In this dual biography of Erasmus and Luther, a journalist narrates the rivalry between these two revolutionary thinkers of the Renaissance and Reformation and how it inspired and enriched each others' ideas.
It is a work of synthesis, offering neither archival discoveries nor particularly original interpretations. But it is certainly no mere vanity project. Mr. Massing has read widely and intelligently, and he writes superbly. Fatal Discord is surely the only book on either Erasmus or Luther that general readers will ever require. It reads like a lively lecture series in that most beleaguered of university subjects, Western Civilization ... His accounts of the low moments of the Reformation era—the heresy trials, the German Peasant’s War, the atrocities of the imperial Sack of Rome in 1527—are grimly riveting ... Fatal Discord conveys the profound violence and loss that accompanied the birth of modern Europe. To witness the Reformation crisis through the eyes of Erasmus and Luther proves at once instructive and oddly foreboding.
Last year, which saw the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses attacking the church for its profit-making excesses, produced a stack of books to mark the occasion. But as far as I know, Fatal Discord is alone in addressing Luther by way of his relationship with Erasmus. It’s an inspired approach, and Massing, a journalist, has produced a sprawling narrative around the rift between the two men, laying out the sociological, political and economic factors that shaped both them and Europe’s responses to them, and tracing their theological disputes back to the earliest days of Christianity. Though a massive amount of material is marshaled, Massing’s journalistic skills keep the story line crisply coherent.
In this riveting narrative, Massing recounts how the incendiary friar eventually quarrels with and finally repudiates his erstwhile leader, so sundering the church that Erasmus hopes to reform from within, and opening up a epoch-defining gap between Protestant evangelism and cosmopolitan humanism ... America’s conservative Protestants...will learn much from this account of the lasting transatlantic impact of the clash between Erasmus and Luther.