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Thirtieth Annual Erasmus Birthday Lecture: Erasmus, the Church Fathers and the Ideological Implications of Philology

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This article explores the ideological impact of humanist philology in the age of the European Reformation. It focuses in particular on Erasmus' significance for the textual transmission of early Christian authors. An analysis of Erasmus' editions of the church fathers reveals that the editor did not just restore ancient texts but, by means of textual criticism, also sought to emancipate patristic authority from its traditional ecclesiastical keepers. In doing so he helped to transform their intellectual status from pillars of the institutionalized church into more flexible examples of spiritual virtues. In addition, it shows how Erasmus used his explanatory material to guide the interpretation of specific texts. Finally, by rigorously assessing the authenticity of received works and thus reorganizing the patristic canon, Erasmus promoted a critical attitude to the ecclesiastical tradition. The results of this exploration suggest that the notions of emancipation, interpretative guidance, and canonization can serve as helpful criteria for gauging the ideological impact of textual criticism in other areas as well.


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