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

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HarperCollins, Feb 27, 2018 - Religion - 1008 pages

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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User Review  - LizzieD - LibraryThing

Fatal Discord is the book for anybody who wants a clearly stated, engaging overview of Western thought during the period of the Reformation with solid looks back at the thinkers who influenced Erasmus ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - kukulaj - LibraryThing

This is an excellent parallel biography of Luther and Erasmus. The pattern of alternating chapters dedicated to these rivals keeps up through the whole book. That creates a sturdy chain on which to ... Read full review


Early Struggles
The New Europe
Candlelight Studies
Penance and Dread
The Vow in the Storm
Faith and Fury
Will He Come?
Judgment at Worms
The Martyrs Crown
Was Nowhere Safe?
Satan Falls upon the Flock
The Pope of Wittenberg

Back to the Fathers
Angry with
Renaissance Tour
SelfRighteous Jews
A Blueprint for Europe
The Gate to Paradise
Annus Mirabilis
A Friars
For the Want of Greek Type
A Drunken German
Onto the World Stage
The Great Debate
The Viper Strikes
The New Gospel Spreads
True Christian Warfare
A Shower of Stones
The Gospel of Discontent
The Murdering Hordes
Fatal Dissension
Invasion by Scripture
The CrackUp
Enemies of Christ
Origins and Acknowledgments
About the Author

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About the author (2018)

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.

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