Friday, October 31, 2008

491 years ago today

[From the First Book of Heinrich Heine's Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland, translated by me]

But even more than the Devil's mind Martin Luther mistook the mind of the Pope and the Catholic Church. Because of my strict impartiality, I must now take up the cudgel for both, as I did for the devil, against the all too eager man.

Indeed, if one were to ask me in conscience, I would have to admit that the Pope, Leo X, was actually far more reasonable than Luther, and that the latter simply did not grasp the ultimate raison d'etre of the Catholic Church. For Luther did not understand that the idea of Christianity, the annihilation of sensuality, contradicts human nature so much that it could never be carried out in its entirety. He had not understood that Catholicism was like, as it were, a Concordat between God and the Devil, i.e. between Spiritualism and Materialism, in which the primacy of spiritualism was acknowledged in theory, but materialism was given a status in which it could in praxis exercise all its annulled rights. Whence came a clever system of concessions, which the Church concocted to the benefit of sensuality, but always in ways that denounced every act of sensuality and preserved the disdainful usurpation of spiritualism.

You may give a hearing to the delicate inclinations of your heart and embrace a beautiful girl, but you must confess that it was a scandalous sin, and for this sin you must do penance. That this penance could be effected by money was as beneficial for humanity as it was useful for the Church. The Church permitted the payment of, so to speak, resistance money for every fleshly pleasure, and soon there developed a tax for all sorts of sins. There were even holy peddlers, who, in the name of the Roman Church, hawked a letter of indulgence for any of the taxed sins.

One such peddler was that Tetzel against whom Luther first rose. Our historians are of the opinion that this protest against the indulgence trade was an insignificant event, and that it was only Roman pigheadedness that drove Luther, who at the outset railed only against an abuse of the Church, to attack the entire ecclesiastical authority at her highest pinnacle. But this is simply erroneous. The indulgence trade was no abuse, it was a consequence of the entire Church system. As Luther attacked the former, he attacked the Church Herself, and She had to condemn him as a heretic.

Leo X, the refined Florentine, the student of Poliziano, the friend of Raphael, the Greek philosopher with the threefold crown, which the conclave bestowed upon him perhaps because he suffered from an illness that in no way comes from Christian abstinence and was back then still very dangerous.... Leo von Medici, how he must have smiled at this poor, chaste simpleton of a monk, who believed the Gospel was the charter of Christianity, and this charter must be the Truth! Leo probably did not even notice what Luther wanted. He was at the time much too busy with the construction of St. Peter's Basilica, the cost of which was financed with the indulgence money, so that the sins did actually and truly give the money that built this church.

Hence, the Basilica became a monument, as it were, to sensual lust, as did those pyramids that were built by an Egyptian prostitute with money she earned from her trade. Perhaps one could better make the claim for this house of God than for the Cathedral at Cologne that it was built by the devil. This triumph of Spiritualism, namely that Materialism itself must build for its enemy its most beautiful temple, that for the heap of concessions one makes with the flesh one acquires the means to glorify the Spirit, this is not understood in the German North.

For here, far more than under the burning Italian Sky, it was possible to practice a Christianity which made the least concessions possible to sensuality. We Northerners have a colder blood, and we require not so many letters of indulgence for fleshly sins as our paternally concerned Leo had sent us. The climate makes it easier for us to practice the Christian virtues, and on October 31, 1516, as Luther nailed his theses against indulgences on the doors of the Augustine Church, the town moat of Wittenburg had probably already frozen over. One could go ice-skating, which is a cold amusement and, therefore, not a sin.

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