“Goodness is its own ample reward”


In 1516 Renaissance scholar Desiderius Erasmus wrote a letter to his friend and fellow teacher, Johannes Sapidus. In this letter, now called Epistle 366, Erasmus wrote the following:

As for your vocation, I admit it is laborious, but I utterly deny that it is a tragic, as you call it, or deplorable position. To be a schoolmaster is next to being a king. Do you reckon it a mean employment to imbue the minds of your fellow-citizens in their earliest years with the best Letters and with the love of Christ, and to return them to their country honest and virtuous men? In the opinion of fools it is a humble task, but in fact it is the noblest of occupations. For if even among the heathen it was always an illustrious thing to deserve well of the Commonwealth, no one, I will boldly say, serves it better than the moulder of unfashioned boyhood, provided he be learned and honest, two qualities which are so equally matched in you, that I know not in which you surpass yourself.

As to the reduction of your salary, Christ himself will recompense you abundantly; and goodness is its own ample reward. Neither should your mind be disturbed, when you see so large an income awarded at the public expense to the lazy leisure of individuals, who live for their own pleasure, or wait upon their Prince without any advantage to the public; while he who is the common parent of all the children, and in the most necessary of all matters exerts himself to the utmost in the public service, is paid with so poor a salary. Such an office demands an upright and incorruptible man, who would take delight in his pious work even without any pay, while a high salary and a position of dignity would attract the meanest characters. You will yourself, my Sapidus, add by your accomplishments a dignity to the office, which, if it be of little repute among men, is surely of the highest account with Christ.

I shared these wry and wise words with our faculty today. They appreciated it and enjoyed humor in it. Regents teachers are an example of what Erasmus knew to be true: good teachers “imbue the minds of [their] fellow-citizens in their earliest years with the best Letters and with the love of Christ, and [then] return them to their country honest and virtuous men [and women].” Succeeding at that task is indeed its own reward.

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