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Document Details :
Title: Erasme et sa doctrine du mariage chrétien
Author(s): BEDOUELLE, Guy
Journal: Marriage, Families & Spirituality
Volume: 7 Issue: 2 Date: 2001
Erasmus and his Teaching on Christian Marriage
That which we currently call the theology and spirituality of marriage occupies a significant place in the work of Erasmus. Erasmus, the humanist of Rotterdam (c. 14691536), treated this subject explicitly in his essays, such as the Institution of Christian Marriage (1526), and more obliquely in his commentaries on Scripture and in his Colloquies. Because his positions were often violently criticized by some theologians of his day, one finds a defense of his positions in his polemical works.
Erasmus affirms the traditional hierarchy of the states of life that sees virginity as a higher state than marriage and marriage as higher than the single life. He enriches this conception by adding that one's state of life is of no consequence unless it is lived in a spirit of piety. For Erasmus, "piety" is the personal engagement for Christ and for the Gospel. Erasmus, while continuously claiming to be faithful to the teaching of the Church, proposes a vision of marriage which can seem astonishingly modern. In fact, he finds the ultimate foundation of marriage, which he considers a sacrament, not in the consent of the spouses, but in their mutual love, which he calls "the conjugal love of souls". This view is not without its consequences for his conception of divorce. Erasmus, who considers marriage as a means of salvation in which women have a particular role to play, has a broader conception of the ways in which the destruction of this mutual love can break the union of marriage: adultery is one such way. He even suggests that the innocent party might remarry. The sacrament takes root in the mutual love and reciprocal affection of the couple.
Erasmus understands well the theological and canonical difficulties that his conception entails. One can accuse him of a certain subjectivism. But he can be credited for his emphasis on the necessity for piety in each state of life. According to the "prince of humanists", even before the true call to the religious lifegiven that, in his respect for the Tradition, he allows this the preeminence of honormarriage is the privileged and normal state in which to live the Christian existence.