The dominant figure of the humanist period, the intellectual arbiter of the early years of Christian unity, Erasmus was then, and is still considered today, the greatest European scholar of the sixteenth century. Of this high-profile citizen of the world little is known; his early life offers meager available information and leaves us with the necessity of conjecture. Considering his own biography, written in middle age, we can surmise that he was born in Rotterdam, or possibly in the Dutch village of Gouda. His parents were Margaret, a physician's daughter, and a priest, probably named Roger Gerard. As a result of his illegitimacy he would endure both shame and legal problems. He would later add to his name Desiderius—meaning “beloved” in Latin—and thus give himself a more desirable identity. During his childhood he grew to despise the provinciality and social rigidity of his homeland. After his parents' death during a plague, he entered the Augustinian order at Steyn, near Gouda, was ordained a priest in 1492, and, while employed as Latin secretary by the bishop of Cambrai, studied Scholastic philosophy and Greek at the University of Paris.
Beginning in 1499, he moved from country to country, tutoring, lecturing, writing, and searching out ancient manuscripts. More than fifteen hundred of his letters to some of the most prominent figures of his time survive. During his six trips to England he befriended John Colet, founder of the Saint Paul School of London; Thomas Linacre, founder of the Royal College of Physicians; William Grocyn, lecturer in Greek at the University of Oxford; and especially Thomas More, author and lord chancellor of England, who became his lifelong friend. At the accession of Henry VIII Erasmus was called back to England and taught Greek at the University of Cambridge. He continued writing, using the spiritual interpretations favored by the “ancients” to make the Scriptures pertinent to modern and moral concerns. The Enchiridion militis Christiani (1501)