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Erasmus, the Scholar
THE new ideas of the Renaissance helped to bring about a revolution in religion. "The people outgrew its old schoolmaster, the Church; they turned to the masters of Greece and Rome; they studied the Bible with awful questionings." Wycliffe in England, and his follower Huss in Bohemia, had attacked the growing wealth and worldliness of the Church, even as long ago as the fourteenth century.
A hundred years later other reformers appeared. Erasmus, the great scholar, in his book, the Praise of Folly, made all Europe laugh at the follies of certain Churchmen. But he and other scholars hoped the Church would, as in fact she eventually did, reform itself. To help in this work, he published the New Testament in its original language, Greek.
In his preface to the book he said: "I saw with my own eyes the Pope marching at the head of a triumphal procession as if he were Pompey or Caesar. St. Peter subdued the world with faith, not with arms or soldiers."
"Never," says a modern historian, "was a book more passionately discussed. One hundred thousand copies were soon sold in France.... The words of the Bible have been so long familiar to us that we can hardly realize what the effect must have been when the Gospel was brought out fresh and visible before the astonished eyes of mankind." Then there burst upon the scene a German friar, Martin Luther. He soon did things that astounded all Christendom. Erasmus, the scholar, was sorely troubled about Luther, the man of action. "I approve of those who stand by the Pope," Erasmus wrote, "but I could wish them to be wiser than they are. They would devour Luther off-hand. They may eat him boiled or roast for all I care, but they mistake in linking him and me together. Printing presses are at work everywhere. I cannot stop them, and their extravagances ought not to be charged to me." All the same, the monks at the time said that "Erasmus laid the egg and Luther hatched a cockatrice!"