Those who follow this blog for its hilarious political commentary, ingenious language notes, intrepid neighborhood travel curiosities. discourteous religious lampoons and trenchant cultural observations may wonder what category this falls into…and why you’ve bothered to follow.
Simply put, I just finished a biography of Martin Luther (1483-1546) and thought you might be intrigued to see some lesser-known aspects of this founding Reformation figure without (much of) the usual droll commentary.
(Page numbers refer to Bainton. Go directly to #12 if you just want to see the Pussyfoot item.)
Now, good luck finding a category for this as you see the other side of the great indulgence denier.
- Accomplished lute player (340)
- Sung as a tenor
- Had 6 children by his wife Katie, adopted 4 more and at one time had as many as 25 people in the household including student boarders (a financial recourse) (294). Katie was one of 12 nuns he helped escape (see ‘Marriage’ section) from a Cistercian convent.
- Referred to his wife, Katie, as “my lord.” (290)
- Biggest mistake: advised Philip I, Landgrave (sort of like a duke) of Hesse, to commit bigamy (373-5). Biographer Martin Brecht says, “giving confessional advice for Philip of Hesse was one of the worst mistakes Luther made.” (see ‘Bigamy’ section)
- Compared choral singing to “square dancing in heaven” (343)
- Reduced number of Catholic sacraments from 7 to 2 (137)
- Frequently confessed daily, once as long as 6 hours (54)
- Dressed as a knight and grew a long beard calling himself “Knight George” during exile—“my Patmos.” (195)
- Marriage: pigtails on the pillow. “There is a lot to get used to in the first year of marriage. One wakes up in the morning and finds a pair of pigtails on the pillow which were not there before.” (290)
- Taunted by his religious rival, Müntzer, as “Dr. Pussyfoot” (“Doktor Leisetritt”) for various complicated theological reasons; also, “Dr. Easychair” (262, 277, also Huntson) — and those were the nicer ones!
- The famous “Ninety-Five Theses” were actually more like “debate topics” in accord with the common practice of the day (79, 83)
- His “Table Talk” — the collection of Luther’s sayings mostly around the dinner table — has more than 6,500 entries. These are based on notes taken by various students of Luther between 1531 and 1544. (295)
- Sometimes “stacked his prayers” for up to 3 weeks when he was still a monk and fell in arrears in saying the canonical hours (matins, tierce, nones, vespers, complin). As a university professor, village preacher and director of 11 monasteries, he was simply too busy to keep up. (195)
- Appalled by the frivolity of Italian priests who could rattle through 6 or 7 masses while he was saying one. (49)
Now, the less fun side
- Undoubtedly, Luther was a manic-depressive, as we now understand the term.
The word he used, though, was Anfechtung – possibly a trial sent by God to test man “comprising all the doubt, turmoil, pang, tremor, panic, despair, desolation, and desperation which invade the spirit of man.” (42, 62, 335, 357, 361). Other words used to translate the term include ‘temptation,’ ‘trial,’ ‘affliction,’ ‘tribulation.’ Scholars are not necessarily in agreement on the ex post facto bipolar diagnosis since he apparently exhibited a prodigious, continuous capacity for work. (28) “Though some have tried to explain Luther’s anfechtungen as clinical depression, such explanations are not satisfactory” (Bucher). However, there is no question that Luther was subject to recurrent periods of exaltation and depression and these oscillations plagued him throughout his life.
- In his later years, health impairments made him “an irascible old man, petulant, peevish, unrestrained and at times positively coarse.” (373)