author, of Cyprian, of the pseudo-Arnobius, of Hilary, of Irenaeus, of Ambrose, Augustine, and Lactantius. He published parts of the works of Athanasius, of Basil, and of Chrysostom, and at the time of his death
had advanced far in preparing for the press the entire works of Origen. When we think that these works were in many folios, and closely printed, we are amazed at the industry of the compiler and commentator, and do not wonder at the eminence to which he attained. It was by means of these volumes, in great measure, that he supplanted the scholasticism of the previous ages, and brought back the world to the purer and more practical theology of primitive times.
At the period to which we have now arrived, we behold Erasmus at the summit of his glory and influence. Had he died at this time, it might have been happier for himself and his reputation. The world would have lost some of his valuable publications, but it would have been spared others which certainly add nothing to his fame.
A new era was now beginning to open. A new character was coming upon the stage, whose name had already filled the whole Western horizon. From the proceedings and discussions of Luther at Wittemberg, from the embers of the papal bull which he had openly burned there, arose the Reformation. That Erasmus had done much to prepare the way for it was undeniable. Shall he now welcome it, cast in his lot with it, and labor shoulder to shoulder with the brave men who are straining every nerve to push it forward; or shall be cling to the church in which he has always lived, to which all his noble, royal friends and patrons are attached, and where all his interests seem to lie; or shall he attempt to maintain a stately neutrality, approve each party so far as it is right, condemn it where it seems to be wrong, and endeavor to bring about a recon. ciliation ? These were hard questions for Erasmus in that trying day; questions which he knew not how to solve ; and which neither party would allow him to solve according to his unbiassed judgment. For each was using every means in its power to compass the invaluable proselyte, and bring him over to its own side.
Erasmus had been chiefly a man of letters, and was constitutionally a man of peace.
He desired a reformation, and had labored to accomplish it, but he hoped to bring it