It is the 28th of October 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1466.
The European Renaissance was hardly underway, and it lost one of its brightest early lights this year. Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, or just Donatello, was synonymous with Florence's sculpture and his hometown. One of his very last sculptures was the bronze statue depicting Judith, the deuterocanonical Old Testament saint, about to decapitate the Assyrian general Holofernes. Suppose you aren't familiar with the deuterocanonical book of Judith. In that case, you might still be familiar with this ancient near eastern decapitation, which was adapted into almost all art forms over the next century.
The DeMedici's, the grand poo-bah's of Florence, had this sculpture placed next to Donatello's David in front of the Pallazzo Vecchio in Florence. The two statues represented the underdog defeating the tyrant and were thus acceptable in sacred or secular settings. Quick note: Halloween is a little different this year. But I've yet to see anyone or any couple dress up as Judith and Holofernes. That's a free idea for you.
In 1466, the Mentelin Bible was published. The Mentelin Bible might not ring a bell because, by 1466, Gutenberg had already published his Bible. We talked about this on the show just a few days ago. The Mentelin Bible was the second Bible to be printed with moveable type and the first to be printed in the German language. We know little about the Bible save that it was printed in Strasbourg and sold to an Augsburg merchant named Hektor Mülich. The fact that a book printed in Strasbourg was purchased in Augsburg suggested a flourishing book trade. The Bible was purchased for 12 florins by Mülich. This could be estimated at fifty thousand US dollars today. Even at that price, Mentelin's Bible didn't come bound. Mülich had to do that himself.
In this era of budding art and technique, the budding Renaissance amidst religious disputes, one of the truly great figures of the period was born. It was on this the 28th of October in 1466 that Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam was born. The date and the year have been contested. Erasmus wrote little of his early life leading to speculation as to his actual birthdate and birth year. Erasmus scholars pinned down early morning on the 28th in 1466 as the most likely of his given birth dates.
Erasmus, the Humanist par excellence, has made his way into the Almanac as you might expect. He is known in some circles, primarily, as Luther's interlocutor or somehow an enemy of the Reformation. Erasmus's textual work on the Greek New Testament and his vast network of magistrates and intellectuals helped him both criticize the church, all the while trying to hold it together, despite its flaws.
His full name, Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, can tell us a lot about the man. So, let's break it down. His given name was Erasmus. This was after his father's favorite saint, St. Erasmus. St. Erasmus, also known as St. Elmo, was a popular saint who died in the early 4th century. He was the patron saint of sailors and those with intestinal problems. He was made famous in the "Golden Legend," a wildly popular medieval handbook. The "Desiderius" part of his name was Erasmus' creation. He attempted to "latinize" his name, and Desiderius was the outcome. Noting that he came from Rotterdam is perhaps the strangest part of the story.
It was remarked at his birth, in Rotterdam, that the young man had a birth defect. This wasn't a physical defect but rather a reference to the fact that he was a bastard. Born to a priest and a prominent surgeon's daughter, the family stayed in Rotterdam for many years out of shame. Despite living elsewhere, the majority of his life, Erasmus kept his humble birth in mind. Due to his illegitimacy, he was unable to earn degrees at most theological faculties. This hardly hurt the man whose reputation was made as a scholar, gadfly, soldier, monk, and all-around Renaissance man. Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam died in 1536, born on this day in 1466. He was 70 years old.
The reading for today comes from the Scottish Metrical Psalter of 1650. These are the first verses of Psalm 60 from that book.
O Lord, thou hast rejected us,
and scattered us abroad;
Thou justly hast displeasèd been;
return to us, O God.
The earth to tremble thou hast made;
therein didst breaches make:
Do thou thereof the breaches heal,
because the land doth shake.
Unto thy people thou hard things
hast showed, and on them sent;
And thou hast caused us to drink
wine of astonishment.
And yet a banner thou hast giv'n
to them who thee do fear;
That it by them, because of truth,
displayèd may appear.
That thy beloved people may
delivered be from thrall,
Save with the pow'r of thy right hand,
and hear me when I call.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 28th of October 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by the Judith to my Holofernes, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true… Everything is going to be ok.