Erasmus in England

Erasmus in England

Sunday 6 March 2016, 3.00 pm by Richard Parker

img020Richard Parker MA BD studied at Balliol College, Oxford (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) and King’s College, London (Theology). For most of his working life he has been an independent consultant in training and management development. He is a guide at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, and is an occasional preacher at his local church in London.Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), also known as ‘Erasmus of Rotterdam’, was a leading figure in the intellectual movement that became known as ‘humanism’. At a time when ancient manuscripts of biblical texts were being discovered, he produced an important new translation of the New Testament into Latin. Now that printing was widely available, this became influential in supporting the Protestant Reformation in Europe.

Erasmus was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1492. While generally in favour of reform in the Catholic Church, he wanted to reform it from within and so remained a Catholic priest for the rest of his life, though never active in parish work.

His career was as an academic. In 1495 he went to study in Paris, where he came under the influence of Renaissance humanism. He came to England in 1499 and met many leading thinkers of the day, including Thomas More and John Colet. In 1510, after a few years’ studying in Italy, he returned to England as Professor of Divinity at Cambridge. There, he taught for five years and started work on his new edition of the New Testament in Latin. Later versions of this work became the basis of translations by Martin Luther into German and William Tyndale into English.

Erasmus tried to steer a middle course between the Protestant Reformation and traditional Catholicism. He reacted against the intemperate language used by some reformers, especially Luther, and was worried by the social unrest which often accompanied the movement.

For hundreds of years after the death of Erasmus, the English church tried to find this middle course, being fully reformed and yet remaining within the western Catholic tradition. This lecture examines how his legacy was used in the formation of the Church of England.

Outline of the lecture

  • Overview of the life and career of Desiderius Erasmus.
  • His ideas: the principles of humanism.
  • His time in England; the people he worked with; his work as a teacher.
  • Contribution to the Reformation in Europe.
  • Effect on the Reformation in England.
  • Longer-term influence in England; how the Catholic/Protestant balance of the Church of England reflects the views of Erasmus, and how far it can be attributed to him.




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