Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Where Was Clarisse?

Clarisse: One more question.

Montag: Another one?

Clarisse: Just a little tiny one.

Montag: What is it?

Clarisse: Do you ever read the books you burn?

Montag: Why should I?

-          Fahrenheit 451

If only such a question was asked of a particular monk in Wittenberg about five-hundred years earlier….


Had the two men been able to find a volume of Aquinas, they would have burnt that as well.

Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, by Tom Holland

December 1520.  Martin Luther had been given sixty days to recant.  He chose to use the time burning books, along with a colleague from the university, the theologian Johann Agricola.

I have covered this story often, the story of Luther and the Church and the Reformation which turned into a revolution.  In this post I will stick to bits and pieces that are new to me or that just strike my fancy.  For example, regarding the latter: Holland opens the chapter with this book burning, and I thought of the movie (no, I didn’t read the book…).

Further, to my Catholic friends: I know how you feel about Luther and the tearing apart of the Catholic Church that followed.  Yes, it was a blow to Western society and to the Church.  But, and to my Protestant friends: it was an inevitable blow.  There really were corruptions in plain sight – and Luther’s criticism regarding the practice of indulgences was perhaps the one most upsetting to and dangerous for the Church hierarchy.  To my Orthodox friends…I know, you are sitting, watching, with a gallon size tub of popcorn on your lap.

To all of you – just take it as history, as one of the most important events in Western history since the time of Christ.

In more than one place I have read that Luther really didn’t know much about Aquinas’ work.  If he could not find a volume to burn, it would seem he would not have had one handy to have read. 

He saw the then-current scholasticism that followed Aquinas, but this was something quite different.  In any case, whether Luther might have appreciated Aquinas had he read and understood him is now secondary.  He didn’t, and he hadn’t.

Luther did have a copy of the papal decree that condemned his teachings: “Because you have confounded the truth of God, today the Lord confounds you.  Into the fire with you.”  Canons, papal decrees, and anything associated with Aquinas’ philosophy had to go.  Luther, who scorned the idea of thinking of himself as a lawyer, took for granted how much of the then-modern law owed to the work of those legal scholars whose books he so eagerly burned.

It really sounds no different than today, where enemies of Christianity take for granted that they are only able to speak freely against those in power due to Christianity, and only because they have access to Christian terms and concepts.  Had someone not a Roman citizen spoken so brazenly to a citizen in pre-Christian times, it would have been off with his head, no questions asked.

Luther had his students build a float, loaded with parodies of papal decrees.  After driving it around town to raucous cheers, he burnt the lot.  A man dressed as the pope tossed his tiara into the fire.  Luther was not a man given to understatement…or humility.  But then, perhaps it took this kind of man to stand up to the significant issues then practiced by and defended by the Church.

Luther had opposed the burning of heretics, denouncing the practice as contrary to the will of the spirit.  Three thoughts come to mind: first, he opposed this practice well before self-interest would have compelled him to do so; second, this stand, apparently, didn’t apply to books; third, many Protestants who came after Luther didn’t necessarily agree with his view.

Pope Gregory VII, Hildebrand, held a special place for Luther: “Hell’s brand, the mask of the devil, also called Gregory VII, is the Monster of Monsters, the very first Man of Sin and Son of Perdition.” 

His papacy ushered in the last and fatal age of the world, motivated, according to Luther, by nothing except an appetite for power.  It was a charge similar to that laid by Orthodox against Gregory’s time; it is also a charge that many apply to Luther!

On his way to Worms, he was greeted by welcoming committees in city after city; large crowds would gather, cramming into churches to hear him preach.  Entering Worms, thousands gathered to catch a glimpse of him.  Suffice it to say, if it wasn’t Luther, it would have been someone – those aggrieved by the papacy were many and the popular support for a reformer was evident.

Asked to recant, he asked for a day to consider.  Legend has the “here I stand, I cannot do otherwise” line, which he may or may not have said.  But what is consistently recorded from the time is sufficient:

“My conscience is captive to the Word of God, I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.”

Charles V was not swayed: Luther’s excommunication was confirmed, but the promise of safe passage was respected…for three weeks, after which he would be liable for ‘liquidation.’  He left Worms as both hero and outlaw.  Then, halfway back to Wittenberg, he was kidnapped and taken into hiding.  Luther, it seems, had vanished into thin air.

Then, the Peasant’s Revolt.  Perhaps a hundred-thousand slaughtered.  This would bring out more of Luther’s critics:

“There were many peasants slain in the uprising, many fanatics banished, many false prophets hanged, burned, drowned, or beheaded who perhaps would still live as obedient Christians had he never written.”

This accusation weighed on Luther’s conscience.  And it was weight on his conscience that drove him into his struggles in the first place.  He was desperate to not be held responsible for the death of so many.  Therefore, he lashed out against the rebels so hysterically that even his admirers were taken aback. 

But he knew what was at stake – it was the rebels, or it was the princes.  He would have to choose one side or the other.  And only with the support of the princes was there a chance for his great project of reformatio to blossom.

And what of these princes?  Setting aside whatever theological disputes they might have had with Rome, there was another, perhaps far more important, reason to jump on Luther’s bandwagon:

Rulers inspired by Luther, laying claim to an exclusive authority over their subjects, were able to set about designing a model of the state that no longer ceded any sovereignty to Rome.

We really need to dispense with a couple of ideas: first, that prior to the Reformation, either the Pope or the prince was sovereign over the other; second, that the subsequent wars were Wars of Religion.  To the first, authority was divided between Rome and the local prince, sometimes overlapping, often complementary, always in tension.  To the second, the princes fought wars in order to monopolize authority in their territory; these were wars of state building, not wars of religion.


What Luther began would soon grow far beyond his control:

Luther had lit the match – but others before him had laid the trail of gunpowder.  This was why, in the wake of his defiant appearance at Worms, he found himself impotent to control the explosions that he had done so much to set in train.

Every reformer had a story – a claim of authority, an appeal to the Spirit.  A chain reaction of protest, almost none of which conformed to Luther’s bondage. 

There is always something to protest….


Guy Montag: Do you remember what you asked me the other day? If I ever read the books I burn? Remember?

Clarisse: Uh-huh.

Guy Montag: Last night I read one.

-          Fahrenheit 451


  1. When I read about events like this in history, I wonder whether the people of the past were way too violent or whether us in the West today are way too docile.

    The things people violently rebelled about were in ways less onerous than the things we endure from our governments. Maybe that is because they had much less to be stolen. There lives may have been less secure so they suffered more as a result of the state oppressions they faced. But then I think about covid and how no one really fought the lockdowns and theft through money printing violently. What they did to us was really a huge affront that would have got politicians shot if it had happened in the 19th Century.

    Even in all the libertarian activism there isn't anyone talking about making neighborhood, city, or regional militias outside of the state. To me that's telling.

    1. "I wonder whether the people of the past were way too violent or whether us in the West today are way too docile."

      One hell of a question. My answer is yes.

      Compare the corrupton in Rome in Luther's time with today's in Mordor on the Potomac.

      Rural versus city, "Peasants" versus "Princes," but in a political inversion from the Spanish Civil War.

      America's Highest Incomes And Taxes Revealed

    2. People in the past understood things in a much different way than we do today.

      Then, when the State came calling, everyone knew it was to kill, steal, and destroy. Today, it comes as a wolf in sheep's clothing--a savior, a helper, a big brother. Then, the people knew that they were going to be materially poorer after the visit. Today, we assume that we are going to be materially richer. Then, there was no assurance that the State was going to make anyone's life easier, better, or safer. Today, that is what we hear all the time. Then, there was a clear distinction between God and the State. Today, God is the State.

      As a nation, America has become too corrupt, too rich, too strong, too arrogant, too proud. As individuals, we comprise the nation. The collective follows the individual. To change the collective, the individual must change first. There is no other way.

      What will it take to change the mindset of our culture? Probably the loss of virtually everything we hold dear and everything we dearly hold onto. Until the paradigm changes, nothing will, and the paradigm will not change until we are forced by circumstances to look for another source of sustenance and life, i.e., ourselves, our communities, our God, and rejecting the State in the process.

      “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.” -- Charles McKay

      This bit of truth applies today just as much as it did during the C.O.V.I.D. thing, Nazi Germany, the French Revolution, or the tulip bulb mania. Eventually, things will become so far out of kilter that sufficient numbers of people will decide to alter their course and then the situation on the ground will change.

      Unmistakable. Unsalvageable. Unalterable. There will be no going back.

      In the meantime, carry on.

    3. Roger, I agree the state has become much better at conditioning peoples' views on them. Public schools have accomplished their true purpose.

    4. It has been a long time since I read Robert Lewis Dabney.

      Here is a review of "R.L. Dabney's Devastating Critique of Secular Education" by Zachary Garris

      Dabney died in 1898.

      Quoted from the book:

      But nearly all public men and divines declare that the State schools are the glory of America, that they are a finality, and in no event to be surrendered. And we have seen that their complete secularization is logically inevitable. Christians must prepare themselves then, for the following results: All prayers, catechisms, and Bibles will ultimately be driven out of the schools . . . Humanity always finds out, sooner or later, that it cannot get on without a religion, and it will take a false one in preference to none. Infidelity and practical ungodliness will become increasingly prevalent among Protestant youth, and our churches will have a more arduous contest for growth if not for existence (p. 289).

    5. An excellent thread. Thank you all for commenting.

      I will add a minor contribution. We are fed, clothed and entertained. All this whether we contribute positively and productively to society or not.

      Why fight to risk this? That certainly seems to be the case for the vast majority of our neighbors. And, it must be admitted, even the best among us weighs this reality in our daily decisions.

      We have become lions in a zoo. Yes, the same physical characteristics, but none of the character that makes a lion a lion (or a human being a human being).

    6. Until conservatives realize that public (or government funded) education is their enemy and has been from the start, even when it was "conservatives" initiating it, they will continue to lose the culture war and the political order will continue similarly to slide into the abyss.

      Much respect is due to RLD for seeing this as early as he did.

  2. A dispute also arose among the disciples as to which of them would be considered the greatest. 25So Jesus declared, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in authority over them call themselves benefactors. But you shall not be like them. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who leads like the one who serves.
    "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.
    1 Samuel 8 the warning was given about erecting Kings to make law for us long ago.
    Jesus fired the Money changers at the "Temple" or Government office where folks paid their forced offerings and got benefits when they were in need.
    Then they knew they had to kill him.
    When it comes down to it Authorities will kill to maintain there Authority.
    Jesus said My Kingdom does Not operate like this but Faith Hope and Charity.
    Not by force But by divine revelation .
    But this is difficult ,this thing divine revelation ,we think of great names of great people, or Saints as they are called.
    Men of Authority crown people as Saints.
    The Apostle Paul wrote letters and some tomes addressed people as the Saints in such and such a place.
    Are we to think that these folks were some lofty perfect people?
    That is what we are told and we like to believe it.
    Gods' Kingdom was never meant to be ruled by Men standing on Podiums preaching down.
    Go not up by steps to my altar he said. or your nakedness will be exposed.
    His Altar is not a pile of dead rocks but Living stones.
    Altars made of clay or Adamah red earth.
    The History is full of people trying to maintain control.
    Did Jesus even preach about "The trinity"? or most of what we do with our Sunday go to meeting Churchianity?
    All of the things that divide people over the centuries.
    Are they that important enough to kill for?
    Rather than gather together in 10's 100's and 1000's .
    Not for war but a small local group gathered together for mutual support and to help the stranger among us.
    Can't we all just get along?
    Probably not.
    But can we strive together?
    40,000 plus demonations of the church?
    Call no man on earth Father.
    In that day they will not go about asking questions about God. They will all know in their heart.
    Yes time to take back responsibility for choosing our own choices.
    He told us he would send the Helper to lead us into all truth.
    We the "little people" of no status or pedigree or fancy papers to frame on our wall to who our selves "approved".
    We start there the Spirit of God speaking to us each in our daily living.
    We all know the problems .
    We need to be the solution.
    Love the Lord our God with ALL our heart mind and soul and Love our neighbor at least as much as ourself.
    It starts right here right now.
    Jesus once said we will always have the poor with us.
    But also it is clear we we always have those men who like to call themselves Benefactor who wish to Lord it over us.
    We can not fight them they have all the weapons.
    But we our weapons are Not carnal but mighty through God to the pulling down of Strongholds.
    The weapon is all of us taking care of each other .
    The the benefactors will not be needed.
    Kind of like when Jesus spoke against the practice or Corban.
    It was a law the Pharisees set up where if you dedicated all your stuff in corban you were not obligated to take care of your own Father or Mother.
    Yup classic.
    People were locking up their assets in a trust to protect them self.
    When needs arose they could say hey dud , love to help but I gave at the office.
    Transferring the responsibility to The benefactors was never His Plan.
    Today we got what we got.
    We can always repent and turn around, think a different way.
    Rather than war over doctrines of men.