For today’s (lack of) political discourse, I thought it useful to revive a five hundred year old debate regarding religious corruption.
In the 1500s, a long running debate took place between two prominent and intellectual European voices: Martin Luther, who changed the political/religious landscape of the world, and Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, a guy you’ve likely never heard of. Too bad. He’s noteworthy.
Both Luther and Erasmus openly sought to reform the Catholic Church, seeing it as politically and financially corrupt at the time. Both were brilliant, highly intelligent, well educated, and courageous in broadcasting a faith they shared. Both were also devoted to a life of Christian service and had set themselves aside for a life of study and service to their fellow man.
Where they differed, though, was Erasmus believed he could reform the church from within and disagreed strongly with the Lutheran approach of divestment and divorce from the preeminent political institution of the day. He saw the corruption in the church as indicative of the corruption in all mankind. Erasmus celebrated Luther as a standard-bearer of truth and agreed the many reforms he called for were urgently needed, but he was reluctant to join the movement because he feared the violence such a break in ties would cause.
Luther called out Erasmus as weak for not acting on his conviction. This clearly was a false assertion, as Erasmus published his viewpoints prolifically, and at great risk. What he did fear, though, was Luther imposing a new order just as wrong as the existing system. Erasmus did not want to replace an imperfect system with another flawed governance. He did not trust Luther to be the sole arbiter in interpreting governing religious or political doctrine, and stated so publicly in his writings. He believed in extrapolating the good from the intended rule of their forebears, while improving, honing, and reforming that which needed updating. Essentially, he trusted Luther no more than he did the Catholic establishment.