December 17, 2003

The genius of Erasmus

I responded at length to a comment in the post immediately below, so I'll limit myself here to a quotation gleaned from the Bernard Cottret book Calvin: A Biography. It seems that Erasmus, like Calvin, was accused by the Catholic hierarchy of Arianism, that is, denying the trinity. In a footnote, Cottret quotes Erasmus' response to such charges:

The indiscreet subtleties of the Arians led the church to a more precise formulation ... We can forgive the ancients, but we, what excuse do we have for raising importunate, not to say impious, questions on subjects that are also remote from our own nature? ... We define so many things which may be left in ignorance or in doubt without loss of salvation. It is not possible to have fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit without being able to explain philosophically the distinction between them and between the nativity of the Son and the procoession of the Holy Ghost? If I believe that there are three of one nature, what is the use of labored disputation? If I do not believe, I shall not be persuaded by any human reasons ... You will not be damned if you do not know whether the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son has one or two beginnings, but you will not escape damnation, if you do not cultivate the fruits of the Spirit which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, mercy, faith, modesty, continence, and chastity ... The sum of our religion is peace and unanimity, but these can scarcely stand unless we define as little as possible, and in many things leave one free to follow his own judgment, because there is great obscurity in many matters, and man suffers from this almost congenital disease that he will not give in when once a controversy is started, and after he is heated he regards as absolutely true that which he began to sponsor quite casually ... Many problems are now reserved for an ecumenical council. It would be better to defer questions of this sort to the time when, no longer in a glass darkly, we see God face to face ... Formerly, faith was in life rather than in the profession of creeds. Presently, necessity required that articles be drawn up, but only a few with apostilic sobriety. Then the depravity of the heretics exacted a more precise scrutiny of the divine books .... When faith came to be in writings rather than in hearts, then there were almost as many faiths as men. Articles increased and sincerity decreased. Contention grew hot and love grew cold. The doctrine of Christ, which at first knew no hair splitting, came to depend on the aid of philosophy. This was the first stage in the decline of the church. ... The injection of the authority of the emporer into this affair did not greatly aid the sincerity of faith. ... When faith is in the mouth rather than in the heart, when the solid knowledge of Sacred Scripture fails us, nevertheless by terrorization we drive men to believe what they do not believe, to love what they do not love, to know what they do not know. That which is forced cannot be sincere, and that which is not voluntary cannot please Christ.

After reading about the Affair of the Placards, the speech delivered by Nicholas Cop that got both Calvin and Cop kicked out of Paris (and which a few modern Catholic theologians have certified as being utterly orthodox), disputes over whether the soul sleeps or goes immediately to heaven, etc. etc., Erasmus comes as a welcome breath of fresh air.

Posted by Ideofact at December 17, 2003 10:52 PM