Erasmus of Rotterdam was a renowned humanist scholar and theologian of the XV-XVI century. He is known as the “Prince of the Humanists” for his enormous contribution to the humanities in the world. In these centuries, the movement known as “Renaissance” was spread throughout Europe giving new approaches in all human areas, and Erasmus was the pre-eminent representative of this new intellectual and ethical advancement of humankind.
The modernity of that Europe to which Erasmus belonged is not only linked to the creation of the so-called Modern States; Modernity is also Renaissance and Humanism, it is Utopia and morality; it is Thomas Moro, Luis Vives and Cervantes.
As for peace, it should be recalled that Erasmus wrote his famous reflection entitled “The Complaint of Peace” in a time altered by the passage of the certainties of the Middle Ages to the doubts of the Renaissance, in which war as perceived in the past as a common practice accepted by all. In the sixteenth century, peace became a legal desideratum and war started to be seen as an exception.
In the sixteenth century, the doctrine of just war was openly criticized by Erasmus, who launched a demolishing attack against any type of justification of war.
In 1523, Hans Holbein the Younger painted the famous portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam. Holbein’s portraits played an important part in spreading the painter’s reputation across Europe, as they and their copies were widely distributed. There are three main portrait types: a three-quarters view, probably of 1523, best-known from the National Gallery version; a profile view also from 1523, reading, as in the Louvre, and an older three-quarters view, perhaps c. 1530, in the Kunstmuseum Basel.
In his book “The Complaint of Peace”, Erasmus said that the first and most important step towards peace is sincerely to desire it. Those people who once love peace in their hearts will eagerly seize every opportunity of establishing or recovering it.
He also denounced war and advocated for peace in the following terms: “Let the lovers of strife, and the promoters of bloodshed between nations, divided only by a name and a channel, rather reflect that this world, the whole of the planet called earth, is the common country of all who live and breathe upon it, if the title of one’s country is allowed to be sufficient reason for unity among fellow-countrymen; and let them also remember that all men, however distinguished by political or accidental causes, are sprung from the same parents, if consanguinity and affinity are allowed to be available to concord and peace”.
Erasmus continued saying that “in all countries the greater part of the people certainly detests war, and most devoutly wishes for peace. A very few of them indeed, whose unnatural happiness depends upon the public misery, may wish for war; but be it yours to decide, whether it is equitable or not, that the unprincipled selfishness of such wretches should have more weight than the anxious wishes of all good men united. You plainly see that hitherto nothing has been effectually done towards permanent peace by treaties. Now it is time to pursue different measures; to try the experiments of what a placable disposition and a mutual desire to do acts of friendship and kindness can accomplish in promoting national amity”.
In this sense, Erasmus openly called for the recognition of the right to peace when he said in his famous peace book that everyone should hear the voice of their Sovereign Lord, commanding them upon their duty, to seek peace and abolish war. People should also be persuaded that the world, wearied with its long continued calamities, demands peace, and has a right to insist on this immediate compliance.