Erasmus on Literature and Knowledge

  • Brian Cummings
Part of the Crossroads of Knowledge in Early Modern Literature book series (CKEML, volume 1)


‘What we desire is that nothing may stand forth with greater certainty than the truth itself, whose expression is the more powerful, the simpler it is’. Erasmus’ preface to his edition of the Greek New Testament makes a claim that is at once unexceptional and radical. He appears to be doing something entirely traditional: basing the claims to Christian ‘truth’ on scripture. But what does he mean by ‘scripture’? Scripture, he asserts, is a type of literature, and therefore embodies a distinctive form of knowledge. It requires understanding of languages; of history, geography, the human sciences; also of rhetoric and the figures of speech; and indeed a theory of mimesis or representation and an account of affect. This essay addresses the relationship between sacrae litterae and bonae litterae in a range of works from the Enchiridion (1501) to the Convivium religiosum (1522), looking especially at the New Testament works on literary meaning and the practice of Theology: Paraclesis (1516) and Ratio seu methodus verae theologiae (1518).


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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brian Cummings
    • 1
  1. 1.University of YorkYorkUK

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