Recent ‘In Our Time’ reminded me how much I like Erasmus’ thought and general approach to life.  Link to the programme here:  Erasmus of Rotterdam

Portrait of Erasmus by Holbein

Here are my notes:

Erasmus of Rotterdam

Born to a priest as father and started off in a monastery, but unhappy there.  A fabulous scholar, he escaped to become a secy to the Bishop of Cambrai.  Trained in a model of inner piety, he became a Greek expert with a desire to bring the Church back to its more simple roots.  His rise to scholarship co-incided with the flight of the Greek manuscripts from Constantinople in second half of the 15th Century.  He believed passionately in a better model of the church and became a coruscating critic of Church corruption.  Open to ideas from all sides eg Socrates, but passionate in his philosophy of Christianity as essentially a religion of the heart, not just the head – ‘follow Christ in his simplicity’.  He disliked the material, superstitious Christianity he saw all around.   Complex though – hid some of his own real feelings.  He paid a formative visit to England where he met John Colet who first put him onto Greek.  He became fascinated by the Greek texts and this led to him translating the New Testament – a still flawed but better version than Jerome’s.  By printing the Greek opposite the Latin Vulgate, this edition also allowed the scholars of the time to see Jerome’s version as a historical document and to realise that some of its ‘spin’ / mistranslation might have distorted the message.

It is said that he ‘laid the egg that Luther hatched’. as Luther followed Erasmus’ critical insight in establishing his own critique of the Church.  However E condemned Luther for putting his own opinions above the Church.  Some of his best work, incl. the best seller ‘In Praise of Folly’, uses humour very well.  His is a measured Christianity – he praises marriage over celibacy, for example.  He found Luther too dogmatic, not nuanced enough, although initially he supported Luther to protect him from the Pope.  Essentially his disagreement with Luther was over his view of human nature: he could not accept Luther’s view that humans were essentially flawed.    Eventually he came out against Luther over sth. he really believed in: human free will.   For Erasmus, free will and grace work together – he paints a picture of a child being supported by his father when first walking – the father supports, and is there if he falls, but the child has to be motivated and try to walk:  it made me think of helping a child to learn to ride a bike.  He believed  that predestination, which came to be such a strong theme in some branches of Protestantism, made God into a monster.  For Erasmus God must be good and people must be able to make choices.  It cannot just be ‘by faith alone,’ as Luther had said.  Erasmus was also a great advocate of peace: war is terrible, and a war between Christians was the worst possible:  a betrayal of Christ.    After his death the church condemned him and his books were on the banned list.  His critique of the way the Church worked, albeit a critique ‘from the inside’ was judged to have opened the way for the Reformation.  However his influence in supporting a humane tolerant Christianity can be seen in the later intellectual life in both the Protestant and Catholic faiths.

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When You Are Old…

Get out the Kleenex for this one…


In fairness, it could teeter you into schmalz avoidance mode, but if you listen to it as a genuine hymn of love, it’s beautiful.

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A musical weekend

Three concerts in four nights.  Something is happening to me.  Each one was great, but different.  So many talented people.

First it was Rachel Sermmarni who sings like an angel:

Then it was Eve Loiseaux:

All we needed was a glass of red wine.

Finally it was the Scottish Jazz Orchestra:

On this ‘Weather Report’ tour, they were joined by Peter Erskine (ex ‘Weather Report’!) and Marcio Doctor on percussion.  What a sound!

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Curriculum controversy in Scotland

I was so upset at recent reports that the Inspectorate and national government were taking a strong line and virtually forcing all schools into a particular straitjacket that I felt compelled to write a

Letter to TESS editor.

Much good may it do!

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What has Danny been listening to this week?

Some great listening while at the gym this morning. Two terrific editions of Desert Island Discs. First was Denise Lewis: really impressed with the story of her Mum bringing her up in Wolverhampton, the intensity of that mother-daughter thing. Second up was James Corden, not my favourite guy until I heard this, in particular the ‘prodigal son’ part of the interview, where he talks about the turning point in his recent life. It’s such a great format for a programme and so much to learn from the lives of the people, past and present, who have shared something of themselves on air in this way.

From there, it was on to the latest downloads of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’. Until this, I had not really paid attention to Rashid al-Ghannushi, the 70 year old leader of the Tunisian Islamist party An-Nahda which leads the coalition government of Tunisia. Hearing the broadcast, and finding out a little more online, I discover an interesting political thinker. What caught my attention was Owen Bennett Jones, the BBC reporter, saying that Rashid sees the UK as the most Islamic country he has lived in. The reason he gives, says OBJ, is that he sees Islam as requiring that a state delivers justice, compulsory charity and consultation in decision making. When living in exile in the UK, following torture and imprisonment in his own country, he realised that the UK delivered on these important issues: justice is delivered by the rule of law (in 22 years in exile in the UK he was never once questioned by the British police), compulsory charity (the welfare state offers basic protections to all residents) and consultation in decision making (delivered through local councils, a free press and a functioning parliament). It was good to hear an alternative to the dominant portrayal of Islamic political thought in our media as that of the Iranian revolution, the extreme zealotry of Al Quaeda or the religous intolerance of Saudi Arabia.  Most of the Muslims I have met are educated, civilised and tolerant people with a broad view of life, compatible with a strong faith, an admirable sense of tradition and positive values…. and generous hospitality and a great sense of humour.

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