Monday, February 18, 2008

In praise of the Non-Allied

Desiderius Erasmus. By Hans Holbein the younger.
Wiki (Source:

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,
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.
Desiderius Erasmus (1469-1536)


clumber said...

Jeesh, klady, the rest of us (well, me, for instance) pull out stuff by Alexander McCall Smith and you're jumping on Erasmus because you can concentrate on it in the midst of a soccer tournament? I already felt dumb, but man, what'd you get, like 40 bazillion on your GED's or whatever test you took? Back to chewing on old dog toys for me!

klady said...

Well, believe it or not I thought it was kind of funny sitting on a stool at the soccer center "bar" (imagine, this place in Albany serves beer for soccer parents -- no, I didn't have any though would have loved some) with the t.v. showing a basketball game with Texas and Baylor and Huizanga on the counter in front of me. But what was I to do? My daughter's team played only four 30-minute games between 10:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. and I couldn't STAND another minute not wrapping my mind around something. Anyway, an opinionated biography takes far less powers of concentration than a mystery novel where, if you miss a detail or character in the plot, you've got to go back and re-read it later. The Erasmus story turns out the same every time, and missing a prelate, prince, or a Latin phrase here and there doesn't seem to matter much.

clumber said...

Okay... I'll buy all that, except for the "not having a beer" part....

Rowan The Dog said...

Yeah...I would've had a beer too.

I liked the post but especially the prayer. Thanks Klady!

johnieb said...

With all due respect to Bainton, Huzinga is the preferred source here. His *Waning of the Middle Ages* is also classic.

I haven't read either for decades; it may be tie to re-visit: still, ars longa, vita brevis.

klady said...

I read the Waning of the Middle Ages in college -- why I thought to buy the Huizanga biography, although it was the Bainton I read in high school. Turned out that Bainton was longer (larger print) so as to meet the page number requirements for my daughter's assignment. Probably just as well for now. She's just getting the feel for real history -- i.e. from real historians who engage their subjects and express their opinions, rather than the pablum produced by textbook-committee-speak.

Indeed, vita brevis. It seems a shame I cannot recall most of what I read in the past -- so how do I ever catch up? *sigh*

klady said...

rowan, I would have loved the beer, too, but by the time it was apparent that the bar was really open, it was way too late imbibe before the long drive home.

Grandmère Mimi said...

I find myself often shying away from allegiances of all kinds, partly because I resist being on the inside of any group or cause.

I can relate. I just accepted a position on a committee at my church, and I'm already having second thoughts. I'm truly wondering how much more of my hopes rising and crashing down I can take within TEC. And then, there's the Windsor bishop thing. I don't know. Sometimes I think I'd like to go to the Methodist church in town and sit in the back pew and listen to the sermon and sing a few hymns and not be involved beyond that.

klady said...

Well, those Methodists sure give us some great hymns. Unfortunately our local Methodists have got one of those bouncing ball overhead projection thingies for their sing-a-longs. I went there once and loved the sermon but could not stand the music. We got at least one refugee from there who started coming to our church just for the music.

But "it" is everywhere, I'm afraid. Turns out the Methodist pastor was gay but had to wait until he retired last year to come out before he could move away and live openly with his partner.

Brave of you to join the committee. I truly hope it is not too stressful. But it's good to think of you wanting to run to the Methodists when all my life growing up I wanted to run to the Catholics -- you know, just sit in a pew, finger my rosary, and not worry about who was in charge. ;)

I guess somehow we all have to go back and take things in ordinary time -- rather than apocalyptic or whatever that compels us to try to solve all the problems at once. All will be well......

Besides, you've got your Windsor Bishop's ear! I can't even get my bishop's secretary to answer my emails about things like clergy spouse luncheons. Remember, you've got the mojo, Mimi!