Saturday, January 31, 2009

A day with Erasmus of Rotterdam

One of the perks for being over 62 in Holland are the seven free train rides we ancient ones get each year to anywhere in the country. I've been enjoying this age-related reward for five years now, using it to see places and events I might otherwise have missed.

This past Thursday, I used one of these tickets to go to Rotterdam to see an exhibition at the Boijmans Museum about the most famous of all Rotterdamers: the scholar Erasmus (1466-1536). The focus was on the themes of greatest interest to him: church and faith, scholarship and education, war and peace.

A quotation that reveals something of Erasmus' character: "The sum and substance of our religion is peace and concord. This can hardly remain the case unless we define as few matters as possible and leave each individual's judgment free on many questions."

Enjoy arguments, he recommended, but don't let them become an occasion for breaking Christian unity -- we can learn in heaven who was right. It was advice ignored by many and resulted in the splintering of western Christianity in the 16th century. Erasmus was bitterly criticized by Protestants for his failure to join them, but was also condemned by his fellow Catholics for his criticisms of much that was in need of reform in the Catholic Church.

In a letter to a friend, explaining his own aversion to those who has broken from the Catholic Church, he wrote: "I have seen them return from hearing a sermon as if inspired by an evil spirit. The faces of all showed a curious wrath and ferocity."

Through his writings and wide-ranging correspondence with friends throughout Europe, he struggled to prevent war and restrain nationalism. As he wrote in one much-reprinted essay, The Complaint of Peace: “We must look for peace by purging the very sources of war -- false ambitions and evil desires. As long as individuals serve their own personal interests, the common good will suffer. Let them examine the self-evident fact that this world of ours us the fatherland of the entire human race.”

Photos I took of the exhibition are here:

Other photos taken the same day are in folder headed Museum Boijmans van Beuningen:

I especially recommend looking at the seven panels of the works of mercy. This set was originally hung in the cathedral in Alkmaar, 100 meters from our house. In each panel, Christ (shown without a halo) is present but unrecognized. In the first panel, among a small crowd being given bread by a husband and wife, he looks directly toward the viewer. The paintings were damaged in the late 16th century, during the period of iconoclasm that occurred in the early period of the Reformation. A skillful restoration was carried out about thirty years ago by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.


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