This article is a word study that analyses and interprets how Erasmus uses the adjective evangelicus, -a, -um in his New Testament Paraphrases. The development of the idiom ‘gospel-blank’ (evangelicus + noun) is analyzed diachronically; the phrases denoting gospel things are divided into six semantic categories. The study shows, on the one hand, that there is a general consistency in how evangelicus is used, the most common pairings predominating in most Paraphrases on the Epistles and Gospels, while, on the other, there is some broadening and lowering of the nouns with which evangelicus is joined, moving from the Paraphrases on the Epistles to the Gospel Paraphrases. Erasmus’ changing attitude to the project of paraphrasing the New Testament provides biographical and historical context in which to place the study’s findings. The study concludes by highlighting the New Testament Paraphrases as Erasmus’ humanistic response to worsening divisions in the early 1520s.
Erasmus begins Ep.117116Dec. 1520 dedicating the Paraphrase on James to Cardinal Matthäus Schiner by likening himself to an athlete: “I thought I had already reached the end of my race and was intending to give myself a rest at any rate from studies of this kind having explained all the Epistles which I thought genuinely Pauline.” lines 4–6 CWE; the metaphor is repeated at lines 50–51.
Ep.125513Jan. 1522 dedicating the Paraphrase on Matthew to Charles V gives numerous reasons why Erasmus did not want to paraphrase the Gospel of Matthew after having paraphrased the New Testament Epistles (lines 31–79 CWE). Chief among these was that it was too bold an undertaking: “the majesty of Christ was too great for the same boldness to be permissible in respect of the words he uttered.” lines 34–36 CWE. Also Ep. 1333 5 Jan. 1523 dedicating the Paraphrase on John to Archduke Ferdinand: “The very grandeur of the work inspired a certain awe that deterred my mind from approaching it.” lines 7–8 CWE.
Again from Ep.1255: “[Cardinal Shiner] went on to Milan and promised the Germans in my name that the work would come out this winter. Consequently on my return to Basel I was beset by my German friends who can be very obstinate when they want something so that to fulfill my promises he and I had made I finished the work in about a month.” lines 88–92 CWE. Also Ep. 1248 14 Dec. 1521 to Matthäus Shiner lines 16–18 CWE.
Ep.1333on completing the Paraphrase on Matthew: “I then thought that in this class of composition I had done all I ever should.” lines 10–11 CWE.
Citations in G.W.H. LampeA Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford: Oxford at the Clarendon Press1961) are to: Aristides (ἁγία γραφή) Clement (ἀλήθεια) Hippolytus (λόγος) Origen (ἀναγνώσματα γράμματα νόμος and πολιτεία) Methodius (φιλοσοφία καὶ παιδεία and νόμος) Eusebius (χάρις) Basil (βίος ζωή πίστις καὶ ἀγάπη and πολιτεία) Gregory of Nyssa (ἱστορία and παράδοσις) John Chrysostom (πολιτεία) Ps. Chrysostom (βάπτισμα) Cyril (πολιτεία) Theodoretus (νομοθεσία and πολιτεία) and Procopius (πολιτεία); citations in Albert Blaise Dictionnaire latin-français des auteurs chrétiens (Paris: Librairie des Méridiens 1954) are to: Cyprian (disciplina and lectio) Tertullian (instrumentum) Ambrose (praecepta) Jerome (vir) and Augustine (verbum). Of these 24 words 2 two fall into category 1 and 11 fall into categories 2 and 3.
Jean-François Cottier“Four Paraphrases and a Gospel or How to Rewrite Without Repeating Yourself,”Erasmus Studies36.2 (2016) 131–147 (144–147) stresses that Erasmus does not attempt through this synthesis to harmonize the Gospels but rather to sustain the “harmony of Christ” that comes from the four Gospels. It may be added based on the prefatory letter Pio lectori [LB ** 2v–** 3r] that Erasmus was concerned that the Paraphrase on Matthew not be an obstacle to belief for novice readers of Scripture. This could account for his strategy of neither leaving gaps in the story nor leaving unexplained apparent contradictions between the Gospels that could lead to confusion.
Regarding the Gospel of John Ep.132329Nov. 1522 to Archduke Ferdinand lines 22–24 CWE credits Albert of Brandenburg archbishop of Mainz and John bishop of Rochester among others with persuading him to write a paraphrase on John despite its obscurities. See also Ep. 1308 17 Aug. 1522 from Wolfgang Capito lines 21–24 CWE and Ep. 1333 lines 1–15 CWE. Regarding the Gospel of Luke Ep. 1341A lines 763–766 CWE: “Nor was I allowed to stop there: there began to be a demand for Luke for there are many things in him which he shares with no other evangelist—so easy was it to find some excuse for asking.” Erasmus goes on to write: “The addition of Mark was then suggested to me by an eminent friend … There remained the Acts of the Apostles.” lines 767–768 and 770 CWE.
In Ep.1333Erasmus outlines the difficulties posed by the Gospel of John concluding: “Thus it came about that although I foresaw these difficulties and many others like them none the less I set about this task … I was particularly encouraged by the success of the previous attempt.” lines 74–75 and 77–78.
Ep.1376lines 8–11 CWE. Also SpongeCWE 78:97: “But when I concentrate on my Paraphrases I feel the agitation of my mind subside and I become better than I was.”
Ep.138123August 1523 lines 427–431 CWE.
Ep.1327lines 13–14 CWE Allen line 13: “rem evangelicam prudenter ac fortiter gere.”
Trans. Martin H. BertramLuther’s Works vol. 30: The Catholic Epistles (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House1967) 3–4.
As late as August1524Erasmus was resisting both factions saying to the Magistrates of Strasbourg on the one hand: “I have refused all offers made to me by princes as an inducement to write against Luther” and on the other: “I have shown such reluctance to lend my name to that league (n8—i.e. support the reformers)” Ep. 1477 lines 26–27 and 29–30 CWE. Erasmus would soon be forced to oppose Luther openly by Luther’s De servo arbitrio (Dec. 1525) an unexpectly hostile response to Erasmus’ De libero arbitrio diatribe sive collatio (Sept. 1524).
Cf. Ep.134811March 1523 surviving only in a German translation likely made by Georgius Spalatinus for “Luther’s prince Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony” (Introduction CWE). The letter speaks of “the gospel cause which I (Erasmus) try to promote in my own fashion according to my abilities more faithfully perhaps than some might think.” About the differences between Erasmus and the addressee: “Would God that Christ may turn it all to serve his glory for therein lies our salvation!” lines 3–7 CWE.