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Fatal Discord

Erasmus, Luther, and the Fight for the Western Mind

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About the Book

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.

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Critical Praise

“Massing superbly accomplishes the mammoth task of writing a dual biography of Desiderus Erasmus (1466–1536) and Martin Luther (1483–1546) that places the pair within their historical context...this is a masterly work. Massing manages to juggle the complicated biographies and life work of both Erasmus and Luther while giving the reader a well-written, comprehensive background of pre-Reformation theology.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Brilliantly tracing the crisscrossing paths of the two most important thinkers of the sixteenth century, Michael Massing shows that where Martin Luther and Erasmus of Rotterdam parted ways—on the adequacy of human reason, the legibility of Scripture, and the nature of God—is where the grievous fracturing of the modern world begins. The stakes of their increasingly bitter conflict were high and enduring and we today are the heirs of it. The hero of Fatal Discord is the irenic, cosmopolitan Erasmus, who insisted until the end of his days, amid deepening religious violence between Protestants and Catholics across Europe, that men and women were capable of choosing to live generous and peaceful lives and that this is what a loving God wanted for them. A stunning work of historical detection, deeply learned and elegantly written, Fatal Discord adds depth and dimension to the most urgent questions of our times. ” —Professor Robert A. Orsi, author of History and Presence and Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them.

Product Details

  • ISBN: 9780060517601
  • ISBN 10: 0060517603
  • Imprint: Harper
  • On Sale: 02/27/2018
  • Pages: 1008
  • List Price: 50.00 CAD
  • BISAC1: RELIGION / Christianity / History
  • BISAC2: BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Religious
  • BISAC3: HISTORY / Modern / 16th Century

Fatal Discord by Michael Massing

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