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One other misunderstanding about Erasmus's position in regard to the revival of letters may be here noticed. The great scholar has been regarded as the incarnation of the spirit of practical paganism, which, unfortunately, was quickly the outcome of the movement in Italy, and which at this time gave so much colour and point to the denunciations of those of the opposite school. No view can be more unjust to Erasmus. Though he longed anxiously for the clergy to awake to a sense of the importance of studies in general, of classical and scriptural studies in particular, there was no one who saw more clearly the danger and absurdity of carrying the classical revivalist spirit to extremes. In fact, in his Ciceroniana, he expressly ridicules what he has seen in Rome of the classical spirit run mad. Those afflicted by it, he says, try to think that old Rome has returned. They speak of the “Senate," the "conscript fathers,” the “plebs,” the “chief augur,” and the “college of soothsayers,” “ Pontifices Maximi,” “ Vestals," “ triumphs,” &c. Nothing can be more unlike the true
name and person of Moria, which word in Greek signifies' folly,' merely touches and reproves such faults and follies as he found in any kind of people pursuing every state and condition, spiritual and temporal, leaving almost none untouched. By this book, says Tyndale, if it were in English, every man should then well see that I was then far otherwise minded than I now write. If this be true, then the more cause have I to thank God for the amendment. God be thanked I never had that mind in my life to have holy saints' images or their holy relics out of reverence. Nor if there were any such thing in Moriæ this could not make any man see that I were myself of that mind, the book being made by another man though he were my darling never so dear. Howbeit, that book of Moriæ doth indeed but jest upon abuses of such things... But in these days, in which men by their own default misconstrue and take harm from the very Scrip. ture of God, until men better amend, if any man would now translate Moria into English, or some work either that I have myself written ere this, albeit there be no harm therein, folks being (as they be) given to take harm of what is good, I would not only my darling's books, but my own also, help to burn them both with my own hands, rather than folk should (though through their own fault) take any harm of them.” (English Works, pp. 422-3.)
Ciceronian spirit. Am I, he asks, as a Christian speaking to Christians about the Christian religion to try and suppose I am living in the age of Cicero, and speak as if I were addressing a meeting of the conscript fathers on the Capitol ? Am I to pick my words, choose my figures and illustrations from Cicero's speeches to the Senate ? How can Cicero's eloquence help me to speak to a mixed audience of virgins, wives, and widows in praise of fasting, penance, prayer, almsgiving, the sanctity of marriage, the contempt of the fleeting pleasures of this world, or of the study of Holy Scripture. No, a Christian orator dressed in Cicero's clothes is ridiculous.?
As an illustration of the height of absurdity to which the madness of the classical craze had brought people in Rome in his day, Erasmus relates the story of a sermon he himself once heard in the Eternal City during the pontifi. cate of Pope Julius II. “ I had been invited,” he says, “a few days before, by some learned men to be present at this sermon (to be preached on Good Friday). "Take care not to miss it,' they said · for you will at last be enabled to appreciate the tone of the Roman language, spoken by a Roman mouth. Hence, with great curiosity, I went to the church, procuring a place near the orator so as not to miss even one word. Julius II. was himself present, a very unusual thing, probably on account of his health. And there were also there many cardinals and bishops, and in the crowd most of the men of letters who were then in Rome.
“ The exordium and peroration were nearly as long as the rest of the discourse, and they all rang the changes of praise of Julius II. He called him the almighty Jove, and pictured him as brandishing the trident, casting his thunderbolts with his right hand, and accomplishing all he willed by the mere nod of his head. All that had taken place of late years in Gaul, Germany, Spain, &c., were but
Opera Omnia (Froben's ed., 1540), i. p. 831.
the efforts of his simple will. Then came a hundred times repeated, such words as 'Rome,'«Romans,' • Roman mouth,' • Roman eloquence,' &c." But what, asks Erasmus, were all these to Julius, bishop of the Christian religion, Christ's vicegerent, successor of Peter and Paul ? What are these to cardinals and bishops who are in the places of the other apostles ?
« The orator's design,” he continues, " was to represent to us Jesus Christ, at first in the agony of His Passion, and then in the glory of His triumph. To do this, he recalled the memory of Curtius and Decius, who had given themselves to the gods for the salvation of the Republic. He reminded us of Cecrops, of Menelaus, of Iphigenia, and of other noble victims who had valued their lives less than the honour and welfare of their country. Public gratitude (he continued, in tears and in most lugubrious tones) had always surrounded these noble and generous characters with its homage, sometimes raising gilded statues to their memory in the forum; sometimes decreeing them even divine honours, whilst Jesus Christ, for all His benefits, had received no other reward but death. The orator then went on to compare our Saviour, who had deserved so well of His country, to Phocion and to Socrates, who were compelled to drink hemlock though accused of no crime; to Epaminondas, driven to defend himself against envy roused by his noble deeds; to Scipio and to Aristides, whom the Athenians were tired of hearing called the 'Just one,' &c.
“I ask, can anything be imagined colder and more inept? Yet, over all his efforts, the preacher sweated blood and water to rival Cicero. In brief, my Roman preacher spoke Roman so well that I heard nothing about the death of Christ. If Cicero had lived in our days," asks Erasmus, “would he not think the name of God the Father as elegant as Jupiter the Almighty ? Would he
* Pp. 832-33.
think it less elegant to speak of Jesus Christ than of Romulus, or of Scipio Africanus, of Quintus Curtius, or of Marcus Decius? Would he think the name of the Catholic Church less illustrious than that of Conscript Fathers,'. Quirites,' or Senate and people of Rome'? He would speak to us of faith in Christ, of the Holy Ghost, or the Holy Trinity ?" &c.
At considerable length Erasmus pours out the vials of his scorn upon those who act so foolishly under the influence of the false classical spirit. He points out the danger to be avoided. People, he says, go into raptures over pagan antiquities, and laugh at others who are enthusiastic about Christian archæology. “We kiss, venerate, almost adore a piece of antiquity," he says, “and mock at relics of the Apostles. If any one finds something from the twelve tables, who does not consider it worthy of the most holy place ? And the laws written by the finger of God, who venerates, who kisses them? How delighted we are with a medal stamped with the head of Hercules, or of Mercury, or of Fortune, or of Victory, or of Alexander the Great, or one of the Cæsars, and we deride those who treasure the wood of the cross or images of the Virgin and saints as superstitious. If in dealing with his subject
* A case in point was the finding of the celebrated statue of the Laocoon on January 14, 1506. This discovery was accidentally made in a vineyard, near Santa Maria Maggiore, and no statue ever produced so general and so profound an emotion as the uncovering of this work of art did upon the learned world of Rome. The whole city flocked out to see it, and the road to the vineyard was blocked day and night by the crowds of cardinals and people waiting to look at it. “One would have said," writes a contemporary, " that it was a Jubilee." And even to-day the visitor to the Ara Coeli may read on the tomb of Felice de Fredis, the happy owner of the vineyard, the promise of “immortality," ob proprias virtutes et repertum Laocohontis divinum simulachrum (I. Klaczki, Jules II., p. 115). It is not at all improbable that in the above passage Erasmus was actually thinking of the delirium caused by the finding of this statue.
* Ibid., p. 838.