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Essay/Term paper: Praise of folly

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Humanities

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The Praise of Folly takes on a very

diverse form of life during sixteenth century Europe. In

1509 the author, Desiderius Erasmus, turned his literary

talents to the ridicule and denunciation of monastic vice,

immorality, and wickedness. He was considered the

"Prince of Humanists" [1] because he was one of the most

important men in Europe during the period of the

Reformation, The historical and cultural references in his

book proves that the Praise of Folly could not have been

written during any other time period except sixteenth

century Europe. Erasmus is one of the most fascinating and

inscrutable characters in history. There is no doubt that he

was a genius, He was also a bon vivant, but his tastes ran

toward good conversation and good food rather than

conspicuous consumption. He whined endlessly about his

troubles, and he begged shamelessly for ever more money

from his patrons. But he was one of the "most far-sighted

individuals to walk this planet," [2]. Before any others, he

saw how the corruption and misdeeds of the church would

lead to danger, and when Martin Luther hijacked Erasmus"

reform efforts and turned them into outright revolt, Erasmus

saw that this split in Christendom would lead to

catastrophe; a catastrophe that was realized a century later.

Erasmus, even from childhood, had a craving to read,

study, learn and know. He spent his life as a scholar and

writer. He was a man of quick wit and a keen mind. He

had struck a raw nerve by writing the Praise of Folly. But it

must be noted that while Erasmus found the wickedness of

the priests revulsive, he did not disapprove of Roman

Catholic doctrine. He praised himself to be a citizen of the

world, not attached 2 to a particular country but finding

himself at home in European countries where culture and

humanism were flourishing. The two societies he claimed to

belong to were both the republic of letters and the Christian

church. In Roman Catholic doctrine, he wished only for a

reformation of priestly morals and conduct, not of Roman

theology, and he disapproved of the doctrinal revolution

initiated by Luther. It is said that Erasmus laid the egg that

Luther hatched, meaning that Erasmus was the one who

inspired the Protestant Reformation. The particular state of

mind which produced the "modern world" was a

manifestation of the same mind as underlay the Protestant

Revolution. The Protestant "calling" was a treatment of

worldly avocations as God-created and fulfillable in a spirit

of worship. This concept enabled the Protestant to see in

his ordinary daily work an activity pleasing to God and

therefore be pursued as actively and profitably as possible.

On the other hand, medieval and Roman Catholic

Christianity were held to have condemned the world, with

consequent hostility to economic activity and especially to

that essential capitalist ingredient, the taking of interest on

usury. Protestantism were therefore asserted to have been

the necessary precondition of the growth of modern

industrial capitalism. The basic belief of Protestantism

promoted the spirit of the entrepreneur, and for that reason

capitalism is found flourishing in reformed countries, while

the Reformation is found spreading among the commercial

and industrial middle classes. The desire for spiritual

nourishment was great in many parts of Europe, and

movements of thought which gave intellectual content to

what in so many ways was an initial search for God have

their own dignity. Neither of these, however, comes first in

explaining why the Reformation took root her and vanished

heresies led to a permanent division within the church that

had looked to Rome. This particular place 3 is occupied

and the play of secular ambitions. The Reformation

maintained itself wherever the lay power favored it; it could

not survive where the authorities decided to suppress it.

For this was the age of uniformity, an age which held at all

times and everywhere that one political unit could not

comprehend within itself two forms of belief or worship.

Much of the work of the Praise of Folly is satire at the

expense of rhetoricians, grammarians and theologians, but

towards the close, Erasmus tackles monks and prelates

also, not excluding the Popes. But it concludes in an

unexpected way; a witty moving praise of a form of

religious ecstasy with the folly of God in saving the world

through crucifixion associated with the folly and madness of

the pious. Erasmus regarded scholasticism as the greatest

perversion of the religious spirit; according to him this

degeneration dated from the primitive Christological

controversies, which caused the church to lose its

evangelical simplicity and become the victim of hair-splitting

philosophy, which culminated in scholasticism. With the

latter there appeared in the church that Pharisaism which

based righteousness on good works and monastic sanctity,

and on a ceremonialism beneath whose weight the Christian

spirit was stifled. Instead of devoting itself to eternal

salvation of souls, scholasticism repelled the religiously

inclined by its hair-splitting immaterial speculations and its

over curious discussion of unsolvable mysteries. In

Erasmus" work, Mistress Folly delivers a speech praising

herself. "And to whom is it generally agreed life owes its

beginning if not to me? For it certainly isn"t the spear of

"mighty-fathered" Pallas or the shield of "cloud-gathering"

Jupiter which fathers and propagates the human race," [3].

Here, she tries to put herself above everyone else, even the

Gods on Olympus. She says that she is the beginning of all

life, and that she should be the most regarded person, while

in reality, this is all a bunch of 4 folly. She ridicules the

Gods and strips them of their powers. She tries to convince

the reader that they can never have self-love, flattery,

forgetfulness, idleness, pleasure, madness, sensuality,

revelry, and sound sleep again without the presence of her.

In Folly"s eyes, she proves these items as being virtues and

not defects. Folly tricks the reader into believing that all

foolishness is, in fact, wisdom. While Folly is deceiving the

examiner of the book, she criticizes the philosophy of

Christ. She sees the happiness of Christians as a type of

folly. As long as the mind makes proper use of the organs

of the body, it is called sane and healthy. But once it begins

to break its bonds and tries to win freedom, men call it

insane. Even so we see this type of person foretelling the

future, showing a knowledge of languages and literature

they had never previously learned, and giving clear

indication of something divine. It is also seen in sacraments

and observances that both the body and the spirit are

involved. An example of this is fasting for a meal. It

represents the death of Christ, which men must express

through the mastery and extinction of their bodily passions,

in order to rise to a new life where they can be united with

Him and with each other. The physical decision, on the

other hand, tells the body to get as close to the altar as

possible for Mass. It is seen here that the spiritual soul and

the physical body are as far away from each other as they

possibly could be, which is not at all true. Folly also

satirizes theologians, dignitaries an other churchmen. She

states that she would rather pass over them because they

are such a foolish people, but if she does, she says that they

will rule against her. She thinks that they boast too much

and that they interpret hidden mysteries to suit only

themselves. Folly also says that their whole life is

paradoxical and that everything about them doesn"t make

sense. The 5 terms religious and monks doesn"t appeal to

Folly as being true. She thinks that both names are false,

and the characters portraying them are false as well. Folly

sees the figures as a self-centered people, who take pride

in themselves even though they don"t have enough

education to read. They mechanically repeat psalm after

psalm, which they don"t even understand. We know that

none of this is true, but she tries to outsmart the thinker into

believing that all learned people know absolutely nothing.

Originally meant for private circulation, the Praise of Folly

scourges the abuses and follies of the various classes of

society, especially the church. It is a cold-blooded,

deliberate attempt to discredit the church, and its satire and

stinging comment on ecclesiastical conditions are not

intended as a healing medicine but a deadly poison. As one

can see, numerous connections prove that the Praise of

Folly by Desiderius Erasmus, could not have been written

at a different time period other than sixteenth century


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