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A Different Kind of Relic 1 February 2006

Posted by VARANGALI in History, Humor, VARANGALI.


In Medieval Christianity, it was possible to spend one’s way out of Purgatory. By buying “indulgences,” Christians could absolve themselves and their dead loved ones of the punishment for sins. Dominican Friar Johann Tetzel, official commissioner of indulgences in Germany in early 16th century, was reputed as having said:

“As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

Shocked by this corruption in the Church, Augustinian monk Martin Luther published his now famous “95 Theses” in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517. This seminal event sparked the Protestant Reformation, tearing asunder the unity of Western Christendom and the once-unquestioned primacy of the pope (whom the soon-to-be excommunicated Martin Luther would later refer to as the Antichrist).

While the event itself is well-recorded, the gestation of the idea that spurred the revolution is continually debated. Recently, a key piece of evidence has been unearthed. Four hundred and eighty-seven years after Martin Luther marched up to a Wittenberg church and nailed his 95 Theses to the door, German archaeologists have excavated his toilet.

Martin Luther’s struggle with chronic constipation is well-known. Having been diagnosed with a variety of bowel-related illnesses, Luther spent much of his time on this toilet. In fact, it is clear from Luther’s writings that he saw a connection between toilets and Satanic temptation. In one of his personal recollections, Luther noted that that he received his key theological insight while in the “cl.” It is widely believed that “cl” stands for the Latin word cloaca, a semi-polite term for toilet.

Historians have generally considered the connection between Martin Luther’s chronic constipation and the Reformation to be purely coincidental. Yet, with so much of the most effective criticism of Catholic beliefs and practices coming from one small room, this may merit further inquiry. After all, as Dr. Stefan Rhein, director of the Luther Memorial Foundation, has noted:

“This [toilet] is where the birth of the Reformation took place.”



1. The Turk - 1 February 2006

Yes, he was sufferef of bowel disease but he was a man also outraged at the corruption of Chruch. The indulgence practice often left families destitute as corrupt men would leave all their possesions to the church and nothing for there families. Althougth, the priests etc. took a vow of poverty they lived far better than anyone else. Also they were promising heaven when they had no such right and for what; some piece of paper that you paid cash at earth which is worthless once they are in the grave.

“If you aren’t outraged, then you aren’t paying attention” – Unknown

Martin Luther was outraged enough to get off his toliet and do something. While it maybe an interesting fact. I don’t see the point unless it is irony? Is it?

2. VARANGALI - 1 February 2006

Not quite irony, just simple humor.


3. Svend - 8 February 2006

That’s a, if you’ll forgive my choice of words (and forgive me for bringing the image to life by begging your forgiveness), juicy tidbit. Well, it’s not unusual for people to claim to do their best thinking there…

I’m no expert, but my impression is that his primary concern wasn’t corruption or injustice but rather that the theological implications of the practice of papal indulgences, namely that they undermined belief in the primacy and salvific power of divine grace.

BTW, here we have a pretty dramatic cultural difference. Imagine the head of a Muslim scholarly institution making a comparable observation about the Holy Prophet, Hazrat Isa, etc.

4. VARANGALI - 8 February 2006


I believe you are correct in that Martin Luther’s main quarrel with the Catholic Church was with the root beliefs that allowed for the papal indulgences – insistence on faith and good works for salvation – rather than the indulgences themselves. Luther saw both as a corruption of Jesus’ (as) original teachings.

The cultural difference is there, albeit not so dramatic. Martin Luther is by now a historical figure, not a religious one. A better comparison would be Hazrat Isa (as) for Christians vis-a-vis the Prophet (saw) for Muslims. There would be a difference in reactions (think of the cartoon backlash), but there would still be a very real uproar from Christians, unlike in the case of Martin Luther.

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