Erasmus was a Dutch writer, scholar and humanist.
The illegitimate son of a priest, Erasmus (Gerrit Gerritszoon) was probably born in 1466 in Rotterdam. He was ordained in 1492 and studied in Paris. From 1499 he adopted the life of an independent scholar, moving from city to city tutoring, lecturing and corresponding with thinkers all over Europe.
He began writing in around 1500, on both theological and secular subjects. All his work displays his huge learning and intellectual brilliance, but also his humanity and wit. Many of his early works attacked corruption and superstition in the church and his famous satire 'The Praise of Folie' (1509), dedicated to his English friend Thomas More, advocated a return to a more simple Christianity. He translated and edited many classical and early Christian works and also published a critical edition of the Greek text of the New Testament which drew on newly available sources and was immensely influential. It symbolised the humanist desire to return to the sources of the Christian tradition.
During four trips to England, Erasmus became friends with leading intellectual figures such as John Colet and Thomas More, and taught at Cambridge University. He also visited and lived in France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland.
The onset of the Protestant Reformation took Erasmus in a new direction. Although he remained a Catholic he was in sympathy with some of the Protestants' reforming instincts. To counter accusations that he was a Lutheran he wrote a complete declaration of his theological position 'On the Freedom of the Will' which contained a brilliant attack on Luther.
Erasmus died in Basel in Switzerland on 12 July 1536.
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