Owen Chadwick says in The Reformation:

The European powers were more frightened of each other than of the Turk. A certain scepticism began to appear; Erasmus asked cynically whether if a crusade were successful the Pope would be likely to govern the east better than the Turk.

There is no citation, and no context. What was the original context?

2 Answers 2


This passage seems inspired by a number of letters Erasmus of Rotterdam wrote around 1518.

One example is his March 1518 letter to John Colet, in which Erasmus concluded that "the rule of the Turks will be more tolerable than the rule of Christians like [the Papacy]". Another is his (again) March 1518 letter to John Fisher, in which he claimed that Papal deceit is such that "the tyranny of the Grand Turk would be more bearable".

In both letters, Erasmus was bemoaning the intrigues and manipulations of the Papacy.

Letter 784 to John Fisher: The cunning of the princes and the effrontery of the Roman curia can go no further; and it looks as though the state of the common people would soon be such that the tyranny of the Grand Turk would be more bearable.

Letter 786 to John Colet: The Roman curia has abandoned any sense of shame. What could be more shameless than these constant indulgences? And now they put up war against the Turks as a pretext, when their aim really is to drive the Spaniards from Naples. For Lorenzo, the nephew, is trying to claim Campania, having married a daughter of the king of Navarre. If this turmoil goes any further, the rule of the Turks will be more tolerable than the rule of Christians like them.

- Erasmus, Desiderius. The Correspondence of Erasmus. Toronto: University of Toronto, 1974.


Erasmus of Rotterdam was a "correspondent" of Martin Luther, and this quote came out around the time of Luther's publishing the "95 Theses," attacking the sale of indulgences and other practices of the Catholic Church.

The context was a "choosing sides" issue. As every boy learns on the playground, "you don't want to be the odd man out in a three cornered fight."

Although Catholicism and Protestantism were technically both "Christian" religions, they regarded each other with such mutual suspicion and dislike that the "pagan" Turkish Moslems seemed preferably to each than the other was.

The strongest defenders of the Catholic faith were the Hapsburgs, and the countries most likely to be friendly toward the Turks were the anti-Hapsburgs. This included Catholic (!) France of Francis I, Erasmus of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, that would soon turn Protestant and rebel against the Hapsburgs, and (much later) Frederick II (the Great) of Prussia, who said, "[If] honest people wish to populate our land, be they Turks or Pagans, we will build mosques and churches for them.

  • Are you affirming Semaphore's answer and giving more context? Or are you giving an alternate origin for the quote? Apr 10, 2015 at 17:28
  • 1
    @Mr.Bultitude: I was expanding on Semphore's answer.
    – Tom Au
    Apr 10, 2015 at 18:42

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