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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
From ‘The Praise of Folly’
By Desiderius Erasmus (c. 1467–1536)
 
‘Encomium Moriæ’

THE NEXT to be placed in the “Regiment of Fools” are such as make a trade of telling or inquiring after incredible stories of miracles and prodigies…. And these absurdities do not only bring an empty pleasure and cheap diversion, but they are a good trade, and procure a comfortable income to such priests and friars as by this craft get their gain. To these, again, are nearly related such others as attribute strange virtues to the shrines and images of saints and martyrs, and so would make their credulous proselytes believe that if they pay their devotion to St. Christopher in the morning, they shall be guarded during the day following from all dangers and misfortunes. If soldiers when they first take arms shall come and mumble over a set prayer before the picture of St. Barbara, they shall return safe from their engagements; or if any one pray to St. Erasmus on particular holidays, with wax candles and other fopperies, he shall shortly be rewarded with plentiful increase of wealth. The Christians have now their gigantic St. George, just as the pagans had their Hercules: they paint the saint on horseback, and drawing the horse very gloriously accoutred, they scarce refrain in a literal sense from worshiping the very beast.  1
 
  What shall I say of such as cry up and maintain the cheat of pardons and indulgences? that by these compute the time of each soul’s residence in purgatory, and assign them a longer or shorter continuance according as they purchase more or fewer of these paltry pardons?… By this easy way of purchasing pardons, any notorious highwayman, any plundering soldier, any bribe-taking judge, shall disburse some part of his unjust gains and so think all his grossest impieties atoned for. So many perjuries, lusts, drunkennesses, quarrels, bloodsheds, cheats, treacheries, debaucheries, shall all be, as it were, struck a bargain for; and such a contract made as if they had paid off all arrears and might now begin a new score.  2
 
  There are a thousand other more sublimated and refined niceties of notions, relations, quantities, formalities, quiddities, hæcceities, and such-like absurdities…. But alas! those notional divines, however condemned by the sober judgment of others, are yet mightily pleased with themselves, and are so laboriously intent upon prosecuting their crabbed studies that they cannot afford so much time as to read a single chapter in any one book of the Bible. And while they thus trifle away their misspent hours in trash and babble, they think that they support the Catholic Church.  3
 
  Next to these are another sort of brain-sick fools, who style themselves monks and of religious orders, though they assume both titles very unjustly. For as to the last, they have very little of religion in them; and as to the former, the etymology of the word monk implies solitariness, or being alone; whereas they are so thick abroad that one cannot pass any street or alley without running against them…. Though this sort of men are so detested by every one that it is reckoned unlucky even to meet them by accident, they think nothing equal to themselves, and hold it a proof of consummate piety if they be so illiterate as not to be able to read. And when their asinine voices bray out in the churches their psalms, of which they understand the notes but not the words, then it is they fancy that the ears of the saints above are enraptured with the harmony.  4
 
  Among these some make a good profitable trade of beggary, going abroad from house to house, not like the apostles to break their bread, but to beg it; nay, thrust themselves into all public houses, crowd into passage boats, get into travelers’ wagons, and omit no chance of craving people’s charity, and injuring common beggars by interloping in their traffic of alms.  5
 
  All these orders are not so careful of becoming like Christ as to be unlike each other; they care less to be known as disciples of the Founder of our religion than as followers of the founders of their orders.  6
 
  Some will not touch a piece of money, though they make no scruple of the sin of drunkenness and worse sins.  7
 
  Now, as to the popes of Rome, who pretend themselves Christ’s vicars: if they would but imitate his exemplary life by preaching incessantly, by taking up with poverty, nakedness, hunger, and contempt of the world; if they did but consider the import of the word pope, which signifies father,… there would be no such vigorous making of parties and buying of votes in the conclave;… and those who by bribery should get themselves elected would never secure their sitting firm in the chair by pistol, poison, and violence. How much of their pleasure would be abated if they were endowed with one dram of wisdom? Wisdom, did I say? Nay, with one grain of that salt which our Savior bid them not lose the savor of. In place of their riches, honors, jurisdictions, Peter’s pence, offices, dispensations, licenses, indulgences, would succeed watchings, fastings, tears, prayers, sermons, hard studies, repentant sighs, and a thousand such severe penalties; nay, what is yet more deplorable, it would follow that all their clerks, notaries, advocates, grooms, ostlers, lackeys, pimps, and some others whom for modesty’s sake I shall not mention,… would all lose their employments…. But all this is upon the supposition only that the popes understood what circumstances they are placed in: whereas now, by a wholesome neglect of thinking, they live as well as heart can wish. Whatever of toil and drudgery belongs to their office, that they assign over to St. Peter or St. Paul, who have time enough to mind it; but if there be anything of pleasure and grandeur, that they assume to themselves as being thereunto called…. They think to serve their Master, our Lord and Savior, with their great state and magnificence,… with their titles of reverence and holiness, and with exercising their episcopal function only in blessing and cursing. The working of miracles is old and out of date; teaching the people is too laborious; interpreting the Scripture is to invade the prerogative of the schoolmen; to pray is too idle; to repent is too unmanly and cowardly; to fast is too mean and sordid…. Their only weapons ought to be those of the spirit; and of these indeed they are mighty liberal, as of their interdicts, their suspensions, their denunciations, their greater and lesser excommunications, and their bulls…. They give dispensations for the not preaching of Christ, make void the design and effect of our redemption by bribes and sales, adulterate the gospel by their forced interpretations and undermining traditions, and lastly, by their lusts and wickedness grieve the Holy Spirit and make the Savior’s wounds bleed afresh. Farther, where the Christian Church hath been first planted, then confirmed and then established by the blood of martyrs,—as if Christ were not strong enough still to protect her, they invert the order, and propagate their religion now by arms and violence, which was formerly done only by patience and sufferings.  8
 
  NOTE.—The extracts are made from Bishop Kennett’s quaint and pithy translation (London, 1724), especially pages 67, 69, 102, 107, and following to page 296.  9
 
 
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