An Empty Bladder: Mocking Leo X’s Bull

Hutten, Ulrich von (1488-1523)

Dialogi novi, perquam festivi. Bulla, vel Bullicida. Monitor primus. Monitor secundus. Praedones.

[Strasbourg: Johann Schott], 1521

$6,500.00

Quarto: 21.5 x 15.5 cm. 37, [1] lvs. (final leaf blank). Collation: A-H4, I6 (I6 blank and present)

FIRST EDITION.

Modern boards. With a small title woodcut of Hutten in armor by Hans Baldung Grien. Fine copy, light dampstain to upper inner corner of a few lvs., small tear to one corner, far from text.

Sole edition of these new satiric dialogues. In the “Bull or Bull Killer”, Hutten satirizes Leo X’s bull “Exsurge Domine”, which threatened Luther and his followers with excommunication. Playing on the word “Bulla”, Hutten calls Leo’s order an “empty bladder.” In “Praedones” (“the Robbers”), Hutten points out the corruption of jurists, merchants, and bishops, while defending the rights of the German knights. In the two “Admonisher” dialogues, two advocates of the Reformation cause (in the first, Luther and in the second, Sickingen) argue their positions, one successfully, the other not.

The “Bull Killer”.

“Although Hutten is not mentioned by name in Leo’s bull, he is mentioned in the Instruction of 16 July 1520, with which Leo entrusts to his legate Hieronymus Aleander with the implementation of the bull…. 

The bull marks a major turning point in Hutten’s literary battle against the Church in Rome. Hutten reacted to the bull with several publications including the dialogue ‘Bulla vel Bullicida’ (‘The Bull or the Bull Killer’), from the literary point of view one of Hutten’s most dramatic and potent dialogues. The persona of Hutten occupies about four-fifths of the dialogue along with the personifications of German Freedom (Libertas Germana), and the Bull. These are joined at the end by Franz von Sickingen, Emperor Charles, and Stromer.

“The dialogue begins with a scene that is similar in its turbulence to the second ‘Fever’ dialogue: German Freedom has to defend herself against the physical attacks of the Bull and, as a last resort, calls the German people to her aid. In this way, Hutten ensures that his persona has a dramatic entry: he enters the scene as the sole savior of German Freedom under threat and starts conversing with her as with an old friend…

“As the conversation proceeds, the symbolic power of the Church in Rome as symbolized by the Bull becomes more and more undermined. Hutten’s persona demonstrates that the Bull is not able either to convincingly defend the claims it puts forward in argument or defence itself against criticism….

“After it has become clear that no serious, objective discussion with the Bull is possible, Hutten resorts to more drastic forms of mockery. In so doing he makes use of the original meaning of the Latin word ‘bulla’, which is ‘bladder.’…

“[The] dispute between the Bull and the Hutten persona starts to escalate and finally turns violent. The burlesque comedy of this scene is in no way inferior to the turbulent beginning of this dialogue and the intensity of the dispute far exceeds that of the early part of the second Fever dialogue. The scene here, where they come to blows, also has its comical aspects and again closely follows the tradition of Plautus, something Hutten makes clear from the outset with his choice of words. Comedy apart, the words mainly serve in this scene to display Hutten’s dauntlessness in a real altercation when he literally positions himself as a pioneer fighting for German liberty.

“In the ‘Bulla’ Hutten campaigns energetically for support from his compatriots in his fight against Rome. In the mingling of private and public that is so typical of him, he declares this fight for freedom, which is just as much his personal fight, to be a public cause in the interest of the community. As in other passages in his work Hutten makes use of the threat posed by the Turks and states that the Church in Rome is a greater menace to Germany than the Turks. In this way he attempts to legitimize the use of force : he invokes a march of 100,000 men under the leadership of Franz von Sickingen…

“The finale of this dialogue offers a suitable crescendo. The Bull finally bursts of its own accord, grotesquely inflated by rage and ambition. This results in the final unmasking of the Bull, who in effect unmasks itself. The bursting causes its insides to be turned to the outside and its innards displayed before the eyes of the interlocutors as in a public autopsy. Hutten parades all the evils and vices of which the Bull is presumed capable before the eyes of the reader using all the tools of rhetorical evidentia.

“Hutten calculated that in this way he could get out of the bull in the same way that he got into it – with strong public positioning – and this is what in fact happened. His name was deleted from the next bull of excommunication ‘Decet Romanum pontificem’. The letters of the papal legate, who was to ensure that the bull was distributed in Germany, show that he was afraid of the consequences for his person during his sojourn in Germany, should Hutten be named in the bull.”(Arnold Becker, Hutten’s Polemical Dialogues: Literary Positioning and its Impacts, in Forms of Conflict and Rivalries in Renaissance Europe, p. 71 ff.)

“The Robbers”

The impetus for writing “The Robbers” was an appeal put before the Emperor by German merchants complaining that knights were carrying out illegal feuds. Among those who supported the right of knights to take justice into their own hands were, unsurprisingly, Hutten and Sickingen. The interlocutors in this dialogue are Hutten, Sickingen, and a merchant. It is thought that Sickingen cooperated in the composition of this dialogue and that the sentiments put into his mouth were such as he had frequently expressed in conversation.

“In response to the merchants accusations that knights are robbers, Hutten argues that there were far more dangerous robbers in Germany. The list includes bishops, jurists, and merchants. Highway robbers (of whom some were knights) come only at the end of the list. Both bishops and merchants are seen as depriving Germany of its wealth: the bishops by paying Rome immense bribes for their bishoprics, and the merchants by exporting German money to import the luxury goods which weakened German Spartan virtues.” The jurists, of course, seek to rob the knights of their hereditary rights, and undermine the German justice system through. Moreover, “jurists intentionally drag out lawsuits, bringing litigants to ruin while enriching themselves through verdicts contingent upon the wealth of the interested parties. Of course, such a system only aggravates the oppression of the poor.… Hutten places the bishops at the top of the list of robbers not only because they rob Germany of her money in order to purchase offices in Rome, but also because they seek to expand their territory and wealth by robbing the knights of their property.”(Djazaerly, Goethe Yearbook, Vol. 15) Worse still, those in the Roman Curia rob the Germans of free speech through their prescriptive theology, which makes it a crime to discuss the Gospel.

The “Admonisher” I & II

“In these two dialogues, an exponent of the Reformation (Luther in Monitor primus, Franz von Sickingen in Monitor secundus) conducts a quiet conversation with the admonisher. In the first of these dialogues, Luther persists in attempting to convince the admonisher of his own viewpoint – ultimately without success – although the admonisher has only entered into the conversation in order to relinquish his allegiance to Luther. In the second Admonisher dialogue the persona of Sickingen succeeds in convincing his interlocutor of his own position. The contrast with Luther’s failed attempt is made all the more striking by the fact that the two dialogues belong together as Part One and Part Two. 

“In Monitor primus, the admonisher stresses the disgrace awaiting all supporters of Luther. He himself aims to save himself from these threats by distancing himself from Luther and does this in the first remark he makes. (Monitor: Ego me ab his vero partibus, ubi non citra discrimen aditur etiam infamia, ac in tutum aliquo me dabo.)

This performative act forms the basis of the entire dialogue that follows, during which the persona of Luther attempts to persuade his rebellious supporter to re-espouse his cause. What Luther is ultimately trying to do is to prevent the severance of loyalty to himself and elicit a new vow of allegiance – in a new performative act. Not until the end of the dialogue does it become obvious that Luther’s attempts at persuasion were doomed to fail from the outset: in his final remarks, the admonisher declares that he will soon become a cardinal. For Luther this is the explanation for the unsatisfactory turn the conversation took for him : the admonisher is corrupt, he has sold his soul for the office of cardinal. (Monitor: Proxime Cardinalem videbis me. Lutherus: Habeo tandem; hoc precio rem inaestimabilem vendidisti, animam; miserias! Itaque migra, nobis curandum est interim, ut pro te perdito alios statim duos aut tres lucrifaciamus Christo.)

“At the end of the dialogue comes the realization that the admonisher has withheld one crucial piece of information: the dialogue would have taken a quite different turn if the admonisher’s imminent appointment as a cardinal had been known. Had this been the case, Luther’s intense efforts to finally convince the admonisher would have been difficult to present as plausible. These efforts correspond to the expectations of the reader who, in the course of reading, must gain the impression that a change of the admonisher’s mind is possible and that this will probably be revealed in the course of the dialogue. The development of dialogue in Monitor primus reveals a troubled communication situation to which the persona of Luther cannot adequately react. Unlike Luther, Hutten drew his conclusions from a situation in which discursive progress no longer seemed possible, decided that further escalation of the conflict, including the use of physical force, was unavoidable and made haste with his plans for the Knights’  War.”(Arnold Becker, Hutten’s Polemical Dialogues: Literary Positioning and its Impacts, in Forms of Conflict and Rivalries in Renaissance Europe, p. 68-70)

VD 16, H 6311; Benzing, Hutten; 161; Panzer IX, 456, 2; Hohenemser 2756; Oldenbourg, Baldung Grien L 182