Erasmus of Rotterdam: With a Selection from the Letters of Erasmus

By Erasmus; J. Huizinga | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
ERASMUS'S MIND

Erasmus's mind. Ethical and aesthetic tendencies, aversion to all that is unreasonable, silly and cumbrous -- His vision of antiquity pervaded by Christian faith -- Renascence of good learning -- The ideal life of serene harmony and happy wisdom -- Love of the decorous and smooth -- His mind neither philosophic nor historical, but strongly philological and moralistic -- Freedom, clearness, purity, simplicity -- Faith in nature -- Educational and social ideas

WHAT made Erasmus the man from whom his contemporaries expected their salvation, on whose lips they hung to catch the word of deliverance? He seemed to them the bearer of a new liberty of the mind, a new clearness, purity and simplicity of knowledge, a new harmony of healthy and right living. He was to them as the possessor of newly discovered, untold wealth which he had only to distribute.

What was there in the mind of the great Rotterdamer which promised so much to the world?

The negative aspect of Erasmus's mind may be defined as a heartfelt aversion to everything unreasonable, insipid, purely formal, with which the undisturbed growth of medieval culture had overburdened and overcrowded the world of thought. As often as he thinks of the ridiculous text-books out of which Latin was taught in his youth, disgust rises in his mind, and he execrates them--Mammetrectus, Brachylogus, Ebrardus and all the rest--as a heap of rubbish which ought to be cleared away. But this aversion to the superannuated, which had become useless and soulless, extended much farther. He found society, and especially religious life, full of practices, ceremonies, traditions and conceptions, from which the spirit seemed to have departed. He does not reject them off- hand and altogether: what revolts him is that they are so often performed without understanding and right feeling. But to his mind, highly susceptible to the foolish and ridiculous things,

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