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books, who branded him as an Arian, a profane scoffer—were men of a lower class, some manifestly eager to make themselves a fame for orthodoxy by detecting his latent heterodoxy, some moved by sheer bigotry, into which the general mind had not been frightened back; monks and friars who were still obstinate Thomists or Scotists. The pulpits were chiefly filled by Dominicans and Carmelites; and from the pulpits there was a continual thunder of denunciation, imprecation, anathematisation of Erasmus.
Of Luther he had hitherto spoken, if with cautious reserve (he professed not to have read his writings, and had no personal knowledge of him), yet with respect of his motives and of his character. Of him Luther still wrote with deference for the universal scholar, of respect for the man. In Luther's letters up to 1520 there are many phrases of honour, esteem, almost of friendship, hardly one even of mistrust or suspicion.
Even after this time Erasmus ventured more than once on the perilous office of mediation. In his famous letter to the Archbishop of Mentz, which was published by the Lutherans before his signature had been affixed to it, there were sentences which made them rashly conclude that he was entirely on their side. In a letter to Wolsey he asserted the truth of many of Luther's opinions, and deprecated the unyielding severity with which they had been proscribed at Rome. But the most full, distinct, and manly avowal of his opinions is comprised in a letter addressed to Cardinal Campegius. It contains some remarkable admissions :
He had himself, he said, not read twelve pages of Luther's writings, and those hastily, but even in that hasty reading he had discerned rare
Epist. ad Campegium. s De Wette, i. p. 247, 396. Where he speaks of the letter to the Archbishop of Mentz: • Egregia epistola Erasmi ad Cardinalem Moguntinum, de me multum solicita ubi egregie me tutatur, ita tamen ut nihil minus quam me tutari videatur, sicut solet pro dexteritate sua.'—ii. 196. He has discovered hostility in Erasmus, but this is in 1522. See also Melanchthon's Letter, 378.
6 Not the less did Wolsey proceed to prohibit them in England. Erasmus even then protested against burning Luther's books.- Epist. 513.
natural qualities, and a singular faculty for discerning the intimate sense of the sacred writings. I heard excellen: men of approved doctrine and tried religion, congratulate themselves that they had met with his writings. I saw that in proportion as men were of uncorrupt morals, and nearer approaching to Evangelic purity, they were less hostile to Luther; and his life was highly praised by those who could not endure his doctrine.
He had endeavoured to persuade Luther to be more gentle and submissive, to mitigate his vehemence against the Roman Pontiff. He had admonished the other party to refute Luther by fair argument, and from the Holy Scriptures. Let them dispute with Luther; let them write against Luther. What had been the course pursued. A judgement of two universities came forth against Luther. A terrible Bull, under the name of the Roman Pontiff, came forth against Luther. His books were burned: there was a clamour among the people. The business could not be conducted in a more odious manner. Every one thought the Bull more unmerciful than was expected from Leo, and yet those who carried it into execution aggravated its harshness.'
On the accession of his schoolfellow at Deventer, Adrian of Utrecht, to the Papal throne, Erasmus commenced a letter urging concessions to Luther, and a gentler policy to his followers; he urges the possibility, the wisdom of arresting the course of religious revolution by timely reform. The letter broke off abruptly, as if he had received a hint, or from his own sagacity had foreseen, how unacceptable such doctrines would be even to a Teutonic Pope. Still later he broke out in indignant remonstrance on the burning of the two Augustinian monks at Brussels. On their fate, and on their beautiful Christian fortitude, Luther raised almost a shout of triumph, as foreseeing the impulse which their martyrdom would give to his cause. Erasmus veiled his face in profound sorrow at the sufferings of men so holy and blameless, and not less clearly foreboded that these were but the first-fruits of many and many bloody sacrifices to Him whom Erasmus would have worshipped as the God
of mercy; and that, as of old, the martyrs' blood would be the seed of the New Church.?
But neither, on the other hand, was he prepared, either by his honest and conscientious opinions, by his deliberate judgement on Christian truth, we will not say to go all lengths with Luther, though he could not but see their agreement on many vital questions, but to encourage him in disturbing the religious peace of the world. In truth, of men embarked to a certain extent in a common cause,8 no two could be conceived in education, temperament, habits, character, opinions, passions, as far as Erasmus had passions, so absolutely antagonistical; and add to all this the age and infirmities of Erasmus, as compared with the robust vigour, and yet unexhausted power of Luther.
Erasmus had a deep, settled, conscientious, religious hatred of war: not Penn or Barclay repudiated it more strongly or absolutely, as unevangelic, unchristian. He had declared these opinions in the teeth of the warlike Pontiff Julius. The triumph of truth itself, at least its immediate triumph, was not worth the horrors of a sanguinary war;—he disclaimed all sympathy with truth which was seditious; he had rather surrender some portion of truth than disturb the peace of the world. He feared, as he said later, if tried like Peter, he might fall like Peter.!
'Tis well that the world had men of sterner stuff—men who would lay down their own lives for the truth, and would not even shrink from the awful trial of imperilling the lives of
''Quid multis ? Ubicunque fumos excitavit Nuncius, ubicunque sævitiam exercuit Carmelita, ibi diceres fuisse factam hæreseon sementem.'—Epist. 1163. The whole of this most remarkable letter, in which he describes the course of events, should be read. He speaks out about the still more offensive and obtrusive pride, pomp, and luxury of the clergy, especially of the bishops. It does not become him to speak of the Pope.' But how has Clement treated Florence !!
8 • Nam videor mihi fere omnia docuisse, quæ docet Lutherus, nisi quod non tam atrociter, quodque abstinui a quibusdam ænigmatibus et paradoxis.' So wrote Erasmus to Zuinglius. The paradoxes were no doubt the denial of Free Will, and the absolute sinfulness of all human works before grace, and justification by faith without works.
• Epist. 654, repeated later.
others. But let us not too severely judge those whom God had not gifted with this sublimer virtue ; let us not wholly attribute the temporising and less rigid conduct of Erasmus to criminal weakness, or more justly, perhaps, to constitutional timiditystill less to the sordid fear of losing his favours and appointments. Erasmus, from his point of view, could not fully comprehend the awful question at issue,--that it was the great question of Christian liberty or the perpetuation of unchristian tyranny; that it was a question on which depended the civilisation of mankind, the final emancipation of one-half of the world from the sacerdotal yoke, the alleviation of that yoke even to those who would still choose to bear it. Compare the most Papal of Papal countries, even in our own days of strange reaction, with Papal Christendom before the days of Luther, and calmly inquire what the whole world owes to those whom no human considerations—not even the dread of unchristian war, could withhold from the bold, uncompromising, patient assertion of truth. Let us honour the martyrs of truth; but let us honour - though in a less degree—those who have laboured by milder means, and much less fiery trials, for the truth, even if, like Erasmus, they honestly confess that they want the martyr's courage.
Nothing can more clearly show how entirely Erasmus misapprehended the depth and importance of the coming contest and his own utter disqualification for taking an active part in it, than a fact upon which no stress has been laid. It was to be a Teutonic emancipation; not but that there was to be a vigorous struggle among the races of Latin descent for the same freedom. In France, in Italy, even in Spain there were men who contended nobly and died boldly for the reformation of Christianity. But it was to be consummated only in Teutonic countries,—a popular revolution, wrought in the minds and hearts of the people through the vernacular language. But Erasmus was an absolute Latin - an obstinate, determined Latin.
He knew, he would know, no languages but Latin and Greek. We have seen him in Italy, almost running
the risk of his life from his disdainful refusal to learn even the commonest phrases. To French he had an absolute aversion-• It is a barbarous tongue, with the shrillest discords, and words hardly human.” He gave up his benefice in England because he would not learn to speak English. We know not how far he spoke his native Dutch, but Dutch can have been of no extensive use. He more than once declined to speak German. Of the Swiss-German, spoken at Basil, where he lived so long, he knew nothing. In one passage, indeed, he devoutly wishes that all languages, except Greek and Latin, were utterly extirpated ; and what bears more directly upon our argument, we think that we remember a passage in which he expresses his deep regret that Luther condescended to write in any tongue but Latin.
We, according to our humour, may smile with scorn or with compassion at the illusion which, as we have before said, possessed the mind of Erasmus of a tranquil reformation, carried out by princes, and kings, and popes. Yet it was his fond dream that Churchmen, as Churchmen then were, might be persuaded to forego all the superstitions and follies on which rested their power and influence, and become mild, holy, selfdenying pastors ;3—that sovereigns, like Charles, and Francis, and Henry—each a bigot in his way; Charles a sullen, Francis a dissolute, Henry an imperious bigot-should forget their feuds, and conspire for the re-establishment of a pure and apostolic church in their dominions ;-that Popes, like the voluptuous Leo; the cold and* narrow Adrian of Utrecht; the worldly, politic, intriguing Medici, Clement VII., should become the apostles and evangelists of a simple creed, a more rational
" A German child will learn to speak French- Quod si id fit in lingua barbara et abnormi, quæ aliud scribit quam sonat, quæque suos habet stridores et voces rix humanas, quanto id facilius fieret in lingua Græca seu Latina.'— De Pueris Instituendis. Compare Hess, i. 133.
Epist. 635. See also Jortin, i. p. 246.
Optabam illuc sic tractare Christi negotium, ut occlesiæ proceribus, aut probaretur aut certe non reprobaretur.'-Jodoco Jonæ, Epist.
At ego libertatem ita malebam temperatam, ut Pontifices etiam et monarchæ ad hujus negotii consortium pellicerentur.'-Melanchthonii, Epist.