By Dave Armstrong (8-24-09)
This claim seems to come up not infrequently. Perhaps Erasmus said a few unorthodox things here and there. I don't know. I haven't read every word of his. But what I have found on this score confirms his orthodoxy. Here is an exchange on the Coming Home Network Board with Brian T., a member:
On another board, I and some others (including a Catholic) were discussing Erasmus. The others (including the Catholic) were basically saying that Erasmus wasn't Catholic because 1. he opposed those in authority, 2. he did not affirm the infallibility of the Pope, and 3. he had some doubts about the canonicity of certain books of the Bible. I maintained that he was Catholic, because he opposed the abuse/behavior of those in authority, not the authority itself, and that infallibility of the Pope and canonicity of the books of the Bible was not ecumenically affirmed until councils that occurred after his death (and that given his statements on adherence to the church, he would have submitted to the Church -- as Jerome did -- if he had lived to see those councils). Now, I'm no expert on Erasmus, but am I basically correct? Or do I have to go back and apologize?
I recall Erasmus saying that he always intended to uphold the teaching and orthodoxy of the Catholic Church. This is one reason he was horrified by Luther's rhetoric and the whole Protestant revolt: because he was at heart a traditionalist. He could criticize hypocrisy and corruption in the Church without throwing out its doctrines, as Luther and other Protestants did. I think you're essentially right and they are wrong.
Thanks Dave, I will be going through these links, not just for Erasmus information in general, but also as part of my ongoing study of what really went on during the Reformation. As for Erasmus himself, another source is The Life and Letters of Erasmus, compiled by Froude in the 1800s. Here are some of the things Erasmus said as recorded in some of his letters in that book (I did not find these myself, I collected these as a result of a Google search):
"As to the Eucharist, let the old opinion stand till a council has provided a new revelation. The Eucharist is only adored so far as Christ is supposed to be present there as God. The human nature is not adored, but the Divine nature, which is Omnipresent. The thing to be corrected is the abuse of the administration." (Life and Letters of Erasmus, p. 345)
"Such problems may be discussed among the learned. For the vulgar it is enough to believe that the real body and blood of our Lord are actually present." (ibid., p. 386)
"From the time when I was a child I have been a devoted worshipper of St. Anne. I composed a hymn to her when I was young, and the hymn I now send to you, another Anne. I send to you, besides, a collection of prayers to the Holy Virgin. They are not spells to charm the moon out of the sky, but they will bring down out of Heaven her who brought forth the Sun of Righteousness. She is easy to approach. (ibid., p. 86)"
"I have sought to save the dignity of the Roman Pontiff, the honour of Catholic theology, and the welfare of Christendom." (ibid., p. 262)
"I have not deviated in what I have written one hair's breadth from the Church's teaching." (ibid., p. 162)
"I am not so mad as to fly in the face of the Vicar of Christ." (ibid., pp. 271-272)
"The Holy See needs no support from such a worm as I am, but I shall declare that I mean to stand by it." (ibid., p. 270)
"The Pope's authority as Christ's Vicar must be upheld." (ibid., p. 275)
"You may assure yourself that Erasmus has been, and always will be, a faithful subject of the Holy See." (ibid., p. 279)
"The Lutherans alternately courted me and menaced me. For all this, I did not move a finger's breadth from the teaching of the Roman Church." (ibid., p. 340)
"I will bear anything before I forsake the Church." (ibid., p. 355)
"But never will I be tempted or exasperated into deserting the true communion.... I will not forsake the Church myself, I would forfeit life and reputation sooner.... Doubtless I have wished that popes and bishops and cardinals were more like the apostles, but never in thought have I desired those offices be abolished. There may be arguments about the Real Presence, but I will never believe the Christ would have allowed the Church to remain so long in such an error (if error it be) as to worship a wafer for God." (ibid., p. 365)
"they sing the old song. Erasmus laughs at the saints, despises the sacraments, denies the faith, is against clerical celibacy, monks' vows, and human institutions. Erasmus paved the way for Luther. So they gabble; and it is all lies." (ibid., p. 421)
Also, from Protestant historian Philip Schaff's History of the Christian Church, vol. 6:
Here it is enough to say that Erasmus desired a reformation by gradual education and gentle persuasion within the limits of the old Church system. . . . He and Luther never met, and he emphatically disavowed all responsibility for Luther’s course and declared he had had no time to read Luther’s books. . . .Erasmus never intended to separate from Rome any more than his English friends, John Colet and Thomas More. He declared he had never departed from the judgment of the Church, nor could he. "Her consent is so important to me that I would agree with the Arians and Pelagians if the Church should approve what they taught." This he wrote in 1526 after the open feud with Luther in the controversy over the freedom of the will.
(§ 69. Reuchlin and Erasmus.)