My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

20 April 2005

Notes on Luther, 2

All right, Luther cracks me up. In his short introduction, addressed directly to Erasmus, Luther comments on why he took so long to write De Servo Arbitrio (on the enslavement of the will). The first reason is that Erasmus' book was so tame that it didn't excite Luther enough ("you discuss the matter throughout with quite remarkable restraint, by which you have prevented my wrath waxing hot against you"). The second was that Erasmus didn't write anything new - every argument he had for free-will had already been said and (mostly) answered by Luther.

Luther comedically laments by comparing his writing talents to Erasmus', until he remembers that he has the Scriptures at his disposal. With a wonderful turn, Luther proclaims he is glad that Erasmus turned his pen to this subject - because if the greatest and most eloquent writer alive could not convince him to turn aside from Scripture's plain teaching, then nothing could.

Finally, Luther asks, "But may I ask you, my dear Erasmus, to bear with my want of eloquence, as I in these matters bear with your want of knowledge." Ha. Oh for the days.


Rory said...

That last was my favorite quote of Luther's as well from the book. Yeah, I'm afraid I didn't get nearly as much out of the book, nor understood it nearly as well as you.

Peter Sean Bradley said...


I hope you continue to write on the Erasmus/Luther diatribe because for the life of me I couldn't find out how Luther earned his reputation from this book. While you found him to be coy and delicious, I found his writing to be insulting and completely over the top.

Ultimately, Erasmus was vindicated. He made two essential point - out of many - which were (a) Luther's denial of any role of human free will in salvation leads to a thoroughgoing predestination and (b) the clarity of the text is not a matter of grammar and dictionaries. Erasmus was vindicated on both points when, inter alia, Lutherans themselves subsequently repudiated Luther's predestination theology and Erasmus' point about the clarity of the text is self evident from the many, many schools of interpretation that have emerged after 1525.

I, frankly, came away from these texts with a greater admiration for Erasmus, who previously I had dismissed as an irrelevant historical figure.

Jared said...

Hi Peter, thanks for the input. I'm afraid I can't respond in full as I'm only working my way through the book, but I have just a couple initial thoughts (and hopefully will cover others of your comments later):

1. as for the writing, it does make me laugh. But it makes me laugh in context; that is, I wouldn't be amused if a current Christian writer wrote such vitriole, but knowing Luther's historical context (a time when both sides wrote with as much vitriole as they could muster), it does amuse me - I guess sarcasm isn't always evil. It also reminds me of simply how passionate Luther was.

2. as for producing a thoroughgoing predestination, I think Luther would absolutely agree. If you're hinting that his book leads to hyper-calvinism, then I think Luther would disagree. The point of the book is to defend God's sovereignty and the power of His grace in salvation over and against those who would implicitly claim that God is dependent upon sinful men for their salvation. (Remind me to post some of Jonathan Edwards' thoughts on the will later - they really helped me here)

Anyway, just a couple thoughts. Hope you keep reading and posting!