I expect that every one, after having done all he can in the way of robbing and murdering, will be so tired as to wish for the peace which he had formerly but did not value. All this we have deserved through our sins. For we are up to our heads in pride and ambition, and every one wishes to be called, but not to be, good; every one wishes to teach others, but not to humble himself; to know much and do little; to dominate over others, but not to die to themselves and bow under God’s hand. May He be merciful unto us, and grant us to see our faults.
This excerpt comes from a letter written by Abraham Ortelius from Antwerp in 1567. Ortelius was a well-known and well-connected geographer in his day. Besides scholarly matters, Ortelius often addressed current events in his letters to other scholars and friends. Antwerp in 1567 was a city in turmoil. In this letter, Ortelius was talking specifically about the religious factions in and around Antwerp at the time: the “Catholic evil, the ‘geuzen’ (Beggars) fever, and the Huguenot dysentery mixed with other vexations of black horsemen and soldiers.”
This quote has stuck with me for years now: “every one wishes to be called, but not to be, good; every one wishes to teach others, but not to humble himself; to know much and do little; to dominate over others, but not to die to themselves and bow under God’s hand.”
Ortelius might as well have been talking about the twenty-first century. Interestingly, from a media perspective, the sixteenth century wasn’t so very different from our age. Europeans at the time were experiencing the many effects of a revolutionary media technology – the printing press. As information and news proliferated to an extent that it never had before, anxiety over real vs. fake news rose as well. It had become possible for a larger part of the population to share its thoughts and opinions, to teach and to “know” – and many were eager to do so. Ortelius himself was a highly educated man, largely self-taught, and closely involved with the printing press. If anyone had cause to think critically about propaganda and human pride, it was he.
What is interesting about this quote, is that Ortelius does not point the finger at one group and accuses them of all the evil that he sees. Instead, he focuses on the sins that lie in everyone, and how these have brought about the situation Antwerp finds itself in.
Same old problems.
Same old solutions.
Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. … If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
(James 1: 19-21, 26-27, ESV)
 Abraham Ortelius to Emanuel van Meteren, 13 December 1567 in J.H. Hessels ed., Abrahami Ortelii, (Geographi Antverpiensis) et virorum eruditorum ad eundem et ad Jacobum Colium Ortelianum (Abrahami Ortelii Sororis Filium) Epistulae (Osnabruck: Otto Zeller, 1969), 52.