Friday, August 11, 2017

Luther's self-image

He was not keen that people should call themselves Lutherans rather than Christians. He said, how should I, poor stinking maggot-fodder that I am, have anyone called after my name? Quoted in Ryrie, Protestants, p32.

Funeral Planning

Ryrie tells us that the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I had been dying for years. From 1514 till his death in 1519, he took a coffin with him wherever he travelled. Protestants, p25.

Luther's other theses

I don't know what they were but Ryrie tells us that Luther himself had "published" theses many times before on different subjects before his famous 95. Protestants, p23.

Reformation Pamphlets

Were a new form which "cost roughly the same as a hen in sixteenth-century Germany and could offer more lasting and spicier nourishment."

Ryrie, Protestants p22

The church at the time of the Reformation

Rightly or wrongly, one proverb claimed that once the church had golden priests who served from wooden chalices whereas now wooden priests served from golden chalices.

Quoted in Ryrie, Protestants p17


Thus far I have read only a fraction of Alec Ryrie's Protestants: The Radicals who made the modern world (London: William Collins, 2017). I have found it enjoyable and informative.

Ryrie is an eminent historian. An expert on the British Reformation in particular. And a Reader in the dear old C of E. And he can write.

He chooses a genealogical definition of Protestantism (the descendants of Luther) rather than a theological one (say, adherence to the Trinity as a necessary condition). But he is also willing to say that some such as the Mormons are so distantly related to Luther that they no longer bear the family likeness. If Protestant means influenced by Luther than the whole world, not least the Catholic church, is Protestant!

Ryrie sees Protestants as both lovers and fighters who are defined by a direct encounter with God and his grace through the Bible. The fire has burnt in different ways, sometimes raging, sometimes smouldering, and has spread far and wide but Luther and the God he rediscovered in Scripture were the spark of it all.

Ryrie's ambitious account takes in The Third Reich, apartheid South Africa, Korea and China and even attempts to look into the future of Protestantism, which he suspects will be largely Pentecostal but continually adapted to its cultures.

His focus is especially on the protestants as people and their political impact (not, for example, especially on their ideas or their artistic or economic achievements). Bach, he tells us, deserves a chapter of a similar book but only gets a sentence.

Ryrie traces our world's free inquiry, democracy and apoliticism to Protestantism. He finds in the movement a generic restlessness, an itchy instability.

MacCulloch has called the book a treat. I suspect there will be much delight and fascinate here - as well as perhaps not a few frustrations.

Jokes in Luther?

In his biography of Martin Luther, Peter Stanford explains that at a literary festival historian Prof Peter Hennessy delighted the audience by challenging Stanford to find a single joke that Luther ever told (p4).

Now, this tells us something about the popular image of Luther, maybe, but it is surely very wide of the mark. For Calvin, perhaps it would be more understandable, but surely not for Luther. He could be beer-swilling, gregarious and crowd-pleasing.

Luther was a professor and a pastor not a stand up comedian.

And even an acknowledged 16th Century wit may not have left many one-liners to history.

But much of Luther's extraordinarily voluminous output was popular. And his Table Talk records a version of his conversation.

How laugh out loud funny you find Luther will depend on how amused you are by poo.

Much of Luther's prose is larger than life. Erasmus called him doctor hyperbolicus, the doctor of overstatement (Alec Ryrie, Protestants, p21). His writing is often satirical and funny, sometimes no doubt intentionally so.

I shall from now on be on the look out for the best gags in Luther. It is shame that Stanford has not so far listed any.