In light of the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the global impact it continues to have, there has been much talk about the role of satire in our society. When used well, satire allows for communication of ideas through the medium of humor, irony, and mockery. Not only does satire challenge the status quo, but accomplishes its objective in a manner that is received and heard by an audience which otherwise would not.
Perhaps one of the greatest examples of satire can be found in Erasmus’ The Praise of Folly. Though written in the sixteenth century, Praise of Folly continues to offer modern readers a wealth of insight (I am assigning Erasmus’ work in two classes this semester). Erasmus’ use of satire is not a diatribe against ecclesiastical or governmental institutions. Nor is Erasmus writing to merely display his literary skill (Erasmus’ comments on the relationship between folly and authors can be found on p.82-84). Rather, Praise of Folly should be seen as an exercise in cultural hermenutics, which uses the medium of satire and the counter-cultural theme of folly.
Erasmus’ work is written from the perspective of Folly. It serves as an apologetic of folly in our society. Folly is not only the theme and voice of Erasmus’ satire, but also the interpretive tool. Hence, folly becomes the measure of where society has gone wrong and how to realign society.
However, Erasmus’ definition of folly does not follow the foolishness of society. Nor is it a negative definition of what rationalism is not. Erasmus’ folly is defined by 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (p. 128-130). What society has deemed foolishness has been given by the “power” of God. God is pleased by what is considered a “stumbling block” and “folly.” For “the foolishness of God is wiser than men.”
If you have not read Praise of Folly, or if it has been awhile, I recommend the work. Sure, some of the categories Erasmus addresses are not as relevant to us now. I don’t meet dialectians everyday. However, Erasmus’ assessment of the folly in society and the needed corrective from biblical folly is a welcomed voice for our day.