A date that may have little connotation in the minds of history students everywhere was, in fact, the date that gave birth to a man more brave than any comic book could ever illustrate. On October 28, 1466, Desiderius Erasmus was born the illegitimate son of Margaretha Rogers and Gerard in Rotterdam, Holland. Despite such a dull and seemingly trite birth, Erasmus would grow to be a great influence in the Renaissance era. Through the questioning of established people and institutions, such as modern theologians and education systems, Erasmus became known as the “Prince of the Humanists” and a great revolutionary known throughout the world.
Erasmus was raised by his mother through boyhood and, at the age of nine, attended the school of the famous humanist Hegius at Deventer. At the age of 13, his mother died; soon after, his father followed in her footsteps. Left orphaned, the boy’s guardians sent him to the monastery school of Hertogenbosch for two years. As a youth, he demonstrated anticipation in the learning of Latin, theology, and elegant writing styles, though he later called his time at Hertogenbosch “two wasted years.”
In 1486, Erasmus continued his schooling at monasteries at Emmaus, where he devoted his studies to the ancient classics. He also had religious training while studying at Saint Jerome and Lorenzo Valla. His devotion to studies resulted in the opportunity of a lifetime. In 1491, the Bishop of Cambrai chose Erasmus to accompany him as both his secretary and traveling companion. In 1492, he ordained priesthood, but this still was not enough to fulfill him. Erasmus had a desire to continue his education.
In 1496, the bishop sent Erasmus to continue his studies at the University of Paris. It was here that he befriended the humanists Colet and Thomas Moore. Disappointed by the educational techniques that he found in Paris, the aspiring prodigy of humanism learned only to abandon the scholastic method and study the scriptures. The remainder of his travels took hi to places like Italy. Here, he occupied himself by viewing sacred sites, visiting libraries, learning Greek, and meeting scholars. While in Italy, he stayed with a printer named Aldo Manuzio. Erasmus found himself disappointed by the morality of the papal establishment and the common people’s overwhelming superstitions. He once went as far as to state that life rewards absurdity at the expense of reason. He questioned the shrines and miracles along with the superstition. In addition, he found only one explanation for the success of the pontiffs and priests: the stupidity, ignorance, and gullibility of the faithful.
Erasmus spread his basic beliefs to people in many social classes, though his original intent was to only reach the elite. He strived to convince leaders to be more peaceful, as well as to tolerate and not condemn other people’s ideas. In addition, he believed in church renovation, saying that the propagation of faith should not be governed as a state. Erasmus called himself a citizen of the world, and firmly supported the unity of the European culture. It was ideas like this that aroused the upper and middle classes religiously.
After his death on July 12, 1536 in Basle, Switzerland, Erasmus had left behind his work and his clean reputation. The celibate orthodox Catholic had given the world so much for its time. The theologian redefined traditional thinking and adopted a scientific approach to examining texts through the study of their language. He had also rewritten the New Testament and produced a new Latin translation of the Bible. Perhaps his major contribution, however, was the “Praise of Folly” pamphlet, which spoke against the uncouth conduct of leading classes and church dignitaries. Desiderius Erasmus led people into a new manner of thinking, which is something that Marvel Comics could not dress up in spandex and a cape.