The Making of Erasmus’s New Testament and Its English Connections - Gergely Juhász

Steven Avery

The Making of Erasmus’s New Testament and Its English Connections (2019)
Gergely Juhász ( Juhasz for search)

On 25 April 1492 Erasmus was ordained priest (Pabel 1997, 7) and soon afterwards received permission to live outside of his monastery in order to serve as secretary to Hendrik van Bergen (1449-1502), the Bishop of Cambrai, perhaps at the recommendation of David of Burgundy (ca. 1427-1496), Erasmus’s own bishop of Utrecht (1456-1496), who like Erasmus had been born out of wedlock, and who had been appointed as prince-bishop by his father, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (Schoeck 1988b, 12-13).


In his Praise of Folly, written only a decade later (1509) in the house of his English friend Sir Thomas More, to whom the work is dedicated, he would ridicule the minute distinctions and the futility of the scholastic theologians:

They explicate the most hidden mysteries according to their own fancy: such as, how the World was created and established; by what channels [original] sin was transmitted to posterity; in what manner, in which portion, and in how short time, Christ was formed in the Virgin’s womb; how accidents can subsist in the Eucharist without their domicile [i.e. substance]. But these are commonplaces. Other questions are more worthy of our ‘great’ and ‘illuminated’ theologians, as they are called, which if ever they chance on them, they perk up: such as, whether there was any instant of time in the generation of the Second Person; whether there be more than one Sonship in Christ; whether it were a possible proposition that God the Father hated the Son; or whether it was possible that God could have taken upon Him the likeness of a woman, or of the Devil, or of an ass, or of a cucumber, or of a stone? And then how that cucumber should have preached, performed miracles, or been hung on the cross? And, what Peter had consecrated, if he had consecrated at the time when the Body of Christ hung upon the cross? Or whether during that same time Christ might be said to be man? Whether after the Resurrection there will be any eating and drinking, since we are so much afraid of hunger and thirst in this world. There are infinite of these subtle trifles (λεπτολεσχίαι), and others more subtle than these; of notions, relations, instants, formalities, quiddities, ecceities (de notionibus, relationibus, instantibus, de formalitatibus, de quidditatibus, ecceitatibus) which no one can perceive without having Lynceus’ eyes, to discover through the thickest darkness those things that were never there.

How are we to make sense of this? Some claim – and I have to admit I, too, used to be convinced – that Erasmus’s primary interest lay in the publication of his Latin text and the addition of the Greek text was only a commercial device by Froben (Juhász

2002a; Tournoy 2002; de Jong 2016; Nellen and Bloemendal 2016). It is general-

ly assumed that Froben was aware of the printing of the Complutensian Polyglot.

Another text for which Erasmus was faulted is the famous Johannine comma, 1 John 5:7-8.
The Vulgate has the following rendering of these two verses: “Quoniam tres sunt, qui testimonium dant
in cælo: pater, verbum, et spiritus sanctus: et hi tres unum sunt. Et tres sunt, qui testimonium dant in terra:
spiritus, et aqua, et sanguis: et hi tres unum sunt.” The words of the Vulgate printed in italics in the above quotation, which refer to three heavenly witnesses, the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, had no equivalent in any of the Greek manuscripts Erasmus had seen, so he made a comment
in the
about the absence of these words and left them out both in the Greek and in the revised Latin translation of the text. He was promptly accused of denying the dogma of the Trinity, for which this passage served as one of the proof texts. When eventually a Greek manuscript was procured and showed to Erasmus containing the text, he inserted it in the following, 1522 edition of the
Novum Testamentum
. What Erasmus perhaps did not know was that the ink was hardly dry on the manuscript.
Erasmus’s New Testament and the English Bible
The insertion of the
Comma Johanneum
is one of the things that show that Tyndale made use of the third edition of Erasmus’s New Testament when he prepared the rst printed English New Testament, which as I have argued elsewhere was nanced by the same Frans Birckman who acted as agent for

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