Authors: Desiderius Erasmus

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Dutch humanist and scholar

Author Works


Adagia, 1500 (Proverbs or Adages, 1622)

Enchiridion Militis Christiani, 1503 (The Manual of the Christian Knight, 1533)

Morioe Encomium, 1511 (The Praise of Folly, 1549)

De Duplici Copia Verborum ac Rerum, 1512 (On the Twofold Abundance of Words and Things, 1978; better known as De Copia)

De Rationae Studii, 1512 (A Method of Study, 1978)

Institutio Principis Christiani, 1516 (The Education of a Christian Prince, 1936)

Querela Pacis, 1517 (The Complaint of Peace, 1559)

Colloquia Familiaria, 1518 (The Colloquies of Erasmus, 1671)

Antibarbarum, 1520 (The Book Against the Barbarians, 1930)

De Libero Arbitrio, 1524 (On the Freedom of the Will, 1961)

Dialogus, Cui Titulus Ciceronianus Sive, de Optimo Dicendi Genere, 1528 (The Ciceronian, 1900)

Opus Epistolarum, 1529 (partial translation The Epistles, 1901, 3 volumes)


Novum Instrumentum, 1516 (of the Bible)


Erasmus (ih-RAZ-muhs), a Christian humanist of the northern Renaissance, is known primarily for his satirical The Praise of Folly. He was an illegitimate child born in Rotterdam probably on October 28, 1466, the son of a priest whose name may have been Roger Gerard. Erasmus later called himself “Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus.” “Erasmus” was his given Christian name, “Rotterdammensis,” as it originally was, indicated the city of his origin, and “Desiderius” was his own idea. Desiderius means “beloved” and is taken as the Latin equivalent of the Dutch name “Gerard.”{$I[AN]9810000577}{$I[A]Erasmus, Desiderius}{$S[A]Roterodamus, Desiderius Erasmus;Erasmus, Desiderius}{$I[geo]NETHERLANDS, THE;Erasmus, Desiderius}{$I[tim]1466;Erasmus, Desiderius}

Desiderius Erasmus

(Library of Congress)

When Erasmus was four years old, he went to school at Gouda, where his father’s family lived. Five years later he went to Deventer with his mother to study there. In 1484 his mother died of the plague, and Erasmus returned with his brother Peter to Gouda. Their father also died, and the boys passed into the care of three guardians, the principal one being Peter Winckel, a schoolmaster. Erasmus was finally sent to a monastery at Steyn in 1488 and Peter to one at Sion, after a brief period at school in Bois-le-Duc.

Erasmus was ordained in 1492, and in the next year he left the monastery to become secretary to the bishop of Cambrai. He then managed to receive permission to attend the University of Paris, and was there from 1495 to 1499. But he disliked the scholastic atmosphere of the university and was discouraged when his early poems and essays aroused little interest. He managed to find a patron, the Lady of Veere at Tournehem, and then a traveling companion in young Lord Mountjoy, who went with him to England. In England he was impressed by John Colet, the dean of St. Paul’s, and was encouraged to do serious work in theology. Ironically, a work of the Paris years then appeared, Adagia, a highly successful collection of Latin proverbs that made humanism popular in Europe. Through a chance request, Erasmus prepared a Christian manual to give practical advice for guiding disillusioned and simpleminded soldiers back to the true faith. The book, The Manual of the Christian Knight, expressed Emasmus’s contempt for mere ceremony and form in religion and urged a return to the meaning and spirit of the Scriptures.

From 1506 to 1509 Erasmus worked in Italy, where he received his doctorate in theology from Turin in 1506. In 1509 he completed The Praise of Folly, a book he conceived while crossing the Alps from Italy on his way to England. He dedicated the book to Sir Thomas More, his friend, partly because it was the sort of book More would enjoy and partly because the Greek word for “fool” is “moros.” The book is a kind of sermon, delivered by Folly, in which the claim is made that everything worthwhile in life has been done by fools. Erasmus used his satire to praise the simple kind of self-denial which is the heart of Christian love, and at the same time he damned as fools those who would glorify themselves by ecclesiastical abuses.

Erasmus traveled widely and knew many important scholars and churchmen. The Praise of Folly has remained his most famous book, although he also distinguished himself with a controversial Latin edition of the New Testament and scored another satiric triumph with his Colloquies in 1518.

During the controversy over Martin Luther, Erasmus attempted to stay uncommitted, sympathizing with Luther’s attack on empty forms and indefensible dogma but disapproving of open conflict in religion. He finally attacked Luther on the free-will issue and thereby allied himself with the conservative elements within the church. Erasmus died at Basel, Switzerland, July 12, 1536.

BibliographyAugustijn, Cornelis. Erasmus: His Life, Works, and Influence. Translated by J. C. Grayson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991. Augustijn puts Erasmus’s life in the context of the political, economic, and intellectual climate of the time, sketches his education and early career; and examines the nature, significance, and impact of his major works–all in the light of late twentieth century scholarship.DeMolen, Richard L., ed. Essays on the Works of Erasmus. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1978. DeMolen assembles a collection of fourteen essays by leading scholars on the individual works of Erasmus in order to provide an interpretation of a central theme in each work.Dickens, A. G. Erasmus the Reformer. London: Mandarin, 1995. An examination of Erasmus’s life, work, and legacy.Faludy, George. Erasmus of Rotterdam. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1970. This excellent general reader’s biography explains the historical and intellectual contexts of Erasmus’s work clearly, displaying a thorough grasp of scholarship.Friesen, Abraham. Erasmus, the Anabaptists, and the Great Commission. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1998. A look at Erasmus’s influence in religious thought.Halkin, Léon E. Erasmus: A Critical Biography. Translated by John Tonkin. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 1993. First issued in 1987, Halkin’s study aims to understand Erasmus through Erasmus; hence, he quotes extensively from his works, including his letters, so readers can trace Erasmus’s intellectual and spiritual journey and learn of his successes, struggles, ambitions, and setbacks.Huizinga, Johan. Erasmus and the Age of Reformation. Translated by F. Hopman. New York: Harper, 1957. Originally published as Erasmus of Rotterdam in 1924, this biography has worn well. Not only was Huizinga a recognized expert on Erasmus’s era, but he also understood his subject’s psychology as few others have.McConica, James K. Erasmus. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. Concentrates on Erasmus’s spiritual and intellectual development by examining his contributions to education, to biblical scholarship, and to the study of the Church fathers.Mangan, John Joseph. Life, Character, and Influence of Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1927. Although some of its interpretations are dated, this biography prints translations of many of Erasmus’s writings, especially the letters. Its last chapter investigates Erasmus’s later influence as indicated by editions and translations of his works.Tracy, James D. Erasmus of the Low Countries. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. A readable, clear account of Erasmus’s life and thoughts.
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