Martin luther

The firebrand preacher who put Martin Luther in the shade

‘Now tell us, you miserable wretched sack of maggots,’ wrote Thomas Müntzer, sounding like the love child of Owen Jones and Ian Paisley, ‘who made you into a prince over the people whom God redeemed with his own precious blood?’ The question Müntzer posed Count Albrecht of Mansfeld was, you’d think, rhetorical. Like his contemporary Martin Luther, if less unremittingly scatological, the radical millenarian preacher wielded a sharp pen. Don’t forget Ezekiel’s prophecy, he wrote to Count Albrecht’s brother Ernst: ‘God would command the birds of the air to feast on the flesh of the princes and command the unthinking beasts to lap up the blood of the bigwigs.’ Only

Are cancel-culture activists aware of their sinister bedfellows?

Is there a woke case to be made for freedom of expression? Jacob Mchangama certainly seems to think so. This 500-page door-stopper, which combines a history of free speech with a persuasive case for its defence, is aimed squarely at snowflakes and social justice warriors. Mchangama deals patiently and methodically with all the objections they might make to ‘the first freedom’ and then tries to convince them it’s in their interests to defend it. Take the assumption that untrammelled free speech perpetuates current inequalities, favouring the privileged and penalising the disadvantaged. That view often underpins the efforts of student activists to cancel controversial speakers, believing as they do that anyone

The importance of giving offence

As dons at Cambridge vote on a new protocol on constraints to free speech, we mark this month the 500th anniversary of the public burning of Martin Luther’s books outside the west door of Great St Mary’s, the university church at Cambridge. After the 1517 publication of his famous 95 Theses, raging against the Church’s sale of ‘indulgences’ that purported to pardon sin in exchange for money, Luther had been denounced by Pope Leo X in a papal Bull. This accused him of (among other things) saying things that were ‘offensive to pious ears’. Luther then burned the papal Bull on 10 December 1520, giving further offence. He was excommunicated

Sumptuous and saucy: Compton Verney’s Cranach show reviewed

‘Naughty little nudes,’ my history of art teacher used to say of Cranach’s Eves and Venuses. Aren’t they just? Coquettish and compact. Kenneth Clark thought they had ‘chic’. Cranach’s nudes are rarely truly naked. They wear Ascot hats, golden chokers, filmy wisps of gossamer girdle. Take the goddess in the National Gallery’s ‘Cupid Complaining to Venus’ (c.1526–7). Don’t you long for her to take off her ostrich feather hat and tickle you with it? ‘Hallo, Jungs.’ See how she plays footsie with a branch of the tree. How she brushes the back of her hand against its trunk. Note the double necklace. Always accessorise. ‘Cupid Complaining to Venus’ has been