Desiderius Erasmus was the most renowned scholar of his age, a celebrated humanist and classicist, and the first teacher of Greek at Cambridge. An influential figure in the Protestant Reformation, though without ever breaking from the Church himself, he satirised both human folly and the corruption of the Church.
Martin Luther was the founder of the German Reformation. His 95 Theses became a manifesto for reform of the Catholic Church and led to his being tried for heresy. He remained in Germany, professor of biblical exegesis at the University of Wittenberg, until his death, publishing a large number of works, including three major treatises and a translation of the New Testament into German.
Comprising Erasmus’s The Free Will and Luther’s The Bondage of the Will, Discourse on Free Will is a landmark text in the history of Protestantism. Encapsulating the perspective on free will of two of the most important figures in the history of Christianity, it remains to this day a powerful, thought-provoking, and timely work.
“Thus the human will is like a beast of burden. If God rides it, it wills and goes whence God wills; as the Psalm says, ‘I was as a beast of burden before thee’ (Psalm 73:22). If Satan rides, it wills and goes where Satan wills. Nor may it choose to which rider it will run, nor which it will seek. But the riders themselves contend who shall have and hold it.” (Page 116)
“Erasmus defines free will: ‘By freedom of the will we understand in this connection the power of the human will whereby man can apply to or turn away from that which leads unto eternal salvation.’ Luther says that man is unable to do anything but continue to sin, except for God’s grace. The whole work of man’s salvation, first to last, is God’s.” (Page 5)
“For although you write wrongly concerning free will, I owe you no small thanks, because you have confirmed my own view. Seeing the case for free will argued with such great talents, yet leaving it worse than it was before, is an evident proof that free will is a downright lie.” (Page 104)
“The strength of soul, with which man can pursue the good he knows and avoid all evil, is in itself a gift of the creator who could have made a frog instead of man.” (Page 33)
“The knotty point how God’s foreknowledge is compatible with our free will has often been amplified. But in my opinion Lorenzo Valla2 has been most successful at it: foreknowledge does not cause what is to take place. Even we know many things which will be happening. They will not happen because we know them, but vice versa. An eclipse of the sun does not occur because astronomers predict it, but it can be predicted, precisely because it will take place.” (Page 56)