A new intellectual biography of Erasmus by Anthony Levi is scheduled from Yale University Press in October. Erasmus is one of the most significant figures in European intellectual history. Roland Bainton's biography is still a great read, though dated in all kinds of ways. Erasmus' big argument with Luther on the freedom or bondage of the human will was one of the key controversies in early Reformation theology. A Christian anthropology still has to wrestle with the mystery, even the enigma of human freedom as a defining feature of a Christian anthropology.
But Erasmus' love for the Greek New Testament, even allowing for the textual limitations of his work, remains one of the great recovery projects of the Renaissance and of the history of biblical interpretation. Erasmus was passionate about going back to origins, recovering texts overgrown with diversities of later interpretations. And his motivation for doing so was deeply spiritual, theological and intellectual, and each of these was a strand in the conviction that texts have both an integrity to uphold and vulnerability to hijack. Here are Erasmus' words which are celebrated reminders of the extraordinary freedom he won for those who want to read the Bible for themselves.
Christ wishes his mysteries published as openly as possible.
I would that even the lowliest women read the gospels and the Pauline epistles.
I would that they were translated into all languages…
I would that the farmer sing some portion of them at the plough,
the weaver hum some parts of them to the movement of his shuttle,
the traveller lighten the weariness of the journey with stories of this kind.