Erasmus and Lee

Steven Avery

Controversies with Edward Lee

Word, and the Holy Spirit, I had briefly pointed out the additional words in our texts without either approving or disapproving anything. Lee 280 confronts me with Valla, 281 who, being otherwise diligent, did not mention this matter and would no doubt have mentioned it if he had discovered a variant. I shall not reply here that Valla was human and that something might have escaped his attention. I shall merely say that I examined at various times more than seven manuscripts 282 and did not find in any of them what we read in our texts. If I had come across one manuscript that had the reading found in our texts, 1 would have added the phrase missing in the others on the strength of that one. Since that did not happen 1 did the only thing possible and indicated what was lacking in the Greek texts.

As for Jerome's attestation in his preface that this passage has been corrupted by heretics, 283 if I wanted to stand on my rights, I could appeal from the authority of Jerome, something Lee does whenever it suits him. And in such matters St Jerome is certainly ardent and forceful, not to say violent, in asserting something as established that is not nearly as certain as he wants it to appear. Sometimes while battling with an adversary he uses a reading that he criticizes elsewhere, for example, divisa est mulier et virgo [there is a difference between wife and virgin]. 264 Sometimes he says the opposite of what he asserts elsewhere, adapting his speech to the matter at hand. He also cut out a great deal from the Hebrew canon; he obelized as being fictitious or spurious a great deal that is now read by the church without harm, for example, the story of Bel's dragon, the story of Susanna's deliverance, the last two books of Ezra, whose contents he calls dreamed up. 285 Nor did he scruple to do in with his dagger the hymn of the three

by Erasmus against Lee were added to the annotation in 1522. In the meantime the annotation had also been attacked by Zuniga; cf Apologiae contra Stunicam asd IX-2 252:447-258:544.
280 Lee fol cxxvi verso
281 Annotationes (Opera 1 892)
282 In his annotation on Acts 18 Valla mentions that he had examined seven manuscripts; Opera 1 845.
283 Pseudo-Jerome Prologus septem epistolarum canonicarum PL 29 (1865) 870-3
284 Cf Jerome Adversus Helvidium de Mariae virginitate perpetua PL 23 (1883) 213D-214A, citing 1 Cor 7:33-4 in this manner.
285 The stories of Bel and the dragon and of Susanna are in the Vulgate at Dan 13 and 14. In RSV and most non-Catholic Bibles they are two separate books among the Apocrypha. Jerome called the second two books of Ezra (1 and 2 Esdras in the rsv Apocrypha) 'dreams' in the preface to Ezra, pl 28 (1890) 1472c, reprinted Weber 1 638. For Jerome's emendations and his use of obelisks cf Responsio 1 Note 113 231-2 and n939 there.
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children,286 which the church regularly and frequently sings. If we do not trust him in the excision of so many passages, would it be surprising if we did not trust him adding something here?

Yet what Lee says - that according to Jerome the passage has been corrupted by heretics 287 - is not correct. It is Lee himself who corrupts the story, as he does in many other cases to make me more unpopular with those who are not familiar with such tricks. Jerome complains that the [canonical] Epistles had been translated by several people and that their editions did not agree. Hence he concludes that what is at variance cannot be correct. If these men had translated what had been written by the authors of the Epistles, we would not be plagued by uncertainty, nor would the variant readings lessen their trustworthiness and authority. But although Jerome admits that the passages in these Epistles diverged from the truth of the original Scripture, by what argument does he conclude that the text as he restores it was the original? One may surmise that in those days almost the whole church read a version different from what Jerome says should be read. Or else what follows will not make sense:

'But, Eustochium, virgin in Christ, by persistently asking me for the true text of Scripture in a way you expose my old age to the gnawing teeth of envious men who declare that I am a falsifier and corrupter of sacred Scripture.' 288

How could they have had the effrontery to call him a falsifier unless he had changed the public reading? Furthermore since it is certain that the texts varied and there is no certain proof that what Jerome adds was written by the apostle, what reason is there for Lee to protest loudly against me? After all I do not disapprove of our reading; indeed I leave it as is. I merely translate what I find in the Greek texts. And what is found in the Greek texts Jerome attests was once in the Latin texts then in public use. If what Jerome indicates as missing were not missing from any codex, it could appear that he made the story up. But now the facts themselves show that he spoke the truth. Furthermore we read in Jerome: 'in which we find many errors in the true faith committed even by unfaithful translators.' 289 I would like the prudent reader to consider whether this should read 'even by faithful translators' so that the sense would be: even translators otherwise trustworthy still erred here.

286 The canticle Benedkite omnia opera Domini, which is Daniel 3:52-87 in the Vulgate, the Song of the Three Young Men (rsv) or the Three Jews (\RSV) in the Apocrypha.
287 Lee fol cxxvi
288 Pseudo-Jerome Prologus septem epistolarum canonicarum pl 29 (1865) 873-4
289 Ibidem 870-1


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And lest Lee think that this part has not been omitted by anyone but heretics, he should know that Cyril brings together many proof-texts, including this passage, against the Arians in the work entitled Thesaurus, book 14, penultimate chapter, but without the part that I have so far not found in the Greek texts. Is it plausible that he would have omitted this weapon if he had believed that the apostle had written what Jerome asserts he did? I shall quote Cyril's own words, in case anyone distrusts me: 'And again John says in the same Epistle: Who is it who conquers the world if not he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? Jesus Christ came through water and blood and the Spirit, not only in water but in water and blood, and the Spirit is the one who gives testimony, for the Spirit is truth. For there are three who give testimony, the Spirit, the water and the blood, and these three are one. If we accept the testimony of human beings, the testimony of God is greater. Take diligent note once again, for here too the preacher of truth teaches that the Holy Spirit is by nature true God from true God. For after he had said that the Spirit is the one who gives testimony, he added a few words later that the testimony of God is greater. How then will the Holy Spirit be a creature when he is called God by the apostles, just like the Father?' 290 From these words it is obvious, I believe, that the testimony of the three in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, was not in Cyril's text. Bede 291 too, who expounds this passage diligently and explains in detail and with many words the three-fold testimony on earth, makes no mention of the testimony in heaven of the Father, the Word, and the Spirit. Bede too was not without skill in the languages or diligence in exploring ancient texts. Indeed he does not even add 'on earth'; 292 he reads only 'there are three who give testimony.' In the manuscript 293 provided me from the library of the Minorites in Antwerp there was a scholion added in the margin in a more recent hand about the testimony of the Father, the Word, and the Spirit. This is the gist of the matter, dear reader. Now observe the atrocious tragedy Lee makes of this, as if he had come upon a cause against which he can sound the trumpet of Allecto with all his might. 294 'Now,' he says,

290 Thesaurus 34 pg 75 6i6a-b, though with some variation from the concluding part of this quotation
291 Bede ... about the testimony of the Father, the Word, and the Spirit] Added in Basel 1520. The Bede reference is to Comm in 1 Joan PL 93 114B-D.
292 This phrase appears in PL, but not in the critical edition by D. Hurst in Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 121 (Turnhout 1983) 321.
293 That is, of Bede's commentaries. Erasmus judged the scholion to be added later by a different scribe.
294 One of the three Furies, goddesses of vengeance; Virgil Aeneid 7.511-15 de
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Steven Avery

Note that Erasmus was more direct in the Annotations, using Grantley's translation (with professional assistance) in Biblical Criticism:

But the authority of Jerome is brought forcefully against us, which I should certainly not wish to disparage, although he is frequently violent
and shameless, fickle and inconsistent. However, I do not quite understand what Jerome means at this point.10
... .
We have repeated Jerome's words to this point, from which it is clear that Jerome was not complaining about Greek codices, simply about those who translated the Greek into Latin. But precisely that which Jerome complains was omitted is now absent from the Greek manuscripts, whereas it is present in the Latin manuscripts, though not all of them. But from where does Jerome correct the error of the translators? Clearly, from the Greek manuscripts. But they either had what we have translated, or another reading. If they had another reading that agreed with the Latin [Vulgate] version, what criterion did he have to show which of the two readings is more correct, or which written by the Apostle, especially since what he reproaches was the reading in the public usage of the church at that time? If this were not the case, I cannot see how the following passage fits: ‘But Eustochium, virgin of Christ, by asking me so eagerly about the reliability of the Scriptures, you expose me in my old age to considerable risk of being torn by the teeth of those who envy me, who call me a forger and a corrupter of the Holy Scriptures.’ Who would have called him a forger, unless he had changed the public reading?12

12 This argument was taken over from Erasmus’ Responsio ad Annotationes Lei novas, ASD IX-4:324, and (in large part verbatim) Apoloqia ad Annotationes Sttinicae, ASD IX-2:254-2s6.

We also learn that there is a similar, close to identical, accusation in Stunica.

Erasmus was generally very warm towards Jerome, here though he went a bit bonkers, because of his lack of a sensible explanation for the Vulgate Prologue.