A Review of My Dear Erasmus: The Forgotten Reformer
It is generally believed that the Reformation began in l5l7 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Church door. However, event builds upon event throughout history. Luther’s important work was but one high point in the stream of many awakenings to Biblical truth that God brought about over many years.
Bentley-Taylor focuses on Erasmus and his contributions as a reformer prior to l5l7. The author quotes extensively from Erasmus’s voluminous correspondence to leaders throughout Europe . The excerpts let us see his struggles, joys, and sorrows in his tumultuous times.
Erasmus was born in l469 in Rotterdam in the Netherlands . Orphaned at thirteen, he was essentially pushed into the monastic life by relatives. He evidenced a love of learning quite early and carried this love for scholarship throughout his life. Although he spent much time studying Latin and Greek classics, he had a deeper love for God’s word. This knowledge of scripture found fruition in a number of books that were well received by the public. The books and reprints spread throughout Western Europe and influenced many whom God would use in the days of Reformation. Following in the footsteps of Jerome, whom he greatly admired, he translated the New Testament from Greek into Latin. (Jerome had earlier translated the Old Testament into Latin.) He also labored to produce paraphrases of Romans and other New Testament books.
God used Erasmus to show much that was errant in the Roman Catholic Church. Erasmus realized the need for a heart that is flaming with the gospel. He rejected the veneration of relics and vestments as evidence of spiritual superiority.
Although his writings supported Reformation truths, he refused to support Luther. Instead he tried to steer a middle course between mainline Catholicism and Reformation teaching. As one might expect, the middle course pleased no one. Luther’s supporters and opponents each accused Erasmus of being on the other’s side. The continual attacks filled him with distress. However, he faithfully sought to maintain his stand in the midst of the crossfire.
The author provides a good look at the scholar Erasmus and the ecclesiastical joys and trials he faced. The numerous and lengthy quotes from Erasmus’s correspondence allow the reader to feel the pulse of the Reformation as Erasmus encountered it. His struggles did not cause him to deny salvation by grace or the importance of a changed heart.
This book does not cover the final ten years of his life because those letters are not yet available.
This volume provides a revealing look behind the scenes at Luther’s stance and at the important contributions that Erasmus made to the Reformation. His failure to stand with Luther has likely hindered history’s appreciation of his contributions in the succeeding centuries. Bentley-Taylor’s book is a great aid to increase our knowledge of this forgotten reformer.
Topics: Biography, Church History, Reformed Thought