The wit and wisdom of Desiderius Erasmus

According to James D. Tracy, Desiderius Erasmus was born October 27, 1469 [1466?], Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, and died July 12, 1536, Basel, Switzerland. He was a Dutch humanist but also, paradoxically, the greatest scholar of the northern Renaissance, the first editor of the New Testament, and also an important figure in patristics and classical literature.

Using the philological methods pioneered by Italian humanists, Erasmus helped lay the groundwork for the historical-critical study of the past, especially in his studies of the Greek New Testament and the Church Fathers. His educational writings contributed to the replacement of the older scholastic curriculum by the new humanist emphasis on the classics. By criticizing ecclesiastical abuses, while pointing to a better age in the distant past, he encouraged the growing urge for reform, which found expression both in the Protestant Reformation and in the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Finally, his independent stance in an age of fierce confessional controversy—rejecting both the doctrine of predestination and the powers that were claimed for the papacy—made him a target of suspicion for loyal partisans on both sides and a beacon for those who valued liberty more than orthodoxy.

Here is a selection of his most frequently quoted observations.

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Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.

It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is.

Women, can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

Luther was guilty of two great crimes – he struck the Pope in his crown, and the monks in their belly.

Reflection is a flower of the mind, giving out wholesome fragrance; but revelry is the same flower, when rank and running to seed.

War is delightful to those who have had no experience of it.

There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality; and then there are those who turn one into the other.

If you keep thinking about what you want to do or what you hope will happen, you don’t do it, and it won’t happen.

When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.

He who allows oppression shares the crime.

The most disadvantageous peace is better than the most just war.

The desire to write grows with writing.

Don’t give your advice before you are called upon.

No one respects a talent that is concealed.

The nearer people approach old age the closer they return to a semblance of childhood, until the time comes for them to depart this life, again like children, neither tired of living nor aware of death.

Man’s mind is so formed that it is far more susceptible to falsehood than to truth.

A nail is driven out by another nail. Habit is overcome by habit.

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