December 18, 2017 Editor

Erasmus: Wild Bird

WN: I had the privilege of editing, copy-editing, writing the Foreword, and publishing on Amazon/Kindle, Ron Dart’s excellent book on Erasmus.

Ron describes 10 points about Erasmus in this brief video, done in his home, December 19. 2017:

Below is my Foreword, then Ron’s Introduction. And finally, there is a quote from another article on Erasmus by Ron, with a link to the full article.

A good review of Ron’s book by Brian Zahnd may be found here.

A notice re. the book is also found on Clarion Journal.


This is, a trenchant, at times poignant, (in Ron Dart’s oft-used expression) “plough-to-soil” book.

In the early 1980s, as part of completing a Masters of Theological Studies degree at Regent College, University of British Columbia, I focussed my Church History studies on the pre-Constantinian Church, and on 16th-century Anabaptism – much taken then by that Tradition. (As it turned out, Ron Dart was also doing a Masters Degree then at Regent – though we barely knew each other at the time. Ron has since become a dear friend.) I had first come across the Anabaptist Peace Tradition in January 1975 through John Howard Yoder’s classic book: The Politics of Jesus. That Yoder tragically betrayed that position profoundly through any number of sexual assaults against women is utterly devastating to his own theological peace witness (as clicking on the underlined will indicate – if you are reading a digital Kindle version – or online on his name cum sexual assault).

That the Anabaptists were not the lead peacemakers of the 16th century is part of the burden of this book. Erasmus and the English Reformers were without doubt, as you will see in this volume, the lead writers and performers of Peace in that century. Even more: by the very participation of Anabaptists in breaking with the Roman Catholic Church, they engaged in what Ron Dart many times has written about – the sowing of the DNA of schism in the Church Politic. And schism has been one hallmark of the Protestant Reformation ever since.

In fact, “The Reformation” to refer to Protestantism’s inception in the 16th century, in light of this volume, is a misnomer. Erasmus and the English Reformers were the leaders at that time in urging the Church towards reformation. “The Great Schism” is more apt, not “Reformation”, one that led to endless Church schisms ever since, and to our incredibly fragmented Western world in many respects…

I no longer these days read Yoder – and rarely Anabaptists/Mennonites – to better learn/try to practise Peace Theology. And I take a dim view of books like Palmer Becker’s recently published Anabaptist Essentials (Harrisonburg: Herald Press, 2017), which not only fails even to mention Erasmus and the English Reformers in his (for instance) woefully inadequate “overview” of Church History, it also sadly prattles on about the “uniqueness” of Anabaptism over against other Traditions, thereby indulging in part the same spirit of superiority tribalism encountered in the 16th century – that hardly sounds “peacemaking”.

In so doing not only is Becker seriously out of touch, but contrary to ubiquitous claims otherwise and by him, Anabaptism proves to come up short even in its (for Becker et al. exclusionary) claim to be an historic Peace Church (like no other). For starters, as Ron/Erasmus points out, how can a “Peace Church” be simultaneously a “Schismatic Church” from the get-go?

In light of this volume’s discussing the “Radical Reformation” (Anabaptists), modern-day Anabaptists/Mennonites can do perhaps no better than pause and consider this gentle corrective to some of the self-congratulatory tone of past and current promoters of a sadly enduringly schismatic Tradition.

That said, the final Appendix book review of From Suffering to Solidarity: The Historic Seeds of Mennonite Interreligious, Interethnic, and International Peacebuilding, (Foreword by Marc Gopin, edited by Andrew Klager, Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2015), highlights “the best of the historic Anabaptist-Mennonite peacebuilding way”. And for that “way” at its best, one in which I participated many years through Mennonite Central Committee Canada, and now through a provincial arm, one can indeed be profoundly grateful.

So read, digest, learn, then ponder wistfully as Ron briefly does, just what kind of a Western world we might have had today, had Erasmus been broadly heeded conjointly with the English Reformers. And with that, we may further ponder where we all go from here on our continued peacemaking paths vis à vis the Church and the World.

In the end, as Ron often signs off on his missives: Amor vincit omnia: Love conquers all. Amen. Maranatha!

Wayne Northey, Agassiz British Columbia
December 14, 2017


Erasmus was too good a humanist to live only in the past.

P.S. Allen

Erasmus: Lectures and Wayfaring Sketches p. 78

There is a predictable tendency, when teaching the history of Western political philosophy, to cover the classical worthies such as Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, Cicero, Augustine and Aquinas. Then, such moderns as Machiavelli, Locke, Hobbes, Smith, Rousseau, Mill and tribe are walked onto front stage as embodying the liberal tribe. The next step on the theoretical trail is to touch down on trendy postmodern thinkers.  And, so the tale unfolds from beginning to end. If much time is spent in doing political theology in the 16th century (most apt and pertinent in 2017, October 1517 being the posting of Luther’s 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg), Luther and Calvin are highlighted as forging the Protestant political way, Anabaptists-Mennonites the pacifist alternate to the magisterial tradition.

It is somewhat troubling that political thinkers such as Thomas More, Erasmus and Richard Hooker are often omitted or marginalized in such an overview of Western political thought. This has led, to some degree, to the closing of the mind and a reducing of it to the smallest liberal circle turns. More and Erasmus were close friends and their vision of the common good and just peacemaking tracked a different trail from that of Machiavelli, Luther and Calvin. Hooker, of course, brings together the political vision of the Elizabethan consensus. But, it is to Erasmus that, although mostly studied as a Biblical scholar, we turn in this book. Erasmus was solidly committed to engaging the public sphere in a just, irenical and dovish manner. Such an idealistic vision came as both an affront to the

Protestant Magisterial Reformers and Roman Catholics of a Tridentine persuasion. But, Erasmus was no absolute pacifist. He was very much the nimble, subtle and nuanced owl of his age, ever finding a thoughtful and navigating a thoughtful pathway between the pacifist doves and warlike hawks.

Erasmus, at a more popular level, is known for Praise of Folly, The Colloquies and Adages. But, The Education of a Christian Prince raises the level of political thought to a higher pitch and place. Such general surveys of Erasmus’ political thinking as Erasmus and Our Struggle for Peace: Peace Protests (1950), The Better Part of Valor: More, Erasmus, Colet and Vives on Humanism, War, and Peace 1496-1535 (1962) and The Politics of Erasmus (1978) make it abundantly clear how and why Erasmus understands the role of political thinking and action in a way that diverges from Luther-Calvin and Machiavelli-Hobbes and Locke. Why is Erasmus regularly ignored in the study of political philosophy?

His vision still lingers on even though many who have affinities with his thinking know little about him. The fact that one of the most pre-eminent legal theorists of 17th century, Hugo Grotius, was shaped and informed by Erasmus, does need to be duly noted. Much of the work of the United Nations and international law is indebted to Grotius via Erasmus. Most forms of political realism find their leading opponent in Erasmus. So, why is Erasmus regularly ignored in the narrative of Western political philosophy? There is a variety of ways to answer such a question, and it is the hope of this book that by the end, the reasons for studying Erasmus will be amply clear.

Erasmus was much too wise and judicious a political thinker to pit the state against society (the former often demonized, the latter often idealized). Erasmus realized, only to keenly and clearly, that state and society need to work together for the common good, each a check and balancing force to correct the aberrations and limitation of each other. This is why Erasmus could both critique the state and Church yet hold both to the highest standards—lesser thinkers, predictably so, note the chasm between the ideals and responsibilities of the state and the reality of it. This often leads to either cynicism or a turn to society as an answer to the imperfection of the state. Erasmus was too sane and balanced to do the society versus the state dualism (a sort of political Manichaeism).

The fact that we live at a period of time in which the “clash-of-civilizations” model collides with the “co-existence” paradigm would have not surprised Erasmus. The late 15th century and early 16th century witnessed the rise of Islam and the threat to the West of Islam. The clash-coexistence tension was front and centre in the ethos that Erasmus lived in both in the Church (Protestant Reformation and Roman Catholic reaction to it) and the larger threat to the West from Islam itself.  Erasmus managed to navigate a nimble and thoughtful middle way between the trendy liberalism of his time and a reactionary conservatism, and, in a sense, he was doubted and often seen as a traitor by both sides. And such a way of seeing and being is not an easy path to trek. The reality for those, past and present, like Erasmus is the sense of being orphaned in a world of ignorant armies (literal and metaphorical) that fight by day and night.

I have in this book, Erasmus: Wild Bird, tried to ponder the relevance of Erasmus both in the past and for the present and future. Why Wild Bird as the subtitle? Jose Chapiro, in Erasmus and Our Struggle for Peace, had this to say: “As one of his (Erasmus’) biographers said, Erasmus was a wild bird, willing to be caressed but refusing to sing in a cage (emphasis added, p. 26)”. Hopefully, this book will illuminate how it is possible to sing, be heard but not within a cage. Often, sadly so, those who are heard and well recompensed for being heard, do so from within a cage of tribal and partisan interests—such is not the way of the genuine humanist and prophet.
All Saints Day 2017
Ron Dart, Abbotsford British Columbia

To order a Kindle version: Canada; US.

To order a paperback: Canada; US.


by Ron Dart

It is significant and symbolic that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. There is a sense in which such a date is a portal into what follows in the Christian liturgical year: All Saints and All Souls. Luther, by choosing such a date and seeing himself as a reformer, raised the question of who are the real saints of the historic Church—certainly not the establishment Roman Catholics who had led the Church to Babylon. There is a type of Protestant hubris, though, in thinking that Luther was the real reformer of the Church, and 1517 should be lauded and celebrated. Erasmus and many others had been toiling for reform from within the Church from the late 15th century.  

ErasmusErasmus had, decades before Luther, been at the forefront of challenging the misdeeds and misbehaviour within the Western Church.

Colet, More, and Erasmus (Oxford-London Reformers), prophet-like, clarified in poignant depth and detail the immense gap and chasm between the ideals of the Church and its toxic and questionable behaviour at the highest levels. Erasmus was also acutely aware, with the fall of Constantinople in 1453, that many from the Eastern Church were migrating westward. The tragedy of such a situation for the Orthodox cannot be missed, but the positive ripple effect was that many in the West (including Erasmus), increasingly so, had greater access to the Orthodox Fathers, their commentaries, and their language.

The issue of church unity and concord became more and more central to Erasmus in the latter decades of his life. The split between the Orthodox East and Roman Catholic West, and the schism between various types of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, deeply troubled Erasmus. He became in many ways the herald of a sort of classical and patristic church unity vision in the mid to late 1520s-1530s. How did he do this? Let me lightly touch on three essential ways this was done.

Please click on: Reformation 500

Views: 219

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.