Salvation pertains to everyone, but theology to only a few – Erasmus

[This is a guest post from Michael Fletcher, a Th.M. student at Western Seminary.]

Erasmus (formally Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus), was born October 28th, 1466. Today marks 545 years since his birth! Erasmus was a Catholic priest and theologian during the reformation period. With the rise of clerical abuses in the church, he was very committed to reforming the Church from within. Today, I am sharing an excerpt from his book Enchridion militis Christiani, namely, The Manual of a Chrisian Knight. I believe it’s an interesting thought for today, even though it was written in 1503. What do you think?

How can it be that these great volumes instruct us to live well and after a Christian manner, which a man in all his life cannot have leisure once to look over? In like manner as if a physician should prescribe unto him that lieth sick in peril of death to read Jacobus de partibus, or such other huge volumes, saying that there he should find remedy for his disease: but in the meantime the patient dieth, wanting present remedy wherewith he might be holpen. In such a fugitive life it is necessary to have a ready medicine at hand.

How many volumes have they made of restitution, of confession, of slander, and other things innumerable? And though they boult and search out by piecemeal everything by itself, and so define every thing as if they mistrusted all other men’s wits, yea as though they mistrusted the goodness and mercy of God, whiles they do prescribe how he ought to punish and reward every fact either good or bad: yet they agree not amongst themselves, nor yet sometimes do open the thing plainly, if a man would look near upon it, so much diversity both of wits and circumstances is there. Moreover although it were so that they had determined all things well and truly, yet besides this that they handle and treat of these things after a barbarous and unpleasant fashion, there is not one amongst a thousand that can have any leisure to read over these volumes: The great volumes. Or who is able to bear about with him Secunam secunde, the work of St Thomas? And yet there is no man but he ought to use a good life, to the which Christ would that the way should be plain and open for every man, and that not by inexplicable crooks of disputations, not able to be resolved, but by a true and sincere faith and charity not feigned, whom hope doth follow which is never ashamed. The theology appertaineth to few men, but the salvation appertaineth to all.

And finally let the great doctors, which must needs be but few in comparison to all other men, study and busy themselves in those great volumes. And yet nevertheless the unlearned and rude multitude which Christ died for ought to be provided for: and he hath taught a great portion of Christian virtue which hath inflamed men unto love thereof. The wise king, when he did teach his son true wisdom, took much more pain in exhorting him thereunto than in teaching him Those be noted that of purpose make the faculty which they profess obscure and hard, as who should say that to love wisdom were in a manner to have attained it. It is a great shame and rebuke both for lawyers and physicians that they have of a set purpose, and for the nonce, made their art and science full of difficulty, and hard to be attained or come by, to the intent that both their gains and advantage might be the more plentiful, and their glory and praise among the unlearned people the greater: but it is a much more shameful thing to do the same in the philosophy of Christ: but rather contrariwise we ought to endeavour ourselves with all our strengths to make it so easy as can be, and plain to every man. Nor let this be our study to appear learned ourselves, but to allure very many to a Christian man’s life.

About Guest Author

This is the Guest Author account for Scientia et Sapientia (westernthm.wordpress.com).

Posted on October 28, 2011, in The Reformation, Theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Btw, here is a contemporary of Erasmus.. Catholic theologian & humanist: the French Jacques Lefevre d’ Etaples, who Calvin himself once made a visit.

    http://www.enotes.com/topic/Jacques_Lef%C3%A8vre_d%27%C3%89taples

  2. It’s hard to argue with Erasmus here, but it is worth pointing out how difficult it is to implement his strategy in the modern age. The entire paradigm of the dedicated scholar bringing scholarship down to the level of the ordinary person doesn’t work so well in an age where the ordinary person has an overblown estimation of their own capabilities. The internet only makes it worse. I wonder how many of us with some sort of post-graduate education in theology or biblical studies have had “experts” on the internet who make intelligent discussion impossible?

    Ultimately I think the central problem is that there are a great many voices claiming to be learned in “the philosophy of Christ,” and “unlearned and rude multitude” have no ability to discern which of those voices they should listen to. In consequence, they are most likely to go with the people they trust, which means the ones they already know or the ones who tell them what they already think they know.

    In consequence, I think one has to establish relationship before one can implement the strategy which Erasmus suggests here.

    This prompts one final observation: the best place to teach theology is thus probably within the local church. Here we already (I hope!) have established relationships which provide the context within which theological learning can occur.

    Thanks for a thought provoking and helpful post.

    Murray Hogg
    Melbourne, Australia

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