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April 8, 2015

Luther Rap

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While searching for documentary material on YouTube, I stumbled across two rap songs written from the perspective of Martin Luther. They amused me so, that I decided to share them here.

Note: the titles below are the links to the YouTube videos.

Luther Rap

Simply titled Luther Rap, the first video was uploaded in 2011 by one Ryan Gerlach, who is listed (at the time of this writing) as pastoral intern at Saint Stephen Lutheran Church in Longwood, Florida. There are no credits on the video, but Gerlach is the star, and if I’m not mistaken, the part of Philipp Melanchthon is played by St. Stephen’s Outreach Pastor, Jared Witt. Much of the footage is taken from the 2003 movie Luther starring Joseph Fiennes.

The song is a narrative. Biographical events highlighted include Luther’s call to the priesthood, the nailing of the Ninety-Five Theses, and the Diet of Worms. The lyrics are well-written, not contorted as is common in amateur raps. The production value of this video is really very good too! There are three lines for which sound bites from the movie were injected. I suspect there was some time stretching involved, but the timing of the cuts is impeccable. Similarly, riffs sampled from Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise were integrated seamlessly as well.

As much as I enjoyed the video in its own right, the best thing about it is that it exposes common misunderstandings about what indulgences are and how they work. The lyrics are freely available in the YouTube posting, but I want to highlight a few stanzas:

And so I became a priest, I started to preach and teach
But things that I was seeing were stifling me
People dropping Benjamin’s to be forgiven of their sins
buying up indulgences, man is this what salvation is?

Been spending most my life trying to buy my way to Jesus Christ
Been spending most my life trying to buy my way to Paradise

Church demanding money
Money to atone
Says the only way to heaven is indulgences alone
Sorry Mr. Pope if this disturbs you on your throne
But the bible that I’m reading says by faith and faith alone

There are three major problems with what is said here:

  1. The most glaring is that indulgences have nothing to do with the forgiveness or sins or the attainment of salvation. Forgiveness comes when one has repented of sin and has been reconciled with God. In faith and hope, Catholics believe that by being in that state of friendship with God at the time of death, they will be saved from eternal punishment. Indulgences only satisfy the temporal penalties of sin. In other words, receiving an indulgence when one is unrepentant and bound for eternal punishment anyway makes no difference whatsoever.
  2. Indulgences are never to be sold. The sale of spiritual benefits for a temporal price is a grave sin known as Simony, named for Simon Magus (Acts 8). An indulgence may be granted following a sincere act of charity, but it is done so as a reflection of God’s mercy and not as a product or guarantee.
  3. Finally, the Bible does not say that salvation comes through faith alone. The word alone is often added after the clause through faith in Ephesians 2:8, which implies a duality where none actually exists. Moreover, James 2:24 states explicitly, “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone (NIV; emphasis added).

This, of course, begs the question as to whether Martin Luther himself understood indulgencies or if it was those who came after him that introduced this common ignorance.

95 Theses

The qualities of the second video, 95 Theses by Xander Dominitz, are not so…er, well..redeeming. Production value is the high point on this one. It looks like a well-produced student video, something one might expect from a college senior film project. Some segments showing the rapper share some of the same techniques used by the Beastie Boys in many of their notoriously low-budget videos. There are scenes filmed in a Medieval setting, with an old church building and period dress, but most of the interactions between the characters are of such an intimate nature (mostly glances exchanged), that it is highly unlikely that they are derived from any real historical account. I don’t recall, for example, Luther getting in a fist fight with other clergy at the entrance of the church (not that it couldn’t have happened, but I find it doubtful). The lyrics are not contrived so much as they don’t possess nearly the same literary value as those in the first video. They just make Luther sound angry, bitter, and outright offensive. Telling Rome to “eat my Diet of Worms!” adds nothing to the meaning of the song, and (IMHO) makes the whole project seem incredibly childish, as does “Don’t you never underestimate the s*** that I done.” Somehow, I think that Martin Luther would not be amused at this portrayal of himself, not to mention the rapper calling his wife “my sexy little nun”. If I were (still) Lutheran, I’d be quite offended. Another example, the last line from the chorus (“I got ninety-five theses but the Pope aint one.”) means absolutely nothing. On the contrary, the pope is mentioned in a good number of the theses.

These two snippets are my absolute favorite of the bunch:

“Oh snap, he’s messin’ with the holy communion.”
But I ain’t never dissed your precious hypostatic union!
“One place at one time.” Well, thank you Zwingli.
Yeah, way to disregard that whole “I’m God” thingy!

But you forgot about me and my demonstration?
Like you can just create your own denomination?
We don’t like this part, so well just add a little twist.
Now we Anglican, Amish, and even Calvinist.
I gave you the power, you gone and abused it.
I gave you Gods truth, you just confused it.

These lines underscore the complete confidence that the Church founded by Christ and the Apostles had been wrong for fifteen centuries, and that it was Luther alone who finally understood the truth. This leads to a myopic view in which no other denomination can have superior doctrine, even though they are in essence taking Lutheran reforms to their logical extremes. It often seems like non-Catholics effectively (and ironically) bestow upon Luther the same charism of infallibility that they claim the Pope cannot possibly have simply because he is human. Perhaps I find this aspect the most interesting, because, as a Lutheran, I used to feel much same way.

So here are a few other bits I found interesting:

  1. In the video, Luther claims that “[Pope] Leo threatened me with Excommunication.” A declaration of excommunication is not a punishment, but a formal recognition of what has already happened. By teaching as truth something contradictory to Church Doctrine, Luther removed himself from communion with Rome. The formal recognition of this was especially necessary because, as a priest, Luther held the authority to teach.
  2. “You forgot salvation comes through faith alone.” See above.
  3. “I’m on a mission from God.” Clearly some Blues Brothers influence here, and a clear sign this is a serious message being conveyed.
  4. “Sixty days to recant…You’ve had…Goin’ on fifteen centuries?” These are two of the best lines in the song, though it’s predicated once again on the assumption that the Church is in error here.
  5. There is a scene that depicts a clergyman (a bishop?) taking an interest in a young girl and being chased off by some boys who I assume to be her brothers and their friends. I would be interested in knowing if this is based on a real account of the time or if it is an anachronistic statement regarding more recent scandals.
  6. I think it’s neat that he mentions how modern critics are so wrapped up with the delivery of the Theses, caring only “whether or not I nailed ’em or mailed ’em.”
  7. The same with the modern psychoanalysis of Luther.
  8. “Getting all up in my rosary…” Many forget that Luther was a fan of Our Lady.

All in all, this second work must be recognized for what it is, blatant anti-Catholic rhetoric produced without regard to accurately representing either history or theological thought.


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