Front Page Titles (by Subject) ERASMUS ROTERODAMUS to the DIVINES OF LOUVAIN, His dearly beloved brethren in the Lord, greeting. - The Colloquies vol. 1
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ERASMUS ROTERODAMUS to the DIVINES OF LOUVAIN, His dearly beloved brethren in the Lord, greeting. - Desiderius Erasmus, The Colloquies vol. 1 
The Colloquies of Erasmus. Translated by Nathan Bailey. Edited with Notes, by the Rev. E. Johnson, M.A. (London: Reeves and Turner, 1878). Vol. 1.
Part of: The Colloquies 2 vols.
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ERASMUS ROTERODAMUS to theDIVINES OF LOUVAIN, His dearly beloved brethren in the Lord, greeting.
A MATTER has been brought to my knowledge, not only by rumour, but by the letters of trustworthy friends, expressly stating in what words, in what place, a calumny was directed against me in our midst, through the agency of a well–known person, who is ever true to himself; whose very character and former doings lead one to assume as ascertained fact what in another would have been but probable. Accordingly, I thought I ought to make no concealment of the matter; especially from you, whose part it was to restrain the unbridled impudence of the fellow, if not for my sake, at all events for that of your Order.
He boasts and vociferates that in the book of Colloquies there are four passages more than heretical: concerning the Eating of meats and Fasting, concerning Indulgences, and concerning Vows. Although such be his bold and impudent assertion, whoever reads the book in its entirety will find the facts to be otherwise. If, however, leisure be wanting for the reading of trifles of this description, I will briefly lay the matter open. But before I approach it, I think well to make three prefatory remarks.
First, in this matter contempt of the Emperor’s edict* cannot be laid to my charge. For I understand it was published May 6th, 1522, whereas this book was printed long before: and that at Basle, where no Imperial edict had up to the time been made known, whether publicly or privately.
Secondly, although in that book I do not teach dogmas of Faith, but formulae for speaking Latin; yet there are matters intermixed by the way, which conduce to good manners. Now if, when a theme has been previously written down in German or French, a master should teach his boys to render the sense in Latin thus: Utinam nihil edant praeter allia, qui nobis hos dies pisculentos invexerunt. (“Would they might eat naught but garlic, who imposed these fish–days upon us.”) Or this: Utinam inedia pereant, qui liberos homines adigunt ac jejunandi necessitatem. (“Would they might starve to death, who force the necessity of fasting on free men.”) Or this: Digni sunt ut fumo pereant qui nobis Dispensationum ad Indulgentiarum fumos tam care vendunt. (“They deserve to be stifled to death who sell us the smokes (pretences) of dispensations and indulgences at so dear a rate.”) Or this: Utinam vere castrentur, qui nolentes arcent à matrimonio. (“Would they might indeed be made eunuchs of, who keep people from marrying, against their will”)—I ask, whether he should be forced to defend himself, for having taught how to turn a sentence, though of bad meaning, into good Latin words? I think there is no one so unjust, as to deem this just.
Thirdly, I had in the first instance to take care what sort of person it should be to whom I ascribe the speech in the dialogue. For I do not there represent a divine preaching, but good fellows having a gossip together. Now if any one is so unfair as to refuse to concede me the quality of the person represented, he ought, by the same reasoning, to lay it to my charge, that there one Augustine (I think) disparages the Stoics’ principle of the honestum, and prefers the sect of the Epicureans, who placed the highest good in pleasure. He may also bring it against me, that in that passage a soldier, amongst many things which he speaks about in true soldier–fashion, says that he will look for a priest to confess to, who shall have as little of good as possible about him. The same objector would, I imagine, bring it up against me, were I to ascribe to Arius in a dialogue a discourse at variance with the Church. If such charges against me would be absurd, why in other matters should not regard be had to the quality of the person speaking? Unless perchance, were I to represent a Turk speaking, they should decide to lay at my door whatever he might say.
With this preface, I will make a few general remarks on the passages criticised by the person to whom I refer. In the first passage, a boy of sixteen years says that he confesses only sins that are unquestionably capital, or gravely suspected; while the Lutherans teach, as I understand, that it is not necessary to confess all capital offences. Thus the very facts show, that this boy’s speech is in great disagreement with the dogma which you condemn. Presently, the same boy being asked, whether it be sufficient to confess to Christ himself, answers that it will satisfy his mind, if the fathers of the Church were of the same opinion. From this my critic argues, not with dialectic art, but with rascally cunning, that I suggest that this Confession which we now practise was not instituted by Christ, but by the leaders of the Church. Such an inference might appear sound, were not Christ one of the Primates of the Church, since according to Peter’s saying He is Chief Shepherd, and according to the word of the Gospel, Good Shepherd. Therefore he who speaks of princes of the Church, does not exclude Christ, but includes Him along with the Apostles, and the successors of the Apostles, in the same manner as he who names the principal members of the body does not exclude the head. But if any one shall deem this reply to savour of artifice: well now, let us grant that the boy was thinking of pure men, heads of the Church: is it then not enough for the boy that he follows in the matter of confession their authority, even although he is not assured whether the Popes could ordain this on their own authority, or handed it down to us from the ordinance of Christ? For he has a mind to obey, in whatever way they have handed it down. I am not even myself fully convinced as yet, that the Church defined the present practice of Confession to be of Christ’s ordinance. For there are very many arguments, to me in fact insoluble, which persuade to the contrary. Nevertheless, I entirely submit this feeling of my own to the judgment of the Church. Gladly will I follow it, so soon as on my watch, for certainty I shall have heard its clear voice. Nay, had Leo’s Bull given the fullest expression of this doctrine, and any one should either be ignorant of it, or should have forgotten it, it would meanwhile suffice (I imagine) to obey in this matter the authority of the Church, with a disposition of obedience, should the point be established. Nor in truth can it be rightly inferred, This Confession is of human ordinance, therefore Christ is not its Author. The Apostles laid down the discipline of the Church, without doubt from Christ’s ordinances; they ordained Baptism, they ordained Bishops, &c., but by the authority of Christ. And yet it cannot be denied, that many particulars of this Confession depend on the appointment of the Pontiffs, viz., that we confess once a year, at Easter, to this or that priest; that any priest absolves us from any trespasses whatever. Hence I judge it to be clear how manifest is the calumny in what relates to Confession.
Further, no mention is there made of fasting, to which the Gospel and the Apostolic epistles exhort us, but concerning the choice of foods, which Christ openly sets at naught in the Gospel, and the Pauline epistles not seldom condemn; especially that which is Jewish and superstitious. Some one will say, this is to accuse the Roman Pontiff who teaches that which the Apostle condemns. What the Gospel teaches, is perfectly plain. The Pontiff himself must declare with what intention he commands what the Gospel does not require. Yet no one there says—what I know not whether Luther teaches—that the constitutions of the Pontiffs do not render us liable to guilt, unless there has been contempt besides. In fact, he who speaks in that passage grants that the Pope may appoint an observance; he simply enquires, whether this were the intention of the Pope, to bind all equally to abstinence from meats, so that one who should partake would be liable to hell–fire even although no perverse contempt should be committed. And he who says this in the Colloquies, adds that he hates fishes not otherwise than he does a serpent. Now, there are some so affected that fish is poison to them, just as there are found those who in like manner shrink from wine. If one who is thus affected with regard to fishes, should be forbidden to feed on flesh and milk–food, will he not be hardly treated? Is it possible that any man can desire him to be exposed to the pains of hell, if for the necessity of his body he should live on flesh? If any constitution of Popes and Bishops involves liability to the punishment of hell, the condition of Christians is hard indeed. If some impose the liability, others not; no one will better declare his intention than the Pope himself. And it would conduce to the peace of consciences to have it declared. What if some Pope should decree that priests should go girt; would it be probable that he declared this with the intention that if one because of renal suffering should lay aside the girdle, he should be liable to hell? I think not. St. Gregory laid down, That if any one had had intercourse with his wife by night, he should abstain the next day from entering church: in this case, supposing that a man, concealing the fact of intercourse having taken place, should have gone to church for no other reason than that he might hear the preaching of the Gospel, would he be liable to hell? I do not think the holiest man could be so harsh. If a man with a sick wife should live on meat, because otherwise she could not be provoked to eat, and her health required food, surely the Pope would not on that account determine him to be liable to hell! This matter is simply made a subject of enquiry in the passage referred to, and no positive statement is made. And certainly before the Imperial Edict, men were at liberty to enquire concerning these matters.
In point of fact, neither in that place nor elsewhere do I absolutely condemn the Indulgences of the Popes, although hitherto more than sufficient indulgence has been shown them. It is simply that a speaker ridicules his comrade, who, although in other respects the most frivolous of triflers (for so he is depicted), yet believed that by the protection of a Bull he would get safely to heaven. So far from thinking this to be heretical, I should imagine there was no holier duty than to warn the people not to put their trust in Bulls, unless they study to change their life and correct their evil desires.
But Vows are ridiculed in that passage. Yes, they are ridiculed, and those (of whom there is a vast multitude) are admonished, who, leaving wife and children at home, under a vow made in their cups, run off along with a few pot–companions to Rome, Compostella, or Jerusalem. But, as manners now are, I think it a holier work to dissuade men altogether from such Vows than to urge to the making of them.
These, forsooth, are the execrable heresies which yonder Lynceus descries in the Puerile Colloquy. I wonder why he does not also give my Catunculus and the Publian mimes* a dusting. Who does not perceive that these attacks proceed from some private grudge? Yet in nothing have I done him an injury, except that I have favoured good literature, which he hates more than sin; and knows not why. Meantime he boasts that he too has a weapon, by which he may take his revenge. If a man at a feast calls him Choroebus or a drunkard, he in his turn will in the pulpit cry heretic, or forger, or schismatic upon him. I believe, if the cook were to set burnt meat on the dinner–table, he would next day bawl out in the course of his sermon that she was suspected of heresy. Nor is he ashamed, nor does he retreat, though so often caught, by the very facts, in manifest falsehood.
In the first place what a foolish, what a mad blather he made against my revised New Testament! Next, what could be more like madness than that remark which he threw out against J. Faber and myself, when the very facts bespoke that he did not understand what agreement there was between me and Faber, or what was the subject of controversy! What more shameless than his fixing a charge of forgery and heresy in the course of a public address on me, because I rendered according to the Greek: Omnes quidem non resurgemus, sed omnes immutabimur (“We shall not all rise again, but we shall all be changed.”) What more like a raging madman, then his warning the people at Mechlin, in a public address, to beware of the heresy of Luther and Erasmus! Why should I now recall the ravings that he belches out rather than utters in the midst of his high feasting as often as his zeal for the house of the Lord is inflamed from his cups? He lately said in Holland, that I was set down for a forger among the divines of Louvain. (One who was present and heard it wrote to me.) When asked, Why? Because, says he, he so often corrects the New Testament! What a dolt of a tongue! Jerome so often corrected the Psalter: is he therefore a forger? In short if he is a forger, who either rashly or from ignorance translates anything otherwise than it should be, he was a forger, whose translation we use at the present day in the Church. But what good does this sort of behavior do him? All men laugh at him as a Morychus,* shun him as a crack–brain,—get out of his way as a peevish fellow you can do nothing with. Nor can they think ill of him, of whom he says such spiteful things. And though he displeases all, himself alone he cannot displease.
This doubtless he holds to be an Imperial edict, that he with raging insolence of tongue should rave at whomsoever he pleases. Thus does this wise and weighty man support the interests of the orthodox faith. This is not a zeal of God, to hurt the harmless; but it is a rage of the devil. The Jewish zeal of Phinehas was once extolled, but not that it might pass as a pattern with Christians. And yet Phinehas openly slew impious persons. To your colleague whatever he hates is Lutheran and heretical. In the same way, I suppose, he will call small–beer, flat wine, and tasteless broth, Lutheran. And the Greek tongue, which is his unique aversion,—I suppose for this reason, that the Apostles dignified it with so great an honour as to write in no other,—will be called Lutheran. Poetic art, for he hates this too, being fonder of the potatic, will be Lutheran.
He complains that his authority is lessened by our means, and that he is made a laughing–stock in my writings. The fact is, he offers himself as an object of ridicule to all men of education and sense; and this without end. I repel slander. But if learned and good men think ill of a man who directs a slander at one who has not deserved it, which is it fair to consider the accountable person, he who rightly repels what he ought not to acknowledge, or he who injuriously sets it afoot? If a man were to be laughed at for saying that asses in Brabant have wings, would he not himself make the laughing–matter? He cries out that the whole of Luther is in my books, that on all sides they swarm with heretical errors. But when those who read my writings find nothing of the kind, even if ignorant of dialectics, they readily infer the true conclusion. He has authority from the Emperor. Let him therefore conduct himself in the spirit of the Emperor, who would rather that wrong–doers should be cured than punished, and certainly does not desire that the harmless should be injured. He has entrusted this function to a man he did not know; when he shall have ascertained the fellow’s character, he will doubtless recall what he has entrusted. It is not the disposition of the mildest of Emperors, nor of the most upright of Popes, that those who spend their night–watches in studying how to adorn and assist the State, should be exposed to the spite of such men; even although there were some human infirmity in the case. So far are they from desiring to estrange good and honest men, and force them to take a different side.
These matters are more your concern than mine. For this man’s manners invite much discredit upon your order, while the mass of the people judge of you all by this one sample. Unjustly so, I admit; but so the world wags. And the harshness of your brother estranges no small number from the study of divinity. I know that the man is utterly disliked by you, with the exception of two or three boon companions, and one old hand, who abuses the man’s folly in the interests of his own lusts. But all would definitely understand that you disapprove of him, if, since he cannot be restrained, you were to expel him from your table. I well know such a step will be very difficult to take. For men of his stamp are reluctantly torn away from the smell of stated, sumptuous, and free repasts. Nevertheless this concerns the honour of your Order, towards which I have good reason to be well–disposed. Farewell.
Supposed to have been written in 1531.
[* ]Edict of the Emperor Charles V.: 1523.
[* ]Publius Syrus (B.C. 45), a writer of mimes, or familiar prose dramas. A collection of apophthegms from his works is said to have been used as a school–book in Jerome’s days.
[* ]Lit.: One stained or smeared: an epithet of Bacchus (Dionysos) in Sicily, “smeared with wine–lees.” (μορύσσω.)