Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther, and the Fight for the Western Mind

Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther, and the Fight for the Western Mind

by Michael Massing


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A deeply textured dual biography and fascinating intellectual history that examines two of the greatest minds of European history—Desiderius Erasmus and Martin Luther—whose heated rivalry gave rise to two enduring, fundamental, and often colliding traditions of philosophical and religious thought.

Erasmus of Rotterdam was the leading figure of the Northern Renaissance. At a time when Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael were revolutionizing Western art and culture, Erasmus was helping to transform Europe’s intellectual and religious life, developing a new design for living for a continent rebelling against the hierarchical constraints of the Roman Church. When in 1516 he came out with a revised edition of the New Testament based on the original Greek, he was hailed as the prophet of a new enlightened age. Today, however, Erasmus is largely forgotten, and the reason can be summed up in two words: Martin Luther. As a young friar in remote Wittenberg, Luther was initially a great admirer of Erasmus and his critique of the Catholic Church, but while Erasmus sought to reform that institution from within, Luther wanted a more radical transformation. Eventually, the differences between them flared into a bitter rivalry, with each trying to win over Europe to his vision.

In Fatal Discord, Michael Massing seeks to restore Erasmus to his proper place in the Western tradition. The conflict between him and Luther, he argues, forms a fault line in Western thinking—the moment when two enduring schools of thought, Christian humanism and evangelical Christianity, took shape. A seasoned journalist who has reported from many countries, Massing here travels back to the early sixteenth century to recover a long-neglected chapter of Western intellectual life, in which the introduction of new ways of reading the Bible set loose social and cultural forces that helped shatter the millennial unity of Christendom and whose echoes can still be heard today. Massing concludes that Europe has adopted a form of Erasmian humanism while America has been shaped by Luther-inspired individualism.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060517601
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/27/2018
Pages: 1008
Sales rank: 58,904
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.10(h) x 2.30(d)

About the Author

Michael Massing is a former executive editor of the Columbia Journalism Review and a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books. His work has also appeared in the New York Times, the Nation, the Atlantic, and the Los Angeles Times. He is the author of The Fix, a critical study of the U.S. war on drugs, and Now They Tell Us: The American Press and Iraq. He is a co-founder of the Committee to Protect Journalists and sits on its board. He received a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science. In 1992, he was named a MacArthur Fellow, and in 2010-2011 he was fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography at CUNY. A native of Baltimore, he lives in New York City.

Table of Contents

Introduction ix

Part I Early Struggles

1 The New Europe 3

2 Miner's Son 20

3 Candlelight Studies 28

4 Penance and Dread 48

5 Breakthrough 56

6 The Vow in the Storm 76

Part II Discoveries

7 Back to the Fathers 87

8 Angry with God 117

9 Renaissance Tour 140

10 Self-Righteous Jews 162

11 A Blueprint for Europe 192

12 The Gate to Paradise 217

13 Annus Mirabilis 241

14 A Friar's Cry 264

Part III Rumblings

15 For the Want of Greek Type 289

16 A Drunken German 300

17 Unbridled 318

18 Onto the World Stage 328

19 Uncommitted 342

20 The Great Debate 357

21 The Viper Strikes 374

22 Thunderclaps 385

23 Bonfires 402

24 Faith and Fury 420

25 Will He Come? 436

26 Judgment at Worms 450

Part IV Agitation

27 The Martyr's Crown 473

28 Outlaw 488

29 Was Nowhere Safe? 508

30 Satan Falls upon the Flock 522

31 The Pope of Wittenberg 541

32 The New Gospel Spreads 556

33 True Christian Warfare 572

34 A Shower of Stones 592

Part V Rupture

35 The Gospel of Discontent 609

36 Uprising 625

37 The Murdering Hordes 645

38 Fatal Dissension 667

39 Invasion by Scripture 684

40 Vandals 697

41 The Crack-Up 717

42 Madness 736

43 Enemies of Christ 758

Aftermath: Erasmus 783

Aftermath: Luther 801

Origins and Acknowledgments 823

Notes 829

Bibliography 937

Index 955

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