Erasmus and the New Testament
Curated by Willis Goth Regier
5 May—6 August 2016
Erasmus’ contemporaries called him the best of teachers, the prince of humanists, the most learned of men. He earned his Doctorate in theology from the University of Turin and taught theology and Greek at Cambridge University. In his teaching and his books he declared the New Testament to be his book for a lifetime, “There is nothing that can so exactly represent, so vividly express, so completely show forth Christ as the writings of the evangelists and apostles.”
To know the New Testament “at the fountainhead” he compared Greek manuscripts against the Vulgate, a Latin translation accepted as divinely inspired, and found the Latin to be corrupted by inconsistencies, obscurities, interpolations, and errors. He collected and compared quotations from the New Testament in the writings of the earliest Church fathers and saw they, too, did not always agree. To advance the study of the scripture in its original language, in 1516 he published the first Greek New Testament to be printed, and with it, his own Latin translation.
What Erasmus did with the New Testament was daring. What his New Testament did to Europe was incendiary. Erasmus insisted on the priority of the Greek New Testament, and on rethinking the Latin. By daring to redo the Latin Bible inherited from antiquity, Erasmus was blamed for pride and heresy and for leading souls to damnation. His works were condemned by the Inquisition and burned in France and Spain. His French translator was burned at the stake.
Condemned by the Vatican, his New Testament was taken over by the Reformation. His edition was used for Martin Luther’s German translation and for William Tyndale’s English translation and from that, the King James Bible.
The RBML exhibition is curated by the former Director of the University of Illinois Press, Willis Goth Regier, and will feature the major works of Erasmus’ long career, including the two most important editions of his New Testament, those from 1516 and 1519. The exhibition shows his work on the New Testament and how it fits into his long and varied literary career. It begins with his secular works, leads into his editions of the New Testament, and concludes with his defenses of his work and reputation in the fractious years of the early Reformation.