In his Paraclesis or Adhortatio ad christianae philosophiae studium Erasmus of Rotterdam proposed a famous anti-scholastic definition of the theologian:
To me he is truly a theologian who teaches not by skill with intricate syllogisms but by a disposition of mind, by the very expression and eyes . . .
In this kind of philosophy, located as it is more truly in the disposition of the mind than in syllogisms, life means more than debate, inspiration is preferable to erudition, transformation is a more important matter than intellectual comprehension. Only a very few can be learned, but all can be Christian, all can be devout, and—I shall boldly add—all can be theologians.
In the context of this preface to the new testament the model was the supremely Christian life, ‘the speaking, healing, dying, rising Christ himself’. Elsewhere, Erasmus sketched a portrait of exemplary Christian character as he had witnessed it at first hand, among his contemporaries. In response to a correspondent whom he judged to be in search of ‘some eminent pattern of religion’ he described the obscure Jehan Vitrier, ‘a man unknown to the world but famous and renowned in the kingdom of Christ’, as a foil, in the manner of Plutarch, for the more celebrated John Colet. Of Vitrier Erasmus said that ‘in truth his whole life was nothing else than one continual sermon’; of Colet that ‘nothing could divert him from the pursuit of a gospel life.’