*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 12th of June 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
There are at least two other shows, somewhere in the past 1100 or so shows on Desiderius Erasmus. He might be the most interesting man in Early Modern Europe. He was a peculiar, sometimes reclusive scholar who helped start the Reformation, wrote against the Reformation, published the first printed edition of the Greek New Testament and revolutionized textual criticism, and was hailed as the “Prince of the Humanists.”
Let’s break him down briefly, and let me make a few, hopefully helpful, points. Erasmus was born in 1466 in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. His father was a Catholic priest. So… that’s not supposed to happen. His mother may have been a maid in his father's house. He remembered them fondly, but only until 1483, when they both died from the plague.
His life is peripatetic- that is, he moved everywhere, from London to Italy and Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe. He first entered the reform-minded monastery of the Brethren of the Common Life. This was an important community that helped introduce the Devotio Moderna- an essential critique of the elaborate devotional and sacramental system of the Catholic Church.
He is known for his work “In Praise of Folly,” written in England with the encouragement of the author and humanist Sir Thomas More. It is a satire and critique of the Catholic Church. He was insulated from much controversy because of his constant moving, and he was well off on account of his earlier and less controversial writings.
In Reformation circles, he is often known for his written debate with Martin Luther. His “On the Freedom of the Will” was challenged by Luther’s “On The Bondage of the Will.” Erasmus thought Luther was far too rash in his break from the church but didn’t want to criticize Luther. He implies he is only writing to assuage some friends. Years before this, Erasmus wrote to the Pope, calling Luther “a mighty trumpet of Gospel truth.” Briefly: to get this debate, it helps to see Luther in the Augustinian tradition while Erasmus is not (the issue is just how fallen or depraved humanity is).
But for all of Erasmus’ works, it was his work as a textual critic that marks him as one of the most influential figures in the Reformation. He was convinced that only with a recovery of the original languages could we get a reliable Bible. He used Jerome’s Latin Vulgate- the only accepted version of the Bible in the West and placed that text, his Latin text, and various Greek texts side by side. By traveling across Europe and collecting various manuscripts, he was able to put together the most trustworthy text of Scripture-based on humanist methods of finding variants of a text and establishing the most probable readings.
But the best text wasn’t what everyone wanted. Jerome’s Vulgate had established several essential readings for the Catholic hierarchy. For instance, calling Mary “full of Grace” was theologically crucial for the doctrine of Mary. But Erasmus pointed out that the probable reading is the “favored one.” But more importantly, Erasmus took Matthew 3 and John the Baptist’s cry from “Do Penance” to “repent.” “Do Penance” sent the Christian to the church’s sacramental system, while “repent” meant a “change of mind and heart.” Erasmus would print this monumental work in 1516.
The following year Luther would famously do his thing; what was the first thesis and the heart of the document? Repentance means to repent, not do penance.
A little irony that future pitted foes would together work on turning the church on its ear.
Desiderius Erasmus, the Prince of the Humanists and influential textual critic of the Bible, died on this day in 1536. Born in 1466, he was 69 years old.
The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from 1 John.
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 12th of July 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by the Prince of Pastors, the Bishop of Random Lake, and the Archbishop of your heart. He is Christoper Gillespie
The show is written and read by a man who has written almost every script for this show with my cat on the desk, purring and sometimes bothering me. Today is the last show for that as she is being put down today. Thanks for the good times, kitty. Dan van Voorhis
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.