, Erasmus' rallying cry for secular humanism speaks to a moment when the past is leveraged to confront the threats of the present, at the expense of the future. It is a crucial moment of crisis, and one that appears perennially through human history. And one rendered beautifully in Darwyn Cooke's Before Watchmen: Minutemen #4
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Ad fontes Erasmus of Rotterdam proclaims, and almost instantly, with the turn of just one phrase, kicks off a revolution in secular humanism. Ad fontes, “return to the sources”, by which Erasmus meant return to the original fountains of learning and wisdom, the cultures classical Greece and Rome.
Like some many human things however, secular humanism, the kind championed by Erasmus or the kind championed by any great thinker subsequent, wasn’t a real revolution. Not like 1776, or the events of Paris circa 1789, or the Enlightenment or the printing press or the steam engine. Secular humanism, like some many human things that evolve over time, was a compromise. It was a compromise between the great material works able to be established by churchly power (cathedrals, libraries, spy networks), and the cost for these Greater Things—the genocide of personhood perpetrated by the medieval Church.
Erasmus’ solution was the compromise of retooling churchly social structure for secular ends. Hence, return to Greece, return to Rome, when Greece and Rome still meant something.
And although it’s long ago and far and away, the idea of leveraging the past to assuage the demons of the present, and in so doing open the door to a darker destiny is at the core of this next issue of Before Watchmen: Minutemen.