Known as the Prince of Humanists, Desiderius Erasmus, here painted by Holbein in later life, together with his friend Thomas More, was one of the towering figures of the 16th century. He is responsible for the reform movements in both the Catholic and Protestant reformations. He introduced the study of scripture. By integrating classical learning with Christian teaching. He brought about a revolution in education. And his vision of a Christian life inspired generations. Yet in the end he would prove to be a highly controversial figure. Many of those who were first attracted to him later abandoned him in favor of the Reformation. He quarrelled famously with Martin Luther. And even within the Catholic Church, his works were later condemned by those who thought he was a dangerous voice within the church. Desiderius Erasmus was born in the low countries around 1467 to parents who were not married. His father later became a priest. His mother and father died when he was a young child, but his father had already imbued in him a love of the classics. A love of ancient literature. Erasmus and his brother as orphans would later be brought up by the Brethren of Common Life and educated. A past that he would reflect on not very favorably. He seemed bound for the monastic life, again, something that didn't suit him particularly well, and then became a priest around 1492. Erasmus studied theology in Paris. And then in 1499 a transformative moment for him as he went to England to visit a friend and came in contact with the great John Colet who would later become Dean of St. Paul's. Colet was an instrumental voice in persuading the young Erasmus to give up the pure study of classics. And to embrace the use of ancient literature in the service of scripture and the Church. Erasmus undertook to learn Greek, which he did with phenomenal speed and ability. And this resulted in the beginning of a series of works that would make his name and extend his influence across Europe. It was from this time following his trip to England that Erasmus's major works began to appear. Starting with his adages in 1500. A series of proverbs drawn from Greek and Latin learning, which Erasmus not only interpreted, but demonstrated their reconciling with Christian learning and wisdom. The adages he would continue to develop throughout his life until 1536 when he died, ever increasing the number as the volumes grew and grew. Other works followed such as the Enchiridi in 1504 in which he wrote a handbook which was for the Christian life. And there we start to see an idea that would become central to Erasmus's teaching, which was the philosophy of Christ. Perhaps the book that is most transformative, most influential and most astonishing, appeared in 1516. And we've already had the opportunity to refer to it. And that was Erasmus's Novum Instrumentum. It was an addition of the New Testament, in which he provided on one hand the Greek and on the other a Latin translation. Initially, that Latin translation was the vulgate, but later, Erasmus provided his own work, his own translation. But together with the text, and perhaps most controversially, was a series of extensive annotations on the bible. The interpretation of words, philological work. This brought a great deal of hostility from within the church to Erasmus. Because people were beginning and to suspect that his work on the text was undermining teaching of scripture by questioning traditional interpretation. What Erasmus did in this text was by the comparison of manuscripts, attempted to produce the best possible version of The New Testament. And he also argued according to his profound belief in a return to classics, one had to have the Greek. And that there should be a harmony between the Greek and Latin translation. This work inspired a whole generation of people who were to become committed to the study of the bible. Committed to the study of the original languages. Erasmus himself did not know Hebrew, but others began the study of Hebrew together with Greek. And this, this engagement with the ancient languages became the heart and soul, not only of the Protestant Reformation as we've spoken about, but to a generation of Catholic reformers. And we'll have a chance later to speak about the development of the Bible in the Catholic reform movement. Erasmus also in his bible provided the prefatory material most notably a part known as the Paraclesis. And in the Paraclesis he developed the argument that we'd already seen earlier on in the philosophy of Christ. A notion of the imitation of Christ as the true form of the Christian life. Erasmus argued also that the Bible should be made available to all people in translation. Although he himself never engaged in that work of translation into the vernacular. Erasmus set an agenda for the study of the Bible in the 16th century. And his methods going back to the comparison of manuscripts, one he had drawn from his own mentor Lorenzo Valla, became the determining form of biblical scholarship throughout the reformation. Erasmus continued after the work on the bible in being drawn into the reformation period. Initially, seemingly, arguing positions that were similar to those that emerged from Luther following 1517. He argued for the availability of scripture in the original languages. He argued for the primacy of faith over external forms of religion. He argued for an ethical form of Christianity, the imitation of Christ doing, imitating the life of Christ in this world. And he seemed to be criticizing the ostentation fo the church. Many people believed that Erasmus and Luther were arguing the same thing and put their names together. But for Erasmus this was a rather horrifying experience, he never argued against the authority of the Pope, although he could be critical of the papacy. He never argued against the structure of the Catholic church although he could be critical of its excesses and degeneracy. He never saw himself as wanting to step outside the church. And he was critical though, of Luther's positions, that Luther was going too far. For many there was a believe that Erasmus, as the great hope of the Catholic Church, should stand up against Luther. Erasmus was extremely reluctant to do this. Until in the early 1520s he decided that he could no longer avoid this conflict. And he drew upon the issue of the freedom of the will. And he and Luther, during the years of the first part of the 1520s, engaged in a sharp exchange upon whether human beings have free will in the question of salvation. Erasmus, for his part, wrote a work that was fairly reserved, polite and elegantly argued. Luther, in turn, wrote a much, much longer text in which, called The Bondage of the Will, in which he assaulted Erasmus again and again. The bait was not resolved in any way whatsoever. However, and the the would never engage in it again. But it was illustrative of the very different ways in which they approached reform. Erasmus hoped for measured change. He believed optimistically that through education, through knowledge of the classical languages, through the harmony of classical world with the Christian faith that the institutions of the church would be transformed. And that people would be brought to lives that modeled the life of Christ. To a form of inner piety that did not depend on the external forms of religion. Luther of course as we've already seen saw things very differently. The Pope was anti Christ and the Church had to be renounced because it was absolutely wrong in what it had taught. Luther argued for justification by faith alone, a position Erasmus could not share. Erasmus had his own difficulties with the Catholic church. But in the city of Bosel where he lived, around him grew a large circle of people. Including the publisher Froben, who was responsible for the dissemination of Erasmus's works across Europe. And some of the most important work that Erasmus did was his additions of the Church Fathers. Perhaps, above all, Jerome. And it is the image of Jerome, here, that we see Erasmus imitating, sitting here in front of his scripture at his work desk. Erasmus very consciously modeled himself on the great doctor of the Church. So not only were his additions of the Bible, which he continued to revise through the 1520s until to just before his death, but his work on the church Fathers. But further he produced paraphrases of scripture, summaries of what is in the gospels and in the letters. He devoted himself to producing works that served the renewal of the church and served the renewal of piety. At times, his wit could be sharp, even bitter, as we see in the work that he dedicates to his close friend Thomas More, The Praise Of Folly. And indeed, throughout Erasmus's writings, there's always a degree of levity, a degree of humor. But that should never blind us to the fact that he had an absolute commitment to reform and restoration. Erasmus was also a patron to humanists across Europe, young men aspiring to enter into the world of becoming humanists, such as the young John Calvin. Could only hope that their letters to Erasmus might be received. A letter from Erasmus was a treasured object, a treasured gift. It was recognition that you had achieved a certain status. Erasmus was at the center of a whole network of learning. He never held a position in a university. He remained what we might know as an independent scholar. But he could live from the sales of his works, which he managed very carefully. Erasmus continued through the 1530's until his death to devote himself to the world of scholarship. His own religious views are sometimes difficult to pin down. He developed an art of skepticism about what could be known for certain. A skepticism about the absolute decrees of the Church. When Basel became a Protestant city in 1529, Erasmus originally left, but then returned. It's a certain irony that he lived in a Protestant city until his death. And that his funeral oration was given by the protestant leader of the city of Basel. Erasmus's influences extended and far beyond his death. He continued to inspire scholars and churchmen. His bible, the New Testament, continued to be used. Luther, for instance, it was the basis of Luther's' own translation of the New Testament in 1522. But far beyond that, the New Testament continued to be reprinted and retranslated from the Greek. Erasmus' writings continued to be printed and read. Until they ran into opposition post Council of Trent when he was censored as a dangerous voice. But he remains for us one of the less known figures of the age. Erasmus' influence perhaps above all in his belief that society and church could be transformed through education, would have profound influence on figures such as Ignatius of Loyola and John Calvin.