From the Archives: Desiderius Erasmus
Erasmus (c 1469–1536) was the most celebrated humanist scholar of his time. His renowned Latin New Testament, based upon his critical Greek text, made future biblical scholarship indebted to him; Erasmus, though a dedicated Catholic, attacked the abuses of monasticism with brilliant satire in In Praise of Folly, and agreed with Luther in Luther’s attack on the abuse of indulgences, though the two later bitterly opposed each other. Here, in the third chapter of an early book, De Contemptu Mundi, Erasmus decries the dangers of wealth.
What thing of so great a value does this world promise you, that for the love thereof you will put your Soul’s health in danger…? What, I say, does it promise you? Is it abundance of riches? For that is what mortal folks especially desire. But truly there is nothing more miserable, more vain or deceitful, more noxious or hurtful, than worldly goods. Worldly goods are the very masters or ministers of all misgovernance and mischief. Holy Scripture does not without a cause call covetousness the root of all evil. For from it springs an ungracious affection for goods; and in it injuries and wrongs have their beginning. From it grow sedition and part-taking [dispute],… stealing, pillaging, sacrilege, extortion, and robbing. Riches engender and bring forth incest and adultery. Riches nourish and foster ravishments, mad loves, and superfluity.
… What rich man can you show me who is not infected with one of these two vices: either with covetousness… or else with prodigality and waste…. The covetous man is servant and not master of his riches, and the waster will not long be master thereof. The one is possessed and does not possess: and the other within a short while leaves the possession of riches.