Visiting the tomb of Erasmus inside the Basel Munster

I went on a mission of discovery this week, perhaps to see myself better, I think. I visited Erasmus of Rotterdam in ‘Praise of Folly’. As Erasmus said in his book of the same name (‘Encomium Moriae’ in Latin), “What could be more fitting than for folly to trumpet her own merits abroad and ‘sing her own praises’? Who could portray me better than I can myself? Unless, of course, someone knows me better than I know myself.”

Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) was a Renaissance humanist and theologian. Humanists such as Erasmus believed in a universal way of thinking and feeling through the common bond of human nature, suggesting that the long-term solutions to our problems cannot be parochial. That is, they cannot be based on selfish pettiness or narrow minded interests, opinions, or views. Instead, the solutions to our problems reside in a philosophy that recognizes the dignity and worth of all people and viewpoints. This relies on a belief in our ability to determine what is right using the qualities inherent to humanity, such as rational thinking.

My visit with Erasmus was quiet and private. The cathedral was full of tourists captivated with the glory of god in a building, never knowing they were near one of the greatest thinking persons of the Renaissance. I went there looking for him. He is tucked away in a corner, a beautiful red stone with gold engraved lettering in Latin. I visited for about 20 minutes and no others stopped by to see him. Perhaps Erasmus likes this. He rests peacefully.

In my time there with him I did praise my folly and think on my life. I have been foolish and experienced foolish ways, this is natural in living life. There are many types of folly to take lessons from. The commonality of human nature we all share is the lesson of Erasmus, and a way of thinking to make our lives a better place. Sometimes it means seeing the humor or satire of the situation. There is time to be proud, time to speak, time to express, but all in a way that pays tribute to the common bond we all share…opening the emotions, welcoming rational thinking, and letting go of self-centered ways. Yes, I praised my folly, for that is part of who I am also. Each of us has the opportunity to accept eachother for who we are and put the self-interests aside. To this I pay tribute to Erasmus, In Praise of Folly, and a way of thinking that benefits us all. Erasmus said, “The world will pass its own judgement on me, but unless my ‘self-love’ entirely deceives me, my praise of folly has not been altogether foolish”.

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