Five hundred years ago on October 31st, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the cathedral door at Wittenburg, thus commencing the Reformation. The origins of the Reformation can be traced well before this event, however, and an important figure in this movement was a fellow by the name of Erasmus of Rotterdam. Without Erasmus Luther could not have arisen. Erasmus translated the New Testament into Greek and critiqued the sumptuous lifestyle of the clergy, especially of the papacy, in his satire, The Praise of Folly. He wrote about “the philosophy of Christ”, exhorting popes and all Christians, for that matter, to imitate Christ's poverty, tasks, teachings, crosses, and so on. He wrote, “Make Christ the only goal of your life. Dedicate to him all your enthusiasm, all your effort, your leisure as well as your business. And don't look upon Christ as a mere word, as an empty expression, but rather as charity, simplicity, patience, and purity—in short, in terms of everything he has taught us.”
Erasmus challenged the church to a deeper devotion to Jesus Christ, the Jesus of the Gospels. He also saw an intrinsic connection between the humanities and religion. Jesus helps us understand culture, and it is through culture that we gain deeper insight into our Lord. It is the principle upon which these Tassel of the Cloak articles are based. Without Erasmus, we would not have the image of Jesus that we have today.
The difference between Erasmus and Luther was that Erasmus stayed faithful to the Catholic Church founded by Jesus Christ. Erasmus died in 1536, receiving the Last Rites and Viaticum from a Catholic priest and with the words on his lips, “O Jesus, have mercy. Lord, deliver me.”