The Erasmus Proclamation (rev)

By Dan Hurwitz

AUTHOR’S NOTE:

 How I came by the Proclamation is immaterial.  Suffice it to say that the scroll has been rescued and brought to light after all these years.  I do, however, feel compelled to add a personal note since this is my last opportunity to publicly do so.  If I have any regret at all in the whole affair, it is that whereas I remain a lifelong, devoted Anglophile, I dare not step foot on English soil again.  This restriction is all the more poignant in that I am prevented from visiting old chums and, by similar officious measures a continent away, they from me.  I must content myself, then, by simply acknowledging my gratitude to these former colleagues and to those in the administration of the hallowed halls who, if not actively engaged, were complicit in the operation.  And, I am, of course, obliged to the US State Department for its intercession on my behalf—an obligation, I might add, only somewhat tarnished by the anguished months of waiting for it to come to the aid of this ordinary American citizen whose only offense was doing what he believed right.

BACKGROUND

 By the early 1500’s AD, the history of mankind had witnessed a number of advanced civilizations—Babylon, Egypt, China, Byzantium, Peru among others—flourish and then, with seeming inevitability, decline into oblivion.  Europe, too, might then have qualified as “advanced” in that its cultural attainments were more or less on a par with those enjoyed by those older civilizations.  Based on historical precedent, therefore, a contemporary historian would have every reason to fear that Europe would likewise fall into decay as had its predecessors.  But, contrary to tradition, Europe did not decline.  Perversely, it kept advancing from then on to the present day.  Why? Because of two intellectual movements—later known as the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment—that were just-emerging at the time of which we speak.  And it was these same two epic movements that gave rise to the Erasmus Proclamation.  Permit me, then, to provide a thumbnail description of them as a prerequisite introduction to the subject of this essay.

THE SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION:

 Early sixteenth-century Europe fostered a generally-accepted framework for viewing the workings of the natural world .  The framework, despite its many scholarly contributions through the preceding centuries, was, unfortunately, mostly incorrect.  Medieval astronomers had been certain that the heavenly bodies circled the earth; alchemists were convinced that, if they only kept arbitrarily mixing things together, they’d stumble on a residue of gold; and medical practitioners, with best of intentions, kept sending patients to their untimely deaths.  But, the Dark Ages, as they were called, had not been entirely moribund.  There had been notable advancements in practical technology such as the crossbow, the windmill, and the astrolade.

Then, beginning around the middle of the sixteenth century and continuing through the eighteenth, a revolution occurred.  A form of inquiry called the “scientific method” took hold and became a transformative tool for investigating the natural world.  As the tide of once-accepted misinformation receded, it left room for the works of Galileo, Francis Bacon, Copernicus and others to create the empirical foundation for a new systematic way of acquiring knowledge.  Gradually the fields of mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, and biology began to unfold.  Critical analysis replaced blind faith and observation replaced guesswork.  Each advance in one discipline begat advances in others and, thus, the body of scientific knowledge expanded geometrically.

The title given this period—“The Scientific Revolution”—well deserves its designation.  As was the case of, let’s say, the “French Revolution” or the “Russian Revolution.”  the term “revolution” denotes a two-part sequence: the first being the dramatic overthrow of an existing order and the second being the substitution of a radically new order to replace the first.

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this turning point in human history.  Life without the gifts that science has since laid at our feet would be simply unimaginable.  No electricity, no life-saving drugs, no mechanical means of travel, no electronic communication—in short, nothing of the physical appurtenances that support our modern lifestyles.

THE ENLIGHTENMENT

 Following on the heels of the Scientific Revolution came a second surge of intellectual progress called the Age of Enlightenment.  It too represented a departure from the past and the introduction of new ways of thinking.  New forms of governance were proposed, religious tolerance expanded, freedom of thought and expression propounded, and the separation of church and state, questioned.  All in all, the social scientists, who spearheaded the movement, generated a monumental step forward for mankind.  Much of what we think of as the moral  principles upon which our society rests is owed to Descartes, Smith, Hume, and Spinoza and the other great thinkers of the period.

 DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE MOVEMENTS

 Whereas the two reform movements shared a common skepticism of the past and a forward-looking outlook, there were fundamental differences.  Obviously, the physical sciences of the Scientific Revoluion and the social sciences of the Enlightenment impacted different areas of society—performed on entirely different stages, as it were.

The physical scientists were able to cleanly divorce themselves from the outside world and the misconceptions of the past.  Thus they were able to study phenomena in isolation and the results of their experiments could be teased out, analyzed, and quantified.  Conclusions could be arrived at with certainty.  As a consequence of the above, they could construct logical edifices upon rock-solid, quantifiable theses—one theory piled atop another, each of their concepts rooted in the one below and each of their speculations inviting connections with the one above.

The social scientists, on the other hand, elected to remain tethered to the outside world constantly deriving information from and contributing advice to all of the institutions that make up society.  In so doing, they became very influential in government, commerce, social services, and, needless to add, religion.  However, this involvement came with a price.  Their research was hindered by the “noise” that inevitably emanated from the unpredictable machinations of their fellow citizens.  Statistics were muddied both in the design of their experimental projects and in the interpretations thereof.  And consequently their conclusions were  of necessity tentative and conditional, founded as they were on the slippery conjectures of their research.

(In retrospect, had the social scientists taken a less ambitious path and joined the scientific revolution as one of its branches—leaving the application of their inquiries to outsiders—the evolution of our institutions might well have benefited but, needless to add, such thoughts are idle speculation.)

With this sketchy introduction to the intellectual upheaval of the time, let me go straight to the proclamation attributed to the renowned theologian, social critic, and scholar, Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) of Rotterdam.  Originally written in Latin, as were all important documents of the time, it was serendipitously translated into English just before it was swept up and interned by the inquisition.  The name of the translator—probably a sympathetic Augustinian—is unknown as was his fate in the hands of his superiors.

 

THE OFFICIAL TEXT OF THE PROCLAMATION, 1510 AD

 

Thank you, my friends, for this opportunity to address this distinguished conclave once again.  You know me as a theologian who has always sought to compromise the differences between factions within our Christian community.  On this occasion, however, I’d like to turn your attention away from such minor disputes to another matter, just arisen, that is of graver importance.

I am speaking of the genesis of two intellectual movements that have arisen in our time.  Although the numbers of their adherents are, at the moment, small, their dedication, their energy, and their growing popularity have convinced me that they are destined to play a vital role in human affairs.  Indeed, so much so, I have reluctantly concluded that were the church to stay aloof, more and more of our devotees might well defect to what they imagine to be more dynamic, forward-looking ideologies.  I would go so far to say that the very relevancy of the church could, in time, be threatened.  I therefore endeavored to learn more about these movements with, of course, particular attention to their religious inclinations.  Part of my motivation, you understand, was to consider the possibility of some sort of affiliation with one or another of these secular groups as a defensive measure.

To better inform myself, I decided to question representatives from each of the two movements.  Consequently, requests were made and politely accepted.

 

THE FIRST DAY

The first spokesman arrarnged for was Jesse, a member of a group that called themselves “social scientists.”  He was quick to say that the majority of their members professed Christianity in their private lives.  When I questioned him further, however, he stated frankly that their  focus was primarily on practical secular matters and that, when policy matters arose, their guiding principle was “humanism” by which he meant that they possessed all the wisdom and expertise needed to establish their ethos.  According to Jesse, there was no better judge of human affairs, in other words, than the opinion of one’s fellow man.

My impression from this gentlemen’s remarks was that the religiosity of social scientists was limited to an awareness of a nebulous, uncertain sort of God.  A God worthy of admiration and inspiration.  A God capable of providing an aesthetic experience and an occasional booste to morale.  But not a God they would welcome as an intruder into the conduct of their affairs.

To confirm this impression, I asked Jesse pointedly if there were not stressful times in which his people did not appeal to their Christian father.  His rejoinder was respectful but unequivocal.  No, they never asked for God’s advice because, frankly, they dared not follow  it.  He professed, in the strongest language, that every past occasion, in which God had ventured directly into man’s affairs, had ended disastrously.  Not surprisingly, social scientists had no appetite for a repetition of such experience.  From now on, they would go it alone, thank you.

That declaration not only ended my meeting with Jesse, it nearly resulted in my cancelling my next-day’s meeting with his counterpart, Alton, the representative of the scientific movement.  By then I had advance word that his group was reputed to be made up mostly of atheists and, as such, seemed highly improper associates.  Moreover, my interview with Jesse had left me dispirited and in no mood to listen to more negativity.  However, we had formally invited the man and the simplest way out of the situation was to allow the appointment to take place, exchange a few formalities, and see him escorted out.

THE SECOND DAY

Alton’s surprise salutation turned out to be just a harbinger of the unexpected twists and turns his conversation was to take.  Thank you for sending for me, he said.  But even if you hadn’t, I would have asked for an audience.  There are urgent matters that must be discussed.  Then, despite the implied seriousness of these opening remarks, his tone took on a cordial note.  It was true, he freely admitted, he was an atheist, as were the bulk of his associates.  Nevertheless, he regarded our church as an institution deserving of great respect and felt our religious differences would prove no obstacle to our cooperation.  Instead he preferred to emphasize our commonality.  Our faiths were at heart, he pointed out, similar in that we both worshipped a supreme being—his group to something they called “nature” and ourselves to something we called “God.”  But, he questioned, where did one end and the other begin?  Was it not just a matter of semantics?  It was as though we were speaking of the same entity but in different tongues.  More important than the names we gave these entities, was the absolutism of our faith in them.  We don’t indulge in the lingo, he said, but the fact is we worship nature just as submissively, just as fervently, as you Christians worship our Lord.  We are both fanatics under the skin, he concluded pleasantly.

As a corollary to our respective beliefs, he went on, scientists and Christians alike regarded themselves as fallible—veritable sinners (although, Alton admitted, scientists seldom resorted to the term).  Scientists were free to propose any idea they deemed feasible, but it could not be accepted into the canon until it was formally validated by experimentation or mathematical proofs.  Christians too were perpetually unsure of their thoughts and had to constantly reaffirm their status in God’s eyes.  Another example, Alton contended, of our being comrades-in-arms.

There’s something else we’ve got to talk about, Alton said, reverting to his serious demeanor.  They call it the ‘Enlightenment.’  I call it the ‘Denouement.’  Haven’t you noticed, he asked, how the social scientists have taken over everything—government, commerce, schools, universities, you name it?  They claim their superior knowledge makes them experts, entitled to dominate us peasants.  But look where they’ve  taken us, Desiderius.  Conflicts, misery, and squalor of every shape and description.  You’re no stranger to life outside the monastery.  You know what I’m talking about.

I did, indeed, but I thought things were no worse now than at the advent of the Enlightenment when social scientists were unheard of.  He was, however, too absorbed in his tirade to be diverted.  They’ve tried every system they can dream up.  When are they going to wake up to reality?  How many times do they have  to be shown proof?

Now that I knew whom Alton was criticizing, I could try to defend them.  I told Alton that I had met with them just the day before and, although I didn’t agree with their representative, Jesse, I found them to be altogether personable and reasonable.  And, from what I understood, there were some outstanding thinkers among them intent on introducing important new ideas, new reforms.  Hardly the blackguards he made them out to be.  I admitted to be as distressed as he was about the state of affairs,  but I asked if it was fair to blame the social scientists for everything that was going wrong.

Of course, it’s fair, he said. It’s all happening on their watch.  We’ve got to persuade them to throw in the towel.  They’re not blind.  They’ve got to know by now that they’re not up to the job.  They’re not constitutionally equipped for it.  Psychologically incapable of it.

Who’d take their place? I asked.  You physical scientists?

Absolutely not, Alton laughed.  We’re nearly as human as they are.  Probably make an even worse hash of it.

It’s not the church?  I stammered  in alarm.

God forbid!  Alton murmured.

Then who?  I asked.  The problem is that the whole pack of us are all certifiable human.

Exactly, Alton snapped back with sudden intensity.  You’ve put your finger right on it.  Like a glass of milk spilled on a tabletop.  A tide of humanity inching ever closer to the edge and extinction.  I’m telling you, Desiderius, if nothing is done, disaster lies ahead.  They’ll kill us all.

Who’s they?  And who’s going to stop them? I asked.

It’s not “who” It’s “what,” Alton answered amiably.  Then seeing my puzzled look, added, let me explain it this way.  We don’t want to make the same mistakes again, do we?  The entity we need can’t be human at all.

Entity? I asked.

Yes, he said.  What do you see when you stroll about the chapel gardens?  Flowers, shrubs, and grass lawn, of course.  Orange trees and their birds.  If you look more closely, you’d find bees, grubs, worms, flies, and the like.  And, I’m told by my fellow scientists, there may be all kinds of living things we can’t see.  All these living things existing together in a harmonious relationship.  You take it all for granted, right?  But think about it.  If we’d be running your garden, it’d be damned mess.

Yes, I mumbled, finding no reason to disagree but finding no answer to my question either .  Entity?, I repeated.

I’m talking about nature, Desiderius.  That wondrous entity who manages your garden and the rest of the world along with it.  She has  the ability to create harmonious systems out of the wildest variety of life forms imaginable.  In whatever the habitat, mind you: forests, deserts, coral reefs, mountainsides, ocean depths, and so on.  In every corner of earth, day in and day out, she’s got life percolating along smooth as silk.

How does she do it? Alton continued.  All those ecological niches work because the life forms in them follow the same script, the same set of laws.  Nature’s metaphysical laws.  Since the beginning of time, she’s perfected a set of rules devoted to the perpetuation of life.  Rules that have to be just as ironclad and as universally applicable as her physical ones.  So you can see what I’m driving at, right?  Why I want to kick out the social scientists and turn things over to her.

Nature?  You can’t be serious.

I couldn’t be more so, Alton triumphed.  To be free at last!  Out from under the thumb of the most tyrannous, most duplicitous, most treacherous, most stupid, most greedy, most cruel creatures that ever walked the face of the earth.  Down with the social scientists!  Down with humanity!  God save the queen!

I take it you’ve discussed it with her?  I asked.

Well, not personally.  But I assume taking over our administration would be a piece of cake.  Only one life form to contend with and living pretty much under favorable physical conditions.  I bet she’d have us in top shape in no time.  Living peacefully.  Prosperously.  All that good stuff.  What do you think?

I said I didn’t know what to think.  It’s a rather sweeping concept.  Breathtaking.  Dumbfounding, really.  But it does raise questions.

I’m not surprised, Alton said cheerfully.  But let’s take them up tomorrow.  We’ve covered enough in one day, don’t you think?

To that I readily agreed.

 

THE THIRD DAY

Let me start off by saying you have a very interesting idea my friend, I said to Alton.    But, I’m afraid, it does raise questions.  You mentioned her ironclad rules, for instance.  Do you have any notion as to which ones she’d impose on us.  She hasn’t written them down anywhere, I suppose.

 

No, Alton said.  You wouldn’t be able to understand them anyway.  Just a hash of symbols and numbers.

Then we’d have no idea of what we’d be getting into, right?

We scientists aren’t that gullible, you know.  We had the same sort of qualms.  But, with all due respect my learned friend, instead of just wringing our hands as you churchmen are inclined to do, we put our methodology to work with, I must say, gratifying results.  We originally scheduled a 90-day study of nature’s activities, but found half that was all that was needed.  It turned out, Desiderius, that, for all practical matters, she’s an open book.

Really?

Our investigator found her to be as honest as the day is long.  Practices what she preaches, you know.  She has a strong value system.  She’s committed to evolution and personal freedom.  And, needless to add, she’s a strong environmentalist.  To make a long story short, basically she’s a nice guy with a genial disposition and an  impeccable character.

I would not have guessed, I said.  Not overly autocratic, you think?

She has to have her technical controls to ensure dependability and impartiality.  Things like dynamic equilibrium, quantitative analysis, and feedback mechanisms.  But those things wouldn’t give us any trouble as long as we follow the rules.

You’re not worried about a dark side she keeps hidden?  I asked.  Whatever his response, I was prepared with a stinging retort.

Dark side?  Not that I’m aware of, he said.

Come now, Alton, you haven’t bothered to mention it, but you know perfectly well what I’m talking about.  That flaw in that impeccable character of hers.  Pull aside all her beautiful scenery and what do you see?  A never ending dog-eat-dog struggle.  A pitiless, cruel continuous fight for survival.  No charity, no altruism, no aid for the poor, the sick, the aged.  That doesn’t describe a genial disposition to me.  Nor an entity a clergyman would want to be associated with.

To my surprise Alton was not at all perturbed by my argument. Instead he merely chuckled and quickly corrected my misapprehension.  No, it’s not that way at all, he said.  You’re barking at the wrong tree.  Nature has nothing to do with the things you are charging her with.  Dog-eat-dog is just a dog’s invention.  Bees go in for altruism.  And, when it comes to lions, right, it’s every beast to himself.  The point is, Nature doesn’t micromanage.  She leaves it up to every specie to make up its own set of regulations that it believes best ensures its survival.  Just so long as the specie-specific rules don’t conflict with her enumerated powers.  Something like the relationship between Rome and the provinces.

And, of course, that setup would be true for us.  Nature’s hands off policy would leave us free to pursue any set of laws and customs we want: the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, whatever we have found stood the test of time, whatever suits our evolutionary strategy.  And that goes as well for any social responsibilities we care to assume.  Follow me?

Well it does throw a brighter light on things, I admitted.  But humor me a little longer.  I caught what sounded like a qualification in the scope of your study.  You said nature was an open book “for all practical matters.” How about what may seem like impractical matters in the eye of the beholder?  Did your investigator consider nature might have cards up her sleeve he knew nothing about.

You are suspicious, my friend.  It’s true.  We haven’t uncovered all of nature’s secrets.  Bless her heart, she doesn’t let you in on the tough ones easily, believe me.  Like pulling teeth.  We don’t know why.  That’s just the way she is.  On the other hand, we’re not the least bit worried that what we don’t know would hurt us.

How can you be so sure?

Alton was unequivocal.  Look, he said.  Nature invented life.  Why wouldn’t she do everything possible to perpetuate it?

Life, maybe, I said.  I’ll grant you that.  But human life?  I wouldn’t blame her for being unhappy with us.

Nature can’t afford to hold grudges, Desiderius.  She has to make her rules universally applicable.  We’d be under the same administration as every other species.  Need a testimonial?  Horseshoe crabs have been subject to her policies for hundreds of millions of years.  If she harbored some hidden animus against life, don’t you think it would have shown up by now?  Believe me, nature loves life.  Including human life.  Logically, there shouldn’t be anything that prevents us from swapping our rules for hers.

Nothing except human nature, I said.  You’re advocating that we take a huge step in the dark.  Surrendering a chunk of our autonomy and turning things over to an entity we only partially understand.  That’s a pretty radical step.

No, my friend.  What’s radical is being the only anti-nature holdout among millions of species.  What’s not radical at all is accepting who and what we are.  We’re either a law-abiding species or a bunch of outlaws.

Alton, I said with a laugh, you have an answer for everything.

I’m pleased to see you’re amused.  But these are serious matters in tumultuous times.  Let’s go back to the basic issue.  Civilization has come to a fork in the road, Desiderius.  The path we’re on leads to a plethora of armed camps all adhering to their particular dogmas—dogmas derived thousands of years ago from scribes whose primary motivation—very likely their only one— was propagating their particular faith.  So the holy writs to which the   faithful fervently subscribe are essentially artful precursors of ad copy—biased, competive, and ultimately dangerous.

You don’t expect me to agree with that, I said.

No, I’m sorry.  I was unnecessarily negative, Alton said apologetically.  My point is that, whatever the cause—different people believing different things means the road we’ve chosen is doomed to ever-increasing dissension destined to culminate in disaster in one form or another.

Contrast our road with nature’s.  Everyone on her road is committed not only to the same belief system, they are committed to the right one.  Nature’s road is truthful, reliable, impartial, and reliant on one set of proven principles.  A road, in other words, on which mankind can harmonious progress into a limitless future.

So which road will you trod, Desiderius?  It’s a simple choice is it not?

Simple to you, perhaps, but not to me.  You have given me something to ponder over. I grant you that.

My friends and I were hoping you’d grant us more.

What do you mean?

Don’t dissemble, my friend.  My mission must have occurred to you from the very first.  Those scribes taking down our every word weren’t there by accident.

I didn’t know what direction our conversation might take.

But you must have suspected.  No one else has your influence over the church and its flock.  You could win over the bishops, inspire the multitudes.  All of Christendom would listen to you explain the danger they’re in and what they must do to escape it.  With your help, our word could be spread across the civilized world.

Whatever my influence, it wasn’t easily earned, Alton.  But it could be easily lost the minute I opened my mouth espousing your creed.

Not necessarily.  You’d lose some of the orthodox, obviously but you’d gain new young converts.  I’ll grant you, it’d be a gamble.  One you’d have no reason to undertake unless…well, it’s up to you, of course.

Unless I want to prevent the social scientists from killing us all, as you so delicately put it?

They aren’t stupid, Desiderius.  “Us all” includes themselves.  We have to try.

Perhaps you have to try, Alton.  We have to try is another matter.  I have to sleep on it.  We’ll talk tomorrow.

 

THE FOURTH DAY

Good morning, Desiderius.  I hope a good night’s sleep helped you come to a decision.

You’re partly right.  Not getting a good night’s sleep did.

I’m sorry, he began.  I didn’t mean to…

It’s all right.  What happened was that I kept wrestling with your proposition all evening and then well into the night.  Hours later—I don’t know exactly what time it was—I had an epiphany.  Slept like a log after that.  Feel a good deal better this morning.

I’m glad to hear it.  An epiphany, you say?

Yes!  That there was no need at all for me to arrive at a judgment of any kind.  Upsetting myself over nothing.  Yesterday you revealed what I suspect was one of your most visionary speculations.  I am flattered by your taking me into your confidence like that.  Indeed, I wish  more young professionals demonstrated that kind of healthy exercise of the imagination.  We need fresh ideas like those, believe me.

Thank you, Alton began, But that sounds like a ‘no’ answer.

It is.  Last night I admit I was confused but in the light of day.  I mean the notion that people could be convinced to discard a religion they’ve held for years and embrace nature as their spiritual leader is absurd on the face of it.  Whether it is radical or not makes no difference.  That’s what they believe.  And equally absurd was my allowing your skill at argumentation to convince me of its possibility.  In short, my dear Alton, I have no opinion on your fascinating, but purely academic, hypothesis and feel no need to form one.

Alton was visibly taken aback but he quickly recovered.  He said, you may be right, Desiderius. Let me amend that: you are right.  I agree there would be no way to harangue a congregation on the benefits of surrendering to nature and expect them to convert on the spot.  Mobs are stubbornly single-minded whether they go raging down streets or whether they sit quietly ensconced in their pews.

But that doesn’t refute my argument, Alton continued.  Tthe same person who gladly welcomed your religious doctrine, I believe is capable or freeing himself of it.  Evolution has provided us with brains that are inherently malleable to enable us to survive change.  Including even a change in religious preference.  Whatever you say, nature may yet come to assert itself.

That may be a long time coming, I felt obliged to note.

True, Alton agreed, what I’m trying to say is that I can’t help feeling that the underlying logic of our arguments would win over believers if they could be approached on a one-to-one basis.  Away from the mob.

Oh well, that could be easily arranged, I said lightheartedly.  We could just convert our confessionals to conversionals.  The church has endured abrupt alterations in the past.  One more might not hurt.

If Alton took note of my sarcasm, he gave no outward indication of it.  If you’re in the mood for changes, I’ve another.  How about reviewing God’s matrimonial relationships.  Wouldn’t it be more decorous for him to take Mother Nature as his blushing bride.  The pair might then formally adopt parentless Jesus.  That way there would be no need to gloss over a perfectly legitimatized, transparent union.  Indeed, the wedding could be heralded as a cause for public celebration and its anniversary observed every year as a religious holiday.

Sounds acceptable to me, I said.  Only flaw I can think of might be Mother Nature’s propensity for henpecking.

Oh, I imagine the your church would know how to sweep minor tiffs like under the rug.

And while we’re at it, we could hang a sign on the basilica, “Under New Management.”

 

POSTSCRIPT

Tragically, the rest of the scroll was torn off and its severed end forever lost to posterity.  It could have been accidental damage caused by rough handling, but, from the clean appearance of the cut, I think it more likely that the destruction was deliberate.  One can easily imagine that, in the eyes of some fervid ecclesiastic, the  scroll had become too blasphemous to bear.

This mutilation aside, some surmises can be safely made without indulging in unwarranted speculation.  The existence of the document itself strongly indicates that Alton ultimately prevailed in gaining Erasmus’s cooperation.  And from that assumption, it follows that Erasmus clearly intended to assemble a conclave of bishops as a first step in introducing his revisionist views.

And then what may have transpired?  One possibility is that the proposed conclave was formally scheduled but, when it came to the attention of the church hierarchy, was promptly rescinded.  Or the conclave was actually held, but the proclamation was deemed too provacative by the attendees and voted down.  Or that the conclave was, in fact, successfully concluded but that news of it was bottled up by alarmed church authorities before any widespreas damage had been done.

Amid these uncertainties, only two pieces of hard information can be deduced from the entire incident: one, the reality of proclamation’s existence and, two, the church’s apoplectic opposition to it.  In the first case, the reader has but to trust his own eyes; in the second case, the absence of any shred of related evidence attests to the fervency with which the church sanitized the whole affair.  Nary an essay, a stray sentene, not even a passing reference to the proclamation, can be found in the great man’s extensive corpus.

Of Alton’s fate, nothing.  Nothing that is, but a black, ominous redaction from the written record.

 

*    *    *

 

From time to time I can’t help falling into a reverie in which I imagine that The Erasmus Proclamation was adopted in his time and mankind, thereafter, ascended into a new world order overseen by nature’s benign laws.

A world in which nature’s prohibition of arbitrary boundaries has led to:

  • An international form of government competent to handle such problems as worldwide poverty, climate change, terrorism, environmental damage
  • A single worldwide currency flows frictionless  from one place to another
  • An international police force has eliminated our interminable wars and revolutions.
  • Only remnants remain of the ancient national boundaries and these simply demark welcoming cultural enclaves

A world in which mankind’s form of government mimics natural processes including:

  • All new legislation is accompanied by a feedback mechanism that quantitatively measures the law’s impact and automatically shuts it down if it doesn’t meet its preset parameters
  • All development is viewed in the context of nature’s ecological balance
  • Bottom-up approaches predominate
  • Systems depend on voluntary mechanisms
  • Feedback mechanisms create ever more efficient systems
  • Nature’s law of universality would disallow any governmental handouts that were partial to this or that group on account of economic status, race, religion or any other nonmaterial criteria
  • Nature’s sponsoship of evolution ensures that innovation is encouraged at every level

A world in which all vestiges of our systems of governmental laws, corporate bylaws, and regulations are recoded to conform to nature’s requirement that all jurisprudence be implemented uniformly.  Therefore:

  • Corporations distribute profits equitably among all employees taking into consideration only length of service
  • Governmental handouts of cash and favors, if any, be apportioned equally among all citizens regardless of need
  •  Percentage of taxation be applied equally to all regardless of income status or other considerations

 

History, alas, turned its back on such reveries.  Mankind rejected nature’s disciplined, dispassionate authority and instead threw itself into the loving, attentive care of the only system that it could trust—i.e., one of its own making.  Thanks to that fateful decision:

  • Society has been split asunder by the physical scientists’ accelerated advance in contrast with the social scientists’ inconclusive progress.  This disparity has left society in an unstable—not to say, dangerous—condition.   Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to diagnose it as a severe case of bipolar disorder.
  • A symptom of society’s condition are the accumulating stores of nuclear weapons under the control of ever more numerous, more irresponsible hands.
  • Nanotechnology, bacteriological warfare, drones, robots, and other such cutting edge weaponry are hovering just inches above our collective necks.
  • Our assault on the environment goes on unabated.  We pollute the atmosphere, contaminate the oceans, denude our forests, deplete our fisheries, waste precious fresh water, skim off our fragile layer of topsoil, annihilate species at an accelerated rate and, in every other way imaginable, proceed to destruct our habitat.
  • Levanthian governments misrule large swatches of their citizenry with impunity.
  • Terrorist groups endeavor to tear down whatever vestiges of civilation they can get their hands on.

All I can say is that this exhumation of The Erasmus Proclamation offers humanity a second chance.  In today’s world, its prescient words are not merely some distant, medieval prophesy, but have become instead the fiery breath of that prophesy come alive and set upon us.  May they be given the renewed impetus they are due.  Whatever the outcome, it is now out of my hands and that has to be consolation enough.

 

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