Letter to Calvin Martin continued...
Martin Luther and the Poor of the Land
Martin had let the genie out of the bottle. In January of 1521, Martin was summoned to the Diet of Worms by Emperor Charles VI. A note on the Diet of Worms: The word Diet comes for the Latin word “dies” meaning “day.” A parliament was referred to in German as a Reichstag or Landtag, (tag meaning day in German) and Worms is a city in west central Germany. Worms is derived from a Celtic word meaning settlement in a swampy area. Swamptown, more or less. It has the sense of “days of meeting” or “court days,” or, in a sense, “a day in court.” This has nothing to do with slimy invertebrates. The town is pronounced “Vawrms.” The invertebrates are Wuermer, pronounced “Voeermer.” Sort of.
To properly pronounce some German vowels it is necessary to first suck on a lemon for half an hour. I suppose it could be called the Swamptown Parliament, but it is great fun to call the parliament of the city of Worms Germany by its classic name the Diet of Worms. It has provided endless school boy jokes, things about Charles downing a Fifth and forcing Luther to eat a diet of worms. This is not what happened.
Martin was given a safe passage to and from the Diet, but he was declared an outlaw by the Emperor. He mysteriously disappeared on the way home. He was kidnapped by Prince Frederick of Saxony who hid him in Wartburg Castle, where he lived under an assumed name (Juenker Joerge, translated Sir George, more or less) and translated the Bible the way he thought it should be translated. He also drank beer and went hunting wild boar. The castle did not have cable TV or Wi-Fi)
After about a year, Martin got bored with boar hunting and boring translation work and decided to risk going back to Wittenberg. The place was a mess. Luther wrote, “During my absence, Satan has entered my sheepfold, and committed ravages which I cannot repair by writing, but only by my personal presence and living word.” Fr. Martin preached a series of Latin sermons in which he talked about patience, and taught that violence was not the way.
The peasants loved Luther’s new religion because if the priests didn’t need popes and bishops, they certainly didn’t need the landlords and the aristocracy. “Do you know what the Devil thinks when he sees men use violence to propagate the Gospel? He sits with folded arms behind the fire of hell, and says with malignant looks and frightful grin: ‘Ah, how wise these madmen are to play my game! Let them go on; I shall reap the benefit. I delight in it.’ But when he sees the Word running and contending alone on the battle-field, then he shudders and shakes for fear.”
Wittenberg calmed down, but the rest of the German-speaking world was up for grabs. The Zwickau prophets Nicholas Storch and Thomas Muentzer encouraged the peasants to rise up and smash the gentry. Luther the nonviolent decided that enough was enough, so he wrote a tract with the charming name, “Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants,” in which he implored the nobility to smash the peasants.
“Therefore let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel ... For baptism does not make men free in body and property, but in soul; and the Gospel does not make goods common, except in the case of those who, of their own free will, do what the apostles and disciples did in Acts 4. They did not demand, as do our insane peasants in their raging, that the goods of others, of Pilate and Herod, should be common, but only their own goods. Our peasants, however, want to make the goods of other men common, and keep their own for themselves. Fine Christians they are! I think there is not a devil left in hell; they have all gone into the peasants. Their raving has gone beyond all measure.”“What strange times are these when a prince can enter heaven by the shedding of blood more certainly than others by means of prayer!""It is no longer a question of tolerance, patience, pity. It is the hour of wrath and for the sword; the hour for mercy is past... No one need think that the world can be ruled without blood. The civil sword shall and must be red and bloody.”
Thus Luther the nonviolent reformer and friend of the poor.
Martin and Katarina
Luther slowly changed form Father Martin to Dr. Luther over the next few years. In 1523 Martin helped 12 nuns escape from the convent by hiding them in herring barrels. He managed to get them all married off, except one, Katharina von Bora, so he married her. She ever after called him “Herr Doktor.” They had six children together. Katharina was 26. Martin was 41.
Doktor Luther really believed that sex was an accommodation to human lust. For Catholics marriage is a sacrament, human sexual activity in marriage is a source of grace. For Luther marriage was a roll in the hay. Here are some quotes collected by Frank Nelte which I have borrowed from the web.
“The body asks for a woman and must have it; to marry is a remedy for fornication...”
“Since wedlock and marriage are a worldly business, we clergy and ministers of the Church have nothing to order or decree about it, but must leave each town ... to follow its own usage and custom.”
In other words marriage is not a sacrament. It is a civil contract. In this sense, Luther is the inventor of civil marriage.
Intimacy in marriage is essentially sinful according to Luther. “In spite of all the good I say of married life, I will not grant so much to nature as to admit that there is no sin in it ... no conjugal due is ever rendered without sin… The matrimonial duty is never performed without sin. The matrimonial act is a sin differing in nothing from adultery and fornication.”
Doktor Luther doesn’t seem to have held women in very high regard either “The Word and work of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes... Even though they grow weary and wear themselves out with child-bearing, it does not matter; let them go on bearing children till they die, that is what they are there for.” And, most interesting, “It is not forbidden that a man should have more than one wife.”
PS If you don’t believe this stuff, look it up. I am not making any of it up.
Next week, Luther bobbles the ball!