the pope was a pope-donkey -- 9/27/16
Today's selection -- from Martin Luther by Scott H. Hendrix. In his theological split with Catholicism and his verbal war against the Pope, Martin Luther made grotesque caricatures of the Pope. In part, it was because in the sixteenth century, vulgar, slanderous, and coarse polemics were standard fare. More importantly, it was because this kind of dialogue was facilitated by a new technology -- printing with movable type:
"In 1523 [Martin] Luther and [his ally Philip] Melanchthon collaborated on an illustrated anti-Roman pamphlet based on the alleged appearance of two monstrosities. One, dubbed the 'pope-donkey,' was washed up on the banks of the Tiber river in Rome, and the other, called the 'monk-calf,' was born only a few miles from Wittenberg. The pope-donkey was pictured in front of the papal castle at Rome. It was a standing figure with a donkey's head, a skin of fish scales, female breasts, a hoof and claw for feet, and the end of an elephant's trunk for its right hand. The head of a dragon protruded from its rear. Luther deemed it a sign of God's wrath against the papacy and warned that more omens would appear. Relying on a medieval treatise on the Antichrist, Melanchthon offered a similar reading in which, for example, the head protruding from the donkey's rear signified the decline and demise of the papacy. ...
"Why would Luther and Melanchthon point such ugly fingers at the papacy and monasticism? First of all, because niceness was not a virtue in their day; and second, because, by 1523, they had been the butt of similar satire from their opponents. However, they also had more profound reasons, which went to the heart of the reformation. Luther was convinced that laity were being hoodwinked by the medieval church. ... For Luther the pope-donkey and the monk-calf symbolized the futility of trusting in a religious authority that sanctioned the pursuit of perfection as the right way to heaven. On the contrary, claimed Luther, a less demanding and more merciful Christianity would liberate people from anxiety about reaching heaven and redirect their concern toward others in place of themselves. Beginning in 1518, an astounding number of people agreed with Luther, left behind the religion of their ancestors, and rallied to his side.
"Rome, however, did not buckle, and what ensued from 1520 to 1525 was a war of words and images on a scale never previously imagined. The war was made possible by a new, cheaper, and faster technology -- printing with movable type. Luther's facility with words, combined with the artistic skill of Lucas Cranach and his journeymen in Wittenberg, fed a burgeoning printing industry that gave Luther a distinct advantage in the competition to sway religious opinion. In those five years, around sixty Catholic writers produced more than 200 pamphlets and books against Luther and other Protestant authors. Many of these were theological essays of good quality, but they were written in Latin and thus inaccessible for most laypeople. In contrast, Luther wrote in a lively German style that explained clearly and directly the changes he wanted to make and the theological basis for them. It was not a fair fight. Protestant pamphlets outnumbered Catholic publications five to one; Luther alone published twice as many as all his Catholic opponents combined."