One of the great images of history is that of Martin Luther (1483-1546) lighting the blue touch paper starting the Protestant Reformation by nailing his famous ninety-five points to the doors of All Saints Catholic Church in his hometown of Wittenberg on 31 October 1517. This image is still very big in protestant circles and framed copies of old etchings showing a barefoot and pious Luther hammering at said doors are a big seller, so it must be true.
Complete bollocks, I`m afraid…. Luther never nailed anything to any church doors, and whatsmore he was hardly the barefoot and pious type, in fact he was neither nice nor indeed particularly big in the Christian-spirit department.
The main point in Luther`s list of grievances was the Catholic selling of Indulgences, a tasteful little scheme allowing anyone with money to buy themselves a sort of stairway to heaven. The Confession box bought you forgiveness but the rules said that , once dead, you had to spend the requisite time in the Day-Time television world of Purgatory to properly purge your sins before entering Heaven-proper. Not only did all men have their price but so too did their deeds with a strictly controlled sliding scale of sin-costs to cover all eventualities; by the time Luther had penned his 95 pronged attack, things had got so out of hand that there was even a pay-now-sin-later scheme for recidivists planning for the future – “I will take two rapes and one murder to go, please!”
But Luther did not nail anything to any door, he sent copies to a carefully selected few, including the Archbishop of Mainz, this the most important recipient in that here was the seat of the Chancellor of the Holy Roman Empire ( a misnomer if there ever was one), as it was neither Holy, nor Roman and not an Empire. Anyway, having sent out his mail shot, Luther sat back and waited for the fireworks, and fireworks there were. The Reformation was on its way and the rest as they say was history.
As for Luther himself, he was hardly the epitome of the kindly, old theologian. The only egalitarian thing about him was the equal spread of his hatreds and prejudices; he was racist, misanthropic, misogynistic, xenophobic and reserved a special dislike for the poor. His opinion of the downtrodden is best illustrated by his response to the German Peasant War of 1524/5 when they downed tools, demanding amongst other things payment for work done for nobles. Thinking it a boost to their cause to have Luther on their side, they approached him for public support of their grievances. He responded with a diatribe entitled Against the murdering and Thieving Hordes of Peasants which actually called for their slaughter!
On the secular side, Luther`s attitudes to women, sex and the body were strange to say the least. Beset by constant constipation he developed a rather unhealthy obsession with his bowels,recording in minute detail every trip to the toilet and the relief he found in his frequent enemas. Most of writings are riddled with anal references so we can safely assume that this obsession permeated other areas of his life.
In 2004 the Lutheran theologian/historian , Dr Martin Treu discovered Luther`s toilet in a cloistered garden outside his home in Wittenberg. It measured 9 metres by 9 metres, had under floor heating and resembled a study. Presumably if Luther thought that if he had to spend half his life sitting on the potty he might as well make it as comfortable as possible.