Erasmus in Praise of Folly of The Monks or Preachers
With their petty ceremonies, ridiculous trifles, and noise exercise a kind of tyranny among mankind, believing themselves very Pauls and Anthonies.
That is what Jesus said when He outlawed the non-evangelist clergy and removed the burden which was "spiritual anxiety created by religious ceremonial." Worship is in spirit and in truth and not in your 19th century liturgy or my 20th century contemporary ritual.
And next these come those that commonly call themselves the religious and monks, most false in both titles, when both a great part of them are farthest from religion,
........... and no men swarm thicker in all places than themselves.
Nor can I think of anything that could be more miserable did not I support them so many several ways.
For whereas all men detest them to that height, that they take it for ill luck to meet one of them by chance,
yet such is their happiness that they flatter themselves.
For first, they reckon it one of the main points of piety if they are so illiterate that they can't so much as read.
And then when they run over their offices, which they carry about them, rather by tale than understanding,
........... they believe the gods more than ordinarily pleased with their braying.
And some there are among them that put off their trumperies at vast rates, yet rove up and down for the bread they eat; nay, there is scarce an inn, wagon, or ship into which they intrude not, to the no small damage of the commonwealth of beggars.
And yet, like pleasant fellows, with all this vileness, ignorance, rudeness, and impudence, they represent to us, for so they call it, the lives of the apostles.
Yet what is more pleasant than that they do all things by rule and, as it were, a kind of mathematics,
the least swerving from which were a crime beyond forgiveness--as how many knots their shoes must be tied with, of what color everything is, what distinction of habits, of what stuff made, how many straws broad their girdles and of what fashion, how many bushels wide their cowl, how many fingers long their hair, and how many hours sleep; which exact equality, how disproportionate it is, among such variety of bodies and tempers,
........... who is there that does not perceive it?
And yet by reason of these fooleries they not only set slight by others, but each different order, men otherwise professing apostolical charity, despise one another, and for the different wearing of a habit, or that 'tis of darker color, they put all things in combustion.
And among these there are some so rigidly religious that their upper garment is haircloth, their inner of the finest linen; and, on the contrary, others wear linen without and hair next their skins. Others, again, are as afraid to touch money as poison,
and yet neither forbear wine nor dallying with women. In a word, 'tis their only care that none of them come near one another in their manner of living,
nor do they endeavor how they may be like Christ,
but how they may differ among themselves.
And another great happiness they conceive in their names, while they call themselves Cordiliers, and among these too, some are Colletes, some Minors, some Minims, some Crossed; and again, these are Benedictines, those Bernardines; these Carmelites. those Augustines: these Williamites. and those Jacobines; as if it were not worth the while to be called Christians.
And of these, a great part build so much on their ceremonies and petty traditions of men
........... that they think one heaven is too poor a reward for so great merit,
little dreaming that the time will come when Christ,
........... not regarding any of these trifles,
........... will call them to account for His precept of charity.
One shall show you a large trough full of all kinds of fish;
another tumble you out so many bushels of prayers;
another reckon you so many myriads of fasts,
and fetch them up again in one dinner
........... by eating till he cracks again;
another produces more bundles of ceremonies
........... than seven of the stoutest ships would be able to carry;
another brags he has not touched a penny these three score years
........... without two pair of gloves at least upon his hands;
another wears a cowl so lined with grease
........... that the poorest tarpaulin would not stoop to take it up;
another will tell you he has lived these fifty-five years like a sponge,
........... continually fastened to the same place;
another is grown hoarse with his daily chanting;
another has contracted a lethargy by his solitary living;
and another the palsy in his tongue for want of speaking.
But Christ, interrupting them in their vanities, which otherwise were endless, will ask them,
"Whence this new kind of Jews?
I acknowledge one commandment, which is truly mine, of which alone I hear nothing. I promised, 'tis true, my Father's heritage,
........... and that without parables, not to cowls, odd prayers, and fastings,
........... but to the duties of faith and charity.
Nor can I acknowledge them that least acknowledge their faults. They that would seem holier than myself, let them if they like possess to themselves those three hundred sixty-five heavens of Basilides the heretic's invention, or command them whose foolish traditions they have preferred before my precepts to erect them a new one."
When they shall hear these things and see common ordinary persons preferred before them, with what countenance, think you, will they behold one another? In the meantime they are happy in their hopes, and for this also they are beholding to me.
they are privy to all men's secrets by means of confessions, as they call them. Which yet were no less than treason to discover, unless, being got drunk, they have a mind to be pleasant,
and then all comes out, that is to say by hints and conjectures but suppressing the names.
But if anyone should anger these wasps, they'll sufficiently revenge themselves in their public sermons and so point out their enemy by circumlocutions
that there's no one but understands whom 'tis they mean, unless he understand nothing at all;
nor will they give over their barking till you throw the dogs a bone. And now tell me, what juggler or mountebank you had rather behold than hear them
rhetorically play the fool in their preachments,
and yet most sweetly imitating what rhetoricians have written touching the art of good speaking?
The rhetoricians were sOPHISts or the SERPENTS of the Devils agents in the book of Revelation.
pharmakos poisoner, sorcerer, magician, 5.
pharmak-eus , eôs, ho, poisoner, sorcerer, S.Tr.1140, Pl.Smp.203d, etc.; gnêsioi sophistai kai ph. Jul.Or.6.197d .
sophistês 1 [sophizomai]
I. a master of one's craft or art, an adept, of a diviner, Hdt.; of poets, Pind.; of the Creator, Plat.; metaph., s. pêmatôn an adept in misery, Eur.
2. a sophist (in bad sense), a quibbler, cheat, Ar., Dem., etc.
"Perhaps professor would be a rough modern equivalent to Sophist (the first to sell their quick fix for any problem. kls). It has a similar range from Professors of Greek to Professors of Phrenology and although some Professors research, all teach, and all are paid which was a great reproach to the Sophists. Some of them were serious philosophers, educators or scholars; others only cheap-jacks, who professed to teach only the sublime art of getting on. Did you want to improve your memory: Did you want to be a £1,000-a-year man? Some Sophist would teach you--for a fee. Sophists went from city to city, lecturing on their particular subject, some indeed undertaking to lecture on any subject, but always for a fee. (Kitto, The Greeks, p. 168).
"They made their voices sweet with musical cadences and modulations of tone and echoed resonances. They thought not of what they were saying, but of how they were saying it.
Their thought might be poisonous so long as it was enveloped in honeyed words.; Philostratus tells us that Adrian, the sophist, had such a reputation in Rome, that when his messenger appeared with a notice that he was to lecture, the senate emptied and even the people at the games abandoned them to flock to hear him.
"You might hear many poor wretches of sophists, shouting and abusing each other, and their disciples, as they call them, squabbling; and many writers of books reading their stupid compositions, and many poets singing their poems, and many jugglers (buffoons) exhibiting their marvels, and many soothsayers giving the meaning of prodigies, and then a thousand rhetoricians twisting lawsuits, and no small number of traders driving their several trades. (William Barclay)
Good God! what several postures they have!
How they shift their voice,
sing out their words,
skip up and down,
and are ever and anon making such new faces
........... that they confound all things with noise!
And yet this knack of theirs is no less a mystery that runs in succession from one brother to another; which though it be not lawful for me to know, however I'll venture at it by conjectures.
And first they invoke whatever they have scraped from the poets; and in the next place, if they are to discourse of charity, they take their rise from the river Nilus; or to set out the mystery of the cross, from bell and the dragon; or to dispute of fasting, from the twelve signs of the zodiac; or, being to preach of faith, ground their matter on the square of a circle.
I have heard myself one, and he no small fool--I was mistaken, I would have said scholar--that being in a famous assembly explaining the mystery of the Trinity, that he might both let them see his learning was not ordinary and withal satisfy some theological ears,
he took a new way, to wit from the letters, syllables, and the word itself;
then from the coherence of the nominative case and the verb, and the adjective and substantive: and while most of the audience wondered, and some of them muttered that of Horace, "What does all this trumpery drive at?" at last he brought the matter to this head,
that he would demonstrate that the mystery of the Trinity was so clearly expressed in the very rudiments of grammar that the best mathematician could not chalk it out more plainly. And in this discourse did this most superlative theologian beat his brains for eight whole months that
at this hour he's as blind as a beetle, to wit, all the sight of his eyes
being run into the sharpness of his wit.
But for all that he thinks nothing of his blindness, rather taking the same for too cheap a price of such a glory as he won thereby.
And besides him I met with another, some eighty years of age, and such a divine that you'd have sworn Scotus himself was revived in him.
He, being upon the point of unfolding the mystery of the name Jesus, did with wonderful subtlety demonstrate that there lay hidden in those letters whatever could be said of him; for that it was only declined with three cases, he said, it was a manifest token of the Divine Trinity; and then, that the first ended in S, the second in M, the third in U, there was in it an ineffable mystery, to wit, those three letters declaring to us that he was the beginning, middle, and end (summum, medium, et ultimum) of all.
Nay, the mystery was yet more abstruse; for
he so mathematically split the word Jesus into two equal parts that he left the middle letter by itself,
and then told us that that letter in Hebrew was schin or sin,
and that sin in the Scotch tongue, as he remembered, signified as much as sin;
from whence he gathered that it was Jesus that took away the sins of the world.
At which new exposition the audience were so wonderfully intent and struck with admiration, especially the theologians, that there wanted little but that Niobe-like they had been turned to stones; whereas the like had almost happened to me, as befell the Priapus in Horace. And not without cause, for when were the Grecian Demosthenes or Roman Cicero ever guilty of the like?
They thought that introduction faulty that was wide of the matter, as if it were not the way of carters and swineherds that have no more wit than God sent them.
But these learned men think their preamble, for so they call it, then chiefly rhetorical when it has least coherence with the rest of the argument, that the admiring audience may in the meanwhile whisper to themselves, "What will he be at now?"
In the third place, they bring in instead of narration some texts of Scripture, but
handle them cursorily,
and as it were by the bye,
when yet it is the only thing they should have insisted on.
And fourthly, as it were changing a part in the play, they bolt out with some question in divinity, and many times relating neither to earth nor heaven, and this they look upon as a piece of art. Here they erect their theological crests
and beat into the people's ears
those magnificent titles of illustrious doctors, subtle doctors, most subtle doctors, seraphic doctors, cherubic doctors, holy doctors, unquestionable doctors, and the like;
and then throw abroad among the ignorant people syllogisms, majors, minors, conclusions, corollaries, suppositions, and those so weak and foolish that they are below pedantry.
There remains yet the fifth act in which one would think they should show their mastery. And here they bring in some foolish insipid fable out of Speculum Historiae or Gesta Romanorum and expound it allegorically, tropologically, and anagogically. And after this manner do they and their chimera, and such as Horace despaired of compassing when he wrote "Humano capiti," etc.
But they have heard from somebody, I know not whom,
that the beginning of a speech should be sober and grave and least given to noise. And therefore they begin theirs at that rate they can scarce hear themselves, as if it were not matter whether anyone understood them.
They have learned somewhere that to move the affections a louder voice is requisite. Whereupon they that otherwise would speak like a mouse in a cheese
start out of a sudden into a downright fury, even there too, where there's the least need of it.
A man would swear they were past the power of hellebore, so little do they consider where 'tis they run out. Again, because they have heard that as a speech comes up to something, a man should press it more earnestly, they, however they begin, use a strange contention of voice in every part,
though the matter itself be never so flat, and end in that manner as if they'd run themselves out of breath.
Lastly, they have learned that among rhetoricians there is some mention of laughter, and therefore they study to prick in a jest here and there;
but, O Venus! so void of wit and so little to the purpose that it may be truly called an ass's playing on the harp.
And sometimes also they use somewhat of a sting, but so nevertheless that they rather tickle than wound; nor do they ever more truly flatter than when they would seem to use the greatest freedom of speech.
Lastly, such is their whole action that a man would swear they had learned it from our common tumblers, though yet they come short of them in every respect.
However, they are both so like that no man will dispute but that either these learned their rhetoric from them, or they theirs from these. And yet they light on some that, when they hear them, conceive they hear very Demosthenes and Ciceroes:
of which sort chiefly are our merchants and women, whose ears only they endeavor to please,
because as to the first, if they stroke them handsomely, some part or other of their ill-gotten goods is wont to fall to their share.
And the women, though for many other things they favor this order, this is not the least, that they commit to their breasts whatever discontents they have against their husbands.
And now, I conceive me, you see how much this kind of people are beholding to me (Folly), that with their petty ceremonies, ridiculous trifles, and noise exercise a kind of tyranny among mankind, believing themselves very Pauls and Anthonies.
But I willingly give over these stage-players that are such ingrateful dissemblers of the courtesies I have done them and such impudent pretenders to religion which they haven't.
- Erasmus on the Professional Clergy
- Erasmus on the Preaching Monks
- Erasmus on the Princes
- Erasmus on the Pope
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