Not liking Erasmus that much

A Man is then a certain monstrous beast compact together of parts two or three of great diversity. Of a soul as of a certain goodly thing, and of a body as it were a brute or dumb beast. For certainly we so greatly excel not all other kinds of brute beasts in perfectness of body, but that we in all his natural gifts are found to them inferiors. In our minds verily we be so celestial and of godly capacity that we may surmount above the nature of angels, and be unite, knit and made one with God. If thy body had not been added to thee, thou hadst been a celestial or godly thing. If this mind had not been grafted in thee, plainly thou hadst been a brute beast.

via Online Library of Liberty – Of the outward and inward man.: Chap. iv. – The Manual of a Christian Knight.

I’m surprised how much I am not enjoying Erasmus’ Enchiridion. I am tempted to write off the Northern Renaissance as Platonic counter-revolution against Aristotle. But I really don’t know enough yet to be sure of anything… except that I’m finding the book a disappointment.

The archaic translation I quoted above is not the one I am reading (see here). It translated the second to last sentence as:

If your body had not been added to you, you would have been Godhead.

I am working from memory because I have mislaid the book, but I promise it used the word “Godhead” and there was no way to mitigate the use of the word in the sentence.

The book seems to consist thus far, in many spurs to pursue real holiness, some admirable statements about faith, a few embarrassing formulations that involve merit (not surprising in 1501), and a great deal of dualism that seems to lead to an idea of “God” as a Platonic oversoul. When Erasmus moves from dichotomous descriptions of human nature, his portrayal of trichotomism sounds like it was ripped off by Freud to give us id (body, passions), ego (soul), and superego (spirit).

Perhaps someone who knows Latin can tell me the best way to translate what looks like a smoking gun to me. I don’t understand how Erasmus did not get in immediate trouble for writing that statement. Yet the book was a best seller in all the languages of Europe.

So I guess, so far, if we view John Calvin as “coming out of” humanism, he looks even more impressive.

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