Hearts Through History Romance Writers

Desiderius Erasmus

by | April 3, 2013

Erasmus HallI’ve been getting messages about my upcoming high school reunion. Are you scratching your head? What does my high school reunion have to do with Desi? I am proud to say I went to Erasmus Hall High School, in Brooklyn. So, who was Desiderius Erasmus and why name a school for him?

Born Gerard Gerards, October 27, 1466 in Holland. Gerards was known as Erasmus of Rotterdam, or simply Erasmus. He was a Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, social critic, teacher and theologian. He was the most famous and influential humanist of the Northern Renaissance, a man of great talent and industriousness who rose from obscure beginnings to become the leading intellectual figure of the early sixteenth century. He was courted by rulers and prelates who wanted to enhance their own reputations by associating with the greatest scholar of the age.

He was a classical scholar who was revered for his fine Latin writing Latin, the finest in his generation. He also mastered Greek which was much rarer. Few were his equal. He was a phenomenally productive writer and was the first European intellectual to fully exploit the power of the printed word. He did not make the university or court of a secular prince or high prelate the center of his career but rather the greatest publishing houses of the Netherlands, Paris, Venice, and—above all—Basel.

erasmusThough most vividly remembered now for his critical satires of abuses in the church and secular society and for his work as editor of the first published edition of the Greek New Testament, he was a prolific and influential author in many genres. He was a leading writer on education, author of five influential treatises on the humanist educational theory and even a greater number of widely used and reprinted textbooks taught in humanistic schools throughout Europe, especially north of the Alps. He produced excellent critical editions of classical Greek and Latin authors, including translations of Greek texts into the Latin that all educated people of his time could read.

He was the editor and translator of the works of early Latin and Greek Church Fathers, especially important for translations of Greek church literature, which was not known to the Western church during the Middle Ages. He authored books of spiritual counsel mainly for the educated laymen of his time, all written in Latin but several of them were quickly translated by others into most of the European vernacular languages. These books were frequently reprinted.

He wrote and published Latin poems on both secular and religious themes, the one genre in which he had no lasting influence. The guides and to theological method and the interpretative prefaces he wrote to the 1516 and 1518 edition of the New Testament mark a major turning point in theology. His  interpretation of Scripture posed a serious challenge to the scholastic theology that had dominated university faculties since the thirteenth century.

He was also an active letter-writer, corresponding with all levels of contemporaries and carefully preserved his letters. He published some of them since like his Roman models, he regarded the letter as an important literary genre. The one genre in which Erasmus wrote no works at all was philosophy, though he often cited ancient philosophers and dealt with several intellectual problems of interest to philosophers.

Erasmus died suddenly in Basel in 1536 while preparing to return to Brabant (Netherlands), and was buried in the Basel Minster, the former cathedral of the city. A bronze statue of him was erected in Rotterdam the city of birth in 1622.

Erasmus Old BuildingA replica of the Rotterdam statue sits proudly on the inner campus of Erasmus Hall High School.  

The school was built in 1786 as a private boys academy. In 1801 girls were accepted in classes. In 1803 the school was donated to the city and became a public high school with 150 students. There were 2,500 in my graduating class. The original academy building sits in the campus right behind Desi’s statue. 






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