This was perhaps the most profound attack on the Roman system, which is a sacramental system completely, and which was dissolved just by this criticism.
Now this is the conf lict of Luther with the Roman church – some of the main points in it. I now come to the other conf licts, the conf lict with the humanists and the conf lict with the Evangelical Radicals.
The Conf lict with the Humanists The representative of humanism at that time was Erasmus of Rotterdam. In the beginning they had friendly feelings for each other, but then the attacks on both sides created a break between Protestantism and humanism, and this break has not been healed up to today, in spite of the fact that Zwingli tried to heal it as early as in the 20’s of the 16th century. Erasmus was a humanist, but he was a Christian humanist; he was not anti-religious at all. He believed himself to be a better Christian than any Pope of his time, and he agreed in this in unity with Luther. But he was a humanist, and that means he had special characteristics distinguishing him from the prophet. You have Dr. Richardson’s article on the prophet and the scholar, and the confrontation of Luther and Erasmus in these terms. What Luther couldn’t stand in Erasmus, he has expressed very clearly. He couldn’t stand his unexistential detachment, the detachment from the religious content without passion, as he says; the scholarly attitude towards the contents of the Christian faith. He felt that in Erasmus there is some unconcern, while the problems are matters of ultimate concern.
The second is that as every scholar has to be skeptical about the traditions and the meaning of the words and everything else which he shall interpret, Erasmus was a scholarly skeptic. Luther couldn’t stand this. For him absolute statements in matters of ultimate concern are needed.
Third, Luther was a radical, in political and every other respect; but Erasmus seemed to be to him a man of adaptation to the political situation – not for his own sake but in order to have peace on earth.
Fourthly, Erasmus has a strongly educational point of view. The development of the individual in educational terms is decisive for him. And all humanism, up to today, has this educational drive and passion.
Fifth, Erasmus’ criticism is rational criticism. It is lacking in revolutionary aggressiveness.
Now all this Luther sees in Erasmus. But the whole discussion finally focused around the doctrine of the freedom of the will. Erasmus was for human freedom; Luther against. But now please don’t write that down without writing down everything I have to add now!: Neither Erasmus nor Luther doubted about man’s psychological freedom. They didn’t think man is a stone or animal. And even Karl Barth says: I know well that man is not a turtle – But he doesn’t know it well! because he doesn’t see that this means that man has freedom, freedom of deliberation and decision, freedom of contradicting himself, and that in this freedom which is his rational structure his image of God is implied.