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Explaining The Reformation Polka

The Reformation Polka has been making its rounds on the Internet – first simply as the lyrics as originally written by Robert J. Gebel & then as a song set to music played on a traditional laud & sung by a man known simply as Fugli. Later the song was set to a visual presentation first as a flash format & then as the youtube video.

Now I’d like to present a line-by-line explanation of the lyrics. Important names, places & concepts will be hyperlinked for people interested in more detail.

UPDATE: If your church or group decides to try to sing this song, please record it and send me a copy (contact).  I would love to share your rendition with others.  It would be fun!

Lyrics

Explanation

When I was just ein junger Mann I studied canon law;

Luther originally was supposed to be a lawyer.

Though Erfurt was a challenge, it was just to please my Pa.

Luther’s father Hans Luder (Luther) was a mining entrepreneur who worked hard to put Martin through Law school at Erfurt University. Luther did not like law school & soon dropped out.

Then came the storm, the lightning struck, I called upon Saint Anne

Luther was caught in a terrible storm wherein he thought he’d die. He prayed to the patron saint of miners, St. Anne (traditionally the mother of Mary)

I shaved my head, I took my vows, an Augustinian!

Luther had vowed that if he was spared death during the storm, that he’d become a monk. He chose the Augustinian order, which claimed its founder as Augustine of Hippo known for his very “Calvinistic” teachings.

Papal bulls, indulgences, and transubstantiation

This refers to the decrees Popes (Papal) would issue called “bulls” & in this case is about the specific bull issued against Luther. Indulgences were simply a partial payment for the remission of sins or early release from purgatory (temporary hell). In his now famous 95 Theses Luther wrote against the practice of selling indulgences.

Transubstantiation refers to the Roman Catholic teaching that the actual presence of Christ’s blood & body inhabit the wine & bread of communion. Luther advocated something a bit different, sometimes referred to as consubstantiation.

Speak your mind against them and face excommunication!

Referring to Luther being removed from the Roman Catholic Church

Nail your theses to the door, let's start a Reformation!

Referring to Luther’s 95 Theses whereof it is traditionally believed he nailed them to the church door of his city, Wittenberg.

When Tetzel came near Wittenberg, St. Peter's profits soared

Johann Tetzel was a Roman Catholic friar that was tasked to go about Europe selling Indulgences to raise money to fund the building of a church in Rome called St. Peter’s. Wittenberg was Luther’s home city.

I wrote a little notice for the All Saints' Bull'tin board

Another reference to posting the 95 Theses on the church door. Tradition says that public posting were commonly nailed to a city’s church door.

You cannot purchase merits, for we're justified by grace!

Referring to Luther’s most famous teaching, “justification by faith…alone” though Luther was not the first to teach it.

Here's 95 more reasons, Brother Tetzel, in your face!"

Another reference to the 95 Theses & a poke at Tetzel

They loved my tracts, adored my wit, all were exempleror

Luther often wrote “tracts” or little booklets. These were often printed, sometimes without his urging or permission by local printers & sold to the German public. People liked his tracts because not only did they challenge the Roman Catholic authority, but were simple enough for many non-theologians to understand.

The Pope, however, hauled me up before the Emperor.

Referring to Luther’s “trial” in the city of Worms before Emperor Charles V.

"Are these your books?  Do you recant?" King Charles did demand

Referring to a call for Luther to recant his writings.

I will not change my Diet, Sir, God help me here I stand!"

A play on the fact that Luther’s “trial” was called the “Diet of Worms” which simply means conference at Worms the city.

Duke Frederick took the Wise approach, responding to my words

Referring to the Duke Frederick, which protected Luther from the Roman Catholic Church, by refusing to hand Luther over to their authority.

By knighting "George" as hostage in the Kingdom of the Birds.

Referring to the situation where Duke Frederick had Luther disguise as a knight named George & hide in the Wartburg castle for almost a year. Kingdom of the Birds refers to another time Luther was hidden away in Coburg Castle during  the Diet of Augsburg. Luther felt like a hostage having to hide away like this. (thanks to Fugli for correcting the Kingdom of the Birds reference)

Use Brother Martin's model if the languages you seek…Stay locked inside a castle with your Hebrew and your Greek!

Referring to Luther’s translating the Latin Bible into the language of German while in exile at Wartburg. Luther attempted to translate directly from the Hebrew & Greek.

Let's raise our steins and Concord Books while gathered in this place

Referring to German beer drinking mugs often made of stone or metal called “steins”. A Concord Book is a book of Lutheran doctrines but this book was not compiled until after Luther’s death.

And spread the word that 'catholic' is spelled with lower case

Referring to the fact that the word “catholic” simply means universal – a jab at the Roman Catholic Church.

The Word remains unfettered when the Spirit gets his chance

Referring to how when the Bible is opened up for the common man, that the Spirit will work to bring about better understanding among Christians.

So come on, Katy, drop your lute, and join us in our dance!

Referring to Luther’s wife Kathrina Von Bora Luther. A lute is a musical instrument.

Thank you to Carole for motivating me to write this line-per-line explanation. Please feel free to share this with anyone.  Thank you to Susan for correction that stein in German means "stone", thus most steins were originally made of stone.

THE LUTHER BIBLE TRANSLATION

In translating into German, Luther "attempted" to utilize the original Hebrew and Greek -- What I mean by that is that Luther utilized the fairly recent Greek New Testament by his eventual nemesis -- Desiderius Erasmus (Luther sparred with Erasmus in Luther's book, "Bondage of the Will").  Luther made his N.T. translation between 1521-22.  Erasmus' second Greek N.T. translation was published in 1519, just to show how recent a copy Luther was using.

The O.T. German translation wasn't published until 1534, and was a collaborative work, not just Luther.  Keep in mind, Luther was not the first to make a German translation, just like William Tyndales English translation was preceded by John Wyclifs.

The following quote from Phillip Schaff's history of the Christian Church demonstrates that Luther utilized another recently translation for the Hebrew, along with Greek and Latin O.T. texts.

The basis for Luther's version of the Old Testament was the Massoretic text as published by Gerson Ben Mosheh at Brescia in 1494. (24) He used also the Septuagint, the Vulgate of Jerome (25) (although he disliked him exceedingly on account of his monkery), the Latin translations of the Dominican Sanctes Pagnini of Lucca (1527), and of the Franciscan Sebastian Münster (1534), the "Glossa ordinaria" (a favorite exegetical vade-mecum of Walafried Strabo from the ninth century), and Nicolaus Lyra (d. 1340), the chief of mediaeval commentators, who, besides the Fathers, consulted also the Jewish rabbis. (26)

http://www.bible-researcher.com/luther02.html

Luther's German Translation: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Gen%201&version=LUTH1545

(Thanks to a reader named Paul that prompted answers to these questions)

 

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