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Martin Luther

It is important to set aright a common misconception about the event that symbolically triggered the process of Reformation. The common belief is that on that fateful day, October 31st 1517, the Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, furiously and defiantly nailed his famous protest, "the Ninety-five Theses", on the door of the church of Wittenberg. Included in this protest was Luther's objection to the selling of indulgences or simony. It was also normally assumed that with the "Ninety-five Theses", Luther rejected the authority of the church and initiated the Protestant church. [1]

The reality of the whole situation was more mundane and much less flattering to the German monk. Nailing documents to the church door was not an act of wrath but was simply the customary way of bringing matter forward for discussions; a bit like present day office memos. Luther, at that time, accepted both the authority of the pope and the practice of simony. His protest was not against the selling of indulgences, per se, but what he saw was the abuse of the system. His attack was aimed specifically at the selling of indulgences promoted by archbishop of Mainz, Albrecht of Brandenburg. This was used mainly for the profit of the archbishop, the pope and a banking firm. Many of the "Ninety-five Theses" were simply theological points of discussion and not declarations against the church as popular mythology set them out to be. Luther originally never intended to form a separate church and it was largely due to the poor handling of the situation by Pope Leo X that finally led to the formation of a separate Protestant church. [2]

What kind of a man was Martin Luther? Protestant Christians who are not well versed in history would probably think of him as a devout man of God, filled with the Holy Spirit. They'd probably bet that here is a case where a Christian actually led the good life. The truth is completely the opposite.We find that Luther:

Luther's views on the devil, women and sex

Luther's personal life borders on the bizarre. He married one of the nuns he helped escape from the Church, Katharina von Bora. With her Luther was to act out his sordid delusions. He believed that he had a lifelong battle with Satan. He claimed that the devil lost many battles in his conjugal bed. (Although he often touch "specified parts" of his wife's body when tempted by the devil). Luther, like all good Christians, hated the devil. He was known to have yelled at the evil one thus: "I have shit in my pants, and you can hang them around your neck and wipe your mouth with it." Luther felt that the spirit of God was strong in him for he could drive the devil away "with a single fart." [3]

Luther's views on sex and women also deserve mention. He believed that women have stronger sexual urges than men and that if a man is impotent he should supply a sex partner for his wife. He taught that women were inferior to men and were created to be ruled by men. As proof, he sighted the shape of a woman's hips; its broad base indicates that God meant for them to sit at home. [4]

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Luther's Role in the Suppression of the Peasant's Revolt

Perhaps the best insight into the character of Luther is his handling of the peasants' revolt of 1525. The peasants of Germany, which comprise about 80 percent of the population, lived in the most abject and degrading conditions. In 1525, the peasants, in reaction against the tyranny of the nobles, revolted. The thousand of revolting peasants, armed only with scythes, forks and knives, were no match for the nobles' military might. The leaders of the peasants, thinking that Luther would be on their side, appealed to him to support their just struggle. Luther, who was protected from the papacy by the same German nobles the peasants were revolting against, vehemently denounced the rising. He actively encouraged the nobles the suppress the revolt by violent means. In his pamphlet addressed to the princes and nobles entitled Against the Murderous Peasants he said:

Let all who are able, cut them down, slaughter and stab them, openly or in secret, and remember that there is nothing more poisonous, noxious and utterly devilish than a rebel.

To Luther, the abolition of Serfdom, which the peasants demanded, was "against the gospels" and amounts to nothing more than robbery.

Urged on by their new found spiritual leader, the nobles and their armies suppressed the revolts; and with savage force. Molten pitch and sulfur were poured upon the peasants. As for those who were taken alive, the treatment of them were barbaric. For instance, one batch of 82 peasants had their eyes gorged out. The treatment of the peasants that were killed in combat was no better. When, in one battle, a five thousand strong retreating army of peasants were killed, their bodies were hung from trees all over the countryside. And in one district, the stench from the bodies of over 16,000 peasants that were hastily buried was so revolting that it kept travelers away for years. For the leaders of the rebels a special form of torture awaits them: their flesh was literally torn off with red hoot pincers. In the peasants' revolt alone more than 100,000 peasants were slain. [5]

Thus, in one fell swoop, this German religious reformer, anxious to get back to the original purity of Christianity, had condoned the killing of more Christians than the Roman Empire, in its pagan years, ever did.

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Luther: the anti-semite

Luther also harbored a morbid hatred of Jews. Given below is an excerpt from his essay On the Jews and Their Lies:

Beware then the Jews and know that the Jewish school is nothing other than a nest of the devil ... And when you hear a Jew teaching, then realize that you are hearing a venomous basilisk that can poison and kill people with the sight of his face. [6]

In the same tract, Luther expounded his own recommendations on how Jews should be treated in a Christian country. The excerpt below will convince any rational person that had Luther the ecclesiastical machinery of the church, his use of it would not be much better than the popes:

First, that their schools and synagogues should be set on fire ... Second, that their houses too shall be destroyed ... Third, that they shall all be deprived of their prayer books and the Talmud, which teach such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy ... Fourth, that all their rabbis should be forbidden to teach, on pain of death ... Fifth, that Jews shall be deprived of safe conduct and permission to use roads. For being neither land owners nor officials nor merchants nor the like, they have no business in the countryside and shall remain in the ghetto ... Sixth, that they shall be deprived of all their cash and their jewelry and gold ... And seventh, that all strong and young Jews shall be given flails, axes and spades and made to earn a living by the sweat of their brow ...It is intolerable for us Christians that a Jew's filthy mouth should utter the name of God in our presence. And if anyone should hear a Jew speak that name, let him inform the authorities, or throw pig shit at him and drive him away. And let no one show any mercy of kind heartedness in this matter. [7]

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On Witch Hunting and Torture

Luther was also a strong advocate of the Christian duty of witch hunting.

He also advised that a possessed child should be thrown into the river to be killed or cured. [8]

This then was the man responsible for the Protestant Reformation.

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1.Grant, A Book of Numbers: p179
2.Ibid: p179
Robertson, History of Christianity: p192
Strauss, The Catholic Church: p95
3.Wallace, The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People: p281
4.Ibid: p281-281
5.Fisher, A History of Europe: p509
McCabe, The Social Record of Christianity: p199
Robertson, History of Christianity: p199
6.quoted in Knight, Honest to Man: p101
7.Ibid: p101-102
8.Ibid: p91
Robertson, History of Christianity: p208

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