Conversing with God: Prayer in Erasmus' Pastoral Writings.
(Erasmus Studies). Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997. 261 PP. $60 ISBN: 0-8020-4101-9.
Luther said that Erasmus was as slippery as an eel. Eels, easy to trap, are hard to hold. Pabel's work on Erasmus's too-long-neglected writings on prayer shows a way to get a hold. Pabel participates in the rehabilitation Erasmus now receives as a result of the Amsterdam and Toronto editions of his works and of the series, Erasmus Studies. The Protean quality of Erasmus's corpus has made him an easy prey for apparently incompatible persuasions. Pabel reviews the diverse and often contradictory interpretations of Erasmus's humanism; and, recognizing Erasmus's extensive fault-finding in regard to Catholic piety, he shows that the humanist's thought on prayer adheres to Catholic guidelines. Although Erasmus, like Ignatius Loyola and many others, defines prayer as a conversation with God, he offers a somewhat simple concept of prayer. He certainly does not recommend the kind of step-by-step process of the Spiritual Exercises that will engage the senses and the imagination to culminate in colloquy with God. And u nlike many Catholic treatises on prayer and the spiritual life, he does not relate prayer to the purgative, illuminative and unitive ways. Pabel holds that Erasmus employs the medium of print to instruct a vast audience, the pastors of Christendom who are to instruct the ordinary faithful in the way to pray.
Pabel focuses on the Modus orandi Deum (1524), a treatise on prayer; Precatio dominica (1524), a paraphrase of the Lord's Prayer; and Precationes aliquot novae (1535), a prayer book teaching youths how to have a colloquy with God. Commenting on the long digression on the cult of the saints in Modus orandi Deum, Pabel offers an enlightening comparison between the thought of Luther and Erasmus. Luther came to condemn prayer to the saints. But Erasmus condemned only superstitious rituals and defended the practice even though the scriptural base for it was weak. He offered a reformed cult of the saints recognizing the Catholic distinctions among dulia, inferior veneration paid to saints, hyperdulia, veneration to Mary, and latria, the supreme worship due God alone. Ultimately, prayer to saints should lead to the imitation of the virtues that made them most Christ-like. Pabel describes Erasmus's life-long devotion to St. Genevieve.
Although Erasmus rambles in Modus orandi Deum, Pabel identifies four chief issues -- the nature of God, the character of the one who prays, the purpose, and the manner of prayer. Because Erasmus takes such pains to stress the goodness of God, the Christian should converse with God with expectations of mercy and benignity and without fear of wrath. One should come to prayer with humility and trust and disposed toward concord. One should pray first for the glory of God, then for salvation and, finally, for the public and private good. Sincerity should characterize prayer which can occur in any time or place. Erasmus encourages the recitation of the Lord's Prayer, the collects of the early church and prayers that employ Scripture.
In the Precatio dominica, Erasmus made seven prayers that interpret and paraphrase each petition of the Lord's Prayer. Pabel shows how Erasmus's irenicism permeates this work at a time when concord and harmony were needed to reconcile sectarian disputes. Precationes aliquot novae contains twenty-seven prayers and thirty-five Eiaculationes, short prayers. In these prayers, Pabel finds indications of orthodox views on the sacraments and evidence of Erasmus's own piety -- an attribute some have denied him.
When Pabel examines Erasmus on prayer, he brings to our attention what Erasmus's other works have to say on the issue and he reveals clearly the intellectual milieu necessary for understanding each topic. Students of the Renaissance and Reformation will profit from this much needed study on Erasmus as a pastor.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 1999|
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