Friday, February 06, 2009

Luther Meets His Match, Part II: Luther's Slanderous Insults of Erasmus in "Bondage of the Will" and "Table-Talk"

By Dave Armstrong (2-6-09)

The Bondage of the Will

[from the 1823 Edward Thomas Vaughan translation; available online]

First, we observe Luther's insincere rhetorical flattery:

To the Venerable Mister Erasmus. (subtitle)

I am quite ready to yield a palm to you myself, such as I never yet did to any man; admitting, that you not only very far excel me in eloquence and genius . . ., but that you have checked both my spirit and my inclination to answer you, and have made me languid before the battle . . . by your art in pleading this cause with such a wonderful command of temper, from first to last, that you have made it impossible for me to be angry with you . . . (Introduction)

. . . the authority of Erasmus is not to be despised . . . (Introduction)

And who knows but God may deign to visit even you, my excellent Erasmus, by so wretched and frail a little vessel of His, as myself? (Introduction)

Then he starts in with his ridiculous insults:

Once more; let me beg of you, my Erasmus, to bear with my rudeness of speech, even
as I bear with your ignorance on these subjects. (Introduction)

However, let the words pass, as I have said; and, in the meantime, I will excuse your spirit, on the condition that you manifest it no further. O fear the Spirit of God, who searches the reins and the hearts, arid is not beguiled by fine words. I have said thus much to deter you from hereafter loading our cause with charges of positiveness and inflexibility; for, upon this plan, you only shew that you are nourishing in your heart a Lucian, or some other hog of the Epicurean sty, who, having no belief at all of a God himself, laughs in his sleeve at all those who believe and confess one. Allow us to be asserters, to be studious of assertions, and to be delighted with them; but thou, meanwhile, bestow thy favour upon thy Sceptics and Academics, till Christ shall have called even thee also. The Holy Ghost is no Sceptic . . . (Pt. I)

But that some dogmas of Scripture are shut up in the dark, and all are not exposed to view, has been rumoured, it is true, by profane Sophists (with whose mouth you also speak here, Erasmus), . . . (Pt. I)

Assuredly, any Jew or Heathen, who had no knowledge at all of Christ, would find it easy enough to draw out such a pattern of faith as yours. You do not mention Christ in a single jot of it; as though you thought that Christian piety might subsist without Christ, if but God, whose nature is most merciful, be worshipped with all our might. What shall I say here, Erasmus? Your whole air is Lucian, and your breath a vast surfeit of Epicurus? (Pt. I)

Just what has happened to you in this case, Erasmus! May the Lord pardon and have mercy on you! . . . But you are foolish and rash in mixing, confounding, and assimilating the purity of sacred truth with the profane and foolish questions of ungodly men. They have defiled the gold and changed its beautiful colour, as Jeremiah says, (Lam. v. 1.) but gold is not forthwith to be compared to dung and thrown away together with it; as you have done. (Pt. I)

Here again, you confound and mix things, as your custom is, that you may degrade what is sacred to the level of the profane, without allowing the least difference between them . . . (Pt. I)

. . . your words sound as though, like Epicurus, you accounted the word of God and a future state to be mere fables . . . (Pt. I)

You see again, how rashly you make war upon the word of God, as though you preferred your own thoughts and counsels very far before it. (Pt. I)

. . . we readily perceive, that you have not given us this counsel from your heart; and that you do not write any thing seriously, but trust to the vain and puerile ornaments of your language as that which may enable you to lead the world whither soever you please. (Pt. II)

Where is now that sharpness of Grecian wit, which heretofore invented lies, having at least some shew of beauty; but on this subject utters only naked and undisguised falsehoods? Where is now that Latin industry, not inferior to Grecian, which in this instance so beguiles, and is beguiled, with the vainest of words? (Pt. II)

A perfectly new and unheard-of definer of Freewill; who leaves heathen philosophers,
Pelagians, Sophists, and all others, far behind him! (Pt. III)

(date of all utterances uncertain, but many sayings are listed as from the 1530s)

[my citations in this first portion are from the volume (in my own library) published by The Lutheran Publication Society, no date given (available online); translation by William Hazlitt in 1857; another available version online has different pagination and slightly different numbering of sayings in some portions; e.g., my citing of #667 below is #671 in the online version]

[ ". . . Erasmus, one of the learnedest men in the whole world . . . " CCLXII, p. 146 or p. 120 in the second online version]

Erasmus of Rotterdam is the vilest miscreant that ever disgraced the earth . . . He is a very Caiaphas.

(#667, 350-351; #671 and p. 283 in the second online version)

. . . he appears to see no difference between Jesus Christ our Saviour, and the wise pagan legislator Solon. He sneers at St. Paul and St. John . . . Shame upon thee, accursed wretch! 'Tis a mere Momus, making his mows and mocks at everything and everybody, at God and man, at papist and protestant, but all the while using such shuffling and double-meaning terms, that no one can lay hold of him to any effectual purpose. Whenever I pray, I pray a curse upon Erasmus.

(#668, 351; #672 and p. 283 in the second online version)

Erasmus was poisoned at Rome and at Venice with epicurean doctrines. He extols the Arians more highly than the Papists . . . he died like an epicurean, without any one comfort of God.

(#675, 355; #679 and p. 286 in the second online version)

This I do leave behind me as my will and testament, whereupon I make you witnesses. I hold Erasmus of Rotterdam to be Christ's most bitter enemy. In his catechism, of all his writings that which I can least endure, he teaches nothing decided; not one word says: Do this, or, Do not this; he only therein throws error and despair into youthful consciences. He wrote a book against me, called Hyperaspistes, wherein he proposed to defend his work on free-will, against which I wrote my De servo Arbitrio, which has never yet been confuted, nor will it ever be by Erasmus, for I am certain that what I wrote on the matter is the unchangeable truth of God. If God live in heaven, Erasmus will one day know and feel what he has done.

Erasmus is the enemy to true religion, the open adversary of Christ, the complete and faithful picture and image of Epicurus and of Lucian.

(#676, 355; #680 and pp. 286-287 in the second online version)

I have cracked many hollow nuts, and yet I thought they had been good, but they fouled my mouth, and filled it with dust; Carlstadt and Erasmus are mere hollow nuts, and foul the mouth.

(#694, 364; #698 and p. 293 in the second online version)

* * * * *

[The following excerpts come from Conversations With Luther: Selections From Recently Published Sources of the Table Talk, translated and edited by Preserved Smith and Herbert Percival Gallinger, New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1915]

Lorenzo Valla . . . sought simplicity both in piety and in style. Erasmus seeks it in style only; piety he ridicules. . . . Erasmus wishes to leave his faith behind him, which he dares not confess during life. Such men will not say what they think. They are paltry fellows who would measure everything by their own wisdom and think that if God existed he would make another and a better world (1). . . . when I say, 'Hallowed by thy name,' I curse Erasmus and all who think contrary to the word . . . Severus [Wolfgang Schiefer] said of Erasmus: ". . . A certain priest told me that he believed neither in God nor in immortality, (2) and that he once burst forth into this blasphemy: 'that if God did not exist, he would like to rule the world with his own wisdom,' " Then said the doctor [Luther]: "He arrogates to himself the divinity he would like to take from Christ, whom, in his Colloquies, he compares with Priapus (3) and whom he mocks in his Catechism and especially in his detestable Miscellany. He despised all others . . . In my letter which displeased Philip I challenged him but he would not fight. . . ."

"Erasmus of Rotterdam," said Luther, "thinks that the Christian religion is either a comedy or a tragedy, and that the things therein described never actually happened, but were invented for the purpose of moral training."

As Luther examined a likeness of Erasmus, he said: "The expression on his face indicates shrewdness, but he only scoffs at God and religion. He uses, to be sure, the greatest words, "Holy Christ, the holy Word, the holy sacraments,' but in truth he is very indifferent to these things. . . ."

"To Erasmus it seems ridiculous that God should be born of a poor maid. Lucian has laughed at all the gods, but Erasmus is a greater knave than he. But at the last day he will feel differently, and [seeing us among the saved] will say: 'I thought the life of those people was foolish.'"

"Erasmus is bad through and through, as is evident in all his books . . . To him, 'Father, Son and Holy Ghost' is a ridiculous thing. . . ."

"Erasmus is worthy of great hatred. I warn you all to regard him as God's enemy. He inflames the baser passions of young boys and regards Christ as I regard Klaus Narr. (4) . . ."

"I wonder that a man can fall so far from the knowledge of God as Erasmus has fallen. He is as certain that there is no God and no eternal life, as I am certain that I see. Lucian is not so certain of it as Erasmus." . . .

"With Erasmus it is translation and nothing else. He is never in earnest. He is ambiguous and a caviller. . . . He abuses all of us Christians without discrimination, not excepting Paul nor any other of the pious. Master Philip told me that Erasmus said on one occasion that he wished to overthrow the foundations of our doctrine; and this he is trying exceedingly hard to accomplish in all his writings. . . ."

Speaking of Erasmus' edition of the New Testament, Luther said: "I wish that it might be suppressed because of its Epicureanism and the many false doctrines which have been inserted. He has destroyed many, body and soul. He is one cause of the Sacramentarians. He has injured the Gospel as much as he has advanced the science of grammar. He has been a shameless fellow. Zwingli was led astray by him . . . He died without the cross and without light. . . ."

"It is the opinion of the pope and all the cardinals, and even of Erasmus, that religion is all a fable, but that it should be preserved in order that the royal power and the papal monarchy may be maintained. . . . For this purpose they make use of religion, in the truth of which they do not believe."

[1] Editor's note: "The date of this saying is 1532."

[2] "No such expression or opinions are found in Erasmus' works. Charges of atheism were bandied about freely at this time, for any serious doctrinal disagreement was regarded as tantamount to it. . . . This saying occurs in 1540."

[3] "Erasmus did not compare Christ and Priapus, but Luther considered the close juxtaposition of their names, in Erasmus' Colloquies, blasphemous."

[4] The court fool of the Ernestine princes.

(pp. 105-112)

Erasmus, Oecolampadius, Zwingli and Carlstadt wish to measure everything by their own wisdom, and so are confounded. I, however, thank God that I know and believe that God is much wiser than I am.

(p. 114)

"Jerome is a babbler like Erasmus; he tried to talk big and did not succeed. He promises the reader something but gives nothing. I wonder, too, at that time, hardly three hundred years after Christ, when the tongues were so well understood, there was such blindness in the Church."

(p. 228)

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