Was the Roman Catholic Erasmus Sound in His Doctrine?

by Rick Norris

Bob Steward, a KJV-only advocate, stated: "One of the grandest names behind the King James Bible is that of Erasmus" (Biography of Erasmus, p. 1). John Cereghin, a KJV defender, claimed: "Erasmus was no Catholic. He was quite orthodox in his doctrine, including his soteriology" (MBBC Swordsman, Summer, 1995, p. 11). David Cloud, another KJV-only advocate, also defended Erasmus's doctrinal "orthodoxy" and "soundness" (Myths about the KJB: Myth #1, p. 24). Cloud also contended: "As to the fundamental doctrines of the Word of God, Erasmus was orthodox" (Ibid.). Are these claims true or only hopeful thinking?

The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion stated that Erasmus "remained a stauch Catholic and Augustinian priest" (p. 341). V. Green wrote that Erasmus "did not criticize the doctrine of the Church, its sacraments, its priesthood or its hierarchy" (Luther and the Reformation, p. 141). John Faulkner mentioned where Erasmus affirmed: "But one should not determine for himself to doctrine, but let the Catholic Church speak, to whose judgment I submit everything" (Erasmus, p. 177). Bainton cited Erasmus as writing in a letter to Hutten the following: "Where have I ever condemned the canon law and the decretals of the popes?" (Erasmus of Christendom, p. 177). Quotations could also be given where Erasmus defended the Roman Catholic Church as the only true Church and even defended many of its practices, including the Mass, prayers to saints, and the Confessional.

Erasmus also seemed to defend the Roman Catholic view of the doctrines of justification and salvation. Charles Hodge pointed out that according to the Roman Catholic view "we are not justified by works done before regeneration, but we are justified for gracious works, i.e., for works which spring from the principle of divine life infused into the heart" (Justification By Faith Alone, p. 69). William Perkins (1558- 1602) commented: "The papist saying that a man is justified by faith understandeth a general or a catholic faith, whereby a man believeth the articles of religion to be true" (Work of William Perkins, p. 535). In his On Mending the Peace of the Church, Erasmus wrote: "Let us agree that we are justified by faith, i.e., the hearts of the faithful are thereby purified, provided we admit that the works of charity are necessary for salvation" (Essential Erasmus, p. 379). Henry Sheldon noted: "In place of justification by faith, as taught by the Reformer [Luther], he [Erasmus] preferred to insist that the way to salvation lies in the strenuous imitation of the graces of Christ" (History of the Christian Church, III, pp. 32-23). Why do KJV-only advocates claim that this unscriptural view of salvation and justification as held by Erasmus is sound? Many other problems with the views of Erasmus could be given.

Concerning other editors, textual critics, or translators, KJV-only advocates have claimed that if their theology is wrong that some of their produced works will contain error. In like manner, would they claim that because the theology of Erasmus was wrong, that some of his produced work will contain error or that his treatment of the text should not be trusted? According to the claimed principles of KJV-only advocates, Erasmus would not be a good, superior, or final authority for determining the best text of the Greek New Testament. Have they forced themselves into a corner that they cannot get out of without admitting their view is wrong? Do they toss objectivity and truth out the window when they practice a double standard by defending Erasmus in spite of his Roman Catholic doctrinal errors and compromise?