A humanist, a writer, a philologist, a theologian, and a major figure of the Northern Renaissance

At first he studied in a monastery school. In 1486, he became an Augustine monk. He spent six years in the monastery, studying ancient languages, works by ancient and early Christian authors. Later he studied in the University of Paris (149–1499). He lived in France, England, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, was renowned in whole Europe. He wrote in Latin, the universal language of learning in 16th-century Europe.

Coming to London for the first time, he met Thomas More and was his friend for many years. He first became known after publishing a collection of Antique and early Christian proverbs and quotations.

From 1506 to 1509, Erasmus lived in Italy. He graduated as Doctor of Theology from the University of Turin. Then he spent few years in England lecturing in Cambridge. When visiting Thomas More in London, in 1509, he finished his philosophical satire The Praise of Folly that was published in 1511 and made him famous. In this book he humorously (but at the same time seriously) criticized the society and its ways. In 1513 he went to Germany and stayed there for two years. After 1519, he received a permanent pension from the Emperor Charles V.

Erasmus passed his last years in Basel, in Switzerland, where he lived till the end of his days, sometimes leaving the city to visit other countries. He became friends with the printer Johann Froben who published most of his works. In 1517, Froben printed the Greek original of the New Testament with lengthy commentaries by Erasmus, and in 1519, Erasmus’s new Latin translation of the New Testament.

Erasmus created a new system of theology that he called ‘Philosophy of Christ’. He considered the moral conduct of the man, ‘the imitation of Christ’, to be more important than Christian rites. In 1501, he wrote the Handbook of a Christian Knight (published 1504), a religious and ethical treatise where the main principles of the ‘Philosophy of Christ’ are formulated. Dürer read this treatise and probably drew upon it when working on his most famous woodcuts. Erasmus became a head of movement known as ‘Christian humanism’. He is considered a precursor of the Reformation because he opposed excessive ceremonies and criticized the cult of relics. But he did not accept the Protestant fanaticism and the disparagement of the human free will and thus finally became an opponent to Luther.

Of a great number of books published by Erasmus the best-known are his Praise of Folly (1509, translated into Russian in 1960) and Colloquia (151–1535, translated into Russian in 1969). His correspondence has also survived.

Dürer met Erasmus in the Netherlands in 1520 or 1521 and made his portrait.