In his Theses, Luther put forth the germ of a personal spiritual reformation. His contemporary, the Dutchman Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536), saw this as the particular competence of education. Erasmus represented the epitome of liberal reform based upon classical and patristic scholarship. He was devoted to the ideals of the humanist traditions and sought to extend the publication of classical texts to include a critical edition of the Greek New Testament (1516). He also produced an accompanying copy of Jerome's Vulgate, so that scholars could read the two side by side and observe errors, which had, of course, been uncontested since the first appearance of Jerome's Vulgate. Erasmus remained a Catholic all of his life while criticizing the excesses of the church. An itinerant and independent scholar, he sought more to liberalize the church through literature and satire rather than by doctrinal debates. His best-known work is the Praise of Folly, a satire that pokes fun at the traditions and excesses of the Catholic Church but does not openly criticize the church or openly call for reform. Erasmus was not a Protestant reformer, nor was he entirely a secular humanist, but he seemed to straddle those movements in ways that are similar to his ecclesiastical contemporary, Julius II, whose papacy also straddled the secular and ecclesiastical.

Pope Julius II (1443-1513) exemplified the Renaissance papacy. A politician first he was also a great patron of art. Through his patronage a deliberate program of art associated the cultural and political achievements of ancient Rome with his papacy. Julian inspired a new humanism drawn from Rome's classical pagan heritage to justify his secular reign. In private and public architectural projects, Julius immortalized classical antiquity by commissioning the work of great artists like Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini, Borromini, and Leonardo da Vinci in several magnificent building projects that have come to symbolize a renewed papacy and renewed links with the past.

Erasmus and Julius II, in different ways, both sought to bring the glory of the ancient past back to life. Their scholarly and artistic enterprises involved the collaboration of artists, intellectuals, and patrons in a new civility that helped to create a classical renaissance in a Christian world.

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