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which, while it openly dwells only on those who, to be sure of Paradise,
Dying, put on the weeds of Dominic,
in its covert sarcasm, was an exposure of the whole history of the Order, and, with somewhat contemptuous respect for the holy founder, scoffs even at the Stigmata, and lashes the avarice and wealth of this most beggarly of the begging fraternities. He thus galled to the quick this powerful brotherhood, who had provoked him by their obstinate ignorance, and became still more and more his inveterate and implacable foe. We could fill pages from his various writings of denunciations against these same enemies of sound learning and true religion.
III. Erasmus was the parent of biblical criticism. His edition of the New Testament first opened to the West the Gospels and the Epistles of St. Paul in the original Greek. Preparation had been made for the famous Complutensian Edition, but it had not yet appeared to the world. For its age, in critical sagacity, in accuracy, in fidelity, in the labour of comparing scattered and yet unexplored manuscripts, the New Testament of Erasmus was a wonderful work: the best and latest of our biblical scholars—Tischendorf, Lachmann, Tregelles -do justice to the bold and industrious pioneer who first opened the invaluable mines of biblical wealth.
It was no common courage or honesty which would presume to call in question the impeccable integrity, the infallible authority, of the Vulgate, which had ruled with uncontested sway the Western mind for centuries, to appeal to a more ancient and more venerable, as well as more trustworthy, canon of the faith. To dare in those days to throw doubt on the authenticity of such a text as that of the Three Heavenly Witnesses,' implied fearless candour, as rare as admirable. . Such a publication was looked upon, of course, with awe, suspicion, jealousy. Some with learning, some, like Lee, with pretensions to learning, fell upon it with rabid violence; but Erasmus had been so wise, or so fortunate, as to be able to
place the name of the Pope, and that Pope Leo X., on the front of his work; and under that protecting ægis fought manfully, and with no want of controversial bitterness on his side, against his bigoted antagonists. The names of these adversaries have sunk into obscurity, though Lee became Archbishop of York, and was, according to his epitaph-w fear his sole testimony—a good and generous man.? But to the latest times theological learning acknowledges the inestimable debt of gratitude which it owes to Erasmus.
But it was not only as editor, it was as interpreter also, of the New Testament that Erasmus was a benefactor to the world. In his Notes, and, in his invaluable Paraphrases, he opened the sense, as well as the letter, of the long-secluded, if not long-sealed, volume of the New Testament. He was the parent also of the sound, and simple, and historical exposition of the sacred writings. He struck boldly down through the layers of mystic, allegoric, scholastic, traditional lore, which had been accumulating for ages over the holy volume, and laid open the vein of pure gold—the plain, obvious, literal meaning of the Apostolic writings. Suffice it for us to say, that Erasmus is, in a certain sense, or rather was in his day, to the Church of England the recognised and authenticated expositor of the New Testament. The Translation of the Paraphrases, it is well known, was ordered to be placed in all our churches with the vernacular Scriptures. Nor was there anything of the jealousy or exclusiveness of the proud scholar in Erasmus. His biblical studies and labours were directed to the general diffusion, and to the universal acceptance of the Scriptures as the rule of Faith. Neither Luther nor the English Reformers expressed themselves more strongly or emphatically on this subject than Erasmus
Compare More's letters to Lee upon his attack on Erasmus. More had known Lee's family, and Lee himself in his youth ; but be scrupled not to castigate the presumption of Lee in measuring himself against the great Scholar. In the last letter, after alluding to Pope Leo's approbation of the ew Testament, he adds,
Quod ex arce religionis summus ille Christiani orbis princeps suo testimonio cohonestat, id tu Monachulus et indoctus et obscurus ex antro cellulæ tuæ putulentâ lingua conspurcas.'—Jortin, Appendix, ii. p. 689.
- the sun itself should not be more common than Christ's doctrines.'
I altogether and utterly dissent from those who are unwilling that the Holy Scriptures, translated into the vulgar tongue, should be read by private persons (idiotis), as though the teachings of Christ were so abstruse as to be intelligible only to a very few theologians, or as though the safety of the Scripture rested on man's ignorance of it. It may be well to conceal the mysteries of kings; but Christ willed that his mysteries should be published as widely as possible. I should wish that simple women (muliercule) should read the Gospels, should read the Epistles of St. Paul. Would that the Scripture were translated into all languages, that it might be read and known, not only by Scots and Irishmen, but even by Turks and Saracens.—(Paraclesis in Nov. Testamentum.)
IV. If the amazement was great with which we surveyed the labours of Erasmus as editor of the classical authors, as compared with those of the most industrious of scholars in our degenerate days, what is it when we add his editions of the early Fathers? It is enough to recite only the names of these publications, and to bear in mind the number and the size of their massy and close-printed folios, some of them filled to the very margin. They were-St Jerome, his first and favourite author ; Cyprian; the pseudo-Arnobius; Hilary, to which was affixed a preface of great learning, which excited strong animadversion; Irenæus, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine; some works of Epiphanius, Lactantius; some treatises of St. Athanasius, St. Chrysostom, and others; St. Chrysostom, St. Basil (not the complete works). At his death Erasmus had advanced far in the preparation for the press of the whole works of Origen.
But in the fatal year of 1520–21 the awful disruption was inevitable: from the smouldering embers of the Papal Bull burned at Wittemberg, arose the Reformation. The great Teutonic revolt, which at that time seemed likely to draw with it even some nations of Latin descent, France, with Italy and Spain, was now inevitable; the irreconcilable estrangement between the two realms of Western Christendom was to become antagonism, hostility, war. On which side was Erasmus, on
which side was the vast Erasmian party to be found—that multitude of all orders, especially of the more enlightened, whose allegiance to the established order of things, to Papal despotism, to scholasticism, to monkery, to mediæval superstition, had been shaken by his serious protestations, by his satires, by his biblical studies ? Both parties acknowledged his invaluable importance by their strenuous efforts to enrol him among their followers; both used every means of flattery -one of bribery-of persuasion, of menace, of compulsion, to compass the invaluable proselyte. Could he maintain a stately neutrality ? approve each party so far 'as it seemed right, condemn it where it seemed wrong? Could he offer a friendly mediation, soften off the fierce asperities, mitigate the violence of the collision ? Alas! such days were passed. Those terrible texts, “Who is on the Lord's side, who ?' •Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully,' were become the battle words on either banner. On the application of that other text, “Thou canst not serve Christ and Belial,' there was perfect agreement; the two parties only differed as to which cause was Christ's, which Belial's. There was no escape from the conscription, exercised with as little scruple or mercy on one side as the other; he must take up arms; he must provoke fierce unforgiving hostility; he must break ties of friendship; he must embrace a cause, while he was firmly convinced that neither cause had full justice on its side—that, according to his views, there were errors, faults, sins on both, that neither was in possession of the full, sincere, unalloyed truth. And this terrible alternative was forced upon Erasmus in the decline of life, when the mind usually, especially a mind vigorously exercised, yearns for repose ; and when a constitution naturally feeble had been tried by a painful, wasting, in those days irremediable, malady. The man of books, who had thought to devote the rest of his days to his books, must be dragged forth, like a gladiator, to exhibit his powers, himself with no hearty interest on either side. It is true that he had been involved in much controversy, and was not wanting in the gall of con
troversy - but it had been in self-defence; his was personal resentment for personal attacks. He had not spared the Lees and the Stunicas, or the Louvain divines, who had set upon him with malignant rancour—rancour which he retorted without measure and without scruple.
The Utopian vision of Erasmus, no doubt, had been a peaceful Reformation. He had fondly hoped that the progress of polite letters would soften and enlighten the general mind ; that the superstitions of the Middle Ages would gradually be exploded by the diffusion of knowledge; that biblical studies would of themselves promote a pure and simpler religion; that obstinate monkhood would shrink into its proper sphere, the monasteries become retreats for literary leisure. He had imagined that Leo X., the patron of arts, letters, and whose reign of peace had not yet yielded to the inextinguishable Medicean passion for political intrigue, whose golden age had not yet become an age of brass, an age of fierce and bloody warfare, would be the great reformer of Christendom. One of his bitterest complaints of the progress of Lutheranism was its fatal influence on the cultivation of polite letters. They are weighing down polite letters by the jealousy which they are exciting against them. What has the cause of letters to do with Reuchlin and Luther, but they are artfully mingled together by man's jealousy, that both may be oppressed.'3
Up to this time he had stood well with the heads of both parties. The Pope (Leo X.), the Cardinals, the most distinguished prelates, still treated him with honour and respect. His enemies—those who cared not to disguise their suspicions, their jealousies, their animosities--who assailed him as a covert, if not an open heretic, who called for the proscription of his
? Read the splendid passage in the Adagia, where he contrasts the Italy and Rome of Leo with Italy and Rome under Julius II., under the title, · Dulce Bellum Inexpertis.'
3 • Bonas literas degravarunt invidia.'—- Epist. ad Bilibald. Quid rei bonis studiis cum fidei negotio ? Deinde quid mihi cum causa Capnionis et Lutheri ? Sed hæc arte commiscuerunt, ut communi incidia gravarent cmnes bonarum literarum cultores.- Alberto, Episc. Mogunt.'