The following article was written by our friend and contributor, Abrosia De Milano:
Maybe protestants have followed the wrong Reformer. Was it truly Martin Luther whom God called out of the malaise of the Renaissance to correct His church and lead a new movement back to the true church? Can an argument be made that it was Erasmus, one who never left the Roman Catholic Church, who was the true torch-bearer of reform?
Erasmus can be called the Renaissance Man, par excellence. He embodied
the time in that he was at once scholar, humanist, monk; he was a humorist, linguist; a genius, if any ever existed, and an advocate of peace between people—even of peace towards his enemies.
Erasmus’ work The Complaint of Peace reminds the reader that Jesus had spoken the
imperative “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” He did not hide behind the excuse that the state had a right of self-defense, and that Christians ought to support war. Erasmus writes, “No greater enemy of goodness or of religion can be found.”
Humanism—not the secular humanism that rejects God—was the mark of Erasmus’ intellectual endeavors. It was not that man was the measure, but that God had endowed humanity with great gifts. These gifts had to be recognized, and drawn out to see the full glory of God that dwells in humanity. He followed the great tradition of the Dutch humanists. This led his work to be marked by an irenic spirit, one that seeks peace and reconciliation, in contrast with Luther’s fury.
It can be said that Erasmus would be one to whom Kant might say “Understanding is sublime, wit is beautiful” (From Kant’s Of the Beautiful and the Sublime). This could not be said of Luther.
Luther was seeking to overwhelm the perceived ignorance of his opponents with scalding critique. He sought to maintain enmity, rather than find common ground with which to carry on intellectual conversation. Calvinist scholar R. C. Sproul writes this of Luther, “The first key to Luther’s profile is found in his tempestuous outbursts of anger and his intemperate language. He was fond of calling his critics ‘dogs’. . . . his language was at times earthy, salted with scatological references” (The Holiness of God, p. 75).
Is this intemperate one, this man who used insult and invective to blast his intellectual and theological opponents, the Chosen One of the Reformation? Perhaps this title was given too easily to such a one as Luther. Maybe it is time Protestants (and Baptists, and other evangelicals) rethought Luther. Maybe it is time to transfer the reins of our faith to a man of peace, one of those opponents whom Luther engaged as one engages a hated enemy. Maybe it is time to consider Erasmus as the True Reformer—or to look elsewhere altogether—as to the one whom God truly called to speak out the abuses and sins of the established church of the 16th century.