Erasmus and Folly
Erasmus of Rotterdam was the great Christian Humanist prior to the start of the Reformation. He was a brilliant scholar and linguist. He was also one of the most influential critics of the corruptions of the Western Church and though he remained in the Catholic Church, his writings certainly laid the ground work for the coming divide.
Erasmus' most famous work, The Praise of Folly was written partly on his travel from Rome to England and finished while he was staying with his friend Thomas More (later to be saint). It was written in 1509 and published in 1511, six years before Luther's 95 Theses.
Folly is personified in the book. Here is a quote from Folly about the leaders of the Church. In the quote Folly takes some strong swipes at the then Pope, Julius II.
"If the cardinals claim to be successors to the apostles, they should consider that the same things are required of them as their predecessors. So if the popes, being the vicars of Christ, endeavored to emulate His life, His labors, His teachings, His cross, His contempt of the world ; if they thought of their name of pope, that is father, and their title Most Holy, — what more afflicted beings would there be on earth? Who, in that case, would purchase the post with all his fortune, and when purchased keep it with his sword, with poison, and with violence [a dig at Julius II and other popes of the time] ?
If wisdom stepped in, what abasement would be theirs! Wisdom, did I say? Nay, one grain of that salt of which Christ speaks. Their wealth, their honors, their riches, and their pleasures would all be gone, and in their place would be studies, sermons, prayers, tears, vigils, fastings, and a thousand miserable labors of the same kind. Neither should we forget what would follow: a whole host of clerks, notaries, advocates, secretaries, of muleteers, grooms, and serving-men (I might add other words which would shock modest ears) would be reduced to famine.
The princes of the Church would be reduced to scrip and staff! Thanks to my [Folly's] influence, there is scarcely any kind of people who live more at their ease than do these successors of the apostles; thinking that Christ is quite satisfied if, in a mysterious theatrical costume, with their ceremonies and titles of Beatitude, Reverence, Holiness, with their blessings — and their curses — they play the part of bishops. Miracles are out of date ; teaching is laborious ; explaining the Scriptures is the employment of the schools; praying is idle ; weeping is wretched and womanly; poverty is sordid ; to be conquered in battle is unworthy of one who scarcely admits the highest kings to kiss his blessed feet ; to die is disagreeable, to be crucified is ignominious.
There remain only arms and those fair speeches of which Paul makes mention (Romans xvi, 18), and of those they are liberal enough ; to wit, interdictions, suspensions, anathemas, and that terrific thunder whereby, with a single nod, they send men's souls to farthest Tartarus.
These thunders are most eagerly launched by the Most Holy Fathers in Christ upon those who, by the instigation of the devil, endeavor to diminish the patrimony of Peter. But what says Peter in the Gospel? 'Lord, we have left all, and followed thee.' And yet they give the name of his patrimony to provinces and cities for which they fight with fire and sword; as though there were more pernicious enemies of the Church than impious pontiffs, who, by neglect of teaching, allow Christ to be forgotten, who bind by laws made for profit, adulterate by forced interpretations, and slay by a pestilent life.
And whereas war is a thing so fierce and cruel as to be more suitable to men so impious that it can not at all be reconciled with Christianity, nevertheless this is the one business to which they give their attention. Among them you will see decrepit old men [like Julius II] display the energy of a youthful spirit, deterred by no cost, fatigued by no labors, if so they can turn religion, laws, peace, and all human affairs upside down. Nor are there wanting learned flatterers who to this plain insanity give the name of zeal, of piety, and fortitude, having devised a way in which a man may draw his sword and sheath it in his brother's body, without any violation of Christ's charity."
I added the paragraph breaks. Erasmus was a fair critic of the church in his day. He was himself and ordained priest and remained such.