“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity,” (Ps. 132:1). To have a friend is simultaneously a desire of man and a source of great enjoyment for him. Indeed friendship has entered on hard times here in the sunrise of the twenty-first century. It is replaced by business acquaintances, sexual liaisons, and support groups. None of which begin to fulfill the desire for true friendship. They, rather, lead to workaholics, promiscuity, and reduction of anthropology to mere emotionalism. “True love is a friendship where persons share a common good that is the good of both persons as persons and unites them in a community of life.”[i] It is here that the friendship of St. Thomas More and Desiderius Eramsus Roterodamus can be of great value. “Their friendship was one of the jewels of the Renaissance.”[ii] The friendship was sustained over thirty-five years, the last thirteen of which were without physical contact. Erasmus was once quoted as saying, “Life without a friend I think no life, but rather death.”[iii] This friendship can provide much enlightenment, then, for our current globalized world. Consequently, this essay has two aims: the first historical, to examine in a brief glace the friendship between these two men; and the second pedagogical, in order to draw from this friendship certain principles that can be applied to our present situation indeed any situation where friendship has fallen prey to radical individualism or radical socialism.[iv]
|St. Thomas More|
As a course of introduction to this friendship it seems appropriate to first enter into their roots, where they came from and what brought them together. Because of his enduring popularity even to this day, it would seem fitting to begin with St. Thomas More. He was born of John More, a lawyer of good standing in London, and Agnes Graunger, the daughter of a London alderman, on or near February 7, 1478.[v] As his son ascended in years John More ascended in rank within the London government. Thomas took grammar school (at that time that term meant what it said) at St. Anthony’s, where he learned Latin grammar.[vi] He learned not only to read Latin but to speak, argue, and dispute in Latin. It can be said even at a young he was being prepared to take up the practice of law as was his father’s desire. The education in Latin was crucial for More’s learning. “The adult More … would have conversed in Latin as often as he even spoke in English; the majority of his extant letters are also composed in the older language. His most important prose works are written in Latin, as well, but its use has a more private aspect; he and Erasmus were for a while intimate friends but they could communicate only that language.”[vii] At the age of twelve, More moved from St. Anthony’s, in London, to the house of Archbishop John Morton, archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor to Henry VII, where he served at table for the prelate and his retinue. There he continued study through a tutor for all those serving, but his real school was listening to the conversation at this important Englander’s table.[viii] Morton noticed More’s intellectual brilliance and sent him to Oxford, where he studied for two years. There hr was taught in the scholastic style of disputatio, and he also performed in short comic sketches at the college that he resided.[ix] However, following those two years he pursued his father’s desire for him to be a lawyer by entering the New Inn and a few years later transferring to Lincoln’s Inn. He spent eight years in total in study law. It was towards the end of his studies at Lincoln’s Inn that he met Erasmus.
Erasmus was illegitimately born in Rotterdam in Holland on October 27, 1466. His father, Gerhard, was a cleric (is not known if he was before or after Erasmus’ conception) of not much support to his son. His mother Margaret, daughter of a physician, was left to care for the children, because their father traveled to Italy to become a copyist.[x] His mother sent him and his older brother to the Cathedral school in Deventer. There he studied under the Brothers of the Common Life. He learned the devotio moderna forwarded by Thomas á Kempis as well as the scholastic methods.[xi] It was here that “his book became his companions; they did not change, or decay, or die.”[xii] His mother and father died nine years later leaving him and his brother to the greedy and unforgiving hands of their father’s brothers. Here Erasmus said that he was forced into religious life and priesthood.[xiii] Neither for which, did he have a vocation. In search of greater learning, he entered into the service of the Bishop of Cambrai hoping to study in Italy. He instead was sent to Paris. There he studied the ancient languages that More studied as a child. There he tutored the children of the Lord Mountjoy, who in turn invited Erasmus to join him for a while in England. It is here that these to men began a lasting friendship.