Firstly written for private circulation, the Praise of Folly, by Desiderius Erasmus, describes the abuses and follies of the various classes of society, but especially the ones from the church. It is a cold inspiration, deliberate attempt to discredit the church, and its satire and harsh comment on ecclesiastical conditions were so repetitive that a reader can easily realize that the main purpose of Erasmus writing this masterpiece was to persuade the people to start questioning the manners of the Romanists’ religious authority.
The Praise of Folly, takes on a very diverse form of life during 1509, sixteenth century Europe, and it is a demostration of how Erasmus could turn his literary and beautiful writing talent to incomparable and unique sarcasms to denunciate the immorality and wickedness of men. The Praise of Folly is written from the point of view of Folly, a Greek goddess, who delivers a speech praising herself “And to whom is it generally agreed life owes its beginning if not to me? (Erasmus, The Praise of Folly, Spanish Version, 3). ” Here, she is saying that she is the beginning of all life, and that she should be the most regarded person in the world.
In addition, in the entire book she tries to convince the reader that they can never have self-love, flattery, forgetfulness, idleness, pleasures, madness, sensuality, revelry, and dead sleep without the presence of her. In Folly’s eyes, she proves these items as being virtues and not defects, and she tricks the reader into believing that all foolishness is, in fact wisdom. However, Erasmus really meant in this book that because of these “virtues”, called by Folly in this way, there was so much corruption and misdeeds in the world that would lead it to a big catastrophe before the God’s eyes.
On the other hand, what Erasmus wanted to accomplish throughout the voice of this goddess “Folly”, was to single out the different classes amongst her followers and exposes their social and moral faults. One such class is that of the Scientist. They are criticized for believing that they are better than all other mortals. They “teach that they alone are wise while the rest of mortal men flit about as shadows (Erasmus, The Praise of Folly, Spanish Version, 67). Erasmus is talking about the false idea that the Pope alone has the gift to interpret the Holy Scripture, as well as the allegation that the Pope has a divine wisdom. Erasmus’ view of the Pope and the Romanists is that they “knowing nothing in general, they profess to know all things in particular; though they are ignorant even of themselves, and on occasion do not see the ditch or the stone lying across their path, because many of them are blear eyed or absent minded (Erasmus, The Praise of Folly, Spanish Version, 67).
Without officially speaking out against the Pope, Erasmus explains that the Pope was situate in a box of crystal, considering him a powerful mortal, and that was no the correct way in which a Pope should be treat; also, he states that the Pope has no true knowledge as to what God expects from his worshipers. In addition, Erasmus questioned why Popes, Cardinals, and Bishops felt that they had that knowledge to answer any and all existential questions concerning human origin and human destiny, and that these figures of religious authority were more concerned with their roles of authority than they were about their religious duties.
Because, when works of charity need to be done, they are the first ones to deny responsibility, but when the issue is money, they are more willing to pay attention in what to do to get it. Yet, the most disconcerting part for Erasmus was “these lucky scientists find people to believe them (Erasmus, The Praise of Folly, Spanish Version, 67). It is when Erasmus calls to the people of the church to not accept everything that is told to them from these authority figures because these religious beings have made of Christ’s sacrifice for us a worthless action. But it must be noted that while Erasmus found the wickedness of these religious authorities repulsive, he did not disapprove of Roman Catholic doctrine. Erasmus wished only for a reformation of priestly morals and conduct, not of Roman theology.
As Christian Humanist, he desired this religious reform of the church through educational and social change; however, Erasmus believed that a religious revolt led to anarchy, therefore he took the side of neither the Pope, nor the reform radical of Martin Luther; instead, as mentioned before, he hoped to provoke people into questioning their confidence in religious authority through his writings, as opposed to speaking out directly against the Romanists, which was the specific strategy utilized in The Praise of Folly.
The desire for new spiritual complemet was great in many parts of Europe, and movements of thoughts which gave intellectual content to what in so many ways was an initial search for God. This explained why the Reformation took root and led to a permanent division within the church. The Reformation maintained itself wherever the lay power favored it; it could not survive where the authorities decided to suppress it. For this was the age of uniformity, an age which held at all times and everywhere that one political unit could not comprehend within itself two forms of belief or worship.
Consequently, there is no doubt that Erasmus lived during a time when many learned people were critical of various Christian beliefs and practices. The Praise of Folly is a live example that such critics were directed to reject the authority of the pope with one specific objective, develop new moral and conduct systems. Desiderius Erasmus was named the “Prince of Humanists” because he was one of the most important men of the Reformation period.
In my opinion, he is one of the most fascinating and unforgettable characters in history and many people believe without discussion that he was a genius and he proves this with The Praise of Folly. The historical and cultural evidences in this book indicate that it could not have been written during any other period except sixteenth century Europe, and as mentioned before, The Praise of Folly is a book where Erasmus makes his points through insinuations, and writes satirical attack on the traditions of the Catholic Church and popular superstitions, focusing in the foolishness of the humanity.
Even though Erasmus implicated that foolishness was the state that hypnotized the people to do wrong things, there is one advantage that he mentioned about foolishness: the freedom to speak the truth. In the Praise of Folly, Erasmus put this freedom to reminde his readers that in the earth one cannot serve both at the same time, God and demons.
In addition, he found that the need for harshness was necessary to explain to a society greatly corrupted by worldly concerns, that the values of Christianity and the Holy Scriptures were at that moment overwhelmed by greed and ambition. When examining satire in the Renaissance, you can not escape from that time without studying the satire of Desiderius Erasmus and while you start to comprehend all his satire, you can not stop to wonder what a man like Erasmus of Rotterdam would think of today’s world, politically and morally speaking.
Would a man like Erasmus who was so outspoken in his own time, be able to stand aside and let the folly flow freely? And I ask myself where are the Erasmus’ of our own time because we need people who can stand against our governments, churches, and other powerful organizations for what is right. I think that if Erasmus were alive today, he would not only enjoy the freedom of speech, but he would surely expose himself to any diversity of modern days follies within the political and religious world.