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§ 69. Reuchlin and Erasmus.
In his fresco of the Reformation on the walls of the Berlin museum, Kaulbach has given a place of great prominence to Reuchlin and Erasmus. They are represented in the group of the Humanists, standing side by side, with books under their arms and clad in scholar’s cap and gown, their faces not turned toward the central figure on the platform, Martin Luther. The artist has presented the truth of history. These two most noteworthy German scholars prepared the way for the Reformation and the modern study of the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures, but remained and died in the Roman Church in which they were born. Rightly did Ulrich von Hutten call them "the two eyes of Germany." To them, and more especially to Erasmus, did all the greater Reformers owe a debt, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Oecolampadius, Melanchthon and Beza.
John Reuchlin, 1455–1522, known also by the Latin name Capnion,10691069 From κάπνιον, i.e. little smoke, the Greek equivalent for Reuchlin, the diminutive of Rauch, smoke. was born in Pforzheim and studied at Schlettstadt, Freiburg, Paris, Basel, Orleans, Poictiers, Florence and Rome. He learned Greek from native Greeks, Hebrew from John Wessel and from Jewish rabbis in Germany and Italy. He bought many Hebrew and rabbinical books, and marked down the time and place of purchase to remind him of the happiness their first acquaintance gave him. A lawyer by profession, he practised law in Stuttgart and always called himself legum doctor. He was first in the service of Eberhard, count of Würtemberg, whom he accompanied to Italy in 1482 as he later accompanied his son, 1490. He served on diplomatic missions and received from the Emperor Maximilian the rank of a count of the Palatinate. At Eberhard’s death he removed to Heidelberg, 1496, where he was appointed by the elector Philip chief tutor in his family. His third visit to Rome, 1498, was made in the elector’s interest. Again he returned to Stuttgart, from which he was called in 1520 to Ingolstadt as professor of Greek and Hebrew at a salary of 200 gulden. In 1521, he was driven from the city by the plague and was appointed lecturer in Tübingen. His death occurred the following spring at Liebenzell in the Black Forest.
Reuchlin recommended Melanchthon as professor of Greek in the University of Wittenberg, and thus unconsciously secured him for the Reformation. He was at home in almost all the branches of the learning of his age, but especially in Greek and Hebrew. He translated from Greek writings into Latin, and a part of the Iliad and two orations of Demosthenes into German. His first important work appeared at Basel when he was 20, the Vocabularius breviloquus, a Latin lexicon which went through 25 editions, 1475–1504. He also prepared a Greek Grammar. His chief distinction, however, is as the pioneer of Hebrew learning among Christians in Northern Europe. He gave a scientific basis for the study of this language in his Hebrew Grammar and Dictionary, the De rudimentis hebraicis, which he published in 1506 at his own cost at Pforzheim. Its circulation was slow and, in 1510, 750 copies of the edition of 1,000 still remained unsold. The second edition appeared in 1537. The author proudly concluded this work with the words of Horace, that he had reared a monument more enduring than brass.10701070 "Stat [exegi] monumentum aere perennius." Reuchlin also explained the difficult theory of Hebrew accentuation, in De accentibus et orthographia lingum hebr., 1518. Comp. Geiger, Das Studium der hebr. Sprache in Deutschland v. Ende des 15ten bis zur Mitte des 16ten Jahrh., Breslau, 1870, and his Reuchlin, 161, etc. In 1512, he issued the Penitential Psalms with a close Latin translation and grammatical notes, a work used by Luther. The printing of Hebrew books had begun in Italy in 1475.
Reuchlin pronounced Hebrew the oldest of the tongues—the one in which God and angels communicated with man. In spite of its antiquity it is the richest of the languages and from it other languages drew, as from a primal fountain. He complained of the neglect of the study of the Scriptures for the polite study of eloquence and poetry.10711071 See quotation in Janssen, II. 40. Reuchlin studied also the philosophy of the Greeks and the Neo-Platonic and Pythagorean mysticisms. He was profoundly convinced of the value of the Jewish Cabbala, which he found to be a well of hidden wisdom. In this rare branch of learning he acknowledged his debt to Pico della Mirandola, whom he called "the greatest scholar of the age." He published the results of his studies in two works—one, De verbo mirifico, which appeared at Basel in 1494, and passed through eight editions; and one, De arte cabbalistica, 1517. "The wonder-working word "is the Hebrew tetragrammaton Ihvh, the unpronounceable name of God, which is worshipped by the celestials, feared by the infernals and kissed by the soul of the universe. The word Jesu, Ihsvh, is only an enlargement of Ihvh by the letter s. The Jehovah- and Jesus-name is the connecting link between God and man, the infinite and the finite. Thus the mystic tradition of the Jews is a confirmation of the Christian doctrine of the trinity and the divinity of Christ. Reuchlin saw in every name, in every letter, in every number of the old Testament, a profound meaning. In the three letters of the word for create, bara, Gen. 1:1, he discerned the mystery of the Trinity; in one verse of Exodus, 72 inexpressible names of God; in Prov. 30:31, a prophecy that Frederick the Wise, of Saxony, would follow Maximilian as emperor of Germany, a prophecy which was not fulfilled. We may smile at these fantastic vagaries; but they stimulated and deepened the zeal for the hidden wisdom of the Orient, which Reuchlin called forth from the grave.
Through his interest in the Jews and in rabbinical literature, Reuchlin became involved in a controversy which spread over all Europe and called forth decrees from Cologne and other universities, the archbishop of Mainz, the inquisitor-general of Germany, Hoogstraten, the emperor, Maximilian, and Pope Leo X. The monks were his chief opponents, led by John Pfefferkorn, a baptized Jew of Cologne. The controversy was provoked by a tract on the misery of the Jews, written by Reuchlin, 1505—Missive warumb die Juden so lang im Elend sind. Here the author made the obstinacy of the Jews in crucifying Christ and their persistence in daily blaspheming him the just cause of their sorrows, but, instead of calling for their persecution, he urged a serious effort for their conversion. In a series of tracts, Pfefferkorn assaulted this position and demanded that his former coreligionists, as the sworn enemies of Christ, should be compelled to listen to Christian preaching, be forbidden to practise usury and that their false Jewish books should be destroyed.10721072 Judenspiegel; Judenbeichte; Osternbuch; Judenfeind, 1507-’09. The flaming anti-Semite prosecuted his case with the vigor with which a few years later Eck prosecuted the papal case against Luther. Maximilian, whose court he visited three times to present the matter, Hoogstraten and the University of Cologne took Pfefferkorn’s side, and the emperor gave him permission to burn all Jewish books except, of course, the Old Testament. Called upon to explain his position by the archbishop of Mainz, with whom Maximilian left the case, Reuchlin exempted from destruction the Talmud, the Cabbala and all other writings of the Jews except the Nizahon and the Toledoth Jeshu, which, after due examination and legal decision, might be destroyed, as they contained blasphemies against Christ, his mother and the Apostles. He advised the emperor to order every university in Germany to establish chairs of Hebrew for ten years.10731073 "Rathschlag, ob man den ruden alle ihre Bücher nehmen, abthun und verbrennen soll," Stuttgart, Nov. 6, 1510.
Pfefferkorn, whom Reuchlin had called a "buffalo or an ass," replied in a violent attack, the Handmirror—Handspiegel wider und gegen die Juden — 1511. Both parties appeared before the emperor, and Reuchlin replied in the Spectacles—Augenspiegel,—which in its turn was answered by his antagonist in the Burning Glass—Brandspiegel. The sale of the Spectacles was forbidden in Frankfurt. Reuchlin followed in a Defense against all Calumniators, 1513, and after the manner of the age cudgelled them with such epithets as goats, biting dogs, raving wolves, foxes, hogs, sows, horses, asses and children of the devil.10741074 Janssen, II. 51, in justifying the inquisitorial process and the action of the Un. of Cologne against Reuchlin, makes a great deal of these epithets. An appeal he made to Frederick the Wise called forth words of support from Carlstadt and Luther. The future Reformer spoke of Reuchlin as a most innocent and learned man, and condemned the inquisitorial zeal of the Cologne theologians who "might have found worse occasions of offence on all the streets of Jerusalem than in the extraneous Jewish question." The theological faculty of Cologne, which consisted mostly of Dominicans, denounced 43 sentences taken from Reuchlin as heretical, 1514. The Paris university followed suit. Cited before the tribunal of the Inquisition by Hoogstraten, Reuchlin appealed to the pope. Hoogstraten had the satisfaction of seeing the Augenspiegel publicly burnt at Cologne, Feb. 10, 1514. The young bishop of Spires, whom Leo X. appointed to adjudicate the case, cleared Reuchlin and condemned Hoogstraten to silence and the payment of the costs, amounting to 111 gulden, April 24, 1514.10751075 For an account of Hoogstraten, d. 1527, who came from Brabant, see Paulus: Die deutschen Dominikaner, etc., pp. 86-106. Among other writings, he wrote a book on witchcraft and two books, 1525, 1526, against Luther’s tracts, the Babylonian Captivity and Christian Freedom, Paulus, p. 105. But the indomitable inquisitor took another appeal, and Leo appointed Cardinal Grimani and then a commission of 24 to settle the dispute. All the members of the commission but Sylvester Prierias favored Reuchlin, who was now supported by the court of Maximilian, by the German "poets" as a body and by Ulrich von Hutten, but opposed by the Dominican order. When a favorable decision was about to be rendered, Leo interposed, June 23, 1520, and condemned Reuchlin’s book, the Spectacles, as a work friendly to the Jews, and obligated the author to pay the costs of trial and thereafter to keep silence. The monks had won and Pfefferkorn, with papal authority on his side, could celebrate his triumph over scholarship and toleration in a special tract, 1521.
With the Reformation, which in the meantime had broken out at Wittenberg, the great Hebrew scholar showed no sympathy. He even turned away from Melanchthon and cancelled the bequest of his library, which he had made in his favor, and gave it to his native town, Pforzheim. He prevented, however, Dr. Eck, during his brief sojourn at Ingolstadt, from burning Luther’s writings. His controversy with Pfefferkorn had shown how strong in Germany the spirit of obscurantism was, but it had also called forth a large number of pamphlets and letters in favor of Reuchlin. The Hebrew pathfinder prepared a collection of such testimonies from Erasmus, Mutianus, Peutinger, Pirkheimer, Busch, Vadianus, Glareanus, Melanchthon, Æcolampadius, Hedio and others,—in all, 43 eminent scholars who were classed as Reuchlinists.
Among the writings of the Reuchlinists against the opponents of the new learning, the Letters of Unfamed Men—Epistolae virorum obscurorum — occupy the most prominent place. These epistles are a fictitious correspondence of Dominican monks who expose their own old-fogyism, ignorance and vulgarity to public ridicule in their barbarous German-Latin jargon, which is called kitchen-Latin, Küchenlatein, and which admits of no adequate translation. They appeared anonymously, but were chiefly written by Ulrich von Hutten and Crotus Rubeanus whose German name was Johannes Jaeger. The authors were friends of Luther, but Crotus afterwards fell out with the Reformation, like Erasmus and other Humanists.
Ulrich von Hutten, 1488–1523, after breaking away from the convent in which his father had placed him six years before, pursued desultory studies in the University of Cologne, developed a taste for the Humanistic culture and travelled in Italy. In 1517, he returned to Germany and had a position at the court of the pleasure-loving Albrecht, archbishop of Mainz, a patron of the new learning. He was crowned with the poet’s crown by Maximilian and was hailed as the future great epic poet of Germany by Erasmus, but later incurred the hostility of that scholar who, after Hutten’s death, directed against his memory the shafts of his satire. He joined Franz von Sickingen in standing ready to protect Luther at Worms. Placed under the ban, he spent most of his time after 1520, till his death, in semi-concealment at Schlettstadt, Basel and at Zürich under the protection of Zwingli.
Hutten’s life at Cologne and in Rome gave him opportunity enough to find out the obscurantism of the Dominicans and other foes of progress as well as the conditions prevailing at the papal court. In 1517, he edited Valla’s tract on the spurious Donation of Constantine and, with inimitable irony, dedicated it to Leo X. In ridicule and contempt it excelled everything, Janssen says, that had been written in Germany up to that time against the papacy. As early as 1513, Hutten issued epigrams from Italy, calling Julius II. "the corrupter of the earth, the plague of mankind."10761076 Strauss, I. 99 sqq. His Latin poem, the Triumph of Reuchlin, 1518, defended the Hebrew scholar, and called for fierce punishment upon Pfefferkorn. It contained a curious woodcut, representing Reuchlin’s triumphal procession to his native Pforzheim, and his victory over Hoogstraten and Pfefferkorn with their four idols of superstition, barbarism, ignorance and envy.10771077 Böcking, III. 413-448. Geiger: Reuchlin, p. 522, gives a facsimile of the picture.
The 10 Epistles of the Unfamed Men, written first in Latin and then translated by Hutten into German, with genial and not seldom coarse humor, demanded the restriction of the pope’s tyranny, the dissolution of the convents, the appropriation of annates and lands of abolished convents and benefices for the creation of a fund for the needy. The amorous propensities of the monks are not spared. The author called the holy coat of Treves a lousy old rag, and declared the relics of the three kings of Cologne to be the bodies of three Westphalian peasants. In the 4th letter, entitled the Roman trinity, things are set forth and commented upon which were found in three’s in Rome. Three things were considered ridiculous at Rome: the example of the ancients, the papacy of Peter and the last judgment. There were three things of which they had a superabundance in the holy city: antiquities, poison and ruins; three articles were kept on sale: Christ, ecclesiastical places and women; three things which gave the Romelings pain: the unity among the princes, the growing intelligence of the people and the revelation of their frauds; three things which they disliked most to hear about: a general council, a reformation of the clerical office and the opening of the eyes of the Germans; three things held as most precious: beautiful women, proud horses and papal bulls. These were some of the spectacles which Rome offered. Had not Hutten himself been in Rome, when the same archbishop’s pall was sold twice in a single day! The so-called "gracious expectations," which the pope distributed, were a special mark of his favor to the Germans.10781078 Strauss: Hutten’s Gespräche, pp. 121-3, etc., 143. Hutten’s wit reached the popular heart, drew laughter from the educated and stirred up the wrath of the self-satisfied advocates of the old ways. As a knight, he touched a new chord, the national German pride, a chord on which Luther played as a master.
What Reuchlin did for Hebrew learning, Erasmus, who was twelve years his junior, accomplished for Greek learning and more. He established the Greek pronunciation which goes by his name; he edited and translated Greek classics and Church Fathers and made them familiar to northern scholars, and he furnished the key to the critical study of the Greek Testament, the magna charta of Christianity. He was the contemporary of the Protestant Reformers and was an invaluable aid to the movement led by them through his edition of the New Testament, his renunciation of scholastic subtlety in its interpretation and his attacks on the ceremonial religiosity of his age. But, when the time came for him to take open sides, he protested his aversion to the course which the Reformers had taken as a course of violence and revolution. He died in isolation, without a party. The Catholics would not claim him; the Protestants could not.10791079 Volume VI. of this History gives an extended survey of Erasmus’ career, writings and theological opinions. He belongs to the Middle Ages as much as to the modem period if not more, and the salient features of his life and historical position must be given here, even if there be a partial repetition of the treatment of vol. VI.
Desiderius Erasmus, 1466–1536, was born at Rotterdam out of wedlock, his father probably a priest at the time.10801080 In the compendium which he wrote of his life, Erasmus distinctly states that he was born out of wedlock and seems to imply that his father was a priest at the time. See Nichols, Letters, I. 14. The other view that the father became a priest later is taken by Froude, p. 2, and most writers. His school life began at Deventer when he was nine years old, Hegius then being in charge. His parents died when he was 13 and, in 1481, he was in the school at Herzogenbusch where he spent three years, a period he speaks of as lost time. His letters of after years refer to his school experiences without enthusiasm or gratitude. After wandering about, he was persuaded against his will to enter a convent at Steyn. This step, in later years, he pronounced the most unfortunate calamity of his life. To his experience in the convent he ascribed the physical infirmity of his manhood. But he certainly went forth with the great advantage of having become acquainted with conventual life on its inside, and wholesome moral influence must have been exerted from some quarter in his early life to account for the moral discrimination of his later years. His ability secured for him the patronage of the bishop of Cambray, who intended taking him as his interpreter to Italy, where he hoped to receive the cardinal’s hat. So far as Italy went, the young scholar was disappointed, but the bishop sent him to Paris, without, however, providing him with much financial assistance. He was able to support himself from the proceeds of instruction he gave several young Englishmen and, through their mediation, Erasmus made his first visit to England, 1499. This visit seems to have lasted only two or three months.10811081 Nichols, 1. 224.
At Oxford, the young scholar met Colet and Sir Thomas More and, through the influence of the former, was induced to give more attention to the Greek than he had been giving. The next years he spent in France and Holland writing his book of Proverbs,—Adagia,—issued 1500, and his Manual of the Christian soldier, —Enchiridion militis Christiani,—issued in 1502. In 1505, he was back in England, remaining there for three years. He then embraced an opportunity to travel in Italy with the two sons of Henry VII.’s Genoese physician, Battista Boerio. At Turin, he received the doctor’s degree, spent a number of months in Venice, turning out work for the Aldine presses, and visited Bologna, Rome and other cities. There is no indication in his correspondence that he was moved by the culture, art or natural scenery of Italy, nor does he make a single reference to the scenery of the Alps which he crossed.
Expecting lucrative appointment from Henry VIII., Erasmus returned to England, 1509, remaining there five years. On his way, he wrote for diversion his Praise of Folly,—Encomium moriae,—a book which received its title from the fact that he was thinking of Sir Thomas More when its conception took form in his mind. The book was completed in More’s house and was illustrated with life-like pictures by Holbein.10821082 Nichols, II. 2 sqq., 262. During part of this sojourn in England, Erasmus was entered as "Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity" at Cambridge and taught Greek. The salary was 65 dollars a year, which Emerton calls "a respectable sum." He was on intimate terms with Colet, now dean of St. Paul’s, More, Fisher, bishop of Rochester, Archbishop Warham and other Englishmen. Lord Mountjoy provided him with an annuity and Archbishop Warham with the living of Aldington in 1411, which Erasmus retained for a while and then exchanged for an annuity of £20 from the archbishop.10831083 See Emerton’s remarks on this matter, p. 184 sqq.
From 1515–1521, he had his residence in different cities in the Lowlands, and it was at this time he secured complete dispensation from the monastic vow which had been granted in part by Julius II. some years earlier.10841084 Nichols, II. 148 sq., 462. Erasmus’ fame now exceeded the fame of any other scholar in Europe. Wherever he went, he was received with great honors. Princes joined scholars and prelates in doing him homage. Melanchthon addressed to him a poem, "Erasmus the best and greatest," Erasmum optimum, maximum. His edition of the Greek New Testament appeared in 1516, and in 1518 his Colloquies, a collection of familiar relations of his experiences with men and things.
When persecution broke out in the Netherlands after Leo’s issuance of his bull against Luther, Erasmus removed to Basel, where some of his works had already been printed on the Froben presses. At first be found the atmosphere of his new home congenial, and published one edition after the other of the Fathers,—Hilary 1523, Irenaeus 1526, Ambrose 1527, Augustine 1528, Epiphanius 1529, Chrysostom 1530. But when the city, under the influence of Oecolampadius, went Protestant and Erasmus was more closely pushed to take definite sides or was prodded with faithlessness to himself in not going with the Reformers, he withdrew to the Catholic town of Freiburg in Breisgau, 1529. The circulation of his Colloquies had been forbidden in France and burnt in Spain, and his writings were charged by the Sorbonne with containing 82 heretical teachings. On the other hand, he was offered the red hat by Paul III., 1535, but declined it on account of his age.
After the death of Oecolampadius, he returned to Basel, 1535, broken down with the stone and catarrh. The last work on which he was engaged was an edition of Origen. He died calling out, "Oh, Jesus Christ, thou Son of God, have mercy on me," but without priest or extreme unction,—sine lux, sine crux, sine Deus, as the Dominicans of Cologne in their joy and bad Latin expressed it. He was buried in the Protestant cathedral of Basel, carried to the grave, as his friend and admirer, Beatus Rhenanus, informs us, on the shoulders of students. The chief magistrate of the city and all the professors and students were present at the burial.
Erasmus was the prince of Humanists and the most influential and useful scholar of his age. He ruled with undisputed sway as monarch in the realm of letters. He combined brilliant genius with classical and biblical learning, keen wit and elegant taste. He rarely wrote a dull line. His extensive travels made him a man of the world, a genuine cosmopolitan, and he stood in correspondence with scholars of all countries who consulted him as an oracle. His books had the popularity and circulation of modern novels. When the rumor went abroad that his Colloquies were to be condemned by the Sorbonne, a Paris publisher hurried through the press an edition of 24,000 copies. To the income from his writings and an annuity of 400 gulden which he received as counsellor of Charles V.—a title given him in 1516—were added the constant gifts from patrons and admirers.10851085 See Drummond, II. 268.
Had Erasmus confined himself to scholarly labors, though he secured eminence as the first classicist of his age, his influence might have been restricted to his time and his name to a place with the names of Politian of Italy and Budaeus of France, whose works are no longer read. But it was otherwise. His labors had a far-reaching bearing on the future. He was a leading factor in the emancipation of the mind of Europe from the bondage of ignorance and superstition, and he uncovered a lifeless formalism in religion. He unthawed the frost-bitten intellectual soil of Germany. The spirit of historical criticism which Laurentius Valla had shown in the South, he represented north of the Alps, and of Valla he spoke as "unrivalled both in the sharpness of his intelligence and the tenacity of his memory."10861086 Nichols, I. 64. But the sweep of his influence is due to the mediation of his pupils and admirers, Zwingli, Oecolampadius and Luther.
Erasmus’ break with the old mediaeval ecclesiasticism was shown in a fourfold way. He scourged the monks for their ignorance, pride and unchastity, and condemned that ceremonialism in religion which is without heart; he practised the critical method in the treatment of Scripture; he issued the first Greek New Testament; be advocated the translation of the Bible into the languages spoken in his day.
In almost every work that he wrote, Erasmus, in a vein of satire or in serious statement, inveighed against the hypocritical pretension of the monkery of his time and against the uselessness of hollow religious rites. In his edition of the New Testament, he frequently returns to these subjects. For example, in a note on Matt. 19:12 he speaks of the priests "who are permitted to fornicate and may freely keep concubines but not have a wife."10871087 For a number of quotations, see Froude, 123 sqq. Nowhere is his satire more keen on the clergy than in the Praise of Folly. In this most readable book, Folly represented as a female, delivers an oration to an audience of all classes and conditions and is most explicit and elaborate when she discourses on the priests, monks, theologians and the pope. After declaring with consummate irony that of all classes the theologians were the least dependent upon her, Folly proceeds to exhibit them as able to give the most exquisite solutions for the most perplexing questions, how in the wafer accidents may subsist without a subject, how long a time it required for the Saviour to be conceived in the Virgin’s womb, whether God might as easily have become a woman, a devil, a beast, an herb or a stone as a man. In view of such wonderful metaphysics, the Apostles themselves would have needed a new illuminating spirit could they have lived again.
As for the monks, whose name signifies solitude, they were to be found in every street and alley. They were most precise about their girdles and hoods and the cut of their crowns, yet they easily provoked quarrels, and at last they would have to search for a new heaven, for entrance would be barred them to the old heaven prepared for such as are true of heart. As for the pope, Luther’s language never pictured more distinctly the world-wide gulf between what the successor of St. Peter should be and really was, than did the biting sentences of Erasmus. Most liberal, he said, were the popes with the weapons of the Spirit,—interdicts, greater and lesser excommunications, roaring bulls and the like,—which they launch forth with unrestrained vehemence when the authority of St. Peter’s chair is attacked. These are they who by their lusts and wickedness grieve the Holy Spirit and make their Saviour’s wounds to bleed afresh.10881088 Compare Erasmus’ disparaging remarks on the papacy on the occasion of the pageant of Julius II. at Bologna when an arch bore the inscription, "To Julius II, Conqueror of the Tyrant," Faulkner, p. 82 sqq. In the Enchiridion, he says, "Apostle, pastor and bishop" are names of duties not of government, and papa, pope, and abbas, abbot, are titles of love. The sale of indulgences, saint worship and other mediaeval abuses came in for Erasmus’ poignant thrusts.
In addition to his own Annotations and Paraphrases of the New Testament, he edited the first printed edition of Valla’s Annotations, which appeared in Paris, 1505. It was his great merit to call attention to the plain meaning of Scripture and to urge men "to venerate the living and breathing picture of Christ in the sacred books, instead of falling down before statues of wood and stone of him, adorned though they were with gold. What were Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas and Ockam compared with him, whom the Father in heaven called His beloved Son!" As for the Schoolmen, he said, "I would rather be a pious divine with Jerome than invincible with Scotus. Was ever a heretic converted by their subtleties!"10891089 Paraclesis ad lectorem, prefixed to Erasmus’ New Testament.
The appearance of Erasmus’ edition of the Greek Testament at Basel, 1516, marked an epoch in the study and understanding of the Scriptures. It was worth more for the cause of religion than all the other literary works of Erasmus put together, yea, than all the translations and original writings of all the Renaissance writers. The work contained a dedication to Leo X., a man whom Erasmus continued to flatter, as in the epistle dedicating to him his edition of Jerome, but who of all men was destined to oppose the proclamation of the true Gospel. The volume, 672 pages in all, contained the Greek text in one column and Erasmus’ own Latin version in the other, together with his annotations. It was hurried through the press in order to anticipate the publication of the New Testament of the Complutensian Polyglot, which was actually printed in 1514, but was not given to the public till 1520. The editor used three manuscripts of the 12th century, which are still preserved in the university library of Basel and retain the marginal notes of Erasmus and the red lines of the printer to indicate the corresponding pages of the printed edition. Erasmus did not even take the trouble to copy the manuscripts, but sent them, with numerous marginal corrections, to the printer.10901090 Praecipitatum fuit verius quam editum, says Erasmus himself in the Preface. The 2d edition also contains several pages of errors, some of which have affected Luther’s version. The 3d edition first inserts the spurious passage of the three heavenly witnesses, 1 John 5:7, to remove any occasion of offence, ne cui foret ansa calumniandi. The manuscript of the Apocalypse was borrowed from Reuchlin, and disappeared, but was rediscovered, in 1861, by Dr. Delitzsch in the library of Oettingen-Wallerstein at Mayhingen, Bavaria. It was defective on the last leaf and supplemented by Erasmus, who translated the last six verses from the Vulgate into indifferent Greek, for he was a better Latinist than Hellenist.
In all, Erasmus published five editions of the Greek Testament-1516, 1519, 1522, 1527 and 1535. Besides, more than 30 unauthorized reprints appeared in Venice, Strassburg, Basel, Paris and other cities. He made several improvements, but his entire apparatus never exceeded eight MSS. The 4th and the 5th editions were the basis of the textus receptus, which ruled supreme till the time of Lachmann and Tregelles. His notes and paraphrases on the New Testament, the Apocalypse excepted, were translated into English, and a copy given to every parish in 1547. Zwingli copied the Pauline Epistles from the 1st Greek edition with his own hand in the convent at Einsiedeln, 1516. From the 2d edition of 1519, Luther prepared his German translation on the Wartburg, 1522, and Tyndale his English version, 1526.
Thus Erasmus directly contributed to the preparation of the vernacular versions which he so highly commended in his Preface to the 1st edition of his Greek Testament. He there expressed the hope that the Scriptures might be translated into every tongue and put into the hands of every reader, to give strength and comfort to the husbandman at his plough, to the weaver at his shuttle, to the traveller on his journey and to the woman at her distaff. He declared it a miserable thing that thousands of educated Christians had never read the New Testament. In editing the Greek original, it was his purpose, so he says, to enable the theologians to study Christianity at its fountain-head. It was high praise when Oecolampadius confessed he had learned from Erasmus that "in the Sacred Books nothing was to besought but Christ," nihil in sacris scripturis praeter Christum quaerendum.10911091 Nichols, II. 535.
It was a common saying, to which Erasmus himself refers, that he laid the egg which Luther hatched. His relations to the Wittenberg Reformer and to the movement of the Reformation is presented in the 6th volume of this series. Here it is enough to say that Erasmus desired a reformation by gradual education and gentle persuasion within the limits of the old Church system. He disapproved of the violent measures of Luther and Zwingli, and feared that they would do much harm to the cause of learning and refined culture, which he had more at heart than religion.
He and Luther never met, and he emphatically disavowed all responsibility for Luther’s course and declared he had had no time to read Luther’s books. And yet, in a letter to Zwingli, he confessed that most of the positions taken by Luther he had himself taken before Luther’s appearance. The truth is that Erasmus was a critical scholar and not a man of action or of deep fervor of conviction. At best, he was a moralist. He went through no such religious experiences as Luther, and Luther early wrote to Lange that he feared Erasmus knew little of the grace of God. The early part of the 16th century was a period when the critic needed to be supplemented. Erasmus had no mind for the fray of battle. His piety was not deep enough to brave a rupture with the old order. He courted the flattery of the pope, though his pen poured forth ridicule against him. And nowhere is the difference of the two men shown in clearer light than in their treatment of Leo X., whom, when it was to his advantage, Erasmus lauded as a paragon of culture.10921092 Nichols, II. 198, 314, 522. He did not see that something more was needed than literature and satire to work a change. The times required the readiness for martyrdom, and Erasmus’ religious conviction was not sufficient to make him ready to suffer for principle. On most controverted points, Emerton well says he had one opinion for his friends and another for the world. He lacked both the candor and the courage to be a religious hero. "Erasmus is a man for himself" was the apt characterization often repeated in the Letters of Unfamed Men. Luther spoke to the German people and fought for them. Erasmus awakened the admiration of the polite by his scholarship and wit. The people knew him not. Luther spoke in German: Erasmus boasted that he knew as little Italian as Indian and that he was little conversant with German, French or English. He prided himself on his pure Latinity.
Erasmus never intended to separate from Rome any more than his English friends, John Colet and Thomas More. He declared he had never departed from the judgment of the Church, nor could he. "Her consent is so important to me that I would agree with the Arians and Pelagians if the Church should approve what they taught." This he wrote in 1526 after the open feud with Luther in the controversy over the freedom of the will. The Catholic Church, however, never forgave him. All his works were placed on the Index by two popes, Paul IV. in 1559 and Sixtus V., 1590, as intentionally heretical. In 1564, by the final action of the Council of Trent, this sweeping judgment was revoked and all the writings removed from the Index except the Colloquies, Praise of Folly, Christian Marriage and one or two others, a decision confirmed by Clement VIII., 1596. And there the matter has rested since.10931093 See Emerton, pp. 454-5.
The Catholic historian of the German people, Janssen, in a dark picture of Erasmus, presents him as vain and conceited, ungrateful to his benefactors, always ready to take a neutral attitude on disputed questions and, for the sake of presents, flattering to the great. Janssen calls attention to his delight over the gold and silver vessels and other valuables he had received in gifts. My drawers, Erasmus wrote, "are filled with presents, cups, bottles, spoons, watches, some of them of pure gold, and rings too numerous to count." In only one respect, says Janssen, did he go beyond his Italian predecessors in his attack upon the Church. The Italians sneered and ridiculed, but kept their statements free from hypocritical piety, which Erasmus often resorted to after be had driven his dagger into his opponent’s breast.10941094 Janssen, II. 9 sqq. The inventory of his goods contains a list of his furniture, wardrobe, napkins, nightcaps, cushions, goblets, silver vessels, gold rings and money (722 gold gulden, 900 gold crowns, etc.). See Sieber, Inventarium über die Hinterlassenschaft des Erasmus vom 22 Juli, 1536, Basel, 1889. In England, the old Puritan, Tyndale, also gave Erasmus no quarter, but spoke of him as one "whose tongue maketh little gnats great elephants and lifteth up above the stars whosoever giveth him a little exhibition."10951095 Pref. to Pentateuch, Parker Soc. ed., p. 395. But no one has ever understood Erasmus and discerned what was his mission better than Luther. That Reformer, who had once called him "our ornament and hope—decus nostrum et spes,"—expressed the whole truth when, in a letter to Oecolampadius, 1523, he said: "Erasmus has done what he was ordained to do. He has introduced the ancient languages in place of the pernicious scholastic studies. He will probably die like Moses in the land of Moab .... He has done enough to overcome the evil, but to lead to the land of promise is not, in my judgment, his business."
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