Tuesday, October 26, 2004

In the Shit.

Perhaps you heard this recent toilet history news:
Archaeologists in Germany say they may have found a lavatory where Martin Luther launched the Reformation of the Christian church in the 16th Century. The stone room is in a newly-unearthed annex to Luther's house in Wittenberg.

Luther is quoted as saying he was "in cloaca", or in the sewer, when he was inspired to argue that salvation is granted because of faith, not deeds.

The scholar suffered from constipation and spent many hours in contemplation on the toilet seat.
Well, if you were wondering why this scene was left out of Luther, the recent biopic of the Father of Protestantism starring Joseph Fiennes, (okay, maybe only I was wondering this) here's an explanation from a reader of Andrew Sullivan's blog:
Having mis-spent my youth in grad school studying late medieval and early modern European intellectual history, I can now -- 20 years after leaving academia -- shed some valuable light for you and your readers (as well as for the BBC News).

When Luther said he made his discovery 'in cloaca' (literally translated 'on the toilet'), he was using one of a long list of late medieval theological-scatological phrases that meant 'in deepest humility' or in a state of profound 'worthlessness' (i.e., like shit).

So when Luther described arriving at his big theological conclusion 'in cloaca', he (like hundreds of other theologians of the time) was not making a literal reference to his bathroom routine.

If this sounds strange strange today, it shouldn't. The English language still uses lots of scat lingo (e.g., 'up shit creek without a paddle') to express extreme emotions or for emphasis. ('No shit!', you might say).

So once again, on major matters of import, the BBC News doesn't know 'shit from Shinola' or its 'ass from a hole in the ground.'
Perhaps in the future, misguided archaeologists will spend years searching for the Vietnamese toilet where former President Kerry had his much-discussed experiences "in the shit."

...And speaking of cloaca, if you didn't see Cloaca when it was in Toronto at the Power Plant, you missed out on some good shit -- though the day I went to see this feces-producing art, it was constipated.

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