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Erasmus as samples of the epithets launched from the pulpit, or more deliberately set up in type, as arguments against Luther and himself.1
In writing to one of the cardinals after the publication of his Spongia, there is a touch of sadness in his complaints, that having been forced to do battle with the "Lutherans as against a hydra of many heads," Catholics should still try and make the world believe that he was really a Lutheran at heart. "I have never," he declares, "doubted about the sovereignty of the Pope, but whether this supremacy was recognised in the time of St. Jerome, I have my doubts, on account of certain passages I have noted in my edition of St. Jerome. In the same place, however, I have marked what would appear to make for the contrary opinion; and in numerous other places I call Peter 'Prince of the apostolic order,' and the Roman Pontiff, Christ's Vicar and the Head of His Church, giving him the highest power according to Christ."2
Probably a more correct view of Erasmus's real mind can hardly be obtained than in part of a letter already quoted (Ep. 501) addressed to Bishop Marlianus of Tuy in Galicia, on March 25, 1520. "I would have the Church," he writes, "purified, lest the good in it suffer by conjunction with the evil. In avoiding the Scylla of Luther, however, I would have care taken to avoid Charybdis. If this be sin, then I own my guilt. I have sought to save the dignity of the Roman Pontiff, the honour of Catholic theology, and to look to the welfare of Christendom. I have, as yet, read no whole work of Luther, however short, and I have never even in jest defended his paradoxes. Be assured that if any movement is set on foot which is injurious to the Christian religion and dangerous to the public peace or the supremacy of the Holy See, it does not proceed from Erasmus. . . . In all I have written, I have not deviated one hair's
breadth from the teaching of the Church. But every wise man knows that practices and teachings have been introduced into the Church partly by custom, partly by the canonists, partly by means of scholastic definitions, partly by the tricks and arts of secular sovereigns, which have no sound sanction. Many great people have begged me to support Luther, but I have ever replied that I would be ready to take his part when he was on the Catholic side. They have asked me to draw up a formula ot faith; I have said that I know of none save the creed of the Catholic Church, and every one who consults me I urge to submit to the authority of the Pope."1
In many ways Erasmus regarded the rise of Lutheranism as the greatest misfortune. Not only did it tend to make good men suspicious of the general revival of letters, with which without reason they associated it, but the necessity of defending the Catholic position against the assaults of the new sectaries naturally obscured the need of reform within the Church itself, for which larseeing and good men had long been looking. To Bishop Tunstall he expressed his fears lest in pulling up the tares, some, and perchance much, of the precious wheat might perish. Whilst, undoubtedly, there was in Luther's work a great deal that he cordially detested, there was also much that would never have been condemned, had the points been calmly considered by learned men, apart from the ferment of revolt. "This, however, I promise you," he adds, "that for my part I will never forsake the Church."2
This same sentiment he repeats the following year, 1526: "From the judgment of the Church I am not able to dissent, nor have I ever dissented." 8 Had this tempest not risen up, he said, in another letter from Basle, he had hoped to have lived long enough to have seen a general
revival of letters and theology returning more and more to the foundation of all true divinity, Holy Scripture. For his part, he cordially disliked controversy, and especially the discussion of such questions as "whether the Council was above the Pope," and such like. He held that he was himself in all things a sound Catholic, and at peace with the Pope and his bishop, whilst no name was more hated by the Lutherans than that of Erasmus.1
So much with regard to the attitude of mind manifested by Erasmus towards the authority of the teaching Church, which is the main point of interest in the present inquiry. His disposition will probably be construed by some into a critical opposition to much'that was taught and practised; but it seems certain that Erasmus did not so regard his own position. He was a reformer in the best sense, as so many far-seeing and spiritual-minded churchmen of those days were. He desired to better and beautify and perfect the system he found in vogue, and he had the courage of his convictions to point out what he thought stood in need of change and improvement, but he was no iconoclast; he had no desire to pull down or root up or destroy under the plea of improvement. That he remained to the last the friend of Popes and bishops and other orthodox churchmen is the best evidence, over and above his own words, that his real sentiments were not misunderstood by men who had the interests of the Church at heart, and who looked upon him as true and loyal, if perhaps a somewhat eccentric and caustic son of Holy Church. Even in his last sickness he received from the Pope proof of his esteem, for he was given a benefice of considerable value, and it was hinted to him that another honour, as was commonly supposed at the time nothing less than the sacred purple, was in store for him.
Most people are of course chiefly interested in the deter
mination of Erasmus's general attitude to the great religious movement of the age. In this place, however, one or two minor points in his literary history can hardly be passed over in silence. His attitude to the monks and the religious Orders generally was one of acknowledged hostility, although there are passages in his writings, some of which have been already quoted, which seem to show that this hostility was neither so sweeping nor so deeply rooted as is generally thought. Still, it may be admitted that he has few good words for the religious Orders, and he certainly brings many and even grave accusations against their good name. There is little doubt, however, that much he had to say on the subject was, as he himself tells us, said to emphasise abuses that existed, and was not intended to be taken as any wholesale sweeping condemnation of the system of regular life. Very frequently the Encomium Morite has been named as the work in which Erasmus hits the monks the hardest. Those who so regard it can hardly have read it with attention, and most certainly they fail to appreciate its spirit. It was composed, as we have seen, at Sir Thomas More's suggestion, and in his house at Chelsea in 1512, on Erasmus's return from Italy. It is a satire on the ecclesiastical manners and customs in which all abuses in turn come in for their share of sarcastic condemnation; superstitions of people as to particular days and images, superstitions about " magic prayers and charmlike rosaries," as to saints set to this or that office, to cure the toothache, to discover stolen goods, &c, in the first place came under the lash of Erasmus's sarcasm. Then come, in turn, doctors of divinity and theologians, " a nest of men so crabbed and morose" that h". has half a mind, he says, to leave them severely alone, "lest perchance they should all at once fall upon me with six hundred conclusions, driving me to recant." They are high and mighty and look down on other men, thinking of common indi viduals as " silly men like worms creeping on the ground,' and startling ordinary folk by the variety of their unpractical discussions and questions. "Nowadays," he says, "not baptism, nor the Gospel, nor Paul, nor Peter, nor Jerome, nor Augustine, nor yet Thomas Aquinas, are able to make men Christians, unless those Father Bachelors in divinity are pleased to subscribe to the same. They require us to address them as Magister noster in the biggest of letters."
Following upon this treatment of the scholastic theologians come the few pages devoted to monks, those "whose trade and observance were surely most miserable and abject, unless I (Folly) did many ways assist them." They are so ignorant (at least so says Folly) that they can hardly read their own names. Erasmus makes merry over the office they chant, and the begging practised by the friars, and jeers amusingly at their style of dressing, at their mode of cutting their hair, and at their sleeping and working by rule. "Yea," he says, " some of them being of a straightened rule are such sore punishers of their flesh, as outwardly they wear nought but sackcloth and inwardly no better than fine holland." In a word, he laughs at the general observance of regular life, and in one place only passes a hint that some of their lives are not so saintly as they pretend. As a whole, however, the sarcasm is not so bitter as that addressed to other ecclesiastics, and even to the Pope himself. In view of Sir Thomas More's subsequent explanation about the spirit of the Encomium Maria, there can be no doubt that it was intended mainly as a playful, if somewhat ill-judged and severe, lampoon on some patent abuses, and in no sense an attack upon the ecclesiastical system of the Catholic Church."1
1 The Pope himself read the Encomium Maria and understood the spirit of the author; at least so Erasmus was told. He wrote at the time "the Supreme Pontiff has read through Moria and laughed; all he said was, ' I am glad to see that friend Erasmus is in the Moria,' and this though I have touched no others so sharply as the Pontiffs" (Ep. p. 1667). What Sir Thomas More thought about it may be given in his own words, written some years later. "As touching Moria, in which Erasmus, under the