BECK index

Erasmus and Spreading Humanism

by Sanderson Beck

Humanists in Germany and Low Countries
Humanism in Eastern Europe
Humanism in France and Spain
Erasmus and Adages
Erasmus on Education 1501-14
Erasmus on Education 1514-17
Erasmus on Peace
Colet and English Humanism
More’s Utopia

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Humanists in Germany and Low Countries

Catholic Ethics 1250-1350
Petrarca’s Ethical Humanism 1345-53

Petrarca in Italy 1353-74

New German universities started at Leuven (Louvain) in 1427, Freiburg in 1456, Treves in 1457, Basel in 1459, Ingolstadt in 1472, Tübingen and Mainz in 1477, and Wittenberg in 1502. Peter Luder was one of the first Germans who studied in Italy, and he was appointed professor of classical languages and literature at the University of Heidelberg in 1444. His innovations were opposed, and he was criticized for not being religious. He left Heidelberg during the plague of 1460 and studied medicine at Padua before teaching at Erfurt, Basel and Vienna. Basel established a chair of poetry in 1474.

Johann Gutenberg used movable type in a printing press and began printing books about 1450 at Mainz. In 1455 he printed about 180 Bibles. The first Bibles published in a modern language were printed in German by Mentelin and Eggesteyn at Strassburg by 1466, and two Italian translations were published at Venice in 1471. In 1477 the Old Testament was published in Dutch at Delft, and the New Testament appeared in French at Lyons. The complete Bible was published in Spanish in 1478, in French in 1487, and in Bohemian in 1488. The first Greek version was published at Heidelberg in 1502.

Conrad Celtis was born February 1, 1459 in Lower Franconia, and he studied at Heidelberg with Johann von Dalberg and Rudolph Agricola. He traveled and wrote The Art of Writing Verses and Poems in 1486. Emperor Friedrich III crowned him poet laureate at Nuremberg on April 18, 1487. Next he studied science at the University of Cracow in Poland. In 1490 Celtis went to Breslau and Prague, where he founded the Hungarian Literary Society which later moved to Vienna. At Heidelberg he started the Rhineland Literary Society. In 1492 he gave the inaugural address to the faculty of the University of Ingolstadt. While admiring the Italians and being wary of foreign domination, Celtis appealed to German patriotism in this famous speech, urging them to emulate the ancient nobility of Rome which had taken over the empire of the Greeks and assimilated their wisdom and eloquence. In the same way he believed they could take over the empire of the Italians and cast off repulsive barbarism by acquiring Roman culture. He encouraged Germans to study philosophy and literature. After an epidemic in Ingolstadt he taught at Heidelberg.

Emperor Maximilian invited Celtis to Vienna in 1497 and honored him with an imperial Privilegium. Celtis taught classical literature and founded a college for poets in 1502. He discovered and published the writings of Hroswitha and worked on books about Germany. He published Germania Illustrata, and he was one of the first to teach the history of the world as a whole. Celtis discovered a map of military roads in the ancient Roman empire and contributed it to the collection of Conrad Peutinger, who wrote Concerning the Marvelous Antiquities of the  Germans in 1506. Celtis died of syphilis on February 4, 1508.

Maximilian became a humanist and encouraged the writing of allegorical poetry. He dictated the poem The White King (Weisskunig). Jakob Fugger made money from banking and trade, but he also loaned money to the Emperor and collected books and art. When he died in 1525, he left his nephew Anton Fugger assets worth more than two million guilders. The four Welzer brothers formed a banking house in 1473, and they also loaned money to Maximilian.

Johannes Trithemius (1462-1516) was abbot of the Benedictine convent at Sponheim, where he collected a library of 2,000 volumes. After writing Steganographia he was suspected of being a magician, and in 1506 he resigned and became abbot of the St. James Abbey at Würzburg for the rest of his life. There he wrote The Seven Secondary Intelligences in 1508, a world history based on astrology, and The Annals of Hirsau in Latin which included France and Germany and is considered one of the first humanistic histories. Agrippa of Nettersheim finished the first two books of his On Occult Philosophy in 1511 and dedicated it to Trithemius. Agrippa expanded Aristotle’s ideas on noble melancholy and probably influenced Albrecht Dürer who painted “Melancholia I” in 1514.

Johann Reuchlin (1455-1522) learned Greek in Paris and earned a masters degree at Basel in 1477. He studied law at Orléans and Poitiers, graduating from the University of Tübingen in 1481. He went to Italy in 1482, and in Rome he published his translations of Greek classics into Latin. He earned his doctorate in imperial law by 1485. While on a diplomatic mission to Italy in 1490 he was introduced to the Kabbala by Pico della Mirandola. In 1492 Reuchlin began learning Hebrew from Johann Wessel and the Kabbala from rabbis. Bishop Dalberg of Worms invited Reuchlin to Heidelberg in 1496, and he was appointed professor of Hebrew at the university and the head tutor of the elector Philip’s family. He went to Rome again in 1498 and came back with Hebrew books. In 1501 he, Johannes Trithemius and other humanists founded an Academy of Poetry at the University of Vienna. Reuchlin served the judiciary of the Swabian League for at least ten years until 1512. He published On the Wonderful Word (De Verbo Mirifico) in 1494, On the Art of Preaching (De Arte Predicandi) in 1503, a tract on the misery of Jews in 1505, the grammar and lexicon De Rudimentis Hebraicis in 1506, and De Arte Cabbalistica in 1517.

In 1504 the Moravian rabbi Josef Pfefferkorn, his wife, and children were baptized as Christians, and in 1507 he published Mirror of Exhortation to Turn Jews to Christ urging Jews to renounce usury and convert. He knew only German and Hebrew, but his German books were translated into Latin. In 1509 he persuaded Emperor Maximilian to order the confiscation of all Jewish books that were against Christianity. Jews and Mainz’s Archbishop Uriel von Gemmingen objected, and the Emperor authorized Uriel to ask for reports from the universities of Mainz, Cologne, Erfurt, and Heidelberg. The four universities accepted the new law, and only Reuchlin dissented. However, they agreed that the condemned books would be deposited in certain libraries for use by scholars. The universities also recommended banning usury and allowing Jews to practice trades previously reserved for Christians.

In 1510 Maximilian appointed Reuchlin to a commission to determine which books to ban, and he was the only commissioner who opposed the attempt to suppress all Hebrew books other than the Bible. He observed that doctrinal differences do not imply blasphemy, and he insisted that Jewish books such as the Talmud should not be destroyed. Jews also lobbied Maximilian, and he decided to return the confiscated books. In 1511 Pfefferkorn published Hand Mirror (Handt Spiegel), and at the Frankfurt Fair he accused Reuchlin of being bribed. Reuchlin defended his view that most Hebrew books are valuable in the pamphlet Eye Mirror (Augenspiegel). In 1512 theologians at the University of Cologne and the inquisitor Hoogstraaten got an imperial order to confiscate Augenspiegel. The Inquisition summoned Reuchlin in September 1513, and he wrote his Defensio contra Calumniatores. Hoogstraaten had Augenspiegel burned at Cologne on February 10, 1514; but on April 24 the Bishop of Speyer absolved Reuchlin and ordered the Inquisitor to pay costs of 111 gulden, and the decision was confirmed by Pope Leo X in July 1516. That year Pfefferkorn published his Defense. On June 23, 1520 Leo condemned Reuchlin’s Spectacles for being friendly to the Jews.

The right to read non-Christian authors was defended and the ignorance of the teachers at Cologne was satirized by Crotus Rubeanus in the first volume of the Letters of Obscure Men (Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum) in 1514 and in the second volume by Ulrich von Hutten (1488-1523) in 1517. He had been inspired by Konrad Mutian (1470-1526), who was influenced by Neo-Platonism and led the humanists who gathered at Erfurt and Gotha. Nicolaus Marschalk (1470-1525) studied with Mutian at Erfurt and later published books on Greek and Latin grammar. Hutten also wrote Elegies that criticized Pope Julius II and indulgences. Hutten visited Italy a second time and was crowned with laurel and made a knight by Emperor Maximilian in 1517.

Heinrich Bebel (1462-1516) began teaching poetry and rhetoric at the University of Tübingen in 1497. He became a friend of Erasmus and is best known for his humorous Facetiae, Proverbia Germanica, and his satirical Triumph of Venus; he also wrote On the Education of Children. Richard Croke earned his degree at Cambridge by 1510 and learned Greek from William Grocyn at Oxford. He then taught Greek at Paris, Cologne, Louvain, Leipzig, and Dresden before returning to Cambridge in 1519. Maximilian made the Franciscan Thomas Murner poet laureate in 1505, and in 1512 he gave rhymed sermons criticizing priests that were distributed to many people under the titles Schelmenzunft and Narrenbeschweerung. Johann von Staupitz was a humanist and wrote in his Nachfolgung des Sterben Jesu Christi in 1515 that external observances are not important, In 1516 he preached at Nuremberg that justification comes only from the grace of God. The humanist Ortwin Gratius taught at the University of Cologne and was one of those satirized in the Letters of Obscure Men. He also supported the efforts by Pollich von Mellerstadt and Matthaus Lupin to make poetry and rhetoric studied in addition to theology.

In 1425 Pope Martin V founded a university at Leuven in Brabant of the Low Countries, and the next year it had faculties of arts, civil and canon law, and medicine. Theology was added in 1432 to try to stop the spread of the Hussites. By 1473 printing presses were set up by Nicolaas Ketelaer and Gerrit van Leempt at Utrecht and by Dirk Martens and Johann of Westphalia in Flanders. They printed the Historia de Duobus Amantibus by Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini (Pope Pius II). In 1517 a friend of Erasmus donated funds for a Collegium Trilingue to teach Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.

Rudolph Agricola was born on February 17, 1444 near Groningen in the Netherlands. As a child he showed his talent for music and the arts. His father had studied theology at Cologne and was a parish priest. Agricola went to school at Groningen and after two years earned a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Erfurt in 1458. He went to Louvain where he gained his Master of Arts. Agricola began traveling through Italy in 1465 and studied civil law at the University of Pavia until 1475. Then he learned Greek and studied the humanities at Ferrara for four years. In 1479 he returned to Groningen and worked as a secretary for the city. He corresponded with other German humanists such as Alexander Hegius and Johannes Reuchlin. Agricola taught a deaf child how to communicate verbally and documented this work in his On Dialectical Invention (De inventione dialectica). He also translated Lucian and wrote an appreciation of Petrarca in German. Agricola was a skilled singer and played the organ, flute, and violin. The organ he built for the church of St. Martin in Groningen may have introduced the vox humana stop.

Groningen sent Agricola to the court of Burgundy for six months in 1481 as a diplomat. Agricola wrote a letter to Jacobus Barbireau of Antwerp on June 7, 1484 on education that is called De Formando Studio. He emphasized moral philosophy, the liberal arts, and expressing ideas. Grammar helps one be an intelligent speaker; logic provides organization of the subject matter; and rhetoric enables one to persuade the listener. In 1484 Johann von Dalberg became bishop of Worms and invited Agricola to Heidelberg, where he learned Hebrew from a converted Jew. In 1485 he accompanied Dalberg as his secretary on a diplomatic mission to Pope Innocent VIII in Rome, but after the return journey Agricola died of illness on October 27.

In the Low Countries the Brothers of the Common Life had a school at Deventer that was attended by Agricola, Ludwig Dringenberg, Rudolf von Langen, and Erasmus. Alexander Hegius (1433-98) had studied with Agricola and taught at Deventer. He wrote De Utilitate Linguae Graecae and established Greek in the German curriculum. By the year of his death Hegius had more than two thousand students. These schools spread from the Netherlands to the Rhine, Westphalia, and to southwest Germany. Dringenberg founded a school in Alsatian Schlettstadt in 1441, and the Brothers of the Common Life founded a school at Liege in 1496. Langen reformed the cathedral school at Munster in 1500. He was succeeded by Johannes Murmellius (1480-1517). Jakob Wimpheling (1450-1528) went to the Schlettstadt school before studying at the University of Heidelberg. His pamphlet “On Integrity” criticized the clergy and satirized traditional professors. He wrote his Epitome of German History in 1505. Wimpheling became a humanist and advocated educating all classes of the society. He started a Latin school in Strasbourg. Matthaeus Herbenus (1451-1538) was a Walloon from Maastricht who traveled to Rome, Perugia, Bologna, and Ferrara before returning to Maastricht to be rector of the St. Servatius school.

Sebastian Brant (1457-1521) studied Aristotelian philosophy at the University of Basel, where he became friends with Johan Heynlin and Reuchlin. Brant also studied law, and in 1484 he earned his license to practice canon law. He began teaching law and the humanities at the university and obtained his doctorate in jurisprudence in 1489. He also advised printers, and he praised Emperor Maximilian in Latin poetry. He was a friend of Wimpheling and joined the Strasbourg Literary Society.

In 1494 Brant published Narrenschiff (Ship of Fools), satirizing in rhymed couplets the follies of mankind. The book was illustrated with woodcuts for each of the 112 chapters and was soon translated into Latin, Low German, French,  Dutch, Flemish, English, and modern German. In 1498 Johann Geiler von Kaisersberg (1445-1510) gave 142 sermons on the book. Brant led missions for the Emperor and prevented Thomas Murner from publishing his similarly satirical Gauchmatt in Strasbourg because it criticized Maximilian. In July 1504 Brant sent a letter to his humanist friend Conrad Peutinger about the inevitable fall of the Holy Roman Empire because of the folly and vices in their society, especially greed, envy, wrath, and pride. He accepted Church dogma and was wary of change. Erasmus knew Brant and surely must have read Ship of Fools before he wrote his Praise of Folly in 1509.

In the prolog to the Ship of Fools Brant wrote that his purpose was

For profit and salutary instruction, admonition
and pursuit of wisdom, reason, and good manners:
also for contempt and punishment of folly, blindness,
error, and stupidity of all stations and kinds of men.1

He relied mostly on the Bible for teaching and examples, but he also referred to classical literature and history. The faults described are intended to be a mirror for people to see themselves. Most chapters begin with three lines that rhyme and are followed by a title and rhymed couplets. He begins by admitting his own folly of collecting so many books. He warned councilors:

The judgments spoke by cruel men
Will some fine day rebound on them;
Who does not render justice well
Will meet harsh justice down in hell.2

Brant criticized greed, innovations, not punishing mischievous children, causing discord and fighting, not following good counsel, bad manners, harming others, contempt for holy writ, the love-sick, insolence toward God, not counting the cost when planning, gluttony, useless riches, trying to serve the world and God, and idle talk.

Silence is good, I always teach,
But better still is rightful speech.3

Beware of chiding others while erring oneself. Depending on good fortune is foolish because luck changes. One should not borrow too much or want things that do more harm than good. Wives must be guarded, and he warned against adultery. Losing reason in anger is foolish. Brant advised,

Man’s patience calms the obdurate
And calming speech breaks hardened hate.4

A fool does not obey his doctor nor does one tell the truth to his lawyer. A fool cannot hide confidential plans. Yet taking offense at fools is like the blind calling others blind. Trying to punish a wicked fool may bring a harvest of sorrow. Fools are noisy in church and court misfortune. Being overconfident is foolish. Parents who set bad examples will raise children like themselves. Sensual pleasures also bring pain. Marrying for money has its costs. Fools indulge in envy and hate. Fools rely on their own power which never lasts.

One should do one’s duty because God is good and merciful. Ingratitude makes one base. Brant warned against dancing that enables men to see girls’ bare legs, and serenading at night invites the cold. Beggars use foolish tricks.

Before you would abuse another,
Reflect if you would like it, brother.5

Not providing in time is foolish. The quarrelsome like to go to court. Little value is achieved in hunting and even less in gambling. Brant warned against contempt for poverty, noting that Socrates and Jesus were poor. Usury and profiteering takes advantage of the poor. In the longest chapter Brant lamented how the formerly Christian lands of Asia Minor, Greece, and Greater Turkey have been lost. In another long section he wrote about the Antichrist and the approaching Judgment Day. He wrote that their faith rests on absolution, doctrine, and books. Wisdom will be rewarded.

Humanism in Eastern Europe

Gregory of Sanok (1406-77) was a Polish humanist, and in 1440 he visited Bishop Janos Vitez of Varad in Hungary. Vitez was the uncle of the humanist poet Janus Pannonius (1434-72). Gregory returned to Poland in 1450, and the next year he succeeded Archbishop Jan Odrowaz of Lwow. He gave refuge to Callimachus in his palace at Dunajow in November 1470.

Callimachus was the name chosen by the Italian humanist Filippo Buonaccorsi (1437-96), who was suspected of leading a conspiracy to assassinate Pope Paul II and other Roman curates in 1468. Callimachus wrote a biography of Gregory in 1476 and one of Cardinal Zbigniew Olesnicki in 1480. He wrote to Pico della Mirandola and agreed with his view that finite mortal sin does not deserve eternal punishment. Callimachus led a diplomatic mission to Emperor Friedrich III at Vienna in February 1486, but he was unable to stop his warring against Hungary. In the next year or so Callimachus also tried to stop the war between Poland and the Turks at a papal conference in the spring of 1490. He was also a friend of King Casimir, whose death on June 7, 1492 affected Italy. After fleeing to Vienna he returned to Cracow for the last four years of his life. While in Venice in October 1492 he wrote his Counsels (Consilia). Still mistrusting the papacy, in this book he advocated separation of church and state. He urged the abolition of penal immunity for nobility guilty of killing commoners, and called for the rich to stop abusing the poor.

Kariolan Cipico (1425-93) from Trogir in Croatia wrote a description of an expedition against the Ottoman Turks led by the Venetian commander Pietro Mocenigo in 1477. Marko Marulic (1450-1524) has been called the “father of Croatian literature.” He went to school at Split and Padua. In 1501 he wrote A History of the Holy Widow Judith Composed in Croatian Verse. His Latin works on Christian morals were published between 1506 and 1519 and were translated into various languages.

Ivan Vitez (1405-72) was born in Sredna and studied in Italy before going to Hungary. He tutored Ladislas and Matthias, the sons of Janos Hunyadi, who appointed him bishop of Varad in 1445. After his pupil Matthias Corvinus became king of Hungary, he was appointed chancellor and archbishop of Esztergom. Ivan Cesmicki became known in Europe as Janus Pannonius (1434-72). In 1447 his uncle Ivan Vitez sent him to study canon law at Padua, and in 1458 Vitez invited him to come to Hungary, where he was appointed bishop of Pecs. Pannonius wrote in Latin. While Corvinus was fighting against Bohemia’s King George of Podebrady, Pannonius joined a plot against King Matthias and had to flee to Croatia. In 1440 the University of Cracow had 140 Hungarian students, but by the end of the reign of Matthias 465 students were there. Even more students attended the University of Vienna. King Matthias founded the University of Pozsony (Bratislava) in 1467, and his Corviniana library had the best collection of humanist books in central Europe.

The humanists in central Europe read works by Conrad Celtis who lectured on Horace at the University of Ingolstadt. The statesman Tamas Bakocz (1444-1521) promoted his ideas in Hungary. On April 9, 1514 he called for a crusade against the Turks that had been initiated by Pope Leo X. Peasants and the lower nobility opposed this and gathered in crowds. Led by Gyorgy Dozsa, they were defeated, and Dozsa was captured, executed, and mutilated. Western humanists were outraged and described the atrocities. Istvan Werboczi drew up a new law to keep the majority of Hungarians in servitude, though he is also credited with the Tripartitum code that democratized the lesser nobility and gave them equality and more power. He had first presented the grievances of the lesser nobility to King Vladislas II in 1498 and had been appointed a judge in 1502.

Augustinus Moravus (1467-1513) studied law, philosophy, and astronomy as well as the humanities at the University of Padua. In 1493 his Dialog in Defense of Poetry (Dialogus in Defensionem Poetices) was published in Venice, and King Vladislas II made him his chief secretary at Budapest. Bohuslav Hasistejnsky z Lobkovic (1461-1510) studied at Bologna and Ferrara before coming back to Prague in 1486. In 1499 he published an emotional appeal to Christians to defend Europe from Ottoman invasions, and he also wrote lyrical poems and prayers in verse. Two of his moral treatises that have survived are De Miseria Humana from 1495 and De Avaritia from 1499. His political philosophy published as De Re Publica Administranda was written in 1497 and survives only in a Czech translation. Like many humanists he described the ideal leader.

Viktorin Kornel ze Vsehrd (1460-1520) graduated from the University of Prague and taught there before becoming a lawyer and writing books on Czech law from 1502 to 1508. In the 1490s Rehor Hruby z Jeleni (1460-1514) worked with Viktorin on translating the works of John Chrysostrum, and they were published in 1501. Vaclav Pisecky (1482-1511) began teaching at the University of Prague in 1505.

Humanism in France and Spain

The theology faculty at Paris was dominated by the nominalist philosophy, studying primarily the Bible, Peter Lombard’s Book of Sentences, and the writings of Nicholas of Lyra. They also studied Augustine, Bernard, and the recent writings of the Paris University chancellors Pierre d’Ailly (1351-1420) and Jean Gerson (1363-1429) and the books of the Brothers of the Common Life. Gregorio da Citta di Castello arrived in Paris in 1456 to teach rhetoric. Abbot Jean de Bourbon revived the rule at Cluny in 1458, and in 1477 Cluniac missionaries reformed the Benedictine monastery at Chezal-Benoist near Bourges. Reform also came to the Cistercians, and in 1494 Abbot Jean de Cirey imposed new statutes on all their monasteries. At the university the nominalists had been arguing with the realists, but nominalism gradually was reduced to the study of formal logic. Louis XI proscribed Ockhamism from 1472 to 1482, but then it returned to dominate.

Guillaume Fichet came back from Italy with a love of Roman authors such as Cicero, Virgil, and Sallust. Fichet and Heynlin set up the first printing press in Paris, and the first book printed was a formulary of Latin letters by Gasparino da Barzizza in 1470. Fichet’s Rhetorica was published in 1471 along with Lorenzo Valla’s De elegantiis linguae latinae and Agostino Dati’s Praecepta Eloquentia. Fichet also taught Aquinas, Scotus, and Plato. Lyons got a printing press in 1473, followed by Angers and Toulouse in 1474, Albi in 1477, Chablis and Vienne in 1478, Poitiers in 1479, and Caen in 1480. Ciceronian books were the most popular along with other classic authors such as Sallust, Valerius Maximus, Plato, Martial, Plutarch, Terence, Virgil, and Horace. The Byzantine refugee George Hermonymos came to Paris in 1476 and was the first to teach Greek. The Italian humanist Filippo Beroaldo also came in 1476 and lectured on Lucan for two years. Girolano Balbi came in 1484 and published Seneca's tragedies, but in 1491 he was driven out by his rival, Fausto Andrelini. Pico della Mirandola came to Paris in July 1485 for eight months.

Jean Standonck was a student of the Brethren of the Common Life at Windesheim in the Low Countries and came to the University of Paris. After completing his arts degree he studied theology in the college of Montaigu, and in 1483 he became its principal. He practiced an ascetic life by giving all his money to the poor and chastising his body; but he was a popular preacher even though he disciplined his students severely. Erasmus of Rotterdam came to Paris in 1493 to study theology, but he rejected the austerity of Standonck and left in 1496. That year the Greek scholar Janus Lascaris came to France and was used as an ambassador to Venice 1504-09.

Robert Gaguin was a pupil of the Greek teacher, Gregory Tifernas, and he gathered a group of scholars to study the ancients. They began debating humanist issues, and after a while the only Italian still teaching in Paris was Fausto Andrelini; but he taught there until his death in 1518. In 1497 Gaguin began the reform of the Mathurins. He traveled widely in the Low Countries and Italy and brought scholars to Paris before his death in 1502.

In 1498 the King of France began controlling the privilege of printing, but Louis XII did not use this for censorship. In 1500 he removed a thousand manuscripts from Pavia and brought them to France. That year the Adages of Erasmus were published at Paris, followed by his Annotationes in Novum Testamentum in 1505. The first books in France were printed in Gothic type; but Josse Badius Ascensius came from Ghent and began printing classical texts at Paris in 1503 using Roman type, and that became the norm. François Tissard studied at the University of Bologna, and by 1507 he was back in Paris and published textbooks on Greek and Hebrew. The conservative theologian Aleandro came to Paris in 1508 and disrupted the work of Tissard. Girolamo Aleandro arrived in 1508 to teach Greek, Latin, and Hebrew and was soon made rector of the university. In 1516 he returned to Rome to become the Vatican librarian, and he was made a cardinal in 1538. In 1513 Louis XII limited the number of booksellers in Paris to thirty, and he eliminated all duties on imported books.

Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples (1445-1537) earned his master’s degree from the University of Paris in 1480 and studied with Ficino, Pico, and Poliziano in Italy. He published his book on the mystical theology of Dionysius the Areopagite in 1499, and he was influenced by Aristotle, Ramon Lull, Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, and Nikolaus of Cusa. Lefevre taught until 1508 and then devoted himself to Biblical scholarship. He published his Quincuplex Psalterium in 1509, and his Commentary on the Pauline Epistles in 1512 encouraged freedom of thought. That year Lefevre published Ruusbroec’s Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage in the Latin version by Gerard Groote and the next year other mystical writings.

Guillaume Budé was born in January 1468. He studied classical literature, mathematics, theology, philosophy, and medicine. He also studied law at the University of Orléans and was a secretary for Charles VIII. He became a student of Lefevre, and both learned Greek from Lascaris. Budé was sent as an envoy to Venice in 1501 and to Pope Julius II in 1505. Budé published his Annotations on the Pandects in 1508 to reform legal thinking. He emphasized Aristotle’s concept of equity. In 1515 after ten years of work Budé published De Asse et Partibus Ejus, his treatise on Roman money that revealed social injustice and abuses of the Church.

In 1516 Budé wrote De l’Institution du Prince for young King François; but it was overshadowed by Erasmus’s Institutio Principis Christiani, and Budé’s book was not printed until 1546. Budé aimed to win the King over to humanism and urged him to develop practical wisdom rather than theoretical contemplation. In the longer second part of the treatise he showed how history provides lessons from past actions. A prince needs to learn eloquence in order to persuade the people to translate truth into action. Budé wrote that partisanship distorts the truth. A good prince will value peace, good laws, and honest finances. He criticized the old-fashioned professors who obscured knowledge.

Rhetoric was taught at the University of Salamanca from 1403. Enrique de Villena translated the Ciceronian Rhetorica ad Herennium in 1427, and Alonso de Cartagena completed Cicero’s De Inventione about the same time. Villena also translated Virgil’s Aeneid and Dante’s Divine Comedy into Spanish for Iñigo Lopez de Mendoza, the Marquis of Santillana, whose library had many humanistic books. Santillana also had Pero Diaz de Toledo translate Plato’s Phaedo and several other classics into Spanish. After a diplomatic mission Castile’s royal secretary Juan Alfonso de Zamora asked Cartagena to translate into Spanish Cicero’s De Officiis and De Senectute. Cartagena also wrote Memoriale Virtutum for the education of Prince Don Duarte, basing it on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Politics, Economics, and Rhetoric.

In 1439 Nuño de Guzman visited Florence and met the biographer Vespasiano da Bisticci, who included him in his lives of writers. Nuño translated works by Cicero, Quintilian, and Macrobius into the Tuscan language and collected a library of books in that dialect. He stayed in Italy so long that Giannozzo Manetti wrote an Apologia for Nuño to appease his father’s anger as well as Laudatio Dominae Agnetis to honor Nuño’s mother, Inés de Torres, who provided the money for his travels. In return Nuño translated Manetti’s Orazione a Gismondo Pandolf de’ Malatesti for the Marquis of Santillana.

At the Council of Basel 1431-49 the Italian humanist Pietro Candido Decembrio (1399-1477) influenced Archbishop Alfonso of Burgos. The child prodigy Fernando de Cordoba went to the court of Alfonso V at Naples and the papal curia. After George of Trebizond criticized Plato, he wrote De Laudibus Plato. Fernando was criticized for his Latin style by Valla. After Valla’s death in 1457 Juan de Lucena revised Facio’s De Vitae Felicitate and translated it into Spanish to challenge Valla’s De Vero Bono. Lucena wrote De Vita Beata in Rome about 1463. Alfonso Ortiz defended Archbishop Alfonso Carrillo of Toledo against Lucena’s accusations of alchemy and squandering in his Liber Dialogorum.

Alfonso de Palencia (1423-92) was educated at the palace of Bishop Paul of Burgos, and during his adolescence he lived for a few years in the house of Cartagena before going to Italy. He served Cardinal Bessarion in Florence until 1453, and in Rome he studied with George Trebizond. Palencia wrote the poem Pitched Battle Between the Dogs and the Wolves in 1457 and in 1459 the allegorical Treaty of Perfection of the Military Triumph, which he translated from Latin into Spanish. In Castile he became royal chronicler and secretary to Enrique IV. He lost his position as chronicler when Isabel became queen in 1475. His Décadas (Chronicles) is a history of Spain in Latin from 1454 to 1481. He also wrote a history of the Granada war 1488-89. Palencia also translated into Spanish Plutarch’s Lives and The Judaic Wars by Josephus.

Antonio de Nebrija (1441-1522) studied at the universities of Salamanca and Bologna. After returning to Castile in 1473 he taught poetry and grammar at Salamanca, writing the Art of Castilian Grammar in 1492. When Cardinal Ximenes de Cisneros (1436-1517) founded a university at Alcala de Henares in 1508, he brought Nebrija and Italian humanists from Salamanca University. Cisneros sponsored a polyglot edition of the Bible with the Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin versions in parallel columns. The New Testament was published in 1514, and the entire Bible was completed in 1517.

Erasmus and Adages

Desiderius Erasmus was born on October 27 in 1469 at Rotterdam; he was the second illegitimate son of a priest and a widow. He later wrote that he was born in 1466, probably so that people would not think his father was a priest when he was born. After attending a town school in Gouda he went at the age of nine to Deventer where he was educated by the Brothers of the Common Life who emphasized personal reform through Christian inwardness. Erasmus inherited valuable books from his father, and he liked good literature especially Horace. He was impressed with the classical learning under rector Alexander Hegius and the eminent humanist Rudolph Agricola who came there once in 1483. He later complained that the brothers suppressed natural gifts by blows, reprimands, and severity. In 1484 both of his parents died, and Erasmus spent two years in the Brethren’s poor students’ hostel in northern Brabant. Then his guardians persuaded him to go with his brother Pieter to the monastery of Augustinian Canons at Sion near Delft. He wanted to go to a university but was reluctantly lured into a monastic career by the promise of access to many books.

Erasmus disliked monastic life, and at age 19 he wrote the Funeral Oration for Berta Heyen. The next year he wrote a letter encouraging a young man to enter a monastery called “On the Contempt of the World,” arguing that the monastic life allowed the pleasures of study and a peaceful conscience. Seeking greater intellectual stimulation, he was ordained a priest on April 25, 1492 and became Latin secretary to Bishop Hendrik van Bergen of Cambrai. By 1495 he completed the Book Against the Barbarians using Jacob Batt, who was rector of the school and later Bergen’s town secretary, as the main speaker in his dialog with a physician which criticizes the religious culture. Batt explains why people oppose the new learning. Religious men denounce books they are too lazy to read, and they oppose parents sending their children to secular universities. Erasmus, like Valla, also advised putting aside the scholastic theology of the Middle Ages based on Aristotelian logic. The “barbarians” rejected the passion for beauty that the students of grammar and rhetoric pursued.

In 1495 Erasmus was given leave to attend the University of Paris for four years where he taught himself Greek and studied classics. However, just as the monastic rituals did not fulfill his deep spiritual longings, neither did the scholastic theology and logic-chopping of Scotus and Ockham which he later satirized. Robert Gaguin wrote a textbook in Latin on the history of France, and Erasmus contributed a letter of recommendation to fill up the last page in the printed edition. In 1496 he published a small volume of poetry dedicated to boys. That year he visited Holland, but he was disgusted with the Dutch feasting and contempt for humanistic studies. In Paris he had some support from the bishop, and he tutored boys in Latin. His letters to students included “On the Method of Study” in 1497, “On the Writing of Letters” in 1498, and “Formulas for Friendly Conversations” and “Foundations of the Abundant Style” in 1499. He also started writing Colloquies for the Northoff boys, but they were not published until 1518. While at Paris he did not complete a degree in theology.

Erasmus tutored some Englishmen in Latin in 1499, and William Blount, Baron Mountjoy, invited him to England for a year. There he met the humanists John Colet and Thomas More, and he began to study Origen and other early Fathers of the Church for a more real and alive theology. Erasmus once said he found more Christian philosophy in one page by Origen than in ten pages by Augustine.

Erasmus published his Adagiorum Collectanea of 818 classical quotations in 1500 at Paris, and it was his first successful work. In 1508 he expanded it to 3,260 proverbs to become Adagiorum Chiliades with an introduction, and it was printed in Venice. The third edition of his Adages included longer commentaries and was published in 1515 by Froben in Basle. The other editions in his lifetime were in 1517-18, 1520, 1523, 1526, 1528, 1533, and 1536 with the final number of adages being 4,151. He found these timeless sayings in ancient writings. The first adage, “Between friends all is common,” comes from Pythagoras but for Erasmus it represents the way of Christ also. Other sayings include a necessary evil, cupboard love, the cart before the horse, dog in the manger, a rare bird, having one foot in the grave, in the same boat, sleeping on it, call a spade a spade, up to the ears, break the ice, ship-shape, die laughing, having an iron in the fire, inspect the teeth of a donated horse, neither fish nor flesh, like father like son, not worth a snap of the fingers, blowing one’s own horn, labors of Hercules, to sell smoke, a man for all hours, to write on water, to build in sand, to hold a wolf by the ears, to be afraid of one’s shadow, the blind leading the blind, to lead one by the nose, crocodile tears, to show the middle finger, and showing one’s heels.

Many other aphorisms are complete sentences. Squeeze water out of a stone. Leave no stone unturned. There’s many a slip between the cup and the lip. Let the cobbler stick to his last. The gods help those who help themselves. Grass is greener in the next field. One swallow does not make a summer. Make haste slowly. Well begun is half done. Man is but a bubble. Time reveals all things. Clothes make the man. Habit is second nature. Nothing is sweeter than to know everything. The two great mottos of ancient Greece are “Know yourself,” and “Nothing to excess.” From Cicero Erasmus found “As you have sown, so also shall you reap.” People stray from justice when they adhere religiously to the letter of the law as in “Extreme right is extreme wrong.”

In the 1515 edition of his Adagia in longer commentaries Erasmus criticized his own society and denounced the greed of Christian rulers and prelates. In “Trouble experienced makes a fool wise” he noted that only pain instructs a fool, and he tells the story of Pandora, substituting a box for the Grecian urn. The proverb also takes the form of learning from suffering. In one adage he finds that man is a god to man, but in the next man is a wolf to man.

In commenting on “Sparta is your portion; do your best for her” Erasmus advised rulers to be content with what they have, but he noted that modern people often want to increase their dominions. He warned them not to challenge their neighbors. He observed how Burgundy had suffered when Duke Charles tried to extend his dominions. France’s Charles VIII conquered Italy but had to withdraw. Louis XII also seemed to gain power but then almost lost everything. James IV of Scotland was not content within his borders, and his excellent son Alexander, whom Erasmus had tutored, was killed in his war.

In the 1515 edition of his Adages Erasmus wrote a long discourse on why war is sweet to those who have not tried it (to the inexperienced), and it was also published as a pamphlet. The adage goes back to the Greek poet Pindar, who added that war horrifies anyone who knows it. Erasmus believed that war should be avoided by every possible way because nothing is more wicked, disastrous, destructive, loathsome, and unworthy of humans. He noted that princes, lawyers, and theologians support war so much that it has become accepted and respectable. People are astonished when someone disapproves of such crimes. He wondered how creatures made for peace can rush so madly into mutual slaughter. More than any other animal, humans are made for friendship because they depend on mutual aid and loving kindness. Only humans shed tears or laugh, can use speech and reason, and delight in serving all in devotion to God. Once again he described the tragedy and miseries caused by war, which spreads like a contagious disease to other countries. Its poisoned darts and hellish contraptions must be products of the infernal regions.

Humans invented arms to defend themselves and missiles to destroy the enemy; it is brigandage and murder on a large scale. Where else is the devil if not in war, and yet people drag Christ into it. War takes all that is joyous and beautiful and quickly smashes it. For war princes mulct their subjects with taxes to hire mercenaries, fit out navies, construct fortresses, manufacture weapons, and pay armies. The expenses of bloodshed are ten times more than the costs of peace with results so much worse. Some argue it is like punishing a criminal, but in war thousands of those killed and injured are innocent. Princes assert their rights to territory; but Erasmus asked how many times that land has changed its owners and sovereignty as people have migrated. Why assert a claim that soon will belong to someone else? Surely the sword is no way to make good Christians. He objected to using evil to combat evil. Erasmus observed that the young go to war out of rashness, and some princes use it to exercise tyranny over their subjects. Yet to entrust the territory to soldiers, he must hire dirty scoundrels. Finally he asked why is there such a contrast between the example of Jesus and the way they live if Christ is their authority.

With the adage “One ought to be born a king or a fool” Erasmus reflected on how most kings in history have been foolish. The examples of wise kings are very few. For Erasmus wisdom is not just knowing the truth but also loving and doing the good. Few rulers understand that it is not possible to go to war without grave disaster. He observed that usually kings are chosen by birth rather than merit. He recommends that they educate their princes so that they will not be brutal tyrants and robbers. The prince should always be mindful of the state’s safety and the common good. Glory is not extending one’s power by force of arms.

In “To exact dues from the dead” he comments on those who heap up riches by fair or foul means. Worse than usurers are dealers who hunt for profits by trickery, lying, fraud, and cheating, and rob the poor with monopolies. If a kingship becomes a vast profit-making concern, then generals find reasons for going to war. To those who value only money and the market, nothing is inviolable. The Church even exacts payment for a place to bury the dead. Erasmus wrote a long commentary on how the lowly dung-beetle overcomes the lofty eagle. He also criticized the folly of war in discussing “As warts grow on the eye.”

Erasmus on Education 1501-14

In 1501 Erasmus annotated Cicero’s Offices. That summer he moved to Tourneheim, and in September 1502 he went to the university city of Leuven. In February 1503 he published his Handbook of the Militant Christian, which laid down the principles for a spiritual Christian life. The book became popular about 1515. He exhorted Christians to be ever watchful and use the weapons of prayer and knowledge. The highest wisdom is to know yourself. We must learn to distinguish the inner man from the outer man. He wrote,

This then is the only road to happiness:
first, know yourself;
do not allow yourself to be led by the passions,
but submit all things to the judgment of the reason.
Be sane and let reason be wise,
that is, let it gaze upon decent things.
You say it is difficult to put this advice into practice.
Who denies it?
Plato has a fitting saying:
“Those things which are beautiful are also difficult.”
Nothing is harder than for a man to conquer himself,
but there is no greater reward or blessing.6

Humans are a combination of spirit and flesh. “The spirit has the capacity of making us divine; the flesh tends to bring out our animal nature.”7 Spiritual love is not based on physical pleasure but is loving the Christ in another person. Erasmus listed guidelines for living a Christian life: have faith in the teachings of Christ; act in accordance with the teachings; analyze fears and dissolve them; make Christ the only goal; turn away from visible things to seek the invisible; love and follow Christ; stay free of vice; etc. He was concerned that common people become superstitiously devoted to rituals, and monks teach them how to tremble instead of to love. He concluded the work with special remedies against lust, avarice, ambition, pride, and anger, about which he wrote:

When resentment goads you to revenge,
remember that anger is a false imitation of fortitude,
and fortitude is the antithesis of anger.
Nothing manifests a weaker will,
nothing requires a feebler and weaker mind
than enjoyment of revenge.
In trying to appear brave
by not allowing an injury to go unpunished,
a person displays only immaturity,
since he cannot control his mind in a particular situation.8

Erasmus lived and traveled in various places in Europe and became a cosmopolitan citizen. His constitution was very sensitive, and he fled often from plagues and uncomfortable circumstances. At the imperial court at Brussels he wrote a Panegyricus for Archduke Philip on Epiphany in 1504 and received fifty Holland pounds. His corrections to Valla’s Annotations to the Latin New Testament were published at Paris in March 1505. Then he went to England for most of a year and worked with Thomas More on a translation of Lucian’s Dialogues of the Dead and other satires. Erasmus on his way to Italy got them published in Paris by Josse Bade in 1506.

In January 1506 Pope Julius II absolved Erasmus from any penalties for being a priest of illegitimate birth so that he could accepted ecclesiastical benefices. Henry VII’s court physician Giovanni Battista Boerio of Genoa hired Erasmus to direct the education of his children in Italy. He went to Florence, and on September 4 he obtained his doctorate in theology from the University of Turin. He witnessed Julius II’s triumphal entry into Bologna on November 11. He was in Italy for three years and expanded his Adages into Thousands of Adages (Adagiorum Chiliades). In November 1507 he sent translations of the plays Hecuba and Iphigenia at Aulis by Euripides for Aldo Manuzio to publish in Venice. In Padua he gave lessons to the fifteen-year-old Alexander Stewart, who was the son of King James IV of Scotland and who was already Archbishop of St. Andrews. While in Rome he attended a bull fight in the Pope’s palace, but he preferred the interval of pantomime to the gory sport. Cardinal Riario asked Erasmus to write a memorandum for and against Pope Leo X going to war on Venice. The documents are lost except for a summary that indicates he recommended arbitration because even a just war is unpredictable. He also argued that a priest and especially a pope should not fight, especially for territory.

Erasmus wrote On the Education of Children (De Pueris Instituendis) in Italy, but it was not published until 1529. He recognized the influence of heredity and examined how children learn through early impressions and unconscious imitation. He criticized fathers who drive or threaten their children or who cannot control their tempers while disciplining. He believed children could begin learning as soon as they could speak, and they are ready for systematic education by the age of seven. He objected to harsh corporal punishment because of its bad effects, and he believed that good teachers are gentle and kind and use ingenuity to make learning pleasant and easy. He praised the first humanistic textbook Rudimenta by Vittorino’s student N. Perotti.

In the summer of 1509 Erasmus began a sojourn at the home of Thomas More that lasted nearly two years. While he was waiting for his books to arrive, he wrote his most famous book, The Praise of Folly, which he dedicated to More when it was published at Paris in 1511. The satire shows how popular and respected folly is among mankind and pokes fun at the foibles of the time. Folly speaks and apologizes for praising himself with the proverb that a man is entitled to praise himself when no one else will do it. His father of Folly is Plutus, the god of wealth, and he was born on the Fortunate Isles. The members of his family are Self-Love, Flattery, Forgetfulness, Hatred of Work, Pleasure, Stupidity, Revelry, and Heavy Sleep.

The two furious tyrants who war on reason are anger and lust. The foolish like to be praised, and this desire leads to cities held together by empires, builds legal and religious systems, and makes life a fool’s game. Folly shows how people are driven by their emotions like a beast. Fools are the lowest of slaves because their choices subject them to so many shameful masters. Stoics try to banish all emotions from the wise as diseases, and Folly argues they end up insensitive without any human feelings. Folly describes how ridiculous is the lust of the elderly. Also hunting wild beasts is portrayed as a waste of time with its silly rituals. Self-love often deceives fools and makes them susceptible to flattery. Folly gives examples to show that more than the common herd are foolish. Even the gods themselves act like fools sometimes. Businessmen spend their whole lives grubbing for money and using mean tricks, lies, stealing, and fraud to mislead the public. Scholars and authors can also be petty.

The Church is not spared by Erasmus’ caustic wit. Pope Julius II had recently led troops into battle. So Folly points out how the popes make war their only duty while morals and the ways of Christ are disregarded. Theologians spend years learning how to quibble over the scriptures. Monks claim they practice various kinds of asceticism and give excuses for their laziness and big bellies. The antics of preachers are described. Even the powerful are foolish, and their folly causes much suffering for mankind.

Erasmus explained his ideas on humanistic curriculum in his De Ratione Studii in 1511. For reading he recommended the Gospels and Proverbs supplemented by selections from Plutarch, Seneca, and Aesop. He emphasized the learning of Latin and the orators Cicero and Quintilian. For modern usage in addition to Valla’s Elegantiae his own De Copia Verborum (On the Arsenal of Words) and De Conscribendis Epistolis (On Writing Letters) could be helpful. He was skeptical of the scholastic methods using logic, grammar, and theology, though he liked Agricola’s De Inventione. Erasmus believed that moral duty and religious understanding are the most important goals of education. For these he added the Christian Fathers, Terence, and Virgil. In August 1511 Bishop John Fisher of Rochester persuaded Erasmus to begin teaching Greek as well as divinity at Cambridge University, and he did so until January 1514.

After Pope Julius II died in February 1513, the satire Julius Excluded from Heaven was published anonymously. The style is clearly that of Erasmus, but he later implied he may not have written the piece. Yet scholars doubt anyone else could have written what was published in 1517. In the dialog Julius and his Genius find the doors to heaven are locked, and the former pope’s key does not work. Peter smells Julius and refuses to open the gates. Peter sees many signs of impiety and none of holiness, and he objects to Julius having twenty thousand soldiers and ruffians behind him. Julius has no more standing than any other dead man. Julius tells how he created new offices in order to fill the papal treasury. He sent out bribes to bring in more money, and he brags about conquering Bologna, defeating Venice, harassing Ferrara, and driving the French out of Italy. Peter asks about his followers and his leaden bulls. Christ told him to admit those who clothed the naked, fed the hungry, visited prisoners, and helped pilgrims. Julius says he should be revered because he was pope, but Peter notes he is a criminal, drunkard, murderer, simoniac, poisoner, perjurer, skinflint, and one befouled by lust.

After Julius refused to honor his oath to call a council, another was called. Then he condemned them and called his own council, causing a schism. Peter tells him that Christ wants him to accept all people. Julius tells how after defeating the Venetians he got them to help him fight the French. He also persuaded the Emperor and the kings of England, Hungary, and Portugal to aid his war. Peter calls that the power of Satan, not a pope. Julius brags how he created regal palaces, armies, and other luxuries, and he shows contempt for the poverty of Peter, who holds him responsible for the death of thousands of Christian soldiers. Peter declines to let in a disease like Julius and advises him to create his own private paradise. Julius arrogantly threatens to drive him out. Peter realizes that Julius is why he has had so few candidates for admission lately.

In March 1514 Erasmus wrote to Abbot of Saint Bertin, his former patron, against the folly of war, noting that war had changed the spirit of England. He hoped the abbot would influence Emperor Maximilian and his son Charles and English nobility so that a general peace could be obtained. Later when he wrote to Pope Leo X, Erasmus believed that the current state of the armies required a truce first before permanent peace could be reached. In August he visited the publisher Johann Froeben in Basel. Erasmus was working on the letters and treatises of Jerome and the Life of Jerome of Strido. He saw what monasticism was like before the tyranny of vows set in.

Erasmus on Education 1514-17

Erasmus began editing Seneca’s works in 1515. He came back to Basel in July and spent nearly a year preparing his edition of the Greek and Latin New Testament with an Exhortation (Paraclesis) as the preface to urge readers to follow the Gospels. He encouraged his readers to learn the teachings that the Christ wanted disseminated throughout the world. He urged all women to read the Gospels and the letters of Paul, and he hoped that they would be translated into all the languages of humanity. The teachings of the Christ need not only to be understood but to be practiced as well. The person who exemplifies them in daily life is the true doctor, and the true task of a Christian theologian is to persuade people to live an angelic life. Erasmus believed that the philosophy of Christ is easily absorbed by the human mind because it is in accord with human nature. No one has taught this philosophy better than Jesus himself. Yet many of these teachings are also found in the books of the pagans. Socrates often taught that one should not repay an injury with another injury, and he demonstrated that the soul lives beyond death and is immortal. Erasmus warned Christians against the “graven images” of relics because the life and teachings of Christ are so much more important.

In his Method of True Theology he suggested how understanding the celestial philosophy of the Christ and praying could be used to improve piety while reducing pride and scholastic arguing. The soul is to purify vices, and the philosophy is expressed more by emotions than by syllogisms. They do not scramble for money because their treasure is in heaven. The Christ wins over people by his example and his teachings, “not by engines of war” nor by arguments.

The two versions of the New Testament and the Complete Works of Jerome in four volumes were published in February 1516. Erasmus showed how some scriptural passages of the New Testament had been distorted to justify modern rituals. The Greek word for “repentance” (metanoia) means changing one’s mind or heart, not punishment to atone for sin. Erasmus considered all Christians, not just Peter, the rock of the Church, and he advocated a general council. Popes and bishops should not be tyrants over the people. The admonition by Jesus not to swear at all had been changed to not swearing falsely. Jesus taught people to accept persecution rather than quarrel or wage war. The philosophy of Christ calls for rebirth and renewal. The yoke is light because all one has to do is love. Erasmus also believed that scripture could be interpreted allegorically.

Erasmus became a counselor of the 16-year-old Archduke Charles of Burgundy in January 1516, and he published his Education of a Christian Prince in June. This work is in sharp contrast to the amorality of Machiavelli’s Prince, which had been written in 1513 but was not printed until 1532. Erasmus wanted to entrust the state to a prince who has “wisdom, justice, moderation, foresight, and zeal for the public welfare.” His teacher should be strong enough to control the wildness of the youth while having friendly understanding to temper the restraints. He hoped to find one or two out of many thousands who would be honest and wise. First the teacher must free the prince’s mind from the false opinions of the common people.

Princes may be led astray by their wealth, power, luxurious pleasures, freedom to do whatever they want, bad precedents of foolish princes, the turmoil of human affairs, and flattery. The teachings of the Christ need to be applied more by the prince than by anyone. Virtue is its own reward, and the duty of a good prince is to consider the welfare of the people. The true Christian is the one who has embraced the Christ inwardly and who emulates him by pious deeds. His concern for the state should cover personal ambitions. History shows that the morals of the people mirror the life of the prince. God rules the universe with supreme judgment and is not swayed by emotions.

Erasmus believed that the ruling power of a Christian state should be for administration, kindness, and protection, and the ruler should be good, wise, and watchful. The ruler should be exacting of himself in giving an account of his acts because God will demand an accounting. The one who has to look out for everyone must examine things and be especially wise. The duties of a good prince are to work for what is best and avoid and remove evils while developing and strengthening good conditions. Erasmus did not agree with Machiavelli that it is useful for a prince to be feared; rather he considered fear the poorest assurance of long duration in office.

The prince should avoid flatterers, for no great tyranny ever oppressed people without having flatterers. Those most susceptible to flattery are the young and the elderly who are weak. Erasmus recommended that the prince read works by Plutarch, Seneca, and Plato as well as the Politics of Aristotle and the Offices of Cicero. The prince should follow the example of rulers who care more for the welfare of their people than for their own lives, for a prince who violates the state injures himself. The people are won over by clemency, affability, fairness, courtesy, and kindness, and the prince can enhance his authority by being wise, honest, self-restrained, serious, and alert.

The goal of a prince should be to pass on a more prosperous state than he received. The chief hope of a state is in the proper education of its boys and girls. The prince should minimize demands on the people by limiting taxes to luxuries, avoiding wars and long travels, suppressing graft among office-holders, and administering the kingdom properly. If circumstances require raising taxes, then the prince should do so without adding hardships on the poor. Food and other necessary commodities should be taxed as lightly as possible. The prince should distribute benefits so as not to harm anyone while avoiding ruining some to elevate others. The Christian prince may consider unbelievers as outsiders, but he should not harm them.

Laws are based on fundamental principles of justice and equity for the good of the commonwealth. Even pagans believe that any law which is unjust or harmful to the public is no law at all. The purpose of law should be to restrain crime by reason rather than by punishment. Humans as the highest of all animals should not be coerced by threats and violence but may be stimulated to good conduct by rewards. The prince should evaluate people by their worth and character rather than by their material wealth. Fines should go more to the injured party than to the public treasury. Crimes by corrupt officials and men of rank against the poor should have heavier penalties. A criminal who escapes may be punished later, and condemning an innocent person is worse. Erasmus believed that in a free country speech should be free. Vengeance is sought by those with weak character while a prince should be generous and magnanimous. Laws should be as few as possible but just as possible for the welfare of the state. Magistrates should be selected for their wisdom and integrity, and he agreed with Plato that they should be at least fifty years old but less than seventy.

Erasmus questioned the need for many treaties as if everyone were enemies, and their terms may lead to disputes and war. In an era when princes were often married to other royals to make political alliances, Erasmus believed that their marriages should be a private matter. Such alliances can make wars more likely when anyone is offended. The prince should care most about the prosperity of the people. Good laws can stop evil practices; bad laws can be repealed; and distorted laws may be amended. Corrupt magistrates should be punished or corrected.

Wars are criminal and disastrous and should be avoided by any means possible. They should count the cost that includes worries, expenditures, trials, and long preparation. Why should Christians battle each other? Augustine and others approved of a “just war,” but Jesus, Peter, and Paul opposed violence. Erasmus suggested that war could be avoided by finding bishops, abbots, magistrates, and learned men to arbitrate the conflicts. To punish an enemy a prince first has to promote hostile actions among his own people by using their money and sacrificing soldiers. The kingdom of Christ was created, established, and expanded without using warfare. Erasmus concluded by urging his pupil Charles, who became king of Spain that year and Holy Roman Emperor in 1519, to take after the Prince of Peace.

Erasmus went to Brussels in September 1516. In January 1517 he petitioned Pope Leo X for a dispensation from having to live at Steyn and wear the full religious habit, and these were granted. In February he moved to Antwerp. There he wrote his Paraphrase of the Epistle to the Romans, which led to his paraphrasing the other books of the New Testament. Erasmus went to England in April, and on May 1 mobs in London killed foreign merchants including Flemings from the homeland of Erasmus. He was also concerned that Henry VIII might act despotically against him, and he left England and never returned. In June he wrote the preface for his edition of the Lives of the Caesars by Suetonius. Erasmus encouraged all men and women to read the Gospels and the writings of Paul, and his New Testament encouraged religious reform and paved the way for Luther, who burst on the scene with his Theses on October 31, 1517.

Erasmus on Peace

In 1488 Erasmus wrote his “Oration on Peace and Discord” arguing that going to war for temporal possessions is both wicked and foolish, and he suggested that a divided society is like a disease in the body that endangers the whole structure. No one, much less a Christian, can maintain one’s dignity while fighting. Holland was being torn apart by strife between the two noble families of the Hoeks and the Kabeljauws. Erasmus asked what land would be more opulent if it were not ruined by the petulant factionalism. Harvests and villages are burned; laborers are killed; women are abused; no road is safe; cities starve; justice is buried as laws are overthrown; and liberty is oppressed. Concord creates wealth and builds cities, but war dissipates and demolishes. Erasmus implored them to seek peace as he wanted to reform society and the Church through education.

In a time of religious fanaticism, which was to continue for over a century, Erasmus used his pen as a weapon for peace. As a humanist he always sought clarity and intelligent solutions to problems. He pointed out the futility and madness of war, especially for people who claim to be Christians. Even wild beasts do not murder each other in such large numbers over such trivial causes. How can those who are part of the unity in Christ war on each other? There is no real glory in war which injures people on both sides and causes such destruction. Human beings were given bodies designed for friendship not war; unlike other animals which have armor, horns, claws, tusks, prickles, poison, or speedy flight, humans are naked, weak, and tender with soft flesh and smooth skin. Furthermore, the inward nature of humans expresses reason, kindness, humor, tears, and speech. Erasmus asked if there is anything in the world better than friendship and love. In a 1489 letter Erasmus echoed Cicero’s sentiment that he hated civil war so much that even the harshest peace is better.

In 1509 Erasmus wrote Against War to persuade Pope Julius II not to make war on Venice. Having described the original human nature, Erasmus contrasted this to the corrupted man of his time who slaughters other people and destroys towns. Humans are supposed to be superior to other animals. Yet beasts of the same species rarely fight each other; beasts kill or fight only from hunger or for self preservation, and they use only natural weapons and armor; beasts usually fight alone and do not engage in mass violence. How has man degraded himself? Erasmus outlined the stages of man’s development of war. The first use of violence was probably in self-defense against wild beasts, and this led to the hunting of dangerous animals and the custom of using their skins for winter clothing. In the second stage people gave up vegetarianism and began to gain pleasure from the cruel killing of animals as they became accustomed to flesh-eating. The habit of killing in the third stage led to occasional manslaughter. People began to praise those who punished “evildoers” by killing them. Men began to band together and use weapons. In the final stage empires developed and used offensive wars for greed and conquest. Tyrants made war their policy, and devious reasoning was employed to make the murder of strangers seem honorable. This for Erasmus was the contemporary situation. “War, what other thing is it than a common manslaughter of many men together, and a robbery, the which, the farther it sprawls abroad, the more mischievous it is?”9

What, then, can we do about it? Erasmus took the position that even from self-interest war is extremely expensive and wasteful. If the leaders of both sides counted all the costs of a war, they would realize that it would be wiser to settle the disputes by arbitration. Even the worst natural disasters such as earthquakes, fires, floods, and plagues are not as bad as the man-made calamity of war. People have the use of reason to solve problems. Erasmus described the suffering of the soldiers, who must slaughter or be slaughtered. Neither is their material gain in war, which must destroy towns before rebuilding them. The empire builders are really the enemies of humanity.

Erasmus contrasted the peace of Christ and the early Church to the frequent warfare of the Christians of his time. They tried to justify themselves by scholastic sophistry and reference to civil laws. Erasmus refuted the six major arguments that had been used to rationalize a “just” war by Christian nations. Even if war was sanctioned by the Old Testament, Jews were not Christians, and Jesus ordered Peter to put up his sword. The use of both temporal and spiritual swords to war on heretics and infidels likewise was unjustifiable. The word of Christ himself has more authority than that of the theologians, even of Thomas Aquinas. Punishing evildoers is not socially beneficial because thousands of innocent people suffer in a war. Princes are not justified in fighting for their right because they gain power only by the “consent of the people,” who are “free by nature.” People have the right to take their power back if the king abuses it by injuring the people. The traditional view that Christians can war against infidels like the Turks is hypocritical to the teachings of Christ and is hardly the way to convert anybody.

Erasmus wrote The Complaint of Peace while the Low Countries were preparing for the peace conference at Cambrai in March 1517.  He pleaded for peace by letting Peace speak. Peace laments that people have rejected the source of all their happiness, prosperity, and security. Peace observes the harmony and concord in the universe and how elephants, sheep, cranes, jays, storks, dolphins, bees, and ants get along and work together.

Unanimity is of absolute necessity for man,
yet neither nature, education, nor the rewards of concord
and the disadvantages of disunity
seem to be able to unite mankind in mutual love.10

The human abilities to speak, reason, and cultivate friendship ought to lead to peace. People benefit from reciprocity and mutual support, and thus cities have been constructed. Children depend upon parental care. Humans are capable of peace, and the teaching of Christ is a powerful influence for peace; but somehow men have an insatiable desire for fighting, and dissension haunts the courts of princes. Peace turns to the scholars and philosophers but here finds continual disputing. Even the monks are divided into factions. Peace hopes that in marriage concord might be found, but strife creeps in; even within individuals inclinations and reason struggle with each other. Yet the angels proclaimed peace on Earth at the coming of Christ, who also taught peace. The princes of this world put men in uniforms as a sign to whom they belong, but the Christ said that his disciples would be known only by the love they have for each other. Peace describes the love of Christ and the peaceful qualities of true Christians. Humanity is one; all Christians are of the same religion and hope for the same salvation.

Christians should war against vice.
Yet they ally themselves with vice to war against men.
All pretense aside,
ambitions, anger, and the desire for plunder
are at the base of Christian wars.11

Peace is ashamed at the vain and superficial reasons, which princes use to plunge the world into war. The desire for power is the most criminal of all causes of war. Peace complains, “Christians attack Christians with the very weapons of hell.”12 Older and experienced leaders in government and in the Church perpetrate war; thus a few cause the destruction of many. Peace asserts, “If they examined their consciences, they would find that the real reasons are anger, ambition, and stupidity.”13 It is stupid because they are not able to find a more intelligent solution. God is not deceived by the pretenses. Peace advises, “There are laws, learned men, pious abbots, and reverend bishops, whose mature counseling can bring these matters to a peaceful solution.”14 Even if their arbitration decisions are not perfectly just, the result would be far superior to the ravages of war. Peace warns that confederations do not guarantee peace and often cause war.

We must look for peace
by purging the very sources of war,
false ambitions and evil desires.
As long as individuals serve their own personal interests,
the common good will suffer.
No one achieves what he desires
if the methods employed be evil.
The princes should use their wisdom
for the promotion of what is good for the entire populace.15

The king should be like a father of a family and remember that the people are free citizens and fellow Christians, and the people ought to respect the king and support the common good. Consent and approval by the citizens are the checks on the ambition of the prince. Those who work to secure peace and concord ought to be honored. Advisors to the ruler should be neither inexperienced such that they find war attractive nor in a position to profit by warfare. Peace concludes, “Nothing is more conducive to genuine peace than a sincere desire that comes from the heart.”16 Every effort must be made to remove obstacles even though concessions must be made. Divisive hatreds and prejudices must be overcome. The costs of waging war must be weighed carefully—destruction of cities and fields, theft, murder, immorality, injury, and death, all at enormous expense. Finally Peace pleads with the princes, priests, theologians, and bishops to promote peace. Those who love peace must not allow the few who gain from war to have their way. In peace kingdoms will be ruled by law rather than by arms; the people will enjoy productivity and tranquility, and friendship and happiness will abound.

Colet and English Humanism

Manuel Chrysolas first visited England in 1408 and taught Greek. The humanist Piero del Monte was in England 1434-40 as the papal collector, and he often met with Duke Humphrey of Gloucester who began hiring Italian secretaries. In 1436 during the Flanders expedition Tito Livio Frulovisi wrote the panegyric Humfroidos in Latin verse. His successor Antonio Beccaria of Verona translated the writings of Athanasius into Latin for Humphrey to use against the Lollards. The duke loved classical books and donated more than three hundred to the Oxford Library that was named after him. William Grey graduated from Oxford and studied logic, philosophy, and theology at the University of Cologne from 1442 and at Padua. At Ferrara he and Robert Flemmyng attended Guarino’s classes. Grey became bishop of Ely in 1454. He bought books while traveling in Italy, and upon his death in 1478 they went to Balliol College. John Free studied at Balliol before Grey sent him to Guarino at Ferrara in 1456. In 1448 William Byngham founded the college Godshouse at Cambridge for training teachers. George Neville studied at Balliol. He became bishop of Exeter in 1458 and archbishop of York in 1465, and he hired Greek scholars.

From 1464 to 1467 the monk William Tilley of Selling studied at Padua, Bologna, and Rome. He brought back classical manuscripts and began teaching Greek at Canterbury. His student Thomas Linacre went to Italy with Tilley about 1486, earning a degree in medicine at Padua, studying with Poliziano and Demetrius Chalcondyles in Florence and editing Greek books for the printer Aldus Manutius in Venice before returning to Oxford in 1492 to teach Greek. He began tutoring Prince Arthur in 1501. Linacre also translated Galen and founded the London College of Physicians. William Latimer learned how to translate Aristotle. William Grocyn also studied in Florence, Rome, and Padua, and he began teaching Greek at Oxford in 1491.

John Colet was born in January 1467 in a family with eleven sons and eleven daughters. His father Henry Colet was mayor of London several times. He studied Cicero, Plato, and Plotinus as well as Dionysius, Origen, Cyprian, Ambrose, and Jerome. After earning his M.A. at Oxford in 1490 he went to Paris, where he met Erasmus and Budé, and then to Italy. He returned to England and gave public lectures on the Greek epistles of Paul to the Romans and 1 Corinthians. Erasmus came to Oxford in 1498. Henry VII appointed Colet dean at St. Paul’s in 1504. When his father died about 1508, Colet gave the legacy to endow St. Paul’s, making the tuition free and tripling the number of students to 153. On February 6, 1512 he made the opening speech at the convocation of clergy at the London Cathedral, criticizing the abuses of the Church but urging that reformation must begin with the individual. That year he made St. Paul’s a Christian humanist school with William Lily as headmaster.

Colet became rector at St. Paul’s Cathedral and chaplain to Henry VIII (r. 1509-47). On March 27, 1513, which was Good Friday, Colet preached a courageous sermon against war to Henry VIII who was preparing to invade France. Erasmus wrote an epitome of the sermon in which Colet urged the King to follow the example of Christ and not fight the bad with the bad, slaughtering each other, not for Christ but for the devil. Henry persuaded Colet to explain to his soldiers that he opposed all wars because “for Christians no war was a just one.” He went on the pilgrimage to Canterbury in 1514, and the next year he preached at Wolsey’s installation as a cardinal. Colet was one of the first to use the historical method of interpreting scriptures.

In commenting on Paul’s letter to the Romans, Colet had noted that war is not conquered by war but by the peace, patience, and faith in God by which the apostles overcame the world. Colet believed that significant reforms could only be achieved by peaceful means because to correct evils by violence only produces fresh evils. While traveling in Italy, Colet had learned of the four main points of Savonarola, namely fear of God, commonwealth, universal peace, and political reform, and he knew of the antiwar views of the Lollards and studied the writings of Wyclif. Colet accepted the scholarly understanding that Dionysius was not a friend of Paul but wrote several centuries later. He agreed with Dionysius and Pico della Mirandola that love is more important than knowledge.

Colet believed that war is evil and repudiated traditional scholastic attitudes on war. He argued that war is not conquered by war but by peace, love, humility, and reliance on God. In this way the apostles overcame the entire world. He believed that reforms must be achieved peacefully.

More’s Utopia

Thomas More was born in London on February 7, 1478 as the oldest son of the lawyer and judge John More. Thomas attended St. Anthony’s school before serving from 1490 to 1492 as a page to John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury. Then More studied at Oxford University for two years. After studying law at the Inns of Court he became a lawyer in 1501. For four years he lived in a Carthusian monastery next to Lincoln’s Inn. He met Erasmus in 1499, and they became good friends. More translated Gianfrancesco’s biography of his uncle Pico della Mirandola.

In January 1504 More was elected to the House of Commons. He led the opposition to increased taxes requested by King Henry VII and felt so threatened he almost left England. More was drawn to the Church, but rather than remain celibate he decided to marry. Although he liked her younger sister better, he married 18-year-old Jane Colt in 1505 out of propriety and pity. He was determined to educate her. She bore him three daughters and a son before dying in 1511. Less than a month later he married the widow Alice Middleton, who had property and was several years older than he. He taught her music, and their relationship included humorous exchanges. He was one of the first in England to be concerned about educating women, and he took pains to teach his daughters and Alice’s daughter.

While Erasmus was living in his house, More learned Greek and worked on a Latin translation of Lucian’s dialogs with Erasmus, who did 28 of the 32 dialogs which were published in 1506. Erasmus also stayed with More while he was writing The Praise of Folly from 1509 to 1511. More was influenced by The Cloud of Unknowing, Hilton’s Scale of Perfection, and The Imitation of Christ, which he believed was written by Jean Gerson. More gained a reputation for eloquence by lecturing on Augustine's City of God in the church St. Lawrence Jewry. He taught law at Furnivall’s Inn and Lincoln’s Inn. He served as an undersheriff in London from 1510 to 1518, presiding over the Sheriff’s court once a week. He was considered an impartial judge and a patron of the poor. More has been criticized by biographers for his handling of the case of Richard Hunne, who was charged with heresy and was found hanged. More went along with the suicide verdict even though evidence indicated he was probably murdered. In his later account More seemed to be defending himself and the Church against its detractors.

In 1513 More wrote epigrams against the French poet Brixius, who had celebrated the victories of the French captain Hervé of the Cordéliere against the English in 1512. Influenced by Sallust, More worked on his History of Richard III, which contrasted the good governance of Edward IV to the scheming Richard of Gloucester who murdered his way to the throne of England. He never completed it for publication, but after his death it was printed in Latin and English and became popular, influencing Shakespeare’s play. More’s law career was successful, and in 1515 he became a senior Lent Reader at Lincoln’s Inn, giving lectures annually. He also joined canon and civil lawyers as a member of the Doctors’ Commons in Paternoster Row which prepared him for diplomatic work.

In the spring of 1515 More went with an English mission to Bruges in Flanders, and Erasmus visited him there in May. He went to Tournai to try to help Erasmus get a position there, and in late July he rode to Antwerp, where he represented English merchants. More stayed with Pieter Gillis, who  had been an outstanding student of Erasmus and was now Chief Secretary to Antwerp. More used the name Peter Gilis as the protagonist in his novel Utopia, which he began writing after he returned to Bruges at the end of September. He first wrote the longer second book which he called De Optima Republicae Statu (The Best Condition of Society). The first part was written quickly after he returned to London. The first edition of Utopia in Latin was published in December 1516, and four more Latin editions were printed by 1519. The book was translated into German in 1524 but was not published in English until 1551. The word “utopia” means “no place” in Greek but is also a homonym for “eutopia” which means “good place.” Because of this book the word “utopia” came to mean an ideal or perfect state where everyone lives in harmony.

In Utopia the author Thomas More recounts how Henry VIII sent him to Flanders as his envoy, and in Antwerp he met Peter Gilis. Peter introduces him to Raphael Hythloday, who traveled with Amerigo Vespucci on three of his four voyages to America, which was named after Amerigo. On his last voyage Raphael traveled south of the equator and discovered the island of Utopia where seamen were glad to learn how to use a compass.

Although Raphael is not ambitious for wealth or power, More urges him to become a political advisor and learns that Raphael was in England in 1497 after the revolt by the Cornishmen. He talked with Cardinal Morton who was then Chancellor of England. Raphael objected to the harshness of punishing thieves by hanging them and argued that it would be better to let men earn their own living. He noted that many nobles live idly while they raise the rents of their tenants. Those who have carried a sword refuse to work like poor laborers, and they become soldiers or thieves. Much of the land in England is used for raising sheep and selling their wool. The wool trade is held in the hands of the rich, and their enclosures raise the price of grain. Poverty becomes worse while it exists next to luxuries of the wealthy. Children who are not educated tend to become thieves. The law of Moses punishes theft with a fine, not death, which punishment causes thieves to be more likely to commit murder when robbing. Raphael notes that in Utopia a convicted thief must make restitution to the owner and be imprisoned as a slave. Such slaves can be hired for a lower wage by free men. Slaves can be put to death for carrying a weapon or for attempting to escape.

Long ago the Utopians took over another kingdom their king claimed through marriage, but they learned that it caused more problems than it was worth. They decided to be satisfied with their own kingdom and leave others alone. A king who rules by mistreating and plundering his people loses all majesty. He should live on his own income and stop crime by educating his subjects. Utopia prohibits kings from acquiring excessive wealth. With this More was criticizing Henry VII who was hated for becoming rich at the expense of the poor.

Raphael tells how the Utopians believe that to make institutions good individual people must become good. Private property is the rule in Europe, but in Utopia all things are held in common. Europeans have not conformed to the rule of Christ; instead they have accommodated his teachings to how they live. Raphael believes that justice cannot exist where property is limited to a few while many suffer. For Utopians virtue is its own reward. They share everything equally and have few laws. Utopians are not smarter, but they are more willing to learn.

In the second book Raphael describes Utopia and its people. Rural houses have at least forty people in them, and thirty households are under a phylarch they elect. Farm work is limited to two years, but many choose to continue farming. They use grain only for bread, and they drink wine, apple or pear cider, and water. Crews from the towns help them with the harvests which can be done in one day per crop. Water is piped into towns, or cisterns collect rain water. Doors are not locked because there is no private property. Most windows are made of glass. Utopians like to garden and compete with each other on growing food. There are about two hundred phylarchs, and they elect the prince from four men nominated by the four quarters of the city. The prince serves for life unless he tries to become a tyrant. The senate allows time for debate before voting. Men and women learn a second trade besides agriculture. During cold weather they eat in common dining halls. They enjoy music or conversation and have no gambling. One game depicts virtues fighting vices.

Some who devote themselves to study are exempt from work, but they must be recommended by priests and approved by phylarchs. The priests, phylarchs, and princes are chosen from the scholars.

The chief aim of their constitution and government
is that, whenever public needs permit,
all citizens should be free, so far as possible,
to withdraw their time and energy
from the service of the body,
and devote themselves to the freedom
and culture of the mind.
For that, they think, is the real happiness of life. 17

If a city has too many people, they may join natives on sparsely populated land. They merge, and natives who refuse to accept Utopian polices may be driven out. In each household the elders rule; wives are subject to their husbands; and children must obey their parents. What they produce is stored in common warehouses for all. Food is distributed to the sick in hospitals first. Children are nursed by their mothers or a nurse. Children under five are in a nursery together. People are served light dinners and more elaborate suppers. In the country they eat in their own homes.

Those who run away from their districts without permission are punished. There are no alehouses, taverns, brothels, or places for evading work. Because everyone shares, no one is in poverty or has to beg. Surpluses are exported to other countries, where one-seventh is given freely to the poor. In trading they receive things they lack and much silver and gold, which they accumulate for emergencies. In Utopia gold and silver are not valued but are used for chamber pots and stools. Criminals are forced to wear golden rings on their ears and fingers and gold chains on their necks. Pearls and gems are polished and given to children as toys.

Every child is introduced to good literature. They are taught the difference between goods of the body, the mind, and external gifts. Their religion teaches that the human soul is immortal and that virtues and good deeds are rewarded while sins are punished. Thus Utopians find happiness in honest pleasures. The first rule of reason is to love God, and the second rule of nature is to live joyfully and help others. The greatest humanity is to relieve the suffering of others. Individuals are free to pursue their own interests; but some choose to limit their own pleasures in order to work for humanity, and they may take on the hardest tasks, believing they will be rewarded spiritually. Utopians consider foolish those who think they are better because they have finer clothes. Coarser pleasures are based on fulfilling a need such as hunger or thirst or itching. Other experiences like music may excite pleasure by itself. The best bodily pleasure is the harmonious state of health, and this is most valued by those who prefer pleasures of the mind most highly. Pleasures that lead to pain are considered false. Utopians like to learn and are eagerly instructed in Greek because of its great literature. Raphael tells how he took many Greek books to Utopia.

The children of slaves are not slaves. Slaves from foreign countries are treated better than Utopia’s criminals. The ill are taken care of in hospitals, and those who want to end their suffering may choose to die by not eating or taking a drug. Women do not marry until they are 18, and husbands must be 22. Premarital intercourse is severely punished by banning them from marriage unless the prince pardons them. Only rarely incompatible couples may get permission to divorce. Adulterers are punished with slavery, and the victims are given a divorce. Slaves who rebel are put to death, but patient prisoners may be pardoned. Jeering a deformed person is considered disgraceful because the mocker stupidly reproaches the cripple. They appreciate natural beauty and believe cosmetics are detestable. Those who excel in serving their country may be rewarded with statues in the marketplace. Utopia has no need for lawyers, but they plead their own cases honestly to the judge.

In the past Utopia helped some nations throw off tyranny, and they often asked for Utopian rulers for one year or five, after which they may be replaced. Utopians make good officials because they are not tempted by money. Utopia prefers not to have treaties because they do not have enemies. They believe people are united by good will, not by words. They hate war and do not consider it glorious. Men and women are given some military training, and they fight only when necessary to protect their land or that of their friends from an invading army. Their only goal is to prevent what caused the war. They offer rewards for killing the enemy’s king and other leaders, or they may incite others to overthrow the king. They use gold and silver to hire mercenaries and pay more than other nations do. Only volunteers fight in other countries; but if their country is invaded, everyone is called to arms. When they win a battle, they take prisoners rather than kill. They do not plunder cities or ravage territory, but they may execute men who refused to surrender. When the war is over, they collect its cost from the defeated.

Most Utopians believe in one supreme God who created the universe and is eternal, infinite, and invisible. Differing religions are allowed as long as they do not proselytize with bitterness toward others. When they learned about Christianity, they were impressed that Christ encouraged his disciples to share goods in common. They accept Christians, but one obnoxious evangelist was sentenced to exile. Utopians generally believe that dead persons may be invisibly present among them. Some people make charity their life work, and they may work even harder than slaves for only a heavenly reward. Some are celibate and abstain from eating meat, rejecting physical pleasures. Others prefer to marry and do not despise its comforts. Each city has only thirteen priests, and seven go to war with the army to pray and intervene to prevent useless killing and looting. Priests are elected by secret ballots of the people. They are trusted to teach the children pure morals and good manners. Women may be elected priests, but usually only elderly widows are. The churches contain no images of God, and the only name for God they use is Mithra.

Raphael concludes that all Utopians are rich because no individual owns anything. Other societies reward gentry and bankers who are parasites while no provision is made for farmers and workers when they become sick or destitute. The rich even try to grind out more wealth from the poor by keeping their wages low or by swindling or taxing them. He believes that pride is what keeps the world from adopting Utopian laws. After hearing Raphael’s story, More comments that many of their laws are absurd and that he does not agree with all of them. Yet he finds much in their commonwealth worth imitating, though he doubts those in his country will.

During Easter week in 1517 the Franciscan community of Grey Friars let the London broker John Lincoln preach against the abuses by foreign merchants in the fields near St. Mary Spital. On April 28 apprentices attacked some of the aliens in London, and a riot against foreigners was expected on May 1. As an undersheriff More spoke to a crowd that day, and according to a passage attributed to Shakespeare in the Elizabethan play, Sir Thomas More, he calmed down the crowd. Then when stones and clubs were thrown at the official party, a sergeant-at-arms shouted, “Down with them!” In the riot that ensued some foreign merchants were killed, and about three hundred people were arrested. A few days later eleven were sentenced and hanged in London. The other arrested men and women were led before King Henry VIII with halters around their necks. More was present as Cardinal Wolsey pleaded for their lives. After his second appeal Henry pardoned them. The Dutch Erasmus left London and never returned to England. During the summer More went on another diplomatic mission to Calais to negotiate over the commercial disputes and discuss the problem of piracy.


1. The Ship of Fools by Sebastian Brant tr. Edwin H. Zeydel, p. 57.
2. Ibid., p. 65.
3. Ibid., p. 107.
4. Ibid., p. 143.
5. Ibid., p. 232.
6. Handbook of the Militant Christian 1:5 by Erasmus in The Essential Erasmus tr. John P. Dolan, p. 46.
7. Ibid. 1:7. p. 50.
8. Ibid. 2, p. 90.
9. Against War by Erasmus ed. J. W. Mackail, p. 23 quoted in The Better Part of Valor by Robert P. Adams, p. 100.
10. The Complaint of Peace by Erasmus in The Essential Erasmus tr. John P. Dolan, p. 179.
11. Ibid., p. 188.
12. Ibid., p. 189.
13. Ibid., p. 192.
14. Ibid., p. 192.
15. Ibid., p. 193.
16. Ibid., p. 196.
17. Utopia by Thomas More tr. Robert M. Adams, p. 44.

Copyright © 2011 by Sanderson Beck

EUROPE & Humanism 1400-1517 has been published.
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EUROPE & Reform 1517-1588

Milan and Venice 1400-1517
Florence, the Medici and Machiavelli
Rome, Popes, and Naples 1400-1517
Italy and Humanism
Eastern Europe 1400-1517
German Empire 1400-1517
Scandinavia 1400-1517
Castile, Aragon, Granada, and Portugal 1400-1517
France’s Long War 1400-1453
France in the Renaissance 1453-1517
England of Henry IV, V, and VI 1399-1461
England 1461-1517
Scotland and Ireland 1400-1517
Summary and Evaluation Europe 1400-1517

Chronology of Europe 1400-1588
World Chronology

BECK index