Luther’s love for Erasmus…


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Happy Reformation Day! Here’s the conclusion of Luther’s On the Bondage of the Will (1525). Such Christian love as Luther had for Erasmus is hard to find in our day when diffidence and collegial discourse are virtues and exhortation and assertions, no matter how faithful to God’s Word, are rejected as arrogance. There is nothing new under the sun…

My dear Erasmus, I beg you now for Christ’s sake to do at last as you promised; for you promised you would willingly yield to anyone who taught you better. Have done with respecting of persons! I recognize that you are a great man, richly endowed with the noblest gifts of God—with talent and learning, with eloquence bordering on the miraculous, to mention no others—while I have and am nothing, unless I may venture to boast that I am a Christian. Moreover, I praise and commend you highly for this also, that unlike all the rest you alone have attacked the real issue, the essence of the matter in dispute, and have not wearied me with irrelevances about the papacy, purgatory, indulgences, and such like trifles (for trifles they are rather than basic issues), with which almost everyone hitherto has gone hunting for me without success. You and you alone have seen the question on which everything hinges, and have aimed at the vital spot; for which I sincerely thank you, since I am only too glad to give as much attention to this subject as time and leisure permit. If those who have attacked me hitherto had done the same, and if those who now boast of new spirits and new revelations would still do it, we should have less of sedition and sects and more of peace and concord. But God has in this way through Satan punished our ingratitude.

Unless, however, you can conduct this case differently from the way you have in this Diatribe, I could very much wish that you would be content with your own special gift, and would study, adorn, and promote languages and literature as you have hitherto done with great profit and distinction. I must confess that in this direction you have done no small service to me too, so that I am considerably indebted to you, and in this regard I certainly respect and admire you most sincerely. But God has not willed or granted that you should be equal to the matter at the present at issue between us. I say this, as I beg you to believe, in no spirit of arrogance, but I pray that the Lord may soon make you as much superior to me in this matter as you are in all others. There is no novelty in it, if God instructs Moses through Jethro and teaches Paul through Ananias. For as to your saying that you have wandered very far from the mark if you are ignorant of Christ, I think you yourself see what it implies. For it does not follow that everybody will go astray if you or I do. God is preached as being marvelous in his saints, so that we may regard as saints those who are very far from sanctity. And it is not difficult to suppose that you, since you are human, may not have rightly understood or observed with due care the Scriptures or the sayings of the Fathers under whose guidance you think you are attaining your goal; and of this there is more than a hint in your statement that you are asserting nothing, but have only ‘discoursed.’ No one writes like that who has a thorough insight into the subject and rightly understands it. I, for my part in this book have not discoursed, but have asserted and do assert, and I am unwilling to submit the matter to anyone’s judgment, but advise everyone to yield assent. But may the Lord, whose cause this is, enlighten you and make you a vessel for honor and glory. Amen.

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