Erasmus The Re-emergence of Naturalism
I see obscurity in all things human. I see how much easier it is to start than to assuage a tumult. Those who raise this tumult claim to be impelled by the Spirit. This Spirit has never impelled me.
-- Erasmus, quoted in The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century
Some fifteen hundred years after the death of Lucretius a man was born in western Europe who was to assume the torch so ably carried by the Roman poet. His name was Desiderius Erasmus. To understand his role in the survival of naturalistic thought it is necessary to place him in his own times. Accordingly, a brief summary of those intervening centuries would seem justifiable at this point.
Most of what we now know as the Middle East had been conquered by Alexander by 300 BCE. When the great Hellenistic empire collapsed, a little dependency of great importance to our story was claimed by both the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria. This was Judaea. Eventually, by means of the Hasmonean revolt against the Syrians in 168 BCE, it was established as an independent state under the protection of the Roman Empire. In 40 BCE, Herod became king of a Judaea then functioning as a semi-independent Roman province. It is into this political setting that Jesus of Nazareth was born.
No mention of this event is to be found in the Annale and Historae of the scientifically oriented second-century-AD Roman historian Tacitus. Therefore all we know about Jesus' birth, death and achievements is what was communicated by the early Christians. It is generally accepted that Saul of Tarsus (later known as the apostle Paul) expanded upon the earlier beliefs, producing a religion compatible with Hellenistic dualism. We know, as well, that in 313 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine ended the persecution of Christians, and that,