I love Erasmus!

Erasmus? Of course, there are many reasons to love the European Program of Knowledge exchange via traveling students and traveling teachers. My personal, unique experience so far was teaching at the private business school in Bordeaux, including – bien sure! – a trip to a traditional Chateau complete with organic wine production.

In Chateau in Bordeaux

Nevertheless, this declaration of love might have been seconded by Erasmus of Rotterdam, a humanist and scholar of the Renaissance era. He was traveling a lot – as a student as well as a teacher – to England, France, Italy, and Spain until he died in Basel. To quote himself: “I am a citizen of the world, known to all and to all a stranger.”

But this is still not a reason for my declaration of love. I fell in love with him reading his letters full of deep philosophical ideas, always a decent critic of others, and including some self-ironical remarks. His stoic refusal to take the position pro- or anti-Luther shows his independent character and also his understanding of being a scholar by keeping a mental distance from everyday politics (with the result of financial disaster for him). His work with the Latin language transformed it into the real lingua franca of that time and made interchange between scientists in Europe easy and fruitful.

Not in Latin, but in German, I did read his “The Complaint of Peace.” The original title, Querela Pacis, includes the female Roman (and not Christian) Goddess of Peace: Pax, the successor of the Grecian Goddess Eirene (the name I myself am happy to have). Here (in the link behind) you can find the text of this little and great book. The arguments of Erasmus towards peace started with comparing human beings and animals: if animals do not kill others from the same species, why do people? To quote Erasmus: “peace is the mother and nurse of all that is good for humanity.”

Then he focused on the part of Christianity. There is no room for war in this religion, due to the peaceful character of Jesus – so the arguments continued. He fulminates again bishops and even popes who do not prevent war, but rather support the enmity between different groups of Christians. In this context, the reader can find even rhetorical questions of whether the European Christians let themselves be influenced by Mongolians and their aggressive spirit. The text ends surprisingly with the appeal that if the nature of mankind generally needs war and distortion, the Christians in Europe must channel it towards Turks! Ironically, Erasmus published his appeal for peace at the beginning of 1517, which ended with the proclamation of Luther’s Theses which coursed the inter-Christian wars.

But still – there are a lot of reasons to love Erasmus, to read him more and also to travel to Rotterdam and Basel – maybe as an Erasmus-Teacher?

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