On the Freedom of the Will

by Desiderius Erasmus

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

As On the Freedom of the Will is a nonfiction, theological work, its characters are historical and biblical figures.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther was a German theologian who initiated the Protestant Reformation movement that questioned papal authority in sixteenth-century Europe. His debate with Erasmus on the nature of free will shaped the opinions of future generations of religious discourse. Luther, in his response to Erasmus’s On the Freedom of the Will, wrote The Bondage of the Will, in which he argued that God has a plan for man and that the church serves as a guide to help man fulfill his God-given destiny.

John Wyclif

John Wyclif (or Wycliffe) was an English philosopher and a professor at the University of Oxford. He was an early reformer in the fourteenth century, and his views shaped the ideas that gave birth to Protestantism. Wyclif’s translation of the Bible from Latin to Middle English enabled discourse and debate on the text, and he questioned the concept of freedom of choice. Erasmus challenged Wyclif’s assertions; he argued that, by ascribing everything to the necessity of God’s will, Wyclif rendered prayer and the effort of each individual member of the church of little consequence.

Paul the Apostle

Paul the Apostle is considered one of the most important apostles of Jesus. During the first century (CE), he established churches in Asia Minor. Erasmus quotes Paul several times during his thesis in order to buttress his argument about the existence of free will.


Moses—who, according to the Hebrew bible, was a leader of the Israelites—is credited with having laid down the laws listed in the Torah. Of all the characters present in the Old Testament, Moses’s name appears the most in the New Testament. Erasmus argues that the laws laid down by Moses clearly give people the freedom to choose between right and wrong, thereby proving that free will exists.


Pelagius was an English theologian and ascetic who espoused the concept of free with the caveat that for free will to work, it needed the grace of God. This grace manifests in a person’s ability to discern between right and wrong and to choose what is right.

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