In my recent observations on the roots of Arminianism and Socianism (…Erasmus), I mentioned that Erasmus was at one point the Western Church’s highest authority on the text of the New Testament. This was no exaggeration; and in fact, it was something of an understatement. Erasmus was for all practical purposes the highest authority on all textual sources of the Christian tradition, including both the Bible and the patristic literature. To give you as sense, here is a timeline of the major editions that he brought out.
1516: Jerome, Operum Omnium (9 vol.)
1519: Athanasius, Opera
1520: Appian, Opera
1522: Arnobius, Commentarii in Omnes Psalmos
1523: Hilary of Potiers, Opera (2 vol.)
1526: Irenaeus, Opus in quinque libros digestum
1527: Ambrose, Omnia Opera (4 vol.)
1528-9: Augustine, Omnium Operum (10 vol.)
1530: Chrysostom, Opera (5 vol.)
1536: Origen, Opera (2 vol.)
Erasmus’ edition of Augustine, in particular, was a labor of love. The project took eight years, he received only nominal remuneration, and Erasmus didn’t even enjoy Augustine! (He dismissed Augustine’s treatise on widowhood as an obvious forgery: the style, he claimed, was too clear and lively to have come from the pen of the bishop of Hippo.) But he considered it his duty to Christ to gather the authentic works of the Fathers together, like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and see them safely through the presses.
The ramifications of his own theology were… well, pestilent. No one would be more surprised by this than Erasmus himself, I suspect. In his bitter polemic with Luther, Erasmus rarely had the upper hand in the substance of the argument, but it is hard not to recognize how much the hostile tone of the debate pained him, how much he cherished unity and harmony. Erasmus was always one to find a silver lining. (He goes so far as to praise Augustine for remaining faithful to his concubines; such integrity, he observes, is rarely found in the modern episcopacy.) Whether the gentleness he affected is truly an expression of Christian charity or not, I imagine he would be horrified to see what Socianism has wrought.