Erasmus and Luther

Luther and his Collaborators, by Lucas Cranach the Younger. Detail from the epitaph of Michael Meyenburg, the Burgomaster of Meyenburg, oil painting, copy of the original from 1558, which was once conserved in the Saint Blaise’s church in Nordhausen.

The confrontation between Erasmus and Luther was a highly important duel for Europe during the first half of the sixteenth century, for they offered competing visions of humans, history, and faith. While they were both born in a Northern Europe steeped in devotio moderna, and both received the same spiritual and biblical training, their paths soon radically diverged, as Erasmian Christian humanism, which defended an optimistic anthropology, could not agree with the despair of the Reformation. Moreover, Erasmus’s preference for the writings of Origen and Saint Jerome, at the expense of those of Saint Augustine, was unbearable for Luther. The impossible dialogue between these two sixteenth century giants contributed to early modern Europe’s shift into religious schism.