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Erasmus, Utopia and the Jesuits: Essays on the Outreach of Humanism.

John C. Olin is familiar to many teachers of European survey courses of modern Europe for his widely circulated Christian Humanism and the Reformation: Selected Writings of Desiderius Erasmus (edited and translated by Olin). The current volume is also centered around Erasmus and the Christian humanism he personified. Based on lectures and papers Olin gave from 1977 to 1991 and one essay written specifically for this volume, it breathes forth the same spirit of Erasmian piety that is stressed in the above-mentioned volume. Olin has also edited, translated and annotated (with James F. Brady) volume 61 of the Collected Works of Erasmus: Patristic Scholarship: The Edition of St. Jerome (University of Toronto Press, 1992).

Fittingly, the first essay in the volume under review is "Erasmus and Saint Jerome: The Close Bond and Its Significance." Because Jerome typified the union of eloquence and piety so admired and imitated by Erasmus, Jerome was his favorite theologian, engaged in the theologia rhetorica that Erasmus sought to reestablish in his own day. Much of this essay is recapitulated by Olin in his introduction to the Toronto CWE volume. In the second essay: "Erasmus and His Edition of Saint Hilary," Olin brings out Erasmus's admiration for Hilary who was slow in responding to the threat of the Arian heresy in his work on the Trinity. Erasmus was to refer to this in explaining his own reluctance to take on Luther. As in the case of Jerome one can detect a three-way admiration between Olin, Erasmus and Hilary. The third essay on "Erasmus and Aldus Manutius" depicts Erasmus's sojourn in Venice in 1508 at the household of Manutius, and Erasmus's composition of the expanded edition of the Adages, the Adagiarum chiliades, Erasmus's most important contribution to classical scholarship. The fourth essay on "Erasmus's Adagia and More's Utopia" translates Erasmus's first Adage: "Friends Have All Things in Common," stressing the notable additions on Plato's communism which Christians should approve rather than criticize. Olin claims here an agreement and possibly an influence on More's composition of Utopia. Olin stresses that the essence of what Erasmus and More were teaching was the Christian ethic of love of neighbor and the betterment of life from moral reform, but not literal social communism. In the fifth essay, "More, Montaigne, and Matthew Arnold: Thoughts on the Utopian Vision," Olin claims an influence of Erasmus on Rabelais's vision of the communal life of the Abbey of Theleme, a possible confluence of ideas in More's Utopia, Montaigne's essay "On Cannibals," and Shakespeare's Tempest, as well as in the Houyhnhnms of Swift's Gulliver's Travels, in the kingdom of Eldorado of Voltaire's Candide, and in Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy. All of these are examples of the continuing influence of Christian humanism's ideal of moral reform, previously manifested in some of the Italian humanists but best revealed in the writings of Erasmus and Thomas More. Moreover in his sixth and final essay, Olin finds a further manifestation of this ideal in the moral ideals of Ignatius of Loyola, who may have had a familiarity with Erasmus's Enchiridion militis christianae and been influenced by it. At any rate Olin finds the moral and cultural ideals of Renaissance humanism to have been incorporated in the early Jesuits' educational program, especially at the Jesuit college at Messina where Erasmus, Vives and Lorenzo Valla were read along with classical authors. And indeed he finds these ideals present in efforts to promote social justice in the Jesuit order today.

It is not my role as reviewer to judge these claims, but I can confirm that moral idealism was present in the Renaissance humanist movements (though not for all its representatives), that it did have a Christian coloration and found its fullest expression in Erasmus and Thomas More. I can also testify to the vitality of these ideals in a present-day version in the life and work of John Olin, who has contributed so much by his life and scholarship to the widespread, but not universal, admiration of Erasmus and More.

CHARLES TRINKAUS University of Michigan (Emeritus)
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Author:Trinkaus, Charles
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1997
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