Desiderius Erasmus. By Hans Holbein the younger.
Wiki (Source: http://www.wga.hu/art)
I have been thinking about allegiances, of late. There seem to be such deep divisions all around, within the church, at various levels, over in the secular world, especially those between Obama and Clinton supporters, and in the perceptions of the supposed divide between the secular and religious spheres of life, as if people inhabit only one or the other. I find myself often shying away from allegiances of all kinds, partly because I resist being on the inside of any group or cause. This has always been the case with me, and it is an open question (to me, at least) how much of it has to do with my dissecting mind and how much is sheer cantankerousness.
This weekend I did not want to think much about anything, but faced with the excruciating boredom of spending twelve hours in an indoor soccer center 100 miles from home, I went to my bag of books in the car and pulled out Huizinga's Erasmus and the Age of Reformation, the only non-fiction (all I can take in noisy soccer centers) I could find. I bought it before Christmas when helping my daughter look for books on Erasmus to write a book review for European History. She ended up selecting Roland Bainton instead of Huizinga, so I've been carrying the latter around, trying to recall what it was about Erasmus that fascinated me so when I was her age (and incidentally what I enjoyed about reading Huizinga in studying the Middle Ages in college).
Of course this morning I cannot find the passages that caught my eye at the soccer center. I was, however, reminded of how Erasmus was much maligned, both during and after his lifetime, for neither siding firmly with the Lutherans or the Catholics. And, with that in mind, and the recent excerpts from Kant and Locke in the "From Beyond the Grave" series over at The Lead, I offer the following:
But that reserve or fear of directness is not merely a negative quality. It also results from a consciousness of the indefiniteness of the ground of all things, from the awe of the ambiguity of all that is. If Erasmus so often hovers over the borderline between earnestness and mockery, it is not only due to cautiousness, and fear to commit himself. Everywhere he sees the shadings, the blending of the meaning of words. The terms of things are no longer to him, as to the man of the Middle Ages, as crystals mounted in gold, as stars in the firmament. 'I like assertions so little that I would easily take sides with the sceptics wherever it is allowed by the inviolable authority of Holy Scripture and the Church.' 'What is exempt from error? All subtle contentions of theological speculation arise from a dangerous curiosity and lead to impious audacity. What have all the great controversies about the Trinity and the Virgin Mary profited? 'We have defined so much that without danger to our salvation might have remained known or undecided.... The essentials of our religion are peace and unanimity. These can hardly exist unless we make definitions about as few points as possible and leave many questions to individual judgement. Numerous problems are now postponed till the oecumenical Council. It would be much better to put off such questions till the time when the glass shall be removed and the darkness cleared away, and we shall see God face to face.'Johan Huizanga, Erasmus and the Age of Reformation (E. Hopman, trans.), New York: Dover 2001 (translation published 1957, original work published 1924), at p.116.
And, thanks to to Jane R, whose mind often seems to intersect mine somehow, who brought us all this Night Prayer by Erasmus to start our week:
Lord Jesus Christ,Desiderius Erasmus (1469-1536)
you are the gentle moon and joyful stars,
and watch over the darkest night.
You are the source of all peace,
reconciling the whole universe to the Father.
You are the source of all rest,
calming troubled hearts,
and bringing sleep to weary bodies.
You are the sweetness that fills our mind with quiet joy,
and can turn the worst nightmares into dreams of heaven.
May I dream of your sweetness,
rest in your arms,
be at one with your Father,
and be comforted in the knowledge
that you always watch over me.