A world ablaze

Alfonso Pascale

My young niece Miriam did an excellent job. She has just graduated in Literary, Linguistic and Historical-Philosophical Studies, discussing a thesis on History of Philosophy, and earning top marks. Her thesis was on “The inextricable labyrinth of free will. The debate between Luther and Erasmus”.

Fascinated by the insight of both these pillars of modern intellectual thinking, Miriam at first summarized the theological and philosophical profile of the two, and then clearly displayed her preference for the theoretical system formulated by Erasmus and based on individual ethical responsibility.

I was struck by the clarity with which she passed from the individual to the collective dimension of Erasmus’ philosophy, namely when it can be translated into a commitment for peace between men, churches or countries.

Peace was always the greatest social goal for Erasmus; this aim could be achieved by all men of good will and sound conscience, free of all antagonisms and anathemas.

He was convinced that the result of Luther’s reforming action would only be a new church, or, in his words, “a new, self-infatuated theology.” “A nail is driven out by another nail; habit is overcome by habit”.

Unlike Luther, it was not in his nature to face life head on: a gentle and delicate soul, Erasmus had a sincere aversion to fights, arguments and anything that appeared sordid or disharmonious.

Peace and harmony were of the uttermost importance for him, together with dignity, rationality and brotherhood. He would always remain true to these values, and would not and could not serve a party.

“And if for his quiet and patient nature – concluded Miriam – for many centuries he was not counted among the heroes of history, together with more passionate personalities, bold and fearless in their religious fervour, nowadays he appears to be extremely modern: in a world ablaze with ethnic, cultural, ideological and religious clashes, which would appear to be irreconcilable, the solution could arise from a non-violent and honest debate between the alleged ‘enemies’, with a frank and unbiased outlook on diversity”.

This is a convincing application of Erasmus’ ideas to the present day, at a time when it is essential to start practicing pluralism and reciprocal respect for all ethics, cultural differences, lifestyles and models of production and consumption patterns.

My heartfelt compliments go to Miriam for her outstanding work, and I wish her all the best for her future.

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