Wednesday, October 25, 2017

How Much Did The Reformation Cost?

The old joke runs:
Two priests are visiting Rome. As they look up in awe at the splendor of St. Peter's basilica, one asks, "How much do you think it cost?" 
His companion answers, "Oh, about half of Europe."
The joke, of course, is that the Reformation was prompted in part by John Tetzel's sale of indulgences, and that the money from the indulgences was meant to pay for the construction of St. Peter's.  German princes, unhappy about sending their treasure across the Alps to support the lavish spending of a Medici prince, were at least somewhat inclined to support a troublesome monk who made a case for keeping German gold in German pockets.

But how much money are we talking about, here?  How much cash had to cross the mountains before the situation became intolerable to those in power? How much were the indulgences actually worth?

It's hard to say, but we can at least begin to estimate.

Tetzel was working for Albrecht of Brandenburg, a prince and bishop who needed money to pay off a massive loan to the House of Fugger.  Albrecht had taken out the loan in order to pay Pope Leo X for the archiepiscopate of Mainz. The sale of the archiepiscopate was big business, which like most big deals required financing.  The financing model was that the pope would license a campaign to sell indulgences in Albrecht's territory, and that the profits would be divided evenly between Leo himself and Albrecht, who would pay the Fuggers.

Ultimately, of course, this means that the plan was for the indulgences to bring in double the cost of Albrecht's loan.  So the critical question is:  How much had Albrecht borrowed?

This information is not readily available, but that doesn't mean it is unavailable.  Ludwig Freiherr von pastor's History of the Popes, vol. 7, p. 331 (in the English edition) says that the see of Mainz cost Albrecht 14,000 ducats, and then another 10,000 ducats of "extraordinary fees" for the privilege of occupying not only Mainz but also the sees of Magdeburg and Halberstadt.  He cites Albrecht's "bond for 29,000 Rhehish gulden" in Aloys Schulte's 1904 Die Fugger in Rom 1495-1523.

So, assuming he had borrowed the entire cost of his new position, Albrecht owed 24,000 ducats or, perhaps, 29,000 Rhenish gulden.  Nice to know, but as Americans often ask when traveling, "How much is that in real money?"

Marc Carlson is a librarian at the University of Tulsa and, apparently, a man fascinated by vast quantities of random information. Although he admits it is very, very rough, he presents a table estimating the approximate value of various ancient and medieval currencies.  According to Carlson, both a ducat and a gulder, in 16th-century Germany, were worth approximately $500 in money circa the year 2000.

So, whipping out our calculators, we find that Albrecht borrowed between $12 million and $14.5 million to finance his ecclesiastical ambitions. In which case, Tetzel was apparently expected to bring in between $24 and 30 million.

That's a lot of money, to be sure, especially for one guy with a wagon and some cheaply-printed sheets of paper.  It is even more money when you consider that, if Luther was right, Tetzel had absolutely nothing to sell.

On the other hand, consider this.  An historian named John James (see page 10 of Amy Denning's fascinating BA thesis) has devoted vast energy to estimating the construction costs of medieval French cathedrals, and comes in which a price tag of $548 million (in 2011 dollars) for Chartres. Barcelona's Sagrada Familia cathedral has been under construction for over a century, and is estimated to have cost $1.3 billion so far. A modern nuclear power plant costs several times as much.

So, yes, St. Peter's was expensive.  But if its cost had been limited (as it was certainly not) to the value of Tetzel's indulgence campaign, it might have at least been a decent value.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Double-Dipped Collects

"Double-dipping" is a funny expression.  In accounting, it means to obtain income from two sources, perhaps illicitly; in snacking, to stick a half-eaten chip into the sour-cream-and-onion.  Neither of these is very nice.  But we at the Egg love our ice cream cones dipped in cherry sauce, of the sort that forms a thin hard shell, and we can only imagine how good a double-dipped cone might be.

And lately, we have discovered double-dipping in the world of liturgical prayer.

One of our hobbies, over the past year, has been comparing the Prayers of the Day printed in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006) to their originals.  Our guide to this antiquarian endeavor is the book Keeping Time by Gail Ramshaw and Mons Teig, especially Index B, which offers a citation for each prayer, along with a modest (*) for prayers that have been altered or (**) for prayers that have been heavily altered.  Those acquainted with the language of our still-new service book will already know that asterisks abound.

Like most Lutheran service books printed in the United States, ELW's prayers are drawn from a variety of sources and languages, both ancient and modern. The greatest number are probably from the Gelasian Sacramentary, but many are taken from other sources -- including a fair number by important historical figures, previously anthologized in Dorothy Stuart's 2002 Westminster Book of Christian Prayer.  Curiously, Keeping Time doesn't offer any citations to the Reformation church-orders, although it is possible that prayers from those sources have slipped in through the LBW or Herbert Brokering's adaptations.

Today, we were looking at the propers for this coming Sunday, identified in our books by the ungainly title of Lectionary 26 A.  The Prayer of the Day is:

God of love, giver of life, you know our frailties and failings. Give us your grace to overcome them, keep us from those things that harm us, and guide us in the way of salvation, through Jesus Christ, etc. 

According to Ramshaw and Teig, this one is from the Gelasian Sacramentary, specifically #1213 in the Mohlberg collection (and III:ix:x in Henry Austin Wilson's older edition).  Somewhat absent-mindedly, we turned to the appropriate page and began to translate:
Custodi, domine, quaesumus, aecclesiam tuam propitiacione perpetua, et quia sine te labitur humana mortalitas, tuis semper auxiliis et abstrahatur a noxiis et ad salutaria dirigatur: per ...
Let's see.  Watch, O Lord we beseech thee, over thy Church -- standard stuff. And since without thee, human labor -- no, that's a passive verb, is sliding or gliding.  Hey.  Waitasecond.  Some of these forms are odd, and I'd swear I saw them just the other --

Yup.  A quick glance at Index B reveals that Old #2013 was indeed the basis for an entirely different Prayer of the Day, proper to Lectionary 23 A.  In other words, the one we prayed just three weeks earlier!

And yet the two English prayers derived from the one Latin source are quite different.  The Prayer of the Day for Lectionary 23 A reads:

O Lord God, enliven and preserve your church with your perpetual mercy. Without your help, we mortals will fail; remove far from us everything that is harmful, and lead us toward all that gives life and salvation, through Jesus Christ ...
23 A is far, far more literal than 26 A.  The former is a single-asterisk prayer, where the latter is decidedly double-asterisk.  Indeed, we would be inclined to regard 26 A as an original composition.  It adds substantial material (the pairings of love/life and frailites/failings; the all-important word grace) and removes the central image of the original (labitur humana mortalitas, which is not easy to translate but may mean something on the order of "humanity inclines toward death," and seems best rendered in phrases like Cranmer's "the frailty of Man cannot ... but fail").

It may seem to reflect a lack of originality on the part of the editors to have used the same prayer twice in a few weeks.  But of course they didn't use the same prayer; they used two quite different prayers with a common inspiration. We Lutherans do not, generally speaking, share the Anglican conceit of producing a Latin edition of our English service book.  If we did, it would require us to create an entirely new Latin prayer based on 26 A.  But we don't.

So it seems curious, but also strangely creative, that ELW has taken this route.  it is double-dipping, but not in the pejorative sense used by an accountant.  Rather, the same tasty cone has been dipped in two flavors of sauce, to create something new and unusual.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Ban Children from the Church!

It's for their own good, mind you.

For decades, if not centuries, Christians have wrestled with the questions surrounding young people and attendance at worship.  They can be a little disruptive, say some; but they are part of our community; say others.  They don't want to to be here, say the permissive; it is good for them, say the rigorous. They are our future, say the anxious; they are our present, say the affirming. (The one thing all seem to agree on is that their presence serves the salutary purpose of preventing preachers from speaking with any frankness about sex, death or Santa Claus.)

But what if we just cut the Gordian knot?  If we took a deep breath and tossed the little rugrats out on their diapered bums? Jane Watkins suggests that this might not be the worst thing for anybody.

If you have not yet had the pleasure, we warmly commend to your attention the novelist Phil Rickman and his books about the Rev. Merrily Watkins.  Merrily is a priest in the Church of England, serving both as a village vicar and as the diocesan exorcist -- or, in modern church-speak, "minister of deliverance."

Near the beginning of our current Rickman, The Prayer of the Night Shepherd, Merrily takes up the question of children in church with her 17-year-old daughter Jane who, as she points out, was recently a child herself.  Jane is Rickman's own voice in the books, a quasi-pagan distant from but respectful of her mother's faith. This is her answer:
‘Who needs kids in church, anyway? Look at it this way – kids are not supposed to drink in pubs until they’re eighteen, so pubs are slightly mysterious... therefore cool. So like, obviously, the best way to invest in the future would be to ban the little sods from the church altogether. That way, they wouldn’t turn out like me.’ 
‘So the monthly Family Service, with kids doing readings, the quiz...’ 
‘Totally crap idea, I always said that. It just makes the Church look needy and pathetic. You have to cultivate the mystery. If you don’t bring back the mystery, you’re stuffed, Mum.’
It smacks of modest proposal, to be sure.  But there is a kernel of truth there, too, and don't you deny it. Ban the children, and the church is a place where adults can speak freely, of adult matters. Ban the children, and the church is a place children wonder about, and long for.

But, children or no children, pagan Jane is onto the most important matter, the one that sociologists and intellectual historians sometimes call "re-enchantment."  A church that is preoccupied with worldly things -- even good and important things, like care for the poor and welcoming strangers -- is at base a rational creature, comprehensible by the world on the world's terms. A church preoccupied by works of civil righteousness is just another nonprofit, with fancier costumes than most -- and less effective fundraising.

But a church that offers what some pagans call a "thin place," what others simply call temple, altar and sacrifice -- in either instance, a place where the mortal encounters the eternal, where the rational is set momentarily aside in favor of the irrational, where the numinous overwhelms the prosaic -- that is something else entirely.  A place that offers the sort of savage, ecstatic, extra-rational mountaintop experience that most modern people can only find on a dance floor or a sports arena?  That is something that people need, long for, and will travel far to find.

So listen to pagan Jane. Keep the kids, if you like. But above all, cultivate the mystery.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Il Tassista e La Sua Eminenza

Our new favorite bit of Roman humor comes courtesy of John L. Allen Jr., at the very fine news site Crux.  It goes like this:
For those old enough to remember the mid-1960s, the Vatican II era in Catholicism, Italian Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani was the stuff of legend. He was the head of the Holy Office, later renamed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and was perceived as the leader of the conservative opposition at Vatican II. Even his episcopal motto hinted at intransigence: Semper Idem, meaning “always the same." 
An old joke about that Ottaviani, which was a favorite during Vatican II, went like this:
One day, Ottaviani is across Rome for lunch with friends and needs to get back for the afternoon session of Vatican II. He hails a cab, gets in, and says, “Take me to the council.” The cabbie looks around, sees that it’s Ottaviani, and promptly drives him to Trent!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Slaves of Love

This is actually the title of my sermon this Sunday, based on Romans 6:22. I will probably resist using this image in any parish publicity, however.

My favorite part of this image, by the way, is that in the three lower panels, the bra and panties have been shopped in.  There's another version floating around the webs without them, but we're a modest blog and will leave the fi-leaves be.