Sunday, June 10, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: Where Angels Fear to Tread

Hey, almost forgot it was Sunday...

So anyway, I wondered while I was reading the book about the German language: Has anybody ever tried to make literary capital out of Martin Luther's life? Because the guy, and his life, are all way bigger than normal, and there's plenty of material. Not to mention his wife Katie, who wasn't any slouch in the larger-than-life department, herself. Consider how they met: Katie was one of several rebellious nuns who needed to get out of a convent, and Martin Luther was involved in helping smuggle them out in herring barrels. Life being the way it was in those days, all those ex-nuns needed husbands, but none of them was right for Katie. Marrying Luther was her idea. He'd assumed he was a confirmed bachelor. Yeah, that assumption always slows a woman down...

They turned out to be a good working couple. He wrote and argued; and had visions (or hallucinations, whatever) in the outhouse; she raised six of their children and four of other people's, fed everybody who came to the house, and kept things running, all while carrying on a pretty voluminous correspondence, herself, and actively engaging in the central theological ferment of the time. If you didn't want to approach it from the romance angle (and it'd require some historical dishonesty to make them into a Harlequin-style romance couple, at that), what about all those kids? They must've led quite the life, themselves.

This might have been done already in Germany, I suppose. Americans find it nearly impossible to write honestly about religious figures - they either have to be plaster saints or cartoon villains; and of course Luther was neither. By modern standards he was shockingly coarse even in his religious writing, shockingly wrongheaded about a number of things, and his marriage and parenting styles aren't in line with current fashions, either. Even if you did write an honest, accurate, perceptive, funny, exciting, and thought-provoking book about him, and got it published, somebody would ban you somewhere. You'd probably get banned two or three times for two or three directly-contradictory reasons, in fact, by people who hadn't read the book. But if you and the publisher know that going in, you ought to be able to get free publicity out of it.

A long time ago, I was in some advanced German courses with a young nun we all called Schwester Lilie. In the history course, she was dumbfounded and appalled when we got to some of the causes of the Reformation - sale of indulgences particularly shocked her - that the rest of us already knew about. Her particular Catholic school education had, um, glossed over that bit (much as my public school education glossed over Palmer Raids, Japanese internment camps, lynching, Indian removals, Jefferson's slave children, etc. etc.). So when it came time to do a paper, she chose Luther as her topic, to find out what else she should have known about, but didn't. She concluded that, although she continued to believe that almost all of the actions he chose to take were wrong to one degree or another, he was a great man.

I don't know where Schwester Lilie is now, or what she's doing; but I'm sure she's not a plaster saint or a cartoon villain, either.

No comments:

Post a Comment