It is the 20th of March 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 1477

Today we are in Pre-Reformation and Reformation Germany for a scandal in the house of Wettin, two friends becoming enemies, and some suitable 16th-century trash talking.

Martin Luther had his fair share of enemies and controversialists. And we've talked about them on the show, whether it has been Johann Eck, Charles V, Pope Leo X, etc., but there is one who is too often overlooked, a man with a past that paralleled Luther until it didn't. In fact, Luther would call him the "Leipzig Goat" and reserve some of his most… creative invectives against Jerome Emser, who was born on the 20th of March in 1477.

Jerome (or Hieronymous if you must latinize) Emser was born in 1477 to an upper-class family. He studied at Tubingen, where he is likely to have encountered the Humanists. He studied Theology and Law at the University of Basel. He was known as a middling student who was almost kicked out of school and imprisoned on account of a bit of satirical verse he wrote. His luck changed in 1504 when he was assigned to lecture on Johann Reuchlin, the famous humanist while at the University of Leipzig. Sitting in those lectures? A young Martin Luther. As late as 1519, Luther would write affectionately about his old lecturer. But things would go south quickly.

Emser and Luther's lives are also crisscrossed with regards to the House of Wettin. This German dynasty, in its Ernestine line, had placed Frederick as the elector of Saxony. This is the famous Frederick the Wise who supported Luther. The "Ernestine" line of the Wettins was reform-minded.

The Albertine line of the House of Wettin placed George as the Duke of Saxony. This line was traditional and wary of reform. Nevertheless, Duke George called for the Humanist Jerome Emser to become his court chaplain.

Even the most sympathetic tellers of Emser's story recount that he was less than first-rate as an academic. His natural skill was his invective and biting satire (remember he was almost kicked out of school for this). He became Duke George's bulldog. And if there was anything Duke George hated, it was Hussites. According to Duke George, it's a long story, but that reform movement was the definition of schismatic heresy.

And so it was at Luther's famous 1519 disputation with Johannes Eck that Luther refused to condemn the teachings of the Hussites. Whatever Emser's feelings were towards his one-time student, he was now tasked by his Albertine elector to take down Luther with his Ernestine-backed reform. Emser wrote a tract against Luther that Luther would take up along with the Papal Bull excommunicating him and burnt them outside Luther's former monastery in Wittenberg.

The back-and-forth between these men is not the most significant of Luther's work, but it certainly gives us a glimpse into 16th-century polemics. Luther's response to Emser was titled:


Luther called him a goat as that was on his family crest. Emser called Luther the "Wittenberg Bull," perhaps a reference to Luther's size and general uncouthness. Emser styled himself more Erasmian than Lutheran in that he sought moderate reform but believed Luther's anticlericalism to be a bridge too far. In response to Luther's translation of the New Testament into German, Emser published his own… which was really just a copy of Luther's but edited for Catholic eyes. On account of his job and at the urging of Duke George, he would become another controversialist for Luther to skewer. Emser's reputation never recovered, and he died in 1527 at the relatively young age of 50, having been born on the 20th of March in 1477.

The reading for today comes from a favorite of both Luther and Emser. This is Bernard of Clairvaux's "Hymn to Jesus," also called "The Loving Soul's Jubilation," translated by Edward Caswall.

Jesus, the very thought of Thee,
with sweetness fills my breast,
but sweeter far Thy face to see,
and in Thy presence rest.

Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame,
nor can the memory find
a sweeter sound than Thy blest name,
o Savior of mankind.

O hope of every contrite heart
o joy of all the meek,
to those who fall, how kind Thou art!
how good to those who seek!

Jesu, our only joy be Thou,
As Thou our prize wilt be:
Jesu, be Thou our glory now,
And through eternity.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 20th of March 2021 brought to you by 1517 at The Wisconsin Warthog Christopher Gillespie produces the show. The show is written and read by the Californian Capybara Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.