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Erasmus On Soldiers

Erasmus on Soldiers

“Who could possibly tell how many hardships these idiots of soldiers put up with in their camps? And they deserve worse just for being willing to put up with them.” ~ Erasmus

In the first of my articles on Erasmus (“Erasmus on the Evils of War”), I wrote a brief introduction to Erasmus and his works on war and peace that should be read to better understand what Erasmus has to say here about the wickedness of soldiers.

No matter what subject he is writing about, Erasmus has absolutely nothing good to say about soldiers. Indeed, as the translator and annotator of one of Erasmus’ Colloquies wrote: “Erasmus seldom missed an opportunity to satirize soldiers or to attack their wickedness.”

In a 1514 letter to Antoon van Bergen asks us to consider the instruments of war: “I pray you: murderers, profligates devoted to gambling and rape, and the vilest sort of mercenary soldiery to whom pay is dearer that life. These are splendid material in war; for then they earn rewards and glory for doing what they were doing at their own peril before. These are the dregs of mankind whom you must welcome into your countryside and towns alike if you have a mind to make war. In brief, if we seek to take vengeance upon another, to such as these must we enslave ourselves.”

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Erasmus On Christianity And War: Christian War Fever

Erasmus on Christianity and War: Christian War Fever

“I simply admit that I have written some rather distasteful things for the purpose of frightening Christians away from the insanity of war, for I observed that the largest part of the evils of the Christian community take their origin from the wars which we have seen for all too many years.” ~ Erasmus

In the first of my articles on Erasmus (“Erasmus on the Evils of War”), I wrote a brief introduction to Erasmus and his works on war and peace that should be read to better understand what Erasmus has to say here about Christianity and war.

Erasmus had much to say regarding Christianity and war. This is especially relevant today considering the level of Christian support for the U.S. government’s wars and military interventions.

In his The Education of a Christian Prince, Erasmus condemns Christian war fever:

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Erasmus On The Evils Of War

Erasmus on the Evils of War

“Since we see that there is hardly ever any respite from wars, which normally arise from the ambition or anger of princes and thus are usually fought for the worst reasons, in my writings I frequently frighten people away from warfare, and in doing so I follow the example of the ancient Doctors of the church.” ~ Erasmus

The Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus (c.1466-1536) was one of the most prolific writers in history. It has been said that in him we see the union of classical scholarship with Christian piety. The eclectic nature of his writings is quite remarkable. Since 1974, the University of Toronto Press has been in the process of issuing “an accurate, readable English text of Erasmus’ correspondence and his other principal writings in an edition of 89 volumes.” New and used copies of most of the available volumes can be found on Amazon.

In a letter written in 1500, Erasmus correctly related the significance of his writings:

Please explain to her [Lady Anna van Borssele] how much greater is the glory she can acquire from me, by my literary works, than from the other theologians in her patronage. They merely deliver humdrum sermons; I am writing books that may last for ever. Their uneducated nonsense finds an audience in perhaps a couple of churches; my books will be read all over the world, in the Latin west and in the Greek east and by every nation.

In a letter written in 1515, Erasmus explained that he wrote in order to serve “some useful purpose.” One of the most useful purposes of Erasmus’s writings is the insight he gives on war and peace. As the translator and annotator of one of Erasmus’ Colloquies wrote: “His writings had little or no direct political effect. Nevertheless as a propagandist for peace he produced some of the best and most widely read arguments on war and peace, and they are still worth reading.”

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