Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fijne Verjaardag Erasmus

Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (born on this day in either 1466 or 1469) was a theologian who expanded upon and popularized the humanist and Aristotelianist teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas - among others - as a means of uniting Christian and pre-Christian philosophy into a cohesive whole.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketA lifelong Catholic, Erasmus was nevertheless dismayed by the excesses of the Church; his translations of the Bible laid the groundwork for the Reformation (whose own excesses might have dismayed him worse, had he lived to see them). Although he disagreed with Martin Luther on many keys points - and was under enormous pressure to take sides, theologically - Erasmus did his utmost to remain impartial, even once the sectarian violence he'd hoped to avoid began to occur.

Likely born illegitimate with the name Gerrit Gerritszoon, he was cared for by his parents rather than given up for adoption; they both died of the plague in 1483, after which for several years he lived in and was educated by monasteries. While at the Augustinian monastery Stein near Gouda around 1487, Erasmus wrote passionate letters of friendship to a fellow monk, Servatius Rogerus, whom he called 'half my soul'; 'I have wooed you both unhappily and relentlessly' he wrote in one, about which I also wish to remain impartial (even though I'm smirking).

Although he wrote many serious theological works (and one witty one, entitled In Praise of Folly) he also dabbled in secular writing, almost as a hobby. Thought to have coined the phrase 'in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king', he also published a collection of adages, commonly called Adagia. These were drawn from his extensive readings of Classical literature; many of them are still in use today. Erasmus is also generally credited as originating the English phrase 'Pandora's box', arising from an error in his translation of Hesiod.

Unusually for the time he was also well traveled, pursuing his education to Paris, spending time in England with Sir Thomas More, and was living in Switzerland in 1536 when he died. Even though he is most closely associated with Rotterdam he likely lived there for only four years; nevertheless, the Dutch city still celebrates his birthday every year, as they no doubt are today.
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