Monday, 1 June 2015

palabra jot

Just as the kingdoms of Heaven and the Earth were already careening in directions unknown with the confluence of Martin Luther’s critical and revolutionary stance, Henry VIII’s dissention that led to the Anglican confession, the discovery of the New World materialising and successive plagues picking off large swaths of the impious and faithful alike, the event that probably shook the foundations of the Church the most was a conciliatory bearing, a compromise characterised as a Middle Way, advocated by one of its own, Dutch theologian and scholar Desiderius Erasmus.
In the spirit of Cicero, regarded as the father of humanism, Erasmus championed dialectic over pure dogma and believed that religion revealed rather than one imparted made one’s belief genuine and steadfast—although Erasmus did not go as far as Luther in abolishing the priestly class, maintaining that tutors were necessary. Furthermore, raising more contention with the Protestant movement than reconciliation, Erasmus argued that that personal, less mediated relation with the divine was not consequent to the notion of predestination, accepting that one is part of God’s plan and happy with that, but instead that the orthodox idea of free will (which is not unfettered agency but the ability to see outcomes as otherwise than they actually turn out—that is, understanding that one’s actions and intentions have consequences, for good or evil) still had a place in this reformed cosmology. The most public and controversial act of the academic, however, was his decision to brush up on his Greek and Latin (the stock-phrase Pandora’s box comes from one of Erasmus’ earlier, honest mistranslations of Hesiod—it ought to be Pandora’s jar) and undertake to produce a definitive new translation of the Bible, since Luther’s own (thanks to the advent of the printing-press) was a popular success and successful too in promulgating historic typos. Luther, as King James and virtual all theologians relied on the four century translation of Saint Jerome of the Greek testaments into Latin. Wanting to provide his parishioners as pupils a better text and feeling admittedly divinely inspired, Erasmus quipped that “it is only fair that Paul should address the Romans in somewhat better Latin” and began his new version. Though a traditionalist in terms of Church politics, Erasmus did a poor job in restraining himself when it came to language. While I am sure that all linguists of any ilk sort of cringe to find surpassing λόγοϛ rendered as plain old word (Verbum), it was just too much for the Church to take when the first proofs started, very first chapter and verse, “In the beginning there was Conversation…” It is hard to say if Erasmus and his adherents might have negotiated a more peaceful and civil schism or might have made matters far worse, but both sides rejected this agitator’s backing as too much of a liability.