Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
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Erasmus of Christendom, by Roland H. Bainton. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1969. xii, 308 pp. $6.95. Reviewed by Wm. S. Barker, Associate Professor of History, Covenant College, Lookout Mountain, Tennessee.
As Bainton’s title indicates, Erasmus is increasingly becoming the 16th century man for an ecumenical 20th century. Although regarded as subversive by both the Protestants and the Romanists of the age of Reformation and Counter-Reformation, Erasmus represents for Bainton the kind of mediating piety which provides hope for reconciliation and reunion in our own day. The Evangelical reader will come away from this book with a greater appreciation for the heart of Erasmus and with a hope one day to see him in heaven, but also with a fuller understanding of why Luther found Erasmus so frustrating and with a conviction that while Erasmus’ way may win in the 20th century—as it did not in the 15th—it is not the way to genuine reform of the church.
Roland Bainton’s works are always a delight to read, not least because of the contemporary illustrations that one has come to expect to decorate his pages. This book does not disappoint in this regard. While it is not as big a book as might have been anticipated—it is not a biography including every minute detail discoverable about the subject’s life, but rather a chronological essay concentrating on the intellectual issues in which Erasmus was involved—it nevertheless fulfills Bainton’s purpose of giving Erasmus his due by including in one volume the results of the scholarly concentration on this figure in recent years. It should promptly become a standard work on Erasmus, and beyond that it is a book which everyone seriously interested in the Reformation and its relevance today should seek to absorb.
Erasmus sought to be Biblical although the classical heritage always had a strong influence on him. It was his edition of the Greek Testament and re-translation of it into Latin which pleased and proved so useful to Luther. It was his Paraphrases of the New Testament which Edward VI had placed in all the churches of England. He was sincerely interested in reforming the evils in the church to which he was so sensitive. His sensitivity was almost totally in the ethical area, however, almost to the exclusion of doctrinal concern. While he reveres the cross, to him Jesus is primarily the teacher—not only by precept, but by example of humility, of love, of kindness, of mercy, of peace. He claims to agree with Luther on justification by faith, yet he certainly does not agree with Luther on
JETS 14:1 (Winter 1971) p. 52
the importance of this doctrine. Bainton sees all of this clearly and points out Erasmus’ failure to see the ...
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