Erasmus wrote both on ecclesiastic subjects and those of general human interest. He seems to have regarded the latter as trifling, a leisure activity. By the 1530s, the writings of Erasmus accounted for 10 to 20 percent of all book sales. He is credited with coining the adage, "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king". With the collaboration of Publio Fausto Andrelini, he formed a collection of Latin proverbs and adages, commonly called Adagia. Erasmus is also generally credited with originating the phrase "Pandora's box", arising through an error in his translation of Pandora by Hesiod in which he confused "pithos", storage jar, with "pyxis", box.
His more serious writings begin early with the Enchiridion militis Christiani, the "Handbook of the Christian Soldier" (1503) (translated into English a few years later by the young William Tyndale). In this short work, Erasmus outlines the views of the normal Christian life, which he was to spend the rest of his days elaborating. The chief evil of the day, he says, is formalism, going through the motions of tradition without understanding their basis in the teachings of Christ. Forms can teach the soul how to worship God, or they may hide or quench the spirit. In his examination of the dangers of formalism, Erasmus discusses monasticism, saint worship, war, the spirit of class and the foibles of "society."
The Enchiridion is more like a sermon than a satire. With it Erasmus challenged common assumptions, painting the clergy as educators who should share the treasury of their knowledge with the laity. He emphasized personal spiritual disciplines rather than institutional sacraments, and called for a reformation which he characterized as a collective return to the Fathers and Scripture. Most importantly, he extolled the reading of scripture as vital because of its power to transform and motivate toward love. Much like the Brethren of the Common Life, he wrote that the New Testament is the law of Christ people are called to obey and Christ is the example they are called to imitate.
Erasmus also wrote of the legendary Frisian freedom fighter and rebel Pier Gerlofs Donia (Greate Pier), though more often criticism than praise of his exploits. Erasmus saw him as a dumb brutal man preferring physical strength over wisdom.
Erasmus's best-known work was The Praise of Folly (published under the double title Moriae encomium (Greek, Latinised) and Laus stultitiae (Latin)). a satirical attack on the traditions of the European society, of the Catholic Church and popular superstitions, written in 1509, published in 1511, dedicated to his friend, Sir Thomas More, and inspired by De triumpho stultitiae, written by Italian humanist Faustino Perisauli born at Tredozio, near Forlì.
The Institutio principis Christiani (Basel, 1516) (Education of a Christian Prince) was written as advice to the young king Charles of Spain, later Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. Erasmus applies the general principles of honor and sincerity to the special functions of the Prince, whom he represents throughout as the servant of the people. The Education of a Christian Prince was published in 1516, three years after Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince. A comparison between the two is worth noting. Machiavelli stated that, to maintain control by political force, it is safer for a prince to be feared than loved. Erasmus, on the other hand, preferred for the prince to be loved and suggested that the prince needed a well-rounded education in order to govern justly and benevolently and avoid becoming a source of oppression.
As a result of his reformatory activities, Erasmus found himself at odds with both the great parties. His last years were embittered by controversies with men toward whom he was sympathetic. Notable among these was Ulrich von Hutten, a brilliant but erratic genius, who had thrown himself into the Lutheran cause and had declared that Erasmus, if he had a spark of honesty, would do the same. In his reply, Spongia adversus aspergines Hutteni (1523), Erasmus displays his skill in semantics. He accuses Hutten of having misinterpreted his utterances about reform and reiterates his determination never to break with the Church.
The Ciceronianus came out in 1528, which attacked the style of Latin that was based exclusively and fanatically on Cicero's writings. Etienne Dolet wrote a reposte titled Erasmianus in 1535.
The most important work of this last period is the Ecclesiastes or "Gospel Preacher" (Basel, 1536), in which he comments on the function of preaching.
Read more about this topic: Desiderius Erasmus
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