Glarean Blessed Erasmus

Dan Graves, MSL

Glarean Blessed Erasmus

One of the greatest teachers and scholars at the time of the Swiss Reformation was Heinrich Loreti. Known by the name Glarean, because he was born near Glarus, Switzerland, he came to Basel in 1514 as a private scholar and a proctor (supervisor) of younger men. At that time, the university required its students to live with such proctors. Fifteen or more men would room with one of these graduate students, who added his own instruction to their education.

Glarean perfected his students' knowledge of Latin and Greek, mathematics, geography, and classical literature. He could have helped them with music, too, for he made an original mark in that field. So gifted was Glarean that one of his enthusiastic pupils wrote, "I doubt whether there are ten like him in all Switzerland."

Erasmus, the humanist and scholar who did more than anyone to set the Reformation going, made a deep impression on Glarean. On this day, September 5, 1516 (a year before Martin Luther posted his 95 theses) Glarean wrote a letter to Erasmus, revealing how the older man had inspired him. In it he said, "You taught me to know Christ and not only to know him but to imitate him, to honor him and to love him."

Glarean attempted to impart the new humanism to his students. Praising him in a 1517 letter to a Bishop in Paris, Erasmus noted that he had rejected fruitless theology and was studying Christ from the sources. "He has great knowledge of history, and is remarkably able in music, cosmography, and mathematics, deserving to be called master in these fields. In respect to morals, he has a good and clean character, and is devoted to piety."

Among the pupils Glarean supervised was Conrad Grebel, who became a significant leader of the Swiss Brethren. Another, at the opposite pole, was Aegidius Tschudi who became a famous historian and defender of Catholicism in Switzerland. But many others passed under Glarean's care.

However, when Glarean is remembered today, it is usually because of his study of musical modes. (In a mode, the eight tones in a octave are arranged according to a fixed scheme.) Two of his modes are similar to our major and minor scales. He claimed that there are twelve modes, or a Dodecachordon. The system is not used and is too technical to explain here, but Glarean's point was that many of these modes were in use by contemporary musicians who did not even realize it. Glarean gave his modes Greek names: the Dorian, the Phrygian, and so forth.

Glarean was friends with several of the Reformers, men such as Ulrich Zwingli and Oecolompadius. At first he was happy with Luther's ideas, but as time passed he grew disenchanted with the violent course the Reformation took and in the end, he remained a Catholic.


  1. Bender, Harold S. Conrad Grebel c. 1498-1526; the founder of the Swiss Brethren sometimes called Anabaptists. (Scottsdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1950.
  2. Hartig, Otto. "Henry Glarean." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1909.
  3. Mortensen, Kurt. "Glarean's Dodecachordon."
  4. Various internet articles.

Last updated July, 2007

Originally published April 28, 2010.

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