Michael Massing’s Fatal Discord

TalkReformation Era: History and Literature

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Michael Massing’s Fatal Discord

Edited: Nov 28, 2021, 5:32pm

I finished Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther and the Fight for the Western Mind, by Michael Massing about a month or two ago.

To be honest, this book told me a lot of what I wanted to hear. Erasmus is a hero of mine, especially because of his interest in languages and literature; and I have some negative feelings about Luther, despite Luther’s obviously beneficial contributions to the Christian faith, because Luther’s rhetoric was so often so highly charged and even degrading. Massing obviously favors Erasmus’ style over Luther’s, and I do too.

Massing, I believe, is probably Jewish and has an outsiders viewpoint on the things he’s writing about. This appealed to me, because I’m also a kind of outsider. I was brought up Catholic, and had many years in evangelical churches after college; but now I’m kind of a nominal Christian. But I do still have a great love for the Bible and Christian history. This discussion thread is an attempt to foster a ‘conversation’ between believers and others that lacks the high emotions and charged rhetoric that is so common today. I hope we can do that.

Massing goes over much of the basic history of the Reformation, but he’s not a historian by profession. There aren’t too many opinions shared but he does make plain his disappointment with Luther’s tract, On the Jews and Their Lies, which proposed a very oppressive program against the Jews, including burning Jewish homes and synagogues and requiring Jews to work at forced labor. (I haven’t got hold of a copy of this tract in English, but I’m looking.) Most people have no idea that Luther said such things. It was at a later time in his life when he was disappointed that the Jews in Europe did not believe the gospel which Luther had put forward so emphatically.

Actually, Massing’s book might be a good book to give to an unbeliever, a fan of Erasmus, or even a Christian that you might want to challenge a bit. I’m now reading The Reformation: A History, Diarmaid MacCulloch, which is more up to date, more professional/more objective (if that’s possible in history) and much easier to share with a Christian. I do value Massing’s work though, for being a good introduction to the time period, for its outsider’s perspective, for the obvious effort the author put into it, and for its honesty.

Are there other good one-volume histories of the Reformation? And what did you think about them?