Erasmus and the Reformation: A Pyramid of Influence
Between the end of the Medieval Period and the Renaissance, there is a short era in which political thought and practice began to change with the humanist movement. A Dutch humanist, Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (1466 – 1536), and his education of the heirs to the thrones of Europe assisted in two very different results when it came to the rise of Protestantism. His two most important pupils, King Henry VIII of England and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, showcase the influence Erasmus held over the religious politics of Europe. However, by looking at the reign of Henry VIII of England and comparing that to the reign of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor one can easily see that, though educated by the same tutor, the rulers acted on the rise of Protestantism very differently. This ‘pyramid of influence’ as it can be best termed, represents the trickling down of humanist thought, in to the religious revolution of the Reformation. Analysis of the educations and reigns of Henry VIII of England and Charles V, HRE showcase Erasmus’s importance to political thought and leniencies during the Reformation as well as to modern centuries.
As time goes on there are often educators that influence their students and peers to a degree that the origins of the career, university choices or political ideologies where inspired by such educators. Sometimes, one can see view that relationship from an outsider’s perspective. The pyramid-like relationships between Erasmus and Henry VIII, and Erasmus and Charles V resulted in two very different Reformation revolutions; one beginning with the monarch, and working down to the peasantry, while the other starts with the lower class and works its way up to the monarch. Henry VIII influenced the English Reformation, starting at the top and working it’s way down through the nobles, whereas Charles V abdicated his throne after the Protestant princes rioted, one of many reasons. One man was very “close to the action” of these key players in history, Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus. Erasmus was the highly influential tutor of both Henry VIII and Charles V, although one pupil absorbed more information than the other.
Desiderius Erasmus was a very educated Renaissance humanist, born in Rotterdam in 1466. He attended three universities in his lifetime, concluding in him earning his doctorate in theology from the University of Turin. Though highly educated and well-known, Erasmus still remained humble. This quote by Lèon-Ernest Halkin describes how some contemporary political and theological thinkers viewed Erasmus.
“…Erasmus soon forgot this official certificate of competence . . . His correspondents – popes, emperors, friends – sometimes gave him his title, but his enemies effected to disregard it, make fun of it or mention it with bitterness.”[footnoteRef:1] [1: Léon-Ernest Halkin. A Critical Biography (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1993), 66. ]
Though extremely learned,...