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

By Erasmus; J. Huizinga | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIX
AT WAR WITH HUMANISTS AND REFORMERS 1528-9

Erasmus turns against the excesses of humanism: its paganism and pedantic classicism -- Ciceronianus: 1528 -- It brings him new enemies -- The Reformation carried through at Basle -- He emigrates to Freiburg: 1529 -- His view concerning the results of the Reformation

NOTHING is more characteristic of the independence which Erasmus reserved for himself regarding all movements of his time than the fact that he also joined issue in the camp of the humanists. In 1528 there were published by Froben (the chief of the firm of Johannes Froben had just died) two dialogues in one volume from Erasmus's hand: one about the correct pronunciation of Latin and Greek, and one entitled Ciceronianus or On the Best Diction, i.e. in writing and speaking Latin. Both were proofs that Erasmus had lost nothing of his liveliness and wit. The former treatise was purely philological, and as such has had great influence; the other was satirical as well. It had a long history.

Erasmus had always regarded classical studies as the panacea of civilization, provided they were made serviceable to pure Christianity. His sincere ethical feeling made him recoil from the obscenity of a Poggio and the immorality of the early Italian humanists. At the same time his delicate and natural taste told him that a pedantic and servile imitation of antique models could never produce the desired result. Erasmus knew Latin too well to be strictly classical; his Latin was alive and required freedom. In his early works we find taunts about the over-precise Latin purists: one had declared a newly found fragment of Cicero to be thoroughly barbaric; 'among all sorts of authors none are so insufferable to me as those apes of Cicero.

In spite of the great expectations he cherished of classical studies for pure Christianity, he saw one danger: 'that under

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