Almost two years before this remonstrance, he had addressed the same Parisian divine in a very long exculpatory epistle, composed in a most truly Erasmian style. " What can I do with all the suspicions of mankind ? There are so many myriads of condemned articles; so many battalions of scholastic dogmas; so many connexions, partialities, and hatreds; so many sects, and so many mad brains, that it is impossible to please all. Hitherto I have endeavoured to act an upright part; and you would say so, were you here. If I were so fond of glory as some suppose; nay, if I did not throroughly, from the bottom of my heart, abhor factions and heresies, I might have been either allured by numerous flatteries, or entangled by the various snares that have been laid for me; or again, I might have been driven either by the furious threats and pamphlets of the
* Eras. IX. 922.
T Beddae, 1039. Erasmus wished to have prevented the publication of the censure of his works.
Lutherans, or by the no less furious publications, detractions, and slanders of the opposite faction, to take the field on the side of the Reformers, with whom, if I had connected myself, matters would have been by this time in such a state, that the censures of divines would have had no great weight. I know you will say, I make myself of vast consequence. I answer, I could speak of myself in a much higher style if I pleased, and very truly too. I do not repent of the part I have acted in thus keeping clear of the sectarians; and I hope, through God's help, to continue in the same mind; but if ye think that 1 deserve to be hunted thus by a set of wicked cavillers, you must take the consequences*."
There is no end of the contradictory declarations of Erasmus. The following is a remarkable instance.—Little more than half a year had elapsed since his address to the brethren of the Lower Germany, in which he attempts to mitigate the charges against the clergy, thinks very favourably of the religion of Charles V. and expresses good hopes of the Pope's concurrence in the work of reformation f, when he writes to Matthias Kretzer in substance to this effect: " That the Emperor was in a state of most violent irritation : and that there were those who were throwing oil into the fire J. That some who wore purple gowns did much mischief by their conduct; for though they could not but know that the luxury and pride of the clergy had been the chief cause of the present dissensions, yet they lived in incredible pomp, revelling, and sometimes playing at dice all night; and not even taking care to keep their practices from the knowledge of the people. That the haughtiness, not to say the tyranny, of the ecclesiastics, was on the increase :
* Beddas, 873. t See page 344.
X Meaning the Pope, who, with the Emperor's assistance, was endeavouring to crush the reformers. See Jortin, I. 506.
Erasmus's account ot" the revolution at Basil,
A. D. 1520
The levity of Erasmus so earl; as
Their wealth and their luxury were also on the increase, but there was not the least diminution of their thirst after these things." " It was not for him," Erasmus said, " to judge of the Pope, but those who came from Italy told things which he could not hear without sorrow. How harshly had he treated Florence! As far as he could judge, the Pope, by the help of the princes, and by augmenting the number of his cardinals, was aiming at the extinction of every attempt at reformation. And what was all this but to provoke God more and more*?"
The writings of Erasmus abound with humorous levitiest, which, by persons of piety and religion, were not always deemed inoffensive. For example, in describing the revolution which took place at Basil in 1529, he says, " Not a particle of an image is left in the churches, so exceedingly hot is the war against idols in the midst of this cold weather. The images of the saints, and even of the crucifix, have been treated with so much ludicrous insult, that it may be thought extraordinary no miracle should have been wrought on the occasion, especially as the saints of former times were very touchy, and performed plenty of them in consequence of slight affronts. They tell horrid stories of saints, who, in many instances, punished persons for using profane expressions; insomuch, that I cannot but wonder that not one out of so many should revenge himself on the authors of this prodigious devastation. As TO THE MILDNESS OF Chkist AND
The Blessed Virgin, That I Am Not SurPrised AT J.
Even so early as the year 1521, we find Erasmus expressing himself on religious subjects in a manner inconsistent with that gravity of character which became his age and reputation for learning;
* Ep. 1361. t See Luther's observation, in page 321. t Ep. 1171. 1188. 1223.
insomuch, that, for many years past, the articles of his creed had been judged both scanty and uncertain.
Let the following confession to his friend Richard Pace be attentively considered. —" At length I perceive the intention of the Germans is to involve me, whether I will or not, in the business of Luther. In so doing, they have acted unwisely, and have rather alienated me from their cause. What good could I have done Luther by sharing the danger with him, except that, instead of one man, two might have perished ? I cannot conceive why he writes with such a spirit: I am sure he brings an odium on the lovers of literature. There is no doubt but he has taught many excellent doctrines, and also given much excellent advice; and I wish he had not spoiled the good by intolerable faults. But if every syllable he had written were unexceptionable, it was not my disposition to run the hazard of my life for the sake of truth. It is not every man who has sufficient courage to be a martyr; and I am afraid, that, in case of trial or persecution, I should follow Peter's example. I follow the decisions of the Pope and the Emperor when they are right, which is acting like a religious man ; and when they are wrong, I submit, which is taking the safe side.—And I am of opinion that even good men may conduct themselves thus, when there is no hope of obtaining redress*."
Here, at once, from his own mouth, is the solution of all the enigmatical conduct of Erasmus.—■ Many sincere and excellent Christians have, I believe, been as timid and irresolute as he was, but their timidity and irresolution was their pain and their burthen. They prayed for grace to help in time of need ; they never made light of their infirmities or besetting sins; but, on the contrary, viewed them as the enemies to their spiritual • Ep. 651.
Citap. improvement, and struggled to obtain victory over XIL , them, constantly fighting like faithful soldiers of Christ, and diligently avoiding the snares of temptation. It was the gradual unfolding of the motives which governed Erasmus, and their practical consequences, which alienated from him, in their turns, the minds of the most eminent reformers; for example, of Luther first, and of Melancthon, more slowly, afterwards.—Luther freely confesses, that his most affectionate friend Justus Jonas incessantly solicited him to treat Erasmus with respect, and to avoid all harshness and asperities in his controversies with him. " You cannot think," he used to say, " how excellent and venerable a character the old man is*." But he had the satisfaction to find that Jonas altered his mind upon reading the first part of the Hyperaspistes. " I congratulate you," said he, " my excellent friend, on your recantation in regard to Erasmus, in whose praise you used formerly to have so much to say. You now paint him in his true colours, namely, as a viper full of deadly stings. I rejoice that the perusal of one of his Hyperaspistes has so effectually opened your eyesf."
This long detail of the controversy between Erasmus and Luther, and of the circumstances connected with it, will not be deemed uninteresting by any student of the history of the Church of Christ, who wishes to become acquainted with the real motives of the principal actors in those scenes which, under Divine Providence, brought about the blessed Reformation.—Erasmus, Luther, and Melancthon, are unquestionably to be reckoned among those principal actors, though by no means so as to exclude several others from their right to a substantial share of the praise. The unhappy inconsistencies which we have remarked in the character of Erasmus,
* Seek. II. 81 Luth. Respons. Hen. VIII. 495.
t Ep. by Aurifab. II. 353.
though extremely derogatory to his personal worth, in no wise weaken the proofs we have given of the great advantages which the causeof Christian liberty derived from certain parts of his labours. As these contributed much to unveil the tyranny, corruptions, and iniquitous lives of the clergy, they prepared men's minds for that shock which the Papacy was soon to receive; a shock however of which Erasmus neither foresaw the probability, nor wished to be the author.—His memorable interview at Cologne with the Elector Frederic, and his account of a number of propositions, which he considered as axioms in the affair of Luther, took place at a most important and critical juncture*. In regard to Luther, there can be no necessity to repeat often what nobody denies; namely, that his eye was always single and steady. The frequent insinuations of the operation of ambitious motives, may, perhaps, have produced unfavourable impressions on some minds; nevertheless, all such impressions are without warrant; and cannot fail to vanish on the mere inspection of the decisive documents, both public and private, which are contained in this History.
Of Melancthon we may truly say, that integrity, piety, and discretion, were parts of his character; for these virtues posterity do him ample justice : at the same time, nobody," I think, who knows him well, considers him as a model either of unusual firmness or extraordinary penetration. The characters both of Luther and of Erasmus appear to me to have been very much misunderstood; and that labour is well employed which contributes to rectify erroneous judgments of this sort. The asperity and positiveness of Luther have had the effect of lowering him too much : The politeness and civility of Erasmus have contributed to raise him too high ; and it is with no little concern that I am * See the Elector's interview with Erasmus, Ch. VI. Vol. VI.
VOL. V. A A
constrained to add, that the propensity of his reli-
gious sentiments—to make the very best of them—
towards the Pelagian, or half Pelagian heresy, se-
cures him but too favourable a reception with many
modern divines. The Church of England repro-
bates Pelagianism expressly ; and therefore such of
its members as are disposed to applaud the com-
ments and interpretations of Erasmus and his ad-
mirers, would do well to examine, whether, in so
doing, they act consistently with their own confes-
sions of Faith*.
CONCLUSION OF THE CONTROVERSY WITH