Erasmus of Rotterdam: With a Selection from the Letters of Erasmus

By Erasmus; J. Huizinga | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVI
FIRST YEARS OF THE REFORMATION

Beginning of the relations between Erasmus and Luther -- Archbishop Albert of Mayence, 1517 -- Progress of the Reformation -- Luther tries to bring about a rapprochement with Erasmus, March 1519 -- Erasmus keeps aloof, fancies he may yet act as a conciliator -- His attitude becomes ambiguous -- He denies ever more emphatically all relations with Luther and resolves to remain a spectator -- He is pressed by either camp to take sides -- Aleander in the Netherlands -- The Diet of Worms, 1521 -- Erasmus leaves Louvain to safeguard his freedom, October 1521

ABOUT the close of 1516, Erasmus received a letter from the librarian and secretary of Frederick, elector of Saxony, George Spalatinus, written in the respectful and reverential tone in which the great man was now approached. 'We all esteem you here most highly; the elector has all your books in his library and intends to buy everything you may publish in future.' But the object of Spalatinus's letter was the execution of a friend's commission. An Augustinian ecclesiastic, a great admirer of Erasmus, had requested him to direct his attention to the fact that in his interpretation of St. Paul, especially in that of the epistle to the Romans, Erasmus had failed to conceive the idea of justitia correctly, had paid too little attention to original sin: he might profit by reading Augustine.

The nameless Austin Friar was Luther, then still unknown outside the circle of the Wittenberg University, in which he was a professor, and the criticism regarded the cardinal point of his hardly acquired conviction: justification by faith.

Erasmus paid little attention to this letter. He received so many of that sort, containing still more praise and no criticism. If he answered it, the reply did not reach Spalatinus, and later Erasmus completely forgot the whole letter.

Nine months afterwards, in September 1517, when Erasmus had been at Louvain for a short time, he received an honourable invitation, written by the first prelate of the Empire, the

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