Christian Themes (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
On the Freedom of the Will raises a crucial theological question: To what extent, if any, does human merit contribute to salvation? By ascribing a greater role to divine grace and a lesser one to free will and human effort, Erasmus hoped to produce a compromise that would be equally acceptable to both Lutherans and orthodox Catholics. Although he clearly disagreed with Luther in substantial ways, he did not deny that Luther had some valid arguments. In particular, he praised the German reformer’s fundamental belief that Christians must place their entire trust in God and not rely on their own merit for salvation; but he also felt that Luther was wrong to deny completely the soteriological importance of free will.
What disturbed Erasmus most, however, was the virulent, uncompromising nature of Luther’s campaign against the tradition and authority of the Catholic Church. As he stated in his introductory remarks to On the Freedom of the Will, some cures are simply more harmful than the afflictions they seek to remedy. Like Luther, he felt that moral corruption had seriously compromised the integrity of the Catholic Church at all levels, yet he did not believe that open confrontation would contribute to meaningful reform. If there was going to be a debate, he felt it should be conducted with moderation and evangelical mildness.
The debate opposing Erasmus and Luther on free will did not end there, nor did it remain a polite...
(The entire section is 356 words.)
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