This book, LUTHER AND ERASMUS: FREE WILL AND SALVATION, contains some great summaries of the arguments involved. Originally, Erasmus, author of IN PRAISE OF FOLLY (1509) and a great scholar who edited a Greek New Testament in 1516, pictures his philosophical self as the perfect opponent of tyrannical godliness in DIATRIBE ON FREE WILL (1524). Luther was offended, not so much that he was named by Erasmus as a particular kind of fool for God, but that Luther's interpretation of the Bible on this question, ON THE BONDAGE OF THE WILL (1525), based on absolute interpretations which depend on the kind of faith proclaimed by Paul, because "the power or endeavor of free choice is something different from faith in Jesus Christ. But Paul denies that anything outside this faith is righteous in the sight of God; and if it is not righteous in the sight of God, it must necessarily be sin. . . . With men, of course, it is certainly a fact that there are middle and neutral cases, where men neither owe one another anything nor do anything for one another. But an ungodly man sins against God whether he eats or drinks or whatever he does, because he perpetually misuses God's creatures in his impiety and ingratitude, and never for a moment gives glory to God from his heart." (p. 308).
In the history of religion, Martin Luther might be remembered mainly for his opposition to the established church of his time and place. Having been subject to many vows as a monk, he openly rejected certain restrictions that the religious organizations of his day had imposed on those who wished to lead worship or serve communion, and his marriage was a scandal that was altogether typical of the kind of disagreements in that time which survive in some form in the present day. One question of faith that I still find meaningful, in FREE WILL AND SALVATION, is the Bible's comparison of life with military service, as assumed in the first verse of chapter 7 of the book of Job, which Luther uses to explain a similar passage in Isaiah. " `The life of man is a warfare upon earth,' that is there is a set time for it. I prefer to take it simply, in the ordinary grammatical sense of `warfare,' so that Isaiah is understood to be speaking of the toilsome course of the people under the law, as if they were engaged in military service." (p. 267).
As old Europe attempts to secularize itself into an economic empire with minuscule military forces, it seems oddly historical that a few fundamentally religious political movements are being tied to such warfare as exists in our times, a modern age in which terrorism excites the forces of civilization so much that no government or political spokesman that harbors such killers is safe. LUTHER AND ERASMUS: FREE WILL AND SALVATION does not attempt to solve this problem. If anything, this book is just a book that shows how knowledge in the form of books can trap scholars by allowing them to do what the best scholars have always been best at, exhibiting the meaning of states of mind that others usually flee, far beyond the realm of what Job 7:1 in THE JERUSALEM BIBLE asks, "Is not man's life on earth nothing more than pressed service, his time no better than hired drudgery?"
Happenstance, at the end of World War II, picked on Hiroshima, for the purpose of a ten-minute speech, to be a military base, instead of a city, for the announcement of the use of an atomic bomb on August 6, 1945. Most people's lives, the way they live, are more like the city, now, but there is a geopolitical interpretation of world power that allows anyplace to be the Hiroshima of the moment, if the rest of the world wants to see it that way. Luther blames the devil, in FREE WILL AND SALVATION, whenever a man thinks he is choosing to do something on his own, and considering Hiroshima a military base instead of a city in 1945 is the kind of thinking that ought to be considered worthy of the devil, even if Harry Truman was willing to adopt it for ten minutes so he would not seem too far out of step with his military advisers. But the outcry, after dropping a couple atomic bombs within a week back then, started to make it obvious that not everybody was inclined to accept the incineration of cities so lightly. I might even be leaving out something terrible about the nature of the judgment of God, which is the primary topic of this book, because Luther seems so much closer to the nature of Hiroshima than we are, survivors though some of us might be. What makes LUTHER AND ERASMUS: FREE WILL AND SALVATION such heavy reading now is because it makes no attempt to lighten up to match the spiritually and economically commercial nature of our society, which usually considers itself thoroughly artistic or comical, especially in the manner in which people all get along by going along. Half of this book doubts that the world could ever be considered so normal. After a general index (which includes some latin phrases, though the tough latin phrases, like *praeter casam,* are explained in an "Appendix: On the Adagia of Erasmus") of several pages, the Biblical References take most of four pages. Anyone who wondered why Luther thought Christians should be reading the Bible, instead of being spoon fed lessons by officials, should get a load of this. Praeter casam to you, too.
Is our will really free or are we predestined? Where do we stand when it comes to our salvation? Can we contribute to the salvation of our souls? Erasmus and Luther argued over what they and their contemporaries thought was the characteristic difference between the evolving Catholic and Protestant positions concerning human nature, namely, the question of the freedom of the will. However, we shouldn't be limited by this ideas, their often heated discourse reveals, as much about their subjective modes of thinking and about the atmosphere of this turbulent period. But in the history of ideas this discourse gains an added significance. It shows some limitations of Christian Humanism and enlightens most of subsequent developments of modern thought. Neither one of them loses we all win! The introductions to the texts are, for themselves, worthy of this price. E Gordon Rupp and Philip S. Watson, offer and impartial analysis of the two men's positions, assuming an important familiarity with the circumstances of the conflict. A great buy.