Early 15th Century Humanism and the Catholic Church

A.) Erasmus of Rotterdam

In PRAISE OF FOLLY (1509), Erasmus ridiculed monasticism; in JULIUS EXCLUSUS (1518) he ridiculed Pope JULIUS II. for his involvement in numerous wars. In 1516 Erasmus edited NOVUM INSTRUMENTUM OMNE, a Greek edition of the New Testament with Erasmus' Latin translation, which differed in many points from the official Latin VULGATA. Another publication by Erasmus, the MANUAL OF A CHRISTIAN SOLDIER (1504), appealed to the layman, asking him to read the scripture by himself rather than relying on the clergy.

B.) The Reuchlin Controversy

Johannes Reuchlin had studied in Freiburg, Paris, Basel, Orleans and Poitiers and repeatedly visited Italy. He learnt Greek and Hebrew and introduced the study of Hebrew to Germany; he taught Hebrew at the University of Heidelberg.
At the request of converted Jew JAKOB PFEFFERKORN, Emperor ... ordered the suppression of Hebrew books; Johannes Reuchlin opposed this action, was attacked by Pfefferkorn in a pamphlet and responded by another pamphlet. Cologne theologians, asked to decide in the matter, decided against Reuchlin, who in turn appealed to Rome (1516). In 1520, Pope LEO X. decided against Reuchlin

C.) The Attitude of the Church toward Humanism

Erasmus was a monk who had been given a papal dispense for living outside the monastery. By writing the Praise of Folly, he made enemies of the monastic orders. The universities and schools of Europe, which around 1500 were dominated by Humanists, were institutions of the Catholic Church. Among the monks and in the administration of dioceses were advocates of a church policy silencing her critics, like HOCHSTRATEN from Cologne; the Reuchlin controversy was a contest in which the humanist Reuchlin and advocates of a church policy of forcefully imposing her will irrespective of criticism clashed.
Christian Humanism has prepared the stage for the Protestant Reformation, by raising the layman's awareness for church political issues; the country was divided into rival camps; Martin Luther appealed to those who favoured Humanism.
In the face of the Lutheran reformation, Pope Leo X. decided against Reuchlin. When the INDEX OF PROHIBITED BOOKS was compiled in 1559, Erasmus' works were listed.

Articles Humanism, Erasmus, Desiderius; Reuchlin, Johannes from Catholic Encyclopedia
Erasmus, from Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
REFERENCE Mark Greengrass, The Longman Companion to the European Reformation c.1500-1618, pp.33-38; Harlow (Essex): Longman 1998, KMLA Lib.Sign. 274.06 GB 121

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 15th 2004

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