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April 8, 2015

Luther Rap

Home > My Research > Religion/Philosophy > Lutheranism > After Luther > Luther Rap

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.

March 27, 2015

Martin Luther: Father of the Reformation

Filed under: Book Reviews,Christianity — Brandon @ 4:30 pm
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Martin Luther: Father of the Reformation
This is a short review of Martin Luther: Father of the Reformation, written by Barbara A Somervill.

This is a very good biography and primer on Martin Luther. It is written for young readers, probably those of middle school age.

The book covers Luther’s early years, his formative time as a monk, and all of the major events that defined him as a Reformer. It is a quick read and very easy to understand.
There are, however, implicit anti-Catholic undertones throughout the book. For example, in describing the holy Roman empire of Luther’s youth, the land now known as Germany, the author says this:

“in the midst of personal storms, the Catholic Church offered hope. But religion also brought with it fear and dread. People commonly believed in the devil, evil spirits, and witches. […] People also feared God, whom they believed to be stern and judgmental. They dreaded the punishment they thought they deserved for their sins. The Catholic Church taught that penance, or acts that proved people were sorry for their sins, would release them from God’s eternal punishment. As a result they performed many virtuous deeds.” Pages 19-20

This excerpt makes a number of statements without actually explicitly stating any one of them. First it notes that the Catholic Church offered hope in desperate times, but the reader gets the impression that it is a false hope. It also claims that people believed in the existence of the devil and evil spirits as if this is no longer the case (when, in fact, most Christians still do believe in such things). It makes it sound as though people would be better off without religion altogether. The most direct statement regarding the church is also full of misinformation. It states that penance would deliver people from eternal punishment. I cannot verify that people at the time did or did not believe this, but this is obviously untrue. Jesus secured for us internal salvation and while we must reconcile ourselves with God, penance only helps to alleviate temporal punishment, not eternal punishment. Eternal punishment is for the unrepentant. Here is another example:

“Among Catholics, it was customary to baptize babies as soon as possible. Six out of 10 children died as infants at the time, so parents promptly fulfilled this religious practice. They believed that this and would secure their babies places in heaven.”

This statement treats baptism as an ordinance and not the reception of the one being baptized into the household of God. This sounds a lot like something my Baptist or Bible Church friends would say, because even traditional Protestants, such as Lutherans and Anglicans, practice infant baptism and believe that it holds Sacramental value.

So, while the book may be historically accurate, it seems to be somewhat biased theologically. I cannot recommend it for Catholic children without some explanation from an informed adult.

Luther’s Popes

Filed under: Christianity,Protestantism — Brandon @ 12:13 pm
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Home > My Research > Religion/Philosophy > Lutheranism > Martin Luther > Luther’s Popes

There is no doubt that Martin Luther took exception to the Papacy on several issues, but who were these Popes that angered him so? What else were they known for? Were they in any way holy men of God? Here’s a brief look at the nine Popes who occupied the Chair of Peter during Luther’s lifetime.

This is a work in progress. Biographical info on each Pope will be added periodically. If you’d like to follow along, please follow me on Twitter using the link on the right menu bar.

The Popes

Sixtus IV. (9 AUG 1471 – 12 AUG 1484)

      New Advent · Wikipedia · Pastor · Oxford-1, pp 250-251

  • Formerly head of the Franciscan order
  • One of the Renaissance Popes
  • “…inaugurated a line of pontiffs who systematically secularized the papacy.” [Oxford-1, p. 250]
  • Began restoration of Sistine Chapel (which is named for him)
  • Founded the Vatican Library (idea conceived by Pope Nicholas V)
  • Renowned as patron of the arts and learning, and as a champion for urban renewal in Rome
  • Contributions to the (non-Papal) Spanish Inquisition of 1478:
    • Exigit Sinceras Devotionis Affectus allowed monarchs to choose local inquisitors
    • Worked to suppress abuses
  • Cum Praeexcelsa approved mass for Feast of Immaculate Conception and encouraged its celebration in the Roman Church (1478; Feast was extended to the Universal Church by Pope Pius IX in Ineffabilis Deus, 1854)
  • Canonized St. Bonaventure (1481)
  • Formally annulled the decrees of the Council of Constance (Conciliarism reform movement)
  • Spent heavily to back military and political campaigns
  • Focused on financial betterment of his family
  • Known for nepotism: six of thirty-four Cardinals appointed by Sixtus IV were nephews

Innocent VIII. (1484-92)
New Advent·Wikipedia

Alexander VI. (1492-1503)
New Advent·Wikipedia

Pius III. (1503)
New Advent·Wikipedia

Julius II. (1503-13)
New Advent·Wikipedia

Leo X. (1513-21)
New Advent·Wikipedia

Adrian VI. (1522-23)
New Advent·Wikipedia

Clement VII. (1523-34)
New Advent·Wikipedia

Paul III. (1534-49)
New Advent·Wikipedia


More to come…


The information summarized above was derived from several primary sources: articles from the Catholic Encyclopedia (via New Advent), Wikipedia, The Oxford Dictionary of Popes [Oxford-1], and the History of the Popes From the Close of the Middle Ages by Ludwig von Pastor. Links and page numbers are included above.

October 24, 2011


Filed under: Christianity,Protestantism — Brandon @ 6:13 pm
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Home > My Research > Religion/Philosophy > Lutheranism

At the time of this writing, only a few years remain before the Quincentennial celebration of the Lutheran Reformation, demarcated by the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg in 1517. Being a former Lutheran, this is a bittersweet time for me. I defended this glorious “victory” over the tyrannical reign of the Papacy through the formative years of my life; however, that was before I looked deeper – much deeper – and discovered that this reformed theology lacked a certain substance, leaving many questions unanswered, for which the only viable answers could be found in the teachings of the Catholic Church.

This page represents a long-term research project for me. I want to better understand Luther and his contemporaries, but from the ground up. This means revisiting the man’s history, reading his words in the context of his life and the world around him, examining how his beliefs evolved over the years. Also, I want to see Luther through Catholic eyes, in comparison with the Popes and other churchmen with whom he disagreed, in light of his priesthood in the Augustinian order, in contrast with Trent and Aquinas, etc. This will take time. Indeed, I realize that I may never actually finish this project, but that’s no excuse for not getting started…

The Church Before Luther

What led Luther to challenge the Church? The short answer is the sale of indulgences, but that could just as well have ended in a failed crusade of one. What pre-existing conditions helped to make Luther so successful in his campaign?

  • Inquisition
  • Albigenses, Cathari, & Waldenses
  • Bohemia: Wyclif & Hus
  • Councils of Constance and Basle
  • Gravamina nationis Germanicae

Martin Luther

Part of this research is necessarily biographical. Some treatment of Luther’s life prior to 1517 should be made before attempting to disassemble his writings in the order of composition. Likewise, it should prove interesting to see how age and experience affected his views as the Reformation Age began to unfold.

Luther Summarized

Having studied his life and the world in which he lived, the next step is to digest his writings. It seems most appropriate to read them in chronological order. I am limited here in reading the English translations.

  • How to Read Luther
  • Comprehensive List of Luther’s Writings

The Church After Luther

What did Luther actually accomplish, if anything, in the way of Church reform?

  • The Counter Reformation
  • The Council of Trent
  • The Next Ten Popes (or 15? or 20?)

Lutheranism After Luther

I know from experience that the teachings of the Lutheran Church(es), in its various synods, are not bound by the teachings of Luther himself. To what degree have Lutherans through the ages departed from the monk’s vision?

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