Erasmus’ “Hyperaspistes” (1526): Luther’s Extreme Dogmatism

Erasmus’ “Hyperaspistes” (1526): Luther’s Extreme Dogmatism February 3, 2017


Desiderius Erasmus (1466/1469-1536); portrait (1523) by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/1498-1543) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

(Seven Parts)
Part III: Erasmus’ Hyperaspistes (1526): Luther’s Extreme Dogmatism

From: Peter Macardle and Clarence H. Miller, translators, Charles Trinkhaus, editor, Collected Works of Erasmus, Vol. 76: Controversies: De Libero Arbitrio / Hyperaspistes I, Univ. of Toronto Press, 1999.

* * * * *

Do you go so far as to allow no one even to open his mouth in opposition to your opinions? But still you are always challenging everyone to engage you in hand-to-hand combat. (p. 102)

Those who were once your sworn adherents dare to draw their swords against you and do not refrain from insults, and yet you cannot tolerate Erasmus even when he argues in a very restrained manner? (p. 102)

As for your claiming knowledge together with Paul [Luther’s Works vol. 33, 294], would that you could truly do so and at the same time would exhibit that evangelical spirit with which the writings of Paul are redolent, whereas yours are clamorous with a quite different spirit. But in the end is it any affront to me to have you disparage my knowledge, since you have long since belittled the knowledge of every council and all bishops and popes and the Doctors of the church, whether ancient or modern, and finally of all the universities? Was anyone ever wise if he departed a hair’s breadth, as they say, from your teachings? However wise anyone may have been before, once he begins to contradict you, he undergoes a metamorphosis: instead of being Lynceus he becomes blind as a bat, he is changed from a man to a moron. (p. 108)

But just as I am not even the least bit affected by the praises of your adherents, so too your judgment about me is almost a source of delight. If I had supported your teachings everywhere in my written works, my heavens, how great a theologian would I have been! (p. 111)

Let Melanchthon go over to the other side and take up arms against you: immediately you will find him a stinking rogue and he will undergo a metamorphosis no more lenient than that suffered by Karlstadt, who was swiftly changed from the ointment-box of the Holy Spirit to an instrument of the devil the minute he departed a hair’s breadth from your precepts. (p. 113)

I saw that it would do no good at all for you to direct your violence not only against popes and bishops . . . but also against anyone who so much as mutters anything against you. (p. 115)

. . . you were prepared to rage against anyone who did not entirely disapprove of the drama you had undertaken but objected to your staging of it . . . (p. 115)

. . . they disagree with your dogmas, and whatever diverges from them is clearly (in your opinion) wicked. (p. 138)

If you had persuaded us that you are the man sent to this world by God to renew the church by the sword of the gospel, who was guided by the Spirit of God, who stood alone in finding nothing obscure in Sacred Scripture, of our own accord we would have crawled thither, just to kiss your feet. But however often you claim you are such a person, you have not yet persuaded me. Very many things prevented me from believing it, but among the primary reasons were the bitterness of your pen, your unbridled urge to hurl insults, the utterly scurrilous bons mots, the saucy moues and mocks which you employ against all who dare to open their mouths against your dogmas. (p. 141)

Nor is anyone at odds with the word of God, as you thunder out so often, but with your interpretations. (p. 171)

. . . you assume that whatever you teach is the word of God, so that all that remains is for you to become Christ, preaching the gospel anew. But just as it is not clear to us by what spirit you are led, so too we are not yet persuaded that whatever you teach is the word of God . . . I firmly profess that I am of the number of those who would rather die ten times over than even once hinder the course of the word of God. (p. 172)

I revere the word of God with my whole heart, but I do not believe that whatever you assert is the word of God. . . . You rush in violently and, turning everything upside down, you contend that Scripture means what you want it to mean and what fits your teachings. In brief, you conduct yourself as if you wanted victory for yourself, not the gospel, and as if you demanded to be the lord, not the steward, of Holy Scripture. (p. 176)

Does anyone who does not agree with your assertions and interpretations weigh Holy Scripture according to the understanding of most wicked men? (p. 183)

. . . since you are taking up a serious point, I am not unwilling both to listen and to respond. But you must provide us with very compelling and weighty reasons if you want to persuade us that the position held already for centuries by the people of Christ together with their teachers and still held by the church to this day is a pernicious teaching, wicked, heretical, and blasphemous, but that your teaching is a principal article of the Christian faith, without which no one can be saved. . . . the first reason you use to silence us, saying it is enough that God wishes these things to be proclaimed and it is not man’s place to inquire why he wishes it, has no validity against us because it assumes as obvious what is actually controversial, namely that your teaching is the word of God. Hence do not ply us with this response in the future unless you have first shown your assumption to be completely certain, whereas in fact it is not only doubtful but also condemned by the universities and the leading men of the church. (pp. 184-185)

But in fact we are not dealing with the word of God but rather with your interpretations and assertions. (p. 195)

Your insults know no bounds, and you do not approve of anything at all in a person who opposes your opinion. (p. 213)

This is the main point of this disputation, that you make us certain that you alone teach what is most true and most certain on issues about which up till now the orthodox Fathers have been deluded, the leaders of the church have been deluded. If you will not allow us to consider their judgment certain in any respect, certainly you will allow us simple and unlearned folk to give as much weight to the judgment of such men as to yours or Wyclif’s. But if you claim the right to rescind the decisions of the church in so far as you find it convenient to do so, you will permit the church also to give tit for tat by rescinding and condemning yours. And if you think it is right for the whoe assembly of the church, together with so many orthodox Fathers, to yield to you, a newly arisen prophet, you also ought to yield to the others who arise after you. (p. 222)

. . . why do you demand that we have faith in your writings, since you confess that you are at a loss in some places and since you sometimes bring forth varying interpretations — which you would hardly do if there were no obscurity or ambiguity. (p. 225)

Teach us the external clarity of Scripture, seeing that you take it away from the church herself and the luminaries of the church and claim it for yourself, throwing the world into the most tumultuous uproar. (p. 226)

And who would deny that those orthodox Fathers and the whole Christian people had common sense? It is more likely that you and your adherents lack common sense: you, because you rant and rave with such uncontrollable abuse against those who contradict your teachings even for the sake of discussion; your adherents, because with unrestrained factionalism in support of you they approve of whatever you have taught: ipse dixit. If you appeal to the Spirit, once more I demand a manifest sign. (p. 230)

If you respond that it is not surprising that such spiritual men sometimes perceived according to the flesh, the identical words of your response can be turned back against you. If you respond that the world is the kingdom of Satan, and therefore it is not surprising that so many great men throughout the long course of centuries were so blinded that they did not see the light of Scripture, all of this, with much more probability, will be turned back against you. For you too are carrying the flesh around with you, and you dwell in the world you share with them, in which Satan reigns. (p. 231)

But to press you to deal with the matter at hand, show us by what arguments we can be sure that you have the Spirit as your master and are not deceived in explaining Scripture, even though all the Doctors of the church were deluded about it. (p. 239)

. . . stop demanding that we consider your interpretation to be an oracle from on high. (p. 242)

. . . we do not dare to withdraw from our church and to commit our salvation to your faith. What sign do you show us that we should believe you rather than them? (p. 253)

And you want us to go right ahead and believe that for so many centuries the gospel has been shrouded by Satan, that it is now unveiled by you, and that there is no pure interpretation of Scripture anywhere but in Wittenberg. (p. 254)

Ity may be that you are such a man as you proclaim yourself to be, but we would be more ready to believe it if there were less arrogance in your writings, less bitterness, less trickery and craftiness. (p. 254)

This is what we demand: that you make us certain concerning your teaching — which you had taken upon yourself to do. If you can’t do it, allow us little sheep and simple souls to follow the voice of the church. . . . I have grave doubts about the spirit which is drunk from your writings. (p. 255)

. . . you claim for yourself in explicating Holy Scripture a privilege you withhold from others and . . . you ordinarily hiss at the distinctions of others but want your own to be considered oracular. For us you shut up every way out; and for yourself you want all your bolt-holes to be open. (p. 260)

And I hardly know whether you think there are any Christian teachings besides yours. (p. 276)


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