Friday, September 16, 2011

The Praise of Folly - Desiderius Erasmus

Human Folly - The New Humanist Sept/Oct 2011

Fantastic article and history lesson as well! It recounts the affair 500 years ago when Desiderius Erasmus, a catholic priest but considered a christian humanist, wrote a new book, The Moriae Encomium (The Praise of Folly). This is one of the first written accounts of literature speaking out against religious authority. It was done in the form of a speech by Folly, the protagonist, but really pushed some boundaries of thought that would have be deemed heresy on the spot if he were to have written in from his perspective. Instead we get some very cunning material and the groundwork for what became the rational humanist movement (atheism) started dialogue for religious tolerance as discussion will lead us all to the eventual truth. Some great quotes from the article:

Folly begins the religious section of her speech by celebrating the virtues of illusion, for which she alone is responsible. Consider all the Christians who seek “comfort in soothing self-delusions about fictitious pardons for their sins”, she says. Could they believe they were going to be pardoned without the illusion provided by Folly? No. How miserable their lives would be! And what if a philosopher were to convince believers that religion is nothing but nonsense? Would they be happy in that knowledge? Of course not, she says: “to lack all wisdom is so very agreeable that mortals will pray to be delivered from anything rather than from folly.”
the reader has already been exposed to a raucous volley of demystification, and that demystification continues as we encounter a statement of flat-out anti-theism. Here, Christians are dismissed as fools who “throw away their possessions, ignore injuries, allow themselves to be deceived, make no distinction between friend and foe, shudder at the thought of pleasure, find satisfaction in fasts, vigils, tears, and labors, shrink from life, desire death above all else.” It is as if Christopher Hitchens has stepped on to the page.
Erasmus would have been dismayed, for each of these developments showed systems of religious belief that were giving ground to reason, were being eroded by rationalism. Luther would have shared his distress. But he would not have been surprised. For him, the confluence of religion and reason was bound to lead to either atheism or heresy. As he wrote in the De servo arbitrio – his response to Erasmus’s De libero arbitrio – in 1525: “if you respect and follow the judgement of human reason, you are bound to say either that there is no God or that God is unjust.” Yet Erasmus remained convinced that it was possible to unite the rational claims of classical philosophy with the divine claims of Christianity, and possible to do so without outraging either. The rational, secular, “heretical” channels into which his ideas would flow suggest that Luther might not have been wrong.

This was also around the time of the protestant reformation from the catholic church and Erasmus and Martin Luther had some interesting theological exchanges. Erasmus was a firm believer that humans have free will and therefore are punished or rewarded according to the decisions they make in life. Luther believed that there was no free will. That man was destined to be sinful from origin and that humans are incapable of reforming and bound for eternity in hell without Jesus. Erasmus was critical of the church but thought that it could be reformed from within. Luther, obviously led the protestant reformation and schism from the catholic church. Here is more information on the subject:

The Praise of Folly (Moriae Encomium) - Desiderius Erasmus 1509

The Praise of Folly - Wikipedia

De Libero Arbitrio Diatribe Sive Collatio (Discourses of Free Will), Desiderius Erasmus 1524 letter to Martin Luther- Wikipedia

De Servo Arbitrio (On the Bondage of the Will), Martin Luther 1525 response to Erasmus - Wikipedia

Desiderius Erasmus - Wikipedia

Martin Luther - Wikipedia

Protestant Reformation - Wikipedia

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