Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

Luther’s dominating characteristic seems to have been an intense fear of the paternal figure. He tells us how fearfully, as a boy, he studied a stained glass window in the parish church depicting Jesus the Judge, a figure with a fierce countenance bearing a flaming sword. When, after his admission as priest, he first had to officiate at Mass, he was frightened almost to incapability. This is easily intelligible when we learn that his father, a miner, used to beat him so severely that he ran away from home; his schoolmaster was equally harsh. His mother was scarcely less severe and once beat him until blood flowed, for eating a nut which he had found upon the table. Hence we might expect Luther to have formed the impression that, if God was severe, the Virgin Mary was scarcely less clement. It is therefore interesting that he made St. Anne his patroness, for her function was to intercede with the Virgin, to induce her to intercede with Jesus, whose role was to intercede with the Father. Like the Pope, God could not be approached direct. Once, when Luther was walking along, a clap of thunder sounded from a clear sky. So taut were his nerves that he fell to the ground in terror, crying “Save me, save me, dear St. Anne”, and subsequently joined the order of Augustine Eremites, an order which venerated St. Anne. (20)

Despite his own rejection of the Catholic hierarchy, his outlook was profoundly authoritarian. “An earthly kingdom cannot exist without inequality of persons”, he said, and when the peasants rose demanding that villeinage should end, he was horrified. He accepted to the hilt the propriety of using force placing absolute power in the hands of the civil authorities and encouraging them by saying,

“No one need think that the world can be ruled without blood. The civil sword shall and must be bloody.” (34)

Luther’s psychology is chiefly interesting, however, in that it provided some confirmation of the general psychological analysis which has been made of the puritan type of personality. One of the most noticeable characteristics of a certain type of puritan is an obsessive fear of dirt: we have all met the woman who combines with a strict and uncharitable morality an almost surgical desire for cleanliness. It was the commonness of this combination which gave rise to the aphorism about cleanliness being next to godliness, but the more percipient pointed out that the dislike of dirt in the literal sense seemed to go with an extreme interest in dirt in the moral sense. This type of person is always the first to know of a neighbour’s mis-step and to criticize it. Custance’s observation that, in the depressive phase of his insanity, a fear of dirt was associated with a feeling of remoteness from God is also relevant here.