“I loathe my very life;
therefore I will give free rein to my complaint
and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.
I say to God: Do not declare me guilty,
but tell me what charges you have against me.
- Job 10:1-2
On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”
They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”
Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.
- Luke 1:59-66
“Erasmus was following a straight line: to defend the man, though not all of his opinions, and to refrain from riling his opponents by invective. When Reuchlin died Erasmus composed a colloquy describing his reception in heaven, very different from that of Pope Julius. The tone of the Apotheosis of Reuchlin is set by the opening remark that some people are too conservative to change their shoes or their underwear or to eat fresh eggs. Then the narrator has a dream in which he sees Reuchlin wafted to heaven in a white robe, not a monastic habit. He is received by Jerome without a cardinal’s hat or his pet lion and is made to sit down among the saints. ‘Among the saints!’ ejaculates an interlocutor. ‘Do you not hesitate to make him a saint when he has not been canonized?” ‘And who, pray,’ comes the retort, ‘canonized St. Jerome, St. Paul, or the Virgin Mary?’ To publish this colloquy in 1522 was an act of courage because by that time the affair of Reuchlin had found its sequel in the affair of Luther. The cause was the same: freedom to speak. The opponents were the same: the Dominicans. And the ﬁrst university to condemn Luther’s teaching was Cologne in the district of Jakob von Hochstraten.”
- Roland H. Bainton, Erasmus of Christendom
The Scriptures both talk about speaking freely. Job wanted to complain and take his case before God. Zechariah wanted to praise the Lord. Both spoke freely.
To understand the quote from the biography of Erasmus, we need to understand the players in this scene in recorded history.
Erasmus of Rotterdam (but born in Gouda) – A highly educated monk, an outspoken author of arguments against many practices in the Catholic church of the early 1500s, and here, the author of the colloquy upon the death of Reuchlin.
Johann Reuchlin (1455-1522) – A Dominican monk who, like Erasmus, studied Hebrew and Greek. Reuchlin published a work condemning the church’s idea of destroying all Jewish books, including the Hebrew religious books. He was brought before an inquisition as a heretic; the church was thinking that if there were no more Jewish religious books, they would be forced to become Christians. Trained as a jurist, Reuchlin dodged each attack, usually on points of law since the subject matter was too highly charged on both sides. He continued to teach at university until his death, of jaundice, not at the hand of the inquisition. It is thought that Martin Luther’s concept of salvation by faith alone is largely from the writings of Reuchlin.
Martin Luther – As if anyone needed to know that was the “Luther” mentioned in the quote.
St. Jerome – The author of the Latin Vulgate. The errors in the translation were discovered by Erasmus, putting him in hot water with Rome.
Pope Julius – Probably Pope Julius II (1503-1513), who was the most recent Pope Julius at that time, the “pope of the Renaissance” who laid the foundation stone of the new St. Peter’s Basilica, and who was more military leader than pope. Erasmus wrote one book entitled Julius Excluded from Heaven. But it was Julius’ successor, Pope Leo X, that created the indulgences to pay for the continued work that Julius started – the indulgences that Martin Luther argued against in his 95 Theses.
Jakob von Hockstraten – The inquisitor of the Dominicans with a focus on heresy for the diocese of Cologne.
The key to the entire affair was that of a freedom to speak.
Between secular progressives and the Cancel Culture, if anyone speaks against their views, they are to be silenced, even when the spoken or written word was far in the past – no room for forgiveness or repentance. The strange thing is that many of these youngsters in college that demand a safe space where they only hear what they want to hear are ravenous in their hatred toward cancelled people. In turn, the far right retaliates by hating the far left. And each person builds metaphorical battlements, awaiting the siege.
In the times of Erasmus, there were splinters that fell from the Catholic tree. It was the time of the Protestant Reformation. Yet, Erasmus remained a Catholic monk. Notice the first sentence. Erasmus defended the man (in this case Reuchlin, but also Luther). He retained the right to not agree with ALL his opinions, but probably most of them, thus willing to hear deferring opinions and cancel none of them. But he refrained from riling his opponents by invective.
If we had politicians that did not use the invective, we would have dialogue that could lead to a greater nation, greater progress (rather than the regress of the progressives), and much social reform without bankrupting the nation. … Wait!
What am I saying?!?!?! The invective by mudslinging is how the politicians get elected. Silly of me to think that politics is really for the people, even for the security of the nation. Wow! My brain went down a rarely used rabbit hole into fantasy land. Just forget what I wrote in the previous paragraph. It was me being silly.
But Erasmus, concerned for God’s kingdom and not any artificial political lines drawn on a map, was concerned about the wars and how the church of that time was a political force with an army of its own that went into battle, largely how Pope Julius II became pope. He recognized the heart of the man named Reuchlin and saw how Reuchlin could indeed sit among the saints. He also saw the patron of the arts who happened to wear the robes of the pope, who was, in his opinion by knowing the heart of the man, not allowed entrance into heaven.
And yet, Erasmus was echoing the words of Reuchlin, speaking up for what the Bible really said, studying the Greek and Hebrew to ensure that those were the words being preached (maybe the reason that the Dominicans wanted to destroy Jewish texts – to cover up their poor translation into Latin. Yet, Erasmus did so in non-confrontational language. As a result, he got vilified by both sides. The Catholic church, some of the leaders, wanted him thrown out and sent to his friend, Luther. And many Lutherans did not trust him since he did not denounce his Catholicism.
Yet, in his day, his words spread among both sides of the divide. There was common ground. That common ground could be found in Jesus Christ. And salvation could be found in Jesus Christ and in Him alone, by faith.
I think the nations of this earth are all in trouble unless they recognize God and repent. And I fear that the same can be said about our churches. Can we all have the spirit of Erasmus, in avoiding the invectives toward either side and focusing on what is important.
Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. I trust Him. I hold His precious Word, the Bible, as my source of knowledge, and through knowing Jesus, having Him in my heart, I can see God in everything around me and my chief goal in life is to become more like Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.