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Who was Erasmus?

Meet the father of both the Renaissance and the Reformation

The Renaissance was a period full of great men and women, names we remember today; philosophers, artists, scientists, figures like Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Gutenberg.

There was also the important development of the Reformation in Europe, which took place at the same time (around 1490s to late 1500s), spearheaded by figures like Martin Luther and John Calvin.

The Renaissance was a cultural revolution, beginning in Italy, from where it spread to all parts of Europe. The Reformation was a religious movement, which began in Northern Europe and also spread across the continent. Both movements sought social and political change, from the rigid focus on religion and control of the Catholic Church, to a more free society in which humans were the masters of their world.

The name Erasmus (and no rugby fans, we don’t mean former Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus) may not be as famous as Da VInci’s or Luther’s, but arguably it was his teachings which laid the foundation for both revolutions. Without them, there would have been no Renaissance or Reformation, and the world we live in today would have been very different.

Erasmus (full name Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus) was born in 1466 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. He was the illegitimate son of a priest and received a very good education by the standards of the day. He was ordained himself a priest, and entered into scholarly pursuits which took him all over Europe.

Erasmus’ most important work related to translations of the New Testament from the Bible into Latin and Greek, and the publishing of other works such as On Free Will, In Praise of Folly, and Handbook of a Christian Knight, in which he developed a theory known as ‘humanism’, where man took a more central role in the world. His new Bible translations also paved the way for new interpretations of the holy book, which up to that time, had been monopolised by the Catholic Church.

Erasmus died suddenly in Basel, Switzerland in 1536, and was buried in there. So, next time you read or hear about the Renaissance or Reformation, be sure to remember the name Erasmus, the father of both, and the ‘Prince of Humanists’.

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