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The Roman Monster

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Early Modern Studies Series
General Editor
Michael Wolfe
St. John’s University
Editorial Board of Early Modern Studies
Elaine Beilin Raymond A. Mentzer
Framingham State College University of Iowa
Christopher Celenza Charles G. Nauert
Johns Hopkins University University of Missouri, Emeritus
Barbara B. Diefendorf Max Reinhart
Boston University University of Georgia
Paula Findlen Robert V. Schnucker
Stanford University Truman State University, Emeritus
Scott H. Hendrix Nicholas Terpstra
Princeton Theological Seminary University of Toronto
Jane Campbell Hutchison Margo Todd
University of Wisconsin–­Madison University of Pennsylvania
Mary B. McKinley James Tracy
University of Virginia University of Minnesota
Merry Wiesner-­Hanks
University of Wisconsin–­Milwaukee
An Icon of the Papal Antichrist
in Reformation Polemics


Early Modern Studies 13

Truman State University Press
Kirksville, Missouri
Copyright © 2014 Truman State University Press, Kirksville, Missouri 63501
All rights reserved

Cover art: Roma caput mundi, reproduction of Roman Monster by Wenzel von Olmutz
(1498); woodcut. Kupferstich-Kabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden.

Cover design: Teresa Wheeler

Library of Congress Cataloging-­in-­Publication Data

Buck, Lawrence P. (Lawrence Paul), 1944–
The Roman monster : an icon of the Papal Antichrist in Reformation polemics / by Lawrence
P. Buck.
pages cm. — (Early modern studies ; 13)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-61248-106-7 (paperback : alkaline paper) — ISBN 978-1-61248-107-4 (ebook)
1. Monsters—Religious aspects—Christianity—History. 2. Reformation. 3. Papacy—History.
4. Anti-Catholicism—History. 5. Antichrist in art. 6. Antichrist in literature. 7. End of the
world—Biblical teaching. 8. Polemics—History. 9. Melanchthon, Philipp, 1497–1560 —
Criticism and interpretation. 10. Europe—Church history. I. Title.
BR307.B82 2014

No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any format by any means without
written permission from the publisher.

The paper in this publication meets or exceeds the minimum requirements of the American
National Standard for Information Sciences—­Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Mate-
rials, ANSI Z39.48–­1992.
For Laura, David, and Judy.

Illustrations. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ix
Acknowledgments. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xi
Abbreviations. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xiii
Introduction: The Roman Monster: Historical Context. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Chapter 1: The Roman Monster of 1496. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
From Pious Portent to Political Pasquinade
The Roman Flood, 1495/­96. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Iconographic Meaning of the Ass. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Iconography of Papal Authority . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
The Donation of Constantine . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
The Waldensians. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
The Bohemian Brethren. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38

Chapter 2: The Roman Monster in the Kingdom of

Bohemia 1498–­1523. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
The Waldensians and Bohemian Brethren in the
Kingdom of Bohemia. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50
Persecution of the Bohemian Brethren . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55
Wenzel von Olmütz’s Reproduction of the
Roman Monster . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62
Luther Receives the Roman Monster Illustration. . . . . 65

Chapter 3: The Papal Antichrist. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72

The Received Tradition: Abbot Adso. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73
Joachim of Fiore and the Joachimites. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74
The Papal-­Franciscan Controversy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76
John Wyclif. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79
The Czech Reform—The Collective Antichrist. . . . . . . 84
The Antichrist Antitheses. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90
The Anatomy of the Antichrist . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94
Recapitulation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100
Chapter 4: Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) . . . . . 103
Reformation Narrative to 1523. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106
The Leipzig Disputation of 1519. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 109
Luther and the Papal Antichrist . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111
The Publication of The Pope-­Ass Explained. . . . . . . . . 114
The Pope-­Ass Explained: An Explication
of the Text . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116
The Animalized Monstrosity of the Papal
Antichrist. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157
Conclusion. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157

Chapter 5: The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within

the Discourse of the Reformation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159
Editions and Translations of The Pope-­Ass
Explained. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159
Luther’s Vocabulary of Asininity. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 160
The Roman Monster in Wonder-­Book Literature. . . . 168
The Roman Monster in the Polemics of the
French Wars of Religion. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 181
The Roman Monster in the Elizabethan
Reformation: The Pedegrewe of Heretiques . . . . 189
The Roman Monster in the Elizabethan
Reformation: Of two VVoonderful Popish
Monsters: A Declaration of the Monstrous
figure of a Popish Asse. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 202
Conclusion The Pope-Ass as a Trope of Antipapalism in
Reformation Politics. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 217
Appendix: The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) by Philip Melanchthon. . . . 221
Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 227
Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 245

Figure 1: Roma caput mundi, reproduction of Roman monster by

Wenzel von Olmütz (1498). Photo by Herbert Boswank, courtesy
of Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden.. . . . . . . . . . 9
Figure 2: Como bas-­relief of Roman monster by Tommaso and Jacopo
Rodari (1496–­97). Photo by Lawrence P. Buck.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
Figure 3: Papstesel woodcut by Lucas Cranach (1523). Courtesy of the
Richard C. Kessler Reformation Collection, Pitts Theology Library,
Candler School of Theology, Emory University. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66
Figure 4: Regnum satanae et papae, from Depiction of the Papacy (1545)
by Martin Luther and Lucas Cranach. Courtesy of the Special
Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 163
Figure 5: Papa dat concilium in Germania and Papa doctor theologiae
et magister fidei, from Depiction of the Papacy (1545) by Martin
Luther and Lucas Cranach. Courtesy of the Special Collections
Department, Bryn Mawr College Library. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 164
Figure 6: Monstrum Romae inventum mortuum in Tiberi anno 1496, from
Depiction of the Papacy (1545) by Martin Luther and Lucas
Cranach. Courtesy of the Special Collections Department, Bryn
Mawr College Library.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 165
Figure 7: Roman monster from Conrad Lycosthenes’s Wunderwerck
oder Gottes unergründtliches Vorbilden (1557). Courtesy of the
Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 174
Figure 8: Roman monster from the Augsburg Wunderzeichenbuch
(mid-­sixteenth century). Courtesy of anonymous private collection. . . . 175
Figure 9: Roman monster from Stephen Batman’s The Doome warning
all men to the Iudgement (1581). Courtesy of the Spencer Collection,
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.. . . 179
Figure 10: Roman monster from Arnaud Sorbin’s Tractatus de monstris
(1570). Courtesy of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library,
University of Pennsylvania.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 183
Figure 11: Tree of Protestantism from Stanislaus Hosius’s A Most Excellent
Treatise of the begynnyng of heresyes in oure tyme (1565). Courtesy
of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Illinois at
Urbana–­Champaign.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 195

x xIllustrations

Figure 12: Tree of Protestantism from Fridericus Staphylus’s Apologie (1565).

© The British Library Board, General Reference Collection, 698.d.1. . . . 196
Figure 13: Tree of Catholicism from John Barthlet’s The Pedegrewe of
Heretiques (1566). Courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum.. . . . 198

A number of scholars and colleagues helped make this book possible. Sab-
batical leaves from full-­time teaching provided me with time for research and
writing; I thank those members of the faculty and administration of Wid-
ener University who made these leaves possible. Students in my history senior
seminar investigated various topics contained within these pages; I thank
them for their excitement and their discoveries. A teaching appointment at
the British and American Section of the Institute for Foreign Languages of
the University of Greifswald allowed me the opportunity to offer a seminar
on some of the material contained in this study and to guide the researches of
an outstanding group of students. My time at the Institute also afforded me
the opportunity to write a substantial part of the third chapter of this study.
I extend my thanks to my colleagues at the Ernst Moritz Arndt University of
Special thanks are due to several individuals who generously shared
their time and expertise with me. Professor Jonathan W. Zophy, History
Department, University of Houston–­Clear Lake, read each chapter as it de-
veloped and offered valuable advice from the inception to the conclusion of
this project. Professor Janine Utell, English Department, Widener University,
likewise read the entire manuscript and gave me helpful and insightful edito-
rial comments. Mr. David Hewett, Department of Classics of the University
of Virginia, and Professor Julia Gaisser, Eugenia Chase Guild Professor Emer-
itus in the Humanities at Bryn Mawr College, provided generous assistance
with the translation and interpretation of Latin passages. Dr. Jean Godsall-­
Myers, German Studies Program, West Chester University, Dr. Rainer W.
Klaus (Berlin), and Professor Ulrich Steinmüller (Berlin) consulted with me
on my translations of early New High German into modern English. To all of
these individuals I extend a hearty thank-you.
I am also deeply indebted to my mentors, the late Professor J. Kelley
Sowards and the late Professor Harold J. Grimm, both of whom instilled in
me an enduring fascination with the era of the Renaissance and Reformation.
My scholarly career would not have been possible without their inspiration

xii Acknowledgments

and support. Work on this research project began as I returned to full-­time

teaching after two decades spent as a university provost. I wish to thank Mr.
Robert J. Bruce, the former president of Widener University, who gave me the
opportunity to serve in his administration and who has shown great interest
in my scholarship.
Several libraries and archives helped make it possible for me to recon-
struct the story of the Roman monster. In particular, I wish to thank the li-
brarians and staff of the Wolfgram Memorial Library of Widener University,
the Moravian Church Archive, the Herzog Anton Ulrich-­Museum, Braun-
schweig, and the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of the University of
Pennsylvania. I especially wish to thank Ms. Jill Borin, history librarian at the
Wolfgram Memorial Library, who worked with me on the illustrations.
While this research project has profited from the advice and assistance
of many colleagues, I take full responsibility for its contents. I thank my wife,
Judy, and our children, David and Laura, for their support as I have pieced
together the iconographic and literary history of the Roman monster. It is to
them that I dedicate this book.

ADB Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie

ARG Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte/Archive for Reformation History
DMA Dictionary of the Middle Ages
DNB Dictionary of National Biography
LW Luther’s Works, American Edition. Edited by Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut
T. Lehmann. Philadelphia and St. Louis, 1955–­.
MSW Melanchthon Selected Writings. Edited by Elmer Ellsworth Flack and Low-
ell J. Satre. Translated by Charles Leander Hill. Minneapolis, MN, 1962.
MWA Melanchthons Werke in Auswahl. Vol. 1, Reformatorische Schriften. Edited
by Robert Stupperich. Gütersloh, 1951.
OC&N Master Nicholas of Dresden. The Old Color and the New. Edited and trans-
lated by Howard Kaminsky, Dean Loy Bilderback, Imre Boba, and Patricia
N. Rosenberg. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s., 55,
pt. 1 (1965): 3–­93.
OCDD The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1974.
PE Works of Martin Luther. Edited by Henry Eyster Jacobs and Adolph
Spaeth. Philadelphia, 1915–­43.
St.L. D. Martin Luthers sämmtliche Schriften. Edited by Johann Georg Walch. St.
Louis, 1880–­1910.
WA D. Martin Luthers Werke, kritische Gesamtausgabe. Weimar, 1883–­.
WABrD. Martin Luthers Werke, kritische Gesamtausgabe, Briefwechsel. Weimar,
WML The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther. Edited by John Nicho-
las Lenker. Vol. 10, Luther’s Church Postil Gospels: Advent, Christmas and
Epiphany Sermons. Minneapolis, MN, 1905.


The Roman Monster

Historical Context

In December 1495, following several days of heavy rain, the Tiber River
flooded the city of Rome for nearly a week resulting in extensive drowning and
destruction. When the waters finally receded, a rumor began to circulate that
a grotesque monstrosity had been discovered in the muddy detritus. In a mes-
sage to the Signoria, the Venetian ambassador to Rome mentioned the story,
dating it January 1496. This is the earliest documentation of the report of the
Roman monster, a tale that would produce one of the most notorious portents
of the Reformation era. The creature itself is inherently fascinating, consisting
of an eclectic combination of human and animal body parts. The symbolism
of these elements, the interpretations that religious controversialists read into
them, and the history of the image itself, help to document antipapal polemics
from fifteenth-­century Rome to the Elizabethan religious settlement.
The report of the monster from the Tiber gave rise to an illustration
that was based on popular iconography, interpreted as a divine portent, and
appropriated for religious propaganda. The iconographic elements derived
from historic and folkloric commonplaces whose meanings were clear to an
audience familiar with such visual symbols. The monster as portent derived
from the common opinion that God sent anomalies of nature to warn of
impending change and to call sinners to repentance. Such unnatural phe-
nomena, however, needed to be interpreted. Religious controversialists of the
Reformation readily appropriated the Roman monster as a polemical trope,
explaining it in religious attacks and responses during the course of the six-
teenth century.
Because so many different groups interpreted the monster for their own
purposes, its history illuminates a variety of themes relevant to the course of
the Reformation. Its obscure origins among late medieval heretics in Rome,
its adoption as an antipapal cartoon in Bohemia, its explication as a symbol
of Lutheran opposition to Catholic practices and teachings, its interpretation

2 Introduction

as a figure of the papal Antichrist, its representation in wonder-­books1 as a

warning of the imminent apocalypse, and its use by Protestant and Catholic
polemicists for propagandistic purposes illustrate facets of the Reformation
from late medieval heresies to Counter-Reformation conflicts.
It is difficult for the modern mind to grasp the significance that men and
women of the sixteenth century placed on monstrosity. The modern world
looks at abnormalities and malformations as a medical issue. In contrast, the
medieval world viewed monsters as divine prodigies, warnings from God call-
ing sinners to repentance. Rather than emphasizing etiology and treatment,
the medieval perspective focused on symbol and meaning, sign and signi-
fied.2 The author of Histoires prodigieuses (1560), Pierre Boaistuau, wrote that
monstrous prodigies force us “to look into ourselves, strike our consciences
as with a hammer, examine our vices, and hold in horror our misdeeds.”3 To
appreciate the persuasive power that monstrosity as a sign had on the minds
of sixteenth-­century Christians, it is essential to comprehend certain aspects
of the premodern worldview.
First, there was a nearly universal belief that mankind was living at the
very end of time, that doomsday was absolutely and indisputably imminent.
Luther gives voice to this conviction in his model sermon written on the text
for the Second Sunday in Advent, Luke 21:25–­36.4 The lection speaks of var-
ious signs that foretell that the kingdom of God is at hand (verse 31). Luther
repeatedly makes the point that “der jüngste Tag sei nicht ferne” (“doomsday
is not far off ”). The notion that the world was on the very brink of destruc-
tion was part of a broader understanding of historical time. The late medieval
Christian understood history in a linear fashion. Time began with the fall
and the divine promise of a savior; it proceeded toward the teleological goal
of the incarnation, believed to come at the approximate midpoint of Chris-
tian history; thereafter it would continue until the final judgment. Not only
was historical time seen as a structured, “divinely predetermined totality,” it
was also perceived as filled with sin and evil. The apocalyptic vision was very

1.  On the genre of wonder-­books, see chapter 5 below.

2.  For a discussion of changing perspectives on monstrosity, see Park and Daston, “Unnatural Concep-
3.  From Boaistuau’s dedication of Histoires prodigieuses to Jehan de Rieux, quoted and translated in Smith,
“Loathly Births off Nature,” 160.
4.  WA, 10.1/2:105; St.L., 11:44–­73; WML, 10:59–­86.
The Roman Monster 3

pessimistic about the present; it held that the coming judgment would see the
punishment of evil and the triumph of good.5
The late medieval Christian also firmly believed in the reality of the
Antichrist, an antithesis to Christ that would appear shortly before Judg-
ment Day. There were competing perspectives regarding this doctrine. Some
held that the Antichrist would be a personal, incarnate, historical figure who
would influence the course of events. Others saw the Antichrist as a compos-
ite or collective phenomenon that would appear as pervasive hypocrisy and
sinfulness within Christendom. There were also authors who identified the
Antichrist either with a particular pope or with the institution of the papacy
and the clerical hierarchy, i.e., the papal Antichrist. Scripture taught that the
Antichrist would have numerous precursory minions, also called Antichrists,
who would foretell the coming of the summus Antichristus.
Another element of the late medieval worldview that relates to the pop-
ularity of the Roman monster was the belief that signs and wonders conveyed
messages from God. Such portents might take the form of anomalies in the
heavens, misshapen animals and humans, or even fantastic monstrosities.
Eclipses, odd-­shaped clouds, and malformed creatures of all sorts were seen
as “preachings” from God that cried out for decoding and interpretation, for
they called sinners to repentance and prefigured imminent ecclesiastical and/
or secular change. University-­trained clergy as well as hedgerow preachers
and street singers were eager to offer explanations. For example, Luther’s ser-
mon for the Second Sunday in Advent gives apocalyptic interpretations of
lunar and solar eclipses, comets, meteor showers, violent storms, the French
pox, and indeed also the Roman monster. When Luther learned of this mon-
strosity from the Tiber, he almost immediately saw the potential for interpret-
ing it as an antipapal portent, a figure of the papal Antichrist.
A preoccupation with the imminence of the apocalypse, a belief in the
indisputable reality of the Antichrist, and a fascination with the message con-
veyed through portents help explain the late medieval mentality that sought
to interpret and find meaning in the monstrosity reportedly found in Rome
in January 1496. To understand those efforts this study poses five research
questions together with associated corollaries.
First, what was the iconographic significance of the monster and its back-
ground setting as shown in the surviving Czech copy of the original Italian

5. McGinn, Visions of the End, 10.

4 Introduction

illustration, that is, the reproduction made by Wenzel von Olmütz (fig. 1)? In
other words, what message did the monster and its context convey? Who were
the likely originators of the illustration, and what relation existed between
their ideology and the iconographic meaning of the symbols in von Olmütz’s
Second, what was the provenance of the image from Rome in 1496 to
Wittenberg in 1523? Related to this question is the issue of how and why an
Italian pasquinade came to be copied by a Czech reproduction artist. Finally,
how did the Czech copy come to the attention of Philip Melanchthon, who
used it to illustrate his pamphlet The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523)?
Third, what did Philip Melanchthon mean when he called the Roman
monster a figure of the papal Antichrist? How had the commonplace of the
papal Antichrist developed? How was the papal Antichrist typically described?
What meanings had it acquired by the beginning of the sixteenth century?
Fourth, how should one interpret Melanchthon’s very popular The Pope-­
Ass Explained? Scholarly opinion has generally held that this piece of propa-
ganda “did not reflect credit”6 on its author, that it was not worthy of the great
German humanist. Yet, this tract resonated exceedingly well with its audience;
it was frequently republished, translated, and imitated. Can a case be made that
reconciles the content of this pamphlet with the gravitas of its author?
Finally, in what ways did the Roman monster and Melanchthon’s inter-
pretation of it influence Reformation polemics? Given that scholars have
judged this monstrous image one of the most popular of Reformation pro-
paganda, how did it acquire this status? What literary and pictorial artifacts
document its popularity and influence?
The study of these questions leads to four conclusions that comprise
the thesis of this book. (1) The iconographic images that made up the Roman
monster illustration (preserved in the von Olmütz reproduction) derived
from well-­ understood historical, religious, and folkloric commonplaces.
Their symbolic meaning coincided with the antipapal ideology of two pre-­
Reformation heretical movements—­ the Waldensians and the Bohemian
Brethren. This fact explains the transformation of the Italian pasquinade into
a Bohemian antipapal illustration.
(2) The papal Antichrist commonplace identified the “abomination
of desolation” as the collective sinfulness of the papacy and its unrighteous

6. Mackinnon, Luther and the Reformation, 3:154.

The Roman Monster 5

clergy. Drawing on ideas from John Wyclif, John Hus, and Jakoubek of
Stříbro, writers such as Nicholas of Dresden and the author of The Anatomy of
the Antichrist elaborated the theme of the papal Antichrist using a monstrous
animalized body as a metaphor for the pope as Antichrist. In The Pope-­Ass
Explained, Melanchthon demonstrates knowledge of this topos.
(3) In writing his polemical tract, Melanchthon cleverly brought together
three elements: the literary commonplace of an animalized monstrosity used
as a metaphor for the papal Antichrist, Lutheran teachings circa 1523, and the
physical image of the Roman monster itself. If one places Melanchthon’s text in
its historical context, it is clear that the points he makes reflect Lutheran criti-
cisms of Catholic doctrine and disputes with the papacy and its defenders from
1517 to 1523. This being the case, his interpretation of the pope-­ass could serve
as a kind of mnemonic device summarizing the principal Lutheran criticisms
of the Roman Church. As a humanist pedagogue, Melanchthon rejected the
medieval ars memorandi (art of memory images) as a teaching tool.7 Yet his
explication of the image of the pope-­ass and Lucas Cranach’s accompanying
illustration of the monster could serve as just such an aid to memory for sum-
marizing Lutheran teachings.8
(4) The Roman monster entered into the discourse of the Reformation
not only due to the popularity and persuasiveness of Melanchthon’s pam-
phlet, but also because numerous authors adopted it as a polemical trope and/
or an apocalyptic omen. As one of the age’s most prolific writers, Luther fre-
quently used the pope-­ass together with a lexicon of asininity to ridicule and
defame the papacy and the clerical hierarchy. When Melanchthon expanded
his original The Pope-­Ass Explained in 1535, Luther added his own appro-
bation, reaffirming the monster as a divine portent of the papal Antichrist.
Melanchthon’s pamphlet enjoyed frequent reprintings and was translated into
French, Dutch, Low German, Latin, and English. It even inspired a French
Catholic and an English Protestant to write their own interpretations of the
creature’s anatomy. In addition, the image of the Roman monster became a
standard apocalyptic omen included in the popular genre of wonder-­books,
especially in Germany and England. In all of these ways, the image of the
Roman monster became established as an emblematic metaphor in the rhet-
oric of the Reformation.

7. Yates, Art of Memory, 127.

8.  Daston and Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, 182, point out the similarity between monstrous
figures and art of memory images.
6 Introduction

This study is intended both for scholars and general readers interested
in early modern Europe. To make the material accessible, the text provides
identifying information and dates for individuals who might not be familiar
to a general audience. In discussing topics likely to be unfamiliar to the non-­
specialist, appropriate background information is provided. Quotations of
primary sources appear in English, with a citation to a scholarly translation if
one exists. Otherwise, all translations are original with this study. Quotations
of scripture are from the Douai-­Rheims version of the Bible. For the reader
who wants to delve more deeply into a given topic, notes provide an introduc-
tion to the historical literature.
The recent past has seen many investigations of monstrous portents:
Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park’s Wonders and the Order of Nature (chap.
5), Dudley Wilson’s Signs and Portents, Irene Ewinkel’s De monstris, Ottavia
Niccoli’s Prophecy and People in Renaissance Italy, Alan W. Bates’s Emblematic
Monsters, Julie Crawford’s Marvelous Protestantism, Jennifer Spinks’s Mon-
strous Births and Visual Culture in Sixteenth-­Century Germany, and Philip M.
Soergel’s Miracles and the Protestant Imagination, to name just a few excellent
studies of this topic. None of these, however, has treated the Roman monster
or Philip Melanchthon’s pamphlet in detail. In fact, the only monographic
study of this topic is Der Papstesel published in 1891 by the German art histo-
rian Konrad von Lange.9 This was a groundbreaking investigation of the sym-
bols in Wenzel von Olmütz’s illustration. However, recent research into the
intersection of folklore and iconography has opened up new understandings
that have relevance to the theme of asininity.10 Also, von Lange provided little
background on the papal antichrist and he did not delve into the historical
context within which Melanchthon wrote his tract.
The appendix provides the first English translation of Melanchthon’s
1523 version of The Pope-­Ass Explained.11 As discussed in chapter 5, in 1579
John Brooke translated the pope-­ass tract into English using as his source
the 1557 French translation of the 1535 German revision. In 1823, Henry
Cole (1792–­1858), an Anglican cleric of strong Calvinist persuasion, again
translated the pope-­ass pamphlet, likewise using the 1535 text. Cole rendered
a free translation that also included Luther’s 1535 approbation as though it

9. Lange, Der Papstesel.

10.  Mellinkoff, “Riding Backwards.”
11.  Indicated as A1, this text is in WA, 11:375–­79. A modern German version of this text can be found in
St.L., 19:1934–­38.
The Roman Monster 7

were part of Melanchthon’s text. The Cole translation is difficult to obtain and
cannot be used for scholarly purposes.12
This study reexamines von Lange’s treatment of the iconography of the
pope-­ass image, it offers ideological reasons for associating the image with
the Waldensians and Bohemian Brethren, it accounts for the reproduction
and survival of the monster’s image in sixteenth-­century Bohemia, it provides
historical background on the topos of the papal Antichrist, it contextualizes
Melanchthon’s tract within the first five years of the Lutheran movement, and
it documents the popularity of the pope-­ass within the polemical and apoca-
lyptic writings of the Reformation.

12. Melanchthon, Interpretation of the Ass-­Pope.

Chapter 1

The Roman Monster of 1496

From Pious Portent to Political Pasquinade

Philip Melanchthon’s 1523 pamphlet known as the The Pope-­Ass

Explained is one of the most famous pieces of propaganda for the early
Lutheran Reformation. In it he denounces the papacy by explicating the parts
of a portentous monstrosity as symbols of papal corruption and error. His-
torians have long known that Melanchthon’s monster image was based on a
copper engraving that came to Luther’s attention from Bohemia. Although at
one time misidentified as an illustration from the workshop of Michael Wol-
gemut, Melanchthon’s source has been definitively attributed to the Moravian
goldsmith, copper engraver, and reproduction artist Wenzel von Olmütz.
Far from being a simple picture of a pious portent, the von Olmütz
engraving brings together a variety of folkloric and political symbols to express
a powerful denunciation of papal claims to secular authority. These symbols,
though speaking in symbolic code, clearly represent the ecclesiological ideol-
ogy of two heretical movements of the late Middle Ages, the Waldensians and
the Bohemian Brethren (or Unitas Fratrum).
The only extant version of this political illustration is a reproduction that
von Olmütz made from an Italian original (fig. 1). The Roman Waldensians
were probably responsible for the first politicized picture of the monster, pos-
sibly with the aid of two members of the Unitas Fratrum who visited Rome
in 1498. One of these visitors, Luke of Prague, was the leader of a faction
of the Unity, the Major Party. At a meeting of the Brethren, the Conference
of Chlumec, he had attempted to find common ground with his opponents,
members of the Minor Party, by emphasizing the shared opposition of both
groups to papal claims for secular jurisdiction, precisely the message of the
von Olmütz engraving. Indeed, there is strong circumstantial evidence that
the emissaries from the Unity were in fact the ones who carried the original
Roman version of the monster north to Bohemia and Moravia. Thus, in craft-
ing his propaganda treatise for Lutheranism, Melanchthon drew on imagery
from pre-­Reformation popular religious movements.

The Roman Monster of 1496 9

Figure 1:  Roma caput mundi, reproduction of Roman monster by Wenzel von
Olmütz (1498). Photo by Herbert Boswank, courtesy of Kupferstichkabinett, Staatli-
che Kunstsammlungen Dresden.
10 Chapter 1

The Roman Flood, 1495/96

The legend of the Roman monster had its beginnings in the great Roman
flood of 1495/96. As the floodwaters receded, a popular eschatological poem
reported the flood as a warning sign from God. The disaster also gave rise
to one of the most enduring polemical images of the Reformation era. More
infamous than the flood itself, this monstrosity played an important role in
subsequent portent literature, in religious propaganda, and in the encyclope-
dic wonder-­books of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
During the first week of December 1495, Rome experienced a heavy
downpour that lasted for four days.1 Then, suddenly, the rain stopped. As the
sky cleared, the Tiber, famous since antiquity for devastating floods, began to
transform into a raging torrent.
Tiber floods were frequent during the late Middle Ages (1422, 1470,
1476, 1495, 1500, 1530, 1552, and 1598).2 Systematic deforestation that had
occurred during the 1300s and 1400s throughout much of Italy greatly exac-
erbated the situation. Also, construction along the banks of the river caused
irregularities in the width of the riverbed, creating bottlenecks for the rush-
ing water. Floating mills moored along the riverbank could break loose in
a torrent and get caught on a bridge, thus forming a dam. By the late 1400s
flooding had become an urgent problem for Rome as well as for many other
parts of Italy.
On Friday, December 4 (St. Barbara’s Day), the waters rose to the point
that the bridge to Castel Sant’Angelo became nearly impassible; a group of
cardinals who had a meeting in the castle in the morning were barely able to
cross the bridge at noon. Large sections of the medieval city were suddenly
inundated. Papal prisoners held in the Tor di Nona across the river from the
Castel Sant’Angelo drowned in the torrent. The flood continued to rise for five
days, finally reaching a high-­water point of twenty-­four feet above normal.
The flood was especially devastating because it did most of its damage in
the low-­lying area within the bend of the Tiber, from the Castel Sant’Angelo
in the north to the Jewish ghetto in the south and from the river eastward
past the Pantheon and Santa Maria sopra Minerva. In that section of the city
resided more than 60 percent of the city’s inhabitants.3 Not surprisingly, those

1. Gregorovius, Geschichte der Stadt Rom, vol. 2, bk. 13, chap. 4, sec. 6, 804–­5; Reumont, Geschichte der
Stadt Rom, 3.1:434–­35; Pastor, History of the Popes, 5:475–­80; Lange, Der Papstesel, 15–­19.
2. Reumont, Geschichte der Stadt Rom, 3.1:434, 435, 541–­55; 3.2:893–­94, 897.
3. Stringer, Renaissance in Rome, 24.
The Roman Monster of 1496 11

who lived in the floodplain included the city’s poorest citizens. Based upon a
census taken a generation after the flood, it appears that this area may have
been home to some 34,000 inhabitants. Consisting of a “warren of narrow,
unpaved streets and alleys,”4 it looked like a decayed medieval village where
the poor “huddled in squalor.”5
The floodwaters rose so quickly that people were literally flooded out
of their beds at night. They attempted to seek refuge by climbing onto roof-
tops or running to higher ground. The torrent weakened the foundations
of numerous buildings, which simply collapsed, burying the inhabitants in
rubble. The flood swept away buildings, bridges, mills, provisions, and even
livestock. It befouled the wells and damaged cultivation in the countryside.
Rescuers attempted to navigate the floodwaters in small boats or in wooden
tubs, using long poles to move about.6 After five days, the waters finally began
to recede. (One can still find several plaques in Rome indicating the 1495
high-­water mark, for example, in the Via del Paradiso, near Sant’Eustachio
and on the façade of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.)7 The shortage of potable
water and foodstuffs, the rotting corpses of animals, and the general unhy-
gienic conditions contributed to widespread illness. Even Pope Alexander VI
briefly fell victim of a fever.
Reports began to circulate that the receding waters had revealed a dead
monstrosity in the midst of the muddy debris, which the Romans interpreted
as a divine portent. The creature supposedly had the head and body of an ass,
the breasts and pudendum of a woman. For feet, it had a cloven hoof and a
claw. One hand was that of a human; the other was the tip of an elephant’s
trunk. Except for its naked breasts and belly, it was covered with black scales.
On its backside, it had an old man’s bearded face as well as a tail in the form
of a dragon’s neck with a serpent’s head at the end.8

4.  Ibid., 24–­26.

5.  Ibid., 24.
6.  See the woodcut illustration on the first page of Dati’s Del diluuio di Roma.
7. Lange, Der Papstesel,16; Reumont, Geschichte der Stadt Rom, 3.1:574: The Santa Maria sopra Minerva
inscription reads: “Ann. Chr. mud. non. Decemb. / Auctus in immensum Tiberis dum / profluit alveo / Extulit
huc tumidas turbidus / amnis aquas.” The plaque near the church of Sant’Eustachio reads: “AN SAL M VD
1495, the Tiber, on a fine day, grew up to this sign on the nonae (5th) of December Alexander VI Pope—­Year
III”]. “Curious and Unusual 3: The Floods of the River Tiber,” in Virtual Roma at http://roma.andreapollett.
8. Malipiero, Annali Veneti, quoted in Lange, Der Papstesel, 18n2.
12 Chapter 1

Unraveling the origins and meaning of this story poses an intriguing

mystery. The earliest sources of information about the flood and the legend of
the monster include a street crier’s poetic description, a bas-­relief representa-
tion, a report from a diplomat to the Venetian Signoria, a panegyric dedicated
to the Duke of Ferrara, a description first published in 1584 but based on an
earlier account, and a copper engraving from a Moravian goldsmith. Explicit
and implicit information from these sources lead to the conclusion that con-
temporary reports of the monster had at least two variants. One represented
the creature as a curious monstrosity, a divine portent. The other added an
allegorical setting containing emblems and symbols that conveyed political
and ecclesiastical content. In both cases, the monster itself was a composite
of theological and folkloric topoi that contemporary observers would have
understood on various levels. The more “political” of the two versions con-
veyed a multiplicity of meanings with references to the pope and emperor.
One of the earliest, if not the earliest description of the 1495 Tiber flood
was a poem by Giuliano Dati entitled Del diluuio di Roma. Best known for
his popularization of Christopher Columbus’s voyage of discovery of 1492,9
Dati chronicled the flood in a work written for popular street criers or tale
singers (cantambanchi, cantastorie), who traveled the cities with portable
platforms and benches, declaiming their songs to any who would pay for a
seat in the audience.10 Treating the 1495 flood as a divine portent, Dati gave
a detailed description of the events of the deluge. Significantly, however,
he did not mention the monster in his poem. Given that the popularity of
a bench singer depended upon his song’s containing contemporaneous and
sensational information, one can only assume that, at the time Dati wrote
his poem, the story of the monster had not yet surfaced. This means that he
probably finished his work in the last days of December 1495 or the first days
of January 1496.11
A passage in the Annals of the Venetian senator and historian Dome-
nico Malipiero dates the legend of the monster to January 1496. Malipiero
included the following comment after a description of the flood of the Tiber:

9. Dati, Columbus in Italy.

10. Niccoli, Prophecy and People, 12–­14.
11. Dati, Del diluuio di Roma del M.CCCC.lxxxxv A di .iiii. di dicembre Et daltre cose di gran marauiglia,
British Library, listed as number 7996 in Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke, vol. 7. This same catalogue of
incunabula also lists a second version printed in Rome by Johann Besicken and Sigismund Mayr, number
7995. Both versions are noted as having been printed “after December 4, 1495.” See also a modern tran-
scription edited by Anna Esposito and Paula Farenga.
The Roman Monster of 1496 13

During the present month of January [1496], once the Tiber had receded,
there was found in Rome on the bank of the river, a monster that appeared
to have the head of an ass with long ears and the body of a human female.
Its left arm was of human shape, the right had, at its tip, an elephant’s
snout. Behind, on the posterior part, [there was] an old man’s face with a
human beard. From its tail there came forth a long neck with a serpent’s
head, with its mouth open. The right foot was an eagle’s [claw] with tal-
ons; the left foot, an ox’s. The legs, from the sole [of the feet] up, along
with its whole body [were] scaly like a fish. And these details are con-
tained in the letters of the ambassador to the Signoria.12

This report was added in passing at the end of a diplomatic dispatch to the
Venetian government.
Apparently the legend of the monstrosity became an almost overnight
sensation. Sometime between 1496 and 1497 the artists Tommaso and Jacopo
Rodari of Maroggia sculpted an image of the monster as a decorative bas-­
relief on the northern portal of the cathedral of Como (see fig. 2). This church
was under construction in the last years of the fifteenth century; these two
brothers completed several pieces of decorative sculpture for the cathedral.
The Como image, like the Venetian ambassador’s report, contains no
hint of political or religious critique. Unlike the version done later in Moravia,
the Como relief has no symbolic contextual setting. Rather the space around
the monster is filled with two ribbons, two fascicles of leaves (or possibly two
aspergilli), and two bearded faces that appear to be part of a sea monster. If the
bundles are indeed aspergilli, they could symbolize an exorcism of the evil of
the monsters. In any case, there is no clear political, antipapal, or ecclesiastical
meaning in these items. This leads to the conclusion that, in its earliest form, the
legend of the Roman monster (and its pictorial representation) was a manifesta-
tion of popular piety, without a political or ideological point of view.
Woodcut pictures often illustrated chapbooks, broadsheets, or the songs
of street criers. If the story of the Roman monster gave rise to illustrated broad-
sheets or street songs, then it is probable that the Venetian ambassador and
the Rodari brothers used such illustrations for their information about the
monstrosity. An illustration presumably came into the hands of the Rodari
brothers who then used the image to decorate the cathedral’s northern portal,
which was just then under construction.

12.  Quoted in Lange, Der Papstesel, 18n2.

14 Chapter 1

Figure 2:  Como bas-­relief of Roman monster by Tommaso and Jacopo Rodari
(1496–­97). Photo by Lawrence P. Buck.
The Roman Monster of 1496 15

While the first representation of the monster may have served to illustrate
a pious broadsheet or a street singer’s song, the politicized version was more
likely made as part of a satiric pasquinade. In early sixteenth-­century Rome,
the custom developed of affixing satiric epigrams, including illustrations, to
an antique statue that was dubbed “Pasquino”; the satires are known as pas-
quinades.13 It appears likely that an Italian version of the monster, no longer
extant, was made as part of such a satiric pasquinade, and that this depiction
found its way into the hands of the Moravian goldsmith and engraver Wenzel
von Olmütz.
Besides the bas-­relief at Como and the Venetian ambassador’s descrip-
tion, another detailed depiction exists in a poem by Francesco Rocociolo,14
written as a panegyric for Duke Ercole d’Este of Ferrara. The British Museum
catalogue dates this poem from about 1500. In hyperbolic verse, Rocociolo
describes the monster’s features. Stating that he learned of the monstrosity
through a picture he received from Venice, he makes clear that the legend of
the monster had become a cause célèbre in Renaissance Italy. He describes
features identical to those presented by the Venetian ambassador and the von
Olmütz engraving, but differing in some detail from the Como bas-­relief and
from a description by Giovan Paolo Lomazzo (1538–­1600).
In 1584, Lomazzo published his Trattato dell’arte della pittura. Though
written eighty-­nine years after the event, scholars believe that, for his descrip-
tion of the monster, he used an earlier source. He wrote, “In Rome in the year
1496, as the story goes, a monster with an ass’s head is supposed to have been
born. Its belly, breasts, genitals, hand, right arm, neck and legs had a human
contour, but were covered with scales. The right foot was that of an eagle, the
left, that of an ox. On the hind part there was a human face as well as a tail
that had the form of a serpent’s neck with a serpent’s head at the end. The

13.  Ibid., 32: While the Pasquino statue was first unearthed and displayed in 1501, the custom of posting
critiques can be dated as far back as the papacy of Sixtus IV (1471–­84) and Innocent VIII (1484–­92). At
that time, the satires were posted not on the Pasquino statue, but on the portico of the papal library. During
the papacy of Alexander VI, the posting of satiric epigrams became more frequent than ever before. See
also Stringer, Renaissance in Rome, 50–­51; Chastel, Sack of Rome, 1527; Niccoli, Prophecy and People, 36;
Bedini, Pope’s Elephant, 101–­5.
14.  Rocociolo, .  .  .  de monstro Romae in Tyberi. Rocociolo makes a passing reference to “Roma caput
mundi,” which suggests that he may have seen the politicized version of the monster, but he does not men-
tion the other political images in the von Olmütz version. From the language of the poem, it is not possible
to say with certainty which version Rocociolo saw. Pastor, History of the Popes, 5:480, states that he “sought
in vain . . . for a copy of this rare book.” I have used the copy held in the British Library.
16 Chapter 1

left arm had the form of a stump.”15 Lomazzo thus corroborates the existence
of the story of the monster. His description, though identical to the Como
bas-­relief, differs in certain respects from the von Olmütz version, from the
ambassador’s description, and from the account by Rocociolo.
The only extant drawing of the monster comes not from Italy, but from
Moravia. There a goldsmith and copper engraver, Wenzel von Olmütz, made
his own version of the beast, apparently based upon an Italian copy that had
come into his hands (fig. 1). Unlike the Como version, von Olmütz’s picture
contains numerous iconographic and symbolic elements that convey political
and ecclesiastical content. The figure has a left hand that is human, a right arm
that could be the end of an elephant’s trunk, a left foot that is an eagle’s claw,
and a right foot that is a cloven hoof. Von Lange dates the engraving to the
second half of 1498.16
There are thus five sources—­three descriptions and two representations—­
and three known variants of the composition of the monstrosity. Lomazzo’s
description and the Como relief have identical configurations; the ambassa-
dor’s description agrees with von Olmütz’s depiction of the monster’s arms
and hands but von Olmütz reverses the depiction of the feet, showing the left
as having talons and the right as cloven. Rocociolo describes the left hand as
human (thus agreeing with the ambassador and von Olmütz) but he does not
specify which foot has talons and which is cloven. These differences, together
with the radically different backgrounds of the Como and the von Olmütz
versions, suggest that there was more than one early picture of the monstros-
ity in circulation in Rome and northern Italy. One of these presented a mon-
strous portent, possibly as an illustration for an ephemeral broadsheet or a
bench singer’s song; another added iconographic content that identified not
only with the tradition of portent literature, but also with the tradition of
satiric, epigrammatic placards. (One may describe these placards as “pasqui-
nades,” though that term is somewhat anachronistic when applied prior to
1501.)17 It is this latter depiction that ultimately became the basis for Philip
Melanchthon’s famous The Pope-­Ass Explained.

15. Lange, Der Papstesel, 39.

16.  Ibid., 74.
17.  See note 13 above.
The Roman Monster of 1496 17

Iconographic Meaning of the Ass

Melanchthon, of course, gave his own Lutheran interpretation to the elements
of the monster’s picture. While his imputed meanings are important for
understanding the way Reformation propaganda exploited the monstrosity,
they reveal little about the fifteenth-­century Italians’ understanding of the leg-
end or its pictorial representation. In order to understand this mentality, it is
necessary not only to study the portent literature of the late Middle Ages, but
also the social, folkloric, literary, and religious sources that provide the icono-
graphic motifs represented in von Olmütz’s engraving. His version (and the
Italian original upon which it was undoubtedly based) presents a congeries of
topoi that possessed communicative power because they spoke through pop-
ularly understood symbols that conveyed multiple layers of meaning.
The story of the Roman monster exemplifies the preoccupation of the
late medieval world with signs and portents. A monstrosity was merely one
of a number of kinds of aberrations of nature that contemporaries perceived
as divine messages, presaging events to come or calling Christians to repen-
tance. Reported in numerous broadsheets, such portents might be meteoro-
logical, astronomical, physiological, or entirely fantastical. Examples include
damaging winds, hailstorms, floods, multiple “moons,” odd-­shaped cloud
formations, births of misshapen animals, malformed babies, and composite
fantasy creatures with body parts drawn from a wide range of zoological and
mythical creatures. Nature is God’s creation; monsters, a visible sign of sin,
are perversions of nature allowed by God as warnings to mankind. Belief in
portents combines notions of sin and repentance to divination. Extracting the
correct meaning from a supernatural event (monstrum) and properly modify-
ing behavior, make possible the avoidance of catastrophe. Thus observation of
nature, analysis of contemporary events, and religious reflection join together
into an integrated worldview.18
It is not surprising that the story of the dead creature washed up on
the banks of the Tiber resonated with men and women of the late fifteenth

18. Niccoli, Prophecy and People, xvi; Andersson, “Popular Imagery in German Reformation Broadsheets,”
129; Wilson, Signs and Portents, 22. In his Physics (Initia doctrinae physicae), Melanchthon describes four
categories of monstra: spirits such as angels, unusual occurrences in the heavens such as comets, pro-
digious apparitions in the sky such as cloud formations portraying fighting armies, and creatures with
portentous abnormalities; see Cameron, Enchanted Europe, 184. See also Barnes, Prophecy and Gnosis;
Park and Daston, “Unusual Conceptions,” 20–­54; Daston and Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature; Platt,
Wonders, Marvels, and Monsters; Schenda, “Die deutschen Prodigiensammlungen,” 637–­710; Zambelli,
“Astrologi hallucinati.”
18 Chapter 1

century. It consisted of a number of elements that conveyed connotative

meanings that contemporary witnesses would have readily understood. The
dominant form in both the verbal report and its pictorial representation is the
ass. One must therefore begin by inquiring into the meaning of the ass in the
late Middle Ages. Linguistic usage, iconographic tradition, folk custom, jurid-
ical practice, and even patristic authority connect the image of the ass with
concepts of derision, scorn, ridicule, foolishness, and false belief. The contem-
porary observer would have understood the representation of the monster
through this prism of preconceptions.
The medieval Latin verb asino means “to be foolish.”19 In early New High
German, the phrase einen auf den Esel sezen means “to ridicule someone” or
“to make someone laughable or ridiculous.”20 This last meaning was, in fact,
grounded in actual custom, for it was the practice throughout the Middle
Ages to use an ass as a means of ridiculing or punishing a wrongdoer.
Ridicule as a form of punishment was based upon the notion of fama
or social reputation, a concept highly prized in the world of the late Middle
Ages. Fama was understood “as a person’s social extension, that which deter-
mined his or her standing within a community.” Thus, to force ridicule upon
someone was to injure that person’s social reputation, his standing within the
community. In this context, the medieval rituals of ridicule did more than
just hurt the victim’s feelings or embarrass him. Ridicule damaged the victim’s
self-­image, social reputation, and communal identity.21
Examples of the ass’s being used as an instrument of scorn and ridi-
cule can be found as early as the tenth century, but are especially common
in the fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries. For example, as early as
990, an antipope was punished “by being mutilated and then made to ride
backwards on an ass. . . .”22 In Rome, in 1184, the populace seized a number
of unpopular clerks in the service of Pope Lucius III, put out the eyes of all
but one of the unfortunate bureaucrats, set them backwards on asses, and
sent them off to the pope.23 In ca. 1540 the vicar of St. John’s church in Min-

19. Jones, Secret Middle Ages, 313n28.

20. Götze, Frühneuhochdeutsches Glossar, 70; Moxey, “Hieronymus Bosch and the ‘World Upside Down,’”
21. Puff, Sodomy in Reformation Germany and Switzerland, 112–­15.
22.  The antipope was Johannes Philagatos; see Mellinkoff, “Riding Backwards,” 154; Jones, Secret Middle
Ages, 150.
23.  Ibid., 87.
The Roman Monster of 1496 19

den sent a threatening Schandbild (slanderous illustration) to the abbot and

monastery of SS. Simeon and Mauritius in Minden in an effort to collect rents
owed to St. John’s. The illustration depicts the abbot riding backwards on
an ass, with the hood of his cowl displaying ass ears.24 In medieval England,
men who were physically abused by their wives suffered further communal
humiliation by being “paraded through the streets backwards on an ass.” (In
the Midlands, this ride was known as a “skimmington” or a “skimmety.”)25 In
rural Franche-­Comté, wives could take revenge on their husbands for beating
them by making them ride an ass through the village.26 In 1444, a Dalmatian
ecclesiastical court condemned an elderly woman for using spells to lure rich
lovers to her daughter. Her punishment was “to be led through the town by
her daughter, seated on a donkey but turned backwards to face its tail.”27 In
1393, Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan, issued a decree ordering that
anyone convicted of forgery, poisoning, or murder was “to be led on an ass,
with a paper mitre on his head, through high-­street and other public places of
this city or state.”28 In yet another example, a woodcut from the early sixteenth
century entitled All Ride the Ass shows a man being given the “ass/backwards”
punishment while a shrew pulls his hair and a fool pulls on the donkey’s tail.29
A related meaning of the medieval asinine symbol is the fool or foolish-
ness. For the English-­speaking world, the most famous example of this topos
is Bottom in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. However, numerous
other examples exist on the Continent. For example, a woodcut from the
Spiegel des menschlichen Lebens published in Augsburg in the 1470s shows
a schoolboy dunce wearing an ass’s head.30 Another example of the fool as
ass can be seen in Sandro Botticelli’s Calumny of Apelles (1497–­98) in which
Midas, the unjust judge, has ass’s ears. Likewise, Barthel Beham, in his wood-
cut Two Greedy Fools (ca. 1524) uses ass’s ears on the typical fool’s costume.
A third connotative meaning of the ass harkens back to ancient times,
when pagans alleged that Christians worshiped an ass-­headed god. In this

24.  Ibid., 98–­99, and ill. 8.

25.  See Mellinkoff, “Riding Backwards,” 163–­64; Davis, “Women on Top,” 168.
26.  Ibid., 170; Mellinkoff, “Riding Backwards,” 163.
27. Jones, Secret Middle Ages, 88.
28.  Ibid., 87.
29.  Ibid., 7. During the Inquisition in sixteenth-­century Spain, condemned heretics were placed back-
wards on an ass and led to the place of their execution; Mellinkoff, “Riding Backwards,” 159. See also ibid.,
fig. 6, showing an illustration of a bishop riding backwards on an ass from northern France, ca. 1280.
30.  Ibid., 72.
20 Chapter 1

tradition, the ass represents false belief. The Latin church father Tertullian,
wrote in his Apology (ca. ad 197), “A new representation of our [Christian]
god has quite recently been publicized in this city [Carthage], started by a
certain criminal hired to dodge wild beasts in the arena. He displayed a pic-
ture with this inscription: ‘Onokoites [the offspring of an ass], the god of the
Christians.’ The figure had the ears of an ass, one foot was cloven, and it was
dressed in a toga and carrying a book.”31 An even earlier version of this topos
dates back to the first century bc when Alexandrian Greeks started a rumor
that the god of the Jews had the form of an ass.32 Also, scholars of ancient
Rome have discovered an antique graffito on Rome’s Palatine Hill showing a
crude picture of a man worshiping a crucified figure with an ass’s head bear-
ing the inscription, “Alexamenos worships his god.”33 To the medieval mind,
the image of the ass carried the connotations of false belief as well as scorn,
ridicule, and foolishness.
Aside from the basic asinine form, the 1496 Roman monster has a num-
ber of characteristics that are consistent with medieval demonic iconography.
When examining this artistic tradition it is important to keep several points
in mind. First, the medieval pictorial tradition representing the devil is amor-
phous; there is no clear scriptural description upon which to base illustrative
motifs. “This lack of a pictorial tradition combined with literary sources that
confuse the Devil, Satan, Lucifer and demons are important reasons for the
lack of a unified image of the Devil and for the erratic iconography.”34 Second,
one must draw a distinction between the devil and a devil. The devil, per se,
appears in two main roles—­as the dragon vanquished by Archangel Michael
in the apocalypse and as the punisher of sinners at the Last Judgment.35 On
the other hand, generic devils and demons appear in a myriad of places and
guises, causing everything from flatulence to sour milk. Third, the represen-
tation of devils and demons evolves during the Middle Ages. When shown on
his throne in hell, the devil is a fat, ugly, usually black figure without wings,
horns, hoofs, or a tail. When represented outside of hell in the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries, devils have horns, hoofs, talons, and tails; in the four-
teenth century they begin to be shown with the wings of a bat; and in the

31. Tertullian, Apologetical Works, 51. See also Cohn, Europe’s Inner Demons, 2.
32. Cohn, Europe’s Inner Demons, 5.
33. Tertullian, Apologetical Works, 51n9.
34. Link, Devil, 44; Holländer, Wunder, Wundergeburt und Wundergestalt, 314–­15.
35. Link, Devil, 40.
The Roman Monster of 1496 21

fifteenth and sixteenth centuries they take on more of the look of rebel angels,
Michael’s evil counterparts.36
Keeping this amorphous pictorial tradition in mind, one can neverthe-
less draw some general conclusions about diabolical iconography in the fif-
teenth and sixteenth centuries. Typically, devils in this period are represented
with ram’s horns, with cloven hoofs, ass’s hoofs, or griffon-­like claws, with
scales or black fur, and with large tails. Sometimes they also have dragon or
serpent-­like elements, and wings that are either like those of an angel or a bat.
Other characteristics that might appear include nakedness, hairiness, large or
prominent teeth, large ears, and a face on the rump.37
While the symbolism of the asinine and diabolical characteristics of the
monster has multiple meanings, it is fairly straightforward to decode. The
meaning of the elephantine right arm, however, poses a somewhat more
problematic crux. On a literal level, one might assume that the reference is
to strength or power, given the obvious association of these qualities with
elephants. But events in Italy in the last years of the fifteenth century suggest
another meaning. During the course of 1496, a variety of records make men-
tion of a disease that contemporaries perceived as new and incurable. Both
laymen and university medical men believed that this pest had been brought
to Italy by the forces of Charles VIII. It thus came to be known as the “French
disease” (a sexually transmitted malady assumed by most historians to have
been venereal syphilis). Also known as the “great pox,” it spread rapidly and
became the scourge of commoner and noble alike. In attempting to explain
the etiology of this malady, fifteenth-­century scholars turned to the medical
authorities of antiquity. One such scholar was Sebastiano dall’Aquila, lecturer
of philosophy and medicine at the University of Ferrara. He argued that the
French disease was the condition that Galen had labeled “elephantiasis.”38 He
put forward this thesis at a disputation on the topic of the great pox held at
Ferrara at the end of March and the beginning of April 1497. This idea was
by no means limited to university professors of medicine. Chroniclers such
as the Roman Raffaello da Volterra, the Genoese Bartolomeo Senarega, and

36.  Ibid., 72–­73. See also Der Physiologus, s.v. “der Wildesel.”
37. Link, Devil, esp. chap. 2; Holländer, Wunder, Wundergeburt und Wundergestalt; Emmerson, Antichrist
in the Middle Ages; Jones, Secret Middle Ages, 73, 62. For the demonic face on the rump, see Jones, Secret
Middle Ages, 62; Mellinkoff, Outcasts, 2:pl. xi.1, showing the crucifixion scene from the Hours of Elizabeth
the Queen, England, c. 1420–­1430, London, British Library, MS. Add. 50001, fol. 37v; and the painting of St.
Wolfgang and the Devil by Michael Pacher (ca. 1475–­79), in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.
38.  Arrizabalaga, Henderson, and French, Great Pox, 77–­82.
22 Chapter 1

the German Johannes Nauclerus likewise referred to the French disease as

elephantiasis.39 The assumption that the French disease was elephantiasis was
thus widely disseminated. This, in turn, justifies the contention that the ele-
phant’s trunk is a graphic reference to sickness and disease, especially to the
sickness of the great pox.
Whether understood as a sign of power or of pestilence, the elephant’s
trunk is an exotic zoological specimen to include in a composite representa-
tion of a divine portent. Clearly the artists who drew pictures of the monster
and who sculpted it in bas-­relief had little firsthand knowledge of an elephant’s
anatomy, for the trunk is rendered without nostrils! In fact, in Melanchthon’s
The Pope-­Ass Explained, the snout described in Malipiero’s version of the
story becomes an elephant’s foot, but drawn to look like a horse’s hoof.
There remains the issue of the ass’s blatantly exposed female sexuality.
In the late Middle Ages, female nakedness stood for sin, carnality, and pol-
lution. A picture of a naked woman was understood as a reference to Eve,
whose disobedience brought evil into the created world. Women were per-
ceived as driven by insatiable sexual appetites that made them susceptible to
demonic seduction. Because of their monthly menstruation, they were also
seen as self-­polluting. The infamous witch-­hunter Heinrich Kramer summed
up many medieval misogynistic commonplaces in the Malleus Maleficarum:
What else is a woman but a foe to friendship, an unescapable punish-
ment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, a
domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil of nature, painted with
fair colours!  .  .  .  When a woman thinks alone, she thinks evil.  .  .  . All
wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman. . . . For it is true
that in the Old Testament the Scriptures have much that is evil to say
about women, and this because of the first temptress, Eve, and her imita-
tors. . . . [S]ince they [women] are feebler both in mind and body, it is not
surprising that they should come more under the spell of witchcraft. . . .
[S]he [a woman] is more carnal than a man, as is clear from her many
carnal abominations. . . . [T]hrough the first defect in their intelligence
they are more prone to abjure the faith; so through their second defect of
inordinate affections and passions they search for, brood over, and inflict
various vengeances, either by witchcraft, or by some other means. . . . [A]
woman is beautiful to look upon, contaminating to touch, and deadly to

39.  Ibid., 25; Lange, Der Papstesel, 12, 36.

The Roman Monster of 1496 23

keep. . . . To conclude. All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in

women insatiable.40

The monster’s naked breasts and pudendum reflect this anti-­feminist tradi-
tion linking the female body with insatiable lust, pollution, and demonic pos-
The earliest version of the story of the monster as well as the earliest rep-
resentation of the beast drew upon a fund of popular images whose connota-
tive meanings symbolized power or pestilence indeed, but more important,
ridicule, foolishness, false belief, carnality, and demonic presence. However,
the image of the monster that Wenzel von Olmütz reproduced added a setting
that contained equally well-­understood symbols that conveyed an ideologi-
cal content not present in the early description of the monstrosity or in the
bas-­relief on the Como cathedral. It is necessary, therefore, to explain these
contextual symbols and the ideas they represent.
Several elements in the setting clearly reference the 1495/96 flood: the
Tiber River labeled “TεVFRF”; the pool of water in which the monster stands,
representing the river flowing over its banks; the date “∙JANVARII∙1496”; and
the large amphora, representing the astrological sign of Aquarius. This astro-
logical symbol was probably included to give a more specific date for the dis-
covery of the monster; according to the medieval calendar, the sun entered
the sign of Aquarius on the 18th of January.42
Two symbols reference Wenzel von Olmütz himself: the “W” at the bot-
tom center of the picture and the flower below the monster’s tail. In addition
to his work as a copper engraver, von Olmütz was a goldsmith who also made
pattern books for apprentices. Part of a goldsmith’s repertoire was to make
plants or flowers by bending and rolling thin sheets of silver. In his The Lovers,
from ca. 1490 (in the Rosenwald Collection at the National Gallery of Art,
Washington, DC), on the framing arch above the lovers, there are leaves that
look quite similar to the flower next to the monster.43

40.  Kramer and Sprenger, Malleus Maleficarum, 43–­47.

41.  See Miles, Carnal Knowing; Elliott, Fallen Bodies; Stephens, Demon Lovers; Broedel, Malleus Malefi-
carum and the Construction of Witchcraft, Theology and Popular Belief.
42. Grotefend, Taschenbuch der Zeitrechnung, 15; Lange, Der Papstesel, 19, gives January 11 as the begin-
ning of Aquarius.
43.  For a full discussion of the attribution of the Roman monster to Wenzel von Olmütz, see Lange, Der
Papstesel, 5–­7.
24 Chapter 1

Iconography of Papal Authority

Of greater significance are four elements in the background whose meanings
are directly interrelated: the Castel Sant’Angelo, the cross-­keys banner, the
Tor di Nona, and the inscription “ROMA CAPVT MVNDI.” Each of these
represents an aspect of the temporal or secular authority of the papacy.
The papal fortress, Castel Sant’Angelo, located at the bend of the Tiber
near the modern Vatican, began as Emperor Hadrian’s mausoleum.44 It became
a burial place for Roman emperors, including Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius,
and Commodus, among others. As early as the late third century it was modi-
fied to serve as a fortress. The early form of the mausoleum was a square foun-
dation upon which were built three cylinders of diminishing diameters (rather
like a wedding cake). Hadrian’s mole served as the papal fortress throughout
the early Middle Ages. Unfortunately, like other ancient Roman monuments,
it also served as a source of construction materials for medieval builders. For a
time, it came under the control of powerful Roman baronial families, but with
the Orsini pope Nicholas III (1277–­80), the papacy regained full control of the
fortress. From then on it stood both as the pope’s stronghold and as a symbol
of his temporal power.45 In 1379, a popular riot badly damaged the medieval
structure, necessitating a thorough reconstruction.
The restoration/reconstruction began under the papacy of Boniface IX
(1389–­1404), who actually forbade the removal of construction material under
threat of excommunication. His architects set aside the appearance of the orig-
inal tomb in order to construct a state-­of-­the-­art Renaissance castle consistent
with fifteenth-­century military engineering. Nicholas V (1447–­55) continued
the work begun by Boniface. He ordered the construction of three defensive
towers on top of the square base of the original mole. Nicholas was also the first
pope to build a residential apartment within the castle.46 Pope Alexander VI
(1492–­1503) further improved the bulwark by adding a moat, building polyg-
onal towers around the round bastions of Nicholas V, creating a new residence
within the fortification, and commissioning Antonio da Sangallo the Elder to
fashion a massive tower at the entrance to the castle at the end of the bridge over
the Tiber.47 This building campaign took place from 1492 to 1495.

44.  Construction on the mole began ca. ad 130.

45. Giustozzi, Castel Sant’Angelo, 39.
46.  Ibid., 41.
47.  Ibid., 43, 81. See also Lange, Der Papstesel, 28–­29. Von Olmütz’s pictorial source represents the massive
crenelated central tower of Boniface IX as well as the round corner towers of Nicholas V, with, however,
The Roman Monster of 1496 25

As a Renaissance ruler struggling against other competing princes to

maintain and expand his territorial hegemony, the pope needed a fortified
residence. The Castel Sant’Angelo served this purpose. Here he sought refuge
when attacked; here he safeguarded his treasury; and here he detained recal-
citrant cardinals. The massive castle not only dominated the approach to St.
Peter’s, it stood as the single most powerful symbol of the temporal authority
of the papacy.
In von Olmütz’s engraving, an oversized flagpole projects atop the cas-
tle, from which flows a gigantic cross-­keys banner, the traditional symbol of
the pope’s claim to hold the “power of the keys.” This doctrine is the single
most important justification for the power and authority of the papacy—­both
spiritual and secular. It is based upon Matthew 16:18–­19, where Jesus says to
Peter, “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build
my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to
thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind on
earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on
earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.”
Throughout the Middle Ages, various popes elaborated upon the mean-
ing of this passage, articulating a coherent argument for papal primacy. One
of the earliest and most influential explicators was Pope Leo I (440–­461). He
described the power of the pope with the explanatory formula indignus haeres
beati Petri, that is, the pope is the “unworthy heir of St. Peter.” Implicit in this
notion are two essential concepts. First, it contends that the pope receives his
authority directly from St. Peter, not mitigated (and potentially attenuated) by
inheritance through a predecessor pope. By implication the power of the pope
is equal to the power of St. Peter. Indeed, the pope’s powers are also equal to
those of Christ, for “Christ’s powers [are] the same as Petrine powers, and these
again [are] identifiable with papal powers.”48 The second implication of Leo’s
formula is that the pope’s authority is independent of the personal worthiness
of any single pope. Peter indeed merited the plenary powers that Christ gave

artistic license. Pope Nicholas built three towers, leaving the remains of the Roman mausoleum at the
southwest corner undisturbed. Von Olmütz’s engraving shows a round tower at this location. Presumably,
the model for the original representation was a rendering of the structure that predated Alexander’s build-
ing project.
48. Ullmann, History of Political Thought, 28.
26 Chapter 1

him, but successor popes receive their powers as heirs of Peter and not because
of their own merit.49
Another important corollary to the power of the keys doctrine is the
notion that the authority of the pope takes precedence over that of a king
or an emperor. This position is in turn based on several assumptions: Just as
the soul is superior to and should rule the corporeal, temporal body, so the
clergy are to rule the laity, and the pope is to give direction to kings and to
the emperor. Pope Gelasius I (492–­496), for example, argued that the pope’s
power of binding and loosing was an unrestricted power; it was the duty of
the emperor to subject his rulings to ecclesiastical officers.50 Quoting Gelasius:
“In partaking of the heavenly sacraments, when they are properly dispensed,
you [the emperor] recognize that you ought to be obedient to the religious
orders rather than rule them.”51 He also argued that there was a qualitative
difference between the pope’s ultimate authority (auctoritas) and the emper-
or’s mere executive power (potestas). Authority “shaped things creatively and
in a binding manner” while power executed what authority had laid down.52
Gregory VII (1073–­ 85), in the great Investiture Controversy with
Emperor Henry IV, further expanded papal preeminence over secular rulers;
his ideas are contained in the document known as Dictatus papae. It states, for
example, Ҧ9. That the Pope is the only one whose feet are to be kissed by all
princes. . . . ¶12. That he [the pope] may depose Emperors. . . . ¶19. The he [the
pope] himself may be judged by no one. . . . ¶23. That the Roman pontiff, if
canonically ordained, is undoubtedly sanctified by the merits of St. Peter. . . .
¶26. That he should not be considered as Catholic who is not in conformity
with the Roman Church.”53
With the papacy of Innocent III (1198–­1216), the political implications
of the power of the keys reached their zenith. In his coronation sermon, Inno-
cent described himself as “the Vicar of Jesus Christ, the successor of Peter,”
and as “the intermediary between God and man: beneath God, above man:
less than God, more than man.”54 In sum, he claimed limitless jurisdiction in
judging temporal affairs. He used this authority to direct the course of impe-

49.  Ibid., 24–­29; Leo the Great, Letters and Sermons, 117, quoted in Tierney, Middle Ages, 1:50–­51.
50. Ullmann, History of Political Thought, 41.
51.  Mirbt and Aland, Quellen zur Geschichte des Papsttums, 85–­86, quoted in Cantor, Medieval World, 96.
52. Ullmann, History of Political Thought, 41.
53.  Ehler and Morrall, Church and State, 44.
54.  Quoted in Cassell, Monarchia Controversy, 10. See also Southern, Western Society and the Church, 105.
The Roman Monster of 1496 27

rial politics, ultimately crowning Frederick II as emperor. He forbade King

Philip Augustus of France to marry for a third time and forced him to rec-
oncile with his first wife. And, through interdict and excommunication, he
forced King John of England to accept the papacy as the feudal overlord of
England and Ireland.55 These are just a few examples of Innocent’s many feats
of political intimidation, always reinforced with the threat of closing the gates
of heaven against those who dared to resist his will.
While later popes were not as successful as Innocent III in asserting
their secular authority as an extension of the power of the keys, the doctrine
and the papal claim of authority that it made possible continued into the fif-
teenth and sixteenth centuries. The Avignonese papacy (1305–­78) and the
Great Schism (1378–­1415) may have diminished the ability of the pope to
play kingmaker on the world stage, but Renaissance pontiffs were still deeply
involved in secular affairs, especially in their efforts to reassert their position
in Italy.
The cross-­keys banner was a profound and universally understood
emblem of papal authority. A symbol that would have been equally well
understood in Rome, but probably less well understood outside of the city,
was the crenelated tower—­the Tor di Nona—­that stands to the right of von
Olmütz’s monster. In the fifteenth century, this tower house served as the
papal prison, infamous for its torture room and dungeon.56 Here brawlers
and counterfeiters as well as clerics and bureaucrats who fell afoul of the pope
received punishment. In fact, capital punishments were known to have taken
place at the Tor di Nona. In 1496, the prison would have had especially grim
associations because the prisoners drowned in their cells when the deluge
overtook the city. While the cross-­keys may have symbolized the authority of
the pope from a doctrinal point of view, the Tor di Nona was a local symbol
of papal power. Together, the Castel Sant’Angelo and the Tor di Nona made a
tangible statement of the temporal jurisdiction of the pope as one approached
St. Peter’s.
The fourth political symbol in the von Olmütz engraving is the inscrip-
tion at the top of the picture: “ROMA CAPVT MVNDI” (“Rome, head of
the world”). On a literal level, this phrase further identifies the location of
the monster as the city of Rome; however, there is a deeper meaning in this

55. Cassell, Monarchia Controversy, 10–­11.

56. Reumont, Geschichte der Stadt Rom, 3.1:444; Lange, Der Papstesel, 30.
28 Chapter 1

adage. In fact, the phrase is an incomplete quotation of the leonine hex-

ameter “Roma caput mundi regit orbis frena rotundi” (“Rome, head of the
world, holds the reins of the globe”), which Holy Roman Emperors had used
throughout the Middle Ages as a reference to the relationship between the
secular, political authority of the emperor and the city of Rome. As far back as
Carolingian and Ottonian times, poets used “Roma caput mundi” and “Roma
caput mundi regit orbis frena rotundi” as expressions for the secular authority
of the emperor.57 In fact, the phrase decorated many imperial seals, coins, and
insignia. For example, at the time of Otto III (983–­1002) the phrase adorned
the imperial crown and sash. Emperor Conrad II (1024–­39), or more likely
his chaplain Wipo, used the full expression as an encircling inscription on the
imperial seal or golden bull to emphasize the Roman character of his gov-
erning authority.58 Other emperors who used this expression on their seals
included Frederick I Barbarossa (1155–­90), Henry VI (1190–­97), Frederick II
(1212–­50), Louis IV (1314–­47), Charles IV (1347–­78), Sigismund (1410–­37),
and Frederick III (1440–­93).59 Frederick I, Philip II (1198–­1208), and Fred-
erick II also used the expression on imperial coinage. Frederick Barbarossa
especially emphasized the association of his imperial governing authority
with his Roman title and the city of Rome. He said, for example, “For as I
am called and am [indeed] Roman emperor by divine ordinance, I would be
thus playing the role of some sort of despot and would use and bear the name
in vain, without the true role, were the power over the city of Rome to be
snatched from our hands.”60
Some viewers might have taken the “Roma caput mundi” literally, as a
reference to the city of Rome, but others would certainly have understood it
as referring to the emperor’s claim that imperial authority was based upon the
Roman imperium, which came, at least in theory, from the people of Rome.
The juxtaposition of this three-­word expression with the obvious signs of
papal authority stands as a clear allusion to the great medieval hegemonic
struggle between the pope and the emperor over the pope’s claim that he had

57. Lange, Der Papstesel, 54.

58. Ibid.
59. Ewald, Siegelkunde, table 24, items 8 and 12, table 25, items 3 and 6; Posse, Die Siegel der deutschen
Kaiser und Könige, 2:9, table 16, items 1 and 2; and 12, table 24, items 1 and 2
60.  Otto von Freising, Die Taten Friedrichs, 588: “Nam cum divina ordinatione ego Romanus imperator et
dicar et sim, speciem tantum dominantis effingo et inane utique porto nomen ac sine re, si urbis Romae de
manu nostra potestas fuerit excussa.” For “Roma caput mundi” as a coin inscription, see Menadier, Die Aach-
ner Münzen, available with the medieval coin collection at the Münzkabinett of the Bodemuseum, Berlin.
The Roman Monster of 1496 29

the power to guide the course of secular politics and to create and depose
emperors. Through powerful symbols, the illustration challenges the pope’s
claims to temporal jurisdiction. For much of the Middle Ages, the chief
buttresses for these claims were the document known as the Donation of
Constantine and the political theory known as translatio imperii. An under-
standing of these political ideologies is essential for interpreting the political
content of von Olmütz’s image of the Roman monster.

The Donation of Constantine

The Constitutum Constantini or Donation of Constantine is arguably one of
the most famous forgeries in western history. Concocted in Rome in the mid-­
eighth century, it draws on the fifth-­century Legenda sancti Silvestri, which
tells of the conversion of Constantine to Christianity.61 In the Donation, Con-
stantine first delivers an extensive confession of faith. He then states that, out
of gratitude for Pope Sylvester’s having cured him of leprosy, he grants to Pope
Sylvester and his successors supremacy over Antioch, Alexandria, Constan-
tinople, and Jerusalem as well as “over all the Churches of God throughout
the whole world”; the imperial Lateran palace; the imperial insignia (crown,
shoulder band, purple cloak, crimson tunic, scepters, spears, standards, ban-
ners, and imperial decorations); the papal tiara; and the “city of Rome and all
the provinces, districts and cities of Italy and the Western regions.”62
Current scholarship holds that the Donation of Constantine was origi-
nally merely a “literary fiction” or a “hagiographical legend.”63 By the late elev-
enth century, however, papal partisans were using it to argue for the pope’s
sovereignty over the Papal States and for his autonomy from the emperor.
In contrast to others, Innocent III recognized that the Donation could be
interpreted to mean that the pope’s sovereignty and privileges derived from
the emperor! He therefore intentionally centered his jurisdictional claims on
Matthew 28:18 (“All power is given to me [Jesus] in heaven and in earth.”).64
Still, Gregory IX (1227–­41) was quite willing to use the Donation in his con-
flict with Frederick II, quoting it as proof of acknowledgment by the secular

61.  “[T]he language of the Donation seems to point to the papal chancellery as the place of its origin, and
the pontificate of Paul I (757–­767) as the most probable time [of its origin].” See Valla, Treatise . . . on the
Donation of Constantine, trans. Coleman, 7.
62.  Ehler and Morrall, Church and State, 19–­22.
63.  John van Engen, “Donation of Constantine,” in DMA, 4:258.
64. Cassell, Monarchia Controversy, 9.
30 Chapter 1

power that “as the Prince of the Apostles governed the empire of priesthood
and souls in the whole world, so he should also reign over material and cor-
poreal affairs throughout the whole world.”65 Innocent IX (1243–­54) rein-
terpreted Constantine’s grant as a “restitution” of the sovereignty that God
originally invested in the pontiff. Thereafter popes and their lawyers made
extensive reference to the Donation “particularly on behalf of the papacy’s
temporal sovereignty.”66 In 1440, the humanist Lorenzo Valla, in his On the
False Donation of Constantine, definitively exposed the document as a forgery,
though his explication was not widely published until the sixteenth century.
Closely related to the Donation of Constantine was another important
argument for papal temporal authority, the translatio imperii (translation of the
Empire). This teaching brought together the fact of Leo III’s coronation of Char-
lemagne in AD 800 with the implications of the Donation, interpreting them
in support of papal power. Simply put, the argument was that just as Leo III
had made Charlemagne into an emperor, so later popes could both make and
unmake emperors. Emperor Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII argued over this
claim, but without specifically mentioning the theory of the translatio imperii.
In the Dictatus papae, Gregory asserted, Ҧ12. That he [the pope] may depose
Emperors.”67 In contrast, Henry IV wrote in a letter to his German bishops, “He
[Gregory VII] also endeavored to deprive me whom God called to the king-
dom  . . .  of my royal power; this he did because he saw that I wanted to hold
my rule from God and not from him.”68 Likewise, Frederick I Barbarossa and
Pope Adrian IV clashed over the same issue, but again without making specific
reference to the translation of the Empire. In Frederick’s “Circular Letter on the
Imperial Power,” he denounced the pope for sending him a message “that we
[Frederick I] should always keep before the eyes of our mind how the lord Pope
conferred upon us the distinction of the Imperial crown.”69
The actual theory, explicitly stated as such, probably originated during
Pope Alexander III’s struggles with Frederick I Barbarossa in the 1160s. How-
ever, the translatio imperii received its most complete explication in Pope
Innocent III’s letter to Duke Berthold of Zähringen, which entered canon

65.  Quoted in Morrall, Political Thought in Medieval Times, 84.

66.  John van Engen, “Donation of Constantine,” in DMA, 4:259.
67.  Ehler and Morrall, Church and State, 44.
68.  Ibid., 46.
69.  Ibid., 62.
The Roman Monster of 1496 31

law as the decretal Venerabilem fratrem (March 1202).70 In this, Innocent

conceded that the electors have the right to elect the king of Germany, but
he contended that this authority resulted from the transfer of “the Roman
Empire from the Greeks to the Germans in the person of Charlemagne” when
Pope Leo III crowned him. Further, Innocent stated, “the right and authority
to examine the person elected king—­who is to be promoted to the office of
Emperor—­belongs to us [Innocent].” If the pope found the candidate unwor-
thy, he could refuse to recognize the election. Also, should the electors be
divided in selecting a king, Innocent claimed that the pope could “favour,
after due warning and adequate waiting, one of the two parties” and crown
him emperor.71 Clearly, the issue of the origins of secular sovereignty in medi-
eval Europe was both complex and contentious.
The von Olmütz engraving addresses papal claims to secular author-
ity by using four powerful symbols to allude to four different but related
perspectives—­theological (cross-­keys banner), military (Castel Sant’Angelo),
penal (Tor di Nona), and political (“Roma caput mundi”). In conjunction
with folkloric images that suggest ridicule, foolishness, false belief, pestilence,
and demonism, the message of the engraving is a scornful denunciation of
papal claims to secular authority. With this understanding of the symbolism
of the von Olmütz monster, one must next consider who authored this polit-
ical satire.
The argument that von Olmütz worked from an Italian copy rather than
creating his own original picture based upon written or oral knowledge seems
quite persuasive. First, while the Tor di Nona would have been a powerful
symbol to Italians, it would have been meaningless to most northern Euro-
pean viewers. It is therefore unlikely that a Moravian would have included this
item in a work made for a northern audience. Also, the von Olmütz copy has
orthographic infelicities that suggest that someone who did not know Italian
was copying an Italian inscription: Castel Sant’Angelo is rendered “Castel-
sacno”; Tevere is spelled “Tevfrf ”; and Tor di Nona is spelled “Tofedinona”72
(see fig. 1). Von Olmütz, or his workshop, must have copied an Italian original
that contained the symbolic elements in the setting, most likely adding only

70.  Ibid., 71–­72; Freed, “Translation of Empire,” in DMA, 12:143.

71.  Ehler and Morrall, Church and State, 72. For a thorough discussion of the translatio imperii, see Goez,
Translatio imperii.
72. Lange, Der Papstesel, 6.
32 Chapter 1

the “W” at the bottom of the image and the trademark flower of a goldsmith’s
pattern book.
It appears that someone in Italy, in fact, probably someone in Rome, took
a copy of the monster that had been made for purposes of popular piety (to
illustrate a divine portent) and added to it a symbol-­laden setting that turned
it into a pasquinade-­like satire against the papacy. This latter version then
made its way to Moravia where von Olmütz copied it. The most likely author
of von Olmütz’s original was either a member of the Roman Waldensian com-
munity or a member of the Bohemian Brethren visiting the Waldensians in
Rome. The politicized image was then probably transported to Moravia via
contacts between the Waldensians and the Brethren. Who, then, were the
Waldensians, who were the Bohemian Brethren, and what evidence points to
their role in the production of the Roman monster as a political pasquinade?

The Waldensians
The Waldensian movement traces its origins to a wealthy merchant of Lyons
named Vaudès73 who, in the late twelfth century, experienced a religious con-
version, gave away his money, became a beggar, and began trying to live a
life consistent with the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. Self-­educated in
matters of religion, he hired priests to translate various books of the Bible
and patristic writings into the vernacular that he could read. His ministry
consisted of setting an example of moral rigor and preaching against sin. He
soon attracted followers who interpreted his antimaterialistic lifestyle as a
condemnation of clerical wealth and corruption. His archbishop ordered him
to stop his begging and preaching. In an effort to win papal recognition for
his efforts at religious renewal, he journeyed to the Third Lateran Council
in Rome in 1179. Pope Alexander III decreed that Vaudès and his followers
(called the Poor of Lyons) could preach only if their local clergy authorized
them to do so. Back in Lyons, Vaudès continued to preach despite the arch-
bishop’s proscription. This led to his excommunication and expulsion from
Lyons. His movement was thereafter driven underground. Nevertheless, the
Poor of Lyons continued to gain adherents and spread throughout southern
France and northern Italy. In 1184, Pope Lucius III anathematized them as
schismatics; at the Fourth Lateran Council, they were again condemned but

73.  For the background to the spelling of Vaudès, see Audisio, Waldensian Dissent, 7–­9.
The Roman Monster of 1496 33

this time as heretics.74 It then fell to the Holy Office of the Inquisition to try to
stamp out the movement.
Three separate kinds of sources provide documentary evidence about
the group: confessions from suspects questioned before the Inquisition;
descriptions from inquisitors written to instruct other clergy; and a small
number of Waldensian pious and inspirational writings, mostly dating from
the fourteenth to the early sixteenth centuries. Of this Waldensian corpus, the
most famous is a poem known as “Nobla Leyçon” (“Noble Lesson”), which, in
its present form, was likely written in the fifteenth century.75
As the movement spread, the Poor of Lyons came to be described as
consisting of two groups: the Ultramontane Poor and Poor of Lombardy, the
latter group being somewhat more radical in its condemnation of traditional
Catholicism.76 But this distinction became blurred as the movement spread
out of the original areas of Provence, Dauphiné, Savoy, and Piedmont into
Aragon, Lorraine, Germany, Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, and southern Italy.
In 1315 one captured Waldensian claimed that there were more than eighty
thousand Waldensians in Austria and an “infinite number” in Bohemia and
Moravia.77 The Inquisition was successful in rooting them out from the main
Mediterranean urban centers, but they remained strong in remote Alpine
valleys, in Germany/Austria, and along the German-­Slavic frontier. During
the period of 1335 to 1355, some four thousand Waldensians were brought
before the Inquisition in Bohemia, and some two hundred were burned at the
stake.78 In Italy, by the fifteenth century, there were Waldensians in Romagna,
Umbria (especially around Spoleto), Calabria, Apulia, and the city of Rome.79
The leaders of the movement were known as barbes or magistri. Literate
and often rather well educated, they posed as merchants so as to be free to
travel from region to region to meet clandestinely with their followers, many of
whom came from the peasantry or the urban underclass. The barbes were the
transmitters of an essentially oral culture. While this circumstance no doubt
led to local variations, it is nevertheless possible to summarize certain shared

74. Stephens, Waldensian Story, 37; Lerner, “Waldensians,” in DMA, 12:508–­13.

75. Audisio, Waldensian Dissent, 153. See also Audisio, “Were the Waldensians More Literate Than Their
Contemporaries?”; Brenon, “Waldensian Books”; Lambert, Medieval Heresy, 162–­63.
76.  Wakefield and Evans, Heresies of the High Middle Ages, 345–­46.
77.  Lerner, “Waldensians,” in DMA, 12:512.
78.  Ibid., Lerner, “A Case of Religious Counter-­Culture,” 241–­42, 247.
79. Lambert, Medieval Heresy, 153; Stephens, Waldensian Story, 58–­59, 81; Audisio, Waldensian Dissent,
195; Leff, Heresy in the Later Middle Ages, 2:483.
34 Chapter 1

practices and beliefs: lay preaching in private to fellow believers, a vow of pov-
erty for the barbes, literal biblicism without elaborate interpretation, heavy
reliance on the Gospels, avoidance of falsehood consistent with Matthew 5:37,
avoidance of swearing of oaths, denial of the existence of purgatory, lay hear-
ing of confession and granting of absolution, validity of sacraments dependent
upon morality of clergy (Donatism), rejection of the death penalty, female
administration of the Eucharist, rejection of invocation of saints, and rejection
of the authority of the pope and the doctrine of the power of the keys.80
This last point requires further elucidation. Comments of inquisitors,
confessions from accused Waldensians, and passages from the corpus of
Waldensian writings all document a distinctive view of ecclesiastical history.
The Waldensians believed that when Emperor Constantine made his “dona-
tion” to Pope Sylvester, the Roman Church embraced secular authority and
riches and thereby became corrupt. At that point the pope lost his authority
over the church. As the “Nobla Leyçon” says, “But I dare say, for it happens
to be true, that all the popes there have been since Sylvester until the present
one, and all the cardinals, and all the bishops and all the priests, all of these
together do not have enough power to be able to forgive a single mortal sin:
God alone can forgive, since no-­one else can do so.”81
This attitude towards the pope’s temporal authority and the Donation of
Constantine appears in a statement that a suspected Waldensian made before
the Inquisition. Of course, one would suspect that, to keep from making mat-
ters worse, the accused would try to keep his confession as vague as possible so
as to avoid self-­incrimination. Appearing before the Inquisition in the late fif-
teenth century, an accused Waldensian, after torture, said that he “remembered
his aunt’s telling him long ago how, since some Pope he did not know of, none
of Peter’s successors had lived his life [sic] or received his [Peter’s] power.”82 In
other words, since Pope Sylvester, the papacy had lost its purity and power.
Yet another piece of evidence that documents the Waldensian stance
regarding the Donation of Constantine comes from the preacher Friedrich

80. Audisio, Waldensian Dissent, 47–­56; Lerner, “A Case of Religious Counter-­Culture,” 240–­241; Todd,
Books of the Vaudois, 81, 83.
81. Audisio, Waldensian Dissent, 153; Herzog, Die romanischen Waldenser, 456. See also Stephens,
Waldensian Story, 86; Davis, “Rome and Babylon in Dante,” 28.
82. Cameron, Reformation of the Heretics, 77. In contrast with Biller, Molnár, Audisio, and Leff, Cam-
eron asserts that the notion that the papacy lost its purity and power at the time of Pope Sylvester was
an “inquisitorial cliché” that was not echoed by “most of the Vaudois.” See Biller, “Medieval Waldensians’
Construction of the Past,” 39–­54.
The Roman Monster of 1496 35

Reiser. He was the son of a Waldensian merchant from Donauwörth. In the

1420s he moved to Switzerland and became an itinerant Waldensian preacher.
Later he moved to Prague and served as a Hussite missionary. He became a
Hussite bishop and led an effort to bring about a union of the Taborites and
the Waldensians. His full episcopal title was “Fridericus, Dei gratia Episcopus
fidelium in Romana Ecclesia donationem Constantini supernantium” (“Fred-
erick, by God’s grace, bishop of the faithful in the Roman Church who reject
Constantine’s donation”).83
The many tracts and manuals that inquisitors and orthodox theologians
wrote describing the “errors” of the Waldensians provide some of the most
complete, albeit prejudicial, statements on the Waldensian attitude toward the
secular power of the papacy.84 For example, the inquisitor Moneta of Cre-
mona wrote the following:
Excited by the poison of perfidy, the heretics determined to prove that the
Roman pontiffs and the faithful were not the successors of Peter but of
Constantine and that the church did not begin with Peter but with Con-
stantine or, if you like with Sylvester. . . . [The] imperial power belonged
to Rome right up to the time of Constantine, who assumed with inso-
lence this succession and gave it over to Sylvester, who was the pope
of the Roman church. . . . Sylvester, having accepted these [insignia of
power] unjustly, possessed them himself also by rapine. This applies to all
those who succeeded Sylvester, an[d] so they say the Roman pontiffs are
not the successors of Peter but of Constantine.85

Waldensians not only rejected the Donation of Constantine and the

claims to papal secular authority that it supported, they also claimed that the
Roman Church since the time of Sylvester had become the scarlet woman
of the apocalypse, the whore of Babylon. They took this reference from the
Book of Revelation, for the apocalypticism of ancient Christianity resonated
well with their own treatment throughout the late Middle Ages. The Book of
Revelation was addressed to the besieged Christians of Asia Minor, who faced

83. Leff, Heresy in the Later Middle Ages, 2:470–­71; Audisio, Waldensian Dissent, 83; Lambert, Medieval
Heresy, 329; Lerner, “A Case of Religious Counter-­Culture,” 246–­47; Cameron, Waldenses, 147–­48; Molnár,
Challenge to Constantinianism, 72n10.
84.  For example, Sacconi, Summa de Catharis et Pauperibus de Lugduno (Summa on the Cathars and the
Poor of Lyons), in Wakefield and Evans, Heresies of the High Middle Ages, 329; Anonymous of Passau, in
Leff, Heresy in the Later Middle Ages, 2:458–­59; Master Jacob of Petrikau, in ibid., 2:462; Moneta da Cre-
mona, Adversus Catharos et Valdenses, in Molnár, Challenge to Constantinianism, 50–­51.
85. Molnár, Challenge to Constantinianism, 50–­51.
36 Chapter 1

torture and execution if they refused to worship Dea Roma, the cult of the
goddess of Rome, and the cult of the deified emperor. The author (allegedly
St. John the Evangelist) told the early Christians that while they may live in
a hopelessly wicked age in which the demonic agents of Rome torture and
kill the righteous, nevertheless this evil would soon come to an end through
God’s direct intervention.86 The Book of Revelation speaks through highly
symbolic “picture language” that its ancient readers understood but that is
“not much concerned with logic, consistency, and precision.”87
One of the most powerful of these images is the whore of Babylon—­the
harlot seated upon many waters (Rev. 17:1), the harlot drunk with the blood
of the saints (Rev. 17:6), or the harlot seated on seven hills (Rev. 17:9). This is
symbolic code language for Rome and the Roman religious and political per-
secution of the saints. In fact, “Rome” has at least three separate but often con-
flated meanings in the Book of Revelation—­Dea Roma, the pagan goddess;
Roma aeterna, the city of Rome and the associated political dogma of eternal
hegemony; and the Roman Empire, whose emperor controlled the destinies
of the Christian communities.88 Symbolically, “Babylon” and the “whore of
Babylon” stand for this complex and interrelated cluster of meanings.
The Waldensians also used symbolic language, but when they referred
to Rome they meant Roma ecclesia, the church made corrupt by papal claims
to secular authority founded on the Donation of Constantine. They charged
that the “Roman Church is the church of the wicked, the beast and the harlot
which are described in the Apocalypse.”89 The Waldensian conflation of the
Roman Church with the whore of Babylon is a direct parallel to the conflation
of Rome with the whore of Babylon in the Book of Revelation.
The Waldensians shared another characteristic with the author of Rev-
elation—­an apocalyptic worldview. They believed that the end of the world
was imminent, that evil would soon be overcome by divine goodness. This
attitude is clear in the “Nobla Leyçon”:

86.  Interpreter’s Bible, 12:347.

87.  Ibid., 12:490.
88.  Ibid., 12:489.
89. Sacconi, Summa de Catharis, in Wakefield and Evans, Heresies of the High Middle Ages, 345–­346. See
also Anonymous of Passau, in Leff, Heresy in the Later Middle Ages, 2:459; pseudo David of Augsburg,
in ibid., 455–­58; Alberto de’ Capitanei, Archdeacon of Cremona and papal legate, in Todd, Books of the
Vaudois, 111–­12; Stephen of Bourbon, Dominican at Lyons, in Wakefield and Evans, Heresies of the High
Middle Ages, 349; Stephens, Waldensian Story, 40–­42.
The Roman Monster of 1496 37

O brethren, listen to a noble lesson:

We must often watch and be in prayer,
For we see this world near its final stage;
Most anxious should we be to do good works
For we see this world approaching its end. . . .
Daily we see the signs fulfilled,
Increasing evil and diminishing good.90

The Waldensians of the late fifteenth century had good reason to identify
with the persecuted Christians of the late first century. From the thirteenth
through the fifteenth centuries they had been hauled before the Inquisition,
tortured, and executed. In 1488 they became the victims of a brutal crusade
when Pope Innocent VIII issued a bull, Id nostri cordis (April 1487), autho-
rizing the archdeacon of Cremona, Alberto Cattaneo, to undertake a crusade
in Dauphiné, Savoy, and Piedmont to “crush them [Waldensians] like venom-
ous asps.”91 Cattaneo’s Dauphinois soldiers easily overpowered the Walden-
sian peasants; regardless of age or sex they were “hanged, run through with
swords, or thrown headlong from precipices in the mountains.”92 Altogether
some 160 Waldensian men, women, and children of Dauphiné met violent
deaths, and many others fled to join their sectarian coreligionists in Provence,
Piedmont, and in southern Italy.
What, then, is the connection between the Roman Waldensians and
the illustration of the Roman monster as an antipapal pasquinade? As noted
above, the setting for the monster presents symbols of the pope’s temporal
power together with a demonic image having connotative meanings of rid-
icule, defamation, foolishness, false belief, and pestilence—­a clear symbolic
denunciation of the pope’s claims to secular authority. This message is entirely
consistent with the Waldensian view that after accepting the Donation of
Constantine, the papacy was corrupted and lost its authority because of its
temporal, secular claims.
Also, the Waldensians believed that Roma ecclesia was the whore of Bab-
ylon, the apocalyptic symbol for Rome taken from the Book of Revelation.93

90. Stephens, Waldensian Story, 86.

91.  Ibid., 105.
92. Cameron, Waldenses, 197.
93. Scribner, For the Sake of Simple Folk, 170–­74. In the early sixteenth century, when artists and book
illustrators depicted the whore of Babylon for the Lutheran Reformation, they actually showed a woman
riding a seven-­headed beast.
38 Chapter 1

It seems probable that the Waldensians were the ones who refashioned an
existing image into a representation of Rome after the fall. The demon stands
dominating the floodwaters of the devastated city, creating an illustration of
Babylon (viz. Rome) as described by the angel in Revelation 18:2, “And he
[the angel] cried out with a strong voice, saying: Babylon the great is fallen, is
fallen; and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every unclean
spirit.” The demonic monster standing on the banks of the Tiber symbolizes
fallen Babylon as the “habitation of devils.”
Utilizing the figure of an animal to make a moral or religious point is
typical of Waldensian piety. One of the tracts in the small Waldensian corpus
that has survived is the De la propiota de las animanczas, a bestiary that offers
moral and religious meditations based on the presumed nature, image, and
properties of various animals.94 While this work does not contain a medita-
tion on the ass, it nevertheless documents the use of animal imagery associ-
ated with Waldensian piety.
Not only the animal imagery but also the antipapal and apocalyptic con-
tent of the Roman monster illustration suggests an association between it and
the Waldensians. Further, the record of contacts between Waldensians and
two Bohemian Brethren provides strong circumstantial reasons to suggest
that the heretical community in Rome was responsible for the first politicized
version of the monster. In 1498, two emissaries from the Bohemian Brethren
visited the Roman Waldensians and returned to Bohemia, most likely taking
the satiric illustration with them. This would explain why the only surviving
copy of this version comes from a Moravian artist. To understand why these
two individuals, Luke of Prague and Thomas of Landskron (also known as
Thomas the German), went to Rome in 1498, it is necessary to look at the
political and religious situation in Bohemia and at the chaotic events that
transpired there following the execution of John Hus at the Council of Con-
stance in 1415.

The Bohemian Brethren

Influenced by a native Czech reform tradition and by the writings of the English
reformer, John Wyclif, Hus became a popular preacher at Prague’s Bethlehem
Chapel as well as a leader of the movement for Czech (vs. German) control of
the University of Prague. Ultimately he became rector of the university. As a

94. Audisio, Waldensian Dissent, 153–­54; Todd, Books of the Vaudois, 45–­46.

The Roman Monster of 1496 39

preacher of moral reform among the clergy, Hus offended leading church offi-
cials; as a public defender of the ideas of John Wyclif, he suffered excommuni-
cation from the church. Though Hus continued to embrace many traditional
teachings of Catholicism (seven sacraments, transubstantiation, purgatory,
masses for the dead, intercession of saints), he nevertheless denounced the
sale of indulgences, denied the authority of the papacy, defined the “church”
as the community of the elect, and contended that both Pope Sylvester and
the emperor erred in the Donation of Constantine.95
For his offenses the Council of Constance saw fit to execute him by
burning at the stake, in spite of the safe conduct that he had received from
Emperor Sigismund. His execution resulted in a popular insurrection that
soon turned into a Czech civil war. The contending factions included the
Utraquists, the Party of the Four Articles, the Taborites, and the Adamites.
The Utraquists, or Calixtines, principally demanded that the laity receive the
cup (calix) in Communion. They wanted to remain within Roman Catholi-
cism but called for moral reform of the clergy and sought recognition from
Rome for their desire to commune in both kinds.
A 1420 compromise program, known as the Four Articles of Prague,
called for the free preaching of the gospel; Communion in both kinds; abne-
gation of the church’s worldly authority and secularization of ecclesiastical
wealth; and the punishment of public sins, especially the clerical sin of simony.
While these ideas were common to most Hussites, they especially represented
the ideas of a faction within the Utraquist movement.96
A third group, the Taborites, stood clearly to the left of the Party of the
Four Articles. It rejected belief in purgatory, endorsed baptism and Commu-
nion as the only sacraments, substituted consubstantiation for the doctrine of
transubstantiation, called for a greatly simplified church ritual without elab-
orate clerical vestments, rejected the doctrine of apostolic succession, and
envisioned the imminent Second Coming.
To the left of the Taborites stood the Adamites, a rationalistic, panthe-
istic group that denied the doctrine of the real presence in the Eucharist and

95. Kaminsky, History of the Hussite Revolution, 54. For a discussion of Hus’s trial and execution, see
Fudge, Trial of Jan Hus.
96.  Winfried Eberhard, “Hussites,” in Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation, 2:279; Brock, Political and
Social Doctrines of the Unity of Czech Brethren, 12.
40 Chapter 1

treated Communion as a “purely commemorative act.” In 1421, the Taborites

suppressed this group by force.97
Emperor Sigismund, on behalf of the Roman Church, attempted to drive
these various divisions back into Catholicism through military action. This
external threat brought cohesion to the factions, and the Hussites succeeded in
defeating crusades against them on four separate occasions. By 1431, therefore,
the Council of Basel agreed to begin negotiations with them. These discussions
eventually led to the agreement known as the Compactata (1433), a diplomatic
victory for the council that granted little of the original Hussite program, other
than the taking of Communion in both kinds. The Taborites rejected the Com-
pactata and took up arms; the moderate Utraquist nobles joined with the Cath-
olics to fight against the Taborites, defeating them at the Battle of Lipany (1434).
With the defeat of the Taborites, Emperor Sigismund returned to Prague,
recognized as the king of Bohemia by both Roman Catholics and moderate
Utraquists. But this peaceful situation was not to last. In 1437 Sigismund died.
There followed an interregnum, the short reign of Ladislav of Austria (1439–­
57), the reign of the Czech George of Poděbrady (1459–­71), warfare between
King George and King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary (after Pope Pius II
rejected the Compactata), and the rule of Vladislav II (1471–­1516), the eldest
son of the Polish king. The political instability of most of the fifteenth century
led to a rise in the importance of the local nobility and to formal royal policies
that fluctuated from toleration to suppression to benign neglect toward the
contending religious divisions.
As noble prerogative waxed and royal authority waned, there emerged
at the local level numerous regional sectarian groups that were dissatisfied
with the accomplishments of Utraquism and that often enjoyed the patronage
of like-­minded nobles. These groups did not necessarily break with the Utra-
quist Church, but they put forward various radical ideas for further change.
By far the most influential of all of these rural freethinkers was Peter Chelčický
(ca. 1390–­bef. 1467), a man who was probably a member of the south Bohe-
mian gentry and early on was an adherent of the Taborite movement. He may,
in fact, have been a Waldensian before the Hussite revolt. Largely self-­taught,
knowing only a minimal amount of Latin, he drew ideas from Hus and Wyc-
lif, from Waldensianism, and most importantly, from the Czech Bible.98

97. Brock, Political and Social Doctrines of the Unity of Czech Brethren, 13.
98.  Ibid., 25–­69.
The Roman Monster of 1496 41

Chelčický taught that true Christians must live simple lives in strict con-
formity with the example of Christ and the apostles—­lives of humility and
patience, showing love to their enemies. He called for the total separation of
church and state because he felt that the coercive power of the civil author-
ity was unchristian. In practice, this meant refusing to hold a governmental
office, take an oath, bear arms, support a military enterprise, or participate in
a court of law. He called for establishing schools so that laymen could learn to
read the Bible, but he was an anti-­intellectual, highly suspicious of claims of
superiority from university graduates.99
Chelčický revealed an affinity to the Waldensians in his anti-­
Constantinianism. He wrote,
when he [Constantine], after many cruelties, wanted to glorify himself in
Christ, he pushed himself into the Christian community along with his
pagan lordship. And the poor priest [scil., Silvester] who had hid before
him in caves and forests received honor and imperial lordship from him
and thus fell away from the faith. Hence, when this evil came to pass, a
voice was heard saying, “Today poison has been poured into the Holy
Church”—­as though the faith were to cease on account of these two rich
lords. . . . So from the time that the church and her doctors drank the poi-
son, from that time the doctors have always declared that the church has
two swords, and as the church has abandoned the commands of Christ
and has stopped following him, she has become bloody and she renders
evil for evil.100

In his treatise On the Triple Division of Society he further wrote:

From then [the Donation of Constantine] on the power of the Roman
Empire stood under the faith, and from that beginning the powers came
in under the faith in other countries too. It is indeed known to us that
Antichrist found all his strength in the Christian faith through the secu-
lar power, and that it was through this power that the Great Whore who
sits on the Roman throne spread all her poison. For when power was
accepted into the faith while still enjoying the pagan honors, goods, and
rights that it had previously enjoyed in paganism, it in return endowed
the priests with goods; so it falsely entered the faith itself, and it took away
the priests’ faith with its property. . . . Furthermore, when that decked-­out

99.  Ibid., 99. For a discussion of Chelčický, see Atwood, Theology of the Czech Brethren, 133–­51.
100.  Quoted in Kaminsky, History of the Hussite Revolution, 392. See also Brock, Political and Social Doc-
trines of the Unity of Czech Brethren, 34, 45–­47.
42 Chapter 1

Whore had obtained all her power and fullness from secular power, she
then in return, as was fitting to her shameless obscenity, began to kiss,
love, and fondle that power. She blessed, flattered, forgave everything,
made all the kings of the earth participants of all her pieties, and thus
she fornicated with them all, tempted them, and always exalted power.101

Late in his life, Peter Chelčický received a visit from another dissatis-
fied Utraquist seeker, a man known as Brother Řehoř. He was a member of
the minor gentry who also worked as a tailor. He had little education but
did have some knowledge of Latin. He and his followers established contacts
with a number of other small religious groups that had sprung up within the
Utraquist Church. With the permission of George of Poděbrady, Řehoř and
his followers settled (1458) in the village of Kunvald (Kunwald) in northeast
Bohemia.102 This group took over Chelčický’s political, social, and theological
ideas. The founding of the Kunvald community marks the beginning of a new
group, variously known as the Unitas Fratrum, the Bohemian Brethren, the
Czech Brethren, the Unity of Czech Brethren, or simply the Unity.
The Unity believed that, after the Donation of Constantine, the church
began a steady decline from apostolic perfection. They thought, however,
that a small remnant of true Christians continued to exist (possibly among
the Waldensians, or among the Greek or Russian Orthodox, or among the
Nestorian Church in India!).103 Also, they took from Chelčický a thorough
condemnation of the state. The Brethren could not serve in government, wage
war, take oaths, or sanction capital punishment. In sum, they were to disasso-
ciate themselves totally from entanglements with the state and attempt to live
lives in complete conformity with the demands of the Gospels. Initially, they
retained the doctrine of apostolic succession, but in 1467, at a meeting known
as the Synod of Lhotka, they began choosing their own priests and confirm-
ing them in the name and authority of the Brotherhood.
These pious, hardworking sectaries attracted followers, not only from
among the rustics, but also from tradesmen and even from nobles. During
much of the reign of King Vladislav II (1471–­ca. 1500) the Unity enjoyed rela-
tive peace and freedom. Given the weak position of the Bohemian monarchy,

101.  Kaminsky, “Peter Chelčický: Treatises on Christianity and the Social Order,” 1:145.
102. Brock, Political and Social Doctrines of the Unity of the Czech Brethren, 72–­75.
103.  Ibid., 78, 85. See also Hutton, History of the Moravian Church, 51; Schweinitz, History of . . . the Uni-
tas Fratrum, 176. For a general discussion of the beliefs of the Unity, see Atwood, Theology of the Czech
Brethren, 152–­240.
The Roman Monster of 1496 43

the local nobility increased in relative authority. This meant that the Unity
was safest when it had a sympathetic noble patron.
The presence of nobles and townsmen among their ranks, however,
called into question the Unity’s position on disengagement from civil author-
ity. Noble patrons could hardly be asked to surrender their political authority,
and townsmen needed to be able to swear oaths in order to become members
of craft guilds or accept the position of alderman (town councilor) in the
towns where they resided. The issue of civic engagement and swearing oaths
eventually led the Old Brethren to divide into two factions—­the Major Party
and the Minor Party. The former, representing the interests of townsmen and
nobles, wanted to modify strict adherence to Chelčický’s ideals; the latter,
identified with rural peasants, insisted on strict adherence to civic disengage-
ment. In 1490 the Unity’s governing body, the Inner Council, issued the Edict
of Brandýs, which supported the Major Party’s position: “If a Brother should
be forced by civil authority, against his conscience, to accept any of these
things [civil responsibilities], being unable to escape either through humble
pleadings or in any other way, he should according to [our] counsel submit to
the authorities in whatever is not against God.”104
This edict did not however solve the problem. In fact, for the next four
years the Minor Party managed to gain control of the Inner Council. In 1496,
the Major Party again took control. In that year, both parties agreed to meet
in a conference at Chlumec nad Cidlinou (Chlumetz an der Cidlina) (May 23,
1496), for the purpose of reconciling differences. By this time a clear leader
had emerged within the Major Party, Brother Luke of Prague.
Born in Prague in 1458, he took his bachelor of arts at the University
of Prague in 1481. Well educated in the classics, scripture, patristics, and the
writings of medieval scholastics, he was an able spokesman for the Major
Party. Early in his education he had embraced the ideas of Peter Chelčický; he
joined the Unity around 1481 or 1482.105 He became pastor to the Brethren
at Mladá Boleslav (Jung-­Bunzlau, in north-­central Bohemia), and in 1500 the
Major Party elected him as a bishop of the Unity.106

104. Brock, Political and Social Doctrines of the Unity of Czech Brethren, 128. On the Minor Party and the
schism between the two parties, see Atwood, Theology of the Czech Brethren, 197–­206; Peschke, Kirche und
Welt in der Theologie der Böhmischen Brüder, 120–­46.
105. Brock, Political and Social Doctrines of the Unity of Czech Brethren, 105. See also Zeman, Anabaptists
and the Czech Brethren, 200–­203. For a discussion of the contributions of Luke of Prague to the Unity, see
Atwood, Theology of the, Czech Brethren, 189–­240.
106. Brock, Political and Social Doctrines of the Unity of Czech Brethren, 242n3. For a biography of Luke of
44 Chapter 1

Under his leadership the Unity moved away from Chelčický’s adaman-
tine opposition to civic engagement and gave up the “dream of a classless,
nonviolent federation of peasant communities.”107 Brother Luke argued for a
qualified acceptance of the existing social structure. He accepted the power
of the state, the jurisdiction of law courts, the swearing of oaths, and the
legitimacy of the use of force, whether for punishment or for war. He made
room for trade, commerce, and even book learning within the piety of the
Brethren. He emphasized honesty in business relations, integrity in public
service, respect for governmental authority, charity towards the unfortunate,
and piety in private life.108 The state’s jurisdiction, of course, must be limited
to temporal matters and it must be properly constituted. Whereas Chelčický
saw the story of the Donation of Constantine as a warning to Christians not
to participate in activities connected with the state, Brother Luke interpreted
the Donation as signifying a corruption only of the Roman Church, due to the
“fusion of the secular and the spiritual spheres of life.”109 The state should not
attempt to help enforce right belief, punish heretics, or impose Christianity
on non-­Christians. He called for a complete separation of church and state
but this separation did not preclude Christians from taking a part in the life of
the state; the “acceptance of worldly power, civil authority, was not equivalent
to acceptance of worldly values.”110
At the Conference of Chlumec, however, Brother Luke did not win over
the Minor Party. In an attempt to reassure his opponents, he emphasized that
the Major Party was against all forms of religious persecution by the secular
authority, and he stated that “they [the Major Party] were still one, therefore,
with the Minor Party in condemning Sylvester for his alliance with Constan-
tine.”111 Brother Luke’s comments at Chlumec show that he hoped to find some
common ground with the Minor Party in opposition to the pope’s claims to
secular authority while at the same time rejecting many of their criticisms.
Two years after the meeting at Chlumec, he and a companion journeyed to
northern Italy and to Rome to meet with the Waldensians. This trip must
be understood in the context of the struggle between the two factions of the

Prague, see Crews, “Luke of Prague,” 21–­54.

107. Brock, Political and Social Doctrines of the Unity of Czech Brethren, 239.
108. Ibid.
109.  Ibid., 188.
110.  Ibid., 172.
111.  Ibid., 174.
The Roman Monster of 1496 45

Unity and Brother Luke’s rejection of papal secular authority and his criticism
of the Donation of Constantine.112
Accompanying Brother Luke to Italy was Brother Thomas of Landskron
(Thomas the German), who may have once been a Waldensian himself.113
These men had three motives for their trip to northern Italy and Rome. In the
recent controversy between the Major Party and the Minor Party the latter
had praised the Waldensians for their strict adherence to the same political
and social principles for which the Minor Party stood. The Brothers wanted
to see if the Minor Party’s contentions were accurate. Also, if the Waldensians,
in fact, did follow a strict, simple, apostolic Christianity, shunning the baneful
effects of the Donation of Constantine, then the emissaries wanted to establish
relations with this community of primitive Christian believers. On two earlier
occasions the Brethren had sought to find remnants of “apostolic” Christian-
ity in distant lands, for, as they said, they desired “always to have communion
with such people . . . not wishing to be schismatics and sectaries.”114 Finally,
the Brethren wanted to see Rome in person, as Jan Łasicki stated, “to see with
their own eyes all that is said in the apocalypse about Rome.”115

112. Müller, Die deutschen Katechismen der Böhmischen Brüder, 147, argues that Luke of Prague’s trip to
Italy in 1498 was made for the purpose of meeting with the Waldensians in their ancestral home to explain
the Major Party’s separation from the Minor Party in the context of an effort to distance the Major Party
from connections with the Waldensians. This explanation, however, does not take into account continuing
contacts between the Brethren and the Waldensians, as for example, those documented in 1512; Müller,
Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:370. Based on available information, it seems likely that Brother Luke
wanted to explain the schism between the Major Party and the Minor Party to the Italian Waldensians
precisely because of a close and continuing relationship between the Waldensians and Brethren. Later,
when Brother Luke attempted to explain the Unity’s position to King Vladislav in the face of systematic
persecution, he tried to draw accurate distinctions between the Brethren and the Waldensians.
113.  A member of the Major Party, in 1480 Thomas undertook a journey to Brandenburg, where he vis-
ited the Waldensians and, shortly thereafter, helped arrange for a group of them to emigrate to Moravia.
The Brandenburg emigrants settled around Fulnek, in a German-­speaking district. “It was from these
communities, formerly forming the main German language group within the Unity, that the founders of
the Moravian Church in the early eighteenth century originated.” See Brock, Political and Social Doctrines
of the Unity of Czech Brethren, 85–­86n29. See also Müller, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:178, 180.
114. Brock, Political and Social Doctrines of the Unity of Czech Brethren, 141. On the division between the
Major and Minor Parties and Luke of Prague’s trip to Italy, see Molnár, “Die kleine und die grosse Partei
der Brüderunität,” 239–­48.
115. Lange, Der Papstesel, 69; Müller, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:273–­78; Goll, Der Verkehr der
Brüder mit den Waldensern, 67–­68, briefly discusses Luke of Prague’s trip to Rome. See also Molnár, “Luc
de Prague et les Vaudois d’Italie.” Fortunately for the historian, the Unity had supporters who were keen
to collect documents and reports that would tell the story of this sectarian movement. These included
Jan Blahoslav (1523–­71), the earliest historian of the Unity, who wrote Summa quaedam brevissima col-
lecta ex variis scriptis Fratrum, qui falso Waldenses vel Picardi vocantur, de eorundem Fratrum origine et
actis (1556). Joachim Camerarius the Elder (1500–­1574), a sympathetic protestant scholar, a professor
46 Chapter 1

With regard to the moral perfection of the Waldensians and their liv-
ing the ideal of apostolic Christianity, the emissaries were disappointed.
They found the northern Italian Waldensians “grievously afflicted with dis-
sensions.”116 In Rome, the Brethren chided the Waldensians for making their
criticisms of the papacy in secret rather than “publicly condemning public
sins.”117 One of the Waldensians replied that he did not want to suffer the same
fate as one who had cried out “non sic Peter” as the pope was being carried
by in a litter. The critic was forthwith bound up in a sack and thrown into
the Tiber. He said, “Here, you Bohemians, it is not allowed to speak the truth
openly.” The Roman Waldensian further excused his behavior by citing the
example of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who were also secret follow-
ers of Christ. Łasicki ends his narrative with the comment, “This, however,
did not please the upstanding Brethren, and they returned home and related
all to their followers.”118
The third reason for the Italian trip, namely, to see the signs of the apoc-
alypse manifest in Rome, led Łasicki to include many specific comments that
sound like direct quotes from the Brothers’ reports.119 For example, he states
that the Brethren
saw that Rome was once situated on seven hills, now however has sunk
down to the Tiber; . . . that it [Rome] is now largely destroyed and laid
waste; that, however, because of its great size it is still designated by the
angel as “great” (Babylon); . . . that its [Rome’s] dominion, at one time
very great, wanes more and more; . . . that he [the pope] permits the chil-
dren of God to kiss his feet, assumes superiority over kings, and guides
everything on the Christian globe according to his will. He misuses the

at Leipzig, and a follower of Melanchthon, wrote Historica narratio de fratrum orthodoxorum ecclesiis in
Bohemia, Moravia et Polonia, published posthumously in 1605. Jan Łasicki (Johannis Lasitius, 1534–­1602),
a Polish protestant nobleman, compiled a history of the Czech Brethren from their beginnings, Historiae
de origine et rebus gestis fratrum Bohemorum liber VIII (1649). The relevant eighth volume was finished in
1599 but first published in 1649 by Jan Amos Komenský (Comenius). Łasicki’s report is the most detailed
and appears to be based either upon written notes from Brother Luke and Brother Thomas or upon their
travel log. Goll, Der Verkehr der Brüder mit den Waldensern, 137–­38, reprints an excerpt from Łasicki’s
report. Lamping, Ulrichus Velenus . . . and His Treatise against the Papacy, 95, contends that Brother Luke
and Brother Thomas went to Rome to “study the sources on the spot and to investigate the origins” of the
tradition of St. Peter in Rome.
116. Blahoslav, Summa, quoted in Lange, Der Papstesel, 68.
117. Łasicki, Historiae, 207; Lange, Der Papstesel, 71.
118. Łasicki, Historiae, 207–­8; Lange, Der Papstesel, 71.
119. Ibid.
The Roman Monster of 1496 47

keys of Christ, joins them with the sword, and overruns the kings with
war. . . . In spite of the portents that appear as signs here and there in his
realm, he only becomes more arrogant.120

Łasicki continues, “As the Brethren, without amazement, observed these and
many other abominations of the Antichrist who sits openly in the temple of
God, they made the acquaintance of a Waldensian who likewise abhorred the
pride and haughtiness of this false deity who was carried about on the shoul-
ders of six porters.”121
The similarities between the symbolism in the Roman monster pasqui-
nade and the comments from the Brethren are most striking. They refer to
Babylon/Rome after the fall, to the misuse of the power of the keys, to papal
abuse of temporal authority, and to portents ignored. These parallels suggest
either that Brother Luke and Brother Thomas saw a politicized version of the
Roman monster while visiting the Roman Waldensians or that they helped to
create it as a pasquinade protest, to show the Roman Waldensians how they
could “publicly condemn public sins.”122
The evidence that the visiting Brethren took a copy of the politicized pic-
ture of the monster back to Bohemia is quite persuasive. Both Jan Blahoslav
and Joachim Camerarius relate that the Italian Waldensians sent written mes-
sages via the emissaries to Bohemia. Brother Blahoslav notes that the Brethren
took four letters back to Bohemia, including a “writing from a fellow believer
who lived in Rome.”123 Łasicki reports that the Brethren described Rome’s
destruction and mentioned “portents that appear as signs” in the pope’s realm.
This passage could be understood as an allusion to the destruction from the
flood and the Roman monster. Given that the visiting Brethren took materials
from Rome to Bohemia, it is very probable that they were the ones who took
the image of the monster back north. It is also worth noting that the ecclesio-
logical content of the image not only agreed with the ideology of the Brethren
but that it also helped to reinforce the point that Brother Luke had made at
the Conference of Chlumec. There he had hoped to reassure and win over the
Minor Party by emphasizing points of agreement between the two factions.
In the politicized version of the monster, the ecclesiological content was clear

120. Łasicki, Historiae, 205–­6; Lange, Der Papstesel, 70.

121. Łasicki, Historiae, 207; Lange, Der Papstesel, 71.
122. Łasicki, Historiae, 207; Lange, Der Papstesel, 71.
123. Camerarius, Historica; and Blahoslav, Summa, quoted in Lange, Der Papstesel, 69. See also Goll, Der
Verkehr der Brüder mit den Waldensern, 67n3.
48 Chapter 1

and understandable, even for illiterate members of the Minor Party. Here was
a pictorial representation of an ideological opposition to the secular claims of
the papacy with which both factions of the Brethren as well as the Waldensians
could agree.
The legend of the Roman monster of 1496, its representation as a divine
portent, and its transformation into an antipapal pasquinade make up the
first chapter in the story of the pope-­ass. This politicized image expressed the
ideology of the Waldensians and fitted well with the ecclesiology of the Unity.
Indeed, it graphically expressed Luke of Prague’s hope for finding common
ground for reconciliation with the Minor Party of the Czech Brethren, by
emphasizing shared beliefs regarding the effects of the Donation of Constan-
tine on the Roman Church. The image’s survival among the Brethren during a
period of severe persecution and its eventual appearance in Wittenberg is the
subject of the next chapter.
Chapter 2

The Roman Monster in the Kingdom

of Bohemia, 1498–­1523

Brother Luke and Brother Thomas were almost certainly responsible for
bringing the Italian original of the Roman monster back to the Kingdom of
Bohemia. Whether they were the ones who actually delivered the illustration
to Wenzel von Olmütz is not known. Konrad von Lange convincingly argues
that von Olmütz made his copy during or after the second half of 1498.1
Philip Melanchthon published his pamphlet on the pope-­ass in 1523. During
the twenty-­five years between these two dates, the engraving of the Roman
monster served the polemical needs of the religious radicals in the Bohemian
lands2 and survived various attempts by the king and the Inquisition to extir-
pate the printed materials of the Unity.
It seems clear that the audience for the illustration of the Roman mon-
ster consisted principally of members of the Bohemian Brethren and the
Waldensians. These two groups shared many religious and ecclesiological
ideas but they remained separate, existing side by side in the Bohemia of the
late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. Waldensianism had spread widely
within the German population, remaining principally a German movement
throughout the fifteenth century. In contrast, the Unitas Fratrum was a move-
ment among the Czech-­speaking majority. The Waldensians tended to keep
to themselves, propagating their ideas through family connections, avoiding
public confessions and outward signs of their beliefs. They observed their
religious practices surreptitiously, at home, at night, behind closed doors.
Though critical of traditional Catholicism, they usually remained members
of a local Catholic parish. They feared that a public confession of faith might
lead to persecution and possible execution. In contrast, the Bohemian Breth-
ren placed emphasis on public confession of faith. As noted above, their

1. Lange, Der Papstesel, 74.

2.  The terms “Kingdom of Bohemia” and “Bohemian lands” refer to the expanded Bohemian realm,
including Moravia.
50 Chapter 2

leader, Luke of Prague, actually criticized the Roman Waldensians for their
unwillingness to voice their criticisms of the papacy. These two groups com-
prised the audience for the Roman monster engraving. To understand the cir-
cumstances affecting the production and dissemination of the reproduction,
it is therefore necessary to study the conditions that these sects faced in the
Bohemian realm at the start of the sixteenth century.

The Waldensians and Bohemian Brethren

in the Kingdom of Bohemia
During the later Middle Ages, Waldensianism spread throughout the Ger-
man population of the Bohemian kingdom and the Austrian borderlands.
The historian Robert Lerner has estimated that by 1335 “ten thousand peo-
ple, or about a tenth of the entire Bohemian German population”3 belonged
to this persecuted, clandestine sect. In southern Bohemia, Waldensians
formed entire villages in the German colonies.4 Careful historical research
has demonstrated both the extent of the spread of the movement as well as
the brutal attempts at its suppression by the Inquisition.5 One indication of
the popular spread of Waldensianism can be seen in a comment from John
of Jenštejn, the archbishop of Prague. In the early 1400s he wrote that the
Waldensians had so prospered in the diocese of Olmütz that it would be dan-
gerous to proceed against them.6
Waldensians helped create the climate that gave rise to the Unitas Fra-
trum. Their ecclesiology informed the thinking of Peter Chelčický, whose
ideas were in turn foundational for the Unity. A group of German Walden-
sians, together with an elderly magister, was present at the Synod of Lhotka
(1467), when the Brethren decided to begin creating their own priests, rather
than relying on clerical converts from the Utraquist Church. In fact, the
Brethren asked the elderly Waldensian priest to ordain the three men whom
they chose as their new priests.7 When the leaders of the Unity decided to
introduce the office of bishop, they turned to a Waldensian bishop for epis-

3.  Lerner, “A Case of Religious Counter-­Culture,” 238.

4.  Ibid.; and Alberto Clot, “Waldenses,” in New Schaff-­Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 12:246.
5.  Lerner, “A Case of Religious Counter-­Culture,” tells the story of the groundbreaking research of Alexan-
der Patschovsky; see Patschovsky, Die Anfänge einer ständigen Inquisition in Böhmen, 3.
6. Kaminsky, History of the Hussite Revolution, 174.
7. Schweinitz, History of . . . the Unitas Fratrum, 138; Josef Mueller, “Bohemian Brethren” in New Schaff-­
Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 12:214.
The Roman Monster in the Kingdom of Bohemia, 1498–­1523 51

copal ordination.8 The Council of the Brethren had even tried to negotiate a
formal union with a group of Waldensians resident on the Austrian border in
southern Moravia.9
These discussions ultimately failed because of the Unity’s unrealistic
demands. But dealings with a second group of Waldensians did lead to the
establishment of a German-­speaking branch of the Brethren. In Mark Bran-
denburg, in the area around Angermünde and Königsberg in der Neumark,
a group of Waldensians had developed contacts with the Taborites and,
through them, had established relations with the Unity. The Waldensians sent
an emissary to visit Bohemia; shortly thereafter the Council of the Brethren
sent a delegation to Brandenburg that included the German-­speaking Brother
Thomas of Landskron. He may himself have been a convert from Waldensian-
ism, for he came from a region of Bohemia with a concentration of Waldensi-
ans. In Brandenburg, the Waldensians were suffering severe persecution and
were therefore inclined to emigrate. In 1480, through the efforts of Brother
Thomas, several hundred German refugees left Mark Brandenburg, joined
the Brethren, and settled around Landskron on the Bohemian-­Moravian bor-
der and around Fulnek in northeastern Moravia, between Olomouc (Olmütz)
and Ostrava (Ostrau). In the early sixteenth century, members of this com-
munity served as interpreters, messengers, and translators in the Unity’s con-
tacts with German reformers.10
The relations between the German Waldensians and the Czech Brethren
were cordial and friendly, even if a formal union did not take place. The Breth-
ren maintained contact with the Waldensians in Italy, sending a delegation to
them in 1498 and a second delegation in 1512. The Brethren attracted some
Bohemian Waldensians as converts, but most chose to remain as a pietist sect
within the Roman Church. As Gabriel Audisio states, “the entire Waldensian
diaspora in Europe was in contact more or less regularly with the Unity.”11
Contacts such as these were not without danger. The Waldensians had been
condemned as heretics as far back as the Fourth Lateran Council (1215). If the

8. Schweinitz, History of  .  .  . the Unitas Fratrum, 139–­52; Josef Mueller, “Bohemian Brethren,” in New
Schaff-­Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 12:214; Müller, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder,
1:131, 134–­35.
9. Brock, Political and Social Doctrines of the Unity of Czech Brethren, 79; Müller, Geschichte der Böh-
mischen Brüder, 1:181; Schweinitz, History of . . . the Unitas Fratrum, 156.
10. Zeman, Anabaptists and the Czech Brethren, 72–­73; Müller, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:177;
Alberto Clot, “Waldenses,” in New Schaff-­Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 12:248.
11. Audisio, Waldensian Dissent, 84.
52 Chapter 2

Brethren became too closely identified with them, there was the danger that
they too might be treated as condemned heretics. In a 1509 communication
to King Vladislav II, Brother Luke made a point of denying that the Brethren
were identical with the Waldensians.12 Indeed, in one official document the
Brethren referred to the fact that their enemies, out of hatred, libeled them as
“picards” and erroneously called them Waldensians.13
This confusion posed an especial danger for the Brethren because in
the early sixteenth century the Unity became the object of condemnation
and persecution from many quarters. They faced opposition from the Utra-
quist Consistory, the Utraquist-­dominated University of Prague, the Roman
Catholic ecclesiastical hierarchy, the Inquisition, and the monarchy. At the
beginning of the sixteenth century, both Pope Alexander VI and King Vla-
dislav II tried to suppress the Unity and destroy their religious publications.
The Brethren survived thanks to the triumph of baronial particularism within
the Bohemian lands. During periods of heavy persecution, the image of the
Roman monster would have had to circulate clandestinely, surviving only if
kept in a secure hiding place. From 1498 to 1523, Bohemian and Moravian
sectaries preserved the Roman monster cartoon in the face of condemnation
and proscription.
Their opponents, the Roman Catholics and the Utraquists, reached a
mutual accommodation in the 1485 Peace of Kutná Hora (Kuttenberg), in
which they granted each other legal recognition and the free exercise of
their separate religious practices. In 1512, the Bohemian Diet extended this
arrangement indefinitely. Unlike the Lutheran-­Catholic Religious Peace of
Augsburg of 1555, which gave the German princes the right to determine
the religion of their separate states, the Peace of Kutná Hora granted religious
freedom to both nobility and to seignorial subjects.14

12. Molnár, Die Waldenser, 322–­323.

13. Müller, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:109–­10: This statement comes from the title of a pref-
ace to a confession of faith written in Czech in 1535. In German, the title reads “Vorrede der Ältesten
der Brüder des Gesetzes Christi, die die Feinde aus Haß zu ihrer Beschimpfung Pikarten, und viele aus
Irrtum Waldenser nennen.” The name “Brothers of the Law of Christ” was a designation that was used
briefly before the term Unitas Fratrum gained acceptance. The term “picard” originated from the Free-­
spirit Beghards who came to Prague in the early fifteenth century. It came to be applied to the radical
chiliasts within the Taborite movement, to the Adamites, and, as a term of derision, to the Brethren.
See Kaminsky, History of the Hussite Revolution, 256, 343; Müller, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder,
1:111nn267, 269.
14. Zdeněk, Finding the Middle Way, 42.
The Roman Monster in the Kingdom of Bohemia, 1498–­1523 53

The Brethren did not enjoy the benefits of recognition under this agree-
ment.15 Nevertheless, they experienced a period of rapid growth during the
years 1470 to 1500.16 Estimates of their numbers vary widely; recent stud-
ies claim that, by the end of the fifteenth century, the Unity numbered well
over ten thousand adherents.17 In Bohemia, the congregations of the Brethren
were concentrated in three general areas: to the east (and northeast), to the
south, and to the northwest of the city of Prague.18 For Moravia, scholars have
described the distribution of the Brethren by drawing an imaginary line from
Jihlava (Iglau) through Brno (Brünn) to Kroměříž (Kremsier) and then south
through Napajedla (Napajedl) to Uherský Brod (Ungarisch Brod). The area
south of this line is South Moravia; it comprises about one-­third of the mar-
gravate. The congregations of the Unitas Fratrum were divided almost equally
between the southern and northern parts. In the south, 130 towns and villages
had either independent congregations, branch congregations, or small groups
of Brethren visited by a pastor from elsewhere; in the north there were 124
towns and villages that had either congregations or small, organized groups
of Brethren.19
No explanation of the religious polity of the late fifteenth-­century Bohe-
mian realm would be complete without mention of the printing presses that
each of the religious groups controlled. In the early 1500s, the Unity owned
two printing presses; by 1519 they had added a third. In contrast, the Roman
Catholics and the Utraquists each had one press.20 During the first decade of the
sixteenth century, the Unity published no fewer than fifty works, including a
catechism, a hymnal, and several confessions of faith, as well as polemical writ-
ings and scriptural commentaries. During this same period, the Catholics and

15.  Kamil Krofta, “Bohemia in the Fifteenth Century,” in Cambridge Medieval History, 3:110.
16. Brock, Political and Social Doctrines of the Unity of Czech Brethren, 103; Grindely, Geschichte der Böh-
mischen Brüder, 1: 95.
17. Brock, Political and Social Doctrines of the Unity of Czech Brethren, 103n1; Říčan, History of the Unity,
90; Odložilík, Hussite King, 275–­76. Nineteenth-­century studies claimed that there were 150,000 to 200,000
Brethren in Bohemia and Moravia by 1500; Schweinitz, History of . . . the Unitas Fratrum, 225; Grindely,
Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:93–­94.
18.  For a more complete list of villages where Brethren were located, see Schweinitz, History of . . . the
Unitas Fratrum, 223–­24; Grindely, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:92–­93; Müller, Geschichte der Böh-
mischen Brüder, 1:231–­32.
19. Zeman, Anabaptists and Czech Brethren, 289–­93; and Grindely, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder,
1:94. See the map in Říčan, History of the Unity, following 439.
20.  The Catholic press was located at Plzeň (Pilsen); the Utraquist press was at Prague.
54 Chapter 2

the Utraquists combined published only ten works.21 It is no wonder that those
who wished to extirpate the Unity focused especially on their printed materials.
The Unity placed great emphasis on rudimentary literacy; in this regard
they continued the tradition of the Taborites. Though they remained suspi-
cious of the higher learning of universities, they were pioneers in developing
primary education.22 In 1482, the Brethren established their first school; at the
end of the century still more schools were set up.23 One measure of the relative
success of the Brethren in teaching elementary literacy can be seen in the pop-
ular calumny that their Catholic and Utraquist enemies leveled against them,
namely, that the devil gave them the ability to read.24 Their enemies alleged
that, when someone joined the Brethren, he had to stand facing the east with
his mouth open until a fly flew into it. At that point he would immediately be
able to read, thanks to the power of the devil. But if the convert should leave
the sect, then the devil would deprive him of this ability. Apparently enough
of the Brethren could read that their envious detractors felt that supernatural
intervention must be the explanation. Literacy and the availability of printed
materials helped propagate the ideas of the Brethren and led to the growth of
the Unity during the closing years of the fifteenth century.
But literacy and printing presses do not entirely explain the spread of
the Unity. The relative weakness of the monarchy and the king’s failure to sup-
press the Brethren also played an important role in the Unity’s success. King
George of Poděbrady, who died in 1471, had done much to strengthen the
position of the monarch and to mitigate antagonisms between the different
religious and ethnic groups. His successor, however, did not build on these
In the year that King George died, the fifteen-­year-­old son of the Pol-
ish king succeeded to the throne as King Vladislav II of Bohemia. The king
of Hungary, Matthias Corvinus, immediately challenged the Jagiellonian
dynasty in Bohemia. Finally, in 1478, the Peace of Olmütz spelled out a com-
promise between these two contenders. Matthias Corvinus retained Moravia,
Silesia, and Upper and Lower Lusatia, while Vladislav kept Bohemia proper.

21. Schweinitz, History of . . . the Unitas Fratrum, 226–­27; Grindely, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder,
22. Brock, Political and Social Doctrines of the Unity of Czech Brethren, 100.
23.  Schools were established in Moravia in 1498 and in Bohemia in 1500, see ibid.
24. Hutton, History of the Moravian Church, 77; Müller, Die deutschen Katechismen der Böhmischen
Brüder, 319; Müller, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:312.
The Roman Monster in the Kingdom of Bohemia, 1498–­1523 55

Both men received the title “King of Bohemia.” This confusing situation dis-
appeared in 1490 when Matthias died without a legitimate heir, and Vladislav
was elected to the Hungarian throne. With Matthias’s death, Moravia, Lusatia,
and Silesia reverted to Vladislav. The new Jagiellonian king spent most of his
time at Ofen in Hungary, leaving his chancellor, Albert of Kolowrat, to attend
to his royal interests in Bohemia.25
King Vladislav was largely ineffective at promoting the authority of the
king against the increasingly powerful Bohemian nobility. The last years of
the fifteenth century and the first two decades of the sixteenth century saw
a strong reemergence of the estate state (Ständestaat) in Bohemia and Mora-
via.26 The great barons gained influence and authority as the power of the
crown declined. This meant that, while the Jagiellonian king might from
time to time attempt a forceful extermination of the Unitas Fratum, he could
only have success on royal domains and in those areas where either Catho-
lic or Utraquist authorities supported his efforts. The benevolent protection
afforded by noble families was essential for the well-­being of the Brethren.
In some cases, the nobles were, in fact, members of the Unity; in other cases,
they were simply tolerant individuals who chose to defend this minority for
their own separate reasons. Noble protectors of the Unity included numerous
important baronial families.27

Persecution of the Bohemian Brethren

For much of his reign, Vladislav was under the influence of powerful Catholic
advisers who urged him to take action against the Brethren. These included the
poet and humanist scholar Bohuslav Hasišteinský of Lobkovice, who briefly
served the king in an official capacity during 1502; the chancellor of Hun-
gary and bishop of Varadin, Jan Filipec, known as the Barefooted (because he
joined the Franciscans late in life); Dr. Augustin Kasebrod, a canon of Olmütz;
and Jan Šlechta of Wšehrd, the king’s private secretary. The queen, Anne de

25.  In 1509, Vladislav arranged for his two-­year-­old son, Louis, to be elected as King of Bohemia. In 1516,
Louis succeeded his father, ruling for ten years until he was defeated and killed by the Turks at the Battle
of Mohács. The death of King Louis meant the end of the Jagiellonian dynasty in Bohemia. In 1526, Ferdi-
nand of Hapsburg, the brother of Emperor Charles V and the brother-­in-­law of King Louis, was elected as
the king of Bohemia, thus beginning the long period of Hapsburg rule.
26.  Eberhard, “Political System and the Intellectual Traditions of the Bohemian Ständestaat,” 23–­47.
27. Odložilik, Hussite King, 276; Říčan, History of the Unity, 93; Schweinitz, History of . . . the Unitas Frat-
rum, 225; Müller, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:303–5. Protectors of the Unity included nobles such
as Jan Kostka of Postupice, Citibor and Jan Tovačavsky, Jan Rychnovský of Rychnov, and others. See Brock,
Political and Social Doctrines of the Czech Brethren, 97.
56 Chapter 2

Foix-­Candale, joined her voice to these influential advisers in opposition to

the Unity.28
The king found support for his suppression of the Unity from the Cath-
olic nobles of Bohemia, the Utraquist estates, and the Utraquist masters of the
University of Prague. The Catholic estates hoped to make common cause with
the Utraquists against the Brethren. Their ultimate goal was a union of Cath-
olics and Utraquists under papal leadership. The Utraquist clergy in Prague
and the university likewise favored a union with the Catholics as a means to
gain papal recognition of the Compactata (the 1433 agreement between the
Council of Basel and the Utraquists that Pope Pius II had rejected). To accom-
plish this, and thus secure their own position, the Utraquists were willing to
commit to strong opposition to the Brethren.29
In 1503, King Vladislav initiated the first of two periods of royally sanc-
tioned persecution of the Brethren. In that year, a disaffected remnant of the
Minor Party known as the Amosites30 formally submitted to the king a com-
plaint against the Brethren, falsely alleging that they planned to defend their
faith by taking up arms. Motivated by this fabrication and by the animus of
his advisers, Vladislav issued an order on July 5, 1503, to the administrator
of the Utraquist Consistory, the magistrates of Prague, the cathedral chapter,
and the administrator of royal towns directing them to proscribe the religious
activities of the Unity.31 He told the cathedral chapter and the Utraquist Con-
sistory to preach against the Brethren, whom he described as “more wicked
and abominable than the Turks, for, ensnared by the devil, they believe nei-
ther in God nor in the Lord’s Supper.”32 He ordered the Prague magistrates to
forbid any assembly of the Brethren within the city walls. He instructed his
agents to visit all royal towns and estates for the purpose of arresting Unity
clergy, displacing Unity office holders, and forcing recusant Brethren to attend
either a Catholic or an Utraquist Church.33

28. Říčan, History of the Unity, 90; Grindely, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:98–­104; Schweinitz,
History of . . . the, Unitas Fratrum, 184; and, regarding humanist opponents to the Unity, Müller, Geschichte
der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:307.
29. Grindely, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:105–­8.
30.  The Amosites were named after their leader, Amos of Stekna; see ibid., 1:314.
31.  The king’s interdiction could only be enforced throughout the kingdom if approved by the diet. How-
ever, he had direct influence over his royal estates and the clergy.
32. Grindely, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:106; Müller, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:315.
33.  Ibid., 1:106–­7; Schweinitz, History of . . . the Unitas Fratrum, 184–­85.
The Roman Monster in the Kingdom of Bohemia, 1498–­1523 57

During this first phase, fierce persecutions lasted from 1503 to 1505 and
were concentrated on the royal domains and the estates of barons who sup-
ported the king. But the proscriptions against the Unity could not take effect
throughout all of Bohemia unless approved by the diet, whose members were
divided among supporters of the three religious groups—­Catholic, Utraquist,
and Unity. Nobles supportive of the Brethren succeeded in persuading the
diet that the Unity should be given a hearing rather than being condemned
outright. Although the planned colloquy never actually took place, the advo-
cacy of influential barons thwarted attempts to implement the king’s edict
throughout the realm.34
Severe persecution forced the Brethren to hold their religious services in
private homes and at secret meeting places deep in the forests. They attempted
to defend themselves by submitting a new confession of faith to the king, but
to no avail. One response of the Brethren was especially reflective of the rigor-
ous religious demands they placed on themselves. Luke of Prague persuaded
the leaders of the Unity to adopt a resolution requiring all members to make
public confession of their beliefs on pain of excommunication. This action is
reminiscent of his earlier criticism of the Roman Waldensians for their reluc-
tance to stand up publicly for their beliefs.35
The first phase of the king’s persecution of the Unitas Fratrum began
to subside during 1505, though this proved to be only a lull before the next
storm. In 1506 and again in 1507, Dr. Augustin Kasebrod published open let-
ters against the Unity, which he presented to the king. In these he denounced
the Brethren in the most violent language, stating that they were “not worthy
of being swallowed up and consumed by the noble flames of fire, [rather] wild
beasts should trample them and tear their bodies to pieces, and dogs should
lick up their blood.”36
The chancellor of the kingdom, Albert of Kolowrat, now renewed the
assault against the Brethren by publishing a new royal edict, approved by Vla-
dislav, summoning the bishops of the Brethren to Prague and proclaiming that
their church was to be suppressed throughout Bohemia. This decree, lacking
confirmation by the diet, clearly challenged the authority of the estates. Baron

34.  Baron Šelnberk and Baron Pernštejn were themselves Catholic, but they nevertheless showed toler-
ance and even support for the Unity, see Říčan, History of the Unity, 90; Grindely, Geschichte der Böh-
mischen Brüder, 1:108–­9.
35.  Ibid., 111.
36. Grindely, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:130.
58 Chapter 2

Vilém of Pernštejn immediately protested to the king, asserting his territorial

rights and warning of dire consequences if these rights were violated.37
The king’s frame of mind can be seen in a communication that he sent
to Baroness Martha of Boskovice, in response to a letter that she had sent him
defending the Brethren. King Vladislav wrote:
My dear well-­born one!
You write to us of the Picard [the common derisive term for
the Unity] rascals, as though our purpose to destroy them, which
we have announced to all the States [estates] of our kingdom, were
improper and unduly severe.
Know that what we do, we do more out of mercy than sever-
ity. For while we intend; [sic] as is proper and required both by
divine and human law, to burn and destroy these miserable and
mistaken heretics, we, at the same time, have compassion on them
in that we show them a way of escape by permitting them to join
either the Catholics or the Utraqists.
It is our will that what we have published shall strictly be car-
ried out. If this is not done, be assured that we will not any longer
suffer the presence of such heretical rascals, but will chase them
out of our kingdom without mercy.
Of this inform your brethren who have written to us.38
On the Day of St. James, July 25, 1508, the king began the second phase
of persecution by presenting a royal edict to the diet at Prague, which both
the Catholic and the Utraquist estates adopted. Formally published on August
10, it came to be known as the Mandate of St. James and consisted of the fol-
lowing points:
1. The religious services of the Unity, whether public or private, are for-
bidden; 2. The sale of its publications is to cease and they are to be destroyed;
3. Its priests are no longer to administer the sacraments and solemnize mar-
riages; 4. Its priests are, furthermore, to be cited for recantation before the
ecclesiastical tribunals; if they refuse, they are to be punished by the civil
courts; 5. All barons, knights, and magistrates of Prague as also of other cities
and towns are commanded to carry out this act, on pain of an official warning
from the chief burgrave of the kingdom, and if this does not avail, of trial
by the national court; 6. Any one harboring a Picard [member of the Unity]

37. Schweinitz, History of . . . the Unitas Fratrum, 190; Müller, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:340–­41.
38. Schweinitz, History of . . . the Unitas Fratrum, 190; Grindely, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:127–­28.
The Roman Monster in the Kingdom of Bohemia, 1498–­1523 59

and refusing to deliver him to his manor-­lord is to be fined; 7. The members

of the Unity are to be instructed in the true faith by Catholic and Utraquist
priests, into whose hands the Picard parishes and their revenues are, without
exception, to be given.39
Item two especially relates to the survival of the illustration of the
Roman monster. Its full text reads: “All teachings and writings about their
[the Unity’s] errors, whether done in secret or in the open, shall cease, and all
of their books shall be destroyed and burned, whether written or printed. No
lord, no knight, and no town shall allow such tracts to be written, printed, or
sold. Whoever contravenes this order shall be punished by the judgment of
provincial law.”40
To effect implementation of this mandate in Moravia, Jan Filipec (the
Barefooted), bishop of Varadin, together with Baron John of Rosenberg, trav-
eled to Brno (Brünn) to meet with the Moravian Diet, hoping to convince
the assembled estates to endorse the king’s wishes. One of the most influen-
tial Moravian nobles, Baron Jan of Žerotín, however, supported the Brethren,
and persuaded his colleagues to vote against enacting the mandate.41 While
some Moravian nobles were convinced to act against the Unity, in general the
persecutions in the margravate were less severe than in Bohemia. There, all
public religious services of the Unity ceased; if the Brethren met, they did so
in secret, at night, hidden in the forests. In February 1510, the Bohemian Diet
renewed the mandate and a new wave of persecutions began. For their own
safety, the members of the Unity’s Executive Council moved from Bohemia
to Moravia.
In 1515, fully aware that his coreligionists were facing a dire situation,
Luke of Prague determined to travel to western Bohemia to visit a congre-
gation of the Brethren. In September, together with two companions, Luke
visited Petr Suda, baron of Janovice, whom Luke understood to be friendly
towards the Brethren. Unfortunately for him, Suda proved to be nothing more
than a robber-­knight42 looking for bounty. He imprisoned Brother Luke and

39. Schweinitz, History of . . . the Unitas Fratrum, 191–­92; Říčan, History of the Unity, 95; and Grindely,
Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:132–­35; Atwood, Theology of the Czech Brethren, 186–­88.
40. Grindley, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:133; Müller, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:348.
41. Říčan, History of the Unity, 96, states that the Mandate was accepted in Moravia but with limitations:
“The valid force of the mandate in Moravia was thus in doubt.” See also Müller, Geschichte der Böhmischen
Brüder, 1:351.
42. Schweinitz, History of . . . the Unitas Fratrum, 197; Grindely, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:152–­
57; Müller, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:383–­86.
60 Chapter 2

his companions under very harsh conditions. Luke was chained in a dungeon;
one of his comrades suffered torture on the rack. Suda made arrangements
to turn them over to the authorities in Prague, no doubt expecting a reward.
Informed of Luke’s plight, Baron Kunrát of Krajek, a patron of the Unity, man-
aged to get a court decree ordering his release. After suffering for more than
two weeks, Luke and his fellow Brethren were set free, but only after post-
ing a bond to secure their promise to appear before the Utraquist Consistory
within the next six months.
Before this hearing could take place, King Vladislav died. His death and
the succession of his minor son, Louis, led to an outbreak of feuds between
the barons and townsmen as well as renewed struggles between the Utra-
quists and Catholics. The Pacification of St. Wenzel (September 28, 1517)
restored a level of political stability. According to this agreement, the estates
recognized both Emperor Maximilian and King Sigismund of Poland as the
guardians of Louis. A panel of six directors took over the day-­to-­day adminis-
tration of government. In this disrupted circumstance, the nobles supportive
of the Brethren strengthened their political position, the Mandate of St. James
ceased to be enforced,43 and Luke of Prague never had to appear before the
Utraquist Consistory.
While the patronage of nobles supportive of the Brethren thwarted King
Vladislav’s persecutions, the effects of the Mandate of St. James should not
be underestimated. It significantly disrupted the activities of the Brethren,
caused suffering for many of their members (including seven known execu-
tions),44 and resulted in the destruction of many of their publications. One
can safely assume that these royal persecutions also resulted in the destruc-
tion of copies of von Olmütz’s engraving of the Roman monster.
King Vladislav was not the only figure of authority seeking to extirpate
the Unity. During the early years of the sixteenth century, the pope also
sought to suppress the Brethren and destroy their printed materials. To this
end, he ordered the Inquisition into Moravia under the leadership of one of
the best-­known Dominican inquisitors, Dr. Heinrich Institoris.45 Leader of

43.  In Bohemia, the Mandate of St. James remained law until 1609; see Říčan, History of the Unity, 96.
44.  Ibid., 92, 100; Müller, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 318.
45.  For a general discussion of Institoris’s mission to Moravia see Grindely, Geschichte der Böhmnischen
Brüder, 1:96–­98; Schweinitz, History of . . . the Unitas Fratrum, 183; Říčan, History of the Unity, 91; Hutton,
History of the Moravian Church, 77; Lange, Der Papstesel, 62–­67; Müller, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder,
1:311–­12; Atwood, Theology of the Czech Brethren, 213–­14.
The Roman Monster in the Kingdom of Bohemia, 1498–­1523 61

the Inquisition in Germany, Institoris was the coauthor, together with Jacob
Sprenger, of the infamous Hammer of Witches (Malleus Maleficarum). In
1499, he received a papal charge to extirpate the Unitas Fratrum and to seek
out and burn their books, especially a work by Peter Chelčický entitled The
Picture of the Antichrist.
He began his mission by inviting the leaders of the Unity to a collo-
quium. In response, two of the Brethren journeyed to Olmütz to meet with
him. The discussions led to a frank exchange in which the Brethren criticized
the Roman Church as the church of the Antichrist. Understandably, the dis-
putants reached no agreement. Institoris reported that the Brethren “received
the devil into their mouths in the likeness of a fly, who then taught them infer-
nal wisdom.”46 After this unsuccessful colloquium, Institoris began traveling
around the countryside of Moravia, preaching and writing against the Unity,
and attempting to destroy their publications. He wrote an extensive report
on his inquisitorial activities, entitled Sancte Romane ecclesie fidei defensio-
nis . . . ,47 which he composed during the period from 1498 to 1500 and pub-
lished in Olmütz in 1501. This treatise provides an important insight into the
ecclesiastical controversy that was taking place in the diocese of Olmütz just
when Wenzel von Olmütz was making a copy of the illustration of the Roman
In this work, Institoris does not mention the picture of the monster, per
se, but he does make frequent reference to images (presumably widespread in
Olmütz at the time) that were illustrative of the power of the keys of St. Peter,
and of the mystical body of the church, whose head is Christ (rather than the
pope), and whose members must obey the head. He also makes reference to
Roma caput mundi. In other words, Institoris’s report associates the language of
ecclesiastical polemics with the thematic content of the Roman monster illus-
tration.48 This same parallel can be found in a letter that the Czech humanist
Jan Šlechta of Všehrd sent to Erasmus in October of 1519. He wrote, “They [the
Brethren] consider the pope and other ecclesiastical persons as antichrists and

46. Říčan, History of the Unity, 91. See also Hutton, History of the Moravian Church, 77; Müller, Katechis-
men der Böhmischen Brüder, 319–­20n1; Müller, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:312.
47.  The full title is Sancte Romane ecclesie fidei defensionis clippeum Adversus waldēsium seu Pickardorum
heresim Certas germanie Bohemieque naciones in odium cleri ac enervacionē ecclesiastice potestatis virulenta
cōtagiōe sparsim inficientes. See Lange, Der Papstesel, 63–­64; Schweinitz, History of . . . the Unitas Fratrum, 183.
48. Lange, Der Papstesel, 64.
62 Chapter 2

speak of the pope as the beast [of the bottomless pit, Revelation 17:8] or as the
whore of the apocalypse.”49
While the Unity led the criticism of the papacy, others who did not join
the Brethren were nevertheless upset because they felt that the moral tone of
the clergy, especially the clergy in the diocese of Olmütz, had significantly
deteriorated during the period of two absentee bishops (1491–­97). Innocent
VIII had appointed an Italian cardinal who did not reside in Olmütz;50 when
the see was again vacant, Alexander VI installed his nephew Cardinal Juan
Borgia, who likewise remained absent. Finally, in 1497 a native, Stanislaus
Thurzo, became bishop. During this extended episcopal absence, the morality
of the clergy reportedly declined, as noted in an anonymous poem written as
a complaint (Klagschrift). In 1499, a printer in Olmütz published this poem,
entitled “Lamentation of the Ruin of the Church” (“Planctus ruinae ecclesi-
ae”).51 It consisted of 117 stanzas written half in Latin and half in German.
It protested the secular interests of the clergy and complained about their
lust for power, arrogance, intolerance, laziness, and wickedness. It demanded
that the clergy renounce their temporal power and return to the simplicity of
the apostolic church. While there are similarities between the themes of this
complaint and certain ideas of the Brethren, the anonymous poem does not
reject the hierarchical church or condemn monasticism. It simply criticizes
the moral turpitude of the clergy. In other words, it reflects the critical atti-
tudes of Catholics in Olmütz rather than the opinions of the Brethren.52

Wenzel von Olmütz’s Reproduction of the Roman Monster

This poem helps to explain the ecclesiastical environment within which Wenzel
von Olmütz lived and worked.53 Although he was not a native of Olmütz, he
seems to have resided there throughout his career. Active from circa 1481 to
circa 1500, Olmütz was a goldsmith whose principal employer would probably
have been the bishop.54 The episcopal absence from 1491 to 1497 may, therefore,
have negatively affected his workshop. In addition, he was a copper engraver

49. Müller, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:393.

50.  Innocent VIII appointed Cardinal Ardicino della Porta.
51.  “Incipit planctus ruine eccle / sie latino simul et vulgari / ydeo-­mate Richmi / co seu versifico / modo
cō/ positus.…” See Lange, Der Papstesel, 97–­105, for extensive excerpts of this work.
52.  See ibid., 66–­67 for a discussion of this poem.
53.  For a thorough review of the attribution of the symbol “W” to Wenzel von Olmütz see Lehrs, Wenzel
von Olmütz, 1–­31; Lehrs, Meister des Hausbuches, 243–­56; Lange, Der Papstesel, 1–­8.
54. Hutchinson, Illustrated Bartsch, 9.2:129.
The Roman Monster in the Kingdom of Bohemia, 1498–­1523 63

who specialized in reproductions. More than half of his known illustrations

are copies of works by Martin Schongauer, though he also reproduced works
by Albrecht Dürer. He thus helped to introduce both of these artists to eastern
Europe.55 Given that he focused on reproductions, it is not surprising that he
copied the Italian picture of the Roman monster.
Exactly how the Italian illustration came to his attention is unknown,
though, as noted above, there is reason to believe that Brother Luke and
Brother Thomas brought it with them when they returned from Rome. It
no doubt circulated within the communities of the Unity. It is unlikely that
von Olmütz was himself a member of the Brethren, for they considered the
craft of painting (and presumably also goldsmithery and copper engraving)
a forbidden occupation, because of its association with wealth and luxury.56
The building crafts and the production of clothing and other necessities were
professions that the Brethren allowed, as long as they were not “accompanied
by display, unrighteousness, adornment, luxury and injustice.”57 Even a cur-
sory review of Wenzel’s oeuvre shows much “adornment” and “luxury” in his
engravings and in his designs for monstrances, pokals, and gothic pinnacles.58
Furthermore, his illustrations of religious themes seem clearly grounded in
motifs typical of traditional late medieval Catholicism.
While not a member of the Brethren, von Olmütz may have been in
sympathy with their ideas, or he may simply have shared in the general dis-
satisfaction with the papacy, occasioned by the effects in Olmütz of nepotism
and episcopal absence. As a businessman, he may have also realized that there
would be a market for an illustration that expressed criticism of the papacy.
The presence of the Inquisition in Moravia helps in the dating of von
Olmütz’s engraving of the monster. Assuming that Brother Luke and Brother
Thomas brought the image back with them from Italy, the terminus post
quem for its creation must be the middle of 1498, for the emissaries stopped
in Florence on their way back home, where they witnessed the execution of
Girolamo Savonarola on May 23, 1498. They therefore could not have arrived
in the Bohemian kingdom before the middle of the year. The papal brief in

55. Ibid.
56. Forbidden occupations included “dicing, gaming, juggling, painting, prophesying, fortune-­telling,
witchcraft, usury, alchemy, pimping, prostitution, [and] music.” See Brock, Political and Social Doctrines of
the Unity of Czech Brethren, 233; Müller, Geschichte der Böhmischen Brüder, 1:289.
57. Brock, Political and Social Doctrines of the Unity of Czech Brethren, 234. This quotation is taken from a
decree issued at the beginning of the sixteenth century.
58. Hutchinson, Illustrated Bartsch, 9.2:130–­91.
64 Chapter 2

which Alexander VI empowered the Inquisition in Moravia is dated January

31, 1499. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Institoris was active in Moravia, with orders
to prevent printers from putting out heretical materials. In this circumstance,
it would have been very foolish for Wenzel to place his distinctive “W” prom-
inently on an antipapal cartoon. The spring of 1499 must thus be the terminus
ante quem for the illustration. Consequently, von Olmütz’s copy of the Roman
monster must date from the last months of 1498 or the very early part of 1499.59
From that point on, the Roman monster circulated in Moravia and
Bohemia, passing surreptitiously from hand to hand and serving the polem-
ical needs of religious radicals who found its ecclesiological and antipapal
content meaningful. One hint of this clandestine circulation can be seen in
the physical condition of the copy preserved in the Herzog Anton Ulrich-­
Museum in Braunschweig.60 While the front of the image is in excellent con-
dition, on the reverse one can clearly see a pattern of stains indicating folds
that would have reduced the engraving to one quarter of its size, leaving the
folded edges exposed to soiling. It appears that the Braunschweig copy may
have been folded so that it could be hidden in a sleeve or pocket and passed
from person to person, just as popular Reformation pamphlets were secretly
handed around. Clearly secrecy was important, given the efforts of both Dr.
Institoris and King Vladislav to destroy the print materials of the Unity. It is
likely that many of the copies of the cartoon were indeed burned. Only six
copies are known to have survived; they are located at Braunschweig, Coburg,
Dresden, Frankfurt am Main, London, and Paris.61
At least one copy made its way to Wittenberg. There, Martin Luther
and Philip Melanchthon decided upon a joint publication project in which
each would take a separate monstrous portent and interpret it for purposes
of polemical propaganda. Thus, Melanchthon’s pamphlet on the pope-­ass and
Luther’s tract on the monk-­calf came into being. It is therefore fitting to con-
clude a discussion of the fate of the Roman monster cartoon from 1498 to

59. Lange, Der Papstesel, 67.

60.  I wish to thank Dr. Susanne Mädger of the Herzog Anton Ulrich-­Museum, Braunschweig, for assisting
me in viewing the Wenzel von Olmütz Roma caput mundi engraving.
61.  The copy of the Roma caput mundi illustration at Paris is presumably the one formerly in the Lanna
collection in Prague. This collection was sold at auction at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1891 Kon-
rad von Lange listed copies at Braunschweig, Coburg, Dresden, Frankfurt am Main, London, and Prague;
in 1991 Jane Hutchinson listed the same first five copies, but substituted Paris for Prague. See Lange, Der
Papstesel, 2; Hutchinson, Illustrated Bartsch, 9.2:172.
The Roman Monster in the Kingdom of Bohemia, 1498–­1523 65

1523 by examining Luther’s contacts with Bohemians, in order to discover

how and when the illustration made it into his hands.

Luther Receives the Roman Monster Illustration

Fortunately, Luther himself has left a reference that can serve as a termi-
nus ante quem in searching for likely Bohemian contacts through which he
acquired a copy of the Roman monster. But for this approach to be successful,
the dating of Luther’s comment must be both specific and accurate. In 1522,
Luther published a sermon written on the Gospel for the Second Sunday in
Advent, Luke 21:25–­33. This text speaks of “signs in the sun and in the moon,
and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, by reason of the con-
fusion of the roaring of the sea and of the waves; Men withering away for fear,
and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world. For the powers of
heaven shall be moved.” As one might imagine, Luther used this passage as
the basis for a long disquisition on the meaning of astronomical and terres-
trial wonders.
In this context, he stated,
No astronomer will say that the course of the heavens foretold the com-
ing of the terrible beast which the Tiber threw up a few years ago; a beast
with the head of an ass, the breast and body of a woman, the foot of an
elephant for its right hand, with the scales of a fish on its legs, and the
head of a dragon in its hinder parts, etc. This beast typifies the papacy and
the great wrath and punishment of God. Such a mass of signs presages
greater results than the mind of man can conceive.62

From this passage it is clear that Luther knew about the Roman monster and
understood it in antipapal terms. It is, of course, possible that someone told
him the story of the creature. But given his interpretation of the creature, and
given Cranach’s woodcut version that illustrated Melanchthon’s 1523 pam-
phlet (fig. 3), it seems probable that Luther had seen a copy of von Olmütz’s
In order to isolate a likely contact between Luther and a Bohemian
source, one must have a more precise date of composition than simply the
publication year of 1522. Fortunately, the text itself provides the necessary
information. Six paragraphs after the reference to the monster, Luther wrote
of “the great constellation of the planets that is now going to occur in two

62.  WA, 10.1/2:105; St.L., 11:56; WML 10:70.

66 Chapter 2

Figure 3:  Papstesel woodcut by Lucas Cranach (1523). Courtesy of the

Richard C. Kessler Reformation Collection, Pitts Theology Library, Candler
School of Theology, Emory University.
The Roman Monster in the Kingdom of Bohemia, 1498–­1523 67

years.”63 The reference here is to a planetary conjunction that was said to hap-
pen only every 960 years, predicted to take place in February 1524; supposedly,
this event would cause floods, disease, death, and civil disturbance.64 Given
that this auspicious conjunction was supposed to take place in February 1524,
and given that Luther says that it will occur “in two years,” we can conclude
that Luther wrote his sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent around the
month of February 1522. This dating, in fact, fits well with the compositional
history of the other Advent postils, as Walther Köhler has shown in his “Ein-
leitung zur Wartburgpostille.”65
Assuming that Luther learned of the Roman monster sometime before
February 1522, one must next examine Luther’s Bohemian contacts prior to
that date, to discover potential sources for his copy of the illustration of the
monstrosity. Luther was an avid letter writer. Especially during the turmoil
of the early years of the Reformation, he wrote regularly to his advisers and
supporters, people like Georg Spalatin (the chaplain, librarian, and private
secretary to Luther’s prince, the Elector of Saxony), and to Johann Lang (a
humanist Augustinian who was the prior of the Augustinian monastery at
Erfurt). In letters to these and other friends, Luther not only chronicled the
course of the Reformation, but also described the development of his own
thinking and commented on the books and pamphlets he was reading.
In a letter to Georg Spalatin dated February 3, 1521,66 Luther states that
he has received a book written by a learned young Bohemian that attempts to
prove that St. Peter never traveled to nor was ever present in Rome. Were this
contention to be true, it would call into question the primacy of the bishop
of Rome, which was based, at least in part, upon Rome’s being the episcopal
see of St. Peter. The book to which Luther referred is a treatise by Ulrichus
Velenus (Oldřich Velenský) entitled Petrum Romam non venisse.67 Circum-
stantial evidence suggests that Luther received a copy of von Olmütz’s Roman
monster at the same time that he received Velenus’s treatise. However, before

63.  WA, 10.1/2:107.

64. Scribner, For the Sake of Simple Folk, 124; Zambelli, “Astrologi hallucinati”; Barnes, Prophecy and Gno-
sis, 143; Thorndike, History of Magic, 5:178–­233.
65.  WA, 10.1/2:LIV–­LVI.
66. WABr, 2:260; St.L., 21a:330–­31.
67.  The full title of Velenus’s treatise is In hoc libello gravissimis, certissimisque, et in sacra scriptura fundatis
rationibus variis probatur, Apostolum Petrum Romam non venisse, neque illic passum, proinde satis frivole, et
temere Romanus Pontifex se Petri successorem iactat, et nominat etc. See Lamping, Ulrichus Velenus, 209–­76;
WABr, 2:261n9; St.L., 21a:330–­31, 331n6.
68 Chapter 2

pursuing that point, Luther’s other Bohemian contacts prior to February 1522
must be examined as possible sources for his knowledge of the monster.
Before February 1522, in addition to Velenus, there is record of Luther’s
having contact with three other Bohemians, all in connection with the Leipzig
Disputation. This debate took place in 1519, famous for being the occasion on
which Luther first publicly endorsed some of Hus’s ideas. In the audience at
Leipzig was an Utraquist organist from Prague named Jacob. After the debate,
he spoke with Luther and agreed to send him some writings of John Hus.
When Jacob returned to Prague he told the clergy at the Teyn Church about
Luther’s defense of Hus. The pastor, Jan Poduška, and his vicar, Master Václav
Rožd’alovský, then sent letters of support to Luther. Pastor Poduška also sent a
gift of cutlery and Vicar Rožd’alovský sent a copy of Hus’s De ecclesia. Luther
received the letters and gifts in October 1519.68 In light of the fact that the Utra-
quists, at this time, were seeking papal recognition and closer relations with
Rome, it seems that these contacts were merely friendly gestures toward some-
one who had embraced their revered founder rather than an attempt to spread
antipapal propaganda. It therefore seems unlikely that organist Jacob, Pastor
Poduška, or Vicar Rožd’alovský gave the von Olmütz illustration to Luther.
During this same time period, there occurred one other reference to
Bohemia in a letter that Luther sent to Johann Lang. In December 1519,
Luther wrote Lang telling him of a tract that was circulating in Wittenberg,
which was believed to be by a Bohemian and made a learned, theological
argument against the tyranny of the Roman [papal] court.69 This is indeed
an interesting reference, but scholars have been unable to identify either the
author or the title of the tract. It therefore remains obscure and thus unhelpful
in solving the present question. The February 3, 1521, reference to a treatise
by a “learned young Bohemian” appears to be the contact most likely con-
nected with the illustration of the monster.
The content of the Velenus treatise and the content of the von Olmütz
engraving are remarkably complementary. As noted in chapter l, sectarian
opponents of the papacy took a picture that was based on a popular belief and
transformed it into a satiric pasquinade that condemned papal claims to secular
jurisdiction. Likewise, the Velenus treatise attacked one of the main foundations

68.  Jan Poduška to Luther, July 17, 1519, WABr, 1:416–­18; Václav Rožd’alovský to Luther, July 17, 1519,
ibid., 419–­20; Luther to Johann Staupitz, October 3, 1519, ibid., 514; St.L., 15:1370–­74, 2452; Thomson,
“Luther and Bohemia,” 170.
69.  St.L., 21a:215; WABr, 1:597, 598n9.
The Roman Monster in the Kingdom of Bohemia, 1498–­1523 69

of papal jurisdiction by disputing that St. Peter was the first bishop of Rome and
thus denying that the pope was the heir of St. Peter. This chapter has argued that
the symbolic message of the Roman monster engraving expressed the polemi-
cal attitude of the religious radicals in Bohemia during the first two decades of
the sixteenth century. The career and the writings of Ulrichus Velenus serve to
illustrate this point. An examination of his life and works suggests that he is the
most likely source for Luther’s copy of Wenzel von Olmütz’s engraving.
Velenus was born circa 1495 near Mnichov, some fifty miles north of
Prague. A member of the minor gentry, he attended university in Prague,
receiving his bachelor of arts degree in 1515. After graduation he continued
to study the works of various humanists and learned the trade of a printer.
In 1518, he began working in Mladá Boleslav (Jung-­Bunzlau) at the printing
press of Mikuláš Klaudián (Nicholas Claudianus), a learned physician and
member of the Bohemian Brethren; Mladá Boleslav was one of the major cen-
ters for the Brethren. A year later, Velenus became an independent printer in
Bělá pod Bezdězem (Weißwasser), to which he probably moved so that he
could be resident on the estates of Jan Špeta of Janovice and thus come under
his protection. Špeta was one of the leading noblemen of the Utraquist party,
but he nevertheless offered protection to various members of the Unity.70
From the start of his publishing career, Velenus seems to have had an
agenda to publish Czech translations of books and treatises that called the
concept of papal primacy into question.71 For example, he translated and pub-
lished Erasmus’s Enchiridion or Handbook of the Christian Knight, because,
as he wrote, he felt it would provide his readers with arguments for criticism
of the traditional church.72 He also published a Czech version of the anony-
mous Julius exclusus, a scathing attack on the warmongering of the Renais-
sance papacy. Another of Velenus’s works was a translation of a dialogue of
the ancient satirist Lucian, wherein the author argues that rich and poor, free
and slave should all be treated equally,73 a theme that resonated well with the
In November 1520, Velenus published his Petrum Romam non venisse.
Unlike most of his other works, which were Czech translations published in
Bohemia, this work was written in Latin and printed in Augsburg and Basel.

70.  The best biographical treatment of Velenus can be found in Lamping, Ulrichus Velenus, 41–­69.
71.  Ibid., 63.
72.  Ibid., 51.
73.  Ibid., 54.
70 Chapter 2

Given that the treatise was so critical of the papacy, he probably feared that
it would cause embarrassment for his Utraquist patron if he published it in
Bohemia. Also, he clearly wanted his work to have an impact outside as well
as inside the Czech realm. Shortly after its publication, Velenus either per-
sonally delivered a copy or had a copy delivered to Martin Luther. Only three
months after its publication Luther wrote to Spalatin making it clear that he
had read Velenus’s work.
In the Petrum Romam non venisse, Velenus uses copious historical and
scriptural references to argue that St. Peter never traveled to Rome and was
therefore never present to serve as the bishop of Rome.74 If this contention
were true, then the bishop of Rome would not be the heir of St. Peter (the
indignus haeres beati Petri, to use Pope Leo I’s term), and his claims to the
power of the keys would be false. The rejection of the “heirship of the pope,”75
with its implied rejection of the papal claims to the power of the keys, is the
main point of Velenus’s treatise. He thus offers a verbal articulation of the
message conveyed symbolically in von Olmütz’s illustration of the Roman
monster. In the picture, a demonic, derisive, and defamatory monster stands
in juxtaposition to an outsized cross-­keys banner streaming from atop the
Castel Sant’Angelo, clearly condemning papal jurisdictional claims.
Velenus is equally clear and direct. In his title he states, “It is therefore
quite worthless and audacious for the Roman Pontiff to suppose that he is
and to call himself the successor of Peter, etc.”76 He describes the Antichrist as
being “now present in the Roman Church,”77 and he connects the Antichrist
with the Donation of Constantine when he writes, “The Antichrist, under the
name of Sylvester, regarded the secular kingdom as a gift from the Emperor
Constantine to himself.”78 He mentions that Lorenzo Valla has proved that the
Donation of Constantine was a forgery. He uses apocalyptic diction when he
queries, “Do you believe that the Church, which was founded by a poor Christ,
and which was extended by poor apostles, ought to have so much wealth and
power? And that in it one man should rule over everyone? The Church would
then be nothing but a tyranny. Unfortunately, the Church has become just

74.  For a summary of the contents of the Petrum Romam non venisse, see ibid., 7–­26.
75.  The phrase “heirship of the pope” is used by Ullmann, History of Political Thought: Middle Ages, 25.
76. Lamping, Ulrichus Velenus, 7.
77. Ibid.
78.  Ibid., 118.
The Roman Monster in the Kingdom of Bohemia, 1498–­1523 71

such a tyranny: the whore, Babylon, arrayed in purple.”79 He exhorts, “Oh,

that everyone should follow our [Bohemian] example and defect from that
Babylon.”80 And he concludes by saying that he wants to bring to light “the
faults and errors of the Babylon of the West.”81
The similarity in content between the symbols in the engraving of the
Roman monster and the language in the Petrum Romam non venisse treatise
suggests that they may have been sent to Luther together. None of Luther’s
other documented Bohemian contacts that occurred before February 1522 is
as directly associated with the theme of the von Olmütz reproduction as the
Petrum Romam non venisse. Furthermore, from the point of view of chronol-
ogy and timing, Luther’s receipt of Velenus’s treatise occurred closest in time
to the point when he first stated his awareness of the Roman monster. Ulti-
mately, we can never know with absolute certainty how Luther acquired the
picture of the Roman monster; however, the available documentation sug-
gests that when he was given the Velenus treatise he also received a copy of
the von Olmütz engraving.82
Though intrigued by Velenus’s treatise, Luther was not convinced by his
argument. In a letter to Spalatin, Luther calls Velenus “a learned young man”
but he also notes “he does not prove [his case].”83 In the long run, it was not
Velenus’s treatise but rather the von Olmütz illustration that had the greatest
impact on the Reformation. Luther and his colleague Melanchthon decided
to use the illustration as the basis for a vituperative, antipapal propaganda
pamphlet, in which Melanchthon drew on the medieval commonplace of the
papal Antichrist. The meaning and historical development of the papal Anti-
christ topos is the subject of chapter 3.

79. Ibid.
80.  Ibid., 21.
81.  Ibid., 26.
82. Köhler, Luther und die Kirchengeschichte, 222. Köhler emphatically states, “es wird wohl sicher ange-
nomen werden dürfen, das [sic] jener iuvenis eruditus, der ihm das Büchlein des Ulrich Velenus brachte,
auch den Papstesel ihm gab.” While I agree with Köhler’s conclusion, I feel that, on the basis of the available
evidence, the case must be expressed as “very likely” rather than as “certain.”
83. WABr, 2:260; and St.L., 21a:330–­31. Luther did, however, take over one part of Velenus’s argument,
namely, that Peter could not have been a bishop in Rome for twenty-­five years, as church tradition asserted.
See Lamping, Ulrichus Velenus, 139.
Chapter 3

The Papal Antichrist

The epithet “Antichrist,” used by Philip Melanchthon in his pope-­ass
diatribe, conveyed layers of meaning that had developed throughout the Mid-
dle Ages. Within Western Christendom, theologians, reformers, and polem-
icists utilized the idea of “Antichrist” to help elucidate the apocalyptic end of
time, to interpret the meaning of historical and contemporary events, and to
defame political and/or religious opponents. Sometimes the term functioned
only as a maligning appellation, but more often it served both as a polemical
smear and as part of a theoretical, interpretive construct designed to help
explain historical and contemporary events in the context of an apocalyptic
view of history.1 Some authors saw the Antichrist as the deceiving evil demon
that would appear at the end of time; others viewed him as a political tyrant
who would oppose the pope and oppress the clergy. For some, he was a false
priest who would ascend to the apostolic see; for others, Antichrist stood for
the entire institution of the papacy and the hierocratic system that it symbol-
ized. Since Melanchthon’s use is closest to this last perspective, this chapter
focuses on the development of the motif of the papal Antichrist.
One can distinguish three separate phases in the evolution of the con-
cept of the Antichrist within medieval Western Christianity associated, in
turn, with Abbot Adso (ca. 910–­992), the Joachimites, and John Wyclif (ca.
1335–­84) and the Czech reformers. Abbot Adso summarized the received
tradition for the West, laying out the basic narrative, reporting the origin,
deeds, and apocalyptic end of Christ’s evil opposite. Joachim of Fiore (ca.
1135–­1202) provided an interpretive schema that made it possible to use the
figurative language of the book of Revelation to account for the course of
history. Specifically, Joachim’s interpretation of the events of the end of time
allowed the apocalyptic Final Enemy to be understood as a false pope. A vari-
ety of subsequent Joachimite interpreters used the notion of the Final Enemy
as false pope to attack individual popes as the Antichrist.

1. McGinn, Antichrist, 120–­21.

The Papal Antichrist 73

At the end of the fourteenth century, John Wyclif developed a number of

interconnected theological insights that led him to conclude that the corrupt
papacy of the Schism and the venal hierocratic clergy amounted to a collec-
tive Antichrist. He expressed this idea through a figure of speech that became
highly influential—­the Antichrist antitheses. Finally, the Czech reformers of
the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries developed an elaborate theology of
the collective Antichrist, which radical Hussites then applied to the papacy,
using an expanded and thoroughly documented version of Wyclif ’s Antichrist
antitheses. The Hussites also developed an extensive anatomical metaphor for
describing the monstrosity of the Antichrist. Thus, when Melanchthon called
the pope-­ass a figura of the Antichrist, he understood multiple meanings:
theological, apocalyptic, historical, polemical, and antipapal.

The Received Tradition: Abbot Adso

The Bible contains four specific references to the Antichrist as well as sev-
eral other passages traditionally construed as referring to him. The specific
references are 1 John 2:18, 2:22, and 4:3, and 2 John 7. Other passages tradi-
tionally understood as referring to Antichrist (but without using the term)
are 2 Thessalonians 2:3–­8, Revelation 13 and 19:20, Matthew 24, and Daniel
8 and 9:27. These scriptural references establish that the Antichrist is the Evil
One who comes at the end of time, that he denies the incarnation of Christ,
that his reign has already begun, and that there is more than one Antichrist,
for the Antichrist has minions who come before him that are also referred to
as Antichrists. Beyond these general points scripture gives little other detail
about the Final Enemy.
A much more elaborate version of the Antichrist legend became avail-
able to the West thanks to the West Frankish monk Adso, abbot of Montier-­en-­
Der. In about 950 he composed his Letter on the Origin and Life of Antichrist,
addressed to Gerberga, the sister of Emperor Otto I and the wife of Louis IV
of the West Franks. Drawing on patristic and Byzantine sources,2 Abbot Adso
portrays the life of Antichrist as a parody of the life of Jesus. The Antichrist’s
parents are Jews from the tribe of Dan. At the moment of his conception
the devil enters his mother’s womb; he thus becomes thoroughly wicked and
is known as the “Son of Perdition.” Born in Babylon, as a boy he has magi-
cians, enchanters, and wizards who tutor him in evil. As a young man he

2.  Ibid., 312n120. For an English translation of Adso’s letter, see McGinn, Apocalyptic Spirituality, 89–­96;
McGinn, Visions of the End, 84–­87.
74 Chapter 3

goes to Jerusalem. There, in a mock parallel to Jesus, he circumcises himself

and pretends to be the Son of God. He sets up his throne in the holy temple
and converts kings and princes to his cause. With their help he tries to con-
vert the rest of the people. In his efforts to proselytize, he performs signs and
wonders, calling fire down from heaven and making the sea first stormy and
then becalmed. He even raises the dead. God sends the prophets Enoch and
Elijah back into the world to defend the faithful but Antichrist manages to
slay them. Thereafter, he persecutes the remaining Christians, making them
either martyrs or apostates. He tortures the people of God for three and a half
years and then Jesus intervenes to slay him. The Lord then gives the elect forty
days to do penance if they were led astray. Following this period of penance,
Judgment Day arrives, though no one can know when that will be.3
This biography provided the medieval West with a convenient summary
of received knowledge about the Antichrist. But the legend acquired a much
more elaborate interpretation in the work of Joachim of Fiore, a Calabrian
abbot who was the most original and influential apocalyptic thinker of the
high Middle Ages. A brilliant scriptural exegete, Joachim reinterpreted Adso’s
biography, tying the story of Antichrist to an explanation of the historical
process. He thereby provided a theoretical framework, terminology, and ana-
lytical categories that proved influential on many subsequent interpreters of
the legend.4

Joachim of Fiore and the Joachimites

Joachim was born about 1135 in Calabria, the son of a notary who worked
at the Sicilian court. His family expected him to follow his father’s career,
but after a pilgrimage to the Holy Land he decided on a religious life. He was
ordained and entered a Benedictine monastery, but later withdrew to found
his own order.5 In his writings, Joachim reconceptualized the story of sal-
vation, adding a Trinitarian approach to the customary dual periodization
of Old Testament/New Testament, law/gospel. Christian historical thought
traditionally conceived of time in a linear way; the story of salvation began

3.  This epitome of Adso’s letter is based on the translation given in McGinn, Apocalyptic Spirituality, 89–­96.
4.  Lerner, “Antichrists and Antichrist in Joachim of Fiore,” 569, 569–70n54.
5.  Summaries of Joachim’s thought and assessments of his historical influence can be found in McGinn,
Antichrist, 135–­142; Douie, Nature and Effect of the Heresy of the Fraticelli, 23–­48; Leff, Heresy in the Later
Middle Ages, 1:68–­83; McGinn, Apocalyptic Spirituality, 97–­148; McGinn, Calabiran Abbot; Reeves, Influ-
ence of Prophecy in the Later Middle Ages; Reeves and Hirsch-­Reich, Figurae of Joachim of Fiore.
The Papal Antichrist 75

with the Fall, progressed toward the Incarnation, and would end with the
Second Coming. Joachim assumed that the triune God was imbedded within
the world he had created; there is, therefore, a connection between the course
of history and the Trinity. In his system, each person of the Trinity has its own
era (or status, to use Joachim’s term). The first status, from Adam to Christ,
is the era of God the Father. The second status, from King Josiah to the pres-
ent, is the time of God the Son. The third status proceeds from the first two,
is ascribed to the Holy Spirit, and is to be a period of moral renewal led by
monks. It begins with St. Benedict and lasts until the end of the world.6
Joachim’s concept of history was not only Trinitarian, it was also apoca-
lyptic. Though he avoided making precise predictions, “the inner logic of his
thought demanded that the end of the second status be realized soon after
1200.”7 As he wrote in his “Letter to All the Faithful,” the end of the second
status “will not take place in the days of your grandchildren or in the old age
of your children, but in your own days, few and evil.”8 In this apocalyptic phi-
losophy of history, the legend of the Antichrist was central. Joachim explained
his view of the Antichrist through an explication of the seven-­headed dragon
in Revelation 12.9 The seven heads represent seven tyrannical persecutors of
the church, namely Herod, Nero, Constantius (Constantius II [337–­361], the
Arian emperor), Mohammed, Mesemoth (a North African Moorish ruler),10
Saladin, and “the Seventh King, who is properly called Antichrist.”11
Joachim’s exegesis was innovative in several ways. His Trinitarian peri-
odization challenged the role of the church; by recasting the Christian con-
cept of time into three rather than two divisions, Joachim implicitly displaced
the church and the sacraments with a new dispensation in the third era.12
He historicized not only the Trinity but also the apocalypse and the Anti-
christ. For Joachim, the sixth head of the red dragon (Rev. 12:3) was Saladin,
who was leading the Saracens in war against the Christians (Jerusalem fell

6.  This Trinitarian periodization is explained in the Book of Concordance, bk. 2, pt. 1, chaps. 5–­12, trans-
lated in McGinn, Apocalyptic Spirituality, 124–­34. See also the Exposition on the Apocalypse, excerpted and
translated in McGinn, Visions of the End, 133–­34.
7. McGinn, Antichrist, 138.
8. McGinn, Apocalyptic Spirituality, 117.
9.  This explication is presented in Joachim’s Book of the Figures, “The Fourteenth Table, the Seven-­Headed
Dragon,” translated in ibid., 136–­41.
10.  Ibid., 294n5.
11.  Ibid., 136.
12. Leff, Heresy in the Later Middle Ages, 1:76.
76 Chapter 3

in 1187). The seventh head of the dragon, that would make common cause
with the sixth head, had already been born. This “Seventh-­Head” Antichrist,
acting as the evil reverse of Christ, would pose as prophet, priest, and king.
He would thus embody “the worst imaginable Western corporate dangers—­a
depraved royalty and a depraved papacy. . . .”13 Joachim did not perceive the
Jews as a threat; he therefore broke with the topos of the Antichrist as a Jew
from the tribe of Dan. Instead, Joachim made him into a false priest or a
false pope. While he did not characterize the institution of the papacy or any
individual pope as the Antichrist, his idea that the Final Enemy would be a
false pope encouraged others whom he influenced to develop the notion of
the papal Antichrist.14 By interpreting the figures and events of the apoca-
lypse in historical terms, Joachim provided an approach for later theologians
and visionaries to apply the Antichrist legend to historical and contemporary
events. The Spiritual Franciscans provide a good example of the use of the
Antichrist as a polemical weapon against the papacy of their day.

The Papal-­Franciscan Controversy

The question of ownership and use of property had become a matter of conten-
tion among the Franciscans while St. Francis (1182–­1226) was still alive. Fran-
cis of Assisi envisioned his order as embracing poverty without reservation or
compromise. This, however, proved impractical. The protector of the Francis-
can order and its chief proponent at the papal court was Ugolino (the nephew
of Pope Innocent III and the future Pope Gregory IX). He proposed drawing a
distinction between ownership and use of property. Shortly after St. Francis’s
death (1226), Gregory IX issued a bull known as Quo elongate, which inter-
preted the Franciscan rule so as to allow the friars to have “use” of houses, furni-
ture, and books, though these were to remain the “possessions” of the donors.15
This interpretation did not please all of the friars. In the mid-­thirteenth century,
a faction that later came to be known as the Spirituals insisted on shunning the
comfort of a convent, living lives of poverty without homes or property. Their
opponents within the order were known as Conventuals. By the end of the cen-
tury, a Franciscan Conventual became Pope Nicholas IV (1288–­1292). He was
especially harsh in his efforts to suppress the Spirituals.

13.  Lerner, “Antichrists and Antichrist,” 568.

14. McGinn, Antichrist, 142.
15.  Lester K. Little, “Franciscans,” in DMA, 5:198.
The Papal Antichrist 77

One of the major voices for the Spirituals at this time was Ubertino of
Casale, who taught in Florence and preached in Tuscany around 1300. He
is best known for his Arbor vitae crucifixae, a kind of prose epic of the life
and passion of Christ together with a commentary on the apocalypse that
shows strong Joachimite influences.16 In this work Ubertino is highly critical
of Pope Boniface VIII (1294–­1303), calling him “not only the mystic Anti-
christ but the beast arising out of the sea, whose seven heads represented
the seven deadly sins, while his ten horns were his infringements of the Ten
With the election of Pope Clement V (1305–­14), matters improved for
the Spirituals, for he showed them greater sympathy and actively worked to
reintegrate the two Franciscan factions. Following Clement, however, mat-
ters took a much more ominous turn with the election of Pope John XXII
(1316–­34). In 1317 he issued a bull, Sancta Romana, essentially declaring war
against the Spirituals. He condemned their principles and imprisoned or exe-
cuted their leaders. Not satisfied with the suppression of the Spirituals, Pope
John turned against the Conventuals as well. In so doing, he disputed the
fundamental Franciscan teaching that Jesus and the apostles had lived lives
of poverty and that this therefore provided a justification for the Franciscans’
rejection of property. Franciscan evangelical poverty served as a kind of living
condemnation of the wealth of the church and the papacy. For John XXII,
matters worsened when his political nemesis, Emperor Louis IV of Bavaria
(1314–­1347), condemned him for his opposition to evangelical poverty and
emerged as the champion of the Spirituals and the dissident Conventuals, who
felt betrayed by John’s condemnation of apostolic poverty. These two groups
of dissident Franciscans came to be loosely referred to as Fraticelli. In the war
of words that accompanied this dispute, the Fraticelli began to call John XXII
a false pope and Antichrist.18
By the mid-­fourteenth century the Fraticelli could be found in Tuscany,
Umbria, the Marches of Ancona, the Kingdom of Naples, and elsewhere in

16. Douie, Nature and Effect of the Heresy of the Fraticelli, 133.

17.  Ibid., 139. The phrase “mystic Antichrist” derives from Peter John Olivi (ca. 1248–­98), a colleague
and friend of Ubertino, who wrote a Commentary on Revelation in which he interpreted the Antichrist as
twofold: the Antichristus mysticus and the Antichristus magnus. For Olivi, the Antichristus mysticus consists
of both evil laity and wicked clergy within Christianity; McGinn, Antichrist, 160.
18.  Ibid., 165–­66; McGinn, Visions of the End, 207–­8, 234; McGinn, Apocalyptic Spirituality, 149–­82;
Douie, Nature and Effect of the Heresy of the Fraticelli, 209–­47; Lester K. Little, “Franciscans,” in DMA,
78 Chapter 3

Italy. In 1354 the Fraticelli of Campania wrote a letter to the citizens of Narni
in Umbria, asking them to help some Fraticelli imprisoned by the Conventuals.
The hyperbolic tone of this letter makes it one of the most forceful examples of
Fraticelli use of the papal Antichrist epithet. It reads, in part:
The Abomination of Desolation is the principal source from which
have come all the temporal and spiritual evils that have reigned,
remained, and are grown wonderfully strong in the world for a long
time now. Among them are a manner of life that is bestial, volup-
tuous, brutal, vain, wanton, puffed-­up, unclean, polluted, stinking,
and carnal, as well as innumerable wars among Christians, earth-
quakes, accomplished slaughter, and the famines and pestilences
there have been. We are still in fear of many evils shortly to come
unless God provides a remedy. All the ills just mentioned and
many others have their origin, foundation, and root in the Abom-
ination of Desolation which today rules in the holy place, that is,
the Church. What is this Abomination of Desolation which stands
in the holy place, the Church? We respond with a sorrowful soul
that this Abomination of Desolation is the condemnation of the
life of Christ, of his poverty and that of his apostles made by Pope
John XXII thirty years ago and confirmed through his supporters
in a variety of ways. . . .
. . . Therefore Christ says in Matthew 24:15: “Let him who
reads understand,” that is, let him read in such a way that he
understands lest he be led into error and eternal damnation by
the Abomination. Do we not see what Christ said there about false
Christs, that is, false pontiffs and prelates, arising, and also about
false prophets, that is, false teachers and doctors, fulfilled almost
to the letter? It will not be completely fulfilled until the Great Anti-
christ comes. Without doubt we await him very soon, because
John and all his supporters without number are his messengers
and chief disciples. . . .19
The history of the Fraticelli during the later fourteenth and fifteenth cen-
turies is a sad story of persecutions and executions. The Great Schism (1378–­
1415) brought them some respite, but with the reestablishment of a strong
papacy in Italy, efforts at their extirpation began again. Indeed, two Observan-

19. McGinn, Visions of the End, 237–­38, 337n27; Douie, Nature and Effect of the Heresy of the Fraticelli,
The Papal Antichrist 79

tine Franciscans became inquisitors with the specific charge of stamping out the
Fraticelli. By the 1460s these efforts were essentially successful.
The Franciscan Spirituals and the Fraticelli were struggling against the
condemnation of their ideals by Pope John XXII; in so doing, they made use
of the language and ideology of the Joachimite tradition. At the end of the
fourteenth century a new papal critic came into prominence, namely, John
Wyclif. Like the Franciscan dissidents, he made use of some of the terms of
the Joachimite tradition. He did not, however, embrace the ideology or the
historical interpretation that Joachim had put forward.20 Rather, he developed
his own theological doctrines that in turn provided intellectual support for
his antipapal polemics. Additionally, a series of specific events served to rad-
icalize his thinking about the pope. By the end of his life, he had rejected
the popes of the Schism and had concluded that they were the Antichrist.
He articulated his criticism of the papacy through a series of antitheses that
proved to be quite influential both on the Hussite movement and on the
Lutheran Reformation.

John Wyclif
John Wyclif spent most of his professional career as a teacher of philosophy
and theology at Oxford.21 During his life, England was greatly influenced by
two historical realities—­the Hundred Years’ War (1337–­1453) and the Avi-
gnonese papacy (1305–­78). The former resulted in financial strains that led
to talk of clerical taxation and ecclesiastical disendowment. The latter led to
resentments toward popes perceived as extravagant, Francophile, and exploit-
ative, who bestowed rich English benefices on foreigners who never came
near England.22
In this context, Wyclif developed theological and ecclesiological ideas
that both anticipated and influenced future efforts at religious reform. He
defined the true church as the congregation of the predestinate (congregatio
omnium predestinatorum). The actual, visible church of the pope and clerical
hierarchy was not necessarily identical to the true church, because only God
could know who was predestined. For Wyclif, a believer’s salvation no lon-
ger depended upon his connection to the visible church or the mediation of

20. Workman, John Wyclif, 2:99.

21.  The best discussion of Wyclif within the Scholastic tradition at Oxford is Robson, Wyclif and the
Oxford Schools.
22.  Matthew, “Introduction,” in Wyclif, English Works, viii; Trevelyan, England in the Age of Wycliffe, 117.
80 Chapter 3

the priesthood. The edicts of the actual church need only be followed if they
conformed to God’s will and if those issuing the edicts demonstrated, by their
lives, that they were members of the true church.23
This uniting of legitimate authority with a godly life is closely related to
one of Wyclif ’s best-­known ideas, his theory of the dominion of grace.24 Briefly
stated, the doctrine holds that legitimate lordship or dominium belongs to
God. Men receive grants of dominion from God by divine grace so that they
can perform their functions in society. There can be “no dominion without
grace” and “conversely mortal sin in destroying grace destroy[s] dominion.”25
For a man properly to exercise authority he must render service to God by
living a God-­pleasing, righteous life. Only God can judge a man’s righteous-
ness, but those who commit mortal sin clearly forfeit their legitimate domin-
ion.26 Although this doctrine could apply equally well to religious and secular
authorities, Wyclif focused its implications mainly on the clergy.
Wyclif ’s theological ideas were closely related to his critical stance
toward the papacy and papal authority. Yet it was not so much the logical
implications of his doctrines as it was the effect of a series of events that served
to galvanize him into vocal opposition to the papacy. In 1377, Pope Gregory
XI (1371–­78) condemned Wyclif and attempted to have him arrested and
held as a papal prisoner. In 1378, the calamitous Great Schism of the papacy
began. The ongoing vitriolic and violent struggle between Urban VI (1378–­
89) and Clement VII (1378–­94), the personal excesses and ill-­considered pol-
icies of Pope Urban, and England’s involvement in an unsuccessful military
campaign on behalf of Urban (known as Spenser’s Crusade, 1383) motivated
Wyclif to a fierce attack against the papacy.27
During the last six years of his life, Wyclif wrote a number of antipapal
tracts.28 In the first of these, De potestate pape (1379),29 he praised apostolic

23.  “Wyclif, John,” in DMA, 12:708; and Workman, John Wyclif, 2:12.
24.  Kaminsky, “Wyclifism as Ideology of Revolution,” 64–­66; Leff, Heresy in the Later Middle Ages, 2:546–­
25.  Ibid., 2:547.
26.  “Wyclif, John,” in DMA, 12:707; Matthew, “Introduction,” in Wyclif, English Works, xxxiv.
27. Workman, John Wyclif, 2:74.
28.  Wyclif “often prepared a triple series of writings—­one a lengthy Latin treatise, addressed to a Scholas-
tic audience; the second a short Latin summary intended for a lettered but less leisured circle of readers;
the third a popular presentation of his ideas in English. Such a series may be found in De potestate pape, De
ordine christiano, and De papa; Winn, “Introduction,” in Wyclif: Select English Writings, xxx.
29.  The text is edited and annotated in Wyclif, Tractatus de potestate pape, ed. Loserth. For the dating of De
potestate pape, see especially Loserth, “Introduction,” in ibid., lii. See also Workman, John Wyclif, 2:74–­79.
The Papal Antichrist 81

poverty as an appropriate standard for judging the holiness of the popes, urged
the popes to renounce temporal authority and temporal splendor, rejected
the doctrines of Petrine supremacy and the power of the keys, contrasted the
characteristics of the Antichrist (and the schismatic popes) with the example
of the life of Christ,30 and condemned the popes of the Schism as Antichrists.
In this work, Wyclif did not categorically reject Pope Urban, though he was
highly critical of him. In sum, the gist of De potestate pape was that the church
did not need a pope for its existence.31
In a shorter work probably written later that same year, De ordine
christiano,32 Wyclif gave a digest of De potestate pape, focusing primarily on
whether the church needed the papacy. The De papa,33 written in English,
dated from either 1379 or 1380; it provided a summary of the main points of
these two Latin works. In late 1383 or early 1384 he wrote De Christo et suo
adversario Antichristo.34 This work reflected Wyclif ’s most strident position,
which he reached after having observed several years of contention between
Urban and Clement and after witnessing Spenser’s Crusade. Shortly before
his death he wrote “Of Antichrist and his Meynee” (ca. 1384).35
In these works, Wyclif used apocalyptic concepts to explain the meaning
of the Great Schism. He adopted terms and phrases from the medieval Anti-
christ tradition, but placed them in a new interpretive construct centered on
his doctrines of predestination and the dominion of grace. To argue that the

30. Wyclif, Tractatus de potestate pape, ed. Loserth, chap. 6, 120–­25. This is the earliest listing of the Anti-
christ antitheses of which I am aware. Here Wyclif lists eleven characteristics; in the version discussed in
greater detail below he expands this number to twelve.
31.  Loserth, “Introduction,” in Wyclif, Tractatus de potestate pape, liv.
32.  The text of De ordine christiano is in Wyclif, Opera minora, 129–­39; see also Loserth, “Introduction,”
in ibid., xxii–­xxiv.
33.  The text of De papa is in Wyclif, English Works, ed. Matthew, 460–­82. It should be noted that Anne
Hudson, “Wyclif,” in DMA, 12:710, questions the reliable attribution of all of Wyclif ’s vernacular writings.
Workman, John Wyclif, 1, app. C, 331, addresses the authenticity of the vernacular works with the com-
ment, “the reader should remember that the [English] writings are genuine enough as far as matter goes;
the voice is the voice of Wyclif though the hand is not always his. We must remember that if Wyclif dictated
the scribe would pen it in his own dialect.” Matthew, “Introduction” and annotation in Wyclif, English
Works, xlix, 458; Workman, John Wyclif, 2:81n3; Winn, “Introduction,” in Wyclif, Select English Writings,
xxxiv, all argue for the authenticity of De papa.
34.  This treatise is available with critical commentary and notes in two locations: Buddensieg “Johann
Wiclif ’s De Christo et adversario suo Antichristo” (for comments on authenticity and dating, see esp. p.
19). See also De Christo et suo adversario Antichristo in Wyclif, Polemical Works in Latin, ed. Buddenseig,
2:633–­92 (for comments on authenticity and dating, see esp. 2:637–­41).
35.  “Of Antichrist and his Meynee,” in Wyclif, Three Treatises, ed. Todd, cxv–­cliv.
82 Chapter 3

papacy of the Schism was the Antichrist, he developed a series of twelve antith-
eses between Christ and the deceiving Evil One. In using apocalypticism to
interpret historic events, Wyclif was not unlike Abbot Adso, Abbot Joachim,
or the Spiritual Franciscans, but his frame of reference was quite different from
that of Adso or the Joachimites. His conclusions were that the Schism was a sign
of the imminent end of the world, that the actions of the popes indicated that
they were the Antichrist, that good Christians should therefore withhold obe-
dience from them, and that the church really did not need the papacy. He even
asserted that the Schism was positive in that it provided God an opportunity
to reveal himself to mankind by beheading the Antichrist.36 He thus used the
concept of Antichrist both as an interpretive construct and as a term of abuse
for condemning incarnate evil.
Wyclif based his arguments against the papacy on his teachings of pre-
destination and dominion of grace. He believed that Christianity is divided
between those foreknown to damnation and those predestined to be mem-
bers of the true church. Only God can know who is foreknown and who
predestined, but Christians may tentatively assume the predestination of oth-
ers based on their deeds of holiness. Furthermore, according to the idea of
dominion of grace, all legitimate authority comes from God through his Holy
Spirit and is given only to the righteous. Those who commit mortal sin lose
their legitimate dominion. St. Peter became Christ’s vicar because he lived a
Christlike life. But that authority was Peter’s alone. The primacy of the pope is
based upon a primacy of character—­living a life of righteousness in imitation
of the values and virtues of Christ. A pope’s sanctity and deeds of holiness
can convince Christendom both of his predestination and of his legitimate
dominion. But a pope who departs from the holy ways of Christ condemns
himself as the Antichrist.37
In order to portray the sinfulness of the popes of the Schism, Wyclif
developed twelve characteristics of the sanctity of Christ; he then contrasted
these with the actions and demeanor of the popes. These twelve antitheses are
1. Christ is the truth; the pope is the principle of falsehood and lies, in words,
writings, and works.

36. Wyclif, De papa, in English Works, ed. Matthew, 461–­62.

37.  Wyclif insisted that a “true” pope ought to fulfill the thirty-­four characteristics that St. Bernard rec-
ommended to Pope Eugene III (1145–­53); see Wyclif, De potestate pape, ed. Loserth, xxx, 269–­70; Work-
man, John Wyclif, 2:77. See also Bernard of Clairvaux, Five Books on Consideration, trans. Anderson and.
Kennan, 137–­38.
The Papal Antichrist 83

2. Christ embraced a life of poverty; the pope seeks worldly magnificence.

3. Christ embodied meekness and humility; the pope demonstrates pride and
cruelty, sending a crusade against his enemies.
4. Christ’s law is perfect and sufficient; the pope introduces new cruel laws with
which he oppresses the faithful.
5. Christ exhorted missionary zeal; the pope and his followers reign in gorgeous
palaces or shut themselves up in monasteries.
6. Christ renounced secular power; the pope claims dominion over all earthly
7. Christ obeyed the emperor, paid the tribute money [Matt. 17:23–­26], and
taught his disciples to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s [Matt.
22:21]; the pope subverts and weakens secular authorities.
8. Christ chose twelve honest, plain, poor men as his disciples; the pope chooses
crafty, ambitious, worldly men as his cardinals.
9. Christ suffered for his followers; the pope exhorts to war.
10. Christ confined his mission to Judea; the pope sends his emissaries into every
land in order to expand his power.
11. Christ lived without pomp and was always ready to serve; the pope has a mag-
nificent court and demands homage, even from the emperor.
12. Christ despised worldly fame and wealth; the pope considers everything as

In De potestate pape, De Christo et suo adversario Antichristo, De papa, and

“Of Antichrist and his Meynee,” Wyclif gave numerous examples to illustrate
these contrasts between Christ and the pope.
The moral turpitude of the schismatic popes and the degradation of the
late medieval hierarchical church elicited Wyclif ’s initial criticism of the papacy,
but he quickly moved from excoriating individual popes to condemning the
whole papacy as an institution. As he wrote in his Opus evangelicum, “The pope
is the evident [patulus] Antichrist, not just the individual person who sets up
more laws that are against Christ’s law, but the multitude of popes from the time
of the Church’s endowment—­and of cardinals, bishops, and their other accom-
plices. The person of Antichrist is a monstrous composite one.”39

38.  On the Antichrist antitheses, see Buddensieg, Wiclif ’s Polemical Works, 636–­37; Buddensieg, “Wiclif ’s
De Christo et advesario suo Antichristo,” 17–­18.
39.  Quoted in McGinn, Antichrist, 182. See also Patschovsky, “‘Antichrist’ bei Wyclif,” esp. 91.
84 Chapter 3

The notion of the Antichrist as a collective phenomenon developed along

a parallel track in the teachings of the native Czech reformers—­the leaders of
an indigenous movement of moral reform in fourteenth-­and early fifteenth-­
century Bohemia. The work of the earliest leaders of the Czech reform actu-
ally predated the arrival of Wyclif ’s writings in Prague, even though their
ideas were similar to his in many ways. When Wyclif ’s teachings arrived in
Bohemia, they enjoyed quick acceptance among the Czech reformers.

The Czech Reform—­The Collective Antichrist

The pre-­Hussite and early Hussite reformers developed the concept of a col-
lective Antichrist, making it into an instrument of moral reform and placing
it within an historical interpretation that was critical of papalism, the policies
of popes such as Gregory VII or Innocent III who used the power of the keys
and the position of vicar of Christ to put forward claims to both spiritual
and temporal jurisdiction. They drew on a variety of medieval authors and
traditions and honed the figure of the Antichrist into a sharp weapon for anti-
papal attack. In so doing, they developed metaphors, figures of speech, and a
specialized vocabulary that not only articulated the Antichrist as a compos-
ite phenomenon, but also developed the Antichrist antitheses as a polemi-
cal trope, and introduced an anatomical metaphor as an expression of the
Antichrist’s wicked traits. One must therefore turn next to the themes of the
collective or “mystical” Antichrist, to the Antichrist antitheses, and to the
metaphorical “anatomy” of the Antichrist in order fully to understand the
levels of meaning conveyed by the term “Antichrist” when used as an epithet
against the pope.
The “father” of the Czech reform was John Milíč of Kromĕříž (Kremsier)
in Moravia (ca. 1325–­74). A tireless preacher, moral reformer, and charismatic
St. Francis-­like figure, Milíč introduced to the Bohemians the notion of the col-
lective Antichrist. He taught that Antichrist took the form of wickedness within
Christendom, especially on the part of corrupt, hypocritical clergy. He led a
preaching ministry of moral regeneration using the figure of the Antichrist as
one of his rhetorical weapons. Having been a successful bureaucrat in Emperor
Charles IV’s chancery, Milíč decided to take holy orders, renounce wealth and
worldly position, embrace poverty, and become a full-­time preacher, first in the
languages of Czech and Latin and later in German as well. He railed against
clergy who purchased their offices, held multiple offices, kept concubines, and
lived in luxury. He was especially intolerant of the laxity of the mendicant orders.
The Papal Antichrist 85

In his sermons, Milíč made use of the language of Antichrist eschatology. At

first he conceived of the Antichrist as a specific individual, but later he came to
see the Antichrist in more general terms, as a symbol for anyone who opposed
the regeneration of society along the lines of primitive apostolic Christianity.40
In his Libellus de Antichristo (Little Book on the Antichrist), Milíč assumed
the prophetic voice of one who is filled with the Holy Spirit. He described
the Antichrist as a composite or collective, “I said to the Spirit, which spake
within me, Who is Antichrist? And he answered, There are many Antichrists.
He who denies Christ, and the authority of Christ, is an Antichrist. And as
many who say they know him [Christ], deny him by their works, while others
deny him by keeping still and not daring to confess him and the truth of his
cause before men; conclude from this who is Antichrist.”41 For Milíč, this col-
lective Antichrist was not something to await in the future, but rather a real-
ity already present. The abomination of desolation of which Christ speaks in
Matthew 24:15, Milíč interpreted as corruption in the Church—­ecclesiastical
wealth, clerical luxury and concubinage, simony, pluralism, sale of the sacra-
ments, negligent clergy, monks hearing confession without license, and wide-
spread hypocrisy.
While Milíč’s Libellus de Antichristo thundered against sin and espe-
cially against the failings of the secular and regular clergy, it did not condemn
the pope as Antichrist. Rather, Milíč interpreted contemporary conditions in
an eschatological framework and called for a corrupt church to be renewed by
a great spiritual awakening and thus be prepared for the Second Coming and
the end of time. It is important to remember that Milíč was writing during
the Avignonese papacy, before the Great Schism. While he wanted Urban V
to return to Rome, he still could envision him as the leader of his wished-­for
spiritual renewal of the church.
The best known of the followers of Milíč was Matthew of Janov. In his
collection of works known as Regulae veteris et novi testamenti (The Rules of
the Old and the New Testament), he developed Milíč’s concept of a collective
Antichrist into a much more elaborate and systematic construct, placing it in

40.  Matthew of Janov preserved Milíč’s work by including it in his Regulae veteris et novi testamenti; see
Matthew of Janov, Regulae, ed. Kybal, 3:368–­81. See also Neander, General History, 5:178–­80; Preuss,
Die Vorstellungen vom Antichrist, 50n4; Kaminsky, History of the Hussite Revolution, 10–­11; Nechutová,
“Eschatologie in Böhmen vor Hus,” 63–­65.
41.  John Milíč, Libellus de Antichristo, in Matthew of Janov, Regulae, ed. Kybal, 3:376; Neander, General
History, 179.
86 Chapter 3

an historical context.42 A well-­educated man, Matthew studied in Paris from

1373 to 1381. There he earned the master of arts degree in three years and then
devoted the rest of his time to studying theology, though without completing
his doctorate. His years abroad earned him the title Magister Parisiensis—­the
Parisian master. Drawing on his formal theological training, Matthew pro-
vided a theoretical foundation to justify, promote, systematize, and perpet-
uate the Milíčian reform. He did this in his magnum opus, the Regulae. This
rather prolix work is, in fact, a collection of treatises in which Matthew laid
out a “radical critique of contemporary papalism and the papal system,”43 and
elaborated upon the concept of the collective Antichrist.
Matthew presented a vision of Antichrist that was contemporary, con-
textualized, and collective. He described the Antichrist as a present evil, not
one that would arrive only at some point in the distant future. Further, Mat-
thew placed the Antichrist in an historical context, using terms that were
barely veiled references to the anti-­Milíčian clergy of Prague or to the papa-
cy.44 But the historical frame of reference was much broader than the reform
controversy in Bohemia. Matthew cast the Antichrist as a wickedness that had
grown in magnitude since the victory of papal domination over the church
and secular society.45
For Matthew, Antichrist was a collective phenomenon, comprised of
pseudo-­Christians who embodied hypocrisy, avarice, and concupiscence.
Under the sham of holiness, the members of this composite Antichrist prac-
ticed religious rituals and external observances, undertook pilgrimages, ven-
erated saints’ relics, believed in satanic wonders, promoted the endowment
of purgatory masses, encouraged the sale of indulgences, and devoted them-
selves to the study of canon law to the neglect of scripture, all the while living

42.  The best discussions of Matthew of Janov are Kaminsky, History of the Hussite Revolution, 14–­23;
Kaminsky, “On the Sources of Matthew of Janov’s Doctrine”; Spinka, John Hus’ Concept of the Church, 16–­
21; Preuss, Vorstellungen vom Antichrist, 50–­51; Betts, “Some Political Ideas of the Early Czech Reformers,”
25–­26; Nechutová, “Eschatologie in Böhmen vor Hus,” 65–­67; Neander, “Über Matthias von Janov als
Vorläufer,” 92–­111; Neander, General History, 192–­235.
43.  Kaminsky, “Sources of Matthew of Janov’s Doctrine,” 1176.
44.  Matthew of Janov, Regulae, ed. Kybal, 3:4–­5, 8, 10, 17. Matthew speculated that Pope Clement VII,
the schismatic pope of Avignon, might be the great Antichrist (summus Antichristus) that would come
at the end of time. However, throughout the Regulae, his emphasis was on the collective rather than the
individual Antichrist. See Töpfer, “Chiliastische Elemente in der Eschatologie des Matthias von Janov,” 62.
45. Kaminsky, History of the Hussite Revolution, 21; Matthew of Janov, Regulae, ed. Kybal, 3:21–­23.
The Papal Antichrist 87

lives of carnality and cupidity. The Antichrist knew that he was doing evil,
but did it anyway, hiding his wickedness behind the appearance of holiness.46
To describe this multifarious composite of sinfulness Matthew used the
term “mystical body of Antichrist,”47 thereby appropriating a concept that can
be traced back to the African Donatist Tyconius (ca. 330–­ca. 390), and can be
found in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas and in the work of the Scholastic
theologian and Spiritual Franciscan Peter Olivi (ca. 1248–­1298), who was the
first to coin the phrase “Antichristus mysticus” as a description of the “body of
evildoers within Christianity.”48 In his schema, the mystical Antichrist com-
prised carnal laity, wicked clergy, an evil emperor, and a false pope.49 In fact,
Olivi was one of the first to attribute a central role to the papal Antichrist.
Within the prophetic tradition of the Franciscan Joachimites, the members of
the mystical Antichrist are precursors, or figurae, of the Antichristus literalis
et proprius (literal and proper Antichrist). Just as the mystical body of Christ
is the church, so the mystical body of Antichrist consists of heretics, unbeliev-
ers, and profligates within Christendom.
Matthew’s vision of Antichrist was a sophisticated abstraction. He iden-
tified Antichrist with hypocrisy, which he understood as “every use of the
good or of apparent good . . . that makes men so satisfied with themselves or
with other men as to draw them away from true humility of heart.”50 Using
this definition, Matthew attacked the introduction of secular values into the
church, which he dated circa 1200, meaning thereby the efforts of Innocent
III to implement the Hildebrandine system of papal supremacy in both the
spiritual and the temporal sphere. Matthew’s “ideal was the primitive church,
but practically speaking he was calling for a return to the pre-­Hildebrandine
system, before Antichrist had gained his control over the Roman institu-
tion.”51 Howard Kaminsky characterizes Matthew’s program not as “antipa-
pal” but rather as “antipapalist.”52 In other words, Matthew was not opposed
to all popes, but rather to the secularizing effect on the church that came

46.  Matthew of Janov, Regulae, ed. Kybal, 3:3–­4, 7, 14, 16, 18–­19.
47.  Ibid., 3:12.
48. McGinn, Antichrist, 160.
49.  Ibid., 326n52.
50.  Quoted in Kaminsky, “Sources of Matthew of Janov’s Doctrine,” 1179.
51. Kaminsky, History of the Hussite Revolution, 21.
52. Ibid.
88 Chapter 3

from papal efforts to dominate the world, and “the resulting permeation of
the church by the world.”53
Matthew envisioned pious preaching and frequent Communion as the
means that would lead to the defeat of Antichrist. The Prague Synod of 1388
contravened frequent Communion and even forced Matthew publicly to
recant his own belief in its importance. He and his fellow reformers, however,
still counted on preaching to effect reform. It was in the sermonizing of Czech
preachers that the next stage in the development of the papal Antichrist theme
took place. This was made possible by the endowment of a special chapel ded-
icated to preaching in the Czech language, the famous Bethlehem Chapel.
This institution gave an essential forum for men like John Hus and his fellow
reformer Jakoubek of Stříbro (Jacobellus of Mies) to explain and popularize
notions about the Antichrist.54
In 1391 two supporters of John Milíč, one a royal councilor, the other a
well-­to-­do merchant, founded the chapel, so named because of the accepted
etymology that “Bethlehem” meant “house of bread,” the purpose of the chapel
being to feed the hearers the Word of God, the “bread of life.” The chapel’s rai-
son d’être was to provide a venue for preaching in the Czech language. Prior to
its foundation, preaching in Prague was done almost exclusively either in Latin
or in German. As the foundation charter states, “Preachers in Czech are, for the
most part, forced to make use of houses and hiding places.”55 Clearly, a loca-
tion for Czech preaching was much needed. Able to accommodate nearly three
thousand souls, the chapel attracted throngs of churchgoers, including not
only artisans and members of the lower classes but also representatives of the
nobility and intelligentsia. In the early years of the fifteenth century, first John
Hus (1402) and then Jakoubek of Stříbro (1412) held the position of preacher
at Bethlehem Chapel. Through their work one can gain insight into how the
abstruse ideas of Matthew of Janov evolved into popular antipapal epithets.56
Hus’s leadership of the Czech reform, and especially his preaching at
Bethlehem Chapel, helped create an atmosphere of revolutionary agitation
for reform of the church in which the people literally took to the streets to
demand change. Hus preached against the vices of the clergy, condemned

53.  Ibid., 19.

54.  Odložilík, “Chapel of Bethlehem in Prague,” 125–­41; Spinka, John Hus’ Concept of the Church, 47–­51.
55.  Ibid., 50.
56.  The ideas of John Wyclif were also a very important influence on the thinking of John Hus and Jakou-
bek of Stříbro.
The Papal Antichrist 89

the Donation of Constantine as the beginning of papal wealth, pomp, and

corruption,57 contrasted the holy life of Christ with the sinful life of the pope,
and called for a return to the perfection of the primitive church before it was
corrupted by claims of secular jurisdiction. When he was accused of having
called the pope the Antichrist, he replied that he had not done so, though he
admitted that he did say that a pope “who sold benefices, who was arrogant,
greedy, and otherwise contrary to Christ in way of life, was Antichrist.”58 In
his De ecclesia he wrote, “As for antichrist occupying the papal chair, it is evi-
dent that a pope living contrary to Christ, like any other perverted person, is
called by common consent antichrist.”59 When accused of having called the
curia the synagogue of Satan, he answered that he had not said it as a fact,
but had said that “he had heard it said by those returning from Rome.”60 Hus
himself may have taken care to make these nice distinctions, but his audience
drew simpler conclusions. The “primitive church” became a catchphrase for
the opposite of everything that was wrong with the actual church; the fig-
ure of Antichrist became an “epitome of all who were loyal to the papal and
Roman establishment.”61
Hus’s colleague Jakoubek of Stříbro was an outspoken advocate for
utraquism (Communion in both kinds), and a proponent of restorationism
(reform of the church through the restoration of the practices of primitive,
apostolic Christianity). He was devoted both to the ideas of Matthew of Janov
and to the teachings of John Wyclif.62 In his treatise De antichristo, which
dates from 1412, Jakoubek made allusion to the papal Antichrist. For exam-
ple, he wrote,
The Antichrist is a false Christ or Christian, fraudulently opposite to the
truth of the life and teaching of Christ, running over with the highest
degree of malice, but concealed either wholly or for the most part; pos-
sessing the highest degree in the church and arrogating to himself the
highest authority over every person clerical or lay because of his fullness
of power [plena potestate], and controlling the greatest multitudes of the

57. Hus, De ecclesia, 129n2, 130.

58. Kaminsky, History of the Hussite Revolution, 40.
59. Hus, De ecclesia, 128.
60. Ibid.
61. Ibid.
62. Kaminsky, History of the Hussite Revolution, 40, 52, 55, 78, 180–­84; Spinka, John Hus’ Concept of the
Church, 80, 90, 298; Preuss, Vorstellungen vom Antichrist, 54–­57.
90 Chapter 3

rich and wise men of the age throughout the universal church, not from
his own action alone, but also from the action of Satan in agreement with
his aims and will, powerful in all the riches of the world, in authority, and
rank, but especially and principally abusing for his own glory and cupid-
ity these goods which are of Christ Jesus, as are the scriptures, the sacra-
ments and the outward and visible signs of religion, deceitfully deflecting
to the flesh things that are spiritual, and subtly and covertly fitting the
things that have been established and granted through Christ for salva-
tion, to seduction from the truth and virtue of Christ Jesus.63

One can gain a sense of the effect of the antipapal agitation in Prague by
the fact that, during the course of 1412, King Wenceslaus IV (1378–­1419)
attempted to forbid anyone from calling the pope the Antichrist!64
The fiery sermons at Bethlehem Chapel certainly contributed to popu-
lar agitation in early fifteenth-­century Prague. But in addition to incendiary
rhetoric, illustrations in the form of wall paintings and placards also served
to convey the reformers’ message of antipapalism. These illustrations were
a graphic realization of the so-­called Antichrist antitheses that John Wyclif
had spelled out in his De potestate pape and elsewhere. This motif involved
contrasting pairs of images, describing the humility, poverty, and charity of
Christ as opposed to the pomp, luxury, and cupidity of the pope. These rep-
resentations became the subject not only of paintings and placards, but of an
elaborate treatise written by the radical Hussite Nicholas of Dresden, entitled
Tables of the Old Color and the New. This treatise provided scholarly gravitas
for the motif and helped popularize it not only in Bohemia but elsewhere in
Europe as well.65

The Antichrist Antitheses

Master Nicholas was active as a schoolmaster among the German commu-
nity in Prague from 1412 to 1415. During this period, he emerged as one of
the leading reform ideologues among the Czechs and the chief promoter of
Hussite ideas among the Germans in Prague.66 His speaking to both com-

63.  Quoted in Preuss, Vorstellungen vom Antichrist, 56. For the archival location of Jakoubek’s treatise, see
ibid., 275–­76.
64. Kaminsky, History of the Hussite Revolution, 81. For a discussion of antichristology and popular culture
in fifteenth-­century Bohemia, see Fudge, “Night of the Antichrist,” 33–­45.
65.  Today manuscripts of the Tables are extant in Basel, Cracow, Karlsruhe, Prague, Vienna, and Herrnhut.
See OC&N, 32–­34.
66. Svec, Bildagitation, 128–­30; OC&N, 9.
The Papal Antichrist 91

munities is especially noteworthy, given the traditional animosity between

the Germans, who enjoyed an historic position of social superiority, and the
Czechs, who had begun to demand political and social equality. Precious little
is known of Nicholas’s biography. He was a master, presumably of arts, who
had formal training in canon law, for he was referred to as “baccalareus decre-
torum.” He was also a priest, but the location of his ordination is unknown.
His writings demonstrate a thorough familiarity with the ideas of John Wyc-
lif and Matthew of Janov, which suggests that he might have studied at the
University of Prague.67 He was associated with the scholars of the Dresden
School, a group of German secondary school masters who fled from Dres-
den to Prague after their bishop forbade secondary schools from teaching the
Bible and canon law. These masters had been expounding theology and canon
law with a strong antipapal slant for about a year and a half before the bishop
took action. They then went to Prague where the Czech reformers took them
in and gave them a place to live.68
A record of the Inquisition’s examination of a student from the Dresden
School provides insight into its teachings. In 1425, he told his inquisitorial
examiners that he had been taught that Christ, not the pope, was the head
of the church, that ordination gave a priest license to preach anywhere, that
priests should live without wealth and should not exercise secular dominion,
that the church should not have accepted the Donation of Constantine, and
that it was only necessary to believe what was in the Bible.69
Master Nicholas’s Tabulae veteris et novi coloris (Tables of the Old Color
and the New) is most likely his earliest work, dating from the first half of
1412.70 The title itself requires some explanation. The word tabulae means
“tables” in the sense of the “tables of the law,” a compendium of authori-
ties concerning the old, or primitive church, and the new, or contemporary,
church. Nicholas himself referred to this work using the title Cortina de Anti-
christo. The word cortina has the figurative meaning of a collection of author-
ities, and thus is essentially identical to the meaning of the word tabulae. The

67.  Ibid., 5–­9; Müller, “Magister Nikolaus von Dresden.”

68.  OC&N, 7.
69.  Ibid., 6.
70.  Ibid., 37. Howard Kaminsky et al. list eighteen works that can be attributed to Master Nicholas and an
additional nine works that are “possibly attributable” to him; ibid., 28–­34.
92 Chapter 3

term coloris refers not to actual “colors” but rather to the appearance, aspect,
or systems of the primitive versus the contemporary church.71
The form of the Tables is unusual and deserves comment. The tractate
reads as a kind of guide for artists who wished to create illustrations that
depicted the differences between the characteristics of the ancient, primitive
church and the contemporary Roman Church. It is hard to imagine that some-
one trained in canon law would choose the format of a handbook for artists as
a means to convey his radical ecclesiological ideas. If Nicholas, in fact, set out
to write an artist’s handbook, it shows great originality and creativity, for the
combination of text and pictures produced a powerful piece of propaganda.
Howard Kaminsky suggests that the Tables began as a topical collection of
authorities drawn from canon law, the church fathers, and scripture, culled to
document differences between the primitive and the contemporary churches.
As a student of Wyclif, Nicholas might have compiled such a list, for in his De
Christo et suo adversario Antichristo, Wyclif called for a repertory of this kind.72
Kaminsky posits that pictures were added to a catalogue of authorities, and
that the Tables then evolved into a “hard-­hitting and fast-­moving” polemic.73
Nicholas’s intended audience included both Bohemian Germans,
whom he wished to win over to sectarian reform, and Hussite intellec-
tuals, for whom he was providing historical, patristical, juridical, and
scriptural bases for the rejection of the papal church. The work appears
to have been quite popular. We know, for example, that Hussite agitators
carried protest posters based on the Tables.74 The pictures associated with
the Tables are no longer extant, though this pictorial tradition is captured
in some of the illustrations of the Göttingen Codex and the Jena Codex.75

71.  Ibid., 35; Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (1971), s.v. “colour.”
72.  In the De Christo et suo adversario Antichristo, Wyclif wrote, “Let a person look at the writings of the
apostles, which were written out of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and at the papal writings, such as bulls
and epistolary decrees. That person is able to understand in what way they do not agree in meaning, for the
papal writings talk about worldly excellence, while the evangelical writings introduce humble flight from
the world.” See OC&N, 10n37.
73.  Ibid., 10.
74.  Ibid., 25.
75.  Compiled probably as a memorial for the future, the Jena Codex contains 114 folios of mixed manu-
script content together with one incunabular section, dating from the period of 1490 to 1510. Sometime
after 1526, it was transported to Germany ending up in Jena, where it remained until it was returned to
Prague in 1951. An unknown artist provided the codex with several illuminations of the Antichrist antithe-
ses, derived from Nicholas of Dresden’s Tabulae veteris et novi coloris. See Dbroná, Jena Codex. The Göttin-
gen Codex was created in a Bohemian workshop in the 1460s; in 1776 the university library of Göttingen
acquired it. Its illustrations are also on the theme of the Antichrist antitheses. They are lightly sketched and
The Papal Antichrist 93

Fourteen manuscript versions of the Tables have survived.76

In the Tables, the commonplace of the papal Antichrist moves from the
realm of moral reform and academic critique into the sphere of popular pro-
paganda. The tone of the work is caustic. Its purpose is to provide an omnium-­
gatherum of authorities that praise the primitive church and condemn the
present-­day Roman Church. Citations to scripture or canon law provide the
subject matter for graphic illustrations of the differences between the two
churches. Because the focus is pictorial, the contrasts are represented in stark
terms. The Tables present the pope as a symbol of the corruption of the con-
temporary church. The complex idea of the mystical body of Antichrist with
Satan as its head is reduced to an image of the pope as Antichrist surrounded
by whores.77
The contrast between Christ and the pope stands as a metaphor for the
contrast between the system of the Roman Church (privileged hierarchy,
simonists, canon law, and jurisdictional claims) and the primitive church
(apostolic poverty, humility, long-­suffering, and moral perfection). Nicholas
presents the primitive church not just as an idealistic abstraction that can
serve as a moral guide, but as an historic reality that can actually be reborn.78
He provides the scholarly foundation for a “pictorial actualization of the
Primitive Church.”79
The tractate is divided into nine sections or tables, each having several
parts addressing either the old color (primitive church) or the new color (Roman
Church).80 Preceding table 1 is the heading “The Conversation of Christ con-
trasted with the Conversation of the Antichrist”; the term “conversation” or
“conversacio” must be understood in the sense of “manner of conducting one-
self ” or “behavior.”81 Each table has numbered paragraphs that give descriptions
for either the old or the new “color.”

colored, looking like the work of a scribe rather than an illuminator. See Svec, Bildagitation, 19–­25.
76.  OC&N, 32–­34.
77.  See the ninth table, ibid., 62.
78.  Ibid., 10.
79.  Ibid., 23.
80.  Tables 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 9 follow the format of numbered items. Table 5 has an introduction, four
numbered items, and an exposition; Table 6 includes four numbered items plus several contrasts labeled
“assailant” and “solution.” Table 7 begins with two assailant/solution pairs and ends with an exposition.
81. See Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd ed., s.v. “conversation;” and Compact Edi-
tion of the Oxford English Dictionary (1971), s.v. “conversation.”
94 Chapter 3

Given that Tables is a substantial compendium of authorities, it is dif-

ficult to summarize. The images that it cites, however, are simple contrasts
between the life of Christ or apostolic Christians and the life of the pope
and the curia. For example, Christ carrying the cross versus the pope riding
a horse wearing the insignia of his apostolic office; Christ with a crown of
thorns versus Louis the Pious confirming papal authority over Rome and its
territories; Christ being whipped versus a forger of papal letters imprisoned
for life; Mary with Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger ver-
sus Emperor Constantine crowning the pope and placing a purple cape on
him; John the Baptist clothed in camel’s hair versus the splendor of papal
vestments; and Christ washing the feet of the disciples versus the pope having
his feet kissed.
Master Nicholas clearly identified the pope as the Antichrist, reducing
complex medieval antichristology to blunt contrasts between Christ and the
saints of the early church on the one hand, and the contemporary pope and
clerical hierarchy on the other. He thereby removed nuances and qualifica-
tions, leaving a simplified content that well served the purposes of antipapal
propaganda. Just in case these unvarnished contrasts did not sufficiently make
the point, Master Nicholas added an editorial comment at the beginning of
the ninth table: “(After this there is a picture of the Antichrist, with whores.
What is said of the Antichrist applies to the Pope.)”82
The Czech reformers developed the notion of the Antichrist as a compos-
ite phenomenon, which they applied to the papacy and the hierocratic church.
They elaborated the theme of the Antichrist antitheses, found in the writings
of John Wyclif, making it into a propaganda tool. Last but not least, they intro-
duced an anatomical metaphor as a means of describing the papal Antichrist.
An anonymous Hussite author elaborated this trope in The Anatomy of the
Antichrist, a work that has a bearing on Philip Melanchthon’s anatomical expli-
cation of the Roman monster, as will be discussed in chapter 4.

The Anatomy of the Antichrist

The Anatomy of the Antichrist (De antichristo & memborum eius anatomia)83
owes its reception and influence in part to its misattribution to John Hus. It

82.  OC&N, 62.

83.  A facsimile of the 1524 printing of De anatomia Antichristi can be found in Matthias Janov Opera, i
[r]–­xlvi [v]. The first printing in Germany was De anatomia Antichristi, edited by Otto Brunfels (Strass-
burg: J. Schott, 1524); in 1558 Matthäus Flacius edited a two-­volume collection of Hus’s works entitled His-
The Papal Antichrist 95

has a fascinating publication history. Prior to his death, Ulrich von Hutten
received copies of treatises dealing with the Antichrist and with the execution
of Hus from unidentified Bohemian Hussites;84 presumably the Anatomy was
included among these items. Hutten died in August 1523, after taking part
in the chaos of the Knights’ Revolt and then fleeing to Zurich. Thereafter,
his friend Otto Brunfels, a former Carthusian monk, student at Wittenberg,
pastor, and schoolmaster85 acquired various Hussite manuscripts from Hut-
ten’s estate. Believing that the Anatomy was written by Hus himself, Brunfels
published it together with several other works in 1524. In his introduction, he
relates the following information:
A more useful book, appropriate to these times, has not been written in
the last eight hundred years. But how it came into our hands, because
it is a long story, let the following explanation be sufficient. . . . [I]t was
returned to me from the books of Hutten that had been seized.  .  .  . It
is neither expedient nor safe [to say] more about these matters, but if
only it had been handed over in good condition! . . . For many things
were incoherent, many were worn away by excessive age, some things
so written by the scribe that we did not know what they meant. For this
reason we were forced, when places were too obscure, to mark asterisks
* in the margin, and two asterisks ** where something was lacking or
missing; for we were reluctant either to erase something rashly or to
insert something of which we were not very certain. We also had great
difficulty with the Bohemian notes in the margin; and, since we did not
understand them, we were forced to omit many of them. Nevertheless,
we have included some. Besides, we have introduced all the clarity that
you see in the division of chapters and books. For, formerly it flowed in
an uninterrupted discussion, so that you might call it a “story without a
beginning.” Therefore, if anything can be useful to you, give credit first to
Christ, by whose providence it has happened that this author has come
to life again in these most recent times, then, to the most distinguished

toria Ioannis Hussi et Hieronymi Pragensis (Nuremberg: Ioannis Montani et Vlrici Neuberi, 1558), which
also contains De anatomia Antichristi. On the occasion of the two-­hundredth anniversary of the Reforma-
tion, Hus’s works were again printed in 1715. A digitized version of the De anatomia Antichristi is available
through Munchner DigitalisierungsZentrum Digitale Bibliothek at urn:nbn:de:bvb:12-­bsb00026197–­0.
Unless otherwise noted, all notes to the text of De anatomia Antichristi refer to the 1715 edition. See De
Antichristo & memborum ejus anatomia, 423–­64. For a recent discussion of the Anatomia Antichristi see
Buck, “Anatomia Antichristi,” 349–­68.
84.  OC&N, 32.
85.  ADB, s.v. “Brunfels.”
96 Chapter 3

knight and [man] of everlasting memory, Ulrich von Hutten, from whose
estate it is.86

In publishing his collection of Hussite works, Brunfels included a dedication

to Martin Luther along with Luther’s response (dated October 17, 1524).87
Luther (and presumably also Melanchthon) thus knew of this work for some
time before its publication, for he had had time to read it and write a response
to the dedication. Already at the time of the Leipzig Disputation (July 1519),
Luther had become quite interested in the teachings of Hus. The fact that the
Anatomy was believed to have come from Hus’s hand lent it significance and
credibility among the Wittenberg reformers.
It continued to be attributed to Hus when it was reprinted in 1558 and
again in 1715. In the nineteenth century, E. H. Gillett (1863) asserted that it
was the work of Matthew of Janov.88 In the early twentieth century, Herbert
Workman (1902) argued that John Milíč was the author.89 At about the same
time, Hans Preuss (1906) continued to believe that Hus should be credited
with the work.90 In 1911 Vlastimil Kybal, the editor of Matthew of Janov’s
Regulae, rejected both Milíč and Janov as possible authors.91 In 1975 Werner-­
Friedrich-­Aloys Jakobsmeier, in an introduction to a facsimile of the 1524
edition, rejected all previous attributions, suggesting that the Anatomy was
the work of an author associated with the Taborites.92 Jakobsmeier may be
correct, but the fact remains that the treatise commanded the attention of
Luther and his followers because they believed it to be the work of John Hus.
The Anatomy comprises a compilation of ideas drawn from the works
of Matthew of Janov, John Wyclif, John Hus, and Nicholas of Dresden and
may date from the first third of the fifteenth century.93 It is every bit as much

86.  De anatomia Antichristi, ed. Brunfels, ii[v]–­iii[r].

87.  Brunfels’s dedication to Luther appeared on ii[r]–­vi[r] of vol. 1; Luther’s response was printed on the
verso of the title page for the second volume of Brunfels’s collection. See De anatomia Antichristi, in Mat-
thias Janov Opera, 2:i[v]; and De Antichristo & memborum ejus anatomia, 420–­23. See also “Luther an Otto
Brunfels in Strassburg” in WABr, 3:359.
88. Gillett, Life and Times of John Huss, 33–­34.
89. Workman, Dawn of the Reformation, 105, 355–­56.
90. Preuss, Vorstellungen vom Antichrist, 52–­54.
91.  Matthew of Janov, Regulae, 3:xxi.
92.  Matthias Janov Opera, ed. Beyreuther, Meyer, and Molnár, 23. As recently as 1990, Christopher Hill
attributed the Anatomia Antichristi to Hus. See Hill, Antichrist in Seventeenth Century England, 60.
93.  Jakobsmeier notes that the Anatomy’s antichristology conforms to the Confessio taboritarum of 1431,
Matthias Janov Opera, 1:23.
The Papal Antichrist 97

of a cortina (or collection of authorities) as the Tables of the Old Color and the
New—­a comprehensive presentation of the collective Antichristus mysticus,
thoroughly documented, and contrasted with an ideal, true Christendom. In
the Anatomy, one finds the same kind of omnium-­gatherum of scriptural ref-
erences and illustrative images as are in Nicholas’s treatise. The format, how-
ever, is quite different. To explicate the papal Antichrist, the Tables uses a
collection of contrasting images, while the Anatomy presents a compendium
of commonplaces. Even so, the anatomical explanations are quite graphic.
It begins with an introductory section listing the “names” of the Antichrist.
Next it presents thirty-­nine chapters detailing the metaphorical meanings of
the monstrous animalized body of the Antichrist. In a final section, the trea-
tise presents yet another take on the Antichrist antitheses. The Anatomy thus
surveys antichristology using nominal tropes, anatomical metaphors, and
antithetical contrasts.94
The introductory listing of the names of the Antichrist provides an
inventory of commonplaces together with supporting scriptural passages.
The list includes sixty-­two references in alphabetical order from “Abomina-
tion of Desolation” to “Virgin Daughter of Babylon.”95
In the next part of the treatise, the author presents an anatomical anal-
ysis, body part by body part, of the corpus of the creature, thereby providing
“a description of the Antichrist according to the limbs of his mystic body,
and the meanings of those limbs in the Holy Scripture.”96 Beginning with the
head, and continuing down the body, the author discusses, in turn, the crown
of the head, the hair, face, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, tongue, spittle, teeth, lips,
chin, beard, neck, arms, hands, breasts, heart, lungs, spleen, stomach, viscera,
belly, loins, legs, knees, feet, shins, blood vessels, skin, and tail. Each body
part receives a thorough explication through both scriptural references and
metaphorical meanings. Sometimes the scriptural texts offer a specific mean-
ing; in other cases, the Bible passages are rather vague, leaving the author
wide latitude for interpretation. The explanations are somewhat discursive
but typically lead to the conclusion that the body part in question stands for
some abstract quality of evil or wickedness. A few representative examples
can illustrate the author’s approach.

94.  For a discussion of the close parallels between The Anatomy of the Antichrist and Melanchthon’s The
Pope-­Ass Explained, see Buck, “Anatomia Antichristi,” 349–­68.
95.  For the full list, see ibid., 367–­68; and De Antichristo & memborum ejus anatomia, 425–­26.
96.  Ibid., 426.
98 Chapter 3

In discussing the head, the Anatomy uses the language of the medieval
hierocratic publicists, but it turns their theory upside down by calling the
pope the Antichrist. One of the best known of the thirteenth-­century hiero-
crats was Augustinus Triumphus (1243–­1328). In defending the absolutist
papal monarchy, he argued that “the pope is the very head of the whole mys-
tical body of the church in such a way that he receives nothing of power and
authority from the members, but only exercises influence on them, for he is
purely and simply the head.”97 The Anatomy assumes that the pope is the caput
ecclesiae, but it also assumes that he is the Antichrist. The head represents
leadership or dominion and is the “most central and most powerful part of
the host of the Antichrist.”98 The pope rules the lower limbs (the church) and
entirely dominates them. His corrupting influence spreads through the body
by means of his vitiated common sense, imagination, judgment, and memory.
The head claims both spiritual and secular jurisdiction, as if from the heights
of heaven, while it really dwells in the lowest places of the earth.99
The hands of the Evil One symbolize deception and hypocrisy. The right
hand is associated with things spiritual, the left with matters secular. Anti-
christ pretends to use his right hand for blessing while he really devotes him-
self to acquiring the power of heaven. The left hand is associated with violence
because he uses it to repress the earth and humble kings. Antichrist deceit-
fully uses the left hand to lead the hearts of the simple people to himself.100
In the section on the breasts, the Antichrist becomes a woman. She is a
whore who uses her breasts to suckle her little ones—­perverse doctrine and a
perverse life. She nourishes her people on perverse doctrine so that they will
not come to know the law of Christ, because it is said that all justice of the law
is enclosed in the chamber of her heart. At this point, the author is referring
to the Scrinium pectoris decretal of Boniface VIII (1294–­1303), which stated
that the Roman pontiff had all laws in the chamber of his heart (scrinium pec-
toris) and could therefore modify canon law as he saw fit.101 Perverse doctrine
blinds the followers of the Evil One; a perverse life strengthens them against
the example of Christ and the apostles, and thus binds them closely to him.102

97. Schatz, Papal Primacy, 94. See also Wilks, Problem of Sovereignty in the Later Middle Ages, 15–­64.
98.  De Antichristo & memborum ejus anatomia, 427.
99.  Ibid., 426–­28.
100.  Ibid., 443–­44.
101.  LW, 44:202n215; PE, 2:148n2.
102.  De Antichristo & memborum ejus anatomia, 444–­45.
The Papal Antichrist 99

The belly is the location for both the stomach and the womb. The former
symbolizes greed, for Antichrist devours the property of the living and the
dead, the rich and the poor, widows and orphans, and nobles and common-
ers. His greed wants to consume the entire world, so he makes false things
legitimate, acquits murderers for the sake of an advantage, and inflates idiots
against learned men. He practices simony and seeks the riches of injustice. In
this section, the Antichrist is again construed as both male and female; she
has a womb in which her greed conceives sorrow and brings forth iniquity,
according to Psalms 7:15. At the instigation of the devil, she conceives sorrow,
which is the desire for temporal things, acquires the goods of the world, and
spawns injustice.103
The feet of the Antichrist are the preachers of his sect. According to
Revelation 13:[2], the feet are the feet of a bear. The reference to a bear makes
possible an extended explanatory analogy. A bear is a filthy animal that loves
honey and sweets. The Antichrist is also filthy because of his evil thoughts,
his murders, adulteries, sexual sins, thefts, false testimony, and blasphemies.
Honey and sweets stand for worldly things and a life of pleasure. Like a bear,
the preachers are strong, not in their body but in their power to mislead the
The skin of the Antichrist signifies the treachery with which he protects
himself and his followers. The Anatomy cites Job 41:6–­7: “His body is like mol-
ten shields, shut close up with scales pressing upon one another. One is joined
to another, and not so much as any air can come between them.”105 Consistent
with this passage, the author describes the Antichrist as covered with pressed
scales, obstinate in his teaching, defending himself with innumerable errors,
allowing no breath of truth to enter any of his limbs. His scales are joined to
one another; they stick together and cannot be pulled apart.106
The tail symbolizes teachers of falsehood, consistent with Isaiah 9:15: “and
the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail.” Just as the tail covers the foulness of
an animal, so the Antichrist’s tail covers, excuses, and justifies his malice. Also,
the tail thrashes the air and stirs up flies in the same way that false prophets
stir up the “flies” of twisted thoughts. The Anatomy cites Revelation 12:4: “And

103.  Ibid., 452–­53.

104.  Ibid., 455–­56.
105.  In describing the skin of Antichrist as “like molten shields, shut close up with scales” (Job 41:6), the
Anatomy follows Matthew of Janov; see Kybal, Regulae, 3:69.
106.  De Antichristo & memborum ejus anatomia, 456.
100 Chapter 3

his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth.”
Just as the dragon’s tail draws down stars from heaven so false prophets seduce
humans, who seem to shine before others in the sanctity of their lives, as if stars,
and throw them down into earthly delights.107
The third section of the Anatomy (chapter 43) contains a version of the
Antichrist antitheses that repeats much of the content from Wyclif ’s original
contrasts, but which goes beyond Wyclif to add items that reflect the topos
of the Antichristus mysticus, central to the antichristology of Matthew of
Janov. Eight of Wyclif ’s twelve contrasts are quite similar to ones listed in
the Anatomy. Interestingly, Wyclif ’s criticisms of papal claims to secular
jurisdiction are not included. Unlike Wyclif ’s simple antitheses and unlike
the very graphic contrasts of Nicholas of Dresden’s Tables of the Old Color
and the New, the Anatomy includes antitheses that have more abstract, theo-
logical content, and that specifically reference the concept of the collective
Antichrist. Towards the end of this chapter, the author contrasts the corpus
Christi mysticum (i.e., the church of true believers) with the composite limbs
of the Antichrist. Christ gathers his church in unity while Antichrist scatters
the church through dispensations and turns believers against each other. The
lives of the membra Christi are pure while those of the membra Antichristi are
hypocritical and filled with vice.108
The author of the Anatomy leaves no doubt that he is writing in the tra-
dition of the papal Antichrist. In chapter 42, he explicitly states that there are
three chief Satanic lies and blasphemies issuing from the tail of the Antichrist:
that the pope is the vicar of Christ on earth and the head of the church mil-
itant, that papal decrees must be accepted as if they are the gospel, and that
the laws of the pope supersede the gospel. Indeed, when the pope presumes to
interpret scripture or to supplement a deficiency therein, he blasphemes like
a noonday devil (daemonium meridianum). In sum, the pope in Rome is the
chief vicar of Satan and the principal Antichrist.109

By the 1520s, when Otto Brunfels published his edition of the Anatomy of the
Antichrist and Philip Melanchthon wrote his pope-­ass pamphlet, the figure
of the Antichrist had developed into a multifarious concept with layer upon

107.  Ibid., 456–­57.

108.  Ibid., 458–­61.
109.  Ibid., 457–­58.
The Papal Antichrist 101

layer of meaning and multiple modes of metaphorical expression. At the core

of the concept was Abbot Adso’s narrative of the deceiving Son of Perdition
who would foreshadow the Last Days. To this Joachim of Fiore and those
whom he influenced added the notion that the book of Revelation and the fig-
ure of Antichrist could be used to interpret contemporary events and to place
them in the context of the imminent end of time. The Joachimites held that
the Antichrist would be an historical personage, an evil prophet or false pope,
metaphorically the “seventh head of the dragon” (Rev. 12). While Joachim did
not identify a particular pope as Antichrist, the Fraticelli were much less cir-
cumspect. They were certain that the abomination of desolation, mentioned
in the books of Daniel and Matthew, was their nemesis, Pope John XXII. The
notion of a papal Antichrist gained strength and currency during the time
of the Great Schism. John Wyclif became convinced that both Urban VI and
Clement VII were Antichrists, and he urged faithful Christians to withhold
their allegiance from both papal claimants. At the end of his life, he went even
further, referring to the whole institution of the papacy as the Antichrist.
The idea that the Antichrist was not a single figure but rather an insti-
tution or a collective was a proposition that the late medieval Bohemian
reformers developed into an elaborate system. Matthew of Janov assembled
extensive scriptural references to argue that the Antichrist was a compos-
ite body of carnal, concupiscent, avaricious, hypocritical pseudo-­Christians
within the visible church. To describe this collective he used the term “Anti-
christus mysticus,” first coined by the Spiritual Franciscans. For Matthew of
Janov, the members of the mystical Antichrist were figurae or figures of the
Antichristus literalis et proprius (literal and proper Antichrist). He contended
that the institution of the papacy had become corrupted by its wealth and its
efforts to dominate the world. To quote Howard Kaminsky, Matthew was not
“antipapal” but rather “antipapalist,”110 that is, he was opposed to the “perme-
ation of the church by the world,” manifested in the contemporary papacy.
Drawing on the writings of native Bohemian reformers, the ideas of John
Wyclif, and the work of John Hus and Jakoubek of Stříbro, the Hussite writers
of the early fifteenth century brought the concept of the papal Antichrist to its
full, florid, late medieval elaboration. For Nicholas of Dresden, the Antichrist
was the papacy, as could be proved by the stark contrasts between the norm of
the primitive church and the behavior of the contemporary Roman Church.

110. Kaminsky, History of the Hussite Revolution, 10.

102 Chapter 3

Finally, the author of The Anatomy of the Antichrist provided a comprehensive

summary of antichristology using scriptural names, anatomical metaphors,
and antithetical contrasts.
By the beginning of the sixteenth century, the term “Antichrist” con-
noted deception, carnality, antipapalism, apocalypticism, and an eschato-
logical reading of historical and contemporary events. In the world of late
medieval antichristology, the report of a monstrosity could be readily inter-
preted as a portent of the papal Antichrist, precisely what Philip Melanchthon
did in The Pope-­Ass Explained. In writing this tract, he faced the composi-
tional challenge of integrating key Lutheran teachings with the topoi of anti-
papal antichristology and the preexisting image of the Roman monster. His
pamphlet reveals a thorough knowledge of the same anatomical common-
places as are contained in The Anatomy of the Antichrist, as will be seen in
chapter 4.
Chapter 4

Philip Melanchthon’s
The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523)

In 1523, the Lutheran Reformation appropriated the Roman monster
transforming it into the so-­called pope-­ass. That transition took place by
way of Philip Melanchthon’s popular propaganda pamphlet The Pope-­Ass
Explained, where he interpreted the physiognomy of the monster, explaining
each body part as an aspect of the papal regime. The pamphlet itself is quite
short, but it proved to be both popular and influential because it construed
a monstrous portent both as an emblematic figuration (figura) of the papal
Antichrist and as a digest of early Reformation polemics. In other words, the
metaphorical explanations amounted to an epitome of the ideas of the early
Lutheran movement. To substantiate that the tract drew its content from its
context, this investigation will place each of the physiognomic metaphors into
its historical setting.
The idea that Melanchthon’s pamphlet was a success because it reflected
both late medieval antichristology and Reformation polemics differs from the
usual interpretation of this work. Most historians have simply described the
content of the tract, without commenting on its context; others have been
much harsher. Konrad von Lange, for example, characterized The Pope-­Ass
Explained as “the most unsatisfactory of Melanchthon’s writings,” assert-
ing that it forced an explanation onto a pre-­existing image in an unskillful
manner.1 In this same vein, James Mackinnon commented that the pope-­ass
tract “did not reflect credit” on its author.2 These negative assessments fail to
explain the pamphlet’s popularity, its numerous reprintings and translations,
and its influence on Reformation polemical writing. If, however, one looks at
the tract as an epitome of the early Reformation movement, as a digest of its
agenda, related through the explanation of a portent, then one can begin to
appreciate why it was such a powerful piece of early Protestant propaganda.

1. Lange, Papstesel, 85–­86.

2. Mackinnon, Luther and the Reformation, 3:154.
104 Chapter 4

Its message referenced most of the topics at issue in the controversial litera-
ture up to 1523, buttressed with the authority of a divine revelation.
In order to follow the argument in this chapter, the reader will need to
consult the text of the pamphlet, paragraph by paragraph. To facilitate this, an
English translation is provided as an appendix. Page and line references in the
translation follow the page and line indications in volume 11 of the Weimar
edition (WA) of Luther’s works: thus [378/32] means page 378, line 32 of WA
volume 11.
The earliest mention of the publication project that resulted in The Pope-­
Ass Explained comes from a letter that Martin Luther wrote to his friend and
fellow Augustinian Wenceslaus Linck on January 16, 1523. Here he stated
that he planned to write an interpretation of a deformed monstrosity, explain-
ing it as a portent specifically against monasticism.3 This project became part
of a joint publication that he and Philip Melanchthon issued later that year
entitled Explanation of Two Horrible Figures, the Pope-­Ass at Rome and the
Monkcalf Found at Freiberg in Meissen (Deuttung der czwo grewlichen Figuren,
Bapstesels czu Rom und Munchkalbs zu Freyberg ynn Meysszen funden).4 For
his part, Melanchthon undertook to explain the Roman monster as a figure of
the papal Antichrist. He firmly believed that the interpretation of signs (mon-
strosities, astrological phenomena, etc.) could reveal the future. In The Pope-­
Ass Explained, he conflated an interpretation of a portent with commonplaces
of the papal Antichrist and key ideas of the Lutheran Reformation, creating a
simple and graphic explication.
By 1523, Melanchthon had emerged as Luther’s partner in leadership
of the reform movement. He had come to Wittenberg in 1518, at the age of
twenty-­one, to assume the position of professor of Greek at the university.
An outstanding linguist and the nephew of the famous humanist Johannes
Reuchlin, he held a master of arts from Tübingen and earned a bachelor of
theology one year after arriving at his new job. Given that the joint publica-
tion project was to focus on the papacy and monasticism, it made sense for
Luther to address the latter topic, for he had personal experience as an Augus-
tinian monk. For his part, prior to 1523, Melanchthon had published several
works that discussed the nature of the church and that questioned claims of

3.  St.L., 21a:474.

4.  WA, 11:357–­85; St.L., 19:1934–­47. Melanchthon’s pamphlet had the separate title Der Bapstesel durch
Philippen Melanchthon deuttet, or The Pope-­Ass Explained by Philip Melanchthon. Luther’s pamphlet was
separately titled Deuttung des Munchkalbs zu Freyberg (The Meaning of the Monk-Calf at Freyberg.).
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 105

papal primacy. He was therefore well qualified to undertake an explication of

the Roman monster in an antipapal screed.
The pope-­ass pamphlet was one of many polemical exchanges between
the Lutheran camp and the defenders of traditional Catholicism. Initially,
these altercations focused on Luther’s opposition to the sale of indulgences,
but they quickly came to include issues having to do with the nature of the
church, the power and position of the papacy, and the implications of the doc-
trine of justification by faith. The Leipzig Disputation of 1519 and the pam-
phlet warfare that ensued in its wake highlighted these issues and helped form
the context for Melanchthon’s pamphlet.
It was at the Leipzig Disputation that Luther first publicly debated his
opposition to papal primacy. In the pamphlets he and Melanchthon wrote after
the debate, they further elaborated on this point, clarifying their ideas on the
nature of the church. Also, in the audience at the debate was a Czech Utraquist
named Jacob who had come to Leipzig to witness the disputation. Through him
Luther first came into contact with Bohemian Utraquist clergy, who sent him
a copy of Hus’s De ecclesia. These contacts later expanded to include the Czech
printer Ulrichus Velenus, who sent Luther his own work disputing the belief
that St. Peter was the first bishop of Rome. Velenus was also the probable source
of Luther’s copy of the Roman monster reproduced by Wenzel von Olmütz.
This image, in turn, was the pictorial inspiration for Melanchthon’s pope-­ass
pamphlet and the accompanying woodcut by Lucas Cranach.
The Leipzig Disputation was also important in Melanchthon’s career as
a reformer, for it transformed him from an “idle spectator” (as he called him-
self) into an active leader at the forefront of the Reformation movement.5
Shortly after the debate, he published a detailed account, written as a let-
ter to his friend Johannes Oecolampadius of Tübingen.6 In response to this
letter, Johann Eck, Luther’s antagonist at Leipzig, published a harsh attack
against Melanchthon, referring to him as “the Wittenberg grammarian who
knows some Greek and Latin.”7 To this, Melanchthon responded with his
Defense against Johann Eck.8 The notoriety of the papal primacy issue led to
yet another attack, this time from an Italian, Thomas Rhadinus Todiscus of
Placentia. His Oration of Thomas Rhadinus against the Heretic Martin Luther

5. Manschreck, Melanchthon, 44.

6.  MSW, 21–­28.
7. Manschreck, Melanchthon, 49.
8.  MWA, 1:12–­22.
106 Chapter 4

prompted Melanchthon to respond with a pseudonymous work, the Oration

of Didymus Faventius against Thomas Placentia, on Behalf of Martin Luther,
Theologian,9 in which he laid out, in detail, the bases for rejecting the claim
of papal primacy. In this Oration we can find some of the key ideas presented
later in a simplified way in the pope-­ass pamphlet.
Other of Melanchthon’s early works also shed light on aspects of the
pope-­ass tract. For example, in 1521 he published one of his best-­known
works, his Loci communes.10 While primarily focused on theological topics
like sin, law, and grace, the Loci communes nevertheless touched on several
of the criticisms that appear again in the pope-­ass work. In October 1521,
Melanchthon wrote Against the Furious Decree of the Parisian Theologasters,
an Apology by Philip Melanchthon for Luther,11 which was his response to the
pronouncement from the Sorbonne faculty of religion that more than one
hundred of Luther’s ideas were in error.12 To understand why Melanchthon
and Luther developed such antipathy towards the papacy, one must appreci-
ate the crescendo of vitriol that spilled forth from the Wittenberg reformers
and the defenders of traditional Catholicism from 1517 to 1523. To that end a
brief review of events up to 1523 is necessary.

Reformation Narrative to 1523

The first major clash between Luther and the Roman Church centered on the
sale of indulgences near Wittenberg. To attack the indulgence traffic, Luther
drafted his Ninety-­Five Theses. In short order, Luther found himself under
attack by the Dominican indulgence seller Johannn Tetzel, by Archbishop
Albert of Mainz, and by Johann Eck, a professor of theology at Ingolstadt.
Pope Leo X first tried to silence Luther through the Augustinian order, but
that attempt at the Heidelberg Disputation was unsuccessful. Next he tried to
call Luther to Rome, to try him for heresy, but Luther’s politically important
prince, Elector Frederick the Wise, intervened to guarantee that he would be
given a hearing in Germany. Rather than a hearing, however, Luther got an
interview with the general of the Dominican order and papal legate Cardinal
Cajetan, who tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to recant his ideas.

9.  Ibid., 56–­140.

10. Melanchthon, Loci communes.
11.  MSW, 69–­87; CR 1:399–­416; MWA, 1:141–­62.
12.  The Sorbonne faculty never did render a judgment on the Leipzig Disputation. After Luther had been
excommunicated, the Sorbonne took a stand against him.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 107

Meanwhile, Luther was drawn into a controversy between his university

colleague Andreas Karlstadt and Johann Eck. The adversaries decided on a for-
mal disputation in which Luther and Eck would debate papal primacy. As will
be noted below, this debate resulted in a flurry of publications. The Leipzig Dis-
putation brought Luther’s ideas on the nature of the church and papal primacy
into clear focus. His study of church history and canon law, in preparation for
the debate, led him to a new level of hostility towards the papacy.
In the spring of 1520, Leo X appointed Eck to a panel to assess Luther’s
ideas. This body, in turn, drafted a papal bull that Leo issued as Exsurge
domine, condemning many of Luther’s doctrines, giving him sixty days to
recant his heresies, and threatening him with excommunication should he
not do so. The bull was executed in Rome June 15, 1520, but Luther did not
receive it in Wittenberg until October 10, 1520.
Luther had a very busy year throughout 1520. In February he read Hus’s
De ecclesia and found that he agreed with many of the ideas of this condemned
heretic. As he told Spalatin, “we are all Hussites.”13 At this time he also read
Lorenzo Valla’s On the False Donation of Constantine, a work that greatly
influenced his attitude toward the papacy. In June he penned his Address to
the Christian Nobility of the German Nation; in August he published The Bab-
ylonian Captivity of the Church; and in November he wrote The Freedom of
a Christian. These works provided the most comprehensive statement of his
ideas to that point. On December 10, Luther burned Leo X’s Exsurge domine,
sixty days after he had received it in Wittenberg. Shortly thereafter he pub-
lished a defiant defense entitled Why the Books of the Pope and His Disciples
Were Burned by Doctor Martin Luther.14 In January 1521, Leo X issued the
bull of excommunication, Decet romanum pontificem, though it was not for-
mally published in Germany until October of that year. Luther’s detractors
also managed to get three important universities to condemn his ideas. The
Universities of Louvain and Cologne issued a joint condemnation in Febru-
ary 1520; in April 1521 the Sorbonne also took a stand against him.
Efforts to sanction and silence Luther continued throughout 1521 and
1522. In March 1521 Leo issued the traditional Maundy Thursday bull, In
coena domini, a customary promulgation condemning perpetrators of various
offenses ranging from heresy to piracy. This year Leo included Luther and his

13. WABr, 2:42/22–­29; LW, 48:153. Georg Spalatin was chaplain and secretary to Luther’s prince, Elector
Frederick the Wise.
14.  WA, 7:161–­82; LW, 31:383–­95.
108 Chapter 4

followers along with other heretics such as Wyclif and Hus.15 In April, Luther
traveled to Worms to be questioned before the imperial diet and the newly
elected emperor, Charles V. Shortly after the examination, Charles issued
the Edict of Worms, condemning Luther as a heretic and an outlaw. For his
own safety, Luther then went into hiding at the Wartburg Castle, where he
remained until March 1522.
While Luther was at the Wartburg, Leo X died (December 1, 1521). His
successor, Adrian VI, though a dedicated reformer, continued strong opposi-
tion against Luther and his supporters. In November 1522, Adrian sent a brief
to the estates of the empire assembled for a diet in Nuremberg, warning that
the Lutheran championing of evangelical truth was merely a subterfuge for
the theft of property.16 His nuncio to the diet, Francesco Chieregati, demanded
the enforcement of the Edict of Worms and insisted that the estates join in
rooting out the Lutheran heresy. He also called for the Lutheran preachers in
Nuremberg to be arrested and tried for heresy. Chieregati demanded that the
Nuremberg city council prohibit the publication of Lutheran materials and
allow only anti-­Lutheran books to be published in Nuremberg.17 Further, he
sent a papal brief to the city council of Bamberg that castigated Luther and his
followers, accused them of preaching poison disguised with sweet heavenly
words, and called on the city council to ban the printing and sale of Lutheran
works.18 A copy of the brief reached Luther early in 1523. Pope Adrian also
sent letters to Erasmus, Johann Eck, Archduke Ferdinand, Duke Henry of
Mecklenberg, the University of Cologne, and the cities of Mainz, Strasbourg,
Speyer, and Constance urging opposition to Luther.19
As this brief narrative demonstrates, between 1517 and 1523 the papacy
attempted to silence and discredit Luther through academic disputations,
monastic censure, excommunication, university condemnation, imperial
ban, book censorship, and governmental intimidation. Luther and Melanch-
thon responded with letters, pamphlets, treatises, theses, and sermons
framed to articulate and defend their ideas. Some of these were quite schol-
arly, addressed to academics and theologians. Others were simple and direct,

15.  WA, 8:691–­703; LW, 36:86n152; PE, 2:105–­6.

16. Bornkamm, Luther in Mid-­Career, 307.
17. WABr, 3:11–­12; St.L., 19:178; Grimm, Lazarus Spengler, 61–­62.
18. WA, 11:351/6–­10, 352/13–­353/5; St.L., 15:2227; Bornkamm, Luther in Mid-­Career, 301; Bagchi,
Luther’s Earliest Opponents, 225.
19. Bagchi, Luther’s Earliest Opponents, 223, 226n43; Hendrix, Luther and the Papacy, 142.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 109

written in German and intended for a broad, popular audience. The pope-­ass
pamphlet belongs to this latter category. It appeared in 1523 after Leo X had
died and after it had become clear that Pope Adrian VI was as opposed to the
Wittenbergers as his predecessor. In explicating the physiognomy of the mon-
ster, Melanchthon incorporated many of the key ideas and reform proposals
he and Luther were championing. Thus The Pope-­Ass Explained became an
epitome of the polemics of the early Reformation. One of the pivotal events of
these early years was the Leipzig Disputation.

The Leipzig Disputation of 1519

Medieval universities regularly used disputations to train students, resolve
academic points, and instruct audiences. Typically a set of theses would be
drafted to frame the debate. These were supposed to be crafted “so that the
logical conclusion of one would be related to the conclusion of another and
that the entire series would clarify the main thesis.”20 Thus, in preparation
for their meeting at Leipzig, Karlstadt, Luther, and Eck prepared theses and
The publications and ceremonies preliminary to the disputation gener-
ated considerable popular interest in the event. The modern reader may find
the topics for debate abstruse and lacking in popular appeal, but it would be
wrong to envision the meeting as a dull academic exercise. The disputation
began as a rift between Johann Eck and Andreas Karlstadt, one of Luther’s fel-
low professors at the university. Karlstadt had prepared a large number of the-
ses and had proposed public debates at Wittenberg in response to Eck’s attacks
on Luther. Despite his efforts to the contrary, Luther was quickly drawn into
the dispute and the three men ultimately agreed upon a formal debate. It was
decided that Karlstadt and Eck would treat free will, meritorious works, and
purgatory, while Luther and Eck would debate papal primacy and the juris-
diction of the Roman Church. It fell to Eck to defend the traditional Catholic
position on all of these points. The heart of the matter came to be known as
Luther’s Thesis Thirteen:
The very feeble decrees of the Roman pontiffs which have appeared in
the last four hundred years prove that the Roman church is superior to
all others. Against them stand the history of eleven hundred years, the

20.  LW, 31:xx.

110 Chapter 4

text of divine Scripture, and the decree of the council of Nicaea, the most
sacred of all councils.21

Shortly before the debate, Luther published his Explanation of the Thirteenth
Thesis on the Authority of the Pope,22 his first treatise on the subject of the
papacy, a work that afforded the upcoming debate wide notoriety.
The debate itself has been compared to a medieval tournament.23 It
began with a celebratory mass, formal greetings, and a sententious address on
“The Art of Disputation, Especially on Matters Theological.” Each day armed
guards, accompanied by drums and trumpets, marched through the city to
maintain order. At times they were also posted in taverns to guard against stu-
dent disturbances. The event attracted a large audience, including dignitaries
such as Duke George of Saxony and Barnim, heir to the dukedom of Pomer-
ania. The Wittenberg contingent consisted of some two hundred students
and faculty. At Barnim’s request, Luther preached a sermon on the festival of
Saints Peter and Paul, which occurred just two days into the debate (June 29).
The Gospel reading for that day was Matthew 16:13–­19, the very text that was
central to Rome’s claims of primacy. This text gave Luther an opportunity to
lay out many of his ideas in advance of his role in the actual debate. Following
the debate, Luther published his sermon.24
Eck’s ability at repartee bested Karlstadt, who was not permitted to read
from notes nor consult books during the debate. Luther also felt outmaneu-
vered by Eck and disrespected by the Leipzig audience. As he wrote his friend
Spalatin, “I who try to bridle my impetuosity, am not able to banish all dislike
of them [his detractors at Leipzig], because I am flesh and their impudent
hatred and malignant injustice were overbearing in so sacred and divine a
cause.”25 Scribes recorded the debaters’ speeches so that the faculty of the
Sorbonne and of the University of Erfurt could review the proceedings and
declare a winner (though the review never actually took place).26
The transcript is by no means the only record of the Wittenbergers’
position on papal primacy. The disputation engendered a whole series of let-
ters and treatises in which Luther and Melanchthon defended their antipapal

21.  Ibid., 318.

22.  WA, 2:183–­240; St.L., 18:720–­819.
23. Brendler, Martin Luther, 153.
24.  WA, 2:244–­49; LW, 51:54–­60; St.L., 11:2306–­13.
25. WABr, 1:424; translation from Smith, Life and Letters of Martin Luther, 68.
26. Seitz, Der authentische Text der Leipziger Disputation, 1519. See also Dau, Leipzig Debate in 1519, 120–­94.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 111

ideas. Some were written to report the events at the debate, some to respond
to attacks and criticisms, and still others to lay out the ecclesiological ideas
of the Reformation. Leaving aside the transcript, the pre-­debate theses, and
Luther’s sermon of June 29, Luther and Melanchthon brought out at least fif-
teen post-­debate publications from July 1519 to July 1522, dealing with the
ecclesiological and antipapal issues broached at Leipzig.27 Melanchthon’s The
Pope-­Ass Explained thus stands in a line of polemical publications. Though
Melanchthon’s arguments are simplified and intended for a popular audience,
they nevertheless reflect the ideas he and Luther had been presenting since
the Leipzig Disputation, challenging the position of the pope as the head of
the church, characterizing the papacy as the Antichrist, and calling for a vari-
ety of reforms.

Luther and the Papal Antichrist

Chapter 3 demonstrated that the late medieval notion of the papal Antichrist
had multiple layers of meaning. It applied a complex set of ideas to the Roman
papacy, including the conflation of the historical Antichrist with the mysti-
cal or collective Antichrist, the assumption that multiple Antichrists would
appear as forerunners of the Antichrist proper, an apocalyptic view of history
in which the depraved Renaissance papacy was seen as a sign of the end of
times, and an idealized primitive Christianity contrasted with the contempo-
rary papal church. These connotations help define the meaning of the term
“papal Antichrist” as Luther and Melanchthon used it.
Luther’s growing conviction that the papacy was the true Antichrist is
evident in his letters and polemical writings from 1519 to 1520. The course

27.  The post-­debate pamphlets and treatises by Luther and Melanchthon include Luther, Thirteen Theses
against Eck (mid-­May 1519); Luther, Explanation of the Thirteenth Thesis on the Authority of the Pope
(written before June 27, 1519, expanded and republished after August 1519); Melanchthon, Letter on the
Leipzig Debate (July 21, 1519); Melanchthon, Eighteen Theses for Academic Discussion, see esp. thesis 16
(July 1520); Melanchthon, Defense against Eck (August 1519); Luther, Explanation of Theses Debated at
Leipzig (August 1519); Luther, Defense against the Malicious Judgment of Eck (September 1519); Luther,
On the Papacy in Rome, against the Most Celebrated Romanist in Leipzig (June 1520); Luther, Gloss, Preface
and Afterword to Prierias’ Epitome (June 1520); Luther, Why the Books of the Pope and His Disciples Were
Burned by Doctor Martin Luther (December 1520); Melanchthon, Oration of Didymus Faventius against
Thomas [Rhadinus Todiscus of] Placentia on Behalf of Martin Luther, Theologian (February 1521); Luther,
Answer to the Hyperchristian . . . Book by Goat Emser in Leipzig (March 1521); Luther, Answer to the Book of
Our Esteemed Master Ambrosius, the Keen Defender of Sylvester Prierias, with an Exposition of the Vision of
the Antichrist, Daniel 8 (April 1521); Melanchthon, Against the Furious Decree of the Parisian Theologasters,
an Apology by Philip Melanchthon for Luther (October 1521); Luther, Against the Spiritual Estate of the Pope
and Bishops Falsely So-­Called (July 1522).
112 Chapter 4

of events following the Indulgence Controversy revealed a systematic attempt

to silence and discredit Luther. This pattern of hostility certainly contributed
to his evolving view of the papacy. One can, however, identify certain turning
points as he moved to embrace the notion and the rhetorical commonplaces
of the papal Antichrist. The first such transition came as a result of his study
of church history and the papal decretals in preparation for the Leipzig Dis-
putation. As he confessed in a letter to Spalatin dated March 13, 1519, “I am
studying the papal decretals for my disputation. And, confidentially, I do not
know whether the pope is the Antichrist himself or whether he is his apos-
tle, so miserably is Christ (that is, the truth) corrupted and crucified by the
pope in the decretals.”28 Luther further developed this line of thought in his
Explanation of Theses Debated at Leipzig, where he charged that, if the pope
claims sole authority to interpret scripture, he is worse than Lucifer and all
the heretics. For Lucifer only wanted to be equal to God, but this claim would
place the pope above God’s word and thus above God himself. That, however,
according to 2 Thessalonians 2 is a sign of the Antichrist.29
The second major point in the evolution of Luther’s view on the papal
Antichrist occurred early in 1520, when he read Lorenzo Valla’s On the False
Donation of Constantine (1440).30 Valla’s treatise had circulated only in man-
uscript form until Ulrich von Hutten published it in Germany in 1518 and
1519. Through brilliant historical argumentation, Valla showed that Constan-
tine would not have made such a donation nor would Pope Sylvester have
accepted it. Valla further showed that the forgery was full of anachronistic
Latin usage, which proved the document could not possibly date from the
fourth century. From Valla, Luther learned two major points: first, popes had
been abandoning their role as spiritual leader of the church for a very long
time, and second, the Donation was “forged in order to despoil (spoliare) the
empire from ‘all [the] kings and princes of the West.’”31 As recent scholarship
has shown, “it was this insight into the papacy’s avaricious nature combined
with the neglect of its proper spiritual role, that helped confirm for Luther
that he faced not simply a corrupt and corrupting institution, but the very
Antichrist itself.”32 As Luther wrote in February 1520, “I am so tormented,

28. WABr, 1:359/28–­31; LW, 48:114. See also Baumer, Martin Luther und der Papst, 54–­57.
29.  WA, 2:391–­435; St.L., 18:820–­75. See especially the explanation of Thesis 12: WA 2:430; St.L. 18:866.
30.  See Whitford, “Papal Antichrist,” 26–­52.
31.  Ibid., 30.
32.  Ibid., 31; Valla, On the Donation of Constantine, trans. Bowersock.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 113

I scarcely doubt that the pope is properly that Antichrist which by common
consent the world expects; everything which he lives, does, speaks, and estab-
lishes fits so well.”33
Three months after reading Valla, in his On the Papacy in Rome against
the Most Celebrated Romanist in Leipzig, Luther wrote, “Why then does the
Roman see so furiously desire the whole world? Why did it steal and rob
country, city, indeed, principalities and kingdoms, and now dares to produce,
ordain, dismiss, and change as it pleases all kings and princes, as if it were the
Antichrist? Where is the figure fulfilled here?”34 The papal Antichrist theme
continued to appear in Luther’s other writings of 1520. For example, in the
Babylonian Captivity of the Church, he characterized the papacy as “the king-
dom of Babylon and the very Antichrist.”35
The dénouement in Luther’s evolving antipapalism occurred when he
received Leo’s Exsurge domine on October 10, 1520. At this point he became
absolutely certain that the pope was the Antichrist.36 Responding to the burn-
ing of his books at Cologne and Mainz, Luther and Melanchthon staged a
dramatic bonfire outside Wittenberg’s city wall where they burned copies of
the canon law, the popular confessional manual Summa angelica, writings
of the Catholic controversialists Johann Eck and Hieronymus Emser, and a
copy of the bull itself.37 Shortly thereafter, Luther published Why the Books of
the Pope and His Disciples Were Burned, in which he charged that the papal
claim to be the sole interpreter of scripture set him above both God and man.
Luther made clear that he was talking about the institution of the papacy as a
collective Antichrist:
So now the saying of Paul is fulfilled, “the man of lawlessness is revealed,
the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-­
called god or object of worship . . . by the activity of Satan,” and so on
[2 Thess. 2:3–­12]. When he calls him a man of lawlessness and a son of
perdition, he does not mean his person alone, for that would cause little
damage, but rather that his government is nothing else than sin and per-
dition and that he will rule only to lead all the world to sin and hell. It
can readily be observed, then, and is clear from such articles that nothing

33. WABr 2:48/26–­49/2, translated in Hendrix, Luther and the Papacy, 98.

34.  LW, 39:84.
35.  LW, 36:72.
36. Hendrix, Luther and the Papacy, 112.
37.  See Luther’s letter to Spalatin, December 10, 1520, in LW, 48:186, esp. n1; WABr, 2:234.
114 Chapter 4

except sin and perdition has come into the world through the pope, and
more keeps coming daily.38

By the time that Luther burned the papal bull, Melanchthon had also
become persuaded that the pope was the Antichrist. In the placard he posted
announcing the bonfire and inviting spectators, he wrote,
Let whosoever adheres to the truth of the gospel be present at nine o’clock
at the church of the Holy Cross outside the walls, where the impious
books of papal decrees and scholastic theology will be burnt according
to ancient and apostolic usage, inasmuch as the boldness of the enemies
of the gospel has waxed so great that they daily burn the evangelic books
of Luther. Come, pious and zealous youth, to this pious and religious
spectacle, for perchance now is the time when the Antichrist must be

The Wittenberg reformers embraced the notion that the papacy was the
Antichrist as a consequence of insights gained from the Leipzig Disputation,
conclusions drawn from Valla’s treatise on the Donation of Constantine, and
the realization of irreconcilability implicit in the bull Exsurge domine. The
shared assumption that the institution of the papacy was the collective Anti-
christ forms an essential background to the publication of the pope-­ass pam-
phlet. But before considering the content of this pamphlet, the publication
project itself deserves attention.

The Publication of The Pope-­Ass Explained

The publication project can be dated to the early part of 1523. It is clear that
Luther had detailed information about the monstrum when he wrote his
model sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent, that is, circa February 1522.
If indeed he received a copy of the von Olmütz engraving at the same time
he acquired Ulrichus Velenus’s Petrum Romam non venisse, then he would
have known of the Roman monster sometime before February 1521.40 This
chronology would have allowed sufficient time for Luther to share the image
with Melanchthon and for the latter to ruminate on its meaning. As Luther

38.  LW, 31:392.

39.  WA, 7:183/1–­9, translated in Smith, Life and Letters of Martin Luther, 100–­101.
40.  See chapter 2 above.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 115

made clear in his Advent sermon, he understood the monster to signify the
papacy and the impending end of the world.41
The editors of the Weimar edition of Luther’s works agree with Kon-
rad von Lange that Lucas Cranach the Elder was responsible for the woodcut
illustration of the pope-­ass (fig. 3) that accompanied Melanchthon’s pam-
phlet.42 A careful comparison of the Bohemian (fig. 1) and the German ver-
sions of the monstrosity leads to some interesting conclusions. First, it seems
clear that Wenzel von Olmütz’s engraving served as the source for the pope-­
ass illustration. The layout, orientation, and architectural elements are quite
similar in both pictures. They both show the Tiber, the Castel Sant’Angelo,
and the Tor di Nona. Also, both represent an almost identical irregularity
in the left bank of the Tiber, at the same location. However, there are some
significant differences. The German version is much simpler; the figure of the
ass is elongated and more dominant in the foreground. Gone is the amphora,
the elegant flower (Wenzel’s trademark), the pool of floodwater in which the
monster stands, and the date “January 1496.” The Tor di Nona is also quite
elongated, and the belly of the monster obscures the bridge over the Tiber.
The creature itself is also simplified: scales cover the knees, the pudendum is
somewhat concealed, the dragon tail is less elaborate, and the dragon’s tongue
is missing. The river and the buildings no longer have identifying names writ-
ten on them, and the phrase “Roma caput mundi” has become “Der Bapstesel
zu Rom.” Finally, the right arm, which in the Bohemian version was the end
of an elephant’s trunk, has become an elephant’s foot.
Melanchthon’s first effort at interpreting the monstrum was entitled Fig-
ure of the Antichristian Pope and His Synagog (Figur des Antichristlichen Bapsts
und seiner Synagog).43 In it, he used Latin scriptural references and included
numerous foreign words. He rewrote this version in order to simplify it and
cast it in a more popular style. In so doing, he eliminated the use of Latin,
numbered his points (a convention Luther liked to use), and gave the work a
new title: The Pope-­Ass Explained by Philip Melanchthon (Der Bapstesel durch
Philippen Melanchthon deuttet). He published this revised version both as a
separate item44 and as a joint publication with Luther’s monk-­calf polemic.

41.  St.L., 11:56, par. 26.

42.  WA, 11:359; Lange, Papstesel, 82.
43.  WA, 11:363, 375–­79.
44.  Ibid., 11:363.
116 Chapter 4

The joint publication appeared repeatedly in 1523, once in Low German.45 In

1535, Melanchthon revised his pamphlet and Luther added an approbation
known as his “Amen.” This version was printed several times and was trans-
lated into French, Dutch, Latin, and English (see chapter 5).46

The Pope-­Ass Explained: An Explication of the Text

A Figure of the Papal Antichrist
Melanchthon begins his pamphlet with two assertions: that divine por-
tents are to be heeded and that the Roman monster is a figure of the papal
Antichrist. He supports the validity and credibility of portents by making
reference to Daniel 8. This chapter relates Daniel’s vision of a ram (the Medo-­
Persian Empire) being overpowered by a he-­goat (Alexander the Great), only
to be succeeded by Antiochus Epiphanes, whose sacrileges were the ultimate
expression of wickedness, indicating that the last days were at hand. In mak-
ing this reference, Melanchthon is arguing that divine portents foretell the
course of history and warn of the end of time. But for Melanchthon a citation
of Daniel 8 is also a reference to the papal Antichrist. In 1521, Luther wrote
an Exposition of the Vision of the Antichrist, Daniel 8,47 in which he associated
Daniel’s vision with the Antichrist and the Antichrist with the corporate insti-
tution of the papacy. Thus, when Melanchthon states that Daniel 8 announces
the Roman Antichrist [375/4], he is agreeing with Luther’s interpretation.
Not only are divine portents valid and credible, but the particular portent
in question, the pope-­ass, is a figure of the papal Antichrist, a synecdoche in
which the individual monster found on the banks of the Tiber stands for the
collective characteristics of the papacy. In medieval exegesis, the word figura
is a term of art with a specific meaning. A figura is “something real and his-
torical which announces something else that is also real and historical”;48 in a
figura both the sign and the signified share historicity. Figural prophecy makes
possible the interpretation of one worldly event through another; “the first sig-
nifies the second, the second fulfills the first.”49 Figural interpretation allowed
medieval theologians to interpret persons and events from the Old Testament
as theological prefigurations of persons or events in the New Testament. Thus,

45.  Ibid., 11:361–­63.

46.  Ibid., 11: 364–­66.
47.  Ibid., 7:722–­78; St.L., 18:1470–­1583.
48. Auerbach, Scenes from the Drama of European Literature, 29.
49.  Ibid., 58.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 117

for example, Adam and Eve prefigure Christ and the church; crossing the Red
Sea prefigures Christian baptism; and the brazen serpent in the wilderness
prefigures Christ’s propitiation on the cross.50 In general, the Old Testament
figures are physical, visible things, while their New Testament fulfillments are
spiritual and invisible qualities.51 Within the medieval apocalyptic tradition, the
dragon in Revelation as well as Cain, Judas, and Simon Magus are all figures
of Antichrist.52 Melanchthon viewed the Roman monster not as folklore or as
fiction, but as an historical reality that figured or portrayed the abstract qualities
that comprise the very essence of the papacy. To explain this figure, Melanch-
thon analyzes the physiognomy of the monster, showing how each part of its
anatomy stands for some quality or aspect of the papal realm. In so doing, he
follows the late medieval commonplaces represented in Anatomia Antichristi
(discussed in chapter 3).53

The Head
Melanchthon begins by explicating the monster’s head, arguing that the pope
cannot be the head of the church. By choosing this topic as his opening salvo,
Melanchthon not only throws himself into a very contentious topic, but he
also puts forward a key concept of the new Lutheran ecclesiology. Before
looking at his ecclesiological argument, one must understand why the head-
ship title, the caput ecclesiae, was such a contentious issue.
One of the most forceful medieval proponents of the papal headship of
the church was Pope Innocent III. He appropriated the title of Vicar of Christ
solely for papal use, designating himself as the successor of Peter (rather than
the Vicar of Peter), and the caput ecclesiae. Using a corporeal metaphor, he
argued that just as the plenitude of the senses in the human body was con-
centrated in the head and emanated from there to the rest of the body, so the
plenitude of power within the church was concentrated in the pope as its head
and flowed down to the patriarchs, archbishops, and bishops.54 In his decre-
tal Per venerabilem (1202), he described himself as “the vicar of Him Who
is priest in eternity according to the law of Melchizedek, and established by

50.  See James, “Pictor in Carmine.”

51.  Luther makes this point in his On the Papacy in Rome; LW, 39:78.
52. Emmerson, Antichrist in the Middle Ages, 20.
53.  See Buck, “Anatomia Antichristi,” 349–­68. Daston and Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, 181,
characterize the anatomical explication of a monster as a “kind of point-­by-­point hermeneutics that treated
the monster itself as a revealed text.”
54. Schatz, Papal Primacy, 92.
118 Chapter 4

God to be judge over the living and the dead.”55 Again, in his decretal Novit
ille (1204), he spoke of having been “called by the Highest disposition to the
government of the whole Church.”56 And in a letter to the Bishop of Fermo
(1205), he gave one of the most comprehensive statements of his powers: “the
Roman pontiff holds on earth the office of him who is the king of kings and
the lord of lords . . . he not only holds the highest power in spiritual affairs,
but truly even in temporal affairs he holds great power from the same lord.”57
The hierocratic publicist Augustinus Triumphus (1243–­1328) developed
the idea of papal headship further, arguing that the pope is the head of “the
whole mystical body of the Church.”58 A contemporary of Augustinus was
Pope Boniface VIII, the last pope before the crisis of Avignon and the Great
Schism. In his struggle with King Philip IV of France, Boniface issued the
famous Unam sanctam bull (1302) in which he reaffirmed the papal headship:
“Therefore, in this one and only Church there is one body and one head . . .
namely Christ and Peter, the Vicar of Christ, and the successor of Peter.”59
After Boniface’s death, the papacy made the much-­criticized move from
Rome to Avignon (1305–­78). Gregory XI (1370–­78) finally returned the papal
court to Rome, but shortly after his death the Great Schism (1378–­1417) tore
the Western church into competing pontifical camps. The theory of concil-
iarism provided a way out of the crisis of the Schism by vesting controlling
authority over the church in a council rather than in the person of the pope.
Conciliarism thus contradicted the notion that the pope was the head of the
body of the church. The crowning achievement of the conciliar movement was
the decree from the Council of Constance known as Sacrosancta, declaring the
legitimacy of conciliar authority: “[the Council of Constance] declares that it
is lawfully assembled in the Holy Spirit, constitutes a General Council, rep-
resents the Catholic Church and has immediate power from Christ to which
anyone, of whatever status and condition, even if holding the Papal dignity,
is bound to obey in matters pertaining to the Faith, extirpation of the schism
and reformation of the said Church in head and members.”60 Although the
Council of Constance managed to end the Schism, many succeeding pontiffs

55.  Ehler and Morrall, Church and State through the Centuries, 68.
56.  Ibid., 70.
57.  Quoted in Pennington, “Pope Innocent III’s Views on Church and State,” 56.
58. Schatz, Papal Primacy, 94. See also Wilks, Problem of Sovereignty in the Later Middle Ages, 15–­64.
59.  Ehler and Morrall, Church and State through the Centuries, 91.
60.  Ibid., 105.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 119

were unwilling to accept the negative implications of conciliarism for the papal
headship of the church.
The most significant reassertion of papal headship of the church after
the Council of Constance resulted from efforts to bring about reconciliation
between the Roman and the Eastern churches in the face of the impending
threat from the Turks. From 1438 to 1445, a council met first in Ferrara and
then in Florence under the aegis of Pope Eugene IV and Cosimo de Medici.
The Council of Florence crafted a Formula of Primacy, which once again
asserted papal headship over the church:
We also define that the holy apostolic see and the Roman pontiff holds
the primacy over the whole world and the Roman pontiff is the successor
of blessed Peter prince of the apostles, and that he is the true vicar of
Christ, the head of the whole church and the father and teacher of all
Christians, and to him was committed in blessed Peter the full power of
tending, ruling, and governing the whole church, as is contained also in
the acts of ecumenical councils and in the sacred canons.61

While the Formula of Primacy seems definitive and clear, it did not settle
the matter of caput ecclesiae once and for all, because the French challenged
the ecumenicity of the council and the validity of its actions. Pope Pius II
(1458–­64) therefore once again reasserted papal primacy and headship. In the
bull Execrabilis (1460), he forbade appeal of pontifical decisions to a future
council. Further, in the bull entitled In minoribus agentes (1463), Pius restated
his claim of headship using the familiar corporeal metaphor: “the body of
the Church is not without a head and all power flows from the head into the
members.”62 Historically, the concept of caput ecclesiae had implications for
papal power over the clerical hierarchy, papal supremacy over church coun-
cils, and papal authority over secular rulers.
When Melanchthon begins his pamphlet with an attack on the papal head-
ship of the church, he not only addresses a controversial topic of long standing,
he also endorses a new Lutheran ecclesiology. He states his argument simply
and directly: “For the church is a spiritual body and a spiritual realm, gathered
in the spirit. For that reason, it should and can have neither a corporeal head
nor an external lord” [375/13–­15]. This argument is one that Luther had made
at Leipzig. As Melanchthon reported, Eck argued “that the church cannot be

61. Schatz, Papal Primacy, 188.

62.  Oberman, Zerfoss, and Courtenay, Defensorium obedientiae apostolicae, 365.
120 Chapter 4

without a head since it is a civil body. Therefore, the pope is by divine right the
head of the church.” Luther responded, “Christ himself is the head, and since
the church is a spiritual kingdom, it needs no other head.”63
Professor Scott Hendrix has shown that Luther had developed the
framework for his new understanding of the church when he wrote his Dic-
tata super psalterium (1513–­15). In his lectures on the Psalms, Luther had
defined the church as a community of the faithful whose faith is sustained by
the gospel. This fides-­ecclesiology differed from the medieval Catholic caritas-­
ecclesiology. In the latter, the mark of the true Christian was caritas, the grace
given the believer through the sacraments administered by the clergy. For
Luther, faith was nourished by the gospel and was not based on the sacra-
ments or dependent upon the clerical hierarchy.64 To quote Luther, “Wherever
the Word of God is preached and believed, there is true faith, an unshakeable
rock. Where faith is, there is the Church. Wherever the church is, there is the
bride of Christ; where the bride of Christ is, there is everything that belongs
to the bridegroom. Thus faith contains everything which follows from faith:
keys, sacraments, authority, and everything else.”65
In his explanation of the ass’s head, Melanchthon reflects the new
Lutheran fides-­ecclesiology, which he himself has clearly embraced. But he
also picks up on another point. In his opening remarks at Leipzig, Eck had
said, “What a monster would the Church be without a head!”66Melanchthon
in essence turns Eck’s argument against him by portraying the church with
the pope at its head as a monstrosity: “For, just as an ass’s head makes no sense
on a human body, so the pope makes no sense as the head of the church”

The Right Hand

After discussing the head, Melanchthon begins to work his way down the
monster’s body, starting with the right hand, the elephant’s foot. He asserts
that it signifies the spiritual power of the pope, which tramples upon weak
consciences and destroys souls by heaping unbearable laws and misery upon
them [375/22–­25]. Here Melanchthon is referring to the theology of salvific

63.  MSW, 25. In his On the Papacy in Rome, Luther makes this same argument; LW 39:65–­76. See also
Hendrix, Luther and the Papacy, 105.
64. Hendrix, Ecclesia in via, 198–­212, esp. 208.
65.  WA, 2:208, translation in Brendler, Martin Luther, 152.
66. Dau, Leipzig Debate in 1519, 132; Seitz, Text der Leipziger Disputation, 57.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 121

meritorious works. The Wittenberg reformers reject the idea that meritorious
works play a role in salvation, arguing instead for solifidianism, justification
by faith alone, from which good behavior should flow as an expression of
faith. Melanchthon asserts that the spiritual power of the papacy is based on
a belief in the efficacy of works, which has led to a religious life focused on
externals—­ceremonies and rituals understood to work mechanically and to
be efficacious apart from an individual’s feelings or inner spiritual life.
The early Protestant reformers were highly critical of external, cere-
monial, works-­based religious practices. They argued that individuals could
never know for sure if they had done enough works to guarantee their eternal
salvation. In the reformers’ eyes, late medieval Christians lived in a state of
perpetual uncertainty, performing good works such as going on pilgrimages,
venerating relics, purchasing indulgences, making annual required confes-
sions, and doing works of satisfaction as required by the sacrament of pen-
ance. Luther and his early supporters characterized this external religiosity
with words such as anxiety, anguish, torment, spiritual tyranny, and psycho-­
terror.67 No doubt, many believers found comfort in indulgences, pilgrimages,
relics, etc. But the volume and content of early sixteenth-­century Protestant
publications suggests that others longed for a more robust inner spiritual life,
along the lines of Luther’s “Christian freedom,” the freedom from external
works defined and promoted by the clergy.
In attacking formalized, external religious observances, Melanchthon
focuses on the following specifics: coerced confession, chastity, vows, false
masses, false penance, dispensation from oaths, indulgences, and relics
[376/7–­9]. This list is representative of the issues that Luther, Melanchthon,
and other reformers were discussing in their writings in the years just prior
to publication of the pope-­ass treatise. They are code words that reference
specific polemical treatises and/or controversies, which in turn provide the
context for each of these complaints.

Indulgences and False Penance

By the sixteenth century, indulgences had developed into an essential part of
the sacrament of penance. In the early church, penance involved four steps:

67. Ozment, Reformation in the Cities, 22–­120, gives an excellent discussion of external religiosity at the
close of the Middle Ages. The reformer John Oecolampadius used the word “psychotyranni” to refer to
father confessors in his A Paradox: Christian Confession Is Not Onerous; see Ozment, Reformation in the
Cities, 51.
122 Chapter 4

contrition, confession, performance of a work of satisfaction, and absolution.

In practice, it became customary to grant absolution before the performance
of a work of satisfaction. Absolution removed both guilt and eternal pun-
ishment, but it did not remove temporal punishment during the penitent’s
life or in purgatory. An indulgence, however, could cancel some or all of the
temporal punishment that a priest had imposed upon the penitent for the
expiation of sin. To explain how indulgences actually worked, theologians
developed the “treasury of merit” doctrine, which Pope Clement VI formally
sanctioned in 1343.68 This teaching held that Christ and the saints had built
up a surplus of good works, held in a treasury of merit, upon which the pope
could draw to compensate for the sins of the faithful. The last step in the
development of late medieval indulgence practice came in 1476 when Pope
Sixtus IV asserted jurisdiction over the souls of the departed by offering an
indulgence to shorten a soul’s stay in purgatory. Thus, by the end of the Mid-
dle Ages, popes were offering plenary indulgences for the cancellation of all
temporal penalties, which could be attained both for the living and for the
dead and which could be had for a monetary contribution to a specific cause
of the church.69
The particular indulgence to which Luther reacted in 1517 was a ple-
nary indulgence authorized by Pope Leo X, applicable to nearly all sins. It
was to be preached in the ecclesiastical provinces of Mainz and Magdeburg
and in Brandenburg; one half of the income was to go to Rome to help pay
for the construction of St. Peter’s, the other half was to be used to help pay
for the costs Albert of Hohenzollern had incurred in his acquisition of the
archbishopric of Mainz, an office he held together with his other positions as
archbishop of Magdeburg and administrator of Halberstadt.70
Archbishop Albert issued detailed instructions regarding the offering of
these indulgences. While they were being preached, all other sermons were
to stop. The indulgence preachers were to emphasize the availability of com-
plete remission of sins for the living and the remission of punishment for
the departed in purgatory.71 The Dominican Johann Tetzel was in charge of

68.  Clement VI sanctioned the treasury of merit in the bull Unigenitus dei filius.
69.  For a good discussion of the history of indulgences and their relation to the sacrament of penance, see
Elizabeth Vodola, “Indulgences,” in DMA, 6:46–­50; Grimm, Reformation Era, 38–­41; Schwiebert, Luther
and His Times, 303–­14; Brecht, Martin Luther, 1483–­1521, 176–­78; LW, 31:19–­21.
70. Schwiebert, Luther and His Times, 306–­14; Brecht, Martin Luther, 1483–­1521, 178–­83.
71. Hillerbrand, Reformation: Narrative History, 37–­41.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 123

this enterprise. A clever marketer, he used fear and intimidation in his sales
pitch.72 These indulgences were not available in the territory of Electoral
Saxony, but Luther’s parishioners went to the nearby Brandenburg towns of
Jüterbog and Zerbst, where they acquired them and brought them back to
Wittenberg. When Luther attempted to reprimand his parishioners in the
confessional, they showed him their newly acquired indulgence letters and
threatened to report him if he refused to recognize their validity. At this point
Luther felt compelled to speak out.
But it wasn’t only Tetzel’s jubilee indulgence that distressed Luther. A
number of pilgrimage churches also had the right to offer indulgences; one of
these was the Castle Church at Wittenberg. Here Luther’s pious prince, Fred-
erick the Wise, housed his large collection of relics: milk from the Blessed
Virgin, pieces of her hair, a scrap of Jesus’ diaper, straw from the nativity man-
ger, a part of Jesus’ beard, and a nail from the crucifixion, among thousands
of other items.73 Each year during the week following the festival of All Saints’
Day (November 1) a throng of penitents engulfed the Castle Church to vener-
ate the relics and acquire indulgences. Luther’s choice of the eve of All Saints’
Day as the occasion for issuing his Ninety-­Five Theses constituted a rejection
of the indulgence traffic at the Castle Church.
Four important sources document Luther’s condemnation of the indul-
gence trade: the Ninety-­Five Theses (1517), the letter “To Cardinal Albrecht,
Archbishop of Mainz” (1517), the Explanations of the Ninety-­Five Theses (1518),
and the Sermon on Indulgence and Grace (1518). Today, the most famous of
these works is the Ninety-­Five Theses,74 the common name for the Disputation
on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. He wrote these in Latin to serve as the
basis for a scholarly disputation, and he sent them to Archbishop Albert and
Bishop Jerome Schulz (Hieronymus Scultetus) of Brandenburg for their review
and assessment.75 Within days, however, the theses were reprinted; the next

72.  Ibid., 41–­43.

73.  Ibid., 47–­49.
74.  WA, 1:233–­38; LW, 31:25–­33.
75.  There is a significant scholarly dispute over the posting of the theses on the door of the Castle Church
in Wittenberg. Iserloh, The Theses Were Not Posted, argues that Luther mailed his theses to his ecclesiastical
superiors but did not nail them to the door of the Castle Church. Smith, “Luther and the Iserloh Thesis
from a Numismatic Perspective,” agrees with Iserloh, see 184n4. For a review of the posting debate, see
Rublack, “Neuere Forschungen zum Thesenanschlag Luthers.” Junghans, “Luther’s Wittenberg,” 26, argues
that the theses were indeed posted. For other discussions of the debate, see Brecht, Martin Luther, 1483–­
1521, 200–­202; Oberman, Masters of the Reformation, 148–50n88. After a thorough review of the available
evidence Oberman concludes that the Ninety-­Five Theses were posted.
124 Chapter 4

month a German translation became available.76 As Luther’s friend Friedrich

Myconius wrote, “But hardly fourteen days had passed when these propositions
were known throughout Germany and within four weeks almost all of Chris-
tendom was familiar with them.”77
The first four theses embody the core of the entire document—­that
penance entails an inward change in attitude and not merely the mechanical
performance of the sacrament of penance, a false penance.78 Luther goes on
to assert that the pope’s power does not extend to the souls in purgatory, that
giving to the poor or lending to the needy is a better deed than buying an
indulgence, that preaching the gospel should not be stopped in deference to
the preaching of indulgences, that the pope should build St. Peter’s out of his
own vast wealth rather than taking money from “poor believers,” and that
penitent Christians should not seek exemption from punishment but rather
forgiveness and spiritual improvement.79
Luther composed his letter to the archbishop of Mainz to accompany a
copy of the Ninety-­Five Theses that he sent the archbishop. He requested that
Albert stop the sale of indulgences within his territories, noting, “Evidently
the poor souls believe that when they have bought indulgence letters they are
assured of their salvation. They are likewise convinced that souls escape from
purgatory as soon as they have placed a contribution in the chest.”80
Though the Ninety-­Five Theses received a warm popular reception,
the clerical establishment was much less positive. Members of Luther’s own
Augustinian order feared he would bring disgrace on his confreres; Tetzel
bragged that he would have Luther burned as a heretic; many of Luther’s
colleagues at the university were at first cool in their support.81 He therefore
decided to write a much longer explanation of the theses. He planned the
work in late 1517, finished a draft by March 1518 and sent it to his superior,
Bishop Schulz of Brandenburg. However, due to Bishop Schulz’s opposition,
Luther did not publish the treatise until August 1518.

76.  The Nuremberg patrician Caspar Nützel made one of the German translations of the theses, see
Brecht, Martin Luther, 1483–­1521, 204.
77. Hillerbrand, Reformation: Narrative History, 47; Myconius, Historia reformationis, 21–­23.
78.  LW, 31:22, 25.
79.  LW, 31:25–­33; WA, 1:233–­38; Boehmer, Road to Reformation, 186–­89.
80.  LW, 48:46; WABr, 1:110–­12.
81. Boehmer, Road to Reformation, 191–­93.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 125

The Explanations of the Ninety-­Five Theses82 is a long and ponderous

treatise in which Luther presents the arguments he would make in an actual
disputation. The style is scholastic and logical rather than rhetorical. The tone
reveals an inner tension between a professed obedience to the pope and a
harsh combativeness against the criticisms of Johann Tetzel. Luther submits
himself to instruction from his ecclesiastical superiors, yet shows a willing-
ness to break from the church where he feels that its practices contradict
the doctrine of justification by faith. Luther intended this treatise for a nar-
row, academic audience; he ended it with an apology, of sorts, to the general
reader: “TO THE SINCERE AND LEARNED READER, Do not assume that
these things were published for you, my learned and brilliant reader. . . . You
have other things which you may read according to your own inclination.”83
For the literate layman, his “sincere and learned reader,” Luther pub-
lished the Sermon on Indulgence and Grace (March 1518),84 a short work he
wrote in German that proved to be quite popular; in 1518 thirteen printings
came out, in 1519 there were five more printings, and in 1520 an additional
four.85 Luther crafted his tract for an audience already aware of the Ninety-­
Five Theses. His main point is that indulgences lead people away from doing
works of love and mercy towards their neighbors: “it is much better to do one
good work than to be excused many. An indulgence, however, excuses many
a good work, but otherwise effects nothing. . . . [I]f you are minded to make a
gift, your very first obligation is to an indigent neighbor, and not to the build-
ing of St. Peter’s or to buying an indulgence.”86

False Masses
In The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520),87 The Misuse of the Mass
(1522),88 and A Treatise on the New Testament, that is, the Holy Mass (1520),89
Luther articulates his principal complaints about the church’s teachings and
practices regarding the mass. Melanchthon reflects many of the same ideas in

82.  LW, 31:83–­252; WA, 1:525–­628.

83.  LW, 31:252.
84.  WA, 1:239–­46; St.L., 18:270–­75; Luther, Reformation Writings, trans. Lee-­Woolf 1:50–­55.
85.  St.L., 18:270n.
86. Luther, Reformation Writings, trans. Lee-­Woolf, 1:53.
87.  LW, 36:19–­57; WA, 6:502–­26.
88.  LW, 36:133–­230; WA, 8:482–­563.
89.  LW, 35:77–­111; PE, 1:294–­326; WA, 6:349–­78.
126 Chapter 4

Propositions on the Mass (1521),90 and in Loci communes (1521), especially in

the section entitled “Participation in the Lord’s Table.”91 Rejecting the church’s
teachings, Luther argues that the mass is not a good work, it is not a merit-­
generating sacrifice, it does not work mechanically (ex opere operato),92 and it
cannot benefit another person (or cause) other than the participating commu-
nicant. The Loci communes briefly states the Lutheran position: Communion
is a sign of grace; participation in the Lord’s Supper does not destroy sin, “but
faith destroys it, and faith is strengthened by this sign.”93 If the mass is not a
sacrifice or a meritorious good work, then it does not generate merit that can be
communicated to the departed in purgatory or directed toward any other votive
purpose.94 This new understanding subverted the basis for endowed chantries
and purgatory masses, thus freeing up a vast resource of wealth.

Coerced Confession
In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council issued the decree Omnis utriusque sexus
that mandated annual confession for all Christians. This decree led canonists
and theologians to focus on the practice of auricular confession, specifically
on the power of the father confessor and the qualities of a “good” and “com-
plete” confession. The confessor was both investigator and judge; he offered
absolution but he also imposed appropriate works of satisfaction. Absolu-
tion removed guilt and eternal punishment, but it did not remove temporal
punishment on earth and in purgatory. The medieval penitent’s confession
needed to be both “good” and “complete.” A “good” confession was simple,
humble, pure, discreet, willing, tearful, prompt, and strong.95 A “complete”
confession was methodical, deliberate, and extensive. To facilitate complete-
ness, the penitent was urged to examine his conscience according to catego-
ries of sins, using, for example, the five senses, the Ten Commandments, or
the seven deadly sins to guide his introspection.
The confessional literature of the late Middle Ages considered sexual
sins one of the most basic of moral topics. The church made the control of

90.  MSW, 6:63–­67.

91. Melanchthon, Loci communes, 145–­47.
92.  Ex opere operato (from the work done) holds that the sacrament produces grace of itself, independent
of the faith or morality of the celebrant and communicants.
93. Melanchthon, Loci communes, 145.
94.  The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, in LW, 36:51.
95. Tentler, Sin and Confession on the Eve of the Reformation, 107. For a discussion of the good and com-
plete confession, see ibid., 104–­33.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 127

sexual behavior a cornerstone of its whole disciplinary structure.96 For exam-

ple, the authors of confessional manuals developed lists of appropriate and
inappropriate positions for intercourse. They also developed hierarchies of
sexual offenses, ranging from unchaste kiss and unchaste touch (least offen-
sive) to sodomy, bestiality, and “woman on top” (most offensive).
Luther rejected both the requirement for a complete confession and the
detailed inquiry into “secret sins” (his term for sexual offenses). In A Discus-
sion on How Confession Should Be Made, he discards all mnemonic aids for
a “complete” confession. The penitent about to make confession should do
away with the confusion of distinctions such as “what [sins have been com-
mitted] against the three theological virtues . . . and against the four cardinal
virtues; what through the five senses, through the seven mortal sins, against
the seven sacraments, against the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, against the
eight Beatitudes. . . . For this most hateful and tedious catalogue of distinc-
tions is utterly useless, indeed, altogether harmful.”97 Regarding the confes-
sion of “secret sins,” Luther speculates that it “was all the invention either of
avaricious or inquisitive prelates, or certainly tyrannical ones.”98 He asserts
that it is not necessary to confess “simple thoughts about a virgin or a woman,
nor, on the other hand, a woman’s thoughts about a young man; nor affections
themselves or the ardor of mutual lust, or the inclination toward the opposite
sex, however filthy. . . .”99

[Coerced] Chastity100
Luther’s attitude towards “secret sins” reveals his judgment that sexuality is
an essential part of human nature, which cannot be denied or successfully
repressed. Confession should, therefore, be made only regarding those secret
sins “which involve full consent to the deed.”101 Luther condemns clerical celi-
bacy, which he characterizes as all but impossible: “For human frailty does not

96. Tentler, Sin and Confession on the Eve of the Reformation, xix. See also Tentler, “Summa for Confessors
as an Instrument of Social Control.”
97.  LW, 39:36–­37; WA, 6:163.
98.  LW, 39:33.
99.  LW, 39:33–­34.
100.  In the first version of Melanchthon’s text (indicated as version α in WA, 11:375ff.) the author uses
the phrase “erzwungen keuscheit” (“coerced chastity”) [376/30]. The A1 text, omits the word “erzwungen”
before “keuscheit.” However, in its historical context, the meaning is “coerced chastity” consistent with the
α text.
101.  A Discussion on How Confession Should Be Made (1520), in LW, 39:34.
128 Chapter 4

permit a man to live chastely, but only the strength of angels and the power of
heaven.”102 He charges that the pope, through his “intolerable and destructive
law of celibacy for all priests . . . causes them of necessity to fornicate.”103 The
pope forces his priests to do the impossible and then “permits their fornica-
tion with impunity whereby he has increased fornication and sodomy and
filled the world with these sins.”104
Though Luther views clerical celibacy as self-­defeating, he nevertheless
calls for a chaste lifestyle for all believers. He insists that “gluttony, drunken-
ness, lying late abed, loafing, and being without work” are all vices by which
chastity is quickly overcome.105 He wants brothels closed106 and he condemns
the sale of obscene pilgrim badges: “What is it that they [the Romanists] sell?
Vulvas and genitals . . . , the pudenda of both sexes, or (as the Scriptures say)
‘shame and nakedness.’”107 He also calls for reform of laws relating to adultery
among relatives. If a man had relations with a sister-­in-­law or someone else
related to him with any degree of consanguinity, he was no longer allowed to
have sexual relations with his wife, but he was also not allowed to leave his
wife’s bed: “they [the clergy] put a man into the lap of a naked woman and
forbid him to touch her or to know her.”108 The reformers’ attitude on chastity
might best be described as strict morality tempered with common sense.

The issue of clerical celibacy and the inviolability of vows are inextricably
intertwined. During the course of 1521, both Melanchthon and Luther wrote
treatises dealing with these topics. While Luther was in hiding at the Wart-
burg, parish priests sympathetic to the Reformation began to act on their
conviction that clerical celibacy was not binding. One such case involved
Jacob Seidler of Glasshütte in Meissen, who served a parish that lay within
the territory of Duke George. This implacable opponent of Luther had Pastor

102.  To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (1520), in LW, 44:177.
103.  The Misuse of the Mass (1521), in LW, 36:206.
104.  Ibid. The reference here is to the concubinage fee that a priest gave to his bishop for keeping a con-
cubine and to the cradle fee that a priest paid as penalty for begetting illegitimate offspring. See Scribner,
“Anticlericalism and the German Reformation,” 246.
105.  A Treatise on Good Works (1520), in PE, 1:276; and WA, 6:269.
106.  To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (1520), in LW, 44:214–­15.
107.  The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), in LW, 36:97; regarding obscene pilgrim badges, see
Jones, Secret Middle Ages, 256.
108.  A Discussion on How Confession Should Be Made (1520), in LW, 39:45.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 129

Seidler arrested, imprisoned, and eventually executed, in spite of Melanch-

thon’s efforts to defend him.109 Another cleric who married was Bartholomew
Bernhardi of Feldkirch, one of Luther’s former students. Archbishop Albert
demanded that Elector Frederick surrender Bernhardi to him; Frederick
refused. In defense of Bernhardi, Melanchthon wrote an apology that was
translated into German and published as Priests May Take Wives.110 Here he
argues that neither scripture nor the traditions of the early church call for
clerical celibacy. On the contrary, St. Paul recommends that bishops be the
“husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2). Because of the “frailty of the flesh,”
Bernhardi was not able to keep his vow of celibacy and should not be forced
to do so merely for the sake of human traditions. Melanchthon’s intercession
helped save Bernhardi’s life.
In the Loci communes, Melanchthon includes a section entitled “The
Vows of Monks.” Here he argues that vows amount to a kind of slavery to
the idea that one can earn salvation through works: “the custom of making
vows has been accepted only because faith and evangelical freedom have been
ignored,” and they are “at variance with faith and the freedom of the spirit.”111
Luther addressed vows in a general sense in a number of his early writ-
ings, making the point that vows to go on a pilgrimage or give money to a

monastery are intended as meritorious good works and therefore are contra-
dictory to justification by faith. In his Judgment of Martin Luther on Monas-
tic Vows (written 1521; published 1522) he focuses particularly on monks.113
Here he argues that monastic vows are not commanded in scripture, foster
a belief in salvation by works rather than by faith, promote a dual morality
setting clergy above the laity, curtail acts of charity, and contravene the inex-
orable nature of human sexuality.114

109.  Philip Melanchthon, Johannes Agricola, and Andreas Karlstadt unsuccessfully attempted to inter-
vene with the bishop of Meissen on behalf of Jacob Seidler. Seidler became the first recorded martyr for the
ideas of the Reformation. See CR 1:418–­21, item 119; Melanchthon, Briefwechsel, 1:99, items 152 and 153;
Manschreck, Melanchthon, 71–­72.
110.  CR 1:421–­40; Maurer, Der junge Melanchthon, 2:170; Manschreck, Melanchthon, 72; LW, 44:245–­46;
Lea, History of Sacerdotal Celibacy in the Christian Church, 355–­56; Brecht, Martin Luther, 1521–­1532,
111. Melanchthon, Loci communes, 59.
112.  See, for example, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, The Babylonian Captivity of the
Church, The Misuse of the Mass, A Discussion on How Confession Should Be Made, and A Treatise on the
New Testament, that is, the Holy Mass.
113.  LW, 44:245–­400.
114.  These general points are argued in great detail throughout Luther’s treatise; see ibid.
130 Chapter 4

The Left Hand

The monster’s left hand is human in form, signifying the pope’s claims to sec-
ular jurisdiction. Melanchthon asserts that the pope has managed to make
himself a lord over kings and princes, whom he has recruited for his own
maintenance and defense. The hand is human to make the point that papal
secular jurisdiction has come about not through scriptural justification, but
through “human presumption” [376/20–­377/5]. Melanchthon here is offering
a digest of the ideas that Luther puts forth against papal claims to temporal
authority in his Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (1520).
Luther’s arguments thus provide the context for Melanchthon’s interpretation
of the monster’s left hand.
Chapter 1 has already reviewed many of the key points that the papacy
made to justify its claims to secular authority. Briefly, these arguments are
as follows: (1) The pope is the heir of St. Peter (indignus haeres beati Petri),
the Vicar of Christ, and the possessor of the power of the keys; as such, he
has authority superior to that of temporal rulers just as the soul is superior
to the temporal body and the clergy is superior to the laity. As Gregory VII’s
Dictatus papae stated, “the Pope is the only one whose feet are to be kissed by
all princes,” and he “may depose Emperors.”115 (2) The Donation of Constan-
tine, accepted as genuine until Lorenzo Valla’s analysis became public, links
papal secular jurisdiction in the West to a gift from the hallowed Christian
ruler Emperor Constantine. (3) The theory of the translation of the Empire
(translatio imperii) asserts that since Pope Leo III had the power to transfer
the imperial title from Byzantium to Aachen, successor popes likewise have
the power to make and unmake emperors.116
Luther repudiates these doctrines using both scriptural and histor-
ical arguments, drawing examples from the most politically engaged of all
Renaissance popes, Julius II (1503–­13). As already noted, Luther read Val-
la’s exposé on the Donation of Constantine in February 1520, four months
before he penned the Address. He does not bother restating Valla’s points; he
merely calls the Donation such a crude and clumsy lie “that I should imagine
any drunken peasant could lie more adroitly and skillfully.”117 Regarding the
translatio imperii, Luther notes that the Romanists robbed the Greek emperor

115.  See Ehler and Morrall, Church and State, 44.

116.  See chapter 1 for a full discussion of these topics.
117.  LW, 44:166.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 131

of his title and, in so doing, “brought the power of the Roman Empire under
their control so they could parcel it out themselves. . . . The empire was taken
away from the emperor at Constantinople, and its very name and title given
to us Germans. Through this we became servants of the pope.”118
Papal decrees used to justify secular jurisdiction also come under
Luther’s scrutiny. For example, he asserts, “The chapter Solite, which sets
papal authority above imperial authority, is not worth a cent, and the same
goes for all those who base their authority on it or pay any deference to it.”119
Here Luther is referring to Solitae benignitatis (1201), the letter Innocent
III wrote to Alexius III, emperor of Constantinople, reminding him that
just as the soul is superior to the body, so the pope’s power to bind or loose
sins transcends the empire’s earthly jurisdiction.120 Luther also rejected the
decretal Pastoralis: “It is also ridiculous and childish for the pope, on the
basis of such perverted and deluded reasoning, to claim in his decretal Pas-
toralis that he is the rightful heir to the empire in the event of a vacancy.”121
In 1313 Pope Clement V (1305–­14) issued the bull Pastoralis cura, in which
he asserted papal superiority over the empire by expanding on the idea that
the pope becomes the emperor when there is a vacancy, to assert his right
to appoint imperial vicars during imperial vacancies.122 Luther argues that
there is no scriptural basis for this claim; in fact, he cites the same Bible
passage that Melanchthon uses [376/17], Luke 22:25–­26, to document that
the pope should have no secular authority: “The princes of the Gentiles
are lords, but it shall not be so among you.” Luther rejects this decretal as a
“shameless, gross, and idiotic” lie.123
Another line of argument in the Address has to do with the symbolic rit-
ual of papal-­imperial relations. Luther argues, for example, that the emperor
should never hold the pope’s “stirrup or the bridle of his mule when he
mounts to go riding.”124 This is a reference to the custom of the emperor serv-
ing as strator for the pope as a sign of honor and subservience, i.e., leading the
pope’s mount while holding bridle and stirrup. Some emperors served as the

118.  Ibid., 44:208.

119.  Ibid., 44:165.
120. Cassell, Monarchia Controversy, 9; Tierney, Crisis of the Church and State, 133.
121.  LW, 44:165–66.
122. Cassell, Monarchia Controversy, 204.
123.  LW, 44:166.
124.  Ibid., 44:164.
132 Chapter 4

pope’s strator, others, like Frederick Barbarossa, refused to do so. Luther adds,
“still less should [the emperor] do homage and swear faithful allegiance to the
pope as the popes brazenly demand as though they had a right to it.”125 An
additional sign of reverence was kissing the feet of the pope. Luther says, “We
should never again yield to that devilish pride which requires the emperor
to kiss the pope’s feet.”126 These various practical and theoretical criticisms
of papal jurisdictional claims form the context for Melanchthon’s comments
regarding the monster’s humanoid hand.

The Right Foot

The monster’s right foot is the cloven hoof of an ox, a metaphor for the servants
of the papal regime—­clergy and scholastic theologians. Here Melanchthon
again references issues to be found in the polemical and theological writings
of the Wittenberg reformers in the years leading up to 1523. The criticism
of the clergy harks back to the discussion of the right hand/elephant’s foot,
where the “unbearable laws of the pope (mentioned above)” [377/12] are first
discussed. The attack on the clergy focuses not on the “unbearable laws” as
such, but rather on the clergy, who observe and perform the rites and rituals
that Melanchthon lists in the earlier paragraph: coerced confession, celibacy,
false masses, false penance, indulgences, etc. By serving as the agents that per-
petuate these ceremonial/ritual/sacramental observances, which are based on
a belief in meritorious good works, they keep the wretched consciences of the
poor common people “trapped under the elephant’s foot” [377/14]. In addi-
tion to teachers, preachers, pastors, and confessors, Melanchthon singles out
Scholastic theologians for special criticism. Here he is making reference to
the attack on Scholasticism contained in several of his and Luther’s important
early writings. Whereas the clergy are the practitioners of the papal regime,
the theologians are its theoreticians. Together they comprise the “pillars, foot-
ing, and foundation” [377/15] of the papacy.
Underlying the criticism of both the clergy and the theologians is a rejec-
tion of the salvific efficacy of good works in favor of the doctrine of justifica-
tion by faith. Melanchthon’s “unbearable laws” include a variety of religious
requirements and practices that assume the Scholastic doctrine of merit, the
teaching that the individual can play a role in his salvation by doing merito-
rious good works—­vowing to be celibate, promising to make a pilgrimage,

125.  Ibid., 44:164–­65.

126.  Ibid., 44:164.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 133

endowing purgatory masses, doing works of satisfaction, purchasing indul-

gences, etc. Melanchthon describes Scholastic theology as “imagined, fabri-
cated, and damned demonic prattle and monkish daydreams” [377/16–­17]. To
place this attack into its historic context, it is necessary to review the content of
the doctrine of merit and the reformers’ rejection of it.
With the phrase “demonic prattle and monkish daydreams,” Melanchthon
describes the voluminous and complex tradition of medieval Scholasticism—­
Thomism, Albertism, Scotism, Ockhamism, and Augustinianism.127 Luther was
trained in the nominalist tradition of William of Ockham (d. 1349) and Gabriel
Biel (d. 1495). While always retaining an important role for God’s grace within
the formula for salvation, Ockhamist theology emphasizes the ability of human
free will to make moral choices that are pleasing to God and for which God
rewards the believer with the gift of grace. Within this nominalist tradition, a
believer who loves God does his best on the basis of natural moral ability (facere
quod in se est). For this he is rewarded with an infusion of congruent grace
(meritum de congruo); at this stage he has a kind of semi-­merit. Now, however,
his moral efforts, aided with congruent grace, can achieve full merit, condig-
nant grace (meritum de condigno), and divine acceptation.128
The Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith removes meritorious
good works from the formula for salvation. According to Luther, the individ-
ual Christian believer is made righteous by faith and is thereafter to live his
life in the presence of God and in service to his neighbor. Nothing he can do
can in any way help merit the grace that flows freely from a loving and forgiv-
ing God. Luther and Melanchthon frame their attack against Scholasticism
in terms of free will. The reformers insist that the human will is tainted by
sin and therefore incapable of making moral choices that are meritorious in
the eyes of an all-­perfect God. Melanchthon, for example, does not dispute a
certain freedom of choice in outward, external acts, but that is not the issue.
Rather, the issue is the will and its relation to its internal disposition, state of
mind, or affection. Affection controls the will and is itself controlled by sin.129
As early as 1516 Luther wrote, “Oblivious to the righteousness of God,
which is given freely and most abundantly to us in Christ, they [those who
follow the Scholastic doctrine of merit] try to perform good works with

127.  Janz, “Late Medieval Theology.”

128. Ozment, Age of Reform 1250–­1550, 233–­34; Fife, Revolt of Martin Luther, 158; Mackinnon, Luther
and the Reformation, 1:63–­79; Oberman, Harvest of Medieval Theology, 170–­78, 184.
129. Melanchthon, Loci communes, 22–­30; MSW, 83–­85.
134 Chapter 4

their own resources in an effort to reach the point where they are confi-
dent of standing before God on the basis of good deeds and merits. This is
impossible!”130 In theses that he drafted for his student Bartholomew Bern-
hardi (1516), Luther wrote that the believer cannot prepare himself for grace
either de congruo or de condigno.131 A year later he drafted theses for another
student, Franz Günther, for a disputation against Scholastic theology. Here
he specifically attacked teachings of William of Ockham, Duns Scotus, and
Gabriel Biel. For example, thesis 10: “One must concede that the will is not
free to strive toward whatever is declared good. This in opposition to Scotus
and Gabriel [Biel].”132 Several of the theses for the Heidelberg Disputation
(1518) also contradict the doctrine of merit. For example, thesis 13 states,
“Free will, after the fall, exists in name only, and as long as it does what it is
able to do, it commits a mortal sin.”133 In the sermon Luther preached at the
beginning of the Leipzig Debate, he began with a section concerning free will
and good works, thus using this very public forum to explain his teaching that
one “should despair completely of oneself and by no means rely upon one’s
free will, even to perform the smallest of works.”134
Melanchthon was also quite outspoken against the doctrine of merit. In
an oration delivered at Wittenberg for the observance of the Day of the Con-
version of St. Paul, he contrasts Pauline theology and Scholastic philosophy.
Here he condemns the doctrine of merit using the language of a classicist: “for
the virtue that is gained by human exertion is masked and is plainly playing
the role of some preposterous silenus, resplendent in outer appearance, but
if you should examine it, you would discover nothing but the foulest of pas-
sions.”135In his Oration of Didymus Faventius (1521) he writes, “The philoso-
phers are of the opinion that men may obtain complete virtue by habit. On
the contrary, holy scripture teaches that all things human are contaminated
by sin, and are not able to be cleansed except by the Holy Spirit, which Christ
earned for the human race. . . . On what authority do they [Scholastics] teach
that Christian minds are raised up in the hope of salvation by human merits,

130. WABr, 1:35/17–­21, translated in Ozment, Homo spiritualis, 184.

131. McSorley, Luther: Right or Wrong? 239; WA, 1:147, conclusio secunda.
132.  LW, 31:10.
133.  LW, 31:40. The bull against Luther, Exsurge domine, specifically condemned this thesis. See Hiller-
brand, Reformation: Narrative History, 83.
134.  LW, 51:58.
135.  MSW, 39.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 135

nay rather from where does that profane name ‘merit’ come, by which noth-
ing more shameful or more impious can be devised?”136 Again, the first sec-
tion of the Loci communes (1521) deals with “The Power of Man, Especially
Free Will.” Here he gives a fully developed explanation of the limitations on
free will, concluding “all that stupid and godless men have written about free
will (arbitrium) and justification by works is nothing but a Pharisaic tradi-
tion.”137 In his Against the Furious Decree of the Parisian Theologasters (1521),
he attacks Scholasticism in the harshest terms: thanks to Parisian Scholastics,
“the Gospel has been obscured, faith rendered extinct, the doctrine of works
received, and instead of being a Christian people, we are a people not even of
the Law, but of the morals of Aristotle.”138
In Melanchthon’s metaphorical language, the ox’s hoof is an instrument of
oppression like the elephant’s foot. But whereas the latter stands for the oppres-
sion of consciences by various laws, rites, and rituals, the ox’s hoof symbolizes
the clergy and the theologians who furnish the theoretical justification and the
practical implementation of salvation based on meritorious works.

The Left Foot

The monster’s left foot is the claw of a griffon, which stands for canonists,
whose jurisprudential theories justify the papacy’s financial exploitation of
Germany. In this section Melanchthon focuses only on one aspect of canon
law, namely, its financial impact. Here he reflects the content of Luther’s
Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (1520), where Luther
presents a detailed denunciation of the fiscal effects of canon law.139Luther and
Melanchthon were not alone in their opposition; the holder of the chair of
canon law at Wittenberg, theologian and jurist Justus Jonas, actually resigned
his appointment because he came to believe that canon law “reeked of self-­
serving” and “betrayed biblical truth.”140 Many other reformers also joined the
chorus of criticism—­Wenceslaus Linck of Nuremberg, Wolfgang Capito of
Strasbourg, and Johann Eberlin von Günzburg, for example.141 These attacks

136.  MWA, 1:83, 85. See also MWA, 1:123–­26 for some of Melanchthon’s other criticisms of Scholasticism.
137. Melanchthon, Loci communes, 29.
138.  MSW, 70. In the Nichomachian Ethics, bk. 2, Aristotle argues that a man becomes righteous by per-
forming righteous deeds; see Aristotle, Complete Works, ed. Barnes, 2:1745.
139.  For Melanchthon’s role in the origins of the Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation see
Bauer, “Luthers Aufruf an den Adel,” 200–­201.
140. Witte, Law and Protestantism, 60.
141.  Ibid., 61.
136 Chapter 4

typically date from the early 1520s. By the 1530s, many reformers were find-
ing that, in trying to establish a new Protestant legal system, they could utilize
aspects of canon law. But in the 1520s, Luther and Melanchthon were firm in
their anticanonicalism.142
The Corpus juris canonici comprised the law of the medieval church. It
asserted broad jurisdiction over the sacraments and thus claimed authority
over many aspects of everyday life. For example, jurisdiction over the sac-
rament of marriage meant authority over relations between husbands and
wives—­their sex lives and their family lives. Jurisdiction over penance meant
authority over contracts, oaths, charity, inheritance, and torts. Jurisdiction
over ordination gave canon law authority to define and protect the corporate
rights of the clergy.143 These jurisdictional claims were themselves based on
the papal assertion of the power of the keys. From a jurisprudential point
of view, the two keys stood for the knowledge to discern God’s will and the
power to enforce it. Practically, these powers meant that the pope could
both make and enforce canon law. The sources of the canons (or rules) were
the writings of the church fathers, the decisions of church councils, and the
decretals of the popes.
The Decretum of Gratian (ca. 1140) was one of the most influential stud-
ies of the canons; commentators on the Decretum are known as decretists.
In addition to this work, the Corpus juris canonici included the Decretalium
Gregorii IX. libri quinque, the Liber sextus of Boniface VIII, the Constitutiones
Clementinae of Clement V, the Extravagantes of John XXII, and the Extra-
vagantes communes.144 Glossators on the post-­Gratian decretals are known
as decretalists. When Melanchthon speaks of the “canonists” he means the
decretists, the decretalists, and the content of the Corpus juris canonici itself.145
In the Address to the Christian Nobility, Luther denounces both the
pope’s jurisdictional claims over canon law and various specific financial
exactions that canon law made possible. He alleges that canon law is sub-
ject to change at the whim of the pope: “Even if there were much in it that
was good, it should still be destroyed, for the pope has the whole canon law
imprisoned in the ‘chamber of his heart,’ so that henceforth any study of it is

142. Melanchthon, Loci communes, 62; LW, 44:141–­57; LW, 31:383–­95.

143. Witte, Law and Protestantism, 38.
144.  Peterson, “Development of the Canon Law,” 235–­38; LW, 39:281n34.
145.  See Ullmann, Law and Politics, 119–­89, for an excellent overview of canon law and the scholarship
of canon law.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 137

just a waste of time and a farce.”146 Luther is referring to the Scrinium pectoris
decretal of Boniface VIII, which stated, “The Roman pontiff has all laws in the
chamber of his heart [scrinium pectoris].”147 By right of this decretal, the pope
claimed authority to revise canon law as he saw fit. Luther notes in sarcasm,
“We could never fathom the arbitrary will of the pope, which is all that canon
law has become. . . . Let there be no more ‘doctors of decrees’ [doctores decre-
torum] in the world, but only ‘doctors of the papal chamber of the heart,’ that
is, popish hypocrites!”148
Luther not only condemns this jurisdictional theory, he also takes to task
a long list of instruments of exploitation. He begins by denouncing annates,
one of the most controversial of papal exactions. Originally an income that a
bishop received from vacant benefices in his diocese, annates evolved into a
payment owed to the pope upon the accession of a new bishop. After 1418 the
term also came to include the so-­called servitia, which were payments bish-
ops and abbots made to the curia at the time of their accession. The Council
of Constance restricted the payment of annates to bishoprics and abbacies
that had a yearly income of more than twenty-­four gulden.149 Protests against
the collection of annates were quite common among the German clergy at
the close of the Middle Ages.150 In 1521, a committee of electors and princes
included annates in the list of grievances (Gravamina) they submitted to
Charles V at the Diet of Worms.151 As the Strasbourg preacher Jakob Wimp-
feling stated in 1515, “the sums of money our prelates must send to Rome
are taken from the pockets of poor burghers, rural clerics, and impoverished
peasants, and many a husband and father cannot nourish his family for the
taxes he must pay.”152
Luther also protests against the papal right of reservation, the authority
of the pope to assert jurisdiction over any vacant benefice. According to canon
law, appointments to benefices are made either per petitionem alterius (upon

146.  LW 44:202.
147.  “Romanus pontifex jura omnia in scrinio pectoris sui censetur habere.” See PE, 2:148n2; LW, 44:202.
148.  Ibid., 203. For a discussion of the jurisdictional authority of the papacy, see Ullmann, Medieval Papal-
ism, 50–­75.
149.  The decrees relating to papal collection of annates can be found in Extravagantes of John XXII and
the Extravagantes communes. See PE, 1:383n1, 2:84n1; LW, 44:144n58; ODCC, 59; and Benrath, An den
christlichen Adel, 88–­89n19. For a discussion of annates, see Lunt, Papal Revenues, 1:94–­99, 2:315–­72.
150. Strauss, Manifestations of Discontent, 38, 45.
151.  Ibid., 54–­55.
152.  Ibid., 45.
138 Chapter 4

election, presentation, and appointment by others), or proprio motu (on the

pope’s own motion). The Concordat of Vienna (1448) established that livings
that fell vacant during the months of February, April, June, August, Octo-
ber, and December were to be filled per petitionem alterius; vacancies that
happened during the months of January, March, May, July, September, and
November were to be filled by papal appointments. The rules could always be
modified, however, if the pope asserted that a given benefice was “reserved
in the heart” of the pope (reservatio in pectore).153 Luther complains that the
papacy had expanded its jurisdiction over benefices by claiming (1) that if
the holder of a non-­papal benefice died in Rome or on his way to Rome, his
living became the property of the pope; (2) that the benefices of all cardinals
and of all who were members of the papal household belonged to the pope;
(3) that, if the possession of a benefice was disputed in Rome, the contested
living would become the property of the Roman See.154
The cost of the archbishop’s pallium was another source of grievance.
The pallium is an ecclesiastical vestment made of white wool in the form of
a circular band for the shoulders with pendants in front and back. It is the
emblem of an archbishop’s office; a newly elected archbishop had to secure
the pallium from the pope within three months of his election. Originally,
the pope granted the pallium gratis, but by the sixteenth century the fee for
the pallium had become quite substantial. The Gravamina of 1521 claimed
that the charge for a pallium had increased from 10,000 gulden to as much as
24,000 gulden.155 Luther calls for an imperial law banning the securing of the
pallium from Rome.
Luther also protested papal circumventions of the prohibitions against
plurality of benefices and absenteeism. The granting of more than one benefice
to the same person was one of the ways that the Renaissance papacy rewarded
its servants. Luther alleges that the stratagems the pope used had the effect of
moving benefices (and thus their income) from German to Italian clerics. For
example, the pope could appoint a coadjutor-­bishop to assist an old or sick
individual without that person’s consent. The coadjutor would then succeed to

153.  LW, 44:145n61; PE, 2:86–­87n3, 94–­95n4.

154.  LW, 44:146–­48.
155.  LW, 44:148, n71; PE, 2:89–­90n3; Benrath, An den christlichen Adel, 91n22; Wrede, Deutsche Reichs-
tagsakten jüngere Reihe, 675. For a discussion of the history of the pallium, see Eidenschink, Election of
Bishops, 101–­43, 147–­48; Lunt, Papal Revenues, 1:91, 2:299.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 139

the see when the incumbent died.156 Or again, the pope might grant one of
his courtiers a benefice to hold in commendam, which meant that, when the
benefice became vacant, he could enjoy the revenues without performing any
associated duties. The result was clerical absenteeism.157 The pope might bundle
a number of benefices into one unio (uniting) treating the many as one, thereby
avoiding restrictions against pluralism. Luther alleges that one member of the
papal court held “twenty-­two parishes, seven priories, as well as forty-­four ben-
efices.”158 Still another technique was to appoint a bishop as “administrator” of
an abbey or another dignity. This allowed him to collect the income without
actually assuming the second title.159 Benefices could also be granted upon con-
dition of regression (regressus). That meant that the pope retained reversionary
rights; when the incumbent died, the benefice automatically reverted to Rome.
A variant was to confer a benefice while reserving part of the annual income for
the grantor. Luther charges that regression, in effect, makes a benefice into the
pope’s hereditary property.160
Finally, Luther denounces dispensations that could be had for payment
of a fee: indulgences, letters of confession (which allowed the purchaser to
choose his own confessor), butter letters (which alleviated the severity of
fasts), and confessionalia (a general term for dispensations relating to pen-
ance).161 He ends this section of the Address with a forceful recapitulation:
Since the pope with his Romanist practices—­his commends, coadjutors,
reservations, gratiae expectativae, papal months, incorporations, unions,
pensions, pallia, chancery rules, and such knavery—­usurps for himself
all the German foundations without authority and right, and gives and
sells them to foreigners at Rome who do nothing for Germany in return,
and since he robs the local bishops of their rights and makes mere ciphers
and dummies of them, and thereby acts contrary to his own canon law,
common sense, and reason, it has finally reached the point where the
livings and benefices are sold to coarse, unlettered asses and ignorant
knaves at Rome out of sheer greed.162

156.  LW, 44:149; ODCC, 308.

157.  LW, 44:150n78; ODCC, 319; PE, 2:91n3.
158.  LW, 44:151; PE, 2:93n3.
159.  LW, 44:151; a “dignity” was a church office that gave the holder jurisdiction and honorary precedence
over other ecclesiastical officials, PE, 2:87n1.
160.  LW, 44:152.
161.  Ibid., 44:155.
162.  Ibid., 44:157.
140 Chapter 4

Melanchthon reflects Luther’s association of canon law and avarice with the
words “the canons were invented for their [servants of the pope] insatiable
avarice” [377/24].

Naked Belly and Breasts

The monster’s naked belly and breasts stand for clerical carnality—­drunkenness,
gluttony, and lust. Melanchthon cites St. Paul’s phrase “lovers of pleasure more
than God” (2 Timothy 3:4) [378/7] as a description of the clergy. Here he is
referencing the hoary medieval tradition of anticlericalism, which the Lutheran
reformers conflated with an attack on the clerical estate itself.
On the eve of the Reformation, anticlerical sentiments were quite
common. For example, the anonymous reform treatise The Reformation of
the Emperor Sigismund (ca. 1438), stated, “Many priests have lost their liv-
ings because of women. Or they are secret sodomites. All the hatred existing
between priests and laymen is due to this.”163 Johann Eberlin von Günzburg,
the former Franciscan turned Lutheran reformer, asserted, “When a person
uses the word pfaff [cleric], he refers to a soulless, godless person, drunk, lazy,
greedy, cantankerous and quarrelsome, rascally [schirmig], whoring, [and]
adulterous. . . .”164 The reform tract Neu-­Karsthans (1521) stated, “it is more
likely that my dapple gray horse will learn to read and write than that the
clergy and bishops will go to heaven.”165 The grievances against the clergy were
many and varied,166 but Melanchthon chose to focus on the typical medieval
complaints of gluttony, drunkenness, and sexual immorality. In his criticisms
of the clergy, Luther addressed these same shortcomings, but he interpreted
them much more broadly, insisting that physical unchastity stands for “the
spiritual unchastity through which souls are perverted and defiled and led
from faith to works.”167 He thereby combined carnality and works righteous-
ness, condemning them together.

163. Strauss, Manifestations of Discontent, 14.

164.  Quoted in Karant-­Nunn, “Clerical Anticlericalism?”
165. Goertz, Pfaffenhaß, 59.
166.  The different social classes had different anticlerical grievances. Peasants resented ecclesiastical tithes
and rents; craftsmen disliked competition from monastic craft production; townsmen resented clerical
exemption from taxes and other civic responsibilities and juridical benefit of clergy; and the imperial
estates opposed the flow of money to Rome facilitated by the ecclesiastical hierarchy. See Goertz, Pfaffen-
haß, 58; Goertz, “‘What a tangled and tenuous mess,’” 503.
167.  LW, 39:263.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 141

Professor Hans-­Jürgen Goertz has pointed out that medieval anticleri-

calism addressed particular grievances whereas Reformation anticlericalism
attacked the dominant position of the clerical estate.168 Luther treated anticler-
ical topics in several treatises but the work that best illustrates his attack on the
clerical estate and thus provides the best context for understanding the “Belly
and Breasts” paragraph is his Against the Spiritual Estate of the Pope and Bishops
Falsely So-­Called (1522).169 Here Luther addresses the bishops of the church, but
he generalizes his comments to other members of the clergy as well, making
specific references to religious foundations, monasteries, and universities.170 He
condemns the concupiscence of the prelates, accusing them of living in lust and
depending on the sweat and labor of others.171 He characterizes the bishops
as “lovers of self, lovers of money, . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of
God.”172 In fact, he uses exactly the same scriptural reference as Melanchthon, 2
Timothy 3:1–­5. Melanchthon says the clergy brazenly live the good life [378/4];
Luther says “the bishops and all the clerics . . . count it a pleasure to revel in hav-
ing a good time now.” He describes them as “reveling in their dissipation,” and
as having “eyes full of adultery” and “hearts trained in greed.”173
In addressing clerical sexual immorality, Luther lays much of the blame
on the requirement of clerical celibacy: “[N]ature does not cease to do its
work when there is involuntary chastity. The flesh goes on creating seed just
as God created it to do. The blood vessels function according to their own
nature, and thus the fluids rise—­and with them the secret sin which St. Paul
calls impurity and softness [Gal. 5:19]. To put it bluntly for the sake of those
who suffer miserably: if it does not flow into flesh it will flow into the shirt.”174
While Luther has a candid and realistic assessment of the imperative
of the human sex drive, he does not condone sexual immorality. Rather, he
interprets clerical licentiousness in the context of his theology of solifidian-
ism. He treats sexual immorality as a symbol of spiritual unchastity, by which

168.  Goertz, “What a tangled and tenuous mess,” 517; Goertz, Pfaffenhaß, 84–­90; Scribner, For the Sake of
Simple Folk, 48; Dipple, Antifraternalism and Anticlericalism, 11.
169.  LW, 39:247–­99; WA, 10.2:105–­58. Luther’s other important anticlerical works include The Misuse of
the Mass (1522), in LW, 36:133–­230, esp. 199–­230, and WA, 8:482–­563; and A Faithful Admonition to All
Christians to Be on Guard against Riot and Rebellion (1522), in LW, 45:57–­74, and WA, 8:676–­87.
170.  LW, 39:258–­60.
171.  Ibid., 39:253.
172.  Ibid., 39:256.
173.  Ibid., 39:258.
174.  Ibid., 297–­98.
142 Chapter 4

he means the teaching of salvation by works.175 He makes his point through

an extended explication of the story of King Balak and the prophet Balaam
(Num. 22:2–­24:25, 31:16).
The story of Balaam is confusing because the protagonist appears in two
different roles. First he is the prophet who, though not an Israelite, is able to
be the mouthpiece of God; he steadfastly refuses Balak’s request to curse the
Israelites. But a few chapters later (Num. 31:16), Balaam is an evil seducer
who counsels the Israelites to trespass against the Lord. It appears that either
there are two Balaams whose stories are conflated or the first Balaam fell from
grace, though this part of the story is omitted.176
Luther’s explication focuses on Numbers 31:16 and, in keeping with the
theme of concupiscence, is highly sexualized. In Luther’s version of events, the
“counsel of Balaam” was the advice that King Balak set up an idol of Baal-­Peor
and surround it with beautiful women to seduce the Israelites. Luther contends
that the idol of Baal-­Peor was a Canaanite version of the Greek fertility god
Priapus, represented as a young man with a large, exposed, permanent erec-
tion. Citing St. Augustine, Luther relates that the worship of Priapus required
that women place a wreath “on the abomination and unchastity of this statue,”
and that brides “place themselves upon this shameful unchastity.”177 (Augus-
tine relates, “the new bride was bidden to sit on the tool of Priapus.”178) Luther
comments, “there is nothing that can be thought up which is so shameful that
people cannot be persuaded to do it.” He continues, “We do the same thing.
Everything the miserable pope and the accursed children, our bishops, invent
and present, we accept and fall for.”179 Citing Numbers 25:1–­2, Luther contends
that the worship of Baal-­Peor involved eating, drinking, and being unchaste.180
Luther concludes, “Therefore, this physical unchastity of Baal-­Peor cannot
mean anything but the spiritual unchastity through which souls are perverted
and defiled and led from faith to works. . . . Spiritually, therefore, this idol is
nothing but the holy canon law, the teaching of the pope and papists in Chris-
tendom. For it is a shameless portrait of spiritual unchastity. From it souls

175.  Ibid., 263.

176.  Interpreter’s Bible, 2:250.
177.  LW, 39:261.
178. Augustine, City of God, trans. Bettenson, bk. 7, chap. 24, 285.
179.  LW, 39:261.
180. Ibid., 39:263. Note the similarity in language between Luther and Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass
Explained at 378/3 (see appendix).
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 143

learn to build upon works, and it perverts the virginal chastity of the pure
Christian faith. Thus one should really call the pope not ‘pope’ but ‘Priapus,’
and the papists not ‘papists’ but ‘Priapists.’”181
As Luther’s Against the Spiritual Estate . . . makes clear, the reformers
placed their criticisms of clerical immorality in the doctrinal context of justi-
fication by faith and the universal priesthood of believers. Within these doc-
trines, the clergy are no longer the mediators of salvation for the laity and they
no longer deserve to hold a preeminent position within the social hierarchy.

The Fish Scales

The fish scales on the monster’s arms, legs, and neck stand for secular princes
and lords [378/9–­10]. To place this metaphor in its historical context one must
understand (1) the place of the nobility within the body politic of the Holy
Roman Empire, (2) the opposition of Catholic princes to Luther’s ideas and
followers during the course of 1522, and (3) Luther’s response to this opposi-
tion in his tract Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed (com-
pleted December 25, 1522).182 During the two decades from 1523 to 1543, the
so-­called princely Reformation took place, in which numerous princes opted
to institutionalize reform doctrines and practices in their territories.183 But
in 1522 it was not clear that Luther’s teachings would withstand the efforts to
ban his ideas and enforce the Edict of Worms. Though by no means the only
locus of power within the empire, the German nobility comprised the most
important group within the polity of early modern Germany.184
The members of the nobility exercised political power within a federal
system of government that recognized their authority at the local territorial
level, within the imperial diet, and in a newly formed executive entity known
as the Imperial Council of Regency (Reichsregiment).185 Melanchthon’s term

181.  Ibid., 39:263–­64.

182.  For dating of this tract see LW, 45:80.
183.  See Cameron, European Reformation, 269, for a list of princes who introduced the Reformation from
1523 to 1564.
184. Benecke, Society and Politics in Germany, 15.
185.  The Imperial Council of Regency (Reichsregiment), first formed in 1500, was brought back into exis-
tence in 1521. Its purpose was to provide a locus of executive authority in the Holy Roman Empire during
the emperor’s absence. Chaired by the emperor’s delegate, it consisted of the electors (or their representa-
tives) as well as delegates chosen from the other estates. In the long run, it proved unsuccessful, but in 1522
it appeared as though it might become an important and viable center of political authority. Holborn, His-
tory of Modern Germany, 44–­48; Ranke, History of the Reformation in Germany, 1:226–­28; Laffan, “Empire
under Maximilian I,” 208.
144 Chapter 4

“secular princes and lords” included an imposing list of noble titles: electors,
dukes, margraves, landgraves, counts, lords, princes, and imperial knights.
These secular lords, together with their ecclesiastical counterparts and the
free imperial cities, made up no fewer than 364 relatively autonomous juris-
dictions within the empire. They were able to govern their separate territories
in relative independence, providing defense, administering justice, and sus-
taining the church.
By the beginning of the sixteenth century, the imperial diet consisted of
three chambers: the Electors (the archbishops of Mainz, Trier, and Cologne,
the count palatine of the Rhine, the elector of Saxony, and the elector of Bran-
denburg); the Council of Ruling Princes (ecclesiastical and lay rulers below
the rank of elector); and the Chamber of Free and Imperial Cities.186 One
scholar has summarized the jurisdictional composition of the empire as fol-
lows: seven electors, eighty ruling princes (thirty of whom were laymen), 150
ruling counts and lords, about two thousand imperial knights, and sixty-­six
free imperial cities.187 Within this complex governance by estates, the “secular
princes and lords” comprised a very influential fraction.
In 1522 it was unclear whether the secular nobles would side with the
emperor and help enforce the Edict of Worms, or side with Luther and help
spread the Reformation. What was clear, however, was that Luther had some
powerful princely opponents who issued religious decrees in an effort to elim-
inate the spread of his ideas and ban his supporters from their territories. This
princely opposition provides an important part of the background for the
“fish scales” section of Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained.
The first of the anti-­Lutheran religious mandates came from Duke
Henry II, the Younger, Duke of Braunschweig-­ Lüneburg and Prince of
Braunschweig-­Wolfenbüttel (ruled 1514–­68). On January 12, 1522, this stal-
wart defender of Catholicism issued a decree forbidding his subjects to create
any sects, alliances, or unions that opposed the traditional teachings of the
“holy church” or that might lead to popular disturbance. He threatened viola-
tors with torture and severe punishment.188

186.  The king of Bohemia, who was a seventh elector, was not a member of the diet. Note that the lowest
group of nobles, the imperial knights, did not win separate representation at the diet.
187. Benecke, Society and Politics, 116; Ramsay, “Austrian Hapsburgs and the Empire,” 327–­28; Hay,
Europe in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, 187–­203.
188.  St.L. , 15:2199–­2200.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 145

Shortly thereafter, on January 20, the Imperial Council of Regency con-

demned religious innovations such as Communion in both kinds, clerical
marriage, and the discarding of vestments, and urged secular and ecclesiasti-
cal authorities to impose severe penalties against those who dared violate these
prohibitions.189 Luther took bitter and sarcastic exception to this decree in his
tract Receiving Both Kinds in the Sacrament (1522).190
On February 10, 1522, Luther’s earliest and most vocal princely detractor,
Duke George the Bearded, Duke of Albertine Saxony and Margrave of Meis-
sen (ruled 1500–­39), issued his own religious mandate. In it he condemned
monks who had abandoned their habits and tonsures, preached against the
traditional mass, celebrated communion in both kinds, told people that they
need not receive the Eucharist on an empty stomach, and consecrated the
sacrament using the German language and wearing secular clothing. He also
condemned the clergy who had taken wives. He made specific reference to
the edict of the Imperial Council of Regency, and he ordered that renegade
monks and secular clergy who had become followers of Luther were to be
arrested and detained until he could impose proper punishment.191
The next princes to prohibit Luther’s followers were the Bavarian core-
gents Duke William IV (ruled 1511–­50) and Duke Louis X (ruled 1514–­45).
In February Luther’s nemesis from the Leipzig Debate, Johann Eck of the Uni-
versity of Ingolstadt, urged the dukes to issue a decree against Luther and in
support of the Edict of Worms. On March 5, 1522, that decree was forthcom-
ing. In it the dukes stated, “We therefore order all Our subjects to reject each
and all of those articles of the Lutheran creed which have been or will be con-
demned, and not to engage in disputations over any such article. We further
instruct all Our officials to be vigilant in their respective districts, and to take
into custody every person, of whatever estate he may be, who is suspected
of association with the Lutheran heresy. He is to be held until We ourselves,
having been apprised, can make disposition of the case.”192
Archduke Ferdinand I of Austria (ruled 1521–­64) was yet another
princely opponent of the Lutheran movement. Serving as the representative

189. Gess, Akten und Briefe, 1:250–­52; LW, 45:77–­78; St.L., 15:2194–­96; Wrede, Deutsche Reichstagsakten
jüngere Reihe, 3:21–­23.
190.  LW, 36:246.
191. Gess, Akten und Briefe, 1:269–­71; St.L., 15:2197–­99; Luther, Correspondence, ed. Smith and Jacobs,
2:86–­89. See also Welck, Georg der Bärtige, 79; Becker, “Herzog Georg von Sachsen,” 171–­73.
192.  Strauss, “Religious Policies of Dukes Wilhelm IV and Ludwig X,” 355. See also Riezler, Geschichte
Baierns, 4:79–­80.
146 Chapter 4

of his brother, Charles V, to the Imperial Council of Regency, Ferdinand was

under great pressure from the emperor to take steps to enforce the Edict of
Worms and to do everything in his power to uproot the Lutheran heresy.193
Nevertheless, Ferdinand failed to convince the imperial diet to endorse strict
enforcement of the Edict of Worms. As already noted, the Imperial Council of
Regency, which he chaired, did issue a directive against religious innovations.
For his own part, in November 1522, Archduke Ferdinand issued mandates
to Austrian officials directing that they no longer tolerate Lutheran preach-
ing and that they order printers and book dealers to neither print nor sell
Lutheran books.194
During the summer of 1522, Luther also came under criticism from a
foreign prince, namely, the king of England, Henry VIII. Seeking to refute
Luther’s Babylonian Captivity of the Church and to gain papal favor, Henry
wrote a Latin treatise, Assertio septem sacramentorum (Assertion of the Seven
Sacraments). Henry had his book formally presented to Leo X, who in turn
conferred on Henry the style “Defender of the Faith.”195 Duke George encour-
aged his secretary and chaplain, Hieronymus Emser, to make a German
translation of Henry’s tract.196 Luther responded in both Latin and German
with Against Henry, King of England, in part, hoping to counter the impact of
Emser’s translation within Ducal Saxony.197 Henry’s arguments and Luther’s
counterarguments need not concern us. The point is that a prominent secular
prince, the king of England, championed the pope and condemned Luther
in 1522. Henry wrote, “I wish the author [Luther] may repent, be converted,
and live; and . . . correct his books, filled with malice, and revoke his errors. If
Luther refuses this, it will shortly come to pass, if Christian princes do their
duty, that these errors, and himself, if he perseveres therein, may be burned in
the fire.”198 Henry had already taken steps against Luther’s works in England.
On May 12, 1521, Cardinal Wolsey formally announced the excommunica-
tion of Luther and his followers and presided over a ceremonial burning of

193. Fichtner, Ferdinand I of Austria, 35–­36.

194. Loserth, Die Reformation und Gegenreformation, 23, 23n1. See also Lhotsky, Das Zeitalter des Hauses
Österreich, 162.
195. Tjernagel, Henry VIII and the Lutherans, 10.
196.  WABr 2:565/16–­17, 566n7.
197. Brecht, Martin Luther, 1521–­1531, 85.
198.  Henry VIII, Assertio septem sacramentorum, ed. O’Donovan, 134; Tjernagel, Henry VIII and the
Lutherans, 12.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 147

Luther’s works. He then sent orders to the bishops of England to confiscate all
of Luther’s writings and send them to him.199
One final decree, issued at the end of the year, completes the chronol-
ogy of princely censures in 1522. Luther published his German translation
of the New Testament in September 1522, basing it on Erasmus’s Greek New
Testament. The work contained woodcut illustrations of the Revelation of
St. John that had a strong antipapal slant. Duke George took action almost
immediately. On November 7, 1522, he issued a proclamation against Luther’s
New Testament, directing his subjects to surrender their copies to the duke’s
representatives and promising that they would receive compensation for the
purchase price. Subjects were given until Christmas to comply; thereafter,
offenders would be punished.200
Thus, by the end of 1522, the Lutheran reform movement faced noble
opposition from many quarters. The imperial diet had condemned it in the
Edict of Worms, the Imperial Council of Regency had forbidden Lutheran
religious innovations, and several Catholic princes had promulgated religious
mandates against Luther’s followers. In the face of these sanctions, Luther
crafted his Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed, com-
posed between October and December 1522.201
In this treatise, Luther argues that secular authorities are established by
God to restrain those who would do evil. They do not derive their power
from the pope, as Pope Boniface VIII had interpreted the medieval theory
of two swords. Also, these temporal rulers have no power over faith or con-
science. Luther thus separates church and state, and defends the importance
of the judgment of the individual in opposing secular authorities.202 Temporal
Authority presents the kernel of Luther’s “two-­kingdoms” theory, which he
elaborated in a number of other writings.203

199. Tjernagel, Henry VIII and the Lutherans, 6–­7.

200. Gess, Akten und Briefe, 1:386–­87; LW, 45:84n11; Becker, “Herzog Georg als Schriftsteller,” 179.
201.  Luther was invited to preach a series of six sermons at Weimar on October 19 and October 24–­26.
The third and fourth of these homilies contain a summary of the content of Temporal Authority. See WA,
10.3:371–­85. The Imperial Council of Regency and the Second Diet of Nuremberg continued to discuss
the enforcement of the Edict of Worms into the spring of 1523. For details, see LW, 49:35–­39. In a letter to
Elector Frederick dated May 29, 1523, Luther reveals detailed knowledge of the actions of the diet. These
events occurred either at the same time as or possibly after the writing of the pope-­ass pamphlet and are
therefore not included in this discussion.
202.  LW, 45:77–129.
203. Witte, Law and Protestantism, 87–­117; Thompson, Political Thought of Martin Luther, 36–­61.
148 Chapter 4

With reference to the pope-­ass pamphlet, Temporal Authority is impor-

tant because it criticizes the Catholic princes in the same way as Melanch-
thon and it uses the same metaphor of fish scales to characterize the secular
princes. Both Melanchthon and Luther derived this metaphor from the Old
Testament description of the leviathan, Job 41:6–­8: “His body is like molten
shields, shut close up with scales pressing upon one another. One is joined to
another, and not so much as any air can come between them: They stick one
to another and they hold one another fast, and shall not be separated.”
In using this metaphor, Luther and Melanchthon follow a medieval
commonplace for describing the Antichrist. As noted in chapter 3, both Mat-
thew of Janov and the author of the Anatomia Antichristi depicted the body of
the Antichrist as being covered with scales, citing this same passage in Job.204
Luther writes, “since I have not been in terror of their [the ‘ungracious lords
and angry nobles’] idol, the pope, who threatens to deprive me of soul and
heaven, I must show that I am not in terror of his lackeys [Schupen, i.e., scales]
and bullies [Wasserblassen, i.e., water bubbles] who threaten to deprive me of
body and of earth.”205 Luther’s Works translates Schupen as “lackeys,” which
is correct in context, but which obscures the reference to “scales” in Job. In
German and in the context of medieval antichristology, it is clear that Luther
is calling the “ungracious lords and angry nobles” the “scales” of the papal
Antichrist, his “lackeys.” The word Wasserblassen literally means “water bub-
bles,” “bladders,” or “blisters.” It was Luther’s favorite derogatory sobriquet for
Duke George.206
In part 2 of Temporal Authority, Luther makes specific reference to the
Catholic princes who have banned his works from their territories: “In Meis-
sen, Bavaria, the Mark, and other places, the tyrants have issued an order
that all copies of the New Testament are everywhere to be turned in to the
officials.”207 Here Luther refers to the religious policies of Duke George, the
Margrave of Meissen; Duke William IV of Bavaria; and Elector Joachim I of
Brandenburg (ruled 1499–­1535).208 Luther sums up his response to the oppo-
sition of the Catholic princes and lords as follows:

204.  Matthew of Janov, Regulae, ed. Kybal, 3:69; De Antichristo & memborum ejus anatomia, 456.
205.  LW, 45:85.
206.  Ibid., 45:84–­85.
207.  Ibid., 45:112.
208.  Elector Joachim supported the issuing of the Edict of Worms and backed Archduke Ferdinand in his
efforts to get the imperial diet to condemn Luther. In a letter to the Imperial Council of Regency dated
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 149

If your prince or temporal ruler commands you to side with the pope,
to believe thus and so, or to get rid of certain books, you should say, “It
is not fitting that Lucifer should sit at the side of God. Gracious sir, I
owe you obedience in body and property, command me within the limits
of your authority on earth, and I will obey. But if you command me to
believe or to get rid of certain books, I will not obey; for then you are a
tyrant and overreach yourself, commanding where you have neither the
right nor the authority.”209

When Melanchthon refers to “secular princes and lords” as fish scales

that “have always depended upon and still depend upon the pope and his
rule,” he is speaking in general terms about the late medieval nexus of feudal
and ecclesiastical authority. But he is also making a specific reference to the
religious policies of the princely defenders of Catholicism in 1522, to Luther’s
Temporal Authority treatise, and to the servants of the papal Antichrist.

The Old Man’s Head on the Backside

The face on the monster’s rump stands for the peaceful demise of the papacy—­
“that it grows old and perishes by itself, without use of sword or human hands,
as Daniel 8[:25] has said, ‘he . . . shall be broken without hands’” [378/32–­34].
While Melanchthon’s interpretation of the rump face as a symbol of nonvio-
lent change seems far-­fetched, it relates directly to Luther’s treatise A Sincere
Admonition by Martin Luther to All Christians to Guard Against Insurrection
and Rebellion. Thus, in order to understand Melanchthon’s plea for nonvio-
lence, it is necessary to look at the context and content of this pamphlet.
Professor Hans-­Jürgen Goertz has argued that Luther wrote his Sincere
Admonition in order to “cool down the anticlerical anger that he himself had
heated up.”210 Known for his forceful, direct, and sometimes intemperate lan-
guage, Luther’s writings from the early 1520s included numerous provocative
passages. For example, in The Misuse of the Mass (written in both Latin and
German, November 1521; published 1522), he derided the clergy as the devil’s
priests with “anointed and oiled fingers, . . . tonsured head and . . . pharisaical
dress.”211 In his Against the Spiritual Estate of the Pope (published before July

March 17, 1522, he indicated his support for the council’s January 20, 1522, mandate against the Lutherans,
see Wrede, Deutsche Reichstagsakten jüngere Reihe, 3:22–­23, esp. 23n1.
209.  LW,45:111–­12.
210.  Goertz, “What a tangled and tenuous mess,” 500.
211.  LW, 36:160.
150 Chapter 4

1522), he wrote, “It would be better to kill all bishops and to annihilate all reli-
gious foundations and monasteries than to let a single soul perish. . . . [I]f they
[the bishops] refuse to hear God’s word and rather rage and rave with banning,
burning, killing, and all evil, what could be better for them than to encounter a
strong rebellion which exterminates them from the world?”212 Possibly Luther’s
most violent prose is to be found in his Latin Comment on Prierias’ Epitoma
responsionis ad Martinum Lutherum (June 1520), where he wrote,
If we punish thieves with gallows, robbers with the sword, and heretics
with fire, why do we not turn with force of arms against these teachers of
iniquity, these cardinals, these popes, and this whole collection of filth of
the Roman Sodom which unceasingly lays waste the church? Why do we
not wash our hands in their blood, so that we and all who are ours can
be free from a general conflagration that will be extremely dangerous for

Granted that the audience for this work was the educated, Latin-­reading public,
the language is still highly inflammatory. Luther did not abandon his anticler-
ical stance, but he nevertheless decided to write an exhortation to nonviolent
change after his secret, incognito journey from the Wartburg to Wittenberg in
December 1521. Instances of popular unrest in Wittenberg may have helped
move him to this project, but it seems that he was primarily motivated by con-
versations he overheard as he traveled across the countryside.
While Luther was in hiding at the Wartburg, several anticlerical distur-
bances took place in Wittenberg. On October 5 and 6, a group of students
harassed a delegate from the Hospital Brothers of St. Anthony.214 On December
3 a mob of students and townspeople, armed with knives, accosted the priests
who were celebrating mass in the parish church, driving them away from the
altar and confiscating the mass books.215 The city council wrote the Elector
of Saxony, warning him that many of its citizens wanted to join together in a
riot.216 The next day, December 4, a mob of students broke into the Franciscan

212.  LW, 39:253.

213.  WA, 6:347/22–­27, translated in Brecht, Martin Luther 1483–­1521, 347; St.L., 18:452.
214.  LW, 45:54, 48:327.
215. Müller, Die Wittenberger Bewegung, 73.
216.  Ibid., 74. See also LW, 45:55.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 151

monastery and verbally abused the friars.217 Fearing that matters were getting
out of control, the council posted guards to protect the cloister.218
Luther arrived in Wittenberg on December 4, 1521, having traveled
from the Wartburg via Leipzig disguised as a knight. He remained in Witten-
berg for three days and thus had an opportunity to hear reports of and even
witness some of these anticlerical actions firsthand. But he seems to have been
much more concerned about conversations he overheard during his travels.
While still in Wittenberg, he wrote to Spalatin, “I was disturbed on the way by
various rumors concerning the improper conduct of some of our people, and
[therefore] I have decided to issue a public exhortation on that subject as soon
as I have returned to my wilderness [i.e., the Wartburg].”219
The promised exhortation took the form of the tract A Sincere Admo-
nition (completed in mid-­December 1521, published early in 1522). In this
work, Luther bases his argument on Daniel 8:25, the same scriptural passage
that Melanchthon cites [378/33]. Luther writes, “Scripture foretells for the
pope and his adherents an end far worse than insurrection and bodily death.
Daniel 8[:25] says, ‘By no human hand he shall be broken,’ that is, by no sword
or physical force.”220 The lies of the pope and his clerical hierocracy need only
be exposed and they will be undone by the world’s derision. “All that the pope
is and has, his foundations, monasteries, universities, laws and doctrines are
mere lies, founded on nothing but lies. . . . It only needs to be recognized and
made known, therefore, and pope, priests, and monks will end in shame and
Luther contends that insurrection is to be avoided for a number of rea-
sons: (1) it substitutes human punishment for divine retribution, (2) it lacks
discernment, often harming the innocent more than the guilty, (3) it is forbid-
den by God, who says, “Revenge is mine, and I will repay” (Deut. 32:35), and
(4) it is a suggestion of the devil who does not want the bright light of truth
to expose the pope and the papists.222 If people would stop becoming priests,
monks, and nuns, stop giving money for bulls, candles, bells, and churches,
and simply live lives of faith and love, the “pope, bishops, cardinals, priests,

217. Müller, Die Wittenberger Bewegung, 77–­78.

218.  Ibid., 78.
219.  LW, 48:351–­52.
220.  Ibid., 45:59.
221.  Ibid., 45:60.
222.  Ibid., 45:62–­64.
152 Chapter 4

monks, nuns, bells, towers, masses, vigils, cowls, hoods, tonsures, monastic
rules, statutes, and all the swarming vermin of the papal regime . . . will all
vanish like smoke.”223
Luther’s strident language seems inconsistent with his peaceful message.
But his point is that verbal criticism will bring the pope into disrepute and
undermine his standing. “When he [the pope] is gone from men’s hearts and
so has lost their confidence, he is already destroyed. He can be handled better
this way than with a hundred insurrections. By resort to violence we will do
him no harm at all.”224 The papal regime must be slain with words not deeds.
Luther thus yokes together a forceful condemnation of the papal clergy with
a forceful condemnation of anticlerical violence.225 Melanchthon makes the
same point: the truth exposes the malice of the papal regime and it “perishes
by itself, without the use of the sword or human hands” [378/32–­33].

The Tail
In construing the monster’s tail, Melanchthon conflates two medieval icono-
graphic commonplaces—­the tail as false prophet and the dragon as persecu-
tor of the people of God. The false prophet topos derives from Isaiah 9:15:
“and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail.” The persecuting dragon
comes from Revelation 12 and 13, where it is described as speaking blasphe-
mies against God and making war against the saints (Rev. 13:6–­7). The Anato-
mia Antichristi made use of both of these images. For example, the author
described the Antichrist’s tail as false prophets who stir up the flies of twisted
thoughts, which separate Christians from God. He also spoke of the tail of the
dragon in Revelation 12:4 “[that] drew the third part of the stars of heaven
and cast them to earth.”226 This he interpreted as false prophets seducing man-
kind. For Melanchthon, the Antichrist’s tail takes the form of a dragon’s head
that spews papal bulls and pro-­papal books.
Between the posting of the Ninety-­Five Theses and the publication of
the pope-­ass pamphlet, several papal bulls attempted to deal with the Luther
question. On November 9, 1518, Pope Leo X issued Cum postquam, which
defined the church’s teaching on indulgences and reaffirmed contemporary
practice by asserting the pope’s authority to distribute indulgences for the

223.  Ibid., 45:68.

224.  Ibid., 45:67.
225.  See Goertz, “What a tangled and tenuous mess,” 514.
226.  De Antichristo & memborum ejus anatomia, 456–­57.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 153

benefit of both the living and the dead in purgatory.227 In a letter to Elec-
tor Frederick, Luther complained that Cum postquam offered nothing new,
used confusing and incomprehensible language, and cited neither scripture,
church fathers, nor canon law in support of its points. He concluded, it “offers
only empty words which do not deal with my problem, nor does it reply in
any way to my writings or requests.”228 On June 15, 1520, Pope Leo issued
Exsurge domine, which condemned forty-­ one propositions drawn from
Luther’s works, required that his heretical writings be burned, and threatened
Luther with excommunication if he did not recant within sixty days following
the bull’s formal promulgation in Saxony.229 Luther received the bull on Octo-
ber 10, 1520, and sixty days later, he burned a copy of it in a bonfire outside
the Elster Gate in Wittenberg, symbolically marking his formal break with
Rome.230 Within a month of the famous bonfire, Leo issued Decet romanum
pontificem (January 3, 1521), formally excommunicating Luther. It declared
him and his supporters heretics and called for the formal proclamation of the
excommunication in all churches.231 On March 28, 1521, the pope issued his
traditional Maundy Thursday bull, In coena domini, a customary annual con-
demnation of heretics. This year he included Luther for the first time. In 1522,
Luther translated this bull into German as a New Year’s “gift” to the pope.232
Turning to the “slanderous books” that the dragon spews forth, we come
to a consideration of the Catholic controversialists and their works from
the period 1517 to 1522.233 The men who, early on, took up the challenge of
defending the papal regime and the ecclesiastical status quo against the crit-
icisms of Luther and his supporters represented a broad spectrum of theolo-
gians and regular and secular clergy drawn primarily from Germany and Italy,

227.  Cum postquam was officially published December 13, 1518. For the text, see Kidd, Documents Illus-
trative of the Continental Reformation, 39–­40. See also Hendrix, Luther and the Papacy, 76–­77; Brecht,
Martin Luther, 1483–­1521, 261.
228.  LW, 48:105.
229. Kidd, Documents Illustrative of the Continental Reformation, 74–­79; Hillerbrand, Reformation: Nar-
rative History, 80–­84.
230.  Luther explained his actions in Why the Books of the Pope and His Disciples Were Burned (1520), in
LW, 31:381–­95.
231.  Mirbt and Aland, Quellen zur Geschichte des Papsttums, 1:513–­15; Brecht, Martin Luther, 1483–­1521,
232.  WA, 8:688–­720; PE, 2:105n4.
233. In German, the Catholic controversialists are known as the “katholische Kontroverstheologen”;
Luther called them “Romanists” or “papists.” The best recent discussion of them is by Bagchi, Luther’s Ear-
liest Opponents. See also Edwards, “Catholic Controversial Literature, 1518–­1555.”
154 Chapter 4

as well as two secular princes. The Germans included Johann Tetzel (1465–­
1519), Dominican preacher, inquisitor, and indulgence seller; Johann Eck
(1486–­1543), doctor of theology, professor of theology at Ingolstadt, ordained
priest, and accomplished debater; Augustin von Alveldt (ca. 1480–­ca. 1532),
Franciscan Observant and lecturer in theology at the university in Leipzig;
Thomas Murner (1475–­1537), Franciscan, humanist, doctor of both theology
and law, imperial poet laureate, and master of satire; Johann Dobneck, known
as Cochlaeus (1479–­1552), humanist, doctor of theology, ordained priest, and
master of the St. Lawrence school in Nuremberg; and Hieronymus Emser
(1477–­1527), bachelor of theology, master of arts, licentiate of canon law, sec-
retary and court chaplain to Duke George of Saxony. Of these, the most prolific
during the period from 1518 to 1522 were Eck, Alveldt, and Emser.234
Some of the most important Italian controversialists during these same
years included Sylvester Mazzolini Prierias (1456–­1527), Dominican, theo-
logian, canon lawyer, and master of the sacred palace for Leo X; Thomas de
Vio, known as Cajetan (1469–­1534), master-­general of the Dominican order
(1508–­18), cardinal, master of sacred theology, papal diplomat, and strong
proponent of papal supremacy; and Thomas Rhadinus Todiscus (1488–­1527),
Dominican, student of philosophy and theology, and vicar to Prierias as mas-
ter of the sacred palace.
In addition to the German and Italian theologians, there were two
ruling princes who joined the fray: King Henry VIII of England and Duke
George of Saxony.235 Both were reasonably well grounded in theology and
both used their positions of political authority to take steps against the spread
of Lutheran ideas.
As one might expect, the publication record of the Catholic contro-
versialists responded to key developments of the reform movement itself,
beginning with the Indulgence Controversy.236 The papal court’s first official
response to Luther’s Ninety-­Five Theses was Prierias’s Latin treatise Dialogue
Concerning the Power of the Pope against the Presumptuous Positions of Martin

234. Bagchi, Luther’s Earliest Opponents, 189. Note that Cochlaeus was also very prolific, but most of his
polemical works date from after 1522.
235.  Duke George’s most important works come after 1522 and are therefore not considered here. See
Becker, “Herzog Georg als Schriftsteller,” 183–­269.
236.  David V. N. Bagchi uses the approach of surveying the early controversialist corpus from the per-
spective of key developments of the Reformation movement itself. See Bagchi, Luther’s Earliest Opponents,
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 155

Luther (1518).237 That same year Johann Tetzel published Rebuttal of a Pre-
sumptuous Sermon Containing Twenty Erroneous Articles on Papal Indulgence
and Grace.238 The agenda of the reform movement soon shifted from the the-
ology of indulgences to the ideology of papal supremacy. As part of the pre-
liminary skirmishing prior to the Leipzig Disputation, Luther proposed a set
of thirteen theses, the most controversial of which was thesis thirteen, which
questioned papal powers. He expanded on this topic in his Explanation of
the Thirteenth Thesis on the Authority of the Pope. Prierias responded to this
with his Martin Luther’s Erroneous Arguments Named, Exposed, Rejected, and
Most Utterly Ground to Pieces (1520).239 Alveldt also answered Luther with
his The Apostolic See (1520)240 and his vernacular A Very Fruitful and Useful
Little Book Concerning the Holy See (1520).241 Thomas Murner joined in with
Concerning the Papacy (1520),242 as did also Johann Eck with a three-­volume
work entitled The Primacy of Peter against Luther (1521).243
The Leipzig Debate occasioned yet another wave of controversialist
publications. Hieronymus Emser, for example, published an account of the
debate in the form of an open letter to the administrator of the Catholic
church in Prague entitled The Leipzig Disputation: Did It Support the Bohe-
mians? (1519), wherein he falsely reported that Luther had not supported
the Hussite position.244 Eck also took part with his Vindication of Eck against
Those Things Which the Wittenberg Grammarian, Philip Melanchthon, Falsely
Asserted Concerning the Leipzig Disputation (1519).245
The year after the Leipzig Debate, Luther published some of his most
influential works, including The Address to the Christian Nobility of the Ger-
man Nation. This call to the secular authorities to carry out a radical reform

237.  Sylvestri Prieratis O. P. in praesumptuosas Martini Lutheri conclusiones de potestate Papae dialogus.
For locations of works cited in notes 237–­51, see Bagchi, Luther’s Earliest Opponents, 269–­83.
238.  Vorlegung gemacht wyder eynen vormessen sermon von twentzig irrigenn artikeln bebstliche ablas und
gnade belangende, allen christglaubigen menschen tzu wissen von nothen.
239.  Errata et argumenta Martini Luteris recitata, detecta, repulsa et copiosissima trita.
240.  Super apostolica sede, an videlicet divino sit iure nec ne, anque pontifex qui Papa dici caeptus est, iure
divino in ea ipsa praesideat, non parum laudanda ex sacro Bibliorum canone declaratur.
241.  Eyn gar fruchtbar und nutzbarlich buchleyn von dem Babstlichen stul: und von sant Peter: und von
den / warhafftigen scheflein Christi sein / die Christus unser herr Petro befolen hat in sein hute und regirung.
242.  Von dem babstentum, das ist von der höchsten Obrigkeit des christlichen Glaubens.
243.  De primatu Petri adversus Lutherum libri tres.
244.  De disputatione Lipsicensi, quantum ad Boemos obiter deflexa est.
245.  Excusatio Eckii ad ea, quae falso sibi Phil. Melanchthon Grammaticus Wittenb. super Theologica Dis-
putatione Lipsica adscripsit.
156 Chapter 4

of the ecclesiastical establishment elicited numerous responses: Eck published

Defense of the Sacred Council of Constance, Holy Christendom, His Imperial
Highness Sigmund, and the German Nobility (1520);246 Thomas Murner brought
out To the Exalted Illustrious Nobility of the German Nation that They Protect
the Christian Faith against the Destroyer of the Christian Faith, Martin Luther . . .
(1520);247 and Emser issued Against the Unchristian Book of the Augustinian
Martin Luther to the German Nobility (1521).248 The Italian Thomas Rhadinus,
who used his byname Tedeschi to announce his German heritage, wrote his
Oration of Thomas Rhadinus against the Heretic Martin Luther (1520).249
Even more controversial than Address to the Christian Nobility was The
Babylonian Captivity of the Church, for the latter called into question the
validity of the sacraments of the church. It galvanized numerous controver-
sialists into action. For example, Alveldt wrote A Sermon in Which Brother
Augustinus von Alveldt . . . Complains . . . of Brother Martin Luther . . . Together
with an Addendum about Recent Writings of Brother Martin Luther Concerning
the Mass (1520?).250 Murner produced A Christian and Brotherly Exhortation
to the Learned Doctor Martin Luther of the Augustinian Order at Wittenberg
(1520),251 and King Henry VIII wrote his Assertion of the Seven Sacraments
These are only a few of the many Catholic responses to Luther during
the years 1517 to 1522. Most of these works reasserted the authority of the
pope within the church and affirmed the authority of the clergy over the

246.  Des heiligen concilii tzu Costentz, der heylgen Christenheit und hochlöblichen keyssers Sigmunds und
auch des teutzschen adels entschüldigung, das in bruder Martin Luder mit unwarheit auffgelegt, sie haben
Johannem Huss und Hieronymum von Prag wider babstlich, christlich, keyserlich geleidt und eydt vorbrandt.
247.  An den Grossmechtigsten und Durchlüchtigsten adel tütscher nation das sye den christlichen glauben
beschirmen / wyder den zerstorer des glaubens christi / Martinum Luther eine verfierer der einfeltigen christen.
248.  Wider das unchristliche Buch Martini Luthers Augustiners an den Teutschen Adel ausgangen Vorlegung
Hieronymi Emser an gemeyne Hochlöblische Teutsche Nation.
249.  Thome Rhadini Todeschi Placentini ord. pre. ad illustriss. et invictiss. Principes et populos Germanie in
Martinum Lutherum Wittenbergensem or. here. Nationis gloriam violantim: Oratio.
250.  Ein Sermon darinnen sich Bruder Augustinus von Alveldt . . . des so in Bruder Martinus Luther . . .
under vil schmelichen namen gelestert / und geschent / beclaget / und wie Augustinus forder wyder Martinum
(tzu erkennen wie gesunt sein lere sey) tzu schreyben wiln hat. Auch mith eynem tzu satz / etlichs dinges sso
vom Bruder Martinum Luther newlich von der messe geschriben ist.
251.  Ein christliche und briederliche ermanung zu dem hochgelerten doctor Martino Luter Augustiner orden
zu Wittemburg (Dz er etlichen reden von dem newen testament der heilligen messe gethon) abstande / und
wid mit gemeiner christenheit sich vereininge.
252.  Assertio septem sacramentorum adversus Marti. Lutherum, aedita ab invictissimo Angliae et Franciae
rege et dom. Hyberniae Henrico eius nominis octavo.
Philip Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) 157

sacraments, they were generally addressed to a learned audience, and they

were often written in Latin. Consequently they did not have the same popular
impact as Luther’s works in German.253 Nevertheless, in the early months of
1523, the controversialists’ writings were important enough that Melanch-
thon felt compelled to condemn them as the vile spew of a dragon. By con-
necting the papal bulls and the Romanists’ writings with the monster’s tail/
dragon’s mouth, Melanchthon used a medieval commonplace to characterize
them as the lies of false teachers that misled the faithful.

The Animalized Monstrosity of the Papal Antichrist

In crafting The Pope-­Ass Explained, Melanchthon followed the metaphorical
approach of The Anatomy of the Antichrist (discussed in chapter 3). It is not
known whether Melanchthon read Brunfels’s edition of the Anatomy, whether
he read another extant source, or whether, as a well-­read scholar, he simply
knew the same anatomical tropes that the author of the Anatomy knew. The
parallels are striking and worth summarizing. For both documents, the head
stands for the pope’s claim to be the head of the church; the hands represent
papal jurisdictional claims; the feet symbolize the clerical servants of the pope;
the belly and breasts depict the gluttony, greed, and carnality of the clergy; the
scales stand for defense of the papal regime; and the tail represents the false
teaching of the pope and his supporters. These similarities demonstrate that
Melanchthon and the author of The Anatomy of the Antichrist shared a com-
mon vocabulary and tropological understanding of the anatomical metaphor
of the papal Antichrist.254

In The Pope-­Ass Explained, Melanchthon cleverly weaves together a num-
ber of themes in his explication of the papal regime. As a firm believer in
the validity of portents for discerning divine intention, he views the Roman
monster as a salutary admonition from God, to “guard against the accursed
Antichrist and his followers” [379/20]. Further, he draws on the late medieval
tradition of the physiognomy of the Antichrist to develop metaphors about
the monster’s body parts, relying on commonplaces from the papal Antichrist
tradition. He assumes that the monster is a figure of the Antichrist proper,

253.  Edwards, “Catholic Controversial Literature,” 189–­95.

254.  For a more detailed discussion of the similarities between The Pope-­Ass Explained and Anatomy of the
Antichrist, see Buck, “Anatomia Antichristi,” 355–­57, 364–­66.
158 Chapter 4

one of the multiple precursors also called Antichrists. He also assumes that
the monster is both a genuine historical phenomenon, found on the banks of
the Tiber, and an embodiment of the collective evil within the contemporary
Roman Church (the mystical Antichrist). He sees the chimera as a sign of the
impending end of days, against which believers must take special care so as
to avoid seduction. And he contrasts the true church, which is spiritual, with
the corrupted contemporary church, which has a pope as its corporeal head.
All of these assumptions can be found in the papal Antichrist tradition of the
late Middle Ages.
Melanchthon incorporates numerous references to the polemics of the
reform movement. His list of topics includes papal primacy, ecclesiology,
meritorious works, confession, penance, the mass, indulgences, veneration
of relics, celibacy, vows, papal secular jurisdiction, Scholasticism, canon law,
clerical concupiscence, the nexus of feudal and ecclesiastical authority, nonvi-
olent religious change, and the publications of the Catholic controversialists.
He manages to incorporate all of these topics under the rubrics of the chi-
mera’s body parts while paying close attention to the conventional common-
places of papal antichristology, the animalized metaphor, and key ideas of the
early Lutheran movement. In a world in which portents and the Antichrist
were taken in dead earnest, an explication of a bizarre monstrosity as a figure
of the papal Antichrist had a powerful impact.
Exactly how powerful this effect was can be judged by looking at the
numerous reprintings and translations of the tract, the frequent reproduc-
tion of the monster’s image, and its use in encyclopedic wonder-­books and in
Protestant-­Catholic polemics during the latter part of the sixteenth century.
The historical impact of the pope-­ass is the subject of the next chapter.
Chapter 5

The Diffusion of the Roman Monster

within the Discourse
of the Reformation

During the course of the sixteenth century, the Roman monster
became one of the most notorious prodigies of early modern Europe.1 Its
image appeared in religious polemics in Germany, Switzerland, France, the
Low Countries, and England. It achieved its fame through the numerous
reprintings and translations of Melanchthon’s pamphlet, through Luther’s use
of the pope-­ass as a polemical trope, through citations and illustrations in the
popular new genre known as wonder-­books, and through the adoption of the
monstrous image in Catholic-­Protestant controversial literature beyond Ger-
many in the latter part of the century. In England, for example, when faced
with resurgent Catholicism at home and abroad, Protestants appropriated the
pope-­ass in their defense of the Elizabethan religious settlement. This chap-
ter focuses on the various ways that the Roman monster became diffused
throughout the rhetoric of the Reformation during the sixteenth century.

Editions and Translations of The Pope-­Ass Explained

The editors of the Weimar edition of Luther’s works have constructed a care-
ful inventory and chronology of the printing history of Melanchthon’s The
Pope-­Ass Explained.2 The pamphlet appeared alone, in joint publications with
Luther’s monk-­calf tract, and in a revision that Melanchthon made in 1535.
The printings as a single item included one version entitled the Figur des Anti-
christlichen Bapsts, Melanchthon’s first draft, printed in Wittenberg in 1523.
The reworked, final version of 1523 was printed alone two times (in Strasbourg
and Erfurt) and many more times in combination with Luther’s monk-­calf
pamphlet. In addition to the 1523 Wittenberg joint publication (designated as

1. Spinks, Monstrous Births and Visual Culture, 59.

2.  WA, 11:361–­66.
160 Chapter 5

A1 in the Weimar edition),3 there were seven additional printings (one from
Wittenberg, one from Basel, and five with no place of publication indicated).
In 1535, Melanchthon revised his text, expanding and intensifying his attack
on the papacy.4 Accompanying this version was a postscript from Luther. The
1535 revision was published in Wittenberg and again that same year without
place of publication, but with a text that closely followed the Wittenberg copy.
In 1549, Matthias Flacius Illyricus republished Melanchthon’s 1523 text with
various modifications and with his own introduction. In sum, the Weimar
editors report fourteen High German printings of Melanchthon’s pamphlet
between 1523 and 1549. In addition, they list a copy published in Low Ger-
man,5 a French translation (published in Geneva in 1557), a Dutch translation
based on the French text, an English translation, likewise based on the French
source, and a Latin translation (of the 1535 revision). Hartmann Grisar has
found at least four other printings from the sixteenth century that the Weimar
editors overlooked.6 Historians estimate that in the sixteenth century a single
printing of a pamphlet produced approximately one thousand copies.7 This
would mean that, over the course of the sixteenth century, there would have
been more than twenty thousand copies of The Pope-­Ass Explained circulat-
ing in various formats and languages.

Luther’s Vocabulary of Asininity

The reprints of Melanchthon’s pamphlet were not the only means for dissemi-
nating the image and interpretation of the Roman monster. Luther was a very
prolific author whose works were frequently reproduced and widely read. As
he developed his polemical rhetoric, the image of the pope-­ass and the vocab-
ulary of asininity became commonplaces in his antipapal attacks. Already in
1522, even before Melanchthon had written The Pope-­Ass Explained, Luther
described the monster in starkly apocalyptic terms in his sermon for the
Second Sunday in Advent. He based this sermon on Luke 21:25–­36, which
describes the signs that will foretell the approaching end of the world. To make

3.  WA, 11:375–­79.

4. Spinks, Monstrous Births and Visual Culture, 78. The 1535 revision was titled Der BapstEsel durch M.
Philippum Melanchthon gedeutet und gebessert, mit D. Mart. Luth. Amen.; see Köhler, Flugschriften des
späteren 16. Jahrhunderts, fiche no. 1395.
5.  Grisar and Heege, Luthers Kampfbilder, vol. 3, Der Bilderkampf . . . 1523 bis 1545, 21, contend that there
were at least two Low German versions.
6.  Ibid., 21–­22.
7.  Köhler, “The Flugschriften and Their Importance in Religious Debate,” 154.
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 161

the point that the signs of the end were manifest, he cited recent instances of
solar and lunar eclipses, meteor showers, the outbreak of the French pox, and
the appearance of the Roman monster, which he interpreted both as an apoc-
alyptic portent and as a symbol of the papacy:
No astronomer will say that the course of the heavens foretold the com-
ing of the terrible beast which the Tiber threw up a few years ago; a beast
with the head of an ass, the breast and body of a woman, the foot of an
elephant for its right hand, with the scales of a fish on its legs, and the
head of a dragon in its hinder parts, etc. This beast typifies the papacy and
the great wrath and punishment of God. Such a mass of signs presages
greater results than the mind of man can conceive.8

Luther wrote many sermons on the lections for various seasons of the
church year: Advent sermons, Christmas sermons, Lenten sermons, etc.
The sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent was printed repeatedly from
the 1520s through the 1540s, alone and in various combinations with other
sermons for the church year. Wittenberg printers produced most of these
editions, but print shops in Magdeburg and Strasbourg also published ser-
mon collections.9 The large number of printings indicates the popularity of
Luther’s homilies. The ready availability of the sermon for the Second Sunday
in Advent helped keep the image of the Roman monster fresh in the imagina-
tion of listeners and readers.
Luther also helped to promote the notoriety of the monster through the
approbation that he added to Melanchthon’s 1535 expanded version of The
Pope-­Ass Explained. In this short addendum, Luther appropriates the image
of the pope-­ass and its apocalyptic meaning into his antipapal vocabulary. He
compares the papacy to the inhabitants of the city of Sodom. Just as they lived
in wantonness and ignored warnings from God, so “the lords in the papacy”
live in sin, reject God’s word, and mock and laugh at the gospel and Christian
belief. The pope-­ass is dreadful and ugly, but what is more terrifying is the fact
that God himself made this monstrous image as an indication of his inten-
tions. The papacy seeks to kill or expel its opponents; it condemns God’s word
and calls it heresy. It “may be called the true dragon’s head, the one who gawks
out of the backside of the pope-­ass and spews forth such vile dung and filth.”10

8.  WML, 10:70; St.L., 11:56–­57; WA, 10.1/2:105.

9.  For the publication history of the sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent, see WA, 10.1/2: xiv–­xxi.
10.  St.L., 19:1939–­40; Melanchthon, Der BapstEsel (1535), Cii[r]; Spinks, Monstrous Births and Visual
162 Chapter 5

Luther’s reliance on the vocabulary of asininity can again be seen in two

of his most virulent antipapal works written in the mid-­1540s: Depiction of
the Papacy (1545) and Against the Roman Papacy, an Institution of the Devil
(1545). The former is a picture book with short passages of commentary; the
latter is a powerful screed drafted at the request of Elector John Frederick of
Saxony to provide support for the Protestants as they faced both the conven-
ing of the Council of Trent under unfavorable conditions and the imminent
outbreak of religious warfare (the Schmalkaldic War, 1546–­47). Though quite
different in format, these two works are closely related.
The Depiction of the Papacy, probably intended as illustrations for
Against the Roman Papacy,11 consists of nine woodcut images made by Lucas
Cranach (or his workshop). Each has a Latin title above the picture and a
brief German text, signed by Luther, at the bottom of the page. The pictures
were published as single sheets as well as in book form.12 Three of the images
make clear reference either to the pope as an ass or to the pope-­ass monster
itself. The picture entitled The Kingdom of Satan and the Pope, 2 Thess. 2 also
served as an illustration for the title page of Against the Roman Papacy. The
scriptural reference (at verse 4) speaks of the revelation of the man of sin,
the son of perdition. It thus ties into the German text, which states, “In the
name of all devils the pope sits here, now revealed as the true Antichrist as
proclaimed in scripture.”13 The woodcut shows the pope seated on a decrepit
throne, suspended over the flaming maw of hell. Demons attend him on all
sides. His donkey ears are smoothed back so that two demons can place the
papal tiara on his head (see fig. 4).
Another woodcut is a double image, the left side of which is entitled The
Pope Offers a Council in Germany. This image shows a picture of a pope riding
a sow. The image on the right is entitled Pope, Doctor of Theology, and Master
of Faith. It depicts an ass crowned with the papal tiara, seated on a throne, and
playing a bagpipe. The German text below reads, “Only the pope can interpret

Culture, 78.
11.  LW, 41:261.
12. Scribner, For the Sake of Simple Folk, 282n74. All of the illustrations are reproduced in WA, 54, unpag.,
after p. 530, “Papstspottbilder.” See also Grisar and Heege, Luthers Kampfbilder, vol. 4, Die Abbildung
des Papsttums, 16–­62. For Cranach’s role in the production of these images, see ibid., 4:34–­35. See also
Edwards, Luther’s Last Battles, 190–­98.
13. Edwards, Luther’s Last Battles, 190; WA, 54, “Papstspottbilder,” ill. 9.
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 163

Figure 4:  Regnum satanae et papae, from Depiction of the Papacy (1545) by Martin
Luther and Lucas Cranach. Courtesy of the Special Collections Department, Bryn
Mawr College Library.
164 Chapter 5

Figure 5:  Papa dat concilium in Germania and Papa doctor theologiae et magister
fidei, from Depiction of the Papacy (1545) by Martin Luther and Lucas Cranach.
Courtesy of the Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library.

the scripture and sweep away error, just as only a donkey can pipe and sound
the right notes”14 (see fig. 5).
The most direct reference to the pope-­ass is a reproduction of Cranach’s
illustration for Melanchthon’s 1523 pamphlet. It bears the Latin title The Mon-
ster of Rome, Found Dead in the Tiber, 1496. The German text at the bottom
of the page reads, “What God himself thinks of the papacy is shown here by
this horrible picture, which should horrify all who would take it to heart”15
(see fig. 6).

14.  WA, 54, “Papstspottbilder,” ill. 4; Edwards, Luther’s Last Battles, 196.
15. Edwards, Luther’s Last Battles, 195; WA, 54, “Papstspottbilder,” ill. 2.
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 165

Figure 6:  Monstrum Romae inventum mortuum in Tiberi anno 1496, from Depiction
of the Papacy (1545) by Martin Luther and Lucas Cranach. Courtesy of the Special
Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library.
166 Chapter 5

The companion piece to these pictures was Luther’s Against the Roman
Papacy, an Institution of the Devil.16 In it he rallies the Protestant cause with a
hard-­hitting attack against the “demonic” institution of the papacy. He deals
with three main topics: the claim that the pope is the head of the church, the
contention that the pope may be judged by no one, and the idea that the pope
had transferred the Roman Empire from the Greeks to the Germans (transla-
tio imperii). All of these were key points in his arguments against papal juris-
dictional claims. In his 1545 tracts, Luther makes extensive use of tropes that
apply the pope-­ass to the papacy. Thanks to the well-­understood common-
place that associated the ass with a variety of negative connotations, he was
able to use these references to amplify his criticisms of the pope. In fact, the
rhetoric of asininity served as a potent literary weapon in the two antipapal
tracts of 1545.
Chapter 1 of this study provided a number of examples from the late
Middle Ages to document the point that the ass was a powerful symbol
that connoted foolishness, false belief, scorn, ridicule, and defamation. In
Against the Roman Papacy, Luther repeatedly refers to the pope as the pope-­
ass (Bapstesel).17 He calls the pope “the crude crass ass and fool” (“der grobe,
grosse Esel und Narr”),18 “the senseless fool and pope-­ass” (“der unsinnige
Narr und Bapstesel”),19 and “a delirious, senseless fool, the very pope-­ass”
(“einen rasenden, unsinnigen Narren, den tollen Bapstesel”).20 He refers to
the papal church as a “donkey stable” (“Esel stall”).21
In Against the Roman Papacy, Luther also makes specific references to
asinine characteristics of the cartoon images in the Depiction of the Papacy.
For example, in his introductory comments, he says “I shall again take up his
[the pope’s] crude bulls and briefs and try to see if I can comb out the crass,
crude donkey’s long unkempt ears for him” (“will ich wider an seine Bullen
und Brieve mich machen und versuchen, ob ich dem grossen, groben Esel
seine lange, ungekemmete ohren kemmen müge”).22 This is a reference to the
title page illustration, “The Kingdom of Satan and the Pope,” that shows the

16.  WA, 54:206–­99; LW, 41:263–­376.

17.  To convey the force of Luther’s language, I provide the German original as well as an English translation.
18.  WA, 54:271/8–­9; LW, 41:341.
19.  WA, 54:278/26; LW, 41:351.
20.  WA, 54:278/31–­32; LW, 41:351.
21.  WA, 54:286/6, 35; LW, 41:360–­61.
22.  WA, 54:228/27–­29; LW, 41:290.
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 167

pope with donkey ears suspended over the mouth of hell.23 Another reference
to donkey ears occurs at the very end of the tract where Luther addresses
the pope directly: “Here now, Pope-­Ass, with your long ass’s ears and your
damned lying mouth.” (HJe her nu, Bapstesel, mit deinen langen Esels ohren
und verdampten lügen maul!”)24
The picture of an ass sitting on a throne, wearing the papal tiara and
playing a bagpipe, illustrates another of Luther’s points (fig. 5). The image
itself conveys the meaning of something that is attempting a task for which
it is not suited.25 It is worth noting that the ass’s tiara has a lily on its tip, an
emblem associated with the Farnese coat of arms of Pope Paul III, who had set
the conditions for the meeting of the Council of Trent that were unfavorable
to the Protestants.26 Luther attacks the papal claim to the power of the keys,
the power of binding and loosing sins. In so doing he makes the comment,
“Friend, draw for me here [a picture] of the pope-­ass with a bagpipe” (“Lieber,
male mir hie den Bapstesel mit einer sackpfeiffen”).27
Throughout the treatise, Luther uses scatological language to inten-
sify his asinine references. In so doing, he is not being gratuitously vulgar,
though it may sound that way to the modern reader. Medieval demonology
associated demons and devils with the bowels and defecation. Demons were
thought to live in the bowels of humans, where they caused gastric distress. In
popular folklore, the privy was the favorite haunt of demons and evil spirits.28
In literature, one of the best-­known examples of this scatological topos occurs
in the Canterbury Tales’ “Prologue of the Summoner’s Tale,” where Satan’s arse
serves as the hive for a nest of demonic friars.
Luther thus draws on shared assumptions of medieval popular culture in
crafting his antipapal propaganda. For example, the pope-­ass becomes an ass-­
fart pope (“Eselfartz-­Bapst”), or an ass-­pope fart (“EselBapstfartz”), or the fart-­
ass at Rome (“der fartz Esel zu Rom”),29 or pope fart-­ass (“Bapst Fartzesel”),30

23.  LW, 41:290n65.

24.  WA, 54:298/334–­35; LW, 41:376.
25.  Scribner, “Demons, Defecation and Monsters,” 292.
26. Ibid.
27.  WA, 54:270/23–­24; LW, 41:341.
28.  Scribner, “Demons, Defecation and Monsters,” 283.
29.  WA, 54:266/19, 24; 222/4.
30.  WA, 54:266/9.
168 Chapter 5

or simply ass-­pope (“Eselbapst”).31 Luther refers to the pope-­ass as farting and

making a fool of himself (“wie hat sich der Bapstesel beschiessen [=blamiert]”).32
Referring to papal decrees and decretals, Luther writes, “But all of this is sealed
with the devil’s own dirt, and written with the ass-­pope’s farts.” (“Ist aber alles
mit Teufels dreck versiegelt, und mit Bapstesels förtzen geschrieben.”)33 When
discussing papal jurisdictional claims based on John 21:15 (“Feed my lambs”),
Luther comments, “I was frightened and thought I was dreaming, it was such
a thunderclap, such a great horrid fart did the papal ass let go! He certainly
pressed with great might to let out such a thunderous fart—­it is a wonder that it
did not tear his hole and belly apart!” (“Ich bin erschrocken, und meinete trawen,
es donnerte so seer, so gar einen grossen scheuslichen fortz der Bapstesel hie
lies fahren. Er hat gewislich mit grosser macht gedrückt, das er solchen donner-
fortz heraus pausst hat, wunder ists, das jm das loch und bauch nicht zurissen
sind.”)34 Luther’s appropriation of the pope-­ass as a weapon in his polemical
arsenal contributed to its fame in sixteenth-­century Europe.35 But he and Mel-
anchthon were not alone in their assumption that the Roman monster was an
important divine portent.

The Roman Monster in Wonder-­Book Literature

The world of the late Middle Ages was convinced that Judgment Day was at
hand and that God was sending signs as warnings of the end, as foretold in
scripture in Matthew 24 and Luke 21. Assuming that God speaks through
such signs, it made sense to late medieval Christians to collect, catalogue,
and interpret these unusual occurrences. This was the rationale behind a new
literary genre that became quite popular: the wonder-­book.36 The authors of

31.  WA, 54:266/14.

32.  WA, 54:221/5, 221n2.
33.  WA, 54:265/17.
34.  WA, 54:273/22–­26; LW 41:344–­45.
35.  An example of the artistic and literary impact of the pope-­ass can be seen in Johann Sieder’s 1538
translation of Apuleius’s Golden Ass into German. The title page of this work shows the protagonist, Lucius,
midway through his transformation from ass to human. “If we compare the Papstesel with the half-­asinine
Lucius . . . we can easily discern a close family resemblance. Lucius’s head is turned, and he’s missing a tail,
but otherwise the two have a similar pose. . . . Lucius, of course, lacks the breasts of the Papstesel, but the
artist has used the outline of the Esel’s mons veneris to create a sort of jockstrap for his masculine figure.”
Given Augsburg’s conversion to Lutheranism in 1537, the publisher, Alexander Weissenhorn, no doubt
intended his readers “to notice the resemblance and associate the two figures. . . . [T]he figure [of Lucius]
was supposed to tickle their Lutheran sympathies and their funny bone at the same time.” Gaisser, Fortunes
of Apuleius and the Golden Ass, 256. For a full discussion of this topic, see ibid., 248–­57, esp. ills. on 254–­55.
36.  See Schenda, “Die deutschen Prodigiensammlungen,” 638–­709; Schenda, Die französische Prodigien-
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 169

these catalogues of omens added the Roman monster to their list of supernat-
ural phenomena and thus helped to give it further notoriety. Some authors
focused primarily on monstrosity as one of many signs of the imminent end
of days. Others added an antipapal interpretation to their apocalyptic cata-
logue. In the mid-­sixteenth century, many Protestants came to believe that
miracles, inexplicable occurrences in nature, and portents of all kinds were
appearing with unprecedented frequency. Luther himself had argued this
point in his sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent. Many of the best minds
among his followers picked up on this point and expanded his modest list into
massive catalogues with illustrations and commentary.
Job (Hiob) Fincel’s Portents (Wunderzeichen) provides an excellent
entrée into the genre of wonder-­books. He collected examples from a wide
range of reports, which he explicated as signs from God foretelling the immi-
nent end of time. Like many other wonder-­book authors, he brought a strong
Lutheran perspective to his interpretations. Born into a Lutheran family in
Weimar, he studied at Erfurt, Jena, and Wittenberg, where he was a student
of Melanchthon and completed his master of arts degree in 1549. In 1559,
he became a professor of philosophy at the University of Jena; however, he
quickly changed course, for in 1562 he completed his doctorate in medicine.
The next year he joined the medical faculty at Jena. An avid collector of broad-
sheets and pamphlets, he published his first wonder-­book in 1556, based in
part on his collection.37 This volume and the two volumes that soon followed
cover the time period from 1517 to March 1562. Floods, earthquakes, confla-
grations, wars, civil unrest, malformed infants, monstrous animals, and infes-
tations make up his list of portents. He interprets them all as divine warnings
to a godless world. For Fincel, the center of godlessness was Rome, the con-
temporary Sodom; the hope for salvation was Dr. Luther, whose teachings
could lead Christendom out from Sodom.
This is the interpretive context within which Fincel cites the Roman mon-
ster. Although the creature’s appearance in 1496 falls outside of his chronol-
ogy, he nevertheless includes it towards the end of the first book. He provides
a detailed description of the chimera’s body: an ass’s head with very long ears,

literatur; and Wilson, Signs and Portents. Wilson, 195–­203, provides a list of primary sources relating to
monstrous births, mainly in France and England. See also Barnes, Prophecy and Gnosis, 87–­91; and Soer-
gel, Miracles and the Protestant Imagination, 1–­32.
37.  Job Fincel, Wunderzeichen: Warhafftige beschreibung und gründlich verzeichnus schrecklicher Wunder-
zeichen und Geschichten . . . (Nuremberg: Berg and Neuber, 1556). See also Soergel, Miracles and the Prot-
estant Imagination, 67–­92.
170 Chapter 5

a right hand like an elephant’s foot, a human left hand, a right foot like an ox’s
hoof, a left foot like a griffon’s claw, a woman’s belly and breasts, neck, arms, and
legs covered with fish scales, a hoary old man’s head on the rump, and a long
dragon’s head protruding from the backside with a gaping maw out of which
spews fire. “Such a monster [Wundertier] exactly describes the papacy, as one
can learn from the explanation of the monster, which you can find in the second
part of the books of Luther published in Jena, folio 286.”38
Another important Lutheran collector and interpreter of prodigies was
Kaspar Goltwurm.39 He came from Sterzing [Vipiteno] in South Tyrol. Born
in 1524, he spent time as a wandering scholar in Italy before studying at Wit-
tenberg, Leipzig, and Jena. He served as a court chaplain for Count Philip IV
of Nassau-­Weilburg. As a church administrator for the count, he drafted the
first Protestant church ordinance for Nassau-­Weilburg. In 1557 he published
his Book of Miracles and Portents (Wunderwerck und Wunderzeichen Buch).40
In his dedication to Landgrave Philip of Hesse he makes clear his view on
Not only do we have true and earnest warnings from the prophets,
the apostles, and Christian writings, but we also have such warnings
preached to us on a daily basis. He who disdains these warnings and
persists in living a godless life will soon endure punishment along with
Sodom, Gomorrah, and other godless people. God will, however, gra-
ciously know to comfort and sustain his church and people in all such
dangers just as he did for Noah, Abraham, and Lot.41

Goltwurm drew his miracles and portents from antiquity, scripture,

and the Middle Ages, as well as from contemporary events. He organized his
material thematically (not chronologically) around different kinds of wonders:
divine, spiritual, celestial, elemental, earthly, and satanic. Convinced that won-
ders comprised an “alternative language” that God used to communicate with

38.  Quoted in Schilling, “Job Fincel und die Zeichen der Endzeit,” 350. For discussions of Job Fincel, see
Spinks, Monstrous Births and Visual Cultures, 84 and 92–­96; Schilling, “Job Fincel und die Zeichen der
Endzeit,” 327–­50; Soergel, Miracles and the Protestant Imagination, 67–­92.
39.  This name is also spelled Caspar Goldwurm. For a discussion of Goldwurm, see Soergel, Miracles and
the Protestant Imagination, 93–­123.
40.  In 1567 this work appeared under the title Wunderzeichen: Das ist: Warhafftige Beschreibunge . . . ,
printed in Frankfurt a. M. This copy is available online through the Münchner DigitalisierungsZentrum
Digitale Bibliothek at urn:nbn:de:bvb:12-­bsb00010246–­3.
41. Goltwurm, Wunderzeichen (1567), unpaginated preface, partially quoted in Deneke, “Kaspar Golt-
wurm,” 134.
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 171

the faithful, Goltwurm attempted to develop a system of classification aimed

at explaining the “rhetorical tropes through which the Creator spoke when he
intervened in the natural order.”42 In part 5, in a section entitled “Concern-
ing the marvelous forms of some animals and what they mean,” he included
a section on the Roman monster. As in Fincel’s treatment, Goltwurm gave a
detailed description of the creature, noting that Martin Luther had interpreted
this monster as representing the papacy. Like Fincel, he gave the same folio
reference to the Jena edition of Luther’s works.43
Christoph Irenaeus (d. 1595) was yet another important Lutheran
wonder-­book author. Born in Silesia and educated at Wittenberg, he became
a follower of Matthias Flacius, leader of the so-­called Gnesio (or genuine)
Lutherans, a faction that emphasized human nature’s depraved, sinful con-
dition and opposed Philip Melanchthon’s teachings and leadership of the
Lutheran movement. A prolific author, Irenaeus wrote numerous polemical
works defending the Flacian teaching on original sin as well as devotional
works and wonder-­books. In his De monstris: Von seltzamen Wundergeburten
(1584), he argued the Flacian teaching “that all creation had been depraved by
the rebellion of Adam and Eve and that humankind’s divine likeness had been
transmogrified into a demonic essence.”44 Although Irenaeus wrote from this
overarching point of view, when he came to listing and describing specific
monstrosities, he usually presented a simple, straightforward account with
minimal interpretive comment.45 Thus, his entry for the year 1496 simply
describes the horrible sea monster (“schrecklich Meerwunder”) found in the
Tiber: head like that of an ass, right hand like an elephant’s foot, right foot
like an ox’s, left foot like a griffon’s claw, female breasts and belly, scales, rump
face, tail like a dragon’s head, etc. Following this depiction he adds, “You will
find the image of this monster together with its meaning in the second Ger-
man part of the books of Luther [published] in Jena.” With this reference,
Irenaeus, like Fincel and Goltwurm before him, endorsed Luther’s view of the

42. Soergel, Miracles and the Protestant Imagination, 94.

43. Goltwurm, Wunderzeichen (1567), fol. CVII[v].
44. Soergel, Miracles and the Protestant Imagination, 149–­50; for a general discussion of Irenaeus, see
45.  Ibid., 148.
46. Irenaeus, De monstris, “Wundergeburten nach Christi, Erzelung vieler Exempel von seltzamen,” s.v.
172 Chapter 5

Arguably the most famous of all Protestant wonder-­book authors was

Conrad Wolffhart, born in Rufach (Upper Alsace) in 1518. He adopted a
humanist name and is better known as Conrad Lycosthenes. He studied at
Heidelberg, receiving his master’s degree in 1541. Thereafter he moved to
Basel, where he held the office of church deacon. He was a Protestant theolo-
gian and philologist with a keen interest in prodigies. In 1557 he published his
magnum opus entitled Chronicle of Prodigies and Signs (Prodigiorum ac osten-
torum chronicon).47 That same year Johann Herold made a German trans-
lation of Lycosthenes’s Chronicle that he entitled Wunderwerck oder Gottes
unergründtliches vorbilden.48 Herold, a printer, translator, and assistant pastor
in Basel, added a lengthy introduction in which he discussed various catego-
ries of monstrosities. The translation ensured that the Latin original would
reach an audience of German readers.
Lycosthenes viewed almost anything weird or seemingly contrary to
nature as a wondrous sign. He listed numerous sources—­scriptural prophets
and evangelists, antique Greek and Latin authors, and various ecclesiastical
writers. Included in this list were Job Fincel, Martin Luther, Philip Melanch-
thon, Caspar Peucer,49 and the Zurich reformer Heinrich Bullinger. Lycos-
thenes’ massive work was far larger and more comprehensive than those of
Fincel and Goltwurm, and included woodcut illustrations on nearly every
page. The title page of the Wunderwerck deserves comment, for it provides a
pictorial representation of Lycosthenes’s theme. In the center of the woodcut,
Christ the judge sits atop a rainbow, with a sword in his left hand and a lily in
his right. Surrounding this image are scenes showing miraculous events from
Christ’s life that demonstrate his divine mission: the Nativity, the Crucifix-
ion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension. Encircling these biblical scenes are
pictures of occurrences or phenomena that seemingly transcend the laws of
nature: a flood, a vision of a battle in the sky, a comet, a violent storm, a harpy,
the monster of Cracow, a five-­headed snake, a mermaid, a merman, an earth-

47.  For Lycosthenes, see Brednich, Enzyklopädie des Märchens, 8:1323–­24; Spinks, Monstrous Births and
Visual Culture, 96–­99; Barnes, Prophecy and Gnosis, 90–­91.
48. Conrad Lycosthenes, Wunderwerck oder Gottes unergründtliches vorbilden, trans. Johann Herold
(Basel, 1557).
49.  Caspar Peucer, student at Wittenberg, son-­in-­law to Philip Melanchthon, polymath and leading voice
for Lutheranism in the late sixteenth century, published a wonder-­book in 1553 entitled Commentarius de
praecipuis divinationum generibus . . . (Wittenberg: J. Crato, 1553). A 1560 printing of this work is available
online through Google Books, reproduced from the Bavarian Staatsbibliothek. Folio 447v of the 1560 copy
includes a detailed description of the Roman monster.
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 173

quake, a centaur, and conjoined twins.50 The point is that such prodigies serve
as divine warnings of the imminence of the Last Judgment. The wide range
of celestial, terrestrial, and teratological wonders anticipates the hundreds of
signs that Lycosthenes describes and illustrates beginning with Creation and
ending in August 1557.
Through its universal scope, chronological arrangement, and massive
list of examples, the Wunderwerck creates a cumulative effect, a kind of cre-
scendo that suggests the imminence of the apocalypse. For the year 1496,
Lycosthenes presents an illustration of the Roman monster together with a
detailed description of the creature’s physical features (fig. 7). The woodcut
has the ass facing to the right with the right arm/elephant’s foot to the front.
The background consists of a hilly landscape with the sun on the horizon.
Neither the picture nor the description makes reference to the papacy or the
papal Antichrist. Rather the emphasis is on the creature’s monstrosity. The
chimera is listed with other monstrosities: a child born in Cracow with the
ears of a hare, the double-­bodied sow of Landser, and a two-­headed goose
from Strasbourg. Though Lycosthenes was a Protestant, he treats the Roman
monster as yet another ominous oddity and refrains from giving it the typical
antipapal interpretation.
While the illustrations in Lycosthenes’s work are simple and ingenu-
ous, that is not the case for all artistic renderings of the monstrosity from the
Tiber. A much more nuanced version has recently entered the public domain.
It is part of a series of portent representations that the London art dealer
Day and Faber has named the Augsburg Wunderzeichenbuch. It consists of
167 gouache and watercolor images, 15 x 29 cm. in size, each with a date
for the event represented and a three-­or four-­line descriptive comment at
the bottom. The images include scenes from the Old Testament (fols. 1–­15),
depictions of miracles and marvels from 73 bc to ad 1552 (fols. 16–­148), and
scenes from the Book of Revelation (fols. 149–­67). Internal evidence dates
the paintings as mid-­sixteenth century and associates them with the city of
Augsburg. Watermarks indicate that the paper was manufactured from 1447
to 1552. The text for folio 101, dated 1529, mentions Hans Burgkmair: “I,
Hans Burgkmair, bought the skin [of a calf born near Augsburg in Langweid]
for half a guilder.” This likely refers to Burgkmair the Elder. His son, Hans
Burgkmair II, took over his father’s workshop after the latter’s death in 1531. It

50. Spinks, Monstrous Births and Visual Culture, 97–98; Ewinkel, De monstris, 31.
174 Chapter 5

Figure 7:  Roman monster from Conrad Lycosthenes’s Wunderwerck oder Gottes
unergründtliches Vorbilden (1557). Courtesy of the Lilly Library, Indiana University,
Bloomington, Indiana.

seems possible that the younger Burgkmair might have painted at least some
of the images in this collection. There are also some paintings in a style simi-
lar to that of Heinrich Vogtherr II (1513–­68).51 Stylistic analysis suggests that
at least four different artists contributed to the project.

51. This descriptive information comes from Mr. James Faber of Day and Faber, Old Master and
Nineteenth-­Century Drawings and Paintings, 14 Old Bond Street, London, UK. See also Das Wunder-
zeichenbuch, a privately printed descriptive catalogue containing nineteen reproductions with English
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 175

Figure 8:  Roman monster from the Augsburg Wunderzeichenbuch (mid-­sixteenth

century). Courtesy of anonymous private collection.

Details in the picture of the Roman monster indicate that the artist used
both the version by Lucas Cranach and the version by Wenzel von Olmütz as
his sources (fig. 8). Like the Cranach picture, the Augsburg portrayal has an
elephant’s foot (rather than an elephant’s trunk) as the right hand and shows
the Tor di Nona as a tall, elongated building. Also, the dragon’s neck has no
tags hanging down and the foreground is littered with stones. On the other
hand, like the copy by Wenzel von Olmütz, the foreground of the Augsburg
version has an amphora standing next to the creature and it places the door of
the Tor di Nona facing the viewer. Evidently, a copy of the Bohemian repro-
duction was available in Augsburg as well as in Wittenberg.
It is noteworthy that the Augsburg copy softens the polemical aspects
of the two sources. For example, the banner atop the Castel Sant’Angelo is
reduced to the size of a pennant, and the cross-­keys, a symbol of disputed
papal jurisdictional claims, are gone. Neither of the controversial superscripts

translations of the descriptive comments. The Augsburg Wunderzeichenbuch is now in a private collection.
176 Chapter 5

(“Roma caput mundi” or “Der Bapstesel zu Rom”) is included. Also, the ren-
dering of the creature de-­emphasizes its sexual features. The breasts have no
dugs; the pudendum is obscured. The figure is still monstrous, but it no longer
conveys the notion of the “whore of Babylon,” the Protestant characteriza-
tion of the papacy. The representation of the Roman monster in the Augsburg
Wunderzeichenbuch is similar to the approach in Lycosthenes, i.e., a focus
on an apocalyptic, monstrous portent rather than on polemical antipapal-
ism. One could argue that this change in perspective reflects the altered cir-
cumstances of Lutheranism within Germany in midcentury. With the Peace
of Passau (1552), the Lutherans gained freedom from Charles V’s efforts to
enforce Catholic uniformity throughout the empire. In 1555, the Religious
Peace of Augsburg gave legal recognition to Lutheranism and authorized the
princes, imperial knights, and imperial cities to choose between Lutheran-
ism and Catholicism. In this postwar climate, the artists for the Augsburg
Wunderzeichenbuch may have no longer felt it necessary to use the Roman
monster as a weapon against the papal Antichrist.
After the Religious Peace of Augsburg, the Protestant struggle against
the hegemony of the Roman church moved from Germany to France, Hol-
land, and England. There Calvinists, Huguenots, and Puritans faced off
against a revitalized post-­Tridentine Catholicism. In this struggle, the Roman
monster continued to play a role, though it was no longer as central as it had
been for Luther. The situation in England offers a good illustration of how the
wonder-­book and the Roman monster were appropriated and changed to fit
the local needs of the Protestant cause.
In 1581, Stephen Batman published The Doome warning all men to the
Iudgement, based on Conrad Lycosthenes’ Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chroni-
con. It was more than a mere translation; it followed the latter’s structure and
sequence of topics, but liberally departed from the literal text. Also, Batman
added new material for the period of 1558 to 1581, describing The Doome as
a “collection, translation, and interpretation.”52
In addition to being a translator, Batman was a cleric and an author.
He studied at Cambridge, held a bachelor of laws and a doctor of divinity,
and served as a domestic chaplain for the archbishop of Canterbury, Mat-
thew Parker, and in a variety of other ecclesiastical positions.53 Besides the

52.  “Epistle Dedicatorie,” in Batman, The Doome, iii.

53.  For biographical information on Stephen Batman, see DNB, s.v. “Batman”; and McNair, “Introduction”
in Batman, The Doome (1581), iii–­xii.
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 177

The Doome, he authored other works that demonstrated his learning, piety,
and wide range of interests and that were theological, historical, or polemical
in nature.
In his wonder-­book, his purpose was to describe the many divine por-
tents that foretold “dangers to happen among the generations of this last pos-
teritie.”54 In other words, like many of his contemporaries, he assumed that
the end was at hand. But his work was more than an apocalyptic admonition,
for he wrote as a partisan in the Protestant-­Catholic conflict that dominated
the first two decades of Elizabeth’s reign. Specifically, he took part in the con-
troversy over the proposed marriage between Queen Elizabeth and Francis,
Duke of Anjou.55 In The Doome, Batman entered the ranks of those oppos-
ing the union of the Protestant queen to the brother of the Catholic king
of France,56 though in a cautious and understated way. English Protestants
feared the prospect of a French Catholic gaining influence over their queen.
Even worse, they feared that their forty-­year-­old queen might die in child-
birth, leaving a French Catholic in charge of the realm. Batman’s argument
is subtle and indirect: Prodigies prefigure political disasters. The numerous
portents that he chronicles warn of the likelihood of such occurrences. Only
the grace of God and the leadership of the Virgin Queen can save England.
In a prayer that he inserts before the section containing his own post-­1558
additions he makes his point carefully:
Geue grace, most holy Father, to all that shall reade the same [Doome
warning], that they may perceiue to what end thy gracious goodnesse hath
pretended this worke as a fragment among other moste holy edictions,
to warne this later age, by the comming and dayly appearing of unaccus-
tomed prodigies, to be the onely foretoken of mans destruction for sinnes,
as in the time of olde, hayles, fires from heauen, thunderinges, Eclipses,
blasing stares, Elementall shewes of armies, raining of blood, milke,
stones, earth, figures of dead bodyes, and instrumentes of warre, besides
dreadfull voyces, after sundrye manners: On the Earth deformed shapes
both of men, byrdes, beastes, and fishes after which of euery of these death
of princes, alteration of kingdoms, transmutations of religion, treasons,

54. Batman, The Doome (1581), ii.

55.  See MacCaffrey, “The Anjou Match and the Making of Elizabethan Foreign Policy.”
56.  See McNair, “Introduction,” in Batman, The Doome, iv. McNair argues that Batman’s references to a
plague of mice in Essex and a flock of owls that fed on them were veiled references to the French (mice)
and the Spanish (owls) as can be proved by Batman’s manuscript commonplace book. McNair concludes,
“Batman’s book is topical—­an attack on Elizabeth’s proposed ‘French marriage,’” iv.
178 Chapter 5

murthers, thefte, inceste, whoredome, Idolatrie, vsurie, reuenge, persecu-

tion, sworde, fyre, famine, hunger, death and damnation, presently fol-
lowed. O mightie, high and moste gratious God, whiche hast defended
thy Churche of England from the tirannie of supersticious Rome, and
hast set a virgine Queene to be thy handmayd and officer in thy Churche,
through whome without the ayde of man, by thy only prouidence, she
hath brought forth the child of truth, the word of thy dearely beloued
sonne Jesus Christ: Blesse her maiestie O Lord God, with such an ardent
zeale of thee, that neuer any transitory hope of other conioyning may enter
her royall minde, otherwise than to the setting forth of thy glory: Good
Lorde blesse her that she be not hurt by hipocrisie, allured by flattery, nor
perswaded by tiranny.57

Batman’s treatment of the Roman monster is like the one found in

Lycosthenes, though he gives the description twice. At the end of the second
entry he adds, “The learned in Germany wrote earnestly against the Pope,
the like occasion was given to other countreys, sithens which time the popish
kingdome hath greatly decayed.”58 The woodcut illustration is also similar to
the one in Lycosthenes, but the creature faces left with its left arm/elephant’s
foot facing the viewer (see fig. 9). Batman makes no mention of Luther or
Melanchthon by name, referring only to “the learned in Germany.” He ignores
the term “pope-­ass” and the defamatory vocabulary of asininity, but still con-
strues the grotesque creature as a prefiguration of the decay of the “popish
kingdome,” and thus implicitly uses it in defense of the Protestant religious
settlement in Elizabethan England.
Another English wonder-­book that included the Roman monster was
Edward Fenton’s Certaine Secrete wonders of Nature . . . (1569), which was a
translation of Pierre Boaistuau’s Histoires prodigieuses (Paris, 1560).59 Fenton
was an English navigator, explorer, and soldier of fortune; this publication
was apparently his only literary accomplishment. The section on the Roman
monster was his addition; it did not appear in the original text.60 Boaistuau

57. Batman, The Doome, 384, emphasis added.

58.  Ibid., 288.
59.  Edward Fenton, Certaine Secrete wonders of Nature, containing a description of sundry strange things
seeming monstrous . . . (London: Henry Bynneman, 1569).
60. Schenda, Die französische Prodigienliteratur, 121, implies that a sequel edited by Claude de Tesserant
contains a reference to the pope-­ass. This is not correct. Tesserant’s reference is to a different sea monster
sighted in Rome in 1523 and associated with the fall of Rhodes to the Turks. Lycosthenes mentions this
same monster.
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 179

Figure 9:  Roman monster from Stephen Batman’s The Doome warning all men to the
Iudgement (1581). Courtesy of the Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library,
Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.
180 Chapter 5

was an accomplished French author, editor, and translator who used Conrad
Lycosthenes’s chronicle as a source of material for stories exploring moral and
ethical issues. In his introductory dedication, Boaistuau explains the inter-
connection between morality and monstrosity:
Among all the things that can be contemplated beneath the concav-
ity of the heavens, nothing is to be seen that more awakens the human
spirit, that more ravishes the senses, that more astonishes, that engenders
greater admiration or terror among creation, than monsters, prodigies,
and abominations, in which we see the works of nature not only made
absurd, turned topsy-­turvy, mutilated and deformed: but (more impor-
tantly) we discover in them more often a secret judgment and scourge of
the ire of God, Who, through the things which are made manifest, makes
us sense the violence of His bitter justice, so that we are forced to look
into ourselves, strike our consciences as with a hammer, examine our
vices, and hold in horror our misdeeds. . . . 61

Boaistuau’s Histoires prodigieuses was a popular work with a complicated

publication history. The first edition appeared in Paris in 1560. It consisted of
forty-­one chapters of various lengths relating prodigies and illustrative exem-
pla to moral lessons. In 1567, Claude de Tesserant reissued Boaistuau’s work
with an additional fourteen chapters. In 1571, the historian François de Belle-
forest again published the Tesserant sequel with yet another addition of ten
chapters that he himself authored. Still other editions with added sections
appeared in 1582 and 1598. The Histoires prodigieuses was published twenty-­
two times in French, seven times in Dutch, twice in Spanish, and once in
English. The French version of 1567 included neither an illustration nor a
discussion of the Roman monster.62
In Fenton’s translation of 1569, however, one finds an illustration and a
description of the monstrosity. These come at the end of chapter 40, which is
entitled “A wonderfull Historie of Couetousness, with many examples touch-
ing that matter worthy of memory.” The chapter begins with the moralizing

61.  Translated in Smith, “Loathly Births off Nature,” 160.

62.  For discussions of Boaistuau and his Histoires prodigieuses, see Smith, “Loathly Births off Nature,” 156–­
61; Schenda, Die französische Prodigienliteratur, 26–­40; and Carr, Pierre Boaistuau’s Histoires Tragiques,
21–­27, 211–­17.
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 181

.  .  . there is no other talke in our commonweals of any thing but only

the burning rage of couetousnesse, wych raigneth in all ye estates of ye
world, namely amongst ye Ecclesiastical persons, as our high father with
his Cardinals, a thing much to be lamented, considering that they ought
to be rather distributors of the goods, of the Lord, than affectionated &
burning as we see wt this gréedie desire of riches, yt it seems yt they
would drain al the welth of ye world into theyr gulphs, & in ye end burie
the same wt their bodies in the graue.63

Boaistuau concluded his fortieth chapter with the story of the monster of
Ravenna, a one-­legged, horned, armless, bat-­winged hermaphrodite with an
eye in its knee and a talon for its foot. The creature was said to represent ambi-
tion, covetousness, greed, and sodomy—­sins that supposedly led to the wars
between Pope Julius II and King Louis XII of France. Following the section on
the monster of Ravenna, Fenton turns to a detailed description of the Roman
monster and provides a woodcut illustration. He adds no further explanatory
or interpretive comments for the reader’s edification. However, by situating
his insertion in a chapter on avarice, immediately following a story critical
of the warrior pope, Julius II, Fenton leads the reader to associate the Roman
monster with events involving the corrupt Renaissance papacy.

The Roman Monster in the Polemics

of the French Wars of Religion
Wonder-­books remained quite popular among German Lutherans during the
latter half of the sixteenth century, but after the Religious Peace of Augsburg
(1555), religious polemics somewhat abated within the Empire. As open reli-
gious warfare was ending in Germany it was about to begin in France. The
polemics that accompanied the spread of Protestantism to France provided an
opportunity for new interpretations of the Roman monster. In 1570, Arnaud
Sorbin published his Tractatus de monstris (Paris, 1570), a wonder-­book that
was much more stridently polemical than any of the other examples we have
looked at. Rudolf Schenda categorizes Sorbin as a follower of Boaistuau; this
may be correct, but it obscures a major difference.64 Boaistuau was a moralist
and storyteller; Sorbin was a polemicist, passionately committed to the sup-
pression of “heresy.” In his chapter on the Roman monster, it is clear that he is

63. Fenton, Certaine Secrete wonders, 138r.

64. Schenda, Die französische Prodigienliteratur, 77–­79.
182 Chapter 5

much more interested in opposing Protestantism than in following Boaistuau’s

example of deducing general moral meanings from prodigious occurrences.
Born in 1532, Sorbin became a court preacher for Charles IX at the
young age of thirty-­five. He later held this same position for Henry III and
Henry IV. In 1578 he was appointed bishop of Nevers. Equally committed
to the French monarchy and to French Catholicism, Sorbin was a tireless
defender of both causes.65 For example, in 1574 he published a justification of
the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and of Charles IX’s role in it.66 He argued
that, in the preservation of their states, kings are allowed to use the author-
ity God has given them to chastise and slay rebels.67 Sorbin has been called
“among the most violently partisan royalists in an age of violent polemic.”68 In
Sorbin’s view, Protestantism amounted to a reappearance of former heresies—­
Arians, Adamites, Albigensians, etc. In this, he reflected the attitudes of other
French anti-­Huguenot controversialists who wrote in the vernacular.69
The Tractatus de monstris consists of fourteen chapters; chapter 10
treats the Roman monster. Each chapter begins with a woodcut illustration
and ends with an oratio, or prayer. François de Belleforest translated nine of
Sorbin’s fourteen chapters into French, leaving out the concluding prayers.
The French translation appeared in print in 1582; in it, the Roman monster
appears in chapter 8.70
The illustration of the Roman monster that introduces Sorbin’s chapter
is quite different from the versions that appeared in the works of Lycosthenes,
Batman, and Fenton (see fig. 10). Here the monster faces right with its right
arm/elephant’s foot facing the viewer. The ass’s ears are laid back, creating a
menacing appearance. The dragon’s head on the creature’s backside is spewing
forth a huge plume of fire and smoke; the naked female breasts and puden-
dum are shaded and obscured. The background shows buildings on one side
of the monster and a palm tree on the other. Nothing in the background sug-

65.  Wilson and Moss, “Portents, Prophecy, and Poetry,” 167. On Sorbin, see Robert Barroux, “Sorbin,
Arnaud,” in Dictionnaire des lettres françaises.
66.  Arnaud Sorbin, Le vray Resveille-­matin des Calvinistes, et Publicains François: Où est amplement dis-
couru de l’auctorité des princes, & du devoir des suiets envers iceux (Paris, 1575).
67. Anglo, Machiavelli—­The First Century, 266.
68. Ibid.
69.  Sypher, “‘Faisant ce qu’il leur vient à plaisir,’” 68. Sorbin had made the connection between Albigen-
sianism and Protestantism in the 1560s. See Racaut, “Polemical Use of the Albigensian Crusade,” 272–­73.
70. Schenda, Die französische Prodigienliteratur, 77.
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 183

Figure 10:  Roman monster from Arnaud Sorbin’s Tractatus de monstris

(1570). Courtesy of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of
184 Chapter 5

gests the city of Rome. The monster stands on the shore of a river with the
buildings and the tree on the opposite shore.71
Sorbin wrote Tractatus de monstris in the midst of the French wars of
religion, an extended period of hostilities punctuated by unenforceable peace
agreements.72 The book appeared during the third civil war (1568–­70), which
saw an expansion of the conflict as French Protestants gained the support of
allies from Holland and Germany. At the same time open military hostilities
were underway, there was also an active pamphlet warfare going on between
the Huguenots, still often referred to as Lutherans,73 and the defenders of tradi-
tional Roman Catholicism. Unlike their German Catholic counterparts in the
early years of the Reformation, the French Catholic pamphleteers were quite
successful in making their case to the lay public through vernacular polem-
ics. These controversialists developed a number of themes or lines of attack
against the Protestants, some of which Sorbin included in his own work. In
Hatred in Print, Luc Racaut describes Catholic French vernacular propaganda
against the Huguenots. Their critics charged that the Huguenots were morally
depraved and indulged in sexual promiscuity, sodomy, incest, and infanticide;
that they were dangerous agitators, rebels, conspirators, and sedition mongers
who brought divisiveness and chaos; that they were sectarian reincarnations
of ancient or medieval heresies rather than religious reformers; and that they
were bestial and monstrous in their treatment of others. This list, though not
exhaustive, suggests the level of acrimony to be found in the French vernacu-
lar controversial literature during the wars of religion.74
Sorbin’s chapter on the Roman monster reflects many of these anti-­
Protestant sentiments, while presenting a Catholic counterinterpretation of
the creature. Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained appeared in a French
translation as part of De deux monstres prodigieux in 1557. Sorbin does not
respond directly to Melanchthon’s antipapal arguments. Rather he constructs
an interpretation that contrasts Protestant sectarian divisiveness with Cath-
olic unity, harmony, and peace; demonizes Protestants as instigators of war,
pillaging, and rebellion; denigrates them as Adamites and newfangled Arians;
urges Catholics not to debate scripture with them; and ends in a scatological
attack against all followers of Luther.

71. Sorbin, Tractatus de monstris, 75r.

72. Holt, French Wars of Religion, 56.
73.  Gray, “Origin of the Word Huguenot,” 353; Racaut, Hatred in Print, 353.
74. Racaut, Hatred in Print, esp. chaps. 4–­7.
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 185

He begins with a theme he derives from Aristotle’s Generation of Ani-

mals, in which Aristotle asserts that the ass is an animal “of a cold nature”
whose semen is frigid. As proof, Aristotle states, “if a horse mount a female
already impregnated by an ass he does not destroy the impregnation of the
ass, but if the ass be the second to mount her he does destroy that of the horse
because of the coldness of his own semen.”75 Sorbin uses this passage as the
starting point for a rather forced metaphor in which the coldness of the ass
and the frigidity of its semen stand for the heretical teachings of Luther and
his successors. (In context, it is clear that Sorbin uses the term “Lutheran”
to mean French Protestants or Huguenots.) He argues that, among the
“Lutheran” heretics, “charitas” [sic] is frozen. This accounts for their savage,
monstrous behavior. They ignore their parents when they are powerless and
nearly dead from famine. In satisfying their own cupidity, they spare neither
their country, nor their friends, nor their parents. Indeed, they are responsi-
ble for the death of their parents.76 France was indeed suffering from a severe
famine when Sorbin was writing this tract. He blames the scarcity of food
on the donkey’s sterility (i.e., Protestantism).77 In the prayer at the end of
the chapter, he returns to the theme of asinine frigidity with the comment,
“Behold, so much cold of the seed of the ass harasses us.”78
Sorbin’s use of the ejaculate of an ass as a metaphor for Protestants in
France is, at best, strained, as the following quotation illustrates:
The head of this monster was an ass’s head. This animal, because it is
the coldest, is weighed down by the utmost sloth. For it is so cold that
its semen, ejaculated prematurely without stimulation, loses its power of
procreation. Instead, its semen, arriving later, blocks the nature and effect
of others. For what could be colder, or what more slothful, than Luther
and his successors? When was charitas more frozen? From where, pray
tell, came the seeds of war, if not from the workshop of Luther and his fol-
lowers? . . . Pillaging of the temples of France, plundering of cities, selling
some people into slavery, and tearing others to pieces and slaughtering

75. Aristotle, Generation of Animals, bk. 2, sec. 8, 748a.24–­748b.7, in Complete Works, ed. Barnes, 1:1160.
76. Sorbin, Tractatus de monstris, 78r–­78v.
77.  Ibid., 79v. For the famine in France during the 1560s, see Diefendorf, “Prologue to a Massacre,” 1082–­
83; and Diefendorf, Beneath the Cross, 74–­75.
78. Sorbin, Tractatus de monstris, 88r.
186 Chapter 5

them by the cruelest execution—­these will be the clearest witness that the
charitas among heretics is frozen for ever.79

Continuing with the theme of monstrosity, Sorbin associates the chi-

merical anatomy of the monster with a degradation of human morals. His
treatment of the monster’s body parts, however, is far less comprehensive than
Melanchthon’s. The creature’s talon stands for robbery and rapine; its bovine
foot represents pleasures; the female belly and breasts denote female lusts;80
the scales on the monster’s body are the covering of the body of Satan. They
stand for the kings and princes who support the heretics.81
Asinine frigidity and anatomical symbolism are not the only themes
in Sorbin’s explication. Like the vernacular propaganda, he denigrates the
Protestants by associating them with ancient and medieval heresies, and he
conflates this theme with charges of sexual promiscuity and moral depravity.
Specifically, he relates the Protestants to the Adamites and the Arians.
The Adamites, mentioned by St. Epiphanius,82 were an ancient Chris-
tian sect whose members practiced nudity to symbolize their return to a state
of primitive innocence like that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Sorbin’s reference, however, also conjures up images of the Adamite sect of
Hussite Taborites, made infamous by Aeneas Sylvius (Pope Pius II) in a chap-
ter of his Historia Bohemica (1458). These Czech religious anarchists rejected
original sin, practiced ritual nudism, and taught that there should be no curb
on sexual desire. Sorbin’s reference to the Adamites is calculated to alarm his
readers: “Who does not know that the impieties of the Adamites grew hot
with passion? They often gathered together naked at night to fornicate and
satisfy their wantonness.”83
Sorbin conflates the Adamites with the Arians, a much more famous
ancient heretical group that denied the divinity of Jesus. For them, “the Son of
God was not eternal but created by the Father from nothing as an instrument
for the creation of the world.”84 The Arian heresy gave rise to a controversy in
the Alexandrian church between the presbyter Arius and the Bishop Athana-

79.  Ibid., 77v–­78r.

80.  Ibid., 80v.
81.  Ibid., 82r–­82v.
82. Epiphanius, Panarion, sec. 4, chap. 52, trans. Williams, 67–­70.
83. Sorbin, Tractatus de monstris, 80v. On the Adamites, see Kaminsky, History of the Hussite Revolution,
355, 429–­31; and Heymann, John Žižka and the Hussite Revolution, 213, 261–­62.
84.  Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, s.v. “Arianism.”
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 187

sius. It also resulted in the calling of the first general council of the Christian
church, the Council of Nicaea, where the orthodox statement of the doctrine
of the Trinity was agreed upon.
In calling the Calvinists Arians, Sorbin associates them with one of
the most infamous and hated sects of antiquity. Rhetorically, his intent is to
reduce the Huguenots from religious reformers to heretical “deformers,”85
who not only pervert orthodox doctrine but also indulge in gross immorality.
Like Arians, the Calvinists seem to be charming and simple and promise eter-
nal life, peace, and mercy, yet they produce wars, rebellions, sacrileges, thefts,
murders, promiscuity, adultery, and fornication.86 Also, Sorbin compares the
dour appearance of Calvinist ministers with Epiphanius’s description of Arius:
There are people, for they are such Demeas,87 who are so moved by a
wrinkled and ministerial face and a gloomy and lean appearance that,
whenever they see such a man tossing around the smallest Pauline words
and the name of Christ, they immediately think that the sanctity of Paul
and Christ is present. But who does not know that this cleverness actually
was typical of Arius himself? May whoever wishes listen to Epiphanius,
who describes in a few words the face, words, and appearance of the man:
Arius was very tall, a bit grim, and shaped like a deceitful serpent who
could deceive every blameless heart with his treacherous cloak, for he
always wore half a pallium and a stola. He was charming in conversation,
always persuading and flattering souls. . . . [H]is venom reached all the
way to bishops. These things Epiphanius reports. Let everyone, even the
blind, judge how clearly he exposes not only the pretended sanctity of
Arius, but also [that] of these modern Arians and Calvinists.88

Sorbin makes many allegations against the Huguenots, but he does not
enter into any substantive discussion of points of doctrinal disagreement. In
fact, he asserts that it is useless to debate doctrine with a heretic:
We see . . . that once the seed of heretical depravity has been implanted
into the hearts of men, scarcely can it be extinguished. For it is agreed that
this is what the Apostle meant in saying, “The speech of heretics crawls like
a cancer.” And, as vinegar is more easily made from the purest wine than

85.  In his Histoire des Albigeois (Paris, 1569), Sorbin referred to the Calvinists as “our modern deformed.”
See Racaut, Hatred in Print, 43.
86. Sorbin, Tractatus de monstris, 85v–­86r.
87.  Demea is the grouchy father in Terence’s play Adelphi.
88. Sorbin, Tractatus de monstris, 85r–­85v.
188 Chapter 5

wine is made from vinegar, so a heretic is much more easily made from
a true Christian than a Christian is made from a heretic. For this reason,
Tertullian especially forbids that anyone dare to debate with heretics about
sacred scripture, pointing out both with what difficulty they are dragged to
repentance and how dangerous it is to debate with them.89

For Sorbin, the Huguenots are not only doctrinally erroneous and mor-
ally depraved, but they are also guilty of sedition. They are the fulfillment of
Christ’s prediction (Matth. 24:5–­6) that seducers would come in his name and
that there would be “wars and rumors of wars.”90 Protestant princes who join
together in an “impious unity of heretics” are guilty of a conspiracy greater
that that of the Catilines.91 Sorbin laments that German Protestants are join-
ing with the French “Lutherans,”92 and he asserts that those who join the Prot-
estants are people who pursue private honors at the expense of the common
good.93 In his view, the Calvinists cause disagreements, wars, rebellions, sac-
rileges, thefts, and murders.94
Sorbin ends his chapter with a scatological peroration in which he
returns to the monster’s discovery in Rome and its relationship to Luther.
Taking liberty with the chronology of events he states,
Behold how aptly this monster, which appeared at Rome in the time of
Luther, depicts his appearance. For it was showing that a man had been
born to oppose the Roman Church with his back parts, although not
immediately attacking it, and to tend a fire of such a blaze of ministers,
whom his corrupting feces would produce (just as many creatures are
born from cow dung), and purposely to serve impious men. And so the
filthy seat of Luther’s privy has brought forth such fruit for us: it has pro-
duced such excrement, so many feces, and so many sources of corrup-
tion. Even if men keep silent about all of these things, this is what the very
stones of the ruined temples will shout.95

89.  Ibid., 80r–­80v.

90.  Ibid., 79r.
91.  Ibid., 82v.
92.  Ibid., 82v–­83r.
93.  Ibid., 83r. Note that John Barthlet used this same argument against the Catholic controversialists. See
below, p. 199.
94.  Ibid., 85v–­86r.
95.  Ibid., 87r–­v.
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 189

Sorbin concludes, “There is no need to introduce another truth recently

born from Luther and Calvin, as if born from the head of Jupiter, over and
above the already manifested light of the Catholic truth.”96

The Roman Monster in the Elizabethan Reformation:

The Pedegrewe of Heretiques
The restoration of Protestantism in Elizabethan England brought written con-
flict between proponents of the new religious settlement and defenders of
traditional Catholicism. In this context, the Roman monster again served the
polemical purposes of the Reformation. In less than a year after Elizabeth’s suc-
cession to the throne (1558), Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy and the
Act of Uniformity, and Elizabeth issued a series of royal injunctions to imple-
ment the changes to Protestantism. Numerous Protestant and Catholic con-
troversial writings accompanied the early years of the Elizabethan religious
settlement. During the period from 1560 to 1570, the so-­called Great Contro-
versy was the occasion for more than sixty such polemical or apologetic works.97
One of these was John Barthlet’s The Pedegrewe of Heretiques (1566), in which
he addressed the writings of three Continental Counter-­Reformation authors
and their English expatriate Catholic translators. In his book, Barthlet made use
of the Roman monster in a powerful concluding chapter.
Just as a few hundred Protestants had sought refuge on the Continent
during the reign of Queen Mary, so under Queen Elizabeth a number of
Catholic scholars and gentry established themselves abroad in various towns
in northern France and the Spanish Netherlands. During the 1560s, Louvain
emerged as the most important center for Catholic opposition to English
Protestantism. Here Catholic scholars from Oxford and Cambridge began
lecturing and publishing, making their case against Protestantism. The leader
of these expatriates was Nicholas Sander (1530?–­1581), a professor of canon
law from Oxford who authored a number of works defending the Roman
interpretation of the Eucharist, supporting papal claims to primacy over the
church, and characterizing the English Reformation as the Anglican schism.
He was also the first of the refugees to call for a foreign invasion to restore
Catholicism in England.98 Altogether more than twenty men made up this

96.  Ibid., 88v.

97. Southern, Elizabethan Recusant Prose, 60–­67. Southern coined the term “Great Controversy” to
describe this polemical literary exchange.
98. McGrath, Papists and Puritans, 61; Southern, Elizabethan Recusant Prose, 94–­100.
190 Chapter 5

Louvain school. They produced a large body of publications; Nicholas Sander

estimated that approximately twenty thousand copies of works by the exiles
were smuggled into England before 1580.99 In 1565, the bishop of Salisbury,
John Jewel, wrote to Heinrich Bullinger in Zurich stating, “The popish exiles
are disturbing us and giving us all the trouble in their power.”100
Bishop Jewel (1522–­71) was one of the most important intellectual lead-
ers of the Elizabethan Protestants during the 1560s. He was Oxford educated,
a friend of the Continental reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli, and a former
Marian exile. With Elizabeth’s accession, he returned to England; in January
1560, he was consecrated as the bishop of Salisbury.101 On November 26, 1559,
he preached what has come to be known as his Challenge Sermon at St. Paul’s
Cross. He was invited to preach it again at court on March 17, 1560. And he
preached it a third time, again at St. Paul’s Cross, on March 31, 1560. This ser-
mon became the occasion for a “vast corpus of apologetic and controversial
writing.”102 Jewel challenged the defenders of traditional Roman Catholicism
to prove the antiquity of a number of their beliefs and practices:
If any learned man of all oure aduersaryes, or if all the learned mē that
be aliue be hable to brīg, any one sufficient sentence, oute of any olde
catholique doctour, or father: Or oute of any olde generall counsell: Or
out of the holye scriptures of God: Or ani one example of the primitiue
Churche, whereby it may be clearly & plainly proued, that there was
ani priuate masse in the whole world at that tyme, for the space of sixe
hūdred yeares after Christ: Or that there was then ani Communion min-
istered vnto the people vnder one kind: Or that, the people had theire
commen prayers then in a straunge tonge that they vnderstoode not: Or
that the Bishop of Rome was then called, an vniuersall Byshop, or the
head of the vnyuersall Churche: Or that, the people was then taught to
beleue that Christes body is really, substantially, corporally, carnally or
naturally in the sacramente . . . I promised then yt [that] I would geue
ouer and subscribe vnto hym.103

99. McGrath, Papists and Puritans, 63.

100. Robinson, Zurich Letters, 138.
101. Southgate, John Jewel and the Problem of Doctrinal Authority, 15–­40.
102.  Ibid., 50. See Southern, Elizabethan Recusant Prose, 61–­66 for a list of the works associated with the
Great Controversy.
103.  Ibid., 60.
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 191

The Catholic expatriates at Louvain rose to the challenge. Over the next
twenty years the opponents and defenders of the Elizabethan religious set-
tlement issued sixty-­four publications with titles such as Answer, Apology,
Confutation, Reply, Defence, etc. The most famous of these publications was
Jewel’s Apologia ecclesiae Anglicanae (The Apology of the Church of England,
1562), a work that set forth the main tenants of the Anglican faith and argued
for the historic catholicity of these beliefs. Numerous English scholars and
clerics joined Jewel in defense of the religious settlement. One of these was
John Barthlet, author of The Pedegrewe of Heretiques.
An Anglican cleric with Calvinist leanings, Barthlet was a vicar of
Stortford, Essex, a fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, and a divinity lecturer
of St. Giles’s, Cripplegate.104 He dedicated his polemical Pedegrewe to Rob-
ert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. In a brief and incomplete reference in the
introduction, he indicated the authors and translators against whom he was
writing: “As in this matter of heresies, by Hosius, Shackelock, Rurimondes
Euans, Staphilus his Stapleton. etc.”105 These references, unclear to the modern
reader, refer to three works that were published in Antwerp in 1565 as part of
the Great Controversy: Richard Shacklock’s translation of Stanislaus Hosius’s
De origine haeresium nostri temporis, entitled by the translator The Hatchet of
Heresies; Lewis Evans’s translation of Tabulae Grassantium passim Haereseôn
anasceuasticae, atque analyticae by William Lindanus, bishop of Roermond,
which Evans entitled The betraing of the beastlines of heretykes; and Thomas
Stapleton’s translation of Fridericus Staphylus’s Apologie. In countering the
translations and commentaries of Shacklock, Evans, and Stapleton, Barthlet
not only addressed their content, but he also responded to the illustrations
that accompanied the works of Stapleton/Staphylus and Shacklock/Hosius
with an elaborate illustration of his own, placed at the end of the Pedegrewe.106
A brief review of the authors and translators will help place Barthlet’s book
in context. Richard Shacklock was an English Catholic who was active in mid-
century, though his exact birth and death dates are not known. He studied at
Trinity College, Cambridge, where he received both his bachelor’s and master’s

104.  These biographical details assume that the John Barthlet who authored The Pedegrewe and the John
Barthlet who attended Cambridge and served at Stortford and St. Giles were the same person. See DNB,
s.v. “Barthlet, John”; Venn and Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses, 1.1:99; Greaves, Society and Religion in Eliz-
abethan England, 306; Rosenberg, Leicester, 211–­12.
105. Barthlet, Pedegrewe of Heretiques (1566), 1v.
106. Rosenberg, Leicester, 211.
192 Chapter 5

degrees. Shortly after Elizabeth came to the throne, he left for Louvain, where
he continued his studies in civil law.107 One of the most important publications
of the Great Controversy was Shacklock’s translation of Hosius’s treatise on the
origin of Protestantism.
Stanislaus Hosius was a leader of the Catholic Reformation whose repu-
tation rests on his service as diplomat, papal nuncio, and theologian.108 Born
in Cracow and raised in Vilna, he received his bachelor of arts degree from
the Jagellonian University in Cracow in 1520 and his doctorate in canon and
civil law from the University of Bologna in 1534. He served in administrative
positions for the bishop of Cracow and King Sigismund I of Poland. The king
arranged for him to receive several benefices, including the bishopric of Erm-
land (Polish: Warmia) while he was still unordained. Under King Sigismund
II Augustus, Hosius became a royal ambassador. Pope Paul IV made him a
papal nuncio with responsibilities for planning meetings of the Council of
Trent. Ultimately he presided over the last sessions of the council. In addition
to his diplomatic career, Hosius’s writings contributed to his reputation as a
defender of traditional Catholicism. In 1557, he dedicated his treatise on her-
esies to King Sigismund II. This work, which Shacklock entitled The Hatchet
of Heresies, critiqued the Lutherans, Zwinglians, Schwenckfeldians, Calvin-
ists, Anabaptists, and Anti-­Trinitarians.
Lewis Evans received his bachelor of arts, master of arts, and bachelor
of divinity degrees from Oxford. He became one of the Catholic refugees in
the Low Countries, where he translated a treatise by William Lindanus. A few
years later, after returning to England, he converted to Anglicanism. Thereaf-
ter he wrote various works critical of the Roman Church.109
William Lindanus (Dutch: Van der Lindt) was a Catholic priest who
studied philosophy and theology at Louvain, and Greek and Hebrew at Paris.
He earned his doctorate at Louvain, served as a royal counselor for Philip
II, and in 1562, with Philip’s support, became bishop of Roermond, where
he began implementing the decrees and reforms of the Council of Trent. He
wrote numerous works in Latin and in Dutch, supporting Catholicism and
opposing Protestantism.110

107.  DNB, s.v. “Shacklock, Richard.”

108.  Williams, “Stanislaus Hosius.”
109.  DNB, s.v. “Evans, Lewis.”
110.  Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Lindanus (van Linda), William Damasus.”
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 193

As noted above, Thomas Stapleton was one of the leaders of the Louvain
group; he had the reputation as a “bookish recluse”111 and “the most learned
Roman Catholic of all his time.”112 After refusing to take the Oath of Suprem-
acy, he left for the Continent late in 1559. He became a professor of scripture
at the University of Louvain and developed a reputation for both his own
polemical works and his English translations of writings by other Catholic
controversialists. When he published his translation of Staphylus’s Apologie,
he added to it his own “Discourse of the Translator vppon the doctrine of the
protestants vvhich he trieth by the three first founders and fathers thereof,
Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, and especially Iohn Caluin.”
Fridericus Staphylus, a Lutheran convert to Catholicism, was a princely
counselor and a Catholic controversialist. In 1541 he received his master of
arts from the University of Wittenberg. At that point still a Lutheran, he took
a position at Königsberg University as a professor of theology, where he came
into theological disputes with the Dutch humanist and Protestant Wilhelm
Gnapheus, and the Lutheran reformer Andreas Osiander. These clashes may
have disillusioned him about the possibility of Protestant unity, for sectarian
divisiveness later became a dominant theme in his polemics. Following a seri-
ous illness in 1552, he converted to Roman Catholicism and began his career
as an adviser to various bishops and princes, including the Duke of Bavaria.
He became a leader of the Catholic Reformation in Bavaria and Austria. After
his conversion, he wrote works critical of Lutheran theology and Protestant
sectarianism; one such work was his Apologie.113
These three continental Catholic controversialists and their English trans-
lators made nearly identical points in rebutting Protestantism. They argued that
the extreme disunity among the various Protestant sects negated the credibil-
ity of their religious message. Further, they asserted that, on numerous doc-
trinal points, the ideas of the Protestants were little more than a restatement
of various ancient heresies—­Manichaeans, Cerdonians, Pelagians, Massilians,
Selucians, Novatians, Donatists, Nestorians, Arians, Jovinians, Audians, Cath-
arists, Origenists, etc.114 As Thomas Stapleton wrote, the Protestants say they

111. O’Connell, Thomas Stapleton and the Counter Reformation, 25.

112. McGrath, Papists and Puritans, 60–­61.
113.  ADB, s.v. “Staphylus, Friedrich”; New Schaff-­Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, s.v. “Staphy-
lus, Friedrich”; Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Friedrich Staphylus.”
114.  Lewis Evans, Certaine Tables sett furth by the right Reuerend father in God, William Bushopp of Ruri-
munde, in Ghelderland . . . [entitled by Evans] The betraing of the beastlines of heretykes (Antwerp: Aegidius
Diest, 1565), Cvi[r]–­Dii[v].
194 Chapter 5

want to reform “after the paterne and practice of the primitiue Church,” but
what they really mean is “the renewing of such heresies, as were in that time
condemned.”115 Similarly, Lewis wrote that Protestants “leane vnto old cancred,
and condemned heresies.”116
Hosius and Staphylus presented their arguments about Protestant
sectarian division and the heretical ancestry of Protestant theology using a
genealogical metaphor. Staphylus, for example, created an elaborate “Table
of Lvther’s Ofspring”117 in which he categorized numerous sectarian splinter
groups under the three broad headings of Confessionists,118 Sacramentarians,
and Anabaptists. Using this schema he connected a comprehensive list of dis-
parate groups to Luther’s religious ideas. Likewise, Hosius described Luther
as the author of numerous Protestant sects—­Sacramentarians, Anabaptists,
Schwenckfeldians, and Servetians.119 This genealogical metaphor made it easy
to associate Luther with many sects that he himself had condemned.
An obvious way to present an intellectual genealogy is with a family
tree. Both Hosius and Staphylus made use of such an arboreal metaphor. In
the Hosius treatise, the tree of Protestantism appeared as an “eual plant which
Sathan hath sowed in God his ground, whose roote is raylyng, whose body
is rebellion, whose braunches be bloodshedde, whose leaues be lyes, whose
frute be the aples of Atheisme, that is to be of no Religion, or to thynck that
there is no God at all”120 (fig. 11). Staphylus’s Protestant family tree was far
more detailed. The tree’s roots are infested with four toads (demonic symbols),
which the text identifies as Thomas Müntzer, Bernhard Rothmann, Andreas
Karlstadt, and Philip Melanchthon. Its trunk is formed of Martin Luther, with
his wife, Katharina von Bora, at his side. From the central trunk arise three
branches, consisting of images of Bernhard Rothmann, Philip Melanchthon,

115.  Stapleton, “Discourse of the Translatour vppon the doctrine of the protestants vvhich he trieth by the
three first founders and fathers thereof, Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, and especially Iohn Calvin,” in
Staphylus, Apologie, trans. Stapleton, 178v–­179r.
116. Evans, The betraing of the beastlines of heretykes, Avii[r].
117. Staphylus, Apologie, 102r–­115r.
118.  Confessionists were followers of the Augsburg Confession.
119.  Stanislaus Hosius, A Most Excellent Treatise of the begynnyng of heresyses in oure tyme . . . [entitled by
Richard Shacklock] The hatchet of heresies, trans. Richard Shacklock (Antwerp: Aegidius Diest, 1565), 61v.
120. Hosius, Hatchet of heresies, Shacklock’s “Epistle dedicatory” to Queen Elizabeth I, a vi[v]. I thank
my former student Mr. Andrew Gatti for calling the arboreal metaphor of Staphylus and Hosius to my
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 195

Figure 11:  Tree of Protestantism from Stanislaus Hosius’s A Most Excellent Treatise
of the begynnyng of heresyes in oure tyme (1565). Courtesy of the Rare Book & Man-
uscript Library, University of Illinois at Urbana–­Champaign.
196 Chapter 5

Figure 12:  Tree of Protestantism from Fridericus Staphylus’s Apologie (1565). © The
British Library Board, General Reference Collection, 698.d.1.
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 197

and Ulrich Zwingli. From these branches grow fifty-­two leaves, each labeled
with the name of an alleged Protestant sect (fig. 12).
In addition to an arboreal metaphor, Staphylus also used the teratologi-
cal image of the monk-­calf. This was the monstrous deformity that Luther had
explicated as a condemnation of monasticism in the pamphlet he published
with Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained. In the Staphylus illustration, the
monk-­calf stands in the middle of an escutcheon placed at the base of the
tree. To the left of the shield is a caption stating, “an ougly Monster brought
forth of a cowe, in the yeare 1523. in Waltersdorff one myle from Friberg, in
one Steckers farme, much resembling the cowle of a Fryer. Whereby Luthers
Monstrous life and doctrine was boded” (fig. 12).
Staphylus included another important point that helps to explain the
structure and argument of the Pedegrewe. He dismissed an argument that he
attributes to “Smidelin” (“Smithy”), the derisive sobriquet applied to Jakob
Andreae, a son of a blacksmith who became a respected Lutheran theologian,
princely counselor, and campaigner for Lutheran unity. Staphylus wrote,
But now Smidelin findeth an other sory shifte to comforte his poore
brethren withal. Bicause in dede he can not denie the heretical schis-
mes that are amonge them, he turneth the blow vppon the Catholikes
and chargeth them with the like sayeng. that amonge the papistes also are
sectes and schismes.121

The charge of Catholic sectarian divisions, attributed to Jakob Andreae,

becomes one of the organizing ideas behind Barthlet’s book. He counters the
criticism of Protestant sectarian divisiveness and the charge that Protestants
are merely ancient heretics reborn by turning the Catholic argument on its
head, insisting that historic Catholicism was itself filled with sectarian divi-
sions and heretical movements. Hosius called the pre-­Reformation Roman
church a unified “land of one lippe.”122 For Barthlet, the Roman church
becomes an institution plagued by heresy and division from the very begin-
ning. In the second part of his treatise he lists 107 separate divisive, sectarian,
or heretical groups within Catholicism that he illustrates on the leaves of his
accompanying woodcut123 (fig. 13).

121. Staphylus, Apologie, 121v.

122. Barthlet, Pedegrewe of Heretiques, 3r.
123. Watt, Cheap Print and Popular Piety, 151–­53, discusses the woodcut that illustrates Barthlet’s
Pedegrewe of Heretiques, although she does not identify it as such. I contend that she both misdates and
198 Chapter 5

Figure 13:  Tree of Catholicism from John Barthlet’s The Pedegrewe of Heretiques
(1566). Courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum.
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 199

In addition to his genealogical pedigree of Catholic heretical divisions,

Barthlet also develops a second narrative in which he employs the rheto-
ric of civic discourse. In this argument, he contrasts the pursuit of private
interests on the part of the Catholic controversialists with a defense of the
well-­being of the English commonweal. It is in this context that he uses the
Roman monster as a symbol of the evil, hierocratic, and autocratic hierar-
chy of the papal church.
He introduces his attack against the subverters of the English comity in
the introductory section of the Pedegrewe. There he charges that writers such
as Shacklock, Evans, and Stapleton “addresse themselues to thencombraunce,
both of the common cause and wealth [of England],”124 and he describes Shack-
lock as “hacking at this common wealth.”125 He characterizes the defenders of
the Anglican religious settlement as “setting forth the truth, and care of the
common welth.”126 He asks, “what hath Hosius, being an alien, and ignoraunte
of our Land, I pray you, to doe with Trinitie Colledge in Cambridge.”127 This
civic argument allows Barthlet to present his entire “family tree” of heresies
both as a discussion of sectarian divisions within Catholicism and as a com-
mentary on the structure and power of the papal church. For example, the
ambition of Simon Magus and the covetousness of Judas Iscariot comprise
the roots of Barthlet’s Catholic tree (fig. 13). The trunk consists of the bod-
ies of Gratian and Peter Lombard, representing canon law and Scholasticism,
which form the legal and theological bases for the church’s claims of author-
ity. From this double trunk spring branches and leaves labeled with heresies
and sectarian divisions. Crowning the tree top stands the Roman monster,
“a thing wherein the horrible confusion of Rome, is sufficiently and properly
preached, and contayned in a little summe.”128 Barthlet thus concludes his
defense of the Elizabethan Protestant religious settlement by attacking the

misinterprets the illustration that she calls the “Catholic tree.” She asserts that the image must be dated after
1579, the year in which an English translation of Melanchthon’s The Pope-­Ass Explained was published. She
does not appear to be aware that the woodcut in question illustrates Barthlet’s arguments point by point,
and she does not connect it to Barthlet or the Great Controversy. She asserts that the “woodblock may
have been obtained from abroad; the publisher manipulating the meaning of the image with his choice of
English captions.” My interpretation differs substantially from that of Dr. Watt.
124. Barthlet, Pedegrewe of Heretiques, 1v.
125.  Ibid., 2r.
126.  Ibid., 1v.
127. Ibid.
128.  Ibid., 85r–­v.
200 Chapter 5

powerful papal regime through a politically oriented interpretation of the

monster’s body parts.
He begins with the assertion that the arrival of the monster on the banks
of the Tiber indicates that the portent “doth appertayne both onley to Rome,
and also signifieth a body politique, risen in that cuntrey, to a maruellous and
most horrible confusenesse,”129 namely, the church of Antichrist wherein the
sons of Adam are daily misshapen “into the societie of the mysticall body of
sinne and perdition.”130 In other words, Barthlet calls the church of Rome the
mystical body of Antichrist (see chapter 3 above).
The head of the beast stands for the “Asselike instruction (that is) doc-
trine worldly, carnall, foolish, slouthfull, wanton, and gentyle [i.e., pagan],”
the same as is found in the church of Rome.131 The neck signifies the proud
and stubborn minds of Catholics who embrace blind errors.132 The scales
stand for the friends and allies who defend the “pope and his members.”133
The breasts, stomach, and belly signify cardinals, priests, and “religious rab-
blement.” Specifically, the two breasts stand for the works of Lombard and
Gratian, which provide nurture and food for the clergy.134 The right hand,
an elephant’s foot, “must signifie the deedes of that mysticall body politique
[of the Roman church], being mighty, cruel, sturdy, stubborne, presuming
vpon, winning and conquering all men, not easily yelding ouer the aduaun-
tage gotten. And in that, that is the right hande: it muste signifie their clear-
gie, and Canons.”135 The left hand is the civil power and sovereignty that the
Roman church holds over the laity. The fact that the left hand is human in
form bespeaks a “lefte faythgiuer, promise breaker, and dissembler.”136
The right foot in the form of the foot of an ox “doth signifie their simple
and doting Portifarie priestes, Charterers, Soulemongers, and such like, their
Nuns, Sisters, Anchoresses, and the reste, Pardone preachers, Ghostly fathers,
Decretaries, and Summistes with an infinite rablement of Idiotes.”137 The left

129.  Ibid., 85v. For a discussion of the topic of the papal Antichrist in late Tudor and Stuart England, see
Milton, Catholic and Reformed, 93–­127.
130. Barthlet, Pedegrewe of Heretiques, 86r.
131. Ibid.
132. Ibid.
133.  Ibid., 86v.
134. Ibid.
135.  Ibid., 87r.
136.  Ibid., 87v.
137.  Ibid., 87v–­88r. Note: breviary priests, Carthusians, traffickers in intercessory prayers or masses, pardon-
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 201

foot “is the foote of a Griphon,” which “signifieth those that in that body poli-
tique . . . [who] are gatherers, rakers togither, Extortioners and greedy guttes.
Such as their Bullistes, Dataries, Copistes, Somners, Notaries and the like.”138
The tail signifies “flattering, and false preaching Prophets, teachers and writ-
ers,”139 and the dragon’s head at the end of the tail stands for “wicked and
bloudthristie persones” who use carnal and natural reason, flattery, and tyr-
anny in their attempts to overcome the elect.140
Barthlet’s “Of the toppe of the Tree” is quite similar to Melanchthon’s The
Pope-­Ass Explained; both critique the institutions of the papacy and the Cath-
olic clerical hierarchy. Melanchthon’s tract, however, reflects issues relevant
to religious debate in Germany during the 1520s, while Barthlet’s chapter, a
section of a larger work, is part of his defense of the Elizabethan Religious Set-
tlement of the 1560s. Although the body parts of the Roman monster receive
somewhat similar interpretations, there are differences of emphasis and ter-
minology. Melanchthon uses language that addresses ecclesiology, clerical
concupiscence, and papal condemnation of Lutheranism; Barthlet, on the
other hand, uses a political vocabulary, referring to the English polity, the
mystical body politic (of the Antichrist), exploitative ecclesiastical bureau-
crats, and the tyranny of papal supporters. For example, Melanchthon criti-
cizes papal claims to be the caput ecclesiae and the Vicar of Christ on Earth.
Barthlet, in contrast, focuses on the misdeeds of the mystical body politic of
the Roman church. For Melanchthon, the monster’s right hand stands for the
theology of meritorious works and the institutions that theology produces;
for Barthlet, the right hand stands for “the grievous misgovernment” of the
Roman clergy. Melanchthon interprets the dragon’s head spewing out fire as
representing detestable papal bulls and slanderous books of papal supporters.
Barthlet sees the dragon’s head as standing for diabolical tyrants who attempt
to destroy the elect.
It seems clear that Barthlet had read Melanchthon’s tract; while he gen-
erally followed its conclusions, he modified his interpretations to fit the cir-
cumstances of England. The fact that he chose a metaphorical explanation
of the Roman monster as the conclusion of his defense of the Elizabethan
settlement demonstrates the enduring symbolic power and persuasiveness of

ers, fathers confessor, decretalists, and authors of summas.

138.  Ibid., 88r.
139.  Ibid., 88v.
140.  Ibid., 89r.
202 Chapter 5

this ominous chimera. Just as Melanchthon appropriated the Roman monster

to defend Lutheranism in the 1520s, so Barthlet likewise deployed it in his
defense of English Protestantism in the 1560s.

The Roman Monster in the Elizabethan Reformation: Of

two VVoonderful Popish Monsters: A Declaration of the
Monstrous figure of a Popish Asse
In 1579, the Roman monster again appeared in England, in the context of and
as a response to a resurgence of Roman Catholicism. During the decade prior
to the publication of an English translation of Melanchthon’s tract, tensions
between Protestants and Catholics heightened on a number of fronts, as pro-
ponents for restoration of Catholicism in England argued in favor of papal
jurisdictional authority, asserted Mary Stuart’s right to the throne, schemed to
organize military action against England, and undertook missionary efforts to
keep English Catholicism alive and strong. During the same period, the mas-
sacres of Protestants in France and the Low Countries demonstrated the dan-
gers inherent in the Catholic resurgence. In reporting the St. Bartholomew’s
Day Massacres and the sack of Antwerp to the English audience, a genre of
writing developed that is known as “alarum literature.”141 The prolegomenon
to the English translation of Melanchthon’s pamphlet consists of introduc-
tions by the translator, John Brooke, and the French publisher, Jean Crespin.
The content of this prefatory material is very much like that of other examples
of alarum writing. One may therefore view the 1579 English translation as
both a general response to the Catholic resurgence during the 1570s and as a
specific example of alarum literature.
To explain why Elizabethan Protestants perceived a heightened Cath-
olic threat, this section will consider the Louvainist championing of papal
supremacy, the Catholic advocacy of Mary Stuart’s dynastic claims, the arrival
of the Douai missionary priests in England, the papal excommunication of
Elizabeth, the Ridolfi Plot, the St. Bartholomew Day’s Massacres, and the sack
of Antwerp. As A. G. Dickens has noted, Elizabethans believed that these
events were part of a “well-­integrated plan organized from Rome.”142 These
domestic and international events form the context and help account for the

141.  Buchanan, “Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s . . . and the Sack of Antwerp,” 188, 199; Pratt, “Antwerp
and the Elizabethan Mind,” 53–­54.
142.  Dickens, “Elizabethans and St. Bartholomew,” 67.
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 203

timing of the translation entitled A Declaration of the Monstrous figure of a

Popish Asse (1579).
As discussed above, Melanchthon’s pamphlet directly attacked claims
of papal supremacy. Several of the Louvainist authors wrote tracts support-
ing papal primacy and political power, and attacking royal supremacy over
the English church. One such writer was the de facto leader of the Lou-
vainists, Nicholas Sander. In 1567, he published The Rocke of / the Churche
/ Wherein the Primacy of St. Peter and / of his Successours the Bishops / of
Rome is proued . . . .143 Thomas Harding, a Hebrew scholar and one of Sand-
er’s assistants, wrote two works addressing this topic: A Confutation / of a
Booke intituled / An Apologie of the / Church of England . . . (1565), which
was an answer to Bishop Jewel’s Apologia; and A Detection of sun-­/drie foule
errours, lies, / sclaunders, corruptions, and other / false dealings, touching
Doctrine, and other matters, vt/tered and practized by M. Iewel . . . (1568).
To these one can add another response to Jewel by John Rastell, a leading
Louvain controversialist, entitled A confutation / of a sermon, pronoūced
by M. Iuell, / at Paules crosse . . . (1564). Both Harding and Rastell argued
that the pope’s power was superior to that of kings and emperors, that he
wielded the spiritual sword directly, and that secular rulers wielded the tem-
poral sword at his direction.144 As part of a dispute unrelated to the Great
Controversy, Thomas Stapleton authored a treatise of more than one thou-
sand pages in which he likewise addressed claims of papal authority. The
occasion was a dispute over the abbot of Westminster’s refusal to swear the
Oath of Supremacy. The title of Stapleton’s magnum opus reads (in part) A
Counterblast to / M. Hornes vayne / blast against M. / Feckenham. Wherein
is set / forthe: a ful Reply to M. Hornes Answer . . . Prouing the Popes and

143. Southern, Elizabethan Recusant Prose, 65, 98, 488; Holmes, Resistance and Compromise, 27–­28.
144.  Ibid., 19. Both Harding and Rastell used the medieval analogy of the “two great lights,” in which the
sun stands for the pope and the moon for temporal authority. Both Innocent III and Boniface VIII used
this argument. As Innocent wrote in his letter “Sicut universitatis conditor,” “Thus, as the moon receives its
light from the sun and for this very reason is inferior both in quantity and in quality, in its size and in its
effect, so the royal power derives the splendor of its dignity from the pontifical authority”; Ehler and Mor-
rall, Church and State, 73. Harding and Rastell also used St. Bernard’s theory of the “two swords,” in which
one sword stands for papal spiritual power over the church and the other stands for the material jurisdic-
tion of secular rulers, exercised at the behest of the pope. As St. Bernard wrote, “Both swords, that is, the
spiritual and the material, belong to . . . the Church . . . ; however, the latter is to be drawn for the Church,
and the former by the Church.” See Cassell, Monarchia Controversy, 97. For the “two great lights,” see ibid.,
86–­90; for the theory of the “two swords,” see ibid., 96–­98. See also Cassell, “Luna est ecclesia,” 1–­26.
204 Chapter 5

Supremacy in Ecclesiasti-­/cal causes: and Disprouing the Princes Supremacy /

in the same Causes . . . (1567).145
Other authors wrote in support of Mary Stuart, the Catholic heir to the
English crown. In 1571, John Leslie, bishop of Ross, counselor to Mary and her
official ambassador to the English court, argued in favor of the legitimacy of
Mary’s claim to the throne. Detained in England under house arrest, Mary was
the hope of the Counter-­Reformation for the restoration of the Roman Catholic
Church in England should Elizabeth die childless or be forcibly overthrown. A
defense of Mary’s dynastic claims, when coupled with a challenge to Elizabeth’s
legitimacy, posed a serious threat to the government. In his A treatise / concerning
/ the Defence of the / Honour of the Right / High, Mightie and Noble Prin/cesse,
Marie Queene of Scotland . . . with a Declaration, as well of her Right, Title
and Interest to the Suc-­/cession of the Croune of Eng-­/land . . . . Leslie pre-
sented “Mary as the only true heir to the throne of England.”146 Another
work, published anonymously in 1572 but often attributed to Leslie, entitled
A Treatise / of Treasons . . . , was highly critical of Elizabeth’s government. In
response, the government issued the Proclamation of September 28, 1573,
prohibiting the publication of all Catholic “bookes and libelles.”147
After 1573, the Louvainists turned away from works that debated polit-
ical and jurisdictional issues and began publishing religious tracts that the
priests from Mary Tudor’s reign and the new missionary graduates from the
college at Douai could use as pastoral aids in their ministrations to English
Catholics.148 The arrival of the missionary priests had an impact that sur-
passed their actual numbers, for they were exceedingly well trained in Catho-
lic doctrine as well as in the methods of homiletics. Their work challenged the
government’s policies of relying on a latitudinarian religious settlement and
lax enforcement of uniformity as the means for the conversion of the realm to
a moderate form of Protestantism.
William Allen, an Oxford-­educated Catholic cleric from a gentry family
in Lancashire, founded the college at Douai in the Spanish Netherlands in 1568.
Its purpose was to train clergy to serve the spiritual needs of English Catholics
and to help restore the old religion in England when circumstances might per-
mit. The Douai graduates heard confessions, administered the sacraments, and

145. Southern, Elizabethan Recusant Prose, 126–­35, 499–­501.

146.  Ibid., 443.
147.  Ibid., 445. See also Holmes, Resistance and Compromise, 23–­26.
148.  Ibid., 33–­34.
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 205

preached in the vernacular. Though they were not trained primarily as prose-
lytizers, the government nevertheless perceived them as such. In 1574, the first
seminary graduates came to England; by 1580 approximately one hundred mis-
sionary priests had arrived.149 In a letter to William Allen from 1575, one of the
covert priests reported that Lord Burghley had stated “for one staunch Catholic
at the beginning of the reign, there were now, he knew for certain, ten.”150
The Douai graduates began arriving in England shortly after the pope
excommunicated Elizabeth. In 1566, an austere Dominican and former grand
inquisitor became Pope Pius V. Four years later he fulminated the bull Reg-
nans in excelsis, excommunicating and deposing Queen Elizabeth:
[W]e declare the aforesaid Elizabeth to be heretic and an abetter
of heretics, and we declare her, together with her supporters in the
above-­said matters, to have incurred the sentence of excommuni-
cation and to be cut off from the unity of the Body of Christ.
Furthermore we declare her to be deprived of her pretended
claim to the aforesaid kingdom and of all lordship, dignity and
privilege whatsoever.
Also, we declare that the lords, subjects and peoples of the
said kingdom, and all others who have sworn allegiance to her in
any way, are perpetually absolved from any oath of this kind.151
This bull freed English Catholics from obedience to their queen and encour-
aged them to join in resistance to her and the Protestant religious settlement.
In 1571 and 1572, yet another threat to the religious settlement came
to light in the form of the Ridolfi Plot, a scheme to overthrow Elizabeth and
restore Catholicism in England. Roberto Ridolfi, a Florentine banker who
served as the pope’s agent in London, orchestrated an elaborate conspiracy to
bring together Philip II of Spain, the Duke of Alva (Philip’s governor-­general
in the Spanish Netherlands), Guerau de Spes (Philip’s ambassador to England),
Pius V, Mary Stuart, the bishop of Ross, and the Duke of Norfolk in a plot in
which the duke and other Catholic nobles would lead disgruntled Catholics
in open insurrection. An invading force of eight thousand Spanish troops was
to join the insurgents once the revolt was under way. The rebels were to cap-
ture Elizabeth, free Mary from house arrest, and place her on the throne. The

149. McGrath, Papists and Puritans, 111.

150.  Quoted in ibid., 112.
151.  Ehler and Morrall, Church and State, 183.
206 Chapter 5

plan failed thanks to the efficient espionage of Lord Burghley. The government
imprisoned the bishop of Ross, stripped him and de Spes of their recogni-
tion as ambassadors, and executed the Duke of Norfolk. Mary remained under
house arrest where she continued to serve as a magnet attracting those who
wished to reestablish Catholicism in England.152
Across the Channel, Catholics and Calvinists were engaged in the bloody
combat of the French Wars of Religion and the Revolt of the Netherlands.
Events during the course of these wars highlighted the dangers facing Protes-
tantism. One of these was the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre that occurred
in Paris and twelve other cities in the French provinces during the months of
August to October of 1572.153 The bloodletting began in Paris shortly after the
marriage of the Huguenot Henry of Navarre to the king’s sister Marguerite
of Valois. The queen mother, Catherine de Médicis, had arranged this union
in an attempt to achieve greater harmony between Catholics and Protestants.
Henry of Navarre had emerged as one of the principal Protestant leaders, and
many of his noble supporters came to Paris to witness the marriage (August
18, 1572). Four days later, an assassin attempted to kill Gaspard de Coligny,
another important Huguenot leader who served as the admiral of France. The
available primary sources do not reveal with certainty the person responsible
for this failed assassination. Coligny chose to stay in Paris, believing that the
king would protect him. This decision in turn encouraged other Huguenot
nobles who were in Paris for the wedding to stay in the city, even though they
were furious about the assault against Coligny. They openly expressed their
anger and threatened revenge. The Catholic majority in Paris was likewise
angry at the Huguenots, having been stirred up by Catholic polemical ser-
mons calling for death to the heretics.
On August 23, Charles IX claimed to have received information that
Huguenot troops were planning to attack Paris, capture the king, and kill
the leaders of the Catholic faction. To counter this perceived threat, Charles
ordered the assassination of two to three dozen Huguenot leaders who were
still in Paris. Catherine de Médicis or Duke Henry of Guise may have pres-
sured Charles into this decision, but he later took full responsibility for this

152.  See Morrissey, “The Ridolfi Plot.” Note that Edwards, Dangerous Queen, puts forward an alternate
interpretation of the plot in which Ridolfi plays the role of a secret agent for the English government rather
than the organizer of a revolt for the papacy.
153.  The following summary of the events of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacres follows the account
of Diefendorf, Beneath the Cross, 93–­106; Holt, French Wars of Religion, 76–­97; and Benedict, “Saint Bar-
tholomew’s Massacres in the Provinces,” 205–­25.
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 207

action. To carry out the murders, Duke Henry of Guise and other Catholic
leaders took charge of about one hundred royal guards. In the early hours of
August 24, these troops began the systematic murder of Huguenot noblemen.
Admiral Coligny was one of the first to die, dispatched at the hands of men
under the direct command of the Duke of Guise.
During the next three days, a popular fury swept through Catholic
Paris. The mass hysteria that led ordinary civilians to murder their Protestant
neighbors resulted, in part, from the Catholic propaganda that called for the
Huguenot heretics not only to be killed, but to be humiliated and dishonored.
For example, a mob seized Coligny’s corpse, cut off the head, hands, and gen-
itals, dragged the mutilated body through the streets of Paris, hung it by its
feet from the gallows, set it on fire, and finally threw it into the Seine.154 Before
the murderous riot ended, approximately two thousand Protestants had been
killed in Paris.155
But that was not the end of the massacre. News of the murders in the
capital spread to the countryside almost immediately. Violence erupted in
twelve provincial towns where the Huguenots had formed a large enough
minority to pose a threat to the Catholic majority.156 Believing they had royal
approval, mobs began massacring Huguenots, mutilating their corpses, and
disemboweling the pregnant women whom they killed.157 Current scholar-
ship estimates that approximately three thousand Protestants were murdered
in the provinces.158
News of the massacres reached England through Huguenot refugees as
well as through printed reports. Just after the killings ended in Paris, a Span-
iard in London observed that “the people here are panic-­stricken.”159 French
refugees came to England by the thousands, settling on the Channel Islands,
along the southern coast, and in London and other cities.160 The printed
reports included a translation of François Hotman’s De furoribus Gallicis with

154. Holt, French Wars of Religion, 87; Hotman, A true and plaine report of the Furious outrages of
Fraunce . . . , lvii.
155.  Diefendorf, “Prologue to a Massacre,” 1067. Diefendorf cites Janine Estèbe, Tocsin pour un massacre:
La saison des Saint-­Barthélemy (Paris: Le Centurion, 1968), 201.
156.  Benedict, “St. Bartholomew’s Massacres in the Provinces,” 220.
157.  Ibid., 221, 225.
158.  Ibid., 207, 207n5.
159.  Antonio de Guaras to the Duke of Alba, August 30, 1572, quoted in Probasco, “Composed Criticism,
Indisputable Innuendo, and Overt Outrage,” 72.
160. Kingdon, Myths about the St. Bartholomew’s Day, 21.
208 Chapter 5

the English title A true and plaine report of the Furious outrages of Fraunce, &
the horrible and shameful slaughter of CHASTILLION the Admiral, and diuers
other Noble and excellent men  .  .  . (1573). Another such work was Jean de
Serres’s The Three partes of Commentaries, Containing the whole and perfect
discourse of the ciuill warres of Fraunce . . . (1574), the tenth book of which was
a reprint of Hotman’s True and plaine report. In 1575, a translation of a biogra-
phy attributed to Henri Estienne appeared with the English title A Mervaylous
discourse vpon the lyfe, deedes, and behauiours of Katherine de Medicis, Queen
mother . . . , which placed the blame for the massacres on Catherine de Méd-
icis. In 1576, an English version of a work by Jean de Serres appeared with the
title The lyfe of the most godly, valeant and noble capteine and maintener of the
trew Christian religion in Fraunce, Iasper Colignie Shatilion, sometyme greate
Admirall of Fraunce.161 Also in 1576, an edition of John Foxe’s Acts and Mon-
uments appeared in which he made reference to the massacres as a “matter of
common knowledge.”162
These works extolled the innocent victims and condemned the perpe-
trators. Hotman, for example, claimed that Pope Pius V had recruited the
French king to support his war against “all those Princes that did permitte vse
of the reformed Religion within their dominions.”163 The Elizabethan pop-
ulace became convinced that the massacres in France were part of a larger
Counter-­Reformation pattern of events including Elizabeth’s excommunica-
tion, the Ridolfi Plot, the conspiracies around Mary Stuart, and the brutal
suppression of the Protestants in the Netherlands. They mistakenly believed
that these events were not only related, but were also part of a vast plan, orga-
nized and directed by the pope.164 From England’s point of view, it was easy to
conclude that the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre was another example of a
threatening Catholic resurgence.
Four years after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacres, another devastat-
ing holocaust took place when Philip II’s Army of Flanders mutinied, sacked
the city of Antwerp, and murdered thousands of the inhabitants. News of the
death and destruction reached England by way of news tracts, broadsheets,
and ballads. Collectively known by the term “alarum literature,” these reports

161.  Dickens, “Elizabethans and St. Bartholomew,” 60–­61. See also Parmelee, “Printers, Patrons, Readers,
and Spies,” 856.
162.  Dickens, “Elizabethans and St. Bartholomew,” 61.
163. Hotman, A true and plaine report of the Furious outrages of Fraunce . . . , xxiii.
164.  Dickens, “Elizabethans and St. Bartholomew,” 67.
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 209

typically focused on the themes of Catholic zealotry, Protestant complacency,

and urban hedonism.165 Simply put, they argued that because of sinfulness
concentrated in urban centers such as Antwerp, God allowed the brutal Span-
ish army to be victorious. Londoners should therefore repent and mend their
immoral ways in order to save themselves from a similar fate. The English
translation of Melanchthon’s tract and especially its prefaces align this publi-
cation with other alarum literature appearing in the late 1570s.
To understand the sack of Antwerp, the so-­called Spanish Fury, it is nec-
essary to place it in the context of the revolt of the Low Countries against
King Philip II of Spain.166 A protest by the nobility against the government’s
harsh prosecution of suspected Protestants began the first phase of the revolt.
Four hundred nobles signed a mutual pledge known as the Compromise of
the Nobility, calling for the abolition of the Inquisition and a moderation of
the anti-­heresy laws; three hundred of their number presented this document
to the king’s governor-­general, Margaret of Parma, on April 5, 1566. During
the presentation, a Catholic magnate referred to the petitioners as beggars;
the document thus came to be called the Protest of the Beggars. The authors
of the compromise stated that the Inquisition “would abolish all ancient priv-
ileges, liberties, and immunities and thereby not only make the burghers
and common people of this country wretched and everlasting slaves of the
Inquisition . . . but would also compel the magistrates, officials, and the entire
nobility to submit to the mercy of their inquiries and searches.”167
In the months following the presentation of the compromise, frequent out-
door Calvinist prayer meetings began to take place on lands belonging to noble
sympathizers. Soon the unauthorized conventicles turned violent as vandals
attacked roadside crosses, shrines, churches, chapels, and convents.168 In some
cases, the plundering mobs consisted of Calvinists who genuinely believed that
Catholic images needed to be removed from the churches. Other participants,
however, were simply hired thugs, drawn from the ranks of “unemployed, man-
ual laborers, habitual drunkards, whores, and boys in their early teens.”169

165.  Buchanan, “Massacre of St. Bartholomew . . . and the Sack of Antwerp,” 188, 199; Pratt, “Antwerp and
the Elizabethan Mind,” 53–­54.
166.  For a discussion of the revolt of the Low Countries from 1566 to 1576, see Parker, Dutch Revolt,
chaps. 2, 3.
167. Rowen, Low Countries in Early Modern Times, 30.
168. Parker, Dutch Revolt, 77 provides a map showing locations of iconoclastic destruction in 1566.
169.  Ibid., 78.
210 Chapter 5

Even before the noble protest and the iconoclastic fury, Philip II was
inclined to take military action. In the aftermath of the events of 1566, he sent
the Duke of Alva to the Low Countries to enforce his policies. The duke com-
manded a force of ten thousand men, who joined the ten thousand soldiers
already in service to the governor-­general.170 Margaret soon resigned and
Alva succeeded her as governor and captain-­general. He set up the infamous
Council of Troubles (September 1567), which began investigating, arresting,
and punishing those involved in the revolt, condemning some one thou-
sand individuals to death. Nobles and townsmen alike opposed the brutality
of Alva’s occupation and the imposition of new taxes; open warfare ensued
between the Dutch rebels and the forces of Alva.
At the same time that Spain was trying to suppress this rebellion, it was
also involved in a war against the Turks in the Mediterranean. The cost of
these two enterprises was more than Philip could afford. On September 1,
1575, the king declared bankruptcy. In so doing, he made it impossible to
send money to the Netherlands. In November 1575, Alva’s successor, Don
Luis de Requesens, wrote, “This Decree of Bankruptcy has been such a blow
to the Exchange here that no one in it has any credit . . . I cannot find a single
penny. Nor can I see how the King could send money here, even if he had it in
abundance. Short of a miracle, all this military machine will fall into ruins.”171
On July 25, 1576, with their pay two years in arrears,172 the troops mutinied,
sacked the town of Aalst, and moved against Antwerp.
The mutiny of 1576 was only one of several such organized protests
through which the Army of Flanders attempted to force payment of its arrears
or acquire plunder in lieu of unpaid wages. Mutinies took place each year
from 1573 to 1576. Far from being spontaneous, chaotic riots, the mutinies
were well organized and quite disciplined. The mutineers elected a leader, an
electo, and a council of men to advise him. The electo held absolute authority
and maintained discipline “with an iron hand.”173 As a seventeenth-­century
historian of the wars in Flanders wrote, “never has disobedience been seen
which produced greater obedience.”174

170.  Ibid., 102. For a discussion of the Army of Flanders and the Dutch Revolt, see Parker, Army of Flan-
ders, 231–­36.
171.  Quoted in Parker, Army of Flanders, 235.
172. Parker, Dutch Revolt, 172; the light cavalry was owed six years’ back pay in 1576.
173. Parker, Army of Flanders, 188.
174.  Guido Bentivoglio, The History of the Wars of Flanders (1678), quoted in ibid., 189.
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 211

On November 4, 1576, some 5,600 Spanish troops easily overwhelmed

the defenders of Antwerp.175 The electo, carrying a banner showing a crucifix
on one side and a picture of the Virgin Mary on the other, led the attackers
as they rampaged through the city shouting “Saint James, Spain, blood, flesh,
fire, sack!”176 They set the city on fire, destroying one thousand buildings,
including the city hall. The plundering continued for four days. In all, approx-
imately eight thousand men, women, and children were murdered; countless
others were tortured as the mutineers searched for gold, silver, jewels, and
other luxuries.177
When the attack occurred, Antwerp was one of the wealthiest cities of
northern Europe. With a population in excess of one hundred thousand, it
was Europe’s commercial and banking center. Its wealth was based on trade
from Portugal, Italy, southern Germany, France, England, and the Hansa. A
Venetian envoy described Antwerp as “Venice outdone.”178 Ludovico Guic-
ciardini, nephew of the Florentine historian Francesco Guicciardini, wrote
in his Description of the Low Countries that Antwerp was “maruelouslie wel
furnished both out of their owne countrey and out of forren countreyes, of all
kind of victuals and dainties, both for the necessary vse of man, and also for
Elizabethan England had an especially close relationship with Ant-
werp, the nearest major Continental commercial center to London and an
extremely important trading partner. Guicciardini noted that the commercial
traffic between England and the Low Countries was such “that hardlye can
they lieu the one nation without the other.”180 Antwerp was the center of this
vital commerce. When bad things happened to Antwerp, Englishmen took
note, fearing that a similar evil might come to them.
As noted above, the writings that reported the sack of Antwerp to
England are part of a genre known as “alarum literature.”181 In typical medieval

175. Motley, Rise of the Dutch Republic, 3:106. The attacking mutineers included the forces from Aalst, the
soldiers in Antwerp’s citadel, and German mercenaries numbering eight hundred to one thousand. Ibid.,
3:104–­21, provides a detailed narrative of the sack of Antwerp.
176.  Ibid., 3:108.
177.  Ibid., 3:111.
178. Murray, Antwerp in the Age of Plantin and Brueghel, 43.
179. Guicciardini, Description of the Low Countries, 26v.
180.  Ibid., 40v.
181.  Buchanan, “Massacres of St. Bartholomew . . . and the Sack of Antwerp,” app. 2, “Tracts published
in England relating to the revolt in the Low Countries (1571–­1576),” 240–­41, provides a list of alarum
212 Chapter 5

fashion, these writings assume that misfortune results from divine punish-
ment of immorality, pride, and vanity. Two examples, written shortly after the
event, can serve as illustrations: George Gascoigne’s The spoyle of Antwerpe and
Rafe Norris’s “A warning to London by the fall of Antwerp.” George Gascoigne,
an early Elizabethan soldier-­poet, blames the destruction of Antwerp on two
factors: divine punishment for the hedonism of a sinful city and the barbarous
cruelty of the Spanish. He wrote, let my words “stande as a Lanterne of light
beetween two perillous Rockes,” i.e., the “wickednesse” of Antwerp, which was
a “sufficient cause of Gods so iust a scorge and Plague” and the “furie of the
vanquishers” that was “more barbarous and cruell, then may become a good
christian conquerour.”182
The Army of Flanders was commonly referred to as the “Catholic
Army” or the “army of the Catholic king.”183 Therefore, one should not make
too much of the fact that Gascoigne characterizes the mutineers as “Spanish”
rather than “Catholic.” His readers would have assumed the Spanish to be
Catholic. At one point, he specifically criticizes the Spanish as Catholics, writ-
ing that the Spaniards had as much reverence for the church and churchyard
“(for all their hipocriticall boasting of the catholique religion) as the Butcher
hath to his shambles or slaughter house.”184 Nevertheless, his vocabulary is
generally more “ethnic” than “confessional.”185
He describes the Spanish not only as hypocrites, but also as morally
depraved. For example, he tells of the parents of a young daughter who were
forced to fetch her from the cloister where she had sought safety to “bestow
her in bed between two Spaniards, to worke their wicked and detestable evil
with her.”186 Further, he depicts Antwerp after the sack as being in the hands

publications up to and including the sack of Antwerp; app. 3, 242–­244, lists alarum writings for the period
of 1577 to 1580.
182. Gascoigne, The spoyle of Antwerpe, A2v. Austen, George Gascoigne, 186–­95, provides a succinct sum-
mary of The spoyle of Antwerpe. For a review of current scholarship pertaining to Gascoigne’s life and
works, see Hamrick, “Introduction . . . Fortunes of George Gascoigne.”
183. Parker, Army of Flanders, 178.
184. Gascoigne, Spoyle of Antwerp, Bviii[r–­v].
185.  Buchanan, “Massacre of St. Bartholomew . . . and the Sack of Antwerp,” 211, states, “The Spoyle sug-
gested there was a simple ethno-­political, rather than more complex ideological-­confessional, aspect to the
wars in the Low Countries.” I do not disagree with this assessment, but my focus is on Gascoigne’s language
rather than his analysis of causation. I agree with Linda Bradley Salamon, “Gascoigne’s Globe,” ¶23, where
she states, “Gascoigne uses modulated registers in order to tell the truth about what he has seen, yet to
maintain a politic third-­person distance from what are in fact expressions of shock and sorrow far beyond
his soldier’s factual presentation.”
186. Gascoigne, Spoyle of Antwerp, Ci[v].
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 213

of murderers and strumpets, noting that “euery Dom Diego must walk ietting
[walk pompously] up and downe the streetes with his harlotte by him in her
cheine and bracelettes of golde.”187
In addition to Gascoigne’s tract, several ephemeral broadsheet ballads
warned that London awaited Antwerp’s fate. In some cases, the texts of the
ballads no longer exist, though their titles suggest their content. For exam-
ple, “A warnynge songe to Cities all to beware by Andwerps fall” (January 25,
1577), or “Heavie newes to all Christendom from the woofull towne of Ant-
werp come” (July 1, 1577).188 One ballad whose text has survived is Rafe Nor-
ris’s “A warning to London by the fall of Antwerp.” In six verses, this ballad
warns London that “The scourge which late on Antwerp fel: Thy wrack and
ruine dooth foretell.” One stanza in particular illustrates the alarum genre:
Let Antvverp warning be,
thou stately London to beware:
Lest resting in thy glee,
thou wrapst thy self in wretched care
Be vigilant, sleepe not in sin:
Lest that thy foe doo enter in.
Keep sure thy trench, prepare thy shot:
Watch wel, so shall no foil be got.
Stand fast, play thy parte:
Quail not but shew an english hart,
Doubt, dread, stil fear:
For Antvverps plague approcheth neer.189

The authors of alarum literature believed that God allowed Catho-

lic fanatics to triumph over Protestants as punishment for complacency and
immorality. Assuming that their readers shared their perspective on the evils
of the Catholic threat, they focused on exhorting Protestants to repentance and
moral reform to protect themselves against Counter-­Reformation zealotry.
John Brooke’s 1579 translation of the French version of Philip Melanchthon’s
tract on the pope-­ass fits into this genre of alarum literature. It appeared at the

187.  Ibid., Ciii[r].

188.  Pratt, “Antwerp and the Elizabethan Mind,” 54.
189.  Norris, “A warning to London by the fall of Antwerp” (1577[?]). Buchanan, “Massacre of St. Bar-
tholomew . . . and the Sack of Antwerp,” 169n6, dates the Norris ballad to 1577. Pratt, “Antwerp and the
Elizabethan Mind,” 55, notes that it is possible that this ballad dates from the attack against Antwerp of
1585. I follow Buchanan and the English Short-­Title Catalogue in dating “A warning to London” to 1577.
214 Chapter 5

end of a decade of re-­Catholicization attempts in England and violence against

Protestants on the Continent. Both the translator’s preface and the preface by
Jean Crespin, the publisher of the French edition, call for repentance in the
face of the Catholic menace.
John Brooke (d. 1582), a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, was a
Protestant who translated several French religious works into English.190 His
version of Melanchthon’s pope-­ass tract consisted of his own preface, a pref-
ace by Jean Crespin, a translation of the French text of Melanchthon’s work,
Luther’s addendum (written for the 1535 German edition, which Brooke
called the “Approbation”), and Luther’s own tract on the monk-­calf. Jean
Crespin (d. 1572) was a major printer-­publisher in Geneva, best known as a
Protestant martyrologist and as the publisher of the Geveva Bible.191
The 1557 French translation of The Pope-­Ass Explained was, in turn,
based on Melanchthon’s revised and expanded edition of 1535. Thus the
English text was considerably longer than the original 1523 version. It was
also more strident in tone, for Melanchthon’s revisions intensified his original
critique of the papal regime.192 For example, he included a new section per-
taining to the head of the ass that expands on the theme of the human origin
of papal teachings: “As much difference as there is betweene the brayne of an
Asse and the reason and witte of a man, so muche difference there is betweene
the doctrine and ordinaunces of the Pope, and the Doctrine and instruction
of the sonne of God.”193 Another change expanded the discussion of the mon-
ster’s human left hand as a symbol of the civil power of the papacy by focus-
ing on wars and bloodshed: “There was neuer king or Emperour which hath
made so many warres and which hath shed so much bloud.”194
An extensive passage added to the discussion of the monster’s naked-
ness heaps criticism upon clerical lust and uncleanness: “Beholde howe the
filthy and vile single lyfe of the papisticall Priestes and Moonkes, must be fig-
ured and declared, whiche haue defiled the holy maryage through execrable
filthynesse.”195 At the end of the tract, Melanchthon added an eloquent per-
oration on God’s benevolence as shown by his sending the horrible monster

190.  DNB, s.v. “Brooke, John.”

191.  Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation, s.v. “Crespin, Jean.”
192. Spinks, Monstrous Births and Visual Culture, 77–­78.
193. Melanchthon, Of two Woonderful Popish Monsters (1579), 2r.
194.  Ibid., 3r.
195.  Ibid., 5v.
The Diffusion of the Roman Monster within the Discourse of the Reformation 215

as a warning of the “pestilent contagiousnesse of Antichrist and his members”

(i.e., the Antichristus mysticus): “It is most certeyne that G O D hath vsed
towardes vs a most greate benignitie and gentlenesse, for that hee hath sette
foorth before vs, Antechrist in a figure so vyle and disformed, as paynted in a
table and lyuely sette foorth, that one may easely assayle it with handes, that
God will effectually prouide for our health, and desireth that we be drawen
out of that detestable retrayte of immortall impietie of that straunge beast.”196
The theme of being “drawen out of that detestable retrayte of immortall
impietie” is echoed in the introductory comments of Brooke and Crespin. It
is the cautionary and hortative message in their prefaces that align this 1579
publication with the alarum literary genre. Brooke begins his remarks by not-
ing that the appearance of monsters contrary to nature serves to “demonstrate
vnto vs the Ire and wrath of God, against vs for our sinnes and wickednesse,
that we haue and doe dayly commit agaynst him. But mans heart is so hard-
ened that those his threatnings and foreshewings are reiected as though they
were but fables.”197 He then cites scriptural examples of God’s punishment of
sinners who persisted in their wickedness: the flood at the time of Noah, the
destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the earth swallowing up Korah,
Dathan, and Abiram [Num. 16:31]. He adds, “Therefore the rather to moue
the harts of euery good christian to feare & tremble at the sight of such pro-
digious monsters, I haue taken vpon me to translate out of French into our
English tongue these two monsters.”198 Crespin’s exhortation to repentance is
even more direct: “But as for vs we doe feare such aduertisementes of God, let
vs consider diligently his wondrous woorkes, and preuent the effectes of his
iudgementes thorow true repentaunce.”199
Brooke’s 1579 translation offers a caution against the threat posed by
the papal regime and an exhortation to repentance as a means of protection
against God’s punishment through Catholic zealotry. He chose to translate
the explications of “two of the best-­known visual images of Reformation
polemic”200 to introduce them to an English readership, to make available
their arguments against papal authority, and to present them as an alarm to

196.  Ibid., 8r.

197.  Ibid., Aii[r].
198. Ibid.
199.  Ibid., Aiii[v].
200. Spinks, Monstrous Births and Visual Culture, 62.
216 Chapter 5

English Protestants facing Catholic resurgence at home and abroad during

the 1570s.
In 1579, the persuasive power and impact of the Roman monster as a
figure of the papal Antichrist was still undiminished. By then, the pope-­ass had
become an essential trope in the lexicon of Protestant polemics. Luther’s pro-
lific use of asinine terminology, the frequent republication and translation of
Melanchthon’s tract, the inclusion of the monstrosity in apocalyptic wonder-­
books, and the appropriation of the monster’s image within religious contro-
versies in France and England are evidence of the enduring polemical power
of this icon with its potential for diverse interpretations. For Catholics like
Arnaud Sorbin, it represented Martin Luther and his heretical teachings. For
Protestants, however, it depicted the evils of Roman Catholicism—­an over-
reaching pope, exploitative canon law, and morally corrupt clergy. Given the
appeal and wide use of the Roman monster in Reformation polemics, the study
of its diffusion within the discourse of the Reformation opens a new perspective
on the momentous religious and social changes of the sixteenth century.

The Pope-Ass as a Trope of

Antipapalism in Reformation Politics

From the late fifteenth century to the latter part of the sixteenth cen-
tury, religious nonconformists, protesters, and reformers made use of the
image of the Roman monster as a polemical trope to help them express their
ideas. They were drawn to this image because they perceived it to have for-
midable persuasive power. Usually the Tiber monstrosity served the interests
of antipapalism,1 though Arnaud Sorbin developed an interpretation that he
directed against Luther and the French Protestants. Circumstantial evidence
connects the earliest representation of the monster with the Roman Walden-
sian community and the Bohemian Brethren where it symbolized the anti-­
Constantinianism of these two groups. But it was Philip Melanchthon’s The
Pope-­Ass Explained that introduced a much more elaborate interpretation
of the monster into Reformation polemics. He cleverly conflated Lutheran
teachings, the traditional commonplaces of the papal Antichrist, and the
physical characteristics of the Roman monster itself into a new polemical
trope: the pope-­ass.
The persuasive power of this figure came from several factors. To begin
with, sixteenth-­century Christians believed that abnormalities in nature con-
veyed messages from God; the notion that God sent the monstrosity as a
portent gave it divine authority. As Luther stated in his 1535 addendum to
Melanchthon’s tract, “because the sublime, divine majesty himself created and
depicted it [the pope-­ass], the whole world should be horrified and shudder,
for from it one can conjecture the thought and intention of God.”2 The mean-

1. Kaminsky, History of the Hussite Revolution, 19, coined the term “antipapalist” to describe Matthew of
Janov’s opposition to the secularizing effect on the church that came from papal efforts to dominate both
the spiritual and the secular spheres and the “resulting permeation of the church by the world.” I use the
term both in this late medieval sense as well as in the modern sense of opposition to the institution of the
papacy based upon theological and/or ecclesiological reasons.
2. Melanchthon, Der BapstEsel (1535), Ci[r].
218 Conclusion

ing of the monster, however, needed to be explained; its symbolism needed

to be interpreted.
The monster’s symbols were especially powerful because they consisted
of well-­understood historical and folkloric images whose connotative mean-
ings stood for ridicule, defamation, carnality, false belief, and demonology.
Also, the illustration of the creature placed it in a landscape that referenced
papal jurisdictional claims over spiritual and secular affairs. The defamatory,
demonic elements of the monster’s physiognomy symbolically condemned
these signs of papal jurisdictional claims. The use of a readily intelligible ico-
nography meant that the illustration itself could speak to a wide international
audience whose members could understand the picture’s meaning even if
they could not read.
For the reader, Melanchthon interpreted the monster by drawing on the
topos of an animalized monstrosity as a metaphor for the papal Antichrist.
This commonplace achieved its fully elaborated form in the fifteenth-­century
Czech treatise The Anatomy of the Antichrist. Melanchthon’s interpreta-
tion presumes belief in the reality of the Antichrist, and more particularly
in the notion of the papal Antichrist. He followed the anatomical meanings
described in the Anatomy, interpreting the monstrosity as a figure of the
papal Antichrist.
Together with a belief in the Antichrist, a belief in the impending apoc-
alypse also helped give the pope-­ass its persuasive power. The apocalyptic
vision interpreted contemporary and historical events through the lens of the
imminent end of time. In this context, a monstrous portent suggested that the
coming of the Antichrist was a prelude to the end of the world. This was the
meaning that the wonder-­book authors imputed to the monster.
Finally, Melanchthon’s creative conflation of the topos of the animal-
ized papal Antichrist, the image of the Roman monster itself, and the ideas
of the Lutheran reform movement made the pope-­ass into powerful propa-
ganda. Melanchthon derived his content from the context of Lutheran theo-
logical ideas and institutional criticisms of the Roman Church. His tract thus
addressed topics such as Luther’s new faith-­based definition of the church,
papal jurisdictional claims, solifidianism, indulgences, penance, clerical cel-
ibacy and sexual immorality, Scholasticism, canon law, etc. All of these top-
ics were being hotly debated in the years before 1523, when The Pope-­Ass
Explained first was published.
The Pope-Ass as a Trope of Antipapalism in Reformation Politics 219

Luther and Melanchthon obviously realized that the Roman monster

could serve as a powerful trope, but so also did men such as Jean Crespin, John
Barthlet, and John Brooke. Each of these individuals turned to the symbolism
and meaning of the pope-­ass to buttress Protestantism when they perceived
the new faith to be under attack. Even the French Catholic Arnaud Sorbin rec-
ognized the persuasive potential of this monstrous portent, though his anti-­
Protestant interpretation ended up sounding forced and carping.
The illustration of the Roman monster, Melanchthon’s interpretation of
it, and the history behind both the image and the explication illustrate the
importance of antipapalism, antichristology, apocalypticism, and the sym-
bolism of an animalized monstrosity as a metaphor for the papal Antichrist
in the efforts of religious reformers to establish and defend a new view of
Christendom that had no place for the papacy. The story behind the pope-­
ass demonstrates that belief in the Antichrist continued from the Middle
Ages into the sixteenth century and interconnected with antipapalism in the
topos of the papal Antichrist; that Luther’s new fides-­ecclesiology redefined
the nature of the church in a way that subverted the pope as caput ecclesiae;
that apocalypticism was an essential part of the sixteenth-­century Christian
worldview; that image, symbol, and metaphor had great power in religious
debate; and that religious polemics used antipapalism, antichristology, apoc-
alypticism, and metaphorical monstrosity in making the case for new Protes-
tant theological and ecclesiological ideas.

The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523)

by Philip Melanchthon1

[375/1] God has always wonderfully represented his mercy or wrath through
certain signs, and especially through signs representing the rulers, as we see
in Daniel 8 [Dan. 8:3].2 There he has even announced the reign of the Roman
Antichrist in order that [375/5] all true Christians might know to defend
themselves against his villainy, which is so deceitfully set forth that even the
elect saints might be misled thereby, as Christ says in Matthew 24[:24]. There-
fore, in the middle period of [Antichrist’s] reign, God has given many signs,
most recently this abominable figure, the pope-­ass, which was found dead in
the Tiber at Rome, in the year 1496. It portrays and represents the [375/10]
entire essence of the papal realm so accurately that no human being could
possibly have made it up, but one must rather say that God himself has fash-
ioned this abomination in its likeness.
First, the ass’s head signifies the pope. For the church is a spiritual body
and a spiritual realm, gathered in the spirit. Therefore, it should and [375/15]
can have neither a corporeal head nor an external lord. Rather, only Christ
is its head and lord, who reigns within, in the spirit, in the believers’ hearts,
through faith. Now, however, the pope has set himself up as an external, cor-
poreal head of the church. For that reason, he is signified through this ass’s
head on a human body. For just as an ass’s head makes no sense on a human
body, so [375/20] the pope makes no sense as the head of the church. In scrip-
ture too, the ass signifies an external, carnal essence, Exodus 13[:13].

1.  This translation is based on the 1523 publication indicated as version A1 in WA, 11:375–­79. Grey num-
bers in brackets print indicate line numbers in the text. Scriptural references that are incomplete or that
have typographical errors in the original are corrected; these emendations are shown in brackets. Scrip-
tural quotations are cited from the Douai-Rheims version of the Holy Bible; the English of the Vulgate
accurately represents Melanchthon’s phrasing when he quotes scripture.
2.  A marginal note in WA 11:375 provides a reference to Daniel 8:3. The idea that signs represent rulers is
made clear in Daniel 8:3–­9.
222 Appendix

[376/1] Second, the right hand is like an elephant’s foot. It signifies the
spiritual power of the pope, with which he tramples under foot all weak con-
sciences, for he destroys souls with his innumerable and unbearable laws, by
which he needlessly and without cause loads unspeakable sins and misery
upon consciences. In the same way, the elephant, that [376/5] great, heavy
animal, tramples and crushes all that comes in his way. For what else is the
spiritual rule of the pope than the burdening, oppressing, bewildering, fright-
ening, and tormenting of consciences through vain sacrilege and force by
means of coerced confession, chastity, vows, false masses, false penance, by
the binding and breaking, allowing and forbidding of oaths, by indulgences,
relics, and the like? In short, these [376/10] practices lead believers to stray
from the true Christian way of life and faith to a false, external appearance of
works and spirituality, Daniel 8[:24], “he shall destroy . . . the people of the
saints”; and 2 Timothy 4 [1 Timothy 4:2], “speaking lies in hypocrisy.” For the
right hand stands for inward things related to souls and consciences, which
Christ alone should rule with his sweet, gentle authority. In place of Christ,
[376/15] the ass’s head rules with its ruinous sacrilege and might.
Third, the left human hand signifies the pope’s secular authority, though
he is to have no such authority, as Christ says in Luke [22:25–­26], “The earthly
princes rule over them: but you not so.” Yet, with the devil’s help, the pope has
brought it about so cleverly that he not only has secular authority greater than
[376/20] any king, but in addition, he is supreme over all secular authority, a
lord over king and princes, whom he has drawn to himself, so that they have
helped him obtain that authority and have [377/1] maintained and defended
him in it in order that Daniel’s prophecy in chapter 8[:24] might come true,
where he says, “And his power shall be strengthened, but not by his own
force.” That is why this is a human hand; for such a realm has thus come into
being without any basis in scripture, but only through human arrogance, as
when they say it is just and right that [377/5] the heir to the see of St. Peter
and the Vicar of Christ should be above everyone, although, God be praised,
nowadays everybody understands that the papists are concerned with noth-
ing but villainy.
Fourth, the right foot is the hoof of an ox, signifying the servants of the
spiritual authority who support and sustain the papacy in its oppression of
souls. [377/10] Those include the papal teachers, preachers, pastors, and father
confessors, but especially the Scholastic theologians. For these accursed people
do nothing other than promote the unbearable laws of the pope (mentioned
The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) by Philip Melanchthon 223

above) among the poor, common people, through their preaching, teaching,
and hearing of confessions, and thereby they keep the wretched consciences
trapped under the elephant’s foot. And they are thus the pillars, footing, and
[377/15] foundation of the papacy, which otherwise would not have been able
to stand for so long. For Scholastic theology is nothing other than imagined,
fabricated, and dammed demonic prattle and monkish daydreams, and yet with
it they trample poor souls underfoot, Matthew 24[:24], “there shall arise false
Christs and false prophets.”
Fifth, the left foot is like a griffon’s claw; it signifies the servants of the
[377/20] secular authority, the canonists, the people of canon law, who them-
selves acknowledge that the beloved canons stink of nothing but avarice. For
just as the griffon snatches and holds fast with its claws, so, through their
canons, the papal servants have snatched for themselves the goods of all of
Europe and they relentlessly hold on to them like the devil, for even the can-
ons were invented to serve their insatiable avarice. [377/25] Hence, the whole
world, with its body and soul, property and reputation, must be trampled
under foot, crushed and ruined by this abomination.
[378/1] Sixth, the female belly and breasts signify the pope’s body,
namely, the cardinals, bishops, priests, monks, students, and all such crowd
of harlots and fatted swine, for their life consists only of gluttony, guzzling,
unchastity, lust, and living the good life here on earth, unpunished and liber-
ated to the utmost, so that they [378/5] brazenly live a life like that.
Similarly, this pope-­ass carries its woman’s belly naked and free, as one
can plainly see, and as is written by Daniel and by Paul in 2 Timothy [3:]4,
“lovers of pleasures more than of God,” and in Philippians 3[:19], “the belly
is their God.”
Seventh, fish scales are on the arms, legs, and neck and not [378/10]
on the breasts or the belly. These signify the secular princes and lords. For
in scripture, the sea signifies this world [and] fish signify secular people, as
Christ himself interpreted St. Peter’s net, Matthew 4[:19]. Thus, the scales sig-
nify the sticking together and adhering, as God says in Job 39 [41:7], “One
[scale] is joined to another, and not so much as any air can come between
them.” Hence, princes, lords, and secular [authorities] have always [378/15]
depended upon and still depend upon the pope and his rule. And although
they wish neither to defend gluttony, unchastity, and lust, nor to approve of it
(for there are no scales on the belly and on the breasts, since [the pope’s reign]
is too openly wicked), nonetheless they tolerate it and adhere all the more
224 Appendix

firmly to his neck, arms, and legs, that is, they sanction and defend [378/20]
[the pope’s] position, as though it were correct and [ordained] by God. Hence,
[the pope] holds his head in an obstinate and stubborn way. In addition, the
[princes and lords] help support [the pope’s] spiritual and secular authority,
his unbearable law, teaching, [and] canons, and preserve his temporal goods.
Furthermore, they endow cloisters and foundations, universities and churches
in which such teachers, preachers, father confessors, doctors, canonists, and
theologians forcefully carry on their lives so that [378/25] the pope remains
indeed firm and well established. In short, the support and favor of the world
adhere to him [so much] that no bit of air, no religious teaching, nor God’s
Word can separate them from him or disunite them.
Eighth, the old man’s head on the backside signifies the decline and
end of the papacy. For in scripture the countenance signifies arrival and
the [378/30] back or the posterior signifies departure. Thus the apostle says
in Hebrews 8[:13], “that which . . . groweth old, is near its end.” Thus, this
face shows how the papacy comes to its end, and that it grows old and per-
ishes by itself, without [use of] sword or human hands, as Daniel 8[:25] has
said, “he . . . shall be broken without hand[s].” For, God’s word and the truth
[378/35] expose his malice, and thus he goes away. Thus, we see that this fig-
ure actually [379/1] agrees with the whole prophecy [of] Daniel 8, and neither
is wrong in the least concerning the papacy.
Ninth, the dragon on his backside that opens his mouth wide or spews
fire signifies the poisonous, detestable bulls and slanderous books that [379/5]
the pope and his people now spew forth into the world, with which they wish
to devour everyone, because they feel that they are going to come to an end
and must perish. For it is their last and most evil rage, with which they try
their utmost [to see] if they might maintain the abomination by fear, threat,
and damnation of the people. But it does not help the rogue; he must pass
away. For the dragon bites and spews into [379/10] the air to no purpose and
in vain, and strikes no one; such wrathful bulls and books no longer affect
anyone; the truth is in broad daylight.
Tenth, that this pope-­ass was found in Rome and not elsewhere corrob-
orates all of the foregoing, [namely] that one can understand it as referring to
no other governance than the one at Rome. Now, at Rome, there is no other
governance equal to or greater than [379/15] the papacy. For God always cre-
ates his signs at places where their meaning is at home, as happened at Jeru-
salem. And the fact that it was found dead corroborates that the end of the
The Pope-­Ass Explained (1523) by Philip Melanchthon 225

papacy is at hand and that it must not be destroyed by sword or by human

hand, [but] rather, it comes to death and ruin by itself.
Herewith I wish to have warned everyone not to scorn such a great sign
from [379/20] God and to be on guard against the accursed Antichrist and
his followers.

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Numerals in bold indicate an image.
A Ulrich von Hutten and, 95
abomination of desolation, 4, 78, 85, 97, 101 Antichrist antitheses
Act of Supremacy, 189 Anatomy of the Antichrist and, 97,
Act of Uniformity, 189 100
Adamites, 39, 52, 182, 184, 186 Bethlehem Chapel and, 90
Adrian VI (pope), 108, 109 Czech reformers and, 84, 94
Adso (abbot of Montier-en-Der), 72, 73, 74, Göttingen Codex and, 92
82, 101 Jena Codex and, 92
John Wyclif and, 73, 79, 81, 82–83
Letter on the Origin and Life of Antichrist,
collective Antichrist
Anatomy of the Antichrist and, 97,
alarum literature, 202, 208, 209, 211, 212, 213,
John Milíč and, 84, 85
Albert of Hohenzollern (archbishop of John Wyclif and, 73, 83
Mainz), 106, 122, 123, 124, 129 Martin Luther and, 111, 113, 114
Albert of Kolowrat, 55, 57 Matthew of Janov and, 85, 86, 87, 101
Alexander VI (pope), 11, 15, 24, 52, 62, 64 Nicholas of Dresden and, 97, 101
Allen, William, 204, 205 Philip Melanchthon and, 111, 114,
Alva, Duke of 205, 210 116, 158
Alveldt, Augustin von, 154, 155, 156 De anatomia Antichristi, 94, 95, 96
Apostolic See, 155 De Antichristo & memborum ejus
Sermon in Which Brother Augustinus von anatomia, 94, 95
Alveldt Complains . . . of Brother great Antichrist (summus Antichristus),
Martin Luther . . . , 156 3, 78, 86
Very Fruitful and Useful Little Book literal and proper Antichrist (Antichristus
Concerning the Holy See, 155 literalis et proprius), 87, 101
Amosites, 56 mystical body of Antichrist (Antichristus
Anabaptists, 192, 194 mysticus) (see also collective
Andreae, Jakob, 197 Antichrist)
Annals (Malipiero), 12 Anatomy of the Antichrist and, 97,
annates, 137 100
Anne de Foix-Candale (queen of Bohemia), antipapalism and, 84, 111
55, 56 John Barthlet and, 200, 201
Antichrist Matthew of Janov and, 87, 101
Anatomy of the Antichrist Peter Olivi and, 77, 87
animal metaphor for papal Antichrist Philip Melanchthon and, 158, 215
in, 5, 94, 99, 157, 218 Tables of the Old Color and the New,
Antichrist antitheses in, 100 93
names of Antichrist, 97 102 papal Antichrist
Otto Brunfels and, 95, 157 anatomical metaphor for, 73, 84, 94,
papal Antichrist commonplace in, 5, 97, 102, 157, 218
98, 99, 100, 157, 218 animalized monstrosity as, 5, 97,
Pope-Ass Explained and, 97, 102, 157 102, 157, 158, 218, 219
sources for, 96, 97 Augsburg Wunderzeichenbuch and,
Taborites and, 96 176

Index 245

commonplace of: The Anatomy of the symbolic meanings of

Antichrist and, 79, 100, 157, defamation, 37, 70, 166, 178, 218
218; animalized monstrosity demon, 21
and, 5, 97, 102, 157, 158, 218, derision, 18
219; development of, 4, 7, 71, external, carnal essence, 221
72, 76, 88; Martin Luther and, false belief, 18, 20, 166
3, 111, 112, 113, 148; Philip foolishness, 18, 19, 20, 166
Melanchthon and, 5, 104, 157, ridicule, 18, 20, 166
158, 217, 218, 219; Tables of scorn, 18, 20, 166
the Old Color and the New asininity, 5, 6, 160, 162, 166, 178
and, 93 auctoritas, 26
figure (figura) of: Antichrist and, 84, Audians, 193
87, 89, 157; identified as pope, Augsburg Confession, 194
73, 103, 104, 116, 117, 218, Augsburg, Religious Peace of, 52, 176, 181
221; John Brooke and, 215; Augsburg Wunderzeichenbuch, 173, 174, 175,
John Milíč and, 84; Martin 176
Luther and, 3, 113; Mathew Austria, 33, 40, 50, 51, 145, 146, 193
of Janov and, 101; Philip Avignonese papacy, 27, 79, 85
Melanchthon and, 73, 103,
104, 116, 117, 158, 218 B
anticlericalism, 140, 141 Babylon
anti-Constantinianism, 41, 217 Antichrist and, 73, 97
antipapalism, 84, 87, 90, 101, 176, 217, 219 papacy and, 13
Antwerp, 119, 208, 209, 210, 211, 212, 213 Rome as, 38, 46, 47, 71
sack of, 202, 209, 211, 212 whore of, 35, 36, 37, 71, 176
apocalypse barbes, 33, 34
imminence of, 2, 3, 173, 218 Barnim (heir to dukedom of Pomerania), 110
Joachim of Fiore and, 75, 76 Barthlet, John, 188, 191, 199, 200, 202, 218
Rome and, 45, 56 “Of the toppe of the Tree,” 201
Ubertino of Casale and, 77 Pedegrewe of Heretiques, 189, 191, 197,
whore of Babylon and, 35, 36, 62 199, 200
apostolic see, 72, 119, 155 Tree of Catholicism from Pedegrewe of
Apuleius, 168 Heretiques, 198
Arians, 182, 184, 186, 187, 193 Batman, Stephen, 176, 177, 178, 182
Army of Flanders, 208, 210, 212 Doome warning all men to the Iudgement,
ars memorandi, 5 176, 177
ass. See also Roman monster; pope-ass Illustration of Roman monster from
Aristotle and, 185 Doome warning . . . , 179
Arnaud Sorbin and, 182, 185 Beham, Barthel, 19
body of Roman monster as, 11, 13, 17–21, Belleforest, François de, 180, 182
65, 169, 171 Benedict (saint), 75
ears of, 19, 20, 162, 166, 167, 182 Benedictine, 74
Golden Ass and, 168 Bernhardi, Bartholomew, 129, 134
head of, 13, 15, 161, 185, 214, 221, 222 Bethlehem Chapel, 38, 88, 90
Luther’s vocabulary of asininity and, 166, Blahoslav, Jan, 45, 47
167, 168 Boaistuau, Pierre, 2, 178, 180, 181, 182
riding backwards on, 18, 19 Histoires prodigieuses, 2, 178, 180
246 Index

Bohemia Corpus juris canonici, 136

kingdom of, 38, 47, 49, 50, 63 Constitutiones Clementinae, 136
king of, 40, 54, 55, 144 Decretalium Gregorii IX. Libri
nobility of, 43, 52, 55, 56 quinque, 136
printing presses in, 53 Decretum, 136
religious reformers in, 84, 86, 101 Extravagantes communes, 136, 137
religious radicals in, 49, 50, 52, 57, 59, 69 Liber sextus, 136
Roman monster in fiscal effects of, 135, 138, 139, 140
antipapal cartoon for Bohemian Justus Jonas and, 135
religious radicals, 1, 4, 7, 64, Martin Luther and, 107, 113, 135, 136,
69 137, 139, 142
source for Augsburg Pope-Ass Explained and, 135, 140, 158,
Wunderzeichenbuch, 175 218, 223
source for pope-ass image, 8 Roman monster and, 216
transported from Rome to Bohemia, Wittenberg bonfire and, 113
38, 47, 49, 63 cantambanchi, 12
Ulrichus Velenus in, 69, 70, 71 cantastorie, 12
Waldensians in, 33, 50, 51 Canterbury Tales, 167
Wyclif ’s teachings in, 84 caput ecclesiae, 98, 117, 119, 201, 219
Bohemian Brethren. See Unity caritas/charitas [sic], 120, 185, 186
Boniface VIII (pope), 77, 98, 118, 136, 137, caritas-ecclesiology, 120
147, 203 Castel Sant’Angelo, 10, 24, 25, 27, 31, 70, 175
Liber sextus, 136 (see also canon law) Catharists, 193
Scrinium pectoris, 98, 137 Cattaneo, Alberto (archdeacon of Cremona),
Unam sanctam, 118 37
Borgia, Juan (cardinal), 62 Cecil, William, Lord Burghley, 205, 206
Boskovice, Baroness Martha, 58 Cerdonians, 193
Botticelli, Sandro, 19 Challenge Sermon, 190
Bottom (character), 19 Charles V (Holy Roman emperor), 55, 108,
Braunschweig-Lüneburg, 144 137, 146, 176
Braunschwieg-Wolfenbüttel, 144 Charles IX (king of France), 182, 206
Brooke, John, 6, 202, 213, 214, 215, 218 chastity, 121, 127, 128, 141, 143, 222
Brunfels, Otto, 94, 95, 96, 100, 157 Chelčický, Peter, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 50, 61. See
Bullinger, Heinrich, 172, 190 also Unity
Burghley, Lord, See Cecil, William On the Triple Division of Society, 41–42
Burgkmair, Hans the Elder, 173 Picture of the Antichrist, 61
Burkgmair, Hans II, 173, 174 claw/talon
demonic symbol and, 20, 21
C Pope-Ass Explained and, 135–40, 223
Cajetan, Cardinal (Thomas De Vio), 154 Roman monster and, 11, 13, 16, 170, 171
Calixtines, 39. See also Utraquists Sorbin, Arnaud, 186
Calumny of Apelles, 19 Clement V (pope), 77, 131, 136
Camerarius, Joachim, 45, 47 Constitutiones Clementinae, 136 (see also
canonists, 126, 135, 136, 223, 224 canon law)
canon law Pastoralis cura, 131
Anatomy of the Antichrist and, 98 Clement VII (pope), 80, 86, 101
Catholic Tree, in Pedegrewe of Heretiques, clerical celibacy, 127, 128, 129, 141, 218
199 cloven hoof, 11, 16, 21, 132–35, 170, 222
Index 247

Cochlaeus, Johannes (Johann Dobneck), 154 Diet of Holy Roman Empire, 108, 143, 144,
Cole, Henry, 6, 7 146, 147, 148
Como cathedral (bas-relief), 13, 14 Diet of Worms, 108, 137
Compactata, 40, 56 dispensations, 100, 139
Compromise of the Nobility, 209 Dobneck, Johann (Johannes Cochlaeus), 154
conciliarism, 118, 119 dominion of grace, 80, 81, 82
concubinage fee, 128 Donation of Constantine (Constitutum
confession (auricular) Constantini)
annual required, 121, 126 Dresden School and, 91
coerced, 121, 126, 132, 222 Friedrich Reiser and, 35
Martin Luther and, 123, 127, 139 John Hus and, 39, 89
penance and, 122, 126 Lorenzo Valla and, 30, 70, 114
social control and, 127 Luke of Prague and, 45, 48
Confessionists, 194 Martin Luther and, 107, 112, 114, 130
Constantine (Roman emperor), 35, 41, 44, papal jurisdiction and, 29, 130
70, 94 Peter Chelčický and, 41, 44
Council of Basel, 40, 56 Unity and, 42
Council of Constance, 38, 39, 118, 119, 137, Waldensians and, 34, 35, 36, 37, 45
156 Donatism, 34
Council of Florence, 119 Donatists, 87, 193
Council of Trent, 162, 167, 192 Douai missionary priests, 202, 204, 205
Council of Troubles, 210 dragon
Counter-Reformation, 2, 189, 204, 208, 213 devil as, 20, 21
Cracow, monster of, 172 false prophet as, 152
cradle fee, 128 Philip Melanchthon and, 152–57, 201, 224
Cranach, Lucas, the Elder, 5, 65, 66, 105, 115, pope-ass and, 115, 152–57, 161, 201, 224
162, 175 Roman monster and, 11, 65, 161, 170, 171,
Crespin, Jean, 202, 214, 215, 218 175, 182
cross-keys, 24, 25, 27, 31, 70 seven-headed, 75, 76, 101
Czech Brethren. See Unity spew of, 152, 157
symbol of Antichrist as, 117
D tail of, 100, 152
Dati, Giuliano, 12 Dresden School, 91
Del diluuio di Roma, 11, 12 Dudley, Robert. See Leicester, Earl of
Dea Roma, 36
decretalists, 136, 201 E
decretists, 136 Eberlin von Günzburg, Johann, 135, 140
De la propiota de las animanczas, 38 Eck, Johann
de Medici, Cosimo, 119 Andreas Karlstadt and, 107, 109
de Medicis, Catherine, 206, 208 Catholic controversialists and, 145, 154,
devil 155, 156
Antichrist and, 73, 162 Defense of the Sacred Council of
canon law and, 223 Constance, 156
defecation and, 167, 168 Leipzig Disputation and, 105, 109, 110,
insurrection and, 151 111, 119, 120, 155
literacy and, 54, 61 Martin Luther and, 107, 109, 110, 113
pictorial tradition of, 20, 21 Pope Leo X and, 107
pope and, 100, 162, 166, 222 Primacy of Peter against Luther, 155
248 Index

Eck, Johann, continued Ferdinand I (archduke of Austria), 55, 108,

Vindication of Eck against . . . Philip 145, 146, 148
Melanchthon, 155 fides-ecclesiology, 120, 219
Edict of Brandýs, 43 Filipec, Jan, the Barefooted, 55, 59
Edict of Worms, 108, 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, Fincel, Job (Hiob), 169, 170, 171, 172
148 Portents, 169
electo, 210, 211 fish scales, 143, 144, 148, 149, 170, 223
electors of Holy Roman Empire, 31,137,143, Flacius Illyricus, Matthias, 94, 160, 171
144, 145 Four Articles of Prague, 39
elephant’s foot, 22, 115, 120, 132, 135, 222, Fourth Lateran Council, 32, 51, 126
223 Foxe, John, 208
elephant’s trunk/snout, 11, 13, 16, 21, 22 Acts and Monuments, 208
elephantiasis, 21, 22 Franche-Comté, 19
Elizabeth I (queen of England), 189, 194, 205 Franciscans, 55, 76, 77
Elizabethan religious settlement, 1, 159, 189, Conventual, 76, 77, 78
191, 201 Fraticelli, 77, 78, 79, 101
Emser, Hieronymus, 111, 113, 146, 154, 155, Observantine, 78, 154
156 Spiritual, 76, 77, 79, 82, 87, 101
Against the Unchristian Book of the Francis, Duke of Anjou, 177
Augustinian Martin Luther to the Frederick I, Barbarossa (Holy Roman
German Nobility, 156 emperor), 28, 30
Leipzig Disputation: Did it Support the “Circular Letter on the Imperial Power,”
Bohemians?, 155 30
Epiphanius (saint), 186, 187 Frederick II (Holy Roman emperor), 27, 28, 2
Erasmus, Desiderius, 61, 69, 108, 147 Frederick the Wise (elector of Saxony), 106,
Enchiridion or Handbook of the Christian 107, 123, 129, 147, 153
Knight, 69 French disease (French pox, great pox), 3,
Julius exclusus (attr.), 69 21, 22, 161
Estienne, Henri, 208
Mervaylous discourse vpon the lyfe, G
deedes, and behauiours of Gascoigne, George, 212, 213
Katherine de Medicis, Queen Spoyle of Antwerpe, 212
mother . . . , 208 Gaspard de Coligny, 206
Evans, Lewis, 191, 192, 199 George the Bearded, Duke of Albertine
ex opere operato, 126 Saxony and Margrave of Meissen, 110,
128, 145, 146, 147, 148, 154
F Gerberga (queen of West Franks), 73
facere quod in se est, 133 Golden Ass, 168
fama, 18 Goltwurm, Kaspar, 170, 171, 172
female nakedness Book of Miracles and Portents, 170
in Anatomy of the Antichrist, 97–99, 157 Göttingen Codex, 92
pope-ass and, 140–43, 157, 176, 200, 214, Gratian, 136, 199, 200
223 Gravamina, 137, 138
Roman monster and, 11, 15, 22–23, 115, Great Controversy, 189, 190, 191, 192, 199,
170–71, 186 203
Fenton, Edward, 178, 180, 181, 182 Great Schism, 27, 78, 80, 81, 85, 101, 118
Certaine Secrete wonders of Nature . . . , 178 Gregory VII (pope), 26, 30, 84, 130
Dictatus papae, 26, 30, 130
Index 249

Gregory IX (pope) (Ugolino), 29, 76 Hus, John, 5, 38, 68, 88, 94, 96, 101
Decretalium Gregorii IX. Libri quinque De ecclesia, 68, 89, 105, 107
(see canon law) Hussites, 39, 40, 73, 95, 107
Quo elongate, 76 Hutten, Ulrich von, 95, 96, 112
Guerau de Spes, 205
Guicciardini, Ludovico, 211 I
Günzburg, Johann Eberlin von, 135, 140 Imperial Council of Regency, 143, 145, 146,
147, 148
H in commendam, 139
hand (human) indignus haeres beati Petri, 25, 70, 130
Roman monster with, 11, 15, 130, 132, 170 Indulgence Controversy, 106, 112, 122, 123,
symbol of papal jurisdiction, 157, 200, 124, 154
214, 222 indulgences
symbol of physical force, 151, 152, 172, Castle Church, Wittenberg, and, 123
224, 225 Cum postquam and, 152
symbol of promise breaker, 200 external religiosity and, 121, 125
Harding, Thomas, 203 Martin Luther and, 105, 106, 121, 122,
Confutation / of a Booke intituled / 123, 125, 139
An Apologie of the / Church of Ninety-Five Theses and, 123, 124
England . . . , 203 Philip Melanchthon and, 121, 132, 133,
Detection of sun-/drie foule errours . . . 158, 218, 222
practized by M. Iewel . . . , 203 plenary indulgence of 1517, 122, 123, 124
“Heavie newes to all Christendom from the sacrament of penance and, 121, 122
woofull towne of Antwerp come,” 213 sale of, 39, 86, 105, 106, 121, 139
Henry, Duke of Guise, 206, 207 treasury of merit and, 122
Henry II, the Younger, Duke of Innocent III (pope)
Braunschweig-Lüneburg, Prince of caput ecclesiae, 117
Baunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, 144 Donation of Constantine and, 29
Henry III (king of France), 182 jurisdictional claims, 26, 27, 84, 131
Henry IV (Holy Roman emperor), 26, 30 letter to the bishop of Fermo, 118
Henry IV (king of France; Henry, king of Novit ille, 118
Navarre), 182, 206 Per venerabilem, 117
Henry VIII (king of England), 146, 154, 156 Sicut universitatis conditor, 203
Assertion of the Seven Sacraments, 146, Solitae benignitatis, 131
156 “two great lights,” 203
Herold, Johann, 172 Venerabilem fratrem, 31
hoof (cloven), 11, 16, 21, 132–35, 170, 222 Innocent VIII (pope), 15, 37, 62
Hosius, Stanislaus (cardinal, bishop of Id nostri cordis, 37
Ermland [Warmia]), 191, 192, 194, Innocent IX (pope), 30
195, 197, 199 Inquisition
Most Excellent Treatise . . . /The Hatchet of Compromise of the Nobility and, 209
Heresies, 191, 192 Dresden School and, 91
Tree of Protestantism (Stanislaus Hosius), Heinrich Institoris (Kramer) and, 60, 61
195 Moravia and, 60, 63, 64
Hotman, François, 207, 208 riding an ass backwards and, 19
True and plaine report of the Furious Unity and, 49, 52, 60
outrages of Fraunce . . . , 208 Waldensians and, 33, 34, 37, 50
Huguenots, 176, 184, 185, 187, 188, 206, 207
250 Index

Institoris, Heinrich. See Kramer, Heinrich Leipzig Disputation

Irenaeus, Christoph, 171 Andreas Karlstadt and, 107, 109, 110
De monstris: von seltzamen Bohemians and, 68, 105
Wundergeburten, 171 importance for Reformation, 109, 111
influence of John Hus’ teachings at, 96
J Johann Eck and, 105, 107, 109, 110, 119,
Jacob (Utraquist organist of Prague), 68 120
Jakoubek of Stříbro, 5, 88, 89, 90, 101 Martin Luther and, 107, 109, 110, 111,
De antichristo, 89–90 112, 119, 134
Jena Codex, 92 papal primacy debated at, 105, 107
Jewel, John (bishop of Salisbury), 190, 191, Philip Melanchthon and, 105, 110, 111
203 post-debate publications and, 111
Apology of the Church of England, 191, 203 Thirteenth Thesis (Luther) and, 109, 110,
Joachim of Fiore, 72, 74, 75, 76, 79, 82, 101 111, 155
Book of Concordance, 75 transcript of, 110, 111
Book of the Figures, 75 Leo I (pope), 25, 70, 130
“Letter to All the Faithful,” 75 Leo III (pope), 30, 31, 130
Joachim I (elector of Brandenburg), 148 Leo X (pope), 106, 107, 108, 109, 122, 146, 154
Joachimites, 72, 74, 82, 87, 101 Cum postquam, 152, 153
John XXII (pope), 77, 78, 79, 101, 136, 137 Decet romanum pontificem, 107, 153
Extravagantes (see canon law) Exsurge domine, 107, 113, 114, 134, 153
Sancta Romana, 77 In coena domini, 107, 153
Jovinians, 193 Leslie, John (bishop of Ross), 204, 205, 206
Judas, 117, 199 Treatise / concerning / the Defence of . . .
Julius II (pope), 130, 181 Marie Queene of Scotland . . . , 204
Julius exclusus. See under Erasmus Lindanus, William (bishop of Roermond),
191, 192
K Betraing of the beastlines of heretykes, 191
Karlstadt, Andreas, 107, 109, 129, 194 Lomazzo, Giovan Paolo, 15, 16
Kasebrod, Augustin, 55, 57 Trattato dell’arte della pittura, 15
Kostka, Jan of Postupice, 55 Lombard, Peter, 199, 200
Kramer, Heinrich (Heinrich Institoris), 22, Louis X, Duke of Bavaria, 145
60, 61, 64 Louis (king of Bohemia), 55, 60
Sancte Romane ecclesie fidei Louvain, 189, 190, 191, 192, 193, 203
defensionis . . . , 61 Louvainists, 203, 204
Malleus Maleficarum, 22, 61 Low Countries, 159, 192, 202, 209, 210, 211,
Luke of Prague
“Lamentation of the Ruin of the Church,” 62
Conference of Chlumec and, 44, 45, 47
Landser, sow of, 173
Donation of Constantine and, 44, 45
Lang, Johann, 67, 68
journey to Rome and, 8, 38, 45, 46, 50
Lange, Konrad von, 6, 7, 16, 49, 64, 103, 115
leader of Unity, 8, 44, 45, 52
Łasicki, Jan, 45, 46, 47
Major Party of Unity and, 43
Historiae de origine et rebus gestis fratrum
Petr Suda, Baron of Janovice, and, 59, 60
Bohemorum liber VIII, 46
public confession of faith and, 57
Legenda sancti Silvestri, 29
reconciliation of Major and Minor parties
Leicester, Earl of (Robert Dudley), 191
and, 44, 48
Index 251

Roman monster and, 47, 49, 63 papal Antichrist and, 3, 111, 112, 113, 148
Utraquist Consistory and, 60 papal temporal authority and, 130, 131,
Waldensians and, 38, 45, 47, 50, 52 132
Luther, Martin pope-ass and monk-calf joint publication
anticlericalism and, 141, 142, 143 and, 64, 71, 104, 114, 115, 159
antipathy towards papacy, 106, 112, 167 pope-ass as polemical trope and, 5, 159,
apocalypse and, 2, 3 161, 162, 166, 167, 168
approbation to Pope-Ass Explained Priapus and, 142
(1535), 5, 6, 116, 160, 161, 214, 217 princely opponents and, 143, 144, 145,
asininity and, 5, 160, 162, 166, 167, 168, 146, 147, 148
216 Protestant tree (Staphylus) and, 194
Bohemia and, 65, 67, 68, 71, 105 Roman monster and, 3, 65, 67, 71, 114,
canon law 105, 161
Baal-Peor and, 142 secret sins and, 127
fiscal effects of, 135–40 scales of Antichrist and, 148
Leipzig Disputation and, 107 scatological language and, 167, 168
Pastoralis cura, 131 Scholasticism and, 132, 133, 134
subject to change by pope, 136, 137 Sermon for Second Sunday in Advent and
Wittenberg bonfire and, 113 apocalyptic content of, 2, 3
Catholic controversialists and, 153, 154, dating of, 67
155, 156 portents interpreted in, 65, 169
clerical celibacy and, 127, 128, 141, 142 Roman monster described in, 114,
Decet romanum pontificem and 153 115, 160, 161
Donation of Constantine and 107, 112, solifidianism, doctrine of, and, 121, 141,
113, 130 218 (see also justification by faith)
Exsurge domine and, 107, 113, 153 Stanislaus Hosius (cardinal) and, 194
external religiosity and, 121 Thirteenth Thesis (Leipzig Disputation)
fides-ecclesiology and, 120, 218, 219 and, 109, 110, 111, 155
George, Duke of Albertine Saxony, and, Ulrichus Velenus and, 68, 69, 70, 71, 105
128, 148 University of Cologne and, 107
Henry VIII (king of England) and, 146, 147 University of Louvain and, 107
John Hus and, 68, 96, 107 vows, and 128, 129
indulgences and, 105, 106, 121, 122, 123, Wittenberg bonfire and, 113, 153
125, 139 Wittenberg disturbances (1521) and, 151
Jacob (organist from Prague) and, 68 Willliam IV, Duke of Bavaria, and, 148
Joachim I (elector of Brandenburg) and, Luther, Martin, writings of
148 Address to the Christian Nobility of the
Johann Eck and, 107, 109, 110 German Nation, 107, 130, 135, 136,
justification by faith doctrine of and, 105, 155, 156
121, 125, 129, 132, 133, 143 (see approbation or “Amen” (to Pope-Ass
also solifidianism) Explained, 1535), 5, 6, 116, 160,
Leipzig Disputation and, 107, 109, 110, 161, 214, 217
111, 112, 119, 134 Against Henry, King of England, 146
mass, doctrine of, and, 125, 126, 129 Against the Roman Papacy, an Institution
monk-calf and, 197, 214 of the Devil, 162, 166
Ninety-Five Theses and, 106, 123, 124, Against the Spiritual Estate of the Pope
125, 152, 154 and Bishops Falsely So-Called, 111,
nonviolence and, 150, 151, 152 141, 143, 149
252 Index

Luther, Martin, writings of, continued Regnum satanae et papae (caption), 163
Answer to the Book of Our Esteemed Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent,
Master Ambrosius . . . , 111 3, 67, 114, 160, 161
Answer to the Hyperchristian . . . Book by Sermon on Indulgence and Grace, 123,
Goat Emser in Leipzig, 111 125
Babylonian Captivity of the Church, 107, Sincere Admonition by Martin Luther . . .
113, 125, 129, 146, 156 to Guard Against Insurrection and
Comment on Prierias’ Epitoma Rebellion, 149, 151
responsionis ad Martinum Temporal Authority: To What Extent it
Lutherum, 150 Should Be Obeyed, 143, 147, 148,
Defense against the Malicious Judgment of 149
Eck, 111 Thirteen Theses against Eck, 111
Depiction of the Papacy, 162, 163, 164, “To Cardinal Albrecht, Archbishop of
165, 166 Mainz,” 123
Dicta super psalterium, 120 Treatise on the New Testament, that is, the
Discussion on How Confession Should Be Holy Mass, 125, 129
Made, 127, 129 Why the Books of the Pope . . . were
Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Burned, 107, 111, 113, 153
Indulgences (Ninety-Five Theses), Lutheran Reformation, 8, 37, 79, 103, 104
123 Lycosthenes, Conrad, 172, 173, 176, 178,
Explanation of Theses Debated at Leipzig, 180, 182
111, 112 Chronicle of Prodigies and Signs, 172, 173
Explanation of the Thirteenth Thesis on
the Authority of the Pope, 110, 111, M
155 magistri, 33
Explanations of the Ninety-Five Theses, Magus, Simon, 117, 199
123, 125 Malipiero, Domenico, 12, 13, 22
Exposition of the Vision of the Antichrist, Mandate of St. James, 58, 60
Daniel 8, 111, 116 Manichaeans, 193
Freedom of a Christian, 107 Margaret of Parma, 209, 210
Gloss, Preface and Afterword to Prierias’ Marguerite of Valois, 206
Epitome, 111 Mark Brandenburg, 45, 51, 122, 123
Judgment of Martin Luther on Monastic Martha, Baroness of Boskovice, 58
Vows, 129 mass, doctrine of the, 125, 126, 129
Meaning of the Monk-Calf at Freyberg, 104 Massilians, 193
Misuse of the Mass, 125, 129, 141, 149 Matthew of Janov, Magister Parisiensis
Monstrum Romae inventum mortuum in Anatomy of the Antichrist and, 96, 99, 100
Tiberi anno 1496 (caption), 165 Antichrist and, 85, 86, 87, 88, 148
On the Papacy in Rome against the Most antipapalist, 87, 101, 217
Celebrated Romanist in Leipzig, collective Antichrist and, 85, 101
111, 113, 117, 120 John Milíč and, 85, 86
Papa dat concilium in Germania John Wyclif and, 89
(caption), 164 mystical body of Antichrist and, 87, 101
Papa doctor theologiae et magister fidei Nicholas of Dresden and, 91
(caption), 164 Regulae veteris et novi testamenti, 85, 86,
Receiving Both Kinds in the Sacrament, 89
145 Meissen, 104, 128, 129, 145, 148
Index 253

Melanchthon, Philip Reformation leadership and, 104,

Anatomy of the Antichrist and, 5, 94, 97, 105, 171
102, 148, 157, 218 salvific meritorious works and, 120,
anticlericalism and, 132, 140, 141 121, 132, 134
ars memorandi and, 5 Scholasticism and, 132, 133
author of Pope-Ass Explained, 4, 5, 6, 8, Thomas Rhadinus Todiscus and, 105,
103, 115, 217 106, 111
Bartholomew Bernhardi and, 129 vows and, 128, 129
canon law and, 135, 136, 140 Wittenberg bonfire and, 113, 114
caput ecclesiae and, 117, 119, 120, 201 Melanchthon, Philip, writings of
Catholic controversialists and, 152, 155, Against the Furious Decree of the Parisian
157 Theologasters . . . , 106, 111, 135
Catholic princes and nobility and, 143, Defense against Johann Eck, 105, 111
144, 148, 149 Declaration of the Monstrous figure of a
clerical celibacy (coerced chastity) and, Popish Asse (Brooke translation,
127, 129 1579), 202, 203
Eck, Johann and, 105, 120 Eighteen Theses for Academic Discussion,
fides-ecclesiology and, 120, 218 111
figural interpretation of Roman monster Explanation of Two Horrible Figures . . .,
and, 103, 104, 116, 117, 158, 218, 104
221 Figure of the Antichristian Pope and his
Flacius, Illyricus, Mathias and, 171 Synagog, 115
John Barthlet and, 201, 202 Letter on the Leipzig Debate, 111
John Brooke and, 214 Loci communes, 106, 126, 129, 135
joint publication with Martin Luther and, Oration of Didymus Faventius . . . , 106,
64, 71, 104, 115 111, 134
Leipzig Disputation and, 105, 111 Pope-Ass Explained
Lutheran ideas and, 17, 109, 111, 158, 218 anatomical symbolism in, 8, 22, 103,
nonviolence and, 149, 151, 152
Anatomy of the Antichrist and, 97,
mass, doctrine of and, 125
papal Antichrist and
edition of 1523, 115, 116, 159, 160
anatomical metaphor for, 73, 94,
edition (revision) of 1535, 5, 116,
97, 102, 157, 218 (see also
159, 160, 161, 214, 217
Antichrist; papal Antichrist)
integration of antichristology,
commonplace of, 5, 104, 157,
Lutheranism, and Roman
158, 217, 218, 219 (see also
monster in, 102, 104, 157, 217
Antichrist; papal Antichrist)
John Barthlet and, 201
Daniel 8 as reference to, 116
John Brooke and, 214
figure of, 103, 104, 116, 117, 158,
Luther’s approbation or “Amen” for,
218, 221
5, 6, 116, 160, 161, 214, 217
Jacob Seider and, 129
translations of, 159, 160, 184, 199,
pope-ass as, 5, 103, 104, 116, 117,
221, 224
Priests May Take Wives, 129
pope identified as Antichrist, 73,
Propositions on the Mass, 126
103, 104, 116, 117, 218, 221
portents and, 17, 102, 116, 157, 168 membra Antichristi, 100
Protestant tree (Staphylus) and, 194 membra Christi, 100
meritum de condigno, 133
254 Index

meritum de congruo, 133 Roman monster and, 11, 13, 15, 170, 171,
Milíč, John of Kromĕříž (Kremsier), 84, 85, 182
88, 96
Libellus de Antichristo, 85 P
monk-calf. See under Luther, Martin papal primacy
monstrosity caput ecclesiae, 117, 118, 119, 201, 219
animalized metaphor and, 5, 218, 219 Execrabilis and, 119
apocalyptic sign and, 169, 216 Formula of Primacy and, 119
divine prodigies and, 2, 17, 158 Leipzig Disputation and, 105, 107, 109,
morality and, 180, 186 110
Moravia Louvainist authors and, 203
Bohemian Brethren in, 53, 54, 59 papal claims for, 25, 26, 27, 130
Inquisition in, 60, 61, 63, 64 Philip Melanchthon and, 105, 106, 158
Kingdom of Bohemia and, 49 Thomas Rhadinus Todiscus and, 105, 106,
Mandate of St. James in, 59 111, 154, 156
Peace of Olmütz and, 54 Ulrichus Velenus and, 69
Roman monster in, 8, 13, 16, 32, 52, 64 Parker, Matthew (archbishop of Canterbury),
Ständestaat and, 55 176
Waldensians in, 33, 45, 51 Party of the Four Articles, 39
Müntzer, Thomas, 194 pasquinade, 15, 16, 32
Murner, Thomas, 154, 155, 156 Pelagians, 193
Christian and Brotherly Exhortation . . . , penance, sacrament of, 121, 122, 124, 136,
156 139, 158, 218
Concerning the Papacy, 155 Peucer, Caspar, 172
To the Exalted Illustrious Nobility of the Philip II (king of Spain), 192, 205, 208, 209,
German Nation . . . , 156 210
Philip IV, Count of Nassau-Weilburg, 170
N picard, 45, 52, 58, 59
Nestorians, 193 pilgrim badges, 128
Nestorian Church, 42 Pius II (pope), 40, 56, 119
Nicholas of Dresden, Master, 5, 90, 91, 92, 96, Execrabilis, 119
100, 101 Historia Bohemica, 186
Tables of the Old Color and the New, 90, In minoribus agentes, 119
91, 92, 93, 94, 97, 100 Pius V (pope), 205, 208
Ninety-Five Theses, 106, 123, 124, 125, 152, Regnans in excelsis, 205
154 Poor of Lombardy, 33
“Nobla Leyçon,” 33, 34, 36, 37 Poor of Lyons, 32, 33
Norfolk, Duke of (Thomas Howard), 205, 206 pope-ass
Norris, Rafe, 212, 213 as mnemonic device, 5
“Warning to London by the fall of as polemical trope, 166, 167, 168, 216, 217,
Antwerp,” 212, 213 218, 219
Novatians, 193 dragon and, 115, 152–57, 161, 175, 201, 224
Elizabethan religious settlement and, 159
O female nakedness and, 140–43, 157, 176,
Oath of Supremacy, 193, 203 200, 214, 223
old man’s head on the backside figure (figura) of papal Antichrist and, 73,
demonic symbol and, 21 103, 104, 116, 117, 158, 218
pope-ass and, 149–52, 161, 224 Golden Ass and, 168
Index 255

head of, 117–20 Rocociolo, Francesco, 15, 16

John Brooke and, 6 Rodari, Jacopo of Maroggia, 13
left foot of, 135–40, 223 Rodari, Tommaso of Maroggia, 13
left hand of, 130–32, 222 Roma caput mundi (expression of imperial
Martin Luther and, 5, 159, 161, 162, 166, authority), 9, 15, 28, 31, 61, 115, 176
167, 168 Roma aeterna, 36
naked belly and breasts of, 140–43, 157, Roma ecclesia, 36, 37
176, 200, 214, 223 Roman monster
old man’s head on the backside of, 149–52, Arnaud Sorbin and, 181–89, 217, 219
224 Bohemia and, 49, 52, 59, 60, 61, 64
popularity of, 7, 218, 219 Bohemian Brethren and, 4, 8, 47–50,
right foot of, 132–35, 222 63–64
right hand of, 120–29, 222 Braunschweig copy of, 64
scales on, 115, 143–49, 157, 200, 223 Dominico Malipiero and, 1, 13
tail of, 115, 152–57, 175, 201, 224 England and, 176, 178, 181, 189, 199, 201,
Wenzel von Olmütz’s reproduction as 202
source for, 115 flood in Rome (1495/96) and, 10, 13
Postupice, 55 Francesco Rocociolo and, 15, 16
potestas, 26 iconographic meanings of,
power of the keys, doctrine of, 34, 47, 61, 81, ass, 17–21
120, 136, 167 Castel Sant’Angelo, 24–25
Prague, University of, 38, 43, 52, 56, 91 claw/talon, 20–21
Priapus, 142, 143 cross-keys banner, 25–27
Prierias, Sylvester Mazzolini, 111, 150, 154, dragon, 21
155 elephant’s trunk, 21–22
Dialogue Concerning the Power of the female nakedness, 22–23
Pope . . . , 154, 155 hoof (cloven), 20–21
Martin Luther’s Erroneous Arguments . . . old man’s head on backside, 21
Roma caput mundi, 27–29
Utterly Ground to Pieces, 155
scales, 21
primitive church, 87, 89, 91, 92, 93, 101
Giovan Paolo Lomazzo and, 15, 16
Protest of the Beggars, 209
Inquisition and, 49, 50, 61–64
Proclamation of September 28, 1573, 204
Martin Luther and, 3, 65, 67, 71, 105, 114,
Puritans, 176
R Philip Melanchthon and
Rastell, John, 203 contrasted with John Barthlet, 201,
Confutation / of a sermon, pronoūced by
figural interpretation of Roman
M. Iuell, / at Paules crosse . . . , 203
monster, 103, 104, 116, 117,
Ravenna, monster of, 181
158, 218, 221
Reformation of the Emperor Sigismund, 140 Reformation polemics and, 4, 5, 103,
Reiser, Friedrich, 34, 35 105, 160, 217, 219
Religious Peace of Augsburg, 52, 176, 181 popularity of, 3, 5, 7, 103, 201, 216, 217
Requesens, Luis de, 210 Tommaso and Jacopo Rodari and, 13
restorationism, 89 Ulrichus Velenus and, 70, 71, 105
Rhadinus, Thomas. See Todicsus, Thomas Vladislav II (king of Bohemia) and, 56–60,
Rhadinus of Placentia 64
Ridolfi Plot, 202, 205, 206, 208 Waldensians and, 32, 37, 38, 47, 48, 49, 50
Ridolfi, Roberto, 205
256 Index

Roman monster, continued Serres, Jean de, 208

Wenzel von Olmütz and, 16, 23, 62–65 Lyfe of . . . Iasper Colignie Shatilion, 208
wonder-books and, 5, 169, 171, 172, 173, Three partes of Commentaries, Containing
175, 178 the whole and perfect discourse of
Rome the ciuill wares of Fraunce . . . , 208
Babylon/Rome after the Fall, 36, 37, 38, Servetians, 194
46, 47 Shacklock, Richard, 191, 192, 199
Bohemian Brethren in, 8, 32, 38, 44, 45, Sigismund (Holy Roman emperor), 28, 39,
46 40, 140
Donation of Constantine and, 29, 35 Signoria (Venice), 1, 12, 13
flood of 1495 in, 1, 10, 11, 12, 23, 47, 115 skimmety, 19
John Barthlet and, 199, 200 skimmington, 19
see of St. Peter and, 67, 69, 70, 105 Šlechta, Jan of Všehrd, 55, 61
theoretical source of imperium (imperial Sodom, 150, 161, 169, 170, 215
power), 28 solifidianism, doctrine of, 121, 141, 218. See
Waldensians in, 32, 33, 35, 36, 38 also justification by faith
whore of Babylon as symbol of, 36, 37 Sorbin, Arnaud
Rothmann, Bernhard, 194 ancient and medieval heresies and, 186,
Rychnovský, Jan of Rychnov, 55 187
Aristotle and, 186
S French famine and, 185
Sacramentarians, 194 French vernacular polemicists and, 184,
Sacrosancta, 118 187
Sander, Nicholas, 189, 190, 203 religious polemics and, 182, 184, 185,
Rocke of / the Churche / Wherein the 187–89, 216
Primacy of St. Peter and / of his Roman monster and, 181–89, 217, 219
Successours the Bishops / of Rome is Tractatus de monstris, 181, 182, 183,
proued . . . , 203 184–89
scales, Spalatin, Georg, 67, 70, 71, 107, 110, 112, 151
Anatomy of the Antichrist and, 99, 157 Spanish Fury, 209
Job 41:6–7 and, 99, 148, 223 Spenser’s Crusade, 80, 81
Roman monster and, 11, 15, 65, 161, 170, Stapleton, Thomas, 191, 193, 199, 203
171, 186 Counterblast to / M. Hornes vayne / blast
symbolism of in Pope-Ass Explained, . . . Prouing the Popes and Bisshops
143–49, 223 Supremacy in Ecclesiasti-/cal
Scholasticism causes . . . , 203
doctrine of merit and, 132, 133 “Discourse of the Translator vppon the
John Barthlet and, 199 doctrine of the protestants . . . ,”
Philip Melanchthon and, 134, 135 193
Pope-Ass Explained and, 132, 133, 158, Staphylus, Fridericus, 191, 193, 194, 197
218, 222, 223 Apologie, 191
Schulz, Jerome (bishop of Brandenburg), Tree of Protestantism (Staphylus), 196
123, 124 status, 75
Schwenckfeldians, 192, 194 St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacres, 182, 202,
Scrinium pectoris, 98, 137 206, 208, 213
Scultetus, Hieronymus. See Schulz, Jerome St. Paul’s Cross, 190
secret sins, 127 St. Peter
Selucians, 193
Index 257

disputed presence in Rome of, 46, 67, 69, Donation of Constantine and, 42
70, 105 ecclesiology of, 8, 48, 50
keys of, 61 factions of, 8, 45
net of, 223 German reformers and, 51
Petrine powers of pope and, 25, 26, 82, historical records for, 45
203 Inner Council of, 44
pope as heir of, 25, 69, 70, 130, 222 Inquisition and, 49, 61
strator, 131, 132 journey to Rome, 1498 32, 38, 46
Stuart, Mary (queen of Scotland), 202, 204, literacy and, 54
205, 206, 208 Luke of Prague and, 43, 44, 57
Summa angelica, 113 Major Party of, 8, 43, 44, 45
Sylvester (pope), 29, 34, 35, 39, 44, 70, 112 Minor Party of, 8, 43, 44, 45, 47, 48, 56
Synod of Lhotka, 42, 50 Moravia and, 59
Synod of Prague, 88 Moravian Church and, 45
names for, 42
T noble patrons of, 43, 55, 57, 60, 69
Taborites, 35, 39, 40, 51, 54, 96, 186 numbers of members of, 42, 53, 54
Tesserant, Claude de, 178, 180 Old Brethren and, 43
Tetzel, Johann, 106, 122, 123, 124, 125, 154, opposition to papacy and, 62
155 persecution of, 52, 54, 56–62
Rebuttal of a Presumptuous Sermon . . . on Peter Chelčický and, 43, 44, 50
Papal Indulgence and Grace, 155 printing presses and, 53
Thomas of Landskron (Thomas the German, public confession of beliefs and, 57
Brother Thomas), 38, 45, 46, 47, 49, Roman monster and, 8, 38, 47–50, 217
51, 63 spread of movement, 54
Thomas Rhadinus Todiscus of Placentia, 105, Waldensians and, 7, 8, 38, 46, 50, 51
106, 111, 154, 156 Unity of Czech Brethren. See Unity
Oration of Thomas Rhadinus . . . , 105, 156 Urban VI (pope), 80, 101
Tor di Nona, 10, 24, 27, 31, 115, 175 Utraquism, 40, 89
Tovačovský, Citibor, 55 Utraquist Consistory, 52, 56, 60
Tovačovský, Jan, 55 Utraquists
translatio imperii, 29, 30, 31, 130, 131, 166 Compactata and, 56,
treasury of merit, doctrine of, 122 Czech civil war and, 39
Treatise / of Treasons . . . (anon.), 204 Martin Luther and, 68
Triumphus, Augustinus, 98, 118 opposition to Bohemian Brethren from,
two swords, theory of, 41, 147, 203 56
Tyconius, 87 Peace of Kutná Hora and, 52
printing press and, 53, 54
U Roman Catholics and, 60
Ubertino of Casale, 77 Sigismund recognized as king of
Arbor vitae crucifixae, 77 Bohemia by, 40
Uherský Brod (Ungarisch Brod), 53
Ugolino, 76 V
Ultramontane Poor, 33 Valla, Lorenzo, 30, 70, 107, 112, 113, 114, 130
Unity (Unitas Fratrum) On the False Donation of Constantine, 30,
beliefs of, 42, 44, 45, 49 107, 112
Bohemian Diet and, 57, 59 Vaudès, 32
Conference of Chlumec, 8, 43, 44, 47 Velenus, Ulrichus, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 105, 114
258 Index

Petrum Romam non venisse, 67, 69, 70, Wenzel von Olmütz
71, 114 Augsburg Wunderzeichenbuch and, 175
Vladislav II (king of Bohemia) biographical information on, 62–63
Mandate of St. James and, 58–60 Lovers, 23
Martha, Baroness of Boskovice, 58 oeuvre of, 63, 64
power of Bohemian nobility and, 40, 55 pope-ass and, 115
Unity and, 42, 45, 52, 55–60, 64 reproduction of Roman monster by, 4, 8,
Vogtherr II, Heinrich, 175 15, 16, 23, 49, 61
vows, 121, 128–29, 158, 222 trademark symbols of, 23, 62, 64, 115
Ulrichus Velenus and, 69, 105
W whore of Babylon, 35, 36, 37, 41, 42, 71, 176
Waldensians William IV, Duke of Bavaria, 145, 148
anti-Constantinianism and, 34, 36 Wolgemut, Michael, 8
apocalypticism and, 36 Wolsey, Thomas (cardinal), 146
Austria and, 33 wonder-books, 2, 5, 10, 159, 169, 181, 216
Bohemia and, 33, 49 Wyclif, John
ecclesiology of, 8, 34, 48, 50 Anatomy of the Antichrist and, 96, 100
Id nostri cordis and, 37 Antichrist and, 72, 73
Inquisition and, 35 Antichrist antitheses and, 73, 81, 82, 83,
Italy and, 33, 52 90, 92, 100
Luke of Prague and, 8, 38, 45, 48, 50, 57 biographical information on, 79
Mark Brandenburg and, 51 dominion of grace and, 80
“Noble Lesson” and, 37 ecclesiological ideas of, 79, 80
Peter Chelčický and, 41 Great Schism and, 80, 81, 82, 101
Reiser, Friedrich and, 35 Gregory XI and, 80
relations with Bohemian Brethren Jacoubek of Stříbro and, 89
antipapalism and, 4, 38, 48 John Hus and, 38, 39, 88
apostolic Christianity and, 42, 45, 46 Nicholas of Dresden and, 91, 92
contacts in Rome, 38, 42, 44, 45, 47 papal Antichrist and, 5, 73, 79, 83, 101
Luke of Prague and, 57 Peter Chelčický and, 40
Minor Party and, 45 predestination and, 79, 82
public confession of faith, 46, 47
Spenser’s Crusade and, 81
union between groups considered,
vernacular writings of, 81
Wyclif, John, writings of
Roman monster as antipapal pasquinade
De Christo et suo adversario Antichristo,
and, 7, 8, 32, 37, 38, 47–48
81, 83, 92
Thomas of Landskron, 38, 45, 46, 47, 51
De ordine christiano, 80, 81
whore of Babylon and, 35, 37, 44
De papa, 80, 81, 83
“Warnynge songe to Cities all to beware by
De potestate pape, 80, 81, 83, 90
Andwerps fall,” 213
“Of Antichrist and his Meynee,” 81
Opus evangelicum, 83