Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Radical Reformation: George Huntston Williams


a. Desiderius Erasmus. The humanist of Rotterdam, who in 1516 entered the service of Charles as royal counselor at the Burgundian court in Brussels, and for this purpose was relieved by the pope in 1517 of his responsibilities as Augustinian canon, went through the Lutheran revolt from the same apostolic prince as the arbiter of Christian humanism for both sides. It is not so well recognized that he was also a patron of the Radical Reformation. We may confine our reference to those features in the personality and work of Erasmus which have special significance for our narrative.

In the very year that Erasmus accepted his post as Burgundian counselor he published his epoch-making Greek New Testament with a classical Latin translation, and significantly began his long series of patristic editions with his first volume of his favorite, Jerome. Henceforth, the northern humanist was to do for the ancient Christian sources what his more classically oriented col¬leagues among the Italian humanists had been doing for the discovery, preservation, and publication of Greek and Roman literature. The works of Jerome were completed in nine volumes by 1518, of Hilary of Poitiers in 1523, of Epiphanius in 1524, of Irenaeus (so important for the Radical Reformation) and of Augustine in 1526, and of Chrysostom in 1530. Erasmus was to die supervising the printing of the works of Origen in the same town, Basel, where in the same year, 1536, Calvin (so at variance with both Erasmus and Origen on the questions of free will and predestination) would be bringing out his Institutes.

A notable feature of Erasmus' critical edition of the New Testament was the elimination from the traditional text of 1 John 5:7 of its initial Trinitarian phrase, "There are three that bear record in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one." Not discovering it included in his Greek manuscripts or cited by the early fathers of the church, Erasmus expunged the verse current in the Vulgate translation. Moreover, in commenting on the Gospel of John, Erasmus observed that the term "God" in the New Testament, without further specificity, should be construed to apply to God the Father. Because of Erasmus, I John 5:7 was to be omitted from the older Anabaptist vernacular versions of the Bible."

Erasmus, trained in the school of the Devotio Moderna, was not philosophically inclined, but belonged, generally speaking, to the scholastic Moderni (nominalists). Becoming specific on the dogma of Nicaea and the Fourth Lateran Council, he declared, "According to dialectical logic [in the context of nominalism], it is possible to say there are three gods, but to announce this to the untutored would give great offense.” In his Latin version of the New Testament he eschewed, in the Prologue to John's Gospel, the Vulgate Verbum for the Greek Logos, and, under the guise of improved classical elegance, substituted for it the philosophically denuded and theologically neutral sermo. All the while, he insisted that he was disposed to leave theological subtlety on the doctrine of the Trinity to one side, remarking in his edition of Hilary of Poitiers, later to be employed by Servetus:
Is it not possible to have fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, without being able to explain philosophically the distinction between them and between the Nativity of the Son and the procession of the Holy Spirit? If I believe the tradition that there are three of one natura[!], what is the use of labored disputation? If I do not believe, I shall not be persuaded by any human reasons....You will not be damned if you do not know whether the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son has one or two beginnings, but you will not escape damnation if you do not cultivate the fruits of the Spirit, which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, mercy, faith, modesty, continence, and chastity....The sum of our religion is peace and unanimity, but these can scarcely stand unless we define as little as possible, and in many things leave each one free to follow his own judgment, because there is great obscurity on these matters.
Not only in his stress upon the New Testament and ancient Christian sources and in his casualness about the Nicene-Lateran formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity, but also in other doctrines and attitudes, Erasmus would be presently ap¬pealed to by diverse leaders of the Radical Reformation. This was true of his opposition to the monastic vow and his reconcep¬tion of marriage (Ch. 20), his understanding of both Baptism and Communion (Ch. 2.1), his (qualified) pacifism, and his insistence on the practical freedom of the will. It must suffice in the present chapter to round out the picture with something on the last two features.

In his Querela Pacis, published the year after his Greek New Testament, Erasmus combined evangelical, classical, and pruden¬tial arguments for the restraint of war and the limitation of even the so-called "just" war.” He appealed to the Stoic idea of the harmony of the spheres, to the example of the irrational beasts that are never predatory on their own kind, and to the Stoic-patristic ideal of the unity of mankind, among whom reason and equity should prevail; and he vividly pointed up the futility and the inhumanity of actual warfare, as in his Dulce bellum inexpertis of 1525..

His conviction about man's capacity to use his own resources and specifically his free will to work out his own salvation was expounded in his first explicit attack on the predestinarianism of the Reformation in 1524, Diatribe de libero arbitrio, to which Luther replied in his celebrated delineation of the bondage of the will in the realm of salvation (1525). So deeply was Erasmus disappointed in the turn which Luther's reform was taking that he sadly declared: "I shall bear therefore with this [the medieval] Church until I shall see a better one.”

Erasmus nevertheless hoped he would be able in his program of returning to the sources so to freshen this church that, while it would retain an allegiance to the bishop of Rome, it would also be brought close to the ancient apostolic pattern and would then indeed constitute a "Third Church," different alike from the Renaissance-corrupted papacy of his own day and the belligerent and predestinarian Reformation church with which Erasmus could not make common cause. The "Third Church," with its slightly eschatological overtone, might be taken, if not as the slogan, at least as the program of Catholic Evangelism.

b. Erasmianism in Spain. Cardinal Ximenes, who had variously demonstrated his learning, his soldierly virtue, and his zeal for reform (for example, his opposition to Leo X's great indulgence, and his swift implementation of the meager reforming and educational canons of the Fifth Lateran Council [Ch. 1.3.a] even before its adjournment), on two occasions sought unsuccessfully to persuade Erasmus to make an extended visit to Spain. But Erasmianism, reinforced by certain impulses from local human¬ism and Illuminism, spread in Spain without the personal visit.

At the older Universities of Salamanca and Valladolid, and especially at Alcala, the new foundation (1508) of Cardinal Ximenes, Biblical, classical, and grammatical studies had been flourishing well before the impact of Erasmus. Six professors of philology taught at Alcala, where according to Erasmus, the most signal accomplishment of European scholarship were being made, foremost among them the Complutensian (=Alcalan) Polyglot Bible, the Greek New Testament in 1514, the Hebrew text in 1517. Ximenes, the instigator, died just eight days after Luther posted his theses.

Erasmus' works were apparently not available in Spain before 1516. The first definite notice in 1518 is of the Institutio prin¬cipis christiani. In 1520 a Spanish translation of his Querela Pacis appeared. Spanish interest in his works rapidly increased when he was learnedly attacked by one of the Polyglot trans¬lators, Diego Lopez Zuniga, for certain features of his New Testa¬ment. Erasmus' edition differed from the Spanish in stressing the pre-eminence of the original Greek text, whereas in Alcala the Greek text was printed facing the Latin of the authorized Vul¬gate. In spite of numerous attempts by his opponents to prove him a Lutheran, Erasmus sustained his reputation in Spain, espe-cially when Charles arrived with a suite of Flemish humanists in 1522, and it was further enhanced when the De libero arbitrio (1524) revealed the point at which humanism, with its return to the sources, and reformation, by solafideism, parted company. In Spain as elsewhere it was recognized that Erasmian philosophia Christi was quite different from Lutheran justification by faith.

Thus differentiated, the Erasmian third party, in Spain as elsewhere in Romance lands, did not easily come apart in the tension between Rome and Wittenberg.

In many cases indigenous Illuminism and cosmopolitan Eras¬mianism found in Spain the same patron, as, for example, the Marquis of Villena, Don Pacheco, to whom John de Valdes dedicated his first extant work. Erasmus and the Illuminists coincided in their interpretation of the death of Christ as a glorious, not a sorrowful, event, and spurned the practice of meditating on the sufferings of the crucified Lord. In his anno¬tations to the New Testament, Erasmus says:
Jesus wanted his death to be glorious and not sad; he did not want us to weep over it, but to adore it, because he voluntarily faced it for the salvation of the whole world....If Christ had wished us to grieve at his death after the vulgar fashion, why, when he was carrying his cross, did he reprove the daughters of Jerusalem?
These words were censured by the Sorbonne as impious, and the Spanish Inquisition condemned a similar tendency among the Illuminists.

c. The Erasmian Brothers Valdes and Michael Servetus. The hope of a Catholic Europe to save itself from shipwreck on the rocks of nationalism and religious particularism was expressed by twin followers of Erasmus, Alphonse and John de Valdes, born near Toledo in the same year as the Emperor, 1500. Significantly, it was Spain, which had never been a part of the Holy Roman Empire, that was after 1517 the headquarters of the attempt to preserve the theory and the usages of the Empire as a universal society symbolically embracing all Christendom.

The two brothers played an important part, one in the ad¬ministrative, the other in the religious, life of Charles's realms. Sons of a distinguished family, they profited by an education under the Italian humanist Peter Martyr d'Anghiera (1457-1526). In 1520, Alphonse saw Charles crowned Emperor at Aachen, and returned to Spain full of enthusiasm for the new ruler. He recognized in the Lutheran movement a threat, not so much to the church, as to the Empire. In 1524, Alphonse was engaged by Charles as imperial secretary while his brother John was still studying at the university in Alcala. Sometime between 1527 and 1529, Alphonse published with John's collaboration two dialogues (between Mercury and Charon; between Lactancio and an Archdeacon) which were proimperial and antipapal in tone, justifying the sack of Rome by imperial troops and castigating the vices of the higher clergy: "To be a bishop means to wear a white surplice, to say mass with a mitre on one's head, and gloves and rings on one's fingers, to command one's clerics, to protect one's incomes, and spend them at will, to have many servants, to be anointed with salve, and to give benefices.” In 1531 a Spanish inquisitor would point out that the pages in Mercurio y Caron on the life of perfected Christians had made Alphonse suspect of affinity with the Alumbrados.

In 1529, John published, at Alcala, A Dialogue on Chris¬tian Doctrine, actually a meditation on the Lord's Prayer, his only religious work of which the original Spanish text survives. In it an idealized archbishop of Granada discusses with two interlocutors (one of them the monk Eusebio, who is really Valdes) the seven petitions of the Lord's Prayer. The archbishop begins by acknowledging the legitimacy of certain Illuminist practices, namely, praying without audible words, books, or beads, so long as this is a matter of spontaneous preference rather than a conventicular requirement. In commenting on the first petition, "Hallowed be thy name," Valdes enunciates a basic principle of Catholic Evangelism: "God's name is sanctified, when we sanctify ourselves." He does not interpret the petition for daily bread eucharistically, regarding it rather as "the heavenly bread" of grace, "from which eat only those to whom God has forgiven their sins." In a passage which anticipates his distinctive doctrine of the atonement (to be elaborated by Bernardine Ochino and then Faustus Socinus), a passage which incidentally throws light on the ethos and religious temper of his day, Valdes writes:
And something else should be kept in mind here: we are not worthy to have our sins forgiven just because we forgive our debtors, those who offend us, but because God wanted to forgive us through his in¬finite goodness and mercy; under these conditions we are forgiven. So, it is necessary to forgive our neighbors in order that God may forgive us, but let us not think that God forgives us because we forgive, be¬cause this will amount to attributing to ourselves what should be at¬tributed only to God. I know some people that, even though thinking of themselves as very holy and wise, when they feel some enmity against somebody, not wishing to forgive them, they do not pray this part of the Pater Noster, but skip it.
Concerning the persistence of evil and temptation even among those who regularly pray, Valdes expressly refers to Erasmus' recovery of the meaning that makes the most sense of the seventh petition: "Erasmus, in his translation of the New Testament, says: ‘Deliver us from the evil one,' that is, from the devil." There is also, even in this early work, a phraseology which sug¬gests the spirit of Luther as much as the leaven of Erasmus.

Valdes' Dialogue was immediately the occasion of a suit against him, but, because of the influence of his family and the favor of the Erasmian party, he was not directly condemned. His de¬tractors thereupon started a second action against him, and he left for Naples, as yet free of the Spanish Inquisition. The Dia¬logue was condemned in his absence.

The twin brothers Valdes were not alone among educated young Spaniards who pinned their hopes for a rejuvenated Europe on the young Charles, himself moved by a sense of Catholic destiny. After the sack of Rome in 1527, Charles resolved to make another attempt to rally the papacy to its ecumenical duties by accepting papal confirmation of his imperial dignity at a coronation in Bologna. On this festive occasion, there was present besides Alphonse de Valdes another thoughtful young Spaniard in the imperial suite, Michael Servetus.

At the age of fourteen, Servetus had come under the patron¬age of John de Quintana (d. 1534), a Franciscan, a doctor of the Sorbonne, and a member of the Cortes of Aragon. Quintana was a man of irenic spirit, prepared to make attempts to reconcile the Lutherans to the Roman Church. He enabled Servetus to spend the years 1528-1529 studying law at the University of Toulouse.

There, Servetus, as a Spaniard brought up in contact with Moriscos and Marranos, was taunted with charges of heterodoxy in the militantly orthodox university. He thereupon devoted much of his time to Biblical studies in an effort to reinforce his own orthodoxy in respect to Christology and the doctrine of the Trinity, theologically the chief points of controversy between Christendom and the two Semitic religions which, until 1492, had been so prominent. This research led him to the unexpected discovery that the doctrine of the Trinity was nowhere clearly enunciated in the Bible. It is also very likely that even at this early date he was at work on the problem of great concern to many earnest Spanish Catholics as to why the sacramental water of baptism so often had no potency with the Marranos, a problem which lie would eventually solve in advocating complete immersion at Jesus' baptismal age of thirty (Ch. 11.1).

When Quintana was appointed chaplain to the Emperor in 1529, he took Servetus with him to Bologna for the reconciliation with Clement VII and for the double coronation. On 22 February the pope placed the iron crown of Lombardy on Charles’ head, and two days later, on precisely his thirtieth birthday, in a kind of epiphany of the last Christian head of the disintegrating corpus christianum, Charles received the imperial diadem, while the Count Palatine, the only German prince present at the liturgical investment, carried the Reichsapfel. Never had this ancient symbol of universal Christian dominion been more aptly descriptive of a Holy Roman Emperor’s global sway than at the coronation of the ruler of two hemispheres. And yet, within four months he would be confronting at Augsburg in the heart of Christendom that determined opposition of princes and divines who, in their support of Luther, had but recently taken the name Protestant. Within the decade, from his election as Emperor to his coronation, Charles had seen, without realizing it, that the Christian globe itself had become irrev-ocably severed into two hemispheres.

Servetus, whose legal studies had originally, as with Alphonse de Valdes, inclined him to favor the Emperor as at once the symbol and the executor of a united Christendom, was dismayed to see Charles humble himself before Pope Clement, who was "borne in pomp on the necks of princes…and adored in the open streets by all the people on bended knee, so that those who were able to kiss his feet or slippers counted themselves more fortunate than the rest, and declared that they had obtained many indulgences, and that on his account the infernal pains would be remitted for many years. O vilest of all beasts, most brazen of harlots!”

Disappointed in the Emperor, Alphonse died of the plague in 1532, while John de Valdes and Servetus turned to a spiritual reform. Servetus, following the Spiritual Franciscans, predicted that the papacy would have to be destroyed as a precondition of the restoration of Christianity; he left Quintana and the imperial court, finally reaching Basel, where he lived for ten months with its Reformer John Oecolampadius.

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