The Free Will Controversy

Between the years of 1524 and 1527, Erasmus Desiderius and Martin Luther were tangled up in an interesting controversy (Bainton 187). This controversy surprisingly did not involve the authority of the pope, the nature of the church, indulgences, or any of the other practices that each man equally detested. It involved the philosophical topic regarding the question of free or enslaved will (Faulkner 171). Preserved Smith defines free will as the power to apply ones self to the things that make for salvation (348). This controversy was bound to happen for a number of reasons. First of all, Luther was becoming violent in his words and actions in general. Secondly, Luther made himself a target by his assertion in the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518. Lutherís exact words were, "Free will, after the fall, even when doing the best it can, commits a mortal sin." These two factors led Erasmus to speak out against Luther in De Libero Artitrio (On Free Will).

Luther eventually answered back furiously in De Servo Arbitrio (On Enslaved Will) (Bainton 186-7). This was a superior work which explains to historians why Luther prevails in the end (Zweig 139).

Erasmus was one of the most intelligent people of his century. Today however, he remains in the minds of most people as nothing more than another name (Zweig 3). In his time, he was the leader of all scholars in Europe from Germany to Italy and Spain and from England to Hungary as well. He stands above the other humanists and forerunners of the reformation (Schaff 402). His great mission was to bring back the spirit of classical and Christian Antiquity (Smith 33-4). Preserved Smith describes the first part of his life, specifically until 1524, as being "progressive and reformatory;" the second, until his death in 1536, he says was, "conservative and reactionary" (402). He is described as being somewhat of a nomad, never staying in the same place for more than eight years (48). Compared to his contemporaries, Erasmus did more than his share in preparing the church for the reformation (Schaff 402).

Historians refer to Erasmus as the, "illegitimate" son of a Dutch priest named Gerard, and Margaret (Schaff 404). He was born in Rotterdam on October 27, in the 1466 or 1467 (Faulkner 30). He received his early education at Utrecht and then at Deventer where he began to impress people with his talents. Within him was a love was a passion for books and at the age of just 12, he knew Horace and Terence by memory (Schaff 404). When his father died, he was taken care of by three guardians. Their goal was to have him become a priest which gave them the power to rob him of his inheritance. They placed him in the house of the Brethren of the Common Life at Hertogenbusch. While there, Erasmus calls their houses as, "seminaries of monasticism," and refers to their teachers as a, "destruction to good intellect." They did not come close to destroying Erasmusís intellect. A few years later, his guardians convinced him to enter a monastery. He entered the Augustinian monastery against his will where he would spend five extremely unhappy years (Faulkner 323). After this, Erasmus went on to achieve his fame in doing the things he always wanted to do (Schaff 407-9).

Despite the fact that Erasmus and Luther had many difference, there were ways in which they were similar. Both of them advocated a return to antiquity and an excitement for the golden age of Christianity and pagan Rome. They both had an interest in revolts against the mediaeval scholasticism. Another similarity lies in their child-hoods. They were both born into an era of individualism. Also, they grew up in cities that had recently developed in the same bourgeois class (Smith 321).

Many differences between these two men led to their quarrel. Some of these differences were physical. Luther was the son of a minor. This along with his inborn energies made him the rougher of the two. Luther is quoted as saying, "I gorge like a Bohemian and gulp down my liquor like a German" (Zweig 132). Luther also spoke in a powerful German voice that was full of vigor (133). Erasmus on the other hand was seen as