Four Paraphrases and a Gospel or How to Rewrite Without Repeating Yourself

in Erasmus Studies
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In his preface to Emperor Charles V, Erasmus denies any intention of making his Paraphrases on the Gospels an evangelical harmony that would contradict his desire for legibility.1 We can therefore assume that, when in paraphrasing one gospel he has recourse to another, he does so for the sake of clarity, as when he proposes a harmonized version of the baptism of Christ or of his passion. Based on a textual comparison of certain passages from the Paraphrases on Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, this article studies how Erasmus rewrites the text of the four gospels, reconciling them without repeating himself, while conserving to each its own unique character.

Erasmus Studies

Formerly: Erasmus of Rotterdam Society Yearbook




Ep. 1255, lines 75–79 CWE.


Ep. 1381, lines 435–438 CWE; Allen lines 415–417: “Quum scriberemus in Matthaeum, nihil minus expectabamus quam vt flagitaretur Ioannes ac mox Lucas. Nunc ne qua lacuna vacua videtur inter Euangelistas, addemus et Marcum.”


Ep. 1255, line 45 CWE from Adage 1406 Lucernam accendere in meridie. See Jean-François Cottier, “Lucernam accendere in meridie? Du bon usage de la paraphrase biblique selon Érasme” in Wim François et August den Hollander (eds.), Infant Milk or Hardy Nourishment? The Bible for Lay People and Theologians in the Early Modern Period (Leuven, 2009) 65–85.


See Mary Jane Barnett, “Erasmus and the Hermeneutics of Linguistic Praxis” Renaissance Quarterly 49 (1996) 542–572.


See Laurel Carrington, “The Boundaries between Text and Reader: Erasmus’s Approach to Reading Scripture,” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 88 (1997) 5–22; and J. Etienne, “La médiation des Ecritures selon Erasme” in Scrinium Erasmianum, ed. J. Coppens, vol. 2 (Leiden, 1969) 3–11.


See Manfred Hoffmann, Rhetoric and Theology: The Hermeneutic of Erasmus (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994) 146–147.


Ep. 1255, lines 75–79 CWE; Allen lines 67–70: “Sin ex omnibus perpetuam quandam narrationis seriem contexerem, quum explicare dissonantes locos in Euangelistis nihil aliud sit quam in labyrintho quodam versari, non potuissem seruire perspicuitati paraphraseos.”


Ep. 1381, lines 389–411 CWE; Allen lines 370–391: “Simplex et inconditus est Evangelii sermo; quem si quis expendat ad Thucydidis aut Titi Livii historiam, multa desiderabit, multis offendetur. Quam multa praetermittunt Evangelistae! quam multis locis non convenit ordo! quam multis locis inter se videntur pugnare! Haec poterant lectoris animum alienare ac fidem abrogare lectioni. (…) Habemus causam quur euangelica veritas intra tam paucos annos per homines humiles, omni sevitiae genere rebellante mundo, sese sparserit per uniuersum orbem.”


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