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Renaissance and Reformation Erasmus
Erika Rummel, Mark Wilson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 June 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0027


Desiderius Erasmus was the leading Northern humanist in the 16th century. Born circa 1466 as the illegitimate son of a priest, he entered the Augustinian order and was sent by his bishop to study theology in Paris. He did not earn a degree but was awarded a doctorate of theology per saltum (without fulfilling the regular requirements) by the University of Turin in 1506. More than three thousand letters to and from him survive. He corresponded with leaders in politics, church, letters, and academia. His services to scholarship were recognized in his time by fellow humanists, such as Thomas More, Guillaume Budé, and (until their estrangement) Ulrich von Hutten; by powerful patrons, such as William Warham, archbishop of Canterbury, John Fisher, bishop of Rochester, and the emperor Charles V, who appointed him councillor in 1516. He received invitations from Francis I of France, Henry VIII of England, and Cardinal Cisneros of Spain. Erasmus’s criticism of the church and his application of humanistic methods to biblical studies earned him the wrath of conservative theologians and involved him in numerous theological controversies, culminating in an official censure by the University of Paris (1531). He was often accused of being a Lutheran, but his original support for the Reformation movement evaporated when he recognized its schismatic nature, and in 1524 he engaged in a prolonged controversy with Martin Luther over the concept of free will. Successive popes, recognizing Erasmus’s importance as a leading voice in scholarly circles, tried to quell attacks on him, sometimes unsuccessfully. Erasmus had a strong commitment to education, and his manuals, dialogues, and anthologies were widely used as textbooks in schools. Erasmianism experienced a renaissance in the 18th century, which saw him as a forerunner of the Enlightenment. His influence as a stylist lasted as long as Latin remained the language of scholarship, and his ideas continue to be cited in modern philosophy and social criticism. The most famous of Erasmus’s works, his Praise of Folly, has been in print without interruption from its first publication in 1512.


The main work of collating the publication of works on Erasmus has been undertaken by the Librarie Philosophique under the editorship of Jean-Claude Margolin: four compendia, covering various chunks of years from 1936 to 1975, were published between 1963 and 1997 (Margolin 1969, Margolin 1963, Margolin 1977, Margolin 1997). Devereaux 1983, meanwhile, provides an index of English translations of Erasmus made through 1700. For more on editions of Erasmus’s works in the original and in translation see Erasmus’s Works.

  • Devereux, E. J. Renaissance English Translations of Erasmus: A Bibliography to 1700. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1983.

    Provides a listing of translations of Erasmus’s works made into English before 1700. Originally published in 1968 by the Oxford Bibliographical Society.

  • Margolin, Jean-Claude, ed. Douze années de bibliographie érasmienne, 1950–1961. Paris: J. Vrin, 1963.

    Citations and commentary for publications relating to Erasmus for the years 1950–1961.

  • Margolin, Jean-Claude, ed. Quatorze années de bibliographie érasmienne, 1936–1949. Paris: J. Vrin, 1969.

    Citations and commentary for publications relating to Erasmus for the years 1936–1949.

  • Margolin, Jean-Claude, ed. Neuf années de bibliographie érasmienne, 1962–1970. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977.

    Citations and commentary for publications relating to Erasmus for the years 1962–1970.

  • Margolin, Jean-Claude, ed. Cinq années de bibliographie érasmienne, 1971–1975. Paris: J. Vrin, 1997.

    Citations and commentary for publications relating to Erasmus for the years 1971–1975.

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