Thoughts on Praise of Folly and Complaint of Peace

Hi friends,

I just got this paper graded, and thought I would also put it on here.  I hope you enjoy a couple of thoughts I had on some of Erasmus’s work.

           Writing on issues of society, Erasmus wrote “The Praise of Folly” and “The Complaint of Peace.” Erasmus wrote as a member of Northern Europe who was influenced by Renaissance humanistic thought. Erasmus desires to use his writing to promote change. In order to prevent persecution, Erasmus writes these two works through the voices of Peace and Folly, using Folly to demonstrate a need for wisdom and prudence in Folly’s approach and uses both voices to create a society of peace and wisdom and believes the role of religion should be to promote a society that fosters this peace and a wisdom to unite with each other through the common bond of God.

            Prior to beginning Folly’s work, Erasmus opens with a letter to his friend, Thomas More. This letter is meant to save him from political persecution. Erasmus addresses critics of his works and those that might be offended by saying, “Let those whom the whimsy and foolery of my argument offends remember that mine is not the first sample of such a work but that many famous authors in the past have written in the same vein,” essentially stating that people should not be offended because in these forms of writing it is not the author who speaks, but rather the voices he grants permission to speak (E. PoF, 99). Furthermore, to allow for his humor to go on without regulation he approaches the topic of sarcasm by saying, “this freedom has always been permitted to men of wit, that in their satire they make fun of the common behavior of men with impurity, as long as this freedom does not go to the extreme,” clearly implying that what he will say is not an extreme measure (E. PoF, 100). Approaching the issues of peace, Erasmus takes a similar approach as he uses the voice of Peace to say what he wants, and then be able to argues that it was Peace talking, not him.

            Looking at the comments of Folly, Erasmus wants the comments to be taken with a degree of truth, showing where Folly does provide some truth, but at the same time they are not meant to be offensive — demonstrated by his note to the sarcasm. Erasmus, as a Christian humanist, wants his comments to convict others, saying that those who are offended, “betrays his conscience or at least his fear,” thus demonstrating that to a sense the injured admit what Folly has to say about them has legitimacy (E. PoF, 100). The comments are also meant to be taken with thanks as, “it is a noble thing to be scolded by folly,” because it will help make one wise (E. PoF, 100).

            Erasmus desires to promote change throughout society. The use of Folly is meant to prevent foolishness from dominating the landscape, and Peace is meant to prevent violence from overtaking humanity. To an extent, Erasmus sees the innocence of childhood, and while he praises it by saying it is a pleasant life, the satire of Folly intends to point out that while foolishness presents itself at a young age, it eventually needs to go if men are going to mature (E. PoF, 106). Folly also argues for a need of prudence, and also to prevent allowing anger and lust from dominating society, as the latter two of these three items are tyrants that need to be overcome by people (E. PoF, 110). Folly associates herself with women, clearly meaning that folly is not an attribute that Erasmus deems should be prominent in the mature society.

            Erasmus sees the joy that Folly brings as a benefit, but not the foolishness that Folly brings. Furthermore, Erasmus does see points where society needs Folly, in that “no society, no union in life . . . could be happy or lasting without me [Folly],” though folly should be found in moderation (E. PoF, 113). Erasmus points to various careers and uses Folly to poke fun at those careers in the areas that Erasmus would like to see changed, like the lawyers who argue to no end and win through sheer stubbornness (E. PoF, 140-142). Erasmus seems to value some aspects of Folly as well, with folly comes truth and candidness, which as a Christian, Erasmus finds are qualities worth having in a society, with a degree of prudence (E. PoF, 125).

            However, Folly is not the only source Erasmus uses to attempt to influence society. Aside from throwing off foolishness and trying to promote a wise and prudent life, Erasmus also desired to promote peace in the world. Erasmus uses Peace not as a joyful satire, but rather as the voice of a sad being, Peace, desiring for humanity to change. Peace feels rejected by men, and though Peace wants to be angry, it feels sympathy for humanity (E. CoP, 177). Peace sees humanity as an intelligent group of people, so Erasmus does not believe it makes sense humans to war with each other (E. CoP, 178). Rather than creating a society of that deals with bickering, Erasmus uses Peace to appeal to humanity through referencing the peace that Christ brought, and how those who call themselves Christians should try to mimic his example (E. CoP, 183). For Erasmus, it does not make sense for Christians to war with each other because they are both intelligent humans — and furthermore — they worship the same God. For Peace, it sees itself as necessary for the Christian life, as Erasmus demonstrates by using the voice of Peace to argue (E. CoP, 186).

            Peace also critiques Machiavelli, as is evident by the remark that, “The most criminal of all causes of war is, of course, the desire for power,” meaning that as Christians, society should work to prevent the hunger for power because of its nasty result (E. CoP, 188). Rather than permitting a society that embraces harm, Peace seeks to convict Christians and have them reassess their core beliefs and realize that they need to change. Peace associates itself with Christ, and those who seek to war with crosses on their uniforms — like crusaders — are also not creating peace for Christ, but are simply trying to expand their power over others (E. CoP 191). Though Peace gives credibility to war when it is to defend the common good, Peace would rather see war prevented altogether (E. CoP 195).

            In order to create a society of peace, prudence, and wisdom, Erasmus sees a need for the role of religion in politics and society. Clearly the use of religion and the power of its role is more explicitly dominant in Peace’s voice rather than Folly’s. Christianity is meant to create “the strongest bond of all,” so religion should be used to unite people rather than to create separation between people (E. CoP, 197). Peace beseeches several religious leaders to take part in reforming society, because of the strength of Christianity (E. CoP, 202). Erasmus clearly sees the strength of religion and the need for its role in creating peace, because of the constant references that he uses throughout the monologue of Peace. Folly sees the presence of God as a source of the good that comes from Folly, specifically in that God prepares humanity to love him (E. CoP, 172). Coming to Christ should help society push off anger and free the soul and separate from the dominating whimsy of the material world (E. CoP, 171). Erasmus wants religion to be used to help make others wise and prudent through throwing off tyrants of lust and anger. Overall, Erasmus uses both of these voices because he sees the need for the people to use their wisdom to realize the need for peace in the world and he believes that religion provides the unifying force for humanity.

            In order to make all these bold claims, and to do so through convicting others, Erasmus uses the voices of Folly and Peace to speak and argue his claims. Folly’s comments on herself should be taken without offense, but rather as seeing opportunities for inner-change. Erasmus envisions a society that is meant to work together and while it can experience the joys of life, they should not be approached as fools would, and through uniting under Christianity people should unify together. For Erasmus, the most effective method of accomplishing this task is through religion. Erasmus wanted to transform society through his works, and these two source provide examples as to what he wanted society to look like.

-Phil

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Christian, Lover of History, Aspiring Teacher

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