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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

And only satirised evil minded monks

As for the monks:

"The greater part of them have such faith in their ceremonies and human traditions, that they think one heaven is not reward enough for such great doings.... One will show his belly stuffed with every kind of fish; another will pour out a hundred bushels of psalms; another will count up myriads of fasts, and make up for them all again by almost bursting himself at a single dinner. Another will bring forward such a heap of ceremonies that seven ships would hardly hold them; another boast that for sixty years he has never touched a penny except with double gloves on his hands.... But Christ will interrupt their endless bragging, and will demand--'Whence this new kind of Judaism?'

"They do all things by rule, by a kind of sacred mathematics; as, for instance, how many knots their shoes must be tied with, of what colour everything must be, what variety in their garb, of what material, how many straws'-breadth to their girdle, of what form and of how many bushels' capacity their cowl, how many fingers broad their hair, and how many hours they sleep...."(127)

He ridicules men who go running about to Rome, Compostella, or Jerusalem, wasting on long and dangerous journeys money which might be better spent in feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. He scoffs at those who buy Indulgences, who sweetly

flatter themselves with counterfeit pardons, and who have measured off the duration of Purgatory without error, as if by a water-clock, into ages, years, months, and days, like the multiplication table.(128) Is it religion to believe that if any one pays a penny out of what he has stolen, he can have the whole slough of his life cleaned out at once, and all his perjuries, lusts, drunkennesses, all his quarrels, murders, cheats, treacheries, falsehoods, bought off in such a way that he may begin over again with a new circle of crimes? The reverence for relics was perhaps never so cruelly satirised as in the Colloquy, _Peregrinatio Religionis Ergo_.

It must be remembered that this bitter satire was written some years before Luther began the Reformation by an attack on Indulgences. It may seem surprising how much liberty the satirist allowed himself, and how much was permitted to him. But Erasmus knew very well how to protect himself. He was very careful to make no definite attack, and to make no mention of names. He was always ready to explain that he did not mean to attack the Papacy, but only bad Popes; that he had the highest respect for the monastic life, and only satirised evil-minded monks; or that he reverenced the saints, but thought that reverence ought to be shown by imitating them in their lives of piety. He could say all this with perfect truth. Indeed, it is likely that with all his scorn against the monks, Erasmus, in his heart, believed that a devout Capuchin or Franciscan monk lived the ideal Christian life. He seems to say so in his Colloquy, _Militis et Carthusiani_. He wrote, moreover, before the dignitaries of the mediaeval Church had begun to take alarm. Liberal Churchmen who were the patrons of the New Learning had no objection to see the vices of the times and the Church life of the day satirised by one who wrote such exquisite latinity. In all his more serious work Erasmus was careful to shelter himself under the protection of great ecclesiastics.

Erasmus was not the only scholar who had proposed to publish a correct edition of the Holy Scriptures. The great Spaniard, Cardinal Ximenes, had announced that he meant to bring out an edition of the Holy Scriptures in which the text of the Vulgate would appear in parallel columns along with the Hebrew and the Greek. The prospectus of this Complutensian Polyglot was issued as early as 1502; the work was finished in 1517, and was published in Spain in 1520 and in other lands in 1522. Erasmus was careful to dedicate the first edition of his _Novum Instrumentum_, (1516) to Pope Leo X., who graciously received it. He sent the second edition to the same Pope in 1519, accompanied by a letter in which he says:

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