Erasmus was not fitted for the monastic life. This is not to say that he was a bad man. Few men outside the ranks of the holy have worked harder or made greater sacrifices to do God service. But his was a free spirit. His work could only be done in his own way; and to live according to another’s rule fretted him beyond endurance. His experience in the matter was not fortunate. In 1483 his mother died of plague at Deventer, whither she had accompanied him. His father recalled him next year to Gouda, but died soon afterwards; and his guardians then sent him with his elder brother to a school kept by the Brethren of the Common Life at Hertogenbosch—doubtless to a Domus Pauperum for intending monks, such as Butzbach entered at Deventer; for in this connexion Erasmus describes the schools of the Brethren as seminaries for the regular orders. After two years they returned to Gouda, and Erasmus begged to be sent to a university; but no means were forthcoming, and the guardian prevailed upon the elder brother Peter to enter the monastery of Sion, near Delft. Erasmus held out for some time; but he was without resources and the influences at work upon him were strong. One day he fell in with a school-friend, Cornelius of Woerden, who had recently entered the house of Augustinian canons at Steyn, near Gouda. In his loneliness any friend was welcome. He paid visits to Steyn and saw that the life there offered leisure and even possibilities of study; Cornelius, too, seemed inclined to be a ready companion in literary pursuits. Urged by his guardian, invited by his friend, he gave way at length to the double pressure and entered Steyn.
After a novitiate of a year, during which life was made easy to him, he took his canonical vows; and soon began to repent of the step he had made. For about seven years he lived in what seemed to him a prison. There were, no doubt, good men amongst his fellow-canons. In all his diatribes against monasticism he was ready to admit that the Orders contained plenty of God-fearing souls, doing their duty honestly; and the evidence shows clearly enough that this was correct. It is, however, equally true that there were mediocrities among them, and even worse; men with low standards and no ideals, who brought their fellows to shame. Vows in those days were indissoluble, except in rare cases; as a rule it was only by flight and disappearance for ever that a man could escape social disgrace and the penalties threatened by the spiritual arm to a renegade monk. To-day, when orders can be laid down at the holder’s will, the Church of England contains priests of whom it cannot get rid.