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What was philosophical about the thought of Desiderius Erasmus?
Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) was born in Holland as the illegitimate son of a priest. He became widely known and highly respected throughout England and Europe for his biblical translations and ideas about religion. He was one of the first thinkers after antiquity to admit to skepticism in religious debates. His Moride Encomium (In Praise of Folly) reintroduced the idea of a simple, pious Christianity. However, when Martin Luther (1483-1546) tried to enlist his support in the Protestant Reformation he
Desiderius Erasmus is depicted in this 1526 engraving by Albrecht Diirer (iStock).
resisted taking his side. When Luther criticized him for this, Erasmus responded with On Free Will in which he argued that it was impossible to know, as Luther claimed to know, that man did not have free will.
Erasmus was not himself a philosopher, but he made fun of the preoccupations of the scholastics and inaugurated their subsequent reputation as intellectually trivial. Through his influence in Europe on its educational systems, Greek, Latin, and Hebrew became more widely taught. Overall, he was a great supporter of the kind of critical spirit that many scholars believe eventually produced the Enlightenment.
Was Thomas More serious about his utopian vision?
Although Sir Thomas More (1478-1535; later, St. More), was strongly influenced by Desiderius Erasmus' (1466-1536) mockery of scholasticism, his ideas in his most important work, Utopia, are quite sober and serious. The work itself became a model for modern descriptions of the ideal society. Like Erasmus, More returned to Greek philosophy and early christianity for ideals of human life. More sought inspiration from Epicurus (341-271 b.c.e.), and, like his guide, extolled simple and natural pleasures among friends with the same tastes.
The principal narrator of Utopia is Raphael Hythlodaeus, a well-traveled philosopher who is fond of Plato, Plutarch, and Aristotle, as well as the Roman intellectuals Seneca and cicero. The island of Utopia is a completely egalitarian, communistic society. Reflecting More's values, Utopia favors rights for women, traditional families, and a reliance on christian virtues to support its main purpose of achieving happiness for all in their earthly lives.
How did Sir Thomas More become a martyr?
More (1478-1535) was a lawyer by training, and beginning in 1517 he served King Henry VIII, who appointed him Lord Chancellor. In 1534 the British Parliament passed the Act of Succession, making the heirs to the English crown the children of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, which resulted in Henry VIII's
Sir Thomas More's resistance to King Henry VIII's self-serving policies eventually led to sainthood (iStock).
children from earlier marriages (including Elizabeth, who was to become Queen Elizabeth I) being declared bastards.
More refused to swear to the Act of Supremacy, which affirmed the Act of Succession, and so he was committed to the Tower of London, charged with treason, and beheaded. More had always stuck to his own principles while in high office, and his refusal has been generally interpreted as an expression of his belief that Henry VIII had overstepped his royal prerogatives, first in declaring himself Head of the Church of England, so that he could seize Church lands and marry Anne Boleyn, and then in interfering with the royal succession. More's last words were: "The King's good servant, but God's First." More was beatified by the Catholic Church in 1886 and canonized as a saint by Pope Pius XI in 1935.
Why was Bernardo Telesio called "the first of the moderns" by Francis Bacon?
Bernardo Telesio (1509-1588) studied philosophy, physics, and mathematics at the University of Padua, receiving his doctorate at the age of 26. His subsequent pedagogical activity consisted of conversations with friends under the patronage of the Carafa family in Naples. He was also sought after by Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1585), who invited him to Rome. Telesio's major work was On the Nature of Things According to their Principles.
Telesio's innovation was to propose that knowledge of nature be based on sensory information about matter and the forces of heat and cold. Because of this emphasis on sensory information, Telesio is credited with laying the groundwork for more rigorous ideas about scientific investigation, which would soon follow in the work of Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). However, Telesio's own theories about the workings of nature do not greatly depart from Neoplatonic perspectives.
According to Telesio, heat, represented by sky, is the source of life and the cause of biological functions. Cold is represented by Earth, and it opposes heat. Heat also emanates "spirit," which in animals and humans is located in the brain, for the purpose of anticipating and receiving sensory information. Man also has an anima super-addita, or mind, which is created by God and present in both spirit and body. All beings have a desire or impetus toward self-preservation, which in human beings includes a goal of everlasting life.
Who was St. Teresa and what were her main ideas?
St. Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582) entered the Carmelite order when she was 22, and there she sought guidance in how to pray until she was 47. In 1560 she became part of the reform movement among the Spanish Carmelites. Her main works were the Vida (Life), which was her spiritual autobiography, and Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle. Her main project was to help readers surrender to the divine Trinity.
Teresa held that mysticism developed in stages. In her Life, she says that the soul is like a garden. First, weeds need to be removed and then water must be carried from a well. The senses must be subdued to minimize distraction during this initial labor of prayer and meditation. The prayer of quiet in the second stage is like irrigation with the help of a water wheel; and in the third stage a condition of contemplation is achieved, which is analogous to having a running brook through one's garden. By this time, the senses no longer function normally and the soul wants to withdraw from the world and unite with God. In the fourth stage, this union is achieved.
In The Interior Castle, Teresa uses the analogy of a castle with many rooms to describe a life of contemplation. After six early stages, the soul comes into the direct presence of God.
In what way was St. Teresa of Avila a Renaissance figure?
St. Teresa of Avila's (1515-1582) writings intimately recorded her spiritual development in a way that invited the reader to take the same path for him or herself. Unlike St. Augustine, whose confessional focus was ultimately on God and the religious community, St. Teresa focused on the individual heart and soul. Teresa's use of sensory imagery and her comparison of advances in mysticism to courtship and love throughout her writings, could probably not have been written during the medieval period. Neither could a distinctly female human voice have found such religious expression, before the Renaissance.
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