Full Text for Church History 2- Volume 10 - Luther's Relation to Erasmus (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED TEXT CHURCH HISTORY 02 May 27, 2005 10-CH2 ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***** >> NICK: I learned that Erasmus was the most famous of the Christian humanists at this time. What was his relationship to Luther? >> DR. PAUL ROBINSON: Well, you're right that Erasmus was clearly the most famous humanist of the time. And he almost sets the standard now as we discuss Christian humanism in the 16th century. So early on, it was important for Luther to be seen to be working in concert with Erasmus. And most people assumed that Luther and Erasmus were talking about the same thing because Erasmus had been very vocal in his criticism of the church in the way he talked about abuses in the church. And he was in favor of a return to a much more simple form of Christian life and Christian piety based on the words of Christ in the New Testament. Now, it became apparent to Luther and Erasmus and to their colleagues that they really weren�t talking about the same thing. Luther was much more concerned about Christian teaching and about salvation by grace through faith in Christ. Erasmus was concerned about external abuses in the church, the way priests lived and things like that and his idea of Christianity was really that of a kind of moral life, keeping the Ten Commandments. And so from the very beginning, there was a difference in substance between Luther and Erasmus. That became apparent as the years went by, even though people still tried to hold the two together because they wanted the Christian humanists united in their opposition to others in the church. Luther, of course, did lean heavily on some of the things Erasmus had done, the most famous example being Erasmus's edition of the Greek New Testament. This is what Luther used when he went to translate the Bible into German. And so he continues to have good things to say about Erasmus throughout his career, but they had a final, you might say, kind of a falling out in the mid 1520s. This is when Erasmus was pressured to write against Luther to put some distance between himself and Luther because Luther by then had been excommunicated. The church had broken from him. And Erasmus had to do something to prove that he was on this side of the pope and not on Luther's side. And so he picked the topic of free will. Now, that really wasn't an accident because Erasmus and Luther had realized that they disagreed on free will prior to this. And Melanchthon had criticized Erasmus for the way he translated Romans 9 allowing too much for free will. And Melanchthon was one of the few people in Europe who actually knew Greek better than Erasmus did so the criticism stuck. And it led to Erasmus believing that it was really Melanchthon of the Wittenberg theologians who was against him, rather than Luther. It�s kind of an interesting thought for Lutherans who are used to thinking of Melanchthon as sort of wishy-washy. He certainly wasn't when it came to dealing with Erasmus. So the rift was there over free will. Erasmus wrote his piece asserting that human beings have free will to choose whether to believe in Christ or not, to choose how they will live their lives, and things like that. And Luther responded to this with what he considered one of his finest theological works, commonly translated "The Bondage of the Will." It's really better translated �bound choice,� with Erasmus arguing for free choice. But Luther's point was very simple. The human being in this fallen world with a fallen human nature simply cannot do anything to contribute to his or her salvation. Everything that is required for our salvation is done by God in Christ. That was Luther's bottom line. And in explaining that, he made it very clear that the important thing is to focus on what God had done. And this is where he had come to -- and we'll see more about this in a little bit -- this is where he had come since his 95 Theses, the discussion about indulgences, since his struggles with his own sinfulness and thinking about God as judge. He firmly believed that God saves sinful human beings. And that's what he wanted to come out in this debate. So as a result, following this exchange of treatises in 1524 and 1525, people who previously had been claiming they were followers of both Erasmus and Luther really had to pick sides now. And at this point, the humanist movement was fragmented between those who championed Erasmus and those who championed Luther, and things are beginning to divide between Protestants and Catholics at this point. So that's the relationship, initially very cordial. Erasmus was quite important for Luther and the Lutherans in some ways, but ultimately, Erasmus and Luther were not talking about the same thing, and that became very clear in the 1520s. And it raised another issue that we'll be talking about later which is: what should the role of laypeople be in understanding the teachings of the church. One of the things Erasmus criticized in Luther was Luther's willingness to make these matters of faith and arguments about them very public. Luther, after all, wrote in German. More people could read that than could read Latin. Erasmus thought that matters of faith, matters of doctrine, were very mysterious, were very difficult to deal with, and best left to the theologians. And, in a sense, that argument becomes the most important one for defining the Reformation. What should people know and understand about what they believe?