Today in Catholic History – The Praise of Folly

Desiderius Erasmus, from “The Praise of Folly”

All this amounts to no less than that all mortal men are fools, even the righteous and godly as well as sinners; nay, in some sense our blessed Lord himself, who, although he was the wisdom of the Father, yet to repair the infirmities of fallen man, he became in some measure a partaker of human Folly, when he took our nature upon him, and was formed in fashion as a man ; or when God made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Nor would he heal those breaches our sins had made by any other method than by the foolishness of ‘the cross…

Today in the city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, the publication of the famous book by Desiderius Erasmus “The Praise of Folly” is celebrated. The actual date is unknown but the book appeared in 1512 and with today being April Fool’s Day – is there a better day to praise folly?

Erasmus wrote this work while spending time with St. Thomas More in England and dedicated the book to him.  Indeed, the Greek title of the text “Moriae Encomium” can also be read as “In praise of More”.

In the book, Erasmus extols the virtues of foolishness and is highly critical of the corruption and abuses he saw in the Catholic Church. Erasmus called for a return to the spirituality and life of the early Apostles and Church Fathers.

While his work was very popular and would serve to fuel the approaching Protestant Reformation, Pope Leo X found the book funny and Erasmus himself wanted to reform the Catholic Church while remaining part of it. However, Erasmus’ support of Luther’s call for reform but his refusal to support Luther’s schism will lead to Erasmus finding himself viewed with suspicion both by the Protestant Reformers as well as the Catholic Counter-Reformers. Luther will call him “the very mouth and organ of Satan” and Pope Paul IV will place his writings on the Index of Prohibited Books.

For his part, Erasmus will write, “I detest dissension because it goes both against the teachings of Christ and against a secret inclination of nature. I doubt that either side in the dispute can be suppressed without grave loss.”

The complete text of The Praise of Folly can be found at the the Internet Archive

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