Erasmus as Christian

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.

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4 thoughts on “Erasmus as Christian

  1. Just became aware of the following from Spengler from P.T. Carlo’s new article today at Thermidor. It bears on the question of the Puritan hypothesis:

    “WESTERN mankind, without exception, is under the influence of an immense optical illusion. Everyone demands something of the rest. We say “thou shalt” in the conviction that so-and-so in fact will, can and must be changed or fashioned or arranged conformably to the order, and our belief both in the efficacy of, and in our title to give, such orders is unshakable. That, and nothing short of it, is, for us, morale. In the ethics of the West everything is direction, claim to power, will to affect the distant. Here Luther is completely at one with Nietzsche, Popes with Darwinians, Socialists with Jesuits; for one and all, the beginning of morale is a claim to general and permanent validity.”

    “The moral imperative as the form of morale is Faustian and only Faustian. It is quite wrong to associate Christianity with the moral imperative. It was not Christianity that transformed Faustian man, but Faustian man who transformed Christianity—and he not only made it a new religion but also gave it a new moral direction. The “it” became “I,” the passion-charged centre of the world, the foundation of the great Sacrament of personal contrition. Will-to-power even in ethics, the passionate striving to set up a proper morale as a universal truth, and to enforce it upon humanity, to reinterpret or overcome or destroy everything otherwise constituted—nothing is more characteristically our own than this is.”

    Liked by 1 person

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