Wednesday, February 23, 2011


We are still reading and quoting from from Martin Brecht's book:  Luther, Shaping and Defining the Reformation.

From pages 236 to 238 one finds a section on Erasmus' "Hyperaspistes" written in response to the Bondage of the Will.

"In September 1527 the second part of Hyperaspistes appeared, continuing the exegetical controversy with Luther, and it was a lengthy ponderous, and dry work. Most of the Bible passages had already been dealt with in the Diatribe and Erasmus now deliberately buttressed his position even more strongly with references to the church fathers. He particularly attacked Luther's allegedly exaggerated position--derived from Paul--that the law brings only the knowledge of sin and thus is not really intended to be fulfilled. While Luther had decided in favor of the Pauline position, Erasmus had smoothed out the controversial points in the biblical tradition with his combination of grace and free will. Because of their different methods, as well as their different anthropologies, there could be no agreement here. Erasmus just did not understand that Luther based his certainty of salvation on God alone and not on his own abilities. In the lengthy concluding restatement of his position, he joined with the preponderance of the ecclesiastical tradition, although he was not fully able to integrate Augustine. He accepted his closeness to Pelagius. Unlike Luther, he did not make his position normative, but submitted it to the judgment of the church.

Erasmus's intensive occupation with Luther had required a great deal of effort. He expected that his book would set off the Lutherans, and therefore he asked duke George of Saxony for protection. However, George was unimpressed by the heavy-handed methods of Erasmus and expressed his opinion that he was baked "from the same meal" as Luther. At the beginning of October, Melanchthon, after reading part of it, characterized Hyperaspistes as a long and confused disputation which not many would understand. ... Justus Jonas, who was still sympathizing with Erasmus, finally changed his mind about him after reading Hyperaspistes.... Erasmus's continuing opposition was not occasioned by the subject, but was simply an end in itself. It is clear from a letter of May 1529 that Luther was unwilling to participate in any further discussion with Erasmus unless Erasmus were to take up some significant themes, although he had no definite plans to do so. There were deep personal reasons for this. For him, Erasmus was a totally frivolous man who utterly sneered at religion, and that was how he had depicted him in De Servo Arbitrio. This was a verdict that was not objectively justified, as long as one understood religion as something other than man's total dependence on God. Whenever Luther and Erasmus are mentioned, one generally thinks only of their controversy over free will. However, when Erasmus in his fashion again attempted to mediated between the religious parties, another controversy erupted in 1534, one that, on Luther's side at least, did not take a back seat in vehemence when compared with the earlier one."

There are a few things that come to me from this, in random order:

1.  Erasmus, though famed for his lovely style, or so Luther perhaps overly humbly confesses regarding him-- could write some very nasty satire (banned by the Catholics), the weak-kneed Diatribe, and apparently this nasty, unreadable piece, the "Hyperaspistes".   He should obviously be thanked for the Greek New Testament that served all the translator so well.  I am also guessing that his mediating position was at times helpful and preserved Luther from some harm, advancing the Reformation.  (Yet, by his vacillating he became a stumbling block.)

From this, however, I get not a little mad at those who keep harping on Luther for his vehemece of speech.  He was not always right and he would admit that he was often too vehement.  But this is of no interest whatsoever.  We need to know what is being said, not how it's being said.  And let us here note!!!  Erasmus, too, had a nasty mouth and pen, and when we look at Thomas More, we find the same thing.  The only ones really offended seemed to be the Dukes of Saxony, and now all those who do not want to be saved by faith alone.

2. "He particularly attacked Luther's allegedly exaggerated position--derived from Paul--that the law brings only the knowledge of sin and thus is not really intended to be fulfilled." 

We talk very often about Christ being the end of the law and so he is, and then Christ says he has come to uphold the law and we also know that we should live upright lives.  So how does that fit together? 

Luther is pretty clear about the law.  The ceremonial law and the laws for the national order are over with.  Even the 10 commandments per se are done with, except that they are from God a nice summary of the natural law, which we are indeed indebted to follow.  Hence we teach the Ten Commandments to the children. And we also, and Luther includes himself, though a Dr. of Theology, need to exercise ourselves in the commandments, not least because if we do not follow God's moral law we will inevitably establish laws of our own.  These human made laws end up serving to establish our own "holiness" toward God and man;  --which will never do.  We naturally are inclined to want to keep silly man made rules which we can keep, rather than God' moral law which we can't keep. 

Still, having tasted God's goodness and mercy, desiring to please our gracious God in our living, we come back to his commandments daily.  If they were not meant to be fulfilled, then forgiveness of sins makes no sense either.  This is where the antinomian controversy comes in.  See also how the Book of Concord deals with this.  We often have debates over the supposed "third use" of the law, but essentially the moral law is meant to be kept otherwise sin and redemption, repentance... make no sense.  But even as a redeemed Christian I cannot keep the law anywhere near perfectly as required and I have nothing whatsoever to boast about.  Mea culpa.  Mea maxima culpa.

3.  "...he was not fully able to integrate Augustine. He accepted his closeness to Pelagius. Unlike Luther, he did not make his position normative, but submitted it to the judgment of the church."

--He cannot integrate  Augustine and accepts his closeness to Pelagius and does not make it normative and submits to the judgment of the church. ???  (Emotional reaction).  What kind of hogwash is this.  Has not the church condemned Pelagius?  He is going to waste so much paper and make nothing "normative"?  He is going to be so boring and offensive and evasive all at the same time, that he is losing his sympathisizers and YET not have "normative" position?  We know Luther prayed for him. This is what he meant that Erasmus "sneers" at religion;  he is just playing with the subject.

But we constantly hear that it's Luther who writes such intolerable things.  Yet, he is still read today for content, honesty and style, not to mention comfort, hope and faith in God.  Erasmus--I don't know who reads him.  Salvation is either from God, or if it is from God and me, then I have to rely on myself.  We know and assert that it comes entirely from God.


Steve Martin said...

Nice assessment of the facts at hand, Gitte.

Luther knew what was at stake and did not back down one iota from Erasmus.

95% of the Church will stand and defend Erasmus' position (even a goodly number of Lutherans!)

The freedom of God to save sinners and the freedom of the Christian not to engage in the Christian religion project are stake. So much of the Christian world lives in fear of these things. They cannot abide in that sort of freedom and run back to the law time and time again for comfort.

Brigitte said...

I don't know about Erasmus. He was offered huge perks if he would decide to write against Luther. He declined it at other times, which is to his credit.

But here, he lays his insight aside and tries to stay safe. He was really stung by Luther's criticism but did not give in.

But who can give up the Gospel after they know it? It is no play-thing.

Steve Martin said...

It's not that Erasmus didn't know the gospel, it's just that he (and so many Roman Catholics and Evangelicals) just cover it up with so many barnicles that you can't recognize it.

Anonymous said...

Its not the Hyperapistes that's nasty. Its Luther's Bondage of the Will that's nasty. First, Luther wrote a small little work against free will. Then Erasmus wrote the Diatribe on Free Will. (Diatribe=Discussion) Then Luther wrote the Bondage of the Will in which he is as mean and nasty to Erasmus as can be. Then Erasmus wrote the Hyperapistes to say "look how mean and nasty Luther was to me." And its very hard to find the Hyperapistes, not because it is mean to Luther, but because in it Erasmus dared point out how mean Luther was in Bondage of the Will.