Who was Erasmus?

Erasmus – also known as Erasmus of Rotterdam was born on the night of 27th October 1466 in Rotterdam and died in Basle on 12th July 1536. He is considered to be one of the major figures in European culture. He was a philosopher, writer of Latin and Greek, a humanist and theologian.

Freedom of Movement

His fame, which brought influence but not wealth, meant that he became the focus of contact for all people of eminence within Europe. However he always defended what he considered to be the greatest of all riches – the freedom of movement and free will. 

Erasmus brilliantly illustrates Christian humanism and refused to be associated with or subservient to one country, one movement or one person. He gave to all, but belonged to no one.

Additionally he travelled throughout Europe – he was in Italy from 1506 to 1509, returned to the Netherlands in 1501-5 and again in 1514-1517 as well as journeys to England (1505-6 and again 1509-14), with occasional visits to France and Switzerland.

Erasmus had a lifelong conviction that religion must be experienced inwardly rather than in formal ceremonies and should be expressed in daily living rather than in dogmas and liturgies.

Travels & Ideas

These travels throughout Europe led to many important and influential meetings; the famous printer Aldous, the Byzantine scholars Aleandro, Musurus Ascaris, Cardinal Giovanni de Medici (the future Pope Leo X) humanists and theologians Jerome Donato, Guillaume Bude L. Vives, Melanchthon ... These meetings with prodigious minds of the time fed his own thoughts and education and allowed him to refine and define his own ideas and reflections.

His style became simpler, although the strength of his convictions stronger. He was active in numerous activities and his projects were both ambitious and diverse. The success of his publications, which ranged from scholarly tracts, Latin and Greek translations and theological and philosophical reflections were published at an astonishing rate.

A period of intense intellectual productivity sees the Christian humanism that Erasmus embodies take on its final form. That, which future generations will refer to as Erasmianism, is illustrated by three major works, which reflect the three major struggles Erasmus was confronted by.


The publication in Latin of the New Testament in February 1516 which he dedicated to Pope Leo X, was followed later that same year by the first edition of a nine-volume edition of The Works of St. Jerome. The latter made use of both Hebrew and Greek sources in order to show the truth, free from prior scholastic philology, inaccuracies and mistakes. These two works mark the pinnacle of Erasmus' scholarly career and confirm his status as the greatest scholar of his generation.

His The Education of a Christian Prince’, published in 1517 was dedicated to the ruler Archduke Charles (who later as  Emperor Charles V was in favour of a cautious foreign policy) and showed Erasmus’ pacifist leanings, re-iterated and developed in ‘The Complaint of Peace’ also published in 1517, which underlines his desire for universal accord.

Peace, piety and beautiful letters

These three major features of Erasmian thought are masterfully incorporated in the unusual 'Praise to Folly' (1511) which was, for centuries, his best known literary work. Erasmus delivered a fierce indictment in this work against abuse of any kind and against the deviations of the Church, by hiding behind the mask of a buffoon. Behind this farcical character is his wish and desire that everyone to rediscover authentic Christianity with a commitment to peace and compatible with the spirit of the great writers of pagan antiquity. 

University & Collaboration

When in 1517 he took over the establishment of a new institute at Louvain University, devoted to the teaching and study of the three ancient languages (classical Latin, Greek, and Hebrew) that biblical humanists like him felt to be an essential requirement to the future study of theology, Erasmus reached his peak and dreamed of a Europe at peace with itself.

The success of his work was effectively disseminated by a powerful network of collaborators, who were in favour of his cultural, moral and religious reforms, working from a printing establishment owned by his friend Forben in Basel they continued and maintained that hope.