Protestant Potty Talk

January 10, 2010

Early Protestants had no reluctance in employing scatological references. The devout Martin Luther himself wrote that he came to his fundamental conviction that faith was enough (sola fide) en cloaca (on the privy). He conceived of excretion as the concrete indication of humanity’s corrupt nature. But the concrete often hardened before it could be expelled: Luther was a chronic sufferer of constipation. He construed this malady as an attack from Satan. Such evil was not to be passed over in silence—to the contrary, he fought abomination with its like. Reasoning that the devil was driven by pride, he sought to humiliate him with coarse language: “Almost every night when I wake up, the devil is there …I instantly chase him away with a fart.” And elsewhere: “But if that is not enough for you, you Devil, I have also shit and pissed; wipe your mouth on that and take a hearty bite.” Nor did he spare his mortal adversaries: “No sooner do I shit than they smell it at Rome.” And: “I see plainly whence the Pope came; he is the vomit of the lazy, idle Lords and Princes.” And also: “When the slanderer whispers: Look how he has shit on himself, the best answer is: You go eat it….”
Perhaps Luther’s vulgarity was a reflection of his peasant origins. Or, perhaps it was the symptom of a personality caught in the anal stage of psychic development. But most probably, he used such language because it effectively conveyed his message to his audience—people who still retained regard for carnivalesque grotesquerie.
Luther was not alone. Even the more authoritarian Calvinists used scatological rhetoric abundantly. One example is a tract that savagely satirized Catholic belief in the transubstantiation of the Eucharist. It told the story of a poxy old monk who, immediately after taking Communion, fell ill and vomited, leaving his brethren at a quandary as to how to dispose of what they had been taught to believe was the Body and Blood of their Lord and Savior. As no friar could be convinced to accept the honor of re-ingesting the hallowed remains, it was ultimately decided that they be incinerated and the ashes preserved in a reliquary. Scholar Jeff Persels, who cited this as a representative example, wrote: “…vulgarization of difficult doctrinal is-sues [was] considered vital to the salvation of the faithful and to the reform of contemporary religious institutions…[they exercised] that most Christian and Pauline of paradoxes, putting the low to high purpose, turning scatology into rhetoric, excrement into eloquence….” (Persels, 2004:40)


One Response to “Protestant Potty Talk”

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