The Scatological Luther

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "Martin Luther's Humor" by Eric W. Gritsch, in Word and World, Spring 2012.

"I resist the devil, and often it is with a fart that I chase him away." The fragrant author of this boast? Martin Luther (1483-1546), who ushered in the Protestant Reformation by railing against the sale of indulgences and other practices of the Catholic Church in his famous Ninety-Five Theses (1519).

One would naturally assume that the German monk was a stern and proper man, but Luther was actually rather earthy. That quality reflected an integral part of his understanding of Christianity, argues Eric W. Gritsch, emeritus professor of church history at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. "The promise of Christ's imminent return made Luther serene and saved him from being dead serious about his own self," Gritsch says.

Luther was exceptionally pious early in life. As a Catholic priest, he struggled mightily with guilt and the spiritual hierarchies of the church. While poring over Scripture at the University of Wittenberg, Luther grew convinced that the heart of Christian life was faith in God, rather than virtuous deeds, as Catholic doctrine held. "We do not depend on our own strength, conscience, experience, person, or works but depend on that which is outside ourselves, that is, on the promise and truth of God, which cannot deceive," he wrote (emphasis Luther's).

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What followed for Luther was that people's lives on earth had relatively little effect on whether they would receive God's grace. …