Erasmus the Ex-Roman Catholic!

Debra E. Anderson’s article on THE VALIDITY OF THE RECEIVED TEXT unnecessarily maligns the character of Erasmus. She writes, Critics believe that there is no single text which can validly claim the title ‘Received Text,’ that the text originated in the works of a Roman Catholic priest….”   “It must be acknowledged from the outset that these critics’ initial claims are true.”    “Erasmus was indeed a Roman Catholic….”

While rightly acknowledging the Received Text as the New Testament Greek Text her repetitious lies about Erasmus are not useful or necessary. The “critics’ claims” ARE NOT TRUE! [Unless, of course, you can say that Peter S. Ruckman is a Roman Catholic since he once studied to be one].

J.A. Froude, one of Erasmus’ biographers and a professor of History at Oxford writes, “There had gathered about his name the hate which mean men feel for an enemy who was proven too strong for them…The vengeance which monks could not inflict upon him in life, they proposed to wreak upon his bones.”

As the King James translators said in their “The Translators to the Reader,” “[E]nvy striketh most spitefully at the fairest, and at the chiefest.”  Erasmus wrote, “I can keep my own innocency. I cannot help what men may say about me.” (Froude, THE LIFE AND LETTERS, p.32)

Erasmus died much estranged from the Catholic church. THE NEW SCHAFF-HERZOG ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE states, “in the midst of the group of Protestant scholars who had long been his truest friends, and so far as is known, without relations of any sort with the Roman Catholic Church, he died.” (p. 166)

Hastings’ ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGION AND ETHICS, agrees saying, “He died at Basel in 1536, committed to neither party, but amid an admiring circle of friends who were all on the Reformed side.” (p. 83)

He was buried at a Protestant church in Basel. Cambridge historian, Owen Chadwick, said of this “ex-monk” in “A HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY” (p. 198)  “a protestant pastor preached his funeral sermon, and the money that he left was used to help Protestant refugees.”

Bainton states in his book, ERASMUS OF CHRISTENDOM, that Erasmus was “rejected by the Catholics as subversive and by Protestants as evasive” (p. vii). Perhaps it was because he was neither; he was a Christian with views and a piety often seen in the Anabaptist tradition. “Erasmus had the highest respect for the Anabaptists…[who] insisted that they were simply Baptists…” (pp. 260-262)

Erasmus wrote in Latin, and those who cannot read Latin are forced to see him through the dark prejudices of the men who translated his works. Perhaps this is why it is assumed by the critics he was Catholic.

Miss Anderson also called him a “humanist.” The OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY states that the old academic meaning of the word ‘humanist,’ in the 1500s, was used to describe,  “a classical scholar; esp. Latinist, a professor or teacher of Latin.” The old classic, THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGION AND ETHICS, in their article on “Humanists,” quoted Erasmus as saying the highest object of the revival of studies “will be to become acquainted with simple and pure Christianity in the Bible.” This is in direct opposition to today’s secular humanists. No Catholic I’ve ever met spoke in such terms!

The unsaved scholars cannot tolerate the fact that Erasmus, one of the greatest intellects of all time, was a Bible-believing, born-again Christian, who used the KJV text type. So they remold Erasmus to fit their own Catholic, Anglo-Catholic, Calvinistic, Platonic, or Humanistic mold. Erasmus himself forewarned that, “They will take Erasmus for one of themselves by-and by” (Froude, THE LIFE AND LETTERS, p. 70).  “The concord of wolves is proverbial” (Erasmus, COMPLAINT OF PEACE, p. 721).

The primary reason the Protestants hate Erasmus is because he could NOT agree with SOME of the unbiblical ideas of Calvin and Luther. Particularly, he disagreed with their idea that God PRESELECTED which “nine out of every ten souls were divinely predestined to everlasting hell” and COULD NOT receive Jesus Christ as their Savior in this life (Durant p. 420). Erasmus believed the scripture that pleads, “whosoever will let him come…” He wrote DE LIBERO ARBITRIO, that proclaims the Baptist doctrine of ‘free will,” that is, the doctrine that DENIES that man is a puppet and God a cruel tyrant who MAKES people sin and who would FORBID a person to be saved.

Nor could Erasmus consent to Luther’s toleration of graven images and statues (CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF THE BIBLE, Vol. III, p. 30).  Erasmus also objected to the reformers’ insistence on infant baptism and legal restraints against the ANABAPTISTS (Durant, p. 424); although Erasmus wrote about “a convent of nuns, some of who were possessed by evil spirits…” he did not deem decent Calvin’s burning of witches (Mangan, p. 347).

Erasmus could not conform to the Lutheran and Catholic view that the communion was the actual flesh of Christ. “He thought of the Eucharist as a symbol rather than a miracle…” just as the scriptures, teach (Durant, pp. 288, 424). “Erasmus interpreted the bread, not as the Lord’s body but as the bread of the gospel” (Bainton, pp. 256, 144, 145). Bainton continues, “As for the sacraments…in his eyes no rite of the Church, no external framework of the Church was necessary for salvation, which depend rather on a heartfelt piety…This was a position actually more radical [and scriptural!] than that of Luther” (p.165). These scriptural reasons are why he did not join the Lutherans. Erasmus said, “I would be happy to be a martyr for Christ, but I cannot be a martyr for Luther” (Bainton, p. 167)

Miss Anderson has been reading too much after the KJV critics who write about Erasmus pretending that “He was a lifelong, devoted Catholic” (Doug Kutilek, ERASMUS: HIS GREEK TEXT AND HIS THEOLOGY, P. 16). KJV critics, such as Doug Kutilek, Dan Corner, and James White do not cite any primary sources in their discussion of Erasmus; all of their quotes are little snippets, taken second or third hand out of their original contexts.

I wish I had the time and space to write about Erasmus’ Anti-Catholic ‘Study Bible!’ I also wish I could speak of his references against the “Virgin and Saint” cults, and his condemnation of the Popes!

“He had employed all his resources of wit and satire against the priests and monks…” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1910, vol. 9, p. 730). Of them Erasmus said, “What fungus could be more stupid?” (Froude, SHORT STORIES, p. 73). He spoke against the celibacy as the church’s newest scam for income because many convents of men and women differed little from “public brothels” (Froude, LIFE AND LETTERS, p. 352). Froude writes, “The Dominicans at once recognized Erasmus as their most dangerous enemy” (SHORT SUBJECTS, p. 83).

Erasmus’ two most widely read books, THE PRAISE OF FOLLY and ENCHIRIDION, were mainly unbridled mockeries of the activities of the Catholic church. In 1559 Pope Paul IV “placed everything Erasmus had ever written on THE INDEX” of forbidden books (Bainton, pp. 277-278).” The Council of Trent condemned Erasmus’ translation,” because it matched that of the true Christians, and did not match their corrupt Vulgate translation (Durant, p. 285).

“He was branded as an impious heretic, and his works were forbidden to Catholic readers” (Durant, p. 437). (Current Catholic, Calvinistic and liberal scholars sometimes pretend he was a friend of the Catholic religion. If their fables were true, why would the Catholic church itself and the scholars of the day consider him an enemy of that religion?)

Read Erasmus’ own words: “Having been likewise trapped and trained in the Catholic religion, UNTIL I received the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior in my late twenties, this author sadly can attest to this systems’ CONTINUING heresies and whoredoms and the precious Catholic people it hides from Christ.”

Let Erasmus speak for himself, pleads Froude, “Whenever possible, let us not be told ABOUT this man or that. Let us hear the man himself speak…[L]et us be left to form our own opinions about him” (SHORT STUDIES, p. 36) Yale University professor of church history, Dr. Roland H. Bainton said of Erasmus in his book ERASMUS OF CHRISTENDOM, “He was a Christian man.” Bainton called Erasmus an “Anabaptist,” one of the terms used in that period to describe true Christians. Erasmus said, “In innocence of life they excel all others” (Bainton, pp. 227, 261).

Froude said, “He had no vices.” “His dream was a return to early Christianity, as it was before councils had laid the minds of men in chains; a Christianity of practice, not of opinion…[H]e had merely tried to recall men to the original fountain of the faith” (THE LIFE AND LETTERS, PP. 57, 206, 235).  Erasmus wrote, “As for me, all I have sought has been to open my contemporaries’ eyes and bring them back from ritual to true Christianity…” (pp. 260)

Now, concerning the Bible, he employed hundreds of Bibles and manuscripts – not “a few!”

God’s true church has always had a Bible available in the vernacular of the people that the church was trying to reach. Even the Preface of the corrupt Catholic Rheims Douai New Testament admits that in the 1400s, the French king, CharlesV, was anxious to “shake out of the deceived peoples hands, the false heretical translations of a sect called Waldenses.” It also admits that Bibles “were extant in English even before the troubles that Wicleffe and his followers raised in our Church, as appeareth, as well by some peeces yet remaining…” (1582-1610 Chadwyck-Healey, 1997, p.3). Today there are six remaining copies of the 1180 edition of the French Provencal (Romaunt) version of the Bible; a language spoken in the south of Europe between the 9th and 14th centuries. It carried forward the pure old ITALA Bible of the Waldenses (William Gilly, THE ROMAUNT VERSION OF THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN, London, 1848).

These and much more were available to Erasmus. He was originally trained in Rotterdam, but before his death “he had lived in every country in Europe…” (Froude, THE LIFE AND LETTERS, p. 35). Erasmus wrote to a friend, “After collation of Greek and other ancient manuscripts, I have emended the whole new testament [correcting corrupt Latin and Greek editions], and I have annotated [made notes next to] over a thousand passages…” (The word ‘ancient’ refers to the years before the fall of the Western Roman Empire, about A.D. 475; COLLECTED WORKS OF ERASMUS translated by R.A.B. Mynors and D.S. F. Thomson, Toronto, 1975, vol. 2, p. 300)

Shall we back up a bit and show how that “from a child” Erasmus had “known the holy scriptures?” (2 Tim. 3:15)

Erasmus’ father, late in his life, became a priest and “went to Rome, supporting himself there by copying manuscripts…” (Bainton, Erasmus of Christendom, p. 8). Erasmus’ parents sent him, for six years, to Gerard Groote’s school of the Brethren of the Common Life, a group which made their living by the copying of manuscripts.” Because of their location in Holland, this group escaped, many heresies of the Catholic church. (The Roman Empire never went past the Rhine River.)  “The piety was marked by a heartfelt, lyrical devotion to Jesus…” (Bainton, pp. 9,10).

When his parents died, “Erasmus was eager to go to a university, but the guardians…prevailed on them [he and his brother] to enter monasteries…” (ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA, vol. 9, p. 728). The guardians soon squandered the small inheritance left to the lads and as Erasmus wrote: “Young men are fooled or cheated into joining these orders. Once in the toils, they are broken in and trained into Pharisees. They may repent, but the superiors will not let them go, lest they should betray the orgies, which they have witnessed. They crush them down with scourge and penance, the secular arm, chanceries and dungeons…” (Froude, THE LIFE AND LETTERS, PP.175, 176). Eventually he was pressured to become an Augustinian and was persuaded to join the monastery “solely for its library, which was the finest of the century…[with] access to many books…” (Mangan, p. 41). He took advantage of their free education and “consumed the libraries.” This was the beginning of his comparing and collecting of manuscripts. He was able to leave the convent at twenty and never returned. He had never said mass or exercised any of the priestly functions.

[I now grow weary of all the footnotes; I think you get the message.]

He next sought a position near Brussels, working for a bishop who had a great library. After consuming it he secured release to go to the University of Paris for his Doctorate. Upon graduation he moved to Italy to “visit libraries,” attracted to the immense collections the Catholic church had amassed, through its centuries of pilferage.  All this time he was comparing manuscripts of the Bible and studying the quotes of the church fathers of what they considered scripture. Even the Vatican Libraries were open to him! While in Italy, Erasmus was befriended by Paolo Bombace, Professor of Greek at the University of Bologna, who shared Erasmus’ “anti-papal leanings.” he stayed in Italy only long enough to scour their libraries for manuscripts; he spent the rest of his life in England and Protestant northern Europe, where he had been reared.

In 1505 he wrote to a friend, “I shall sit down to Holy Scripture with my whole heart, and devote the rest of my life to it…All these three years I have been working entirely at Greek, and have not been playing with it.” At age 40, he had become the world’s leading authority on the Greek language and the Greek New testament and was hired to teach Greek at Cambridge University. Eight years before the printing of the Greek New Testament, its composition was central in his thinking. He began working directly on the text much before 1507. When he went to Basel to work on the printing of his Greek New Testament, he arrived “weighed down with books…and copious notes on the New testament.” The preparation had taken years” (Durant, p. 283).

Ms. Anderson writes, “Erasmus may well have been in a hurry.” or to quote Kutilek, “the work on the Greek text was hastily and carelessly done…in haste.”(No foot note on his part as usual!)  However Erasmus said “The only way to determine the true text is to examine the early codices…My work has been to restore a buried literature, and recall divines from their hairsplitting to a knowledge of the New Testament.” In his dedication to his Greek New testament he writes, “I perceive that teaching, which is our salvation, was to be had in a much purer and more lively form if sought at the fountainhead and drawn from the actual sources than from pools and runnels [corrupt Catholic texts and teachings]. And so I have revised the whole New Testament against the standard of the Greek originals…” It is an exaggeration to maintain, as some do, that Erasmus only used the Greek manuscripts that he found in the library of the Basel Dominicans for his edition.

THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF THE BIBLE affirms, regarding the Greek New testament of Erasmus: “It corresponds to the manuscript tradition which in fact prevailed in the Greek Church; and not until the end of the nineteenth century were editions proposed that differed [Westcott & Hort] other than on points of detail.

Kenneth W. Clark, a scholar today that has examined more Greek manuscripts than most admits, “We should not attribute to Erasmus the creation of a ‘received text,’ but only the transmission from a manuscript text, already commonly received, to a printed form, in which this text would continue to prevail for three centuries.”

Today there are over 5200 manuscripts of the Greek New testament. KJV critics ignore the fact that over 99% agree with Erasmus’ Greek New Testament and the KJV.  Less than one percent (. 008) agree with the odd omissions and changes in the New Age bibles.  Were Erasmus alive today he would find that, in the main, he had managed to match almost all of the over 5200 MSS, and wisely ignore the other 44 corrupt ones. James White’s “Erasmus guessed” or “Erasmus’ hunch” are guesses that are statistically impossible, given the fact that the Greek New Testament has about 140,521 words. Without the preservation of the text by the Spirit of God, try guessing all of them for yourself.

These critics of Erasmus give unwary readers the false impression that:

#1. The text Erasmus used is not representative of the majority of Greek New Testament texts (over 5200) extant today, which it is.

#2. The Greek text of Erasmus began in the 1400s, which it did not.

#3. Erasmus was a Catholic in theology, which he was not.

Erasmus was merely the first to print, publish and circulate, in the new printed format the Greek text of the New Testament received everywhere by true New Testament Churches!

Errors critics ascribe to Erasmus’ first edition were chiefly not errors, but misprints! Erasmus “devoted the remainder of his life, among other labors, to the improvement of this edition.” Erasmus’ Greek New testament text could not be faulted in its day, nor can it be impugned today. Erasmus writes, “When you find a man raging against my New Testament, ask him if he has read it. If he says ‘yes,’ ask him to what he objects. Not one of them can tell you…”

“They do not argue, because they cannot, and they trust entirely to evil speaking.”



Editor: Dr. Dan Hardin