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exhausted his body, but which neither lightened his conscience nor weakened the evil within. At last he heard of this wonderful Testament. He longed to possess it; but the confessors had warned him against books in Hebrew and Greek, as the sources of every heresy. But his heart was on fire, and in order to get at the water which would cool this fever he could risk some danger. He stole out, bought the new volume, and secretly conveyed into his chamber the Testament of our Lord and Saviour. Opening it,” says Merle d'Aubigné,“ his eyes caught the words, * This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.' He laid down the book, and meditated on the astonishing declaration, What! St. Paul the chief of sinners, and yet St. Paul is sure of being saved!' As he continued to ponder, it seemed as if a refreshing gale were blowing over his spirit, or as if a rich treasure had been placed in his hands. I also am like Paul, and more than Paul: I am the greatest of sinners. But Christ saves sinners. Christ, and not the Church ; Christ, and not masses and indulgences.' And Bilney was saved.”
And a like process, from a like origin, passed through the mind of Tyndale at Oxford: and thus, as has been shown so admirably, the true hero of the Englisk Reformation was neither Henry, nor the better men who gave their bodies to be burned, -Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer; but the real Reformer was that blessed book whichi England since has multiplied by at least fifty million copies, and which first found currency as the Greek Testament of Desiderius Erasmus.
The labours of our author did not terminate with his Greek edition. Four years afterwards he brought out his “Paraphrase, or Explanation of all the Books of the New Testament,”--the Apocalypse excepted : a book which found such favour that it was soon translated into the different European languages, and in England, by royal proclamation, it was ordered that a copy should be procured for every parish, and fastened securely to the reading-desk. This was entirely in the spirit of the author, and carrying out the object with which his task had been undertaken. In his preface, he says that he had never agreed with those who would keep the Scriptures from the laity; and with his characteristic shrewdness he asks,“Who were Christ's original hearers? Were they not a promiscuous multitude, including publicans, beggars, centurions, artizans, boys and wonen ? And would He refuse to let His words be read by the people whom He allowed to hear therı ? For my part, I say, -Let the farmer read, and the car. penter, and the mason : let the wretched Magdalene read : let the Turk himself read. I should be sorry to shut out from His book, those whom Christ did not shut out from the sound of His voice.” And further on, with a slight touch of sarcasm, he adds : “I know that it is assigned to pastors to take this bread of life, broken by Christ, and distribute it to the people. But what if pastors are wanting ? and what if they are turned into wolves ? Their province it is to dig the wells, and draw the waters of salvation, and present them to the people, that they die not of thirst in the desert. But what if the shepherds are changed into Philistines ? what if they stop up with earth the wells ? What shall the flock-what shall God's people do ? They must betake themselves to the Prince of pastors, Jesus. He still lives, and has not abandoned the care of His flock.” He then goes on to say, “ The laity may not be learned, but they are rational. They are the sheep from which our shepherds are made. And before now, it has happened that a sheep has shown more sense than his shepherd.” “ Nor will the Spirit of Jesus be wanting even to the solitary worshipper searching the
Scripture in Christ's name; whilst in vain will thousands congregate, unless it be in that name that they meet together.”
For this Paraphrase we confess a high admiration. It is fair, straightforward, acute, and, like the other religious treatises of its author, it is written in a tone very different from the jauntiness and occasional buffoonery of his less serious productions.
Erasmus is one of those characters to which it is not easy to do justice. Both Papists and Protestants agree that he had no business to die in the communion of the Church of Rome, and yet he never left it. To the wilder Romanists, it would have been a great relief if he had gone away; for, although both the bull and the porcelain may
be your own property, you would rather part with the bull than have him always in the china-shop; and although Mother Church offered him a choice of stalls, and no end of provender, Erasmus was a mischievous creature, who was always putting his horns amongst the old lady's crockery. The consequence is, that to make a decent Catholic of this irreverent scapegrace is now-a-days very difficult; and, to see a copy of one of his books—say, the Paraphrase-expurgated for the use of the faithful, all the Gospel clipped out,--all the skits at friars and confessors pasted over,--and whole leaves torn away as incurably tainted with heresy-it is one of the greatest curiosities of literature; and we can well forgive the bitter epigrams which the sons of the Church have heaped on his memory.
On the other hand, the last Protestant critique which we have read on Erasmus,* doubts if he could have been a Christian; and if they did not stand in doubt of him, to many of the Reformers he was a perplexity and a provoca
* An able article in “The Christian Review,” (U.S.,) reprinted in “The British and Foreign Evangelical Review,” for October, 1858.
tion. With the sentiments he had openly avowed, they held that, in all logical consistency, he was bound to come over to their side; and as he never came, Luther, Von Hutten, and other heroic spirits, ascribed his position as a sort of Protestant within the pale of Popery, to insincerity, pusillanimity, the want of moral courage.
For such charges we wish that there was no foundation; but the fabric of reproach which has been erected by the maligners of Erasmus, is far higher than that foundation will carry. In order to estimate his procedure aright, we must try to ascertain the view which he took of his own procedure and policy. Had he any theory of himself? Was he conscious of any calling? Was he governed by any principles ?
To answer these questions by document and quotation would detain us till next Tuesday ; so, perbaps, you will accept for what it is worth the conclusion to which we have been brought by some consideration of his works and history.
The basis of his character was, so to speak, literary or æsthetic. His birth and upbringing were most unhappy. A poor little outcast, continually taunted and buffeted about, he well understood the force of the maxim-"Hit him hard, he has got no friends." But the same treatment which was so unfavourable for the growth of the affections, was well calculated to sharpen the perceptive faculties; and, like other hunted creatures, he grew keen-scented, sharp of sight and hearing, very timid, somewhat coy and secretive, affecting neutral tints and twilight hours; and, as he munched his morsel in secret, after every other bite pricking up his ears and listening for an enemy. It needs no Darwin to tell us that this mild little rodent will never develop into a leonine Luther, or rhinocerostic Hutten; and with
roguery and baseness on every side, with kindred that disown him, with guardians who strip him of his patrimony, with a comrade who, under false pretences, entraps him into a convent, and, within that convent, in contact with the coarsest and meanest of mankind, the wonder is that he did not yield to “fate,” and settle down in monkish sottishness, steeping his sorrows in alternate beer and buttermilk, according as the days were full or fasting.
From this he was saved by being opportunely ushered into an unexpected and sublime society. There was a room at Stein which only one besides frequented, but it was the haunt of the mighty ones unseen; and there, in that library, as he grew into the acquaintance of fathers and apostles, and grand imperial Romans, his eyes dazzled with delight, and he felt that a perpetuation of such fellowship would be little short of an earthly paradise. Books, or rather the master spirits who survive in books, became his friends ; and, whilst the contrast between these glorious thinkers and the inglorious guzzlers round him edged his spirit with contempt, he was no longer without a purpose and a joy; for, divested of idle ceremonies, he had found in Christianity a reasonable service; and, in the literature of Christian and classical antiquity, he had discovered a life-long solace.
A man with an awakened conscience like Luther, and with a vehement forthgoing spirit, reads also in a convent library,--but it is not literature at large. He ranges through one Book, for it is within that enclosure, if anywhere on earth, that he will find the food convenient for his famished soul; and now that he has sprung upon the longsought truth, the whole place is startled with the roar of the lion proclaiming his discovery. Burning bulls, defying popes, dauntless before emperors, it is soon seen that Rome has got no trap, and Christendom no cage, for this tremen. dous king of the German forest.