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The Handbook of Erasmus

    Erasmus (1469-1536) was concerned with the lackadaisical, half-hearted attempts to live a Christian life which he experienced around him.  The fact that he lived 500 years ago doesn’t really matter; this has always been a problem for Christians.  In the following quote from his book The Handbook of the Christian Soldier, Erasmus isolates the problem to a continuing struggle between physical or spiritual desires.  Too many times he saw physical desires win out over spiritual discipline.  Therefore he wrote this book as an encouragement for Christians of his time, but his words are just as appropriate today.  The rest of this article consists of a quote from his book.

    “As it delights the bodily eye each time this visible son spreads new light upon the earth, consider for a moment what must be the pleasure of the heavenly spirits, for whom that eternal sun [God] ever rises and never sets; consider what great joy it is for pure spirit, illumined by divine light.  And in response to the promptings of visible creation pray in the words of Paul that ‘he who commanded light to shine forth from darkness will begin to shine in your heart to illumine the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus.’ (II Corinthians 4:6)  Search out similar passages from the sacred books in which the grace of the divine Spirit is frequently compared to light.  Night seems sad and gloomy to you; think of the soul deprived of divine light and shrouded in vice.  And if you discern signs of night within yourself, pray that the sun of justice may rise upon you.

    Be so convinced of the existence of invisible things that those things that are seen become but mere shadows, which present to the eye only a faint image of invisible realities. . . . A handsome physical appearance is appealing to the eye.  Imagine how fair must be the beauty of the soul! . . . Let us begin to live the interior life all the more sincerely as we live less exteriorly.  To sum it all up in simple language, we should be less influenced by transitory things as we come to know more fully the things that are eternal, and we should have less esteem for insubstantial things as we begin to raise our thoughts to those that are real.

    Therefore let this rule be ever in readiness, that we do not linger over temporal matters at any time, but move on, rising up to the love of spiritual things, which are incomparably better, despising visible things in comparison to those that are invisible. . . . Death of the body frightens you, but much more to be dreaded is the death of the soul.  You shudder at visible poison, which is deadly to the body, but far more dreadful is the venom that destroys the soul.  Hemlock is a poison for the body, but much more deadly is the venom of the soul, sensual pleasures.  You are terrified and pale with fear that a lightning bolt, flashing out of the clouds, may strike you, yet how much more to be feared is the invisible lightning bolt of divine wrath:  ‘Go ye cursed, into everlasting fire’?  You are ravished by physical beauty; why do you show no passion for that beauty which does not manifest itself to the senses?  Transfer your love to that beauty which is everlasting, heavenly, and incorruptible, and you will be more moderate in your love of the fleeting and fading beauty of the body.  You pray that your field will receive rain, so that it will not dry up; pray rather that God will water your mind so that it will not become unproductive of virtue.  With greatest care must you repair the bankruptcy of the soul.  You make provisions for your old age so that nothing will be lacking to your body, and should you not take thought that nothing be lacking to the soul?”

©2008 Mark Nickens

Questions/comments contact Mark at drnickens@triad.rr.com.

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