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

By Erasmus; J. Huizinga | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVIII
CONTROVERSY WITH LUTHER AND GROWING CONSERVATISM 1524-6

Erasmus persuaded to write against Luther -- De Libero Arbitrio: 1524 -- Luther's answer: De Servo Arbitrio -- Erasmus's indefiniteness contrasted with Luther's extreme rigour -- Erasmus henceforth on the side of conservatism -- The Bishop of Basle and Oecolampadius -- Erasmus's halfhearted dogmatics: confession, ceremonies, worship of the Saints, Eucharist -- Institutio Christiani Matrimonii: 1526 -- He feels surrounded by enemies

AT length Erasmus was led, in spite of all, to do what he had always tried to avoid: he wrote against Luther. But it did not in the least resemble the geste Erasmus at one time contemplated, in the cause of peace in Christendom and uniformity of faith, to call a halt to the impetuous Luther, and thereby to recall the world to its senses. In the great act of the Reformation their polemics were merely an after-play. Not Erasmus alone was disillusioned and tired--Luther too was past his heroic prime, circumscribed by conditions, forced into the world of affairs, a disappointed man.

Erasmus had wished to persevere in his resolution to remain a spectator of the great tragedy. 'If, as appears from the wonderful success of Luther's cause, God wills all this'--thus did Erasmus reason--'and He has perhaps judged such a drastic surgeon as Luther necessary for the corruption of these times, then it is not my business to withstand him.' But he was not left in peace. While he went on protesting that he had nothing to do with Luther and differed widely from him, the defenders of the old Church adhered to the standpoint urged as early as 1520 by Nicholas of Egmond before the rector of Louvain: 'So long as he refuses to write against Luther, we take him to be a Lutheran'. So matters stood. 'That you are looked upon as a Lutheran here is certain,' Vives writes to him from the Netherlands in 1522.

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