Reformation Satires

The Pope Holds a Council in Germany (1545)

This woodcut combines scatological depictions of the pope with doggerel by Luther himself. On the left: "The Pope Holds a Council in Germany" with (roughly) this verse underneath: "Sow, you must let me ride you / and spur you on both sides / You want to have a council / And for instead you have my shit." On the right: "The Pope a Doctor of Theology and Master of the Faith": "The pope can interpret Scripture / And sweep out error solo / Like an ass can play the bagpipe / Alone and hit the notes."


A Fitting Reward for the Most Satanic Pope and his Cardinals (1545)

This woodcut tells the reader what the pope deserves as a reward for his deeds, and shows the pope and three cardinals being executed by hanging. Two cardinals have their hats dangling from their bodies; devils carry off their souls, while an executioner nails their tongues, which have been cut off for telling falsehoods, to the gallows. The sheet contains some of the same allusions as "De Ortu et Origine Monachorum" (see below), but formally is based on the Schandbrief, or "letter of insult," a common custom among the German nobility, which aimed at gaining revenge for unredressed grievances. Such letters of insult heaped abuse upon the enemy, and were often accompanied by Schandbilder, images that were designed to insult, which showed the person under assult suffering death by dishonorable means -- through hanging, for example, or dismemberment, or disembowelment. Here, the text reads: "If the pope and cardinals were / To be justly punished here on earth / Their slanders would merit / What you see depicted here."


On the Source and Origin of Monks (1545)

Three devils perch on a gallows, one of whom is relieving himself by excreting a pile of monks onto the ground. The verses which accompanied this picture explain the scene: once upon a time, the Devil had begun to suffer severe abdominal pains, 'as if he were in labor.' Climbing onto a gallows, he strained and strained until he had relieved himself of the cause of his discomfort. Observing the results of his efforts, he remarked that it was no wonder that he had suffered so much; such crafty knaves as monks were were than he and all his fellow demons; should they gather in his kingdom, he would be expelled himself. Instead, the Devil saw to it that monks were scattered throughout the world. This broadsheet invokes popular beliefs besides the association of defecation with demons; it recalls a popular superstition about places of execution being the haunt of evil spirits, as well as the belief that anyone born under a gallows would end hung on one. The monks are thus both 'gallow-knaves' and the Devil's excrement.

De Ortu et Origine Monachorum

A Satire on the Papal Arms (n.d.)

In this undated broadsheet from Luther's lifetime, a propagandist for reform uses features of the Schandbild to defame papal authority. In this case, the insulting image adapts the papal coat of arms to make a point about the fiscalism of the church. The crossed keys that form the background represent the "office of the keys" -- the theological basis of papal claims to "bind and loose" the fate of souls in heaven. In this rendition, the keys have been shattered. From the stock of one key hangs the pope -- in itself insulting, since hanging was a dishonorable form of capital execution. The meaning is obvious: the pope deserves to die an ignoble death. A poor peasant hangs from the other stock -- an indictment of the social cost of church fiscalism. The device within the coat of arms explains why the pope should be strung up: it shows a hand clutching money-bags, that is, the "purse of Judas". From it protrude coins and bishops' mitres -- symbols that convey the charge of simony. The dialogue accompanying the illustration state that the pope has abused the power of the keys to bind and loose: through annates and other spiritual taxes, the pope has usurped the power that properly belongs to bishops, abbots, kings and princes. He has, in short, betrayed Christ for money -- he is Judas.

Papal Arms

On the Old and the New God / Faith / and Teaching (1521)

This broadsheet is an early attempt to explain the difference between the church of Rome and that of evangelical reform, which it does by visual appropriations for popular festival culture. On the left, the pope is depicted as a carnival puppet held aloft, literally and figuratively, by two figures of the church (a cardinal and a canon), a monk, and the pagan philosopher Aristotle. The bottom register depicts anti-Lutheran propagandists, among them Ambrosius Caterinas, Johann Faber, Johann Eck, and Sylvester Prierias, Luther's very first literary opponent. The pope is crowned by two devils, as are the cardinal and the canon. The pope holds a key, symbolizing his ecclesiastical authority, a sword, symbolizing his temporal powers. On the right: a scroll reading "This is my beloved son" links the vertically arranged figures of the Trinity. Upholding the faith are figures of the four divinely inspired evangelists (in stark contrast to the merely human supporters of the papist carnival puppet); in the bottom register, opposing the papal propagandists, are St. Paul (hold a sword and the Bible) and Luther himself, in the lower right-hand corner; the scroll beside him reads "One God and Father of All." The overall thrust of the image is to present the pope as a false God and to associate Luther's teachings with authentic or "old" Christianity, as opposed to the false, human inventions of the Roman church. 


Vom alten und nuen Gott / Glauben / und Ler

The Difference Between the True Religion of Christ and the False Idolatrous Teaching of the Antichrist
In this woodcut, Lucas Cranach seeks to illustrate the fundamental differences between the church of Rome and the evangelical teaching of Luther and his followers. Like many other such broadsheets, the argument is conveyed through visual parallelism and contrast. The panel on the depicts the world of reformed preaching, the right-hand panel its Catholic counterpart. A scroll of text unfolds from God the Father through the other personae of the Trinity straight to Luther; it reads "There is only one mediator. I am the way. Behold, this is the Lamb of God." Jesus, in prayer, says to God: "Father, I sanctify you, I sanctify and sacrifice myself for you." On Luther's pulpit are inscribed the words "All the prophets witness to this one--that there is no other  name under heaven [by which we can be saved], Acts 4:10." In the foreground is Luther's protector, John of Saxony, holding a cross on his shoulder. The space appears to be interior, and is lacks decoration. Luther's audience consists of ordinary lay people. To the left, a man and woman receive communion in both kinds, bread and wine. Luther's counterpart in the right-hand panel is an unidentified priest preaching to a gathering of churchmen--bishops, cardinals, monks, doctors of theology. The candle bearing cleric has a hood with two ears and bells at each tip, like a fool's cap; another has hidden playing cards in his hood, which spill out as he raises his head to hear the sermon. A demon is blowing air into the preacher's ear, prompting him to say "Behold, before you lie many Roman Catholic, not heretical, paths to salvation; you can come easily to glory." A pilgrimage is visible in the background; a mass is celebrated to the right, but no one is hearing it. In the right foreground, the pope sells indulgences, holding a sign that reads "When a coins drops, a soul flies to heaven." From heaven, God and Saint Francis observe the scene in dismay (commentary adapted from Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform, 1250-1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980], 214-215).

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