95 Verses: The Reformation in 19 limericks
October 31st is marked by at least some churches as ‘Reformation Day’, it being the day on which, in 1517, Martin Luther published his 95 theses questioning the practice of selling indulgences.
Next year will be the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Next year we will properly celebrate and evaluate the contribution of Luther. Next year we will necessarily look again at the divisive doctrinal divisions, reflect, repent, and seek renewal. Next year we will mourn the brokenness of Christ’s body and recommit ourselves to unity in truth. Next year we will ask whether we have lost sight of the gospel just as our forebears once did. That’s all for next year.
This year, surely, a somewhat more saturnalian attitude is required of us…
1. A grace-pedlar happened to flit
Through a small German city named Witt-
-enburg where young Martin
The Reformation was startin’
By saying ‘Your theology’s shockingly poor.’
2. A brash Roman preacher called Tetzel
Said ‘I know all your sins and your debts’ll
Disappear in a trice
If you just pay the price!’
Said Luther (German accent) ‘Thet’s bull!’
3. The lustre of faith was sadly gone
And the papal office was badly done
Or so it then seemed
To a monk who then deemed
That the church was in exile in Babylon
4. Justification, if of a Lutheran bent, is
The articulus statis vel cadentis
Which means that the church
Will be left in the lurch
If it once forgets truth so momentous.
5. ’We have summoned a diet of Worms,’
The Pope said, ‘Ensure Luther squirms!’
But it did not go as planned:
When Martin said, ‘Here I stand
On all that the Bible affirms.’
6. A young Dutch scholar said ‘Eek!
I’ve just published the gospel in Greek,
And I’ll tell you what–
All this penance is rot;
Promoted by some Roman clique.’
Luther’s bondage of the will:
7. There once was a donkey in Rotterdam
Who said ‘I must be free to be thought a man!’
But I say of course
Each of us is just a horse
Which is ridden by Satan or the Lamb.
Rome: exsurge Domine
8. We have asked the professors and priors
Who say you reformers are liars
Rome alone knows
What Scripture shows
And your obedience she now requires.
9. A Frenchman said ‘Do you not see?
What is is what God meant to be.
Salvation or hell
Both have been well
Planned in God’s perfect decree.’
10. Geneva’s a place that’s quite dreary, in
Which they dreamed up a new theory on
How the church should be run:
When all’s said and done
The only right way’s presbyterian.
11. A versifier despaired reading li-
-sts ‘I’ve been all through the dictionary in Engli-
-sh. It happens I’ve found
An impossible sound
Not one single word rhymes with Zwingli.’
12. Some Anabaptists said, ‘You’ll never appease us
And even if your soldiers should seize us
We won’t be deterred
From obeying the Word
And following the true way of Jesus.’
13. A Czech man said ‘why all this fuss
About Luther? He’s just a wuss
It all started with me
The previous century
You should all be celebrating Jan Hus!’
14. A Scots lad called John from the glen
Blew a first blast o’the trumpet, but when
Told that the gospel call
Must mean freedom for all,
He said ‘Och, it means all men, ye ken!’
15. King Henry said ‘I want a divorce!
We’ll have reformation by force
So the gospel gets heard,
And I get my bird,
(And all the monks’ money of course)’
16. You must understand that you need
Not just faith, but also some deed
So we who were sent
To council at Trent
Infallibly now have decreed.
17. Of sacraments there must now be seven
All needed to get you to heaven
If you have even six
Your chances are nix
Of having transgressions forgiven.
18. A preacher called Luther was told
‘Your perspective has got rather old;
We’re not really sure
When you talk of the law
That you get those of Abraham’s fold.’
19. Our scholars on justification
Have issued a Joint Declaration.
They have given new light
To show both sides were right—
So that’s that for the great Reformation.