Note 11

Running through Erasmus's letter is the assumption, which he elsewhere makes explicit, that the contentiousness of the scholastics is connected with the barbarity of their Latin and their Aristotelian logic. What Erasmus earlier described as the `rebirth' of liberal studies (or perhaps `good learning': the Latin phrase bonae litterae which occurs frequently in the letter has no exact modern equivalent) was felt by him not only to open the way back to a more spiritual Christianity based on the values of the scriptures and the early Fathers, but also of itself to promote with elegance of style humanity of behaviour. This view of the moral benefits to be derived from the cultivation of bonae litterae, quite apart from the examples and values contained in classical literature, was widely shared by Erasmus's humanist contemporaries. Some of them, like Bude, who regarded humanitas as a quality of behaviour rather than a type of erudition, based their view on a passage of Aulus Gellius (Noctes Atticae, 13, 17) which identifies humanitas with both the Greek educational ideal and learning and instruction in the liberal arts (artes liberales). The rebirth of bonae litterae which, at its narrowest, means classical studies, was felt by the humanists to be an event of immense cultural significance, a view to which our own use of the term `Renaissance' to describe Erasmus's period partly subscribes.

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