Thursday, March 03, 2016

HBU Erasmus Conference Notes: Lecture 4: Herman Selderhuis on Erasmus' Influence on the Reformation (2.27.16)

Image:  Dr. Selderhuis ponders a question during the Q & A session after his lecture.

Lecture 4:  Herman Selderhuis, The Impact of Erasmus’ Biblical Work on the Reformation

Note:  Selderhuis is professor of Church History at the Theological University Apeldoorn in the Netherlands, author of John Calvin:  A Pilgrim’s Life, and president of the International Calvin Congress (among other distinctions).

I have also posted the audio of this lecture to (look here).

Image:  Anonymous Dutch engraving t'Licht is op den kandelaer gestelt (c. 1640-1684).

HS started with a picture (above) of Reformers sitting at a table around a candle with RCs attempting to blow it out.  Who is missing?  Erasmus.  Where should he be, with the papists or reformers?  In the end he was rejected by both Protestants and RCs.  HS says he should be on the Reformers’ side.

1.  Philosophia Christi

HS questions whether Erasmus was really more interested in the Latin than the Greek with his Novum Instrumentum.  He wanted to make the Bible accessible to all.  He wanted to pursue a Biblical based spirituality.

He gives an interesting quote from Erasmus in which he pointed to the Muslim devotion to the Koran and said Christians should correspondingly be committed to the Bible.

He gives a quote where Erasmus says he wishes the Bible to be in vernacular:  “I vehemently dissent from those who would not have private persons read the Holy Scriptures nor have them translated into the vulgar tongues…  I should like all women to read the Gospel and the Epistles of Paul.  Would that they were translated into all languages…..”

2.  Hermeneutics

Erasmus’ Annotations were included with the Greek and Latin text.  He propagated ad fontes but not without his own fontes!

Erasmus said God intentionally put obscure things in the Bible but he would explain these.

His rule for how to read Scripture was the loci method.

He also published his Paraphrases.

He used the “accommodation” method.  He believed each word conveyed a message.  God’s people have forgotten God, because they have neglected the NT.  This why the text and grammar are so important.  He urged his contemporaries not to seek Christ in relics but in text.  This is the grammatical-rhetorical method.  Translations are helpful but we must read the originals.

Erasmus:  “Latin scholarship, however elaborate, is maimed and reduced by half without Greek…..”

3.  Samples of Reformers

Luther makes use of Erasmus as soon as his work appears.

Erasmus’ Annotations were influential.  Example:  In Ephesians he notes that the text says marriage is a mysterion not a sacramentum.  He asks, Does this mean marriage is not a sacrament?  Erasmus asks but does not answer.  HS suggests his low view of his birth made him unwilling to give answers.

Zwingli had many works of Erasmus in his library.  He knew the whole NT in Greek.  He said Erasmus deserved praise.

Philip Melanchthon, whom Erasmus called Ille graeculuos, that little Greek guy, also read Erasmus.

Martin Bucer owned many books of Erasmus.  His influence is seen in Bucer’s exegetical works.  Compare his views on marriage and divorce.  Bucer listed 15 grounds for divorce.

Menno Simons.  He used Erasmus’ work as a tool.

John Calvin was perhaps the most faithful follower of Erasmus.  He often disagrees with him, but even these show his interest in his work.  Erasmus’ influence is seen in Calvin’s use of the concept of “accommodation.”

4.  Claritas Scripturae

Erasmus believed God put obscurity in text on purpose.  Some things could not be understood.  This is why there must be church authority of there will be exegetical chaos (as among Protestants).  At the same time, Erasmus often questioned church interpretations and spoke of the value of individual interpretation.

5.  Conclusion

HS noted the following in conclusion on Erasmus’s Biblical work and its influence on the Reformation:

Intensive but independent.
Philology not exegesis.
Methodology not theology.
Power of the text..
Ad fontes.
Theological curriculum.
Knowledge of Hebrew (I think he was pointing out that Erasmus did not learn Hebrew and that, though known today for tolerance, he was, in fact, often anti-Semitic).

JTR Analysis:

This was a very solid and thoughtful presentation.  IMHO, it was the best plenary talk of the conference.  HS pointed out how the significance of Erasmus for the Reformation is not merely his production of the first printed Greek text, but his method, including his focus on the importance of the original language, text criticism, the focus on verbal communication (each word important), etc. 

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