Sunday, September 18, 2016

Visual Stinkers

Copyright © Edward Riojas
Woodcut for Luther’s tract against the Papacy.
Lucas Cranach the Elder. 1521.

Maybe it’s the German-thing. Maybe it’s nailing a bunch of points of debate on a church door that does it. Whatever the case, Lutherans have a history of being stinkers inside and outside the sanctuary doors. In many cases, stubborn points were driven home with visuals.

An early printed example of this is a Lutheran tract against the papacy illustrated by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Cranach showed Christ, on the one hand, clearing the money changers’ tables, but he didn‘t pull any punches with his other hand when showing the Pope collecting money for indulgeances. And if the viewer didn’t make the connection, a label of “Antichristi” was put in smallish text above the Pope. Nice. Another woodcut gracing the cover of a 1545 tract shows an enthroned Pope teetering over the jaws of Hell.
Cover woodcut for Luther tract.

Lutherans have taken umbrage with more than just the papacy. They had no qualms in protesting against Protestants when doctrine came into question. When those who insisted the Eucharist contained mere symbols of Christ’s blood and the wine, therefore, should be red, Lutherans immediately changed to white wine to show it was not a mere symbol. Many still use white wine exclusively. In like manner, Lutheran pastors stopped breaking the Host in view of the congregation, reacting to Calvinists who conspicuously broke the Host as a demonstration that the bread could not possibly be the body of Christ because “Not one of His bones was broken.” Whatever.

There have been instances, however, when most of Christendom managed to get on the same visual page. Not long ago, Muslim radicals in Syria decided to push a few persecution buttons and painted the Arabic letter “N” on homes of Christians. It is shorthand for “Nasara,” a defamatory Arabic word applied to Christians. It had the same effect on Christians living in Syria as small, yellow stars did for Jews living in WWII Germany. No sooner did word of it hit the newsstands when half the Christian populace of Facebook adopted the symbol as profile photos. It has become a symbol of solidarity, and a not-so-subtle thumbing of noses toward what Luther called “The Turk.”
Islamic “N” symbol
used to identify Christians.

Looking at the larger picture, there may very well come a time when visually displaying our Faith becomes taboo. It is already so in Islamic countries and, given our own country’s penchant for not wanting to offend anyone, laws regarding public display of the cross might one day be underwritten by government policy. (Oops, too late.) And if hiding the cross ever becomes mandated across the board, then the call to make a big stink will be deafening. Forget pain. I will be one of the first in line for the biggest possible cross tattoo – saving room, of course, for tattoos of the Lord’s Prayer, the Creeds, the entire contents of the Book of Concord, the Unaltered...

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