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

By Erasmus; J. Huizinga | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIII
ERASMUS'S MIND

(continued)

Erasmus's mind: Intellectual tendencies -- The world encumbered by beliefs and forms -- Truth must be simple -- Back to the pure sources -- Holy Scripture in the original languages -- Biblical humanism -- Critical work on the texts of Scripture -- Practice better than dogma Erasmus's talent and wit -- Delight in words and things -- Prolixity -- Observation of detaits -- A veiled realism -- Ambiguousness -- The 'Nuance' -- Inscrutability of the ultimate ground of all things

SIMPLICITY, naturalness, purity, and reasonableness, those are to Erasmus the dominant requirements, also when we pass from his ethical and aesthetic concepts to his intellectual point of view; indeed, the two can hardly be kept apart.

The world, says Erasmus, is overloaded with human constitutions and opinions and scholastic dogmas, and overburdened with the tyrannical authority of orders, and because of all this the strength of gospel doctrine is flagging. Faith requires simplification, he argued. What would the Turks say of our scholasticism? Colet wrote to him one day: 'There is no end to books and science. Let us, therefore, leave all roundabout roads and go by a short cut to the truth.'

Truth must be simple. 'The language of truth is simple, says Seneca; well then, nothing is simpler nor truer than Christ.' 'I should wish', Erasmus says elsewhere, 'that this simple and pure Christ might be deeply impressed upon the mind of men, and that I deem best attainable in this way, that we, supported by our knowledge of the original languages, should philosophize at the sources themselves.'

Here a new watchword comes to the fore: back to the sources! It is not merely an intellectual, philological requirement; it is equally an ethical and aesthetic necessity of life. The original and pure, all that is not yet overgrown or has not passed through many hands, has such a potent charm. Erasmus

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