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98BOOK REVIEWS Early Modern European Erasmus ofthe Low Countries. By James D.Tracy. (Berkeley: University of CaUfornia Press. 1996. Pp. Lx, 297. $40.00.) The theme of ProfessorTracy's book is Erasmus' program for a reform of European Christian society through a reform of teaching (doctrina).The formulation , pursuit, and defense of this program must, according to Tracy, be understood against a threefold background: first, Erasmus' BurgundianNetherlandish heritage; second, his status as a churchman and humanist scholar; third, the controversies that Erasmus' works provoked. The organization of the book reflects this choice of backgrounds. Part I, entitled "Bonae Literae : The Making of a Low Countries Humanist, 1469-1511," shows how Erasmus formulated his ideas of inteUectual culture and Christian piety in conscious reaction against the monastic culture in which he had been schooled and against the communal and corporatist values of his native Low Countries. Part II,"Philosophia Christi: Erasmus and the Reform oĆ­Doctrina, 1511-1521," focuses on the years in which Erasmus was at the height of his fame and influence . It includes a detaUed examination of his diagnosis of the evils that plagued Christendom, the remedy for which would be, he thought, the recovery , by careful humanist scholarship, ofthe original gospel message in aU its purity and its dissemination to the world. Part III,"SecondThoughts, 1521-1536," considers Erasmus' response to Catholic and Protestant critics, who shared the conviction that his criticisms of the Church had paved the way for the Reformation that he now disavowed. Striving to refine his ideas and to make clear what he insisted had always been his Catholic intent, he continued to elucidate his view of what Catholicism ought to be (but had not yet become) whUe insisting that the nascent Protestant churches were not a credible embodiment of the Philosophia Christi.Ax the same time, he pleaded with Catholic rulers not to use fire and sword in the name of the gospel to suppress dissent. Tracy brings to his task a deep knowledge of the Latin text of Erasmus' works that has been supplemented by the use of what he caUs the "invaluable translations and notes that make up the University ofToronto Press's Collected Works ofErasmus series."This, together with his broad knowledge of the secondary literature and his keen eye for the tensions and contradictions in Erasmus' thought, enable him to throw welcome Ught on a number ofimportant themes. The list of these is fairly long, but I confine myseU here to the four that he himseU emphasizes in his conclusion. The first theme is Erasmus' demand for a Christian teaching that would be a doctrina in the sense ofAugustine's De doctrina Christiana, that is, a teaching that would offer sustenance for both the mind and the heart.The result would be learned piety (docta pietas), a combination of simple trust in God with the critical phUology that was the only means to recover the pure teaching of the New Testament from the accumulated errors of centuries.The second theme is BOOK REVIEWS99 Erasmus' dream ofa Christian repubUc of letters in which everyone with a modicum of learning, not just scholars and theologians, would overcome national, local, or corporate loyalties and practice docta pietas in an atmosphere of "Christian civUity." The third theme is the optimistic view of human nature, rooted m classical moral philosophy and his favorite Church Fathers (Origen and Jerome), that enabled Erasmus, despite his beUef that he lived in the most corrupt age in the history of Christendom, to be fuU of hope for startUngly dramatic improvements in society as the result of the preaching of the phUosophy of Christ.When things did not work out that way, Erasmus responded, not by adopting a more pessimistic view of human nature but by blaming the wickedness ofpowerful men.This brings us to the fourth theme,namely, Erasmus' identification of the mendicant orders as the principal obstacle to the advance of good letters and genuine reform. Erasmus saw the mendicants as the embodiment ofthe "religion of ceremonies" that he wanted to eliminate and as bad pastors who served their own beUies by fostering superstition among simple folk. The friars were also (in their capacity as university...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-0708
Print ISSN
0008-8080
Pages
pp. 98-100
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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