Martin Luther

How did Desiderus Erasmus contribute to the religious movement and humanist view of Martin Luther’s ideals?

During the early sixteenth century, the church and papacy in Rome started to be questioned by literary scholars of the day.  Both, Desiderus Erasmus and Martin Luther, expressed the hope that the church would revert back to the Scriptures and the writings of the Apostles instead of using the power from the influential standing of the church.  The idea that the church was not currently serving the spiritual needs of the people and instead was making erroneous claims to benefit the overall status of the church and to protect the people within its power.

Desiderus Erasmus, a humanist, was greatly concerned with the abuses of the church and was becoming more critical of the church and its practices.  In 1509, he wrote “The Praise of Folly” attributing criticisms of traditional practices and beliefs of the church.  Religious figures began to stray from their original path in life to help the people, “Our popes, cardinals, and bishops for some time now have earnestly copied the state and practice of princes, and come near to beating them at their own game” (274).  In Erasmus’s statement he concludes that instead of religious salvation the only thing that the papacy is trying to do is gain influence by becoming patrons of the arts, so much so that the papacy is starting to beat the local monarchs with their influence in supporting the arts.  Erasmus basically says that the current religious officials are not living up to their responsibilities towards God, “As if the church had any enemies more pestilential than impious pontiffs who by their silence allow Christ to be forgotten, who enchain Him by mercenary rules, adulterate His teachings by forced interpretations, and crucify Him afresh by their scandalous life” (276-277).  He is saying that they should go back to the ancient ways of teaching and to follow the Bible and ancient scriptures and also the teachings of pagan authors before Christ.  Martin Luther seemed to be trying to say the same thing except more forcefully to the church.

Martin Luther, a Christian monk, studies theology, which led him to question many of the principals and beliefs of the church.  In his work “The Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nations” written in 1520 was meant to be an attack against the Christian church and the papacy.  Luther stressed “three walls of the Romanists” that the church thought to defend themselves with.  The first had to do with temporal power verses spiritual power, the second, the issue that no one could interpret the meaning of the scriptures except the pope, and lastly, the fact that the papacy concluded that no one may call a council except the pope.

In Luther’s first “wall” of defining the papacy’s protection he has the temporal powers of princes to peasants verses the powers of the spiritual pope, priests, and monks. Each estate is vying for overall authority over the land and the power to control the other’s decisions.  Luther argues that the only difference between the temporal and spiritual persons is “one of office and function, and not of estate; for they are all of the same spiritual estate” (523).  Luther’s simplified argument blatantly goes against the traditional practices the church displayed and that “the temporal power has become a member of the Christian body” (524).  This thinking draws together just how much the papacy was acting like the princes and patrons of the day.

The second “wall” pertains to the pope being considered the master of the Scriptures and Luther argues, “they learn nothing of them all their life” (525).  The pope without actually studying the documents in depth infers the meanings and messages behind the writings and interprets them how they see fit.  The pope can even interpret the documents whatever way most benefits the currents circumstances of the church and what would make the church more powerful.  Luther also says that this type of interpretation reduces the church down to one man, that being the pope, because he would have all the power to control the beliefs of the people.

In the third “wall” the pope’s ability to be called upon for any travesty or transgression that he may have committed is virtually impossible.  This is do to the fact that the only person that can call a meeting of the council would be under the pope’s control and he would not do or say anything that might jeopardize the stability of his position.  In so much as Luther’s previously arguments are upheld, Luther already made the argument that the pope should not be the only one able to interpret the meaning of the Scriptures and then there would be no basis on which the pope could say that he is the only one allowed to hold council.

Both men had extremely similar views of the time and both contributed insights into the uncertainty of the power and stability of the church during the early sixteenth century.

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~ by wolfangel87 on February 1, 2011.

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