A heretical family tree

The drawing together of disparate groups into a single entity could be a way of celebrating and reifying a religious tradition, but it could also be deployed to sharply critical effect. This woodcut takes the idea of a Protestant ‘family tree’, literally visualised, to illustrate some of the most common and most potent Catholic critiques of the Reformers. It centres particularly on Martin Luther, shown as the root of this heretical tree. The text attacks his ‘pretensed wedlock’ with the former nun Katharina von Bora and the image beneath the couple shows a deformed calf, described as an omen of ‘Luthers Monstrous life and doctrine’. This was in part a response to Protestant authors who had interpreted the same monstrous birth as divine judgement on the errors of the Catholic church. By depicting multiple ‘branches’ stemming from Luther this woodcut makes two different polemical points at once. It associates Luther and his followers with a radical and revolutionary Reformation that they denied, represented here by Bernhard Rothmann, one of the leaders of the Anabaptist Münster rebellion. At the same time, it represents Protestantism as a divided and conflicted movement. Even as Protestants strove to show the unbroken lineage of their faith, this image turns the idea of their ‘pedigree’ against them. CL

Fredericus Staphylus (trans. Thomas Stapleton), The apologie […] intreating of the true and right understanding of holy Scripture (Antwerp: John Latius, 1565), folded plate entitled ‘A shovve of the protestants petigrevv as ye haue it before at large deducted’.

CUL: Syn.7.56.26

Further Reading

Alexandra Walsham, ‘Dumb Preachers: Catholicism and the Culture of Print’, in her Catholic Reformation in Protestant Britain (Farnham, 2014), pp. 235-84.

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