Listen to Episode Duration: 26.20
Like a burning-hot microphone, Luther had dropped his theology onto the stage of European society. The Church was tardy in its response, standing at the back of the crowd, generally just disturbed by the noise.
The general population began to grab a hold of these reforming ideas and Luther began to clarify and solidify his position. Stubbornly, that position would not change.
In this episode we cover the next several years of Luther’s rebellion against the most powerful authority the world had ever known.
Although he would become a leader of the Reformation, quite quickly it had left his control and was being waged in various ways across Europe. Often, these were ways that Luther was totally opposed to.
Diet of Worms
It’s fun to take some of Martin Luther’s much later quotes, and apply them to this scene of Luther before the Emperor at the Diet of Worms in 1521.
Some of Luther’s Other Work
Besides his 95 theses, Luther completed a monumental body of work throughout his life.
In 1520, he wrote three core pieces which also underpinned his resistance. He felt the need to clarify his theological views to a laity that was now reading them:
To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation
Emphasised the “priesthood of all believers”, setting a tone for individualism and attacked the spiritual/temporal power structures, authority on scripture and interpretation, and the Church’s primacy to call an ecclesiastical council.
On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church
Laid out Luther’s views on the sacraments of the Church, which Luther now looked at through the lens of his developed ‘Sola Fides’ theology.
On the Freedom of a Christian
Developed his “justification by faith” concept and argued that a Christian is fully free but through that freedom fully submissive to God’s grace.
Asinus ad Lyram – Ass Playing Harp
The image is not originally Luther’s and can be seen in religious imagery across Europe and into the Middle-East, going back thousands of years.
The usual connection is with a fable, wherein an ass finds a lyre in a field and tries to play it, being unable to however because of his large hooves. Frustratingly, he has big and capable ears for listening to music and rues that someone better suited had not found the lyre so that he (the ass) could appreciate good music.²
This generally came to symbolise ignorance of Christ and by the 6th and 7th centuries came to represent paganism and heathens ignorant of the Church’s grace. In many Romanesque churches from the 10th century this would often be portrayed within an image of an ass playing to a goat, as well as in various prints and biblical manuscripts from the 12th century.
Luther used the image to relate how useless he thought the Church inquisitor, Cajetan, actually was, when they met after the Diet of Augsburg in 1518. In a letter he said that Cajetan was as suited to discussing Luther’s theology as an ‘ass was suited to playing a harp’. The image could retain its sense of “Ignorance” and, even as Luther railed more against the polytheism of the Roman Church, it could maintain its representation of Paganism.
Luther and fellow Protestants soon took to referring the Pope as “Ass-Pope” (Old German slang: Bapstesel), and the image stuck…
Many satirists and cartoonists would skirt trouble by using the image as a reference to the Catholic Church/Pope at this time.
²Fairy Tales from Before Fairy Tales: The Medieval Latin Past of Wonderful Lies, Jan M. Ziolkowski, (UMP, 2007), p. 216