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Title: Erasmus' uitleg van het Symbolum apostolorum
Author(s): WEILER, A.G.
Journal: Tijdschrift voor Theologie
Volume: 57    Issue: 3   Date: 2017   
Pages: 217-233
DOI: 10.2143/TVT.57.3.3245474

Abstract :
This article tries to establish Erasmus’ position in theological debates of his day. It focusses on the philosophia Christi in particular, Jesus’ philosophy which, to Erasmus, was of bigger importance than any analysis of theological concepts. The article starts by examining Erasmus’ formative years in Gouda, Deventer and Den Bosch, where he lived with the Brethren of the Common Life. Although there can be no doubt that Erasmus was influenced by the spirituality of the Devotia Moderna, the extent of this influence is still a matter of contention. Augustijn’s views with regard to this are discussed extensively in this essay. Erasmus was rather displeased with the way theology was taught in Paris (he stayed there between 1495 and 1499). His first trip to England in 1499 is of major importance, as on this occasion he met John Colet who introduced him to an entirely different theology, starting from Scripture. In his Enchiridion militis christiani (1st edition 1504) Erasmus first elaborated on his ideas about a good Christian life. In his dispute with Luther on the free will vs. the bondage of the will, Erasmus is of the opinion that man does have a free will, even though this could never have existed outside the framework of divine grace. In a way, this put Erasmus close to the nominalist adage: ‘God will not withhold His grace from those who really try’. He believes the scholastic tradition fails to see the most important aspect: the transformation in Christ. The next question is whether Erasmus actually had his own theology. As he himself puts it, he is interested in a way of living, taking Christ as the great example. In his Enchiridion, he tries to explain this to simple folk. His explanation of the confession of faith clearly shows Erasmus’ approach: a personal study that takes the form of a dialogue between a (religious) pupil and the catechist, in which the symbolum and the Ten Commandments are discussed. He believes this text contains the entire philosophy of a pious life, also mentioning ethical obligations – such as honoring your father and mother. He also uses this dialogue to set out his vision on (peace and) war: his rather uncompromising pacifism is clear from the start. He says, for example, that even a just war is murder, although in this case it is the law rather than man, that kills. After murder, adultery is probably the worst thing we can do to a fellow human being, and Erasmus addresses the subject in his dialogue. Next, he discusses theft, the sins of the tongue (e.g. perjury) and the cravings of the mind. The latter, he believes, are almost as bad as the acts themselves. So apart from the importance Erasmus attaches to the philosophia Christi, this Explanatio – his explanation of the symbolum and the commandments – shows that he took his lead from Jesus’ dictum, 'If you want to enter life, keep the commandments'.

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