pope adrian vi

theguardian.com
Five centuries on, Martin Luther should be feted as hero of liberty and free speech
The story of the German reformer who challenged the Catholic church has resonance today
By Peter Stanford

In the English version of the Reformation, Martin Luther’s role amounts to little more than noises off. First, he attracted the hostility of Henry VIII, aided and abetted by Thomas More, as they flung barbs at “this venomous serpent” challenging the Catholic church’s stranglehold over Europe. Then, just over a decade later, the king exploited the breach in Rome’s defences that Luther had created to launch a national church.

But Henry was always keen to stress that he was no Lutheran, and the German reformer’s new take on Christianity did not survive intact when crossing the Channel. So the celebrations this year of the 500th anniversary of Luther issuing his 95 theses – the key text in his onslaught against the pope’s abuse of power and scripture – is set to largely pass us by.

The “joint fest for Jesus Christ”, organised by the Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican, is a remarkable act of togetherness after half a millennium of enmity and bloodshed. It will be getting into gear this Easter across continental Europe, but there is no party happening here. Which is mighty unfair on Luther.

When the new Protestantism – a word invented by Luther’s enemies at the Diet of Speyer in 1529 – did arrive on these shores once Henry had shut out Rome, it might not have been specifically Lutheran, but it would not have existed at all had it not been for Luther. Once he had argued that you could worship God by following the scriptures not the pope, others such as Zwingli and Calvin followed in his wake, setting up their own churches as Protestantism quickly fragmented.

We live today in secular, sceptical, scientific times, when religion itself is regularly branded irrelevant. So Luther, if considered at all, tends to be dismissed as dour, distant and two-dimensional, better suited to the dusty pages of history books than the 21st century. So much so that he is often confused with Martin Luther King, whose continuing importance is much more readily understood.

Yet as one of the makers of modern Europe, and a populist who rose to prominence on a wave of anti-establishment discontent among those who felt themselves shut out and forgotten (sound familiar?), his story has never had a more immediate resonance.

In his native Germany, at least, they still appreciate that. Some 30% of the population remains Lutheran, including the chancellor, Angela Merkel, daughter of a Lutheran pastor. Recently a Playmobil model of the Augustinian friar, clutching his quill pen and Bible, became the fastest-selling toy its makers have ever put on the market there, with 34,000 sold during its first 72 hours on the shelf.

A case of celebrating a local hero? That is part of it, but it is too narrow. Luther’s contemporary relevance for all of us lies in understanding how and why an obscure monk from a backwoods university, light years away from the corridors of power in Renaissance Rome, orchestrated a revolution so powerful that it brought a hitherto all-powerful Catholicism to its knees.

It certainly was not down to the originality of his theological arguments. Not a single one was new. All had been aired before, some by saints, many by those branded heretics by Rome for their trouble, their lives snuffed out on pyres in public squares as casually as the candles on its gilded altars.

What Luther did in the 95 theses – which, incidentally, were sent to his local archbishop, not nailed to a door, a fanciful exaggeration put about by his followers after his death – was to tap into a deep vein of alienation among the poor in a fragmented Germany. They were disillusioned not only with the excesses and corruption of their pope and church, but also with their own local rulers in the jigsaw of states that made up their country.

Luther struck a chord with a congregation that felt exploited and ignored: on the one hand, fleeced to pay for lavish basilicas in Rome by the sale of worthless pieces of parchment known as indulgences that “guaranteed” a berth in heaven for loved ones (or themselves); and on the other, in the secular world, seeing the age-old ways on which their livelihoods depended overturned by the rise of a money economy.

The 95 theses – and much of what Luther subsequently said in public as his message spread across the continent, right up to his excommunication in 1521 – were the work of a classic disrupter who, in today’s terms, wanted to drain the “Vatican swamp”.

Fluent in the language of the street, the undeniably charismatic Luther wrote most of his best-known and most inflammatory texts not in church Latin but in German, going on to produce in 1522 the first translation of the New Testament into everyday German, and in 1534 a translation of the whole Bible.

Those in the pews no longer had to rely on the word of priests and bishops instead of the word of God. He realised the force of appealing over the head of “experts” long before Michael Gove hit upon it in the Brexit push.

And in working with the owners of newfangled printing presses, he was among the first to spot the potential of what was the social media of its day as an alternative means of spreading his new anti-establishment gospel. Pamphlets of edited versions of his tracts spread like ripples through Germany, then Europe, Rome and even England. In an age of widespread illiteracy, he made sure he engaged those who could not read by including illustrations, using crude, often satirical woodcuts from the studio of his close friend and fellow Wittenberger, Lucas Cranach the Elder.

So when he stood before the Holy Roman Emperor and the princes and prelates of Germany at the Diet of Worms in 1521, defending his writings on pain of death, Luther had crowds outside on the streets rallying to his defence, stirred up by leaflets and posters saturating the town.

Much as they wanted to be rid of “this petty monk”, as pope Adrian VI labelled him, the establishment could not hand him over to his fate for fear of igniting an uprising. So Luther, unlike those earlier would-be reformers, lived to put his theories into practice.

All those who court popular support, though, inevitably one day lose it. For Luther, that moment came in 1525, when the long-brewing unhappiness among Germany’s poor boiled over in the Peasants’ War. Luther was forced to choose sides, and threw his lot in with thode princes who had embraced his Protestantism (and with some who hadn’t).

This was not a matter of self-preservation. His doctrine of the “two kingdoms” – leaving to the state earthly matters, and to the church those spiritual pursuits that were Luther’s lifeblood – was sincerely held, but his application of it was taken as a cruel betrayal by many among the rebels who had placed their hopes in him as their saviour.

Yet the consequences of Luther’s rebellion were not confined to a particular period, to Germany, or even to organised religion. His essential message was that, at the end of his or her life, each believer stood naked before God, awaiting eternal judgment, with only the Bible and their faith to protect them. The “good works” that Catholicism encouraged – earning brownie points by going to mass, making pilgrimages, praying to relics and contributing to the church coffers – were irrelevant in salvation.

He was thus challenging the entire late medieval way of doing things and the result was strikingly modern. For Luther championed conscience, informed by reading the scriptures, over the dictates of church rules and regulations. Read scripture and make your own mind up. This, in its turn, opened the door in the 17th and 18th centuries to Enlightenment notions of human liberty, free speech and even human rights, all of which today shape Europe. Our ability to read the word of God and reject it out of hand comes from Luther – an outcome he could not have foreseen and which would surely horrify him.

But if that sounds too abstract, there is one final aspect of Martin Luther that gives him a relevance and a three-dimensional appeal. For sheer, selfless courage, he is impossible to outdo. He may now be recalled, if at all, as a jowly friar from history, but for a thousand years before Luther came along, the Catholic church had been one of the great powers on earth, so powerful it even fixed the calendar the world still uses, taking as its pivot the birth of Jesus Christ. Until Martin Luther.

He had the courage to take on a monolithic church, in the full expectation that it would cost him his life, but he did it nonetheless, confronting the might of the first truly universal religion, in person and often alone, with an extraordinary passion, intensity and energy. And, most remarkable of all, not only did Luther survive, he triumphed, and we are all better off because of him.

What’s not to celebrate?

the pope rap

so my wife (who was raised catholic) likes it when I get drunk and talk about popes. this is because 1) I am a delightful drunk and 2) i know a confusing amount about the history of the catholic church (especially considering that I am Jewish) and so since I am very tired, which is a bit like being drunk, I will share with you some of my favorite popes. with apologies to all devout catholics in the audience, what are you doing here, turn away now, abandon all hope ye who enter:


Pope Nope: Otherwise known as Pope Celestine V. Pope Nope was the founder of the Celestine Order. Pope Nope lived as a hermit in quiet seclusion and modesty.  Pope Nope absolutely did not want to be Pope.  After sending an angry letter to the Church saying they should pick a Pope ASAP (they’d been hedging on it for like two years), the Church said, ‘This is it. This is the guy.’ Pope Nope promptly tried to flee the country.  The Church sent people to physically drag him to Rome. One of his first edicts was to declare that the Pope was allowed to abdicate.  Surprisingly, he abdicated five months later.

Pope Douchebag:  Pope Boniface VIII.  Came on after Pope Nope. Declared first Catholic Party Times (jubilee) in Rome in 1300 (in an attempt to revitalize Rome in general, and yanno raise money, an ongoing theme in this story). This should’ve made him kinda cool, except he pissed of the King of France and the poet Dante Alighieri, who he sort of let get kicked out of Florence. This resulted in Dante Alighieri writing one of the most beautifully elaborate revenge fics in Western literature.  Now, Nope Douchebag (as a modern Dante would surely have called him)  wasn’t dead when The Divine Comedy was published, but Dante made sure that in Inferno, the chapter related to hell and all the lovely punishments waiting there, to have a character point to a flaming hole in the ground and say “AND THAT’S WHERE YOU’RE GOING, POPE DOUCHEBAG. THIS HOLE. IT WAS MADE FOR YOU,” so there’s that.

Pope Evil: Pope Alexander VI aka the Borgia Pope aka that guy you get into a slapfight with in Assassin’s Creed 2.  Alleged crimes include extreme amounts of nepotism, murder, rape, bribery, etc, etc.  He probably wasn’t actually necessarily as evil as everyone always says (most of the incest and murder stories were told by his political enemies) but bribery and nepotism was sort of just what you DID when you were Pope back in the day. He probably did not look like Jeremy Irons. He did, however, paint really tacky images of his favorite mistress all over the papal bed chambers which led to…

Pope Badass I:  aka Pope Julius II deciding ‘screw this I am NOT sleeping in a former Borgia love nest’ and so he decided to commission the building of Saint Peter’s Basilica aka one of the the biggest loudest holiest of holy ‘oh father in heaven how will we even do this?’ pieces of catholic architecture in the world.  Pope Badass did not believe in doing things half way. Pope Badass wanted to be remembered. He commissioned an assortment of remarkable artists at the time.  Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, like, a ton of ninja turtles. In the mean time, he also did little things like decide to retake the Papal states, the territory around the city of Rome, which the Church had lost over the last few centuries. How did he decide to do this? By ordering all the cardinals to suit up, get their armor on, go on a road trip, they were going to war.  If a local government didn’t do what he wanted fast enough? He excommunicated the whole city.  Pope Badass didn’t do anything half way.  He originally commissioned Michelangelo to build his future funeral tomb, but forever annoyed the grumpy artist because he kept pulling him away to work on new little side projects

like

yanno

the Sistine Chapel.

Yeah.

Party Pope: Pope Leo X, Medici Pope – yeah, from those Medici. Party Pope was not about to let being a member of the Catholic Church stop him from living the high life of Florentine nobility. Party Pope believed in huge banquets for all his friends and selling lots of indulgences to pay off that big basilica Pope Badass decided to build. Party Pope held a big banquet in which gold plates were thrown in the river. Party Pope had an actual real live pet elephant with red shoes. Party Pope kept conveniently putting off the letters written by a fellow by the name of Martin Luther, who kept writing him to be “uh, hey Party Pope, maybe you are partying a bit too hard, maybe you should like, cut down on that a little….” Party Pope did not stop partying.

Look, we’re not saying the Protestant Reformation was kind of his fault.

But

The Protestant Reformation was kind of his fault.

Pope Buzzkill: Pope Adrian VI. German. Didn’t change his name upon accepting the papacy. Arrived in the massive Roman hangover left by Party Pope. Decided “okay, yes, Catholics, we are partying too hard, let’s do something about that” and proceeded to try and pass a number of very strict laws and measures to try and curb the partying ways of the Church at that time. He was deeply unpopular for this. Because COME ON, Pope Buzzkill, it’s the RENAISSANCE.

He was so unpopular that, after his death, the Catholic Church did not elect another non-Italian Pope for some 500 years. Pope John Paul II. Yeah. As in the guy who was Pope 20 years ago.

They really didn’t like Pope Buzzkill.


Pope Weenie: SO THEY ELECTED ANOTHER MEDICI TO THE PAPACY. YEAH! CLEMENT VII!  PARTY POPE II! THINGS WILL BE AWESOME NOW! WE CAN HAVE MISTRESSES AND BRIBE EVERYONE AND GIVE OUR NEPHEWS HIGH POLITICAL POSITIONS AND

wait

France and The Holy Roman Empire are at war right now?

wait, why is Charles V coming over the scenic Italian countryside with all those really angry men

Yes, ladies and gentleman, through a general inability to manage the conflicting pressures from France and and the Holy Roman Empire, Pope Weenie wound up preciding 1527 over the Sack of Rome, in which the Holy Roman Emperor parked his expansive army in that big half constructed basilica that Pope Badass had decided to start building way back when.

Oh, and Pope Weenie didn’t grant Henry VIII that anullment he wanted. We’re not saying that the formation of the Anglican church was his fault. But it was kinda his fault.

Pope Badass II: Common lore says Pope Badass II aka Sixtus V got his start as an illiterate swineheard born to a peasant family in the Papal States. He rose his way up through the ranks through guile, beautiful oratory skills, and a will of iron. Pope Badass II was aware that as Pope, he did not have long on this earth, and he would get shit DONE.  When he looked at that unfinished basilica that Pope Badass I had started, Party Pope had sold indulgences to fund, and Pope Weenie had let troops run through, he said “You know what this needs? A finished dome.” He asked his architect how long this would take.

“Five years,” said his architect, trying to be optimistic. It would really take more like ten years, given all the work that still needed to go into and–

“Great,” said Pope Badass II, “Do it in two.”

AND THEN IT HAPPENED.

Pope Badass II also is amazing for his response to the sinking of the Spanish Armada, in which Queen Elizabeth managed to blow up a ton of ships belonging to Spain, which was at that time only, you know, the most powerful catholic nation in Europe. Was Pope Badass II pissed at this defeat against protestant forces? Who knows, but HE ALSO SEEMED TO THINK THIS WAS THE FUNNIEST THING HE’D EVER HEARD AND PRETTY MUCH WENT AHAHAHA THIS WOMAN WHO OWNS HALF AN ISLAND JUST TOTALLY WIPED THE FLOOR WITH THE SPANISH THAT IS AMAZNG HE WOULD TOTALLY MARRY QUEEN ELIZABETH IF HE WEREN’T POPE.

“Imagine what progeny we would have!” <— pretty much the quote. yes, ladies and gentleman, this is the VICAR OF CHRIST declaring that he would totally do Queen Elizabeth I.

Sadly, Pope Badass I also did some things that were not so badass. He was responsible for a lot of the Catholic Church’s harsher stances on birth control and abortion, of which we still see many the effects of today, so perhaps this puts maybe a bit of a damper on the true badassery he could have otherwise attained.

But one cannot deny he had excellent taste in ladies.

And also he got them to finish that dang dome.


And that’s my Pope Rap. Please feel free to add to it if you are a giant nerd like me and have collected random trivia about medieval and renaissance artists and political figures.  Perhaps, now that I have written this, my wife will no longer have to hear me talk about this every time I have like, half an appletini.

Perhaps. Perhaps.

But probably not.

Tomorrow Blessed John Paul II will be canonized (become a saint)!

So apparently Rome is filled with Polish people now.

John Paul II is beloved by all of Poland! :)

He was the second longest-serving pope in history and, as a Pole, the first non-Italian since Pope Adrian VI, who died in 1523.

John Paul II was one of the most influential leaders of the 20th century. He is recognised as helping to end Communist rule in his native Poland and eventually all of Europe. John Paul II significantly improved the Catholic Church’s relations with Judaism, Islam, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Communion. He upheld the Church’s teachings against artificial contraception and the ordination of women, he supported the Church’s Second Vatican Council and its reform, and he held firm orthodox Catholic stances. He is known for his implementation of several papal documents pertaining to the role of the Church in the modern world.

He was one of the most travelled world leaders in history, visiting 129 countries during his pontificate. As part of his special emphasis on the universal call to holiness, he beatified 1,340 people and canonized 483 saints, more than the combined tally of his predecessors during the preceding five centuries. By the time of his death, he had named most of the College of Cardinals, consecrated or co-consecrated a large number of the world’s bishops, and ordained many priests. A key goal of his papacy was to transform and reposition the Catholic Church. His wish was “to place his Church at the heart of a new religious alliance that would bring together Jews, Muslims and Christians in a great [religious] armada”.

Jan Paweł II