On the Freedom of the Will

by Desiderius Erasmus

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

On the Freedom of the Will by Desiderius Erasmus is a theological work written in 1524. It is a manifestation of the ideological dispute between Erasmus and Martin Luther. Points of contention between the two men included divine justice, God’s knowledge (omniscience), and God’s power (omnipotence). Martin Luther and his supporters claimed that God's knowledge and power are almighty, and that because of this, humans do not possess free will and are instead ruled by divine predestination.

Luther’s argument can be outlined as follows: first, God knows everything, including the future, and this knowledge is infallible; second, God is all powerful and causes everything to happen; and third, because God knows what will happen in the future and this knowledge cannot be wrong, then what He sees will happen due to his will.

Erasmus, however, argues that just because God knows something is going to happen, it doesn’t mean that God causes it to happen. God is familiar with the cosmos, as its Creator, and so He is able to predict accurately what will happen in the cosmos. This prediction, however, does not have to be according to His will.

Erasmus also argues that the idea of humans having no free will would negate the purpose of the Ten Commandments and divine justice. If humans have no control over their actions, then any guidelines or warnings are useless. Further, there can be no just eternal reward or punishment if people are not in control over their actions but are instead acting as a result of predestination.

It is important to note that Erasmus is not at all trying to disempower God. He actually comes to the conclusion that God is able to interfere in many areas and aspects of the cosmos, including human affairs, but decides not to. His responsibility for whatever happens is thus not because He actively decides how things should happen, but because He passively allows things to happen on their own.

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