How did Erasmus use “Folly” to criticize the Catholic Church of his Day? It may seem odd or different to admire and acclaim Folly, but there is a definite benefit to foolishness: the freedom to tell only factual information. In Praise of Folly, Erasmus put this independence to good use in repeating to the readers, a civilization significantly besmirched by mature worries, that a person is unable to serve both God and Mammon.
He leveled over his irony by promising us that “there is merit in being attacked by Folly” (7), and closed with the recap that “it’s Folly and a woman who’s been speaking” (134), a renunciation that permitted him to be as brutal as he desired to be in his condemnation. He definitely found necessity for severity, for the standards he saw at the center of Christianity, the sympathy and detriment of the Scriptures, were everywhere stunned by gluttony, drive, and fallacy.
Having the disguise of Folly, Erasmus critiqued the developing middle-class financial values, policies of hierarchy, and even Catholicism itself, and in the course he safeguarded the traditional Christian ethic, which appears as Folly to the world. Obviously, the affection of Christ was distant from the princes of Christendom, having been substituted by egotism and exploitation. While Erasmus remained faithful to the Catholic Church, Erasmus observed many exploitations among her ministry, theologians, and untrained persons, and he dedicated a huge apportion of the Praise of Folly to disapproval of the sleaze in the Church.
The sleaze of the clergy was similar to that of the princes, and like the princes their existences made ridicule of the “linen vestment, snow-white in colour to indicate a pure and spotless life” (107) and other symbols of the ideal Erasmus envisioned for the cardinals, bishops, and popes. Their greatest care was “netting their revenues into the bag” (107). The popes were biased by the fraud of “their wealth and honours, their sovereignty and triumphs, their many offices, dispensations, taxes, and indulgences, all their horses and mules, their retinue, and their countless pleasures” (109).
In what way, as “vicars of Christ”, were they able to “imitate his life of poverty and toil” (108). Reasonably, they permitted individuals to “enjoy deluding themselves with imaginary pardons for their sins” (63-64) through the deal of pardons, and Church offices were given to the highest bidder rather than the most religious. Erasmus also critiqued the reclusive system, being detached from civilization seemed to make the monks “a long way removed from religion” (96)l.
The priests, like their elders, believed mostly of “harvesting their gains” (112), using Scripture and ancient writings to reinforce their right to the duty, while “it never occurs to them how much can be read everywhere about the duty they owe the people in return” (111). Erasmus criticized the theologians, in particular the scholastics, for the exclusiveness that triggered them to “write for a learned minority” (81) and divide theological aspects that only added to division.
Among the untrained people, Erasmus saw “varieties of silliness” in the “ordinary life of Christians everywhere” (66). Fallacy and empty rites made up most of the varieties of silliness. Erasmus spoke out contrary to the sect of saints, whose supporters had disremembered the vital opinion that “the saint will protect you if you’ll try to imitate his life” (66) in their dependence on the saints to get them out of dilemmas. He also cautioned of the Virgin Mary that “the common ignorant man comes near to attributing more to her than to her son” (65).
The “varieties of silliness” and fallacy of the commonplace people had substantially fogged the important principles of Christianity, yet they were “readily permitted and encouraged by priests who are not unaware of the profit to be made thereby” (66). Erasmus acknowledged that the standards and financial system of Capitalism that were evolving along with the new middle-class was in many ways differed to conservative Christianity, so traders and their class were integrated in the mocking attacks of Folly.
He criticized many classes of people for their commitment to Mammon: gamblers who “make shipwreck of their entire resources” (62), the man who “marries a dowry, not a wife” (76), or “thinks himself rich on loans and credit” (76), “the priests who look for profit by their flocks” (66), and the merchants themselves, “most foolish of all, and the meanest” (76). Erasmus brought out their “lies, perjury, thefts, frauds, and deceptions” (76), which does not stop them from seeing themselves greater on justification of their prosperity.
He also made note of the narcissism of this wealth, though one can be affluent and influential, “if he lacks all spiritual goods and can never be satisfied, then he’s surely the poorest of men” (44). “Spiritual goods” such as devout knowledge are not good business sense: “How much money,” Folly asks, “can he make in business if he lets wisdom be his guide, if he recoils from perjury, blushes if he’s caught telling a lie, and takes the slightest notice of those niggling scruples wise men have about thieving and usury? (114) The traders instead displayed a sophisticated understanding to outfit their gluttony.
Erasmus also criticized the tiered type of his society, in particular criticizing the dishonesty of kings and their courts and the desolation of noble designations. He reprimanded those who took pleasure in “an empty title of nobility” (67), proposing they might be called “low-born and bastard” because they were “so far removed from virtue, which is the sole source of nobility” (45).
He grieved that honesty is far from stately courts, princes “having no one to tell them the truth, and being obliged to have flatterers for friends” (56). His idea of what a monarch should be is very forward and point blank, he “has to devote himself to public instead of his personal affairs, and must think only of the well-being of his people” (104).
But in reality it was far dissimilar, as Erasmus showed the idea of the prince, whose immoralities make ridicule of the royal representations of what he should be, “a man ignorant of the law, well nigh an enemy to his people’s advantage while intent on his personal convenience, a dedicated voluptuary, a hater of learning, freedom, and truth, without a thought for the interests of his country, and measuring everything in terms of his own profit and desires.
Then give him a gold chain, symbol of the concord between all the virtues, a crown studded with precious stones to remind him that he must exceed all others in every heroic quality. Add a sceptre to symbolize justice and a wholly uncorrupted heart, and finally, the purple as an emblem of his overwhelming devotion to his people. If the prince were to compare these insignia with his way of life, I’m sure he would blush to be thus adorned, and fear that some satirist would turn all these trappings into a subject for mockery and derision” (105).
Though he criticized the irrationality that led to fraud in the Church, societal ladders of rank, and finances, Erasmus smoothed out his justification of conservative Christianity with admiration for a different kind of Folly, the vital Scriptural truths of Christianity which are the knowledge of God that seems silliness to people. He mentioned Paul’s lessons of the folly of the Gospel, declaring that “the Christian religion has a kind of kinship with folly in some form, though it has none at all with wisdom” (128).
If “by stoic definition wisdom means nothing else but being ruled by reason; and folly, by contrast, is being swayed by the dictates of the passions” (29), then the dominant education of Christianity, love for God and one’s fellow citizen, was in fact similar to folly, for love is definitely a passion. This forsaken love along with empathy, martyr, and the other principles of Christian idiocy, was what Erasmus pursued to support in his criticism of a civilization tainted in the observance of Mammon rather than God.
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