December 13

Heinrich Heine (1797)

It was on this date, December 13, 1797, that one of the greatest poets of the mid 1800s, Heinrich Heine, was born in Düsseldorf. Heine was pushed toward a commercial career, studied at the universities of Bonn (under Schlegel), Berlin (under Hegel) and Göttingen. But though he took a degree in 1825, Heine was more interested in literature than in law.

In 1825, Heine renounced Judaism and adopted Christianity because it was "a ticket to civilization," but he had no regard for either religion. "If the law had allowed me to steal silver spoons," he said, "I would not have been baptized."* After 1830 he lived in Paris and married Crecence-Eugénie Mirat. On 10 December 1835 he had the honor of a ban by the German Diet on all his works throughout Germany. Heine's chief works are Buch der Lieder (1927), his four-volume Reisebilder (1826-31), many poems, such "Die Grenadiere" ("The Infantry") and "Lorelei," a long verse satire, Deutchland: ein Wintermärchen (Germany: A Winter's Tale, 1844), and what many consider his finest collection of verse, Romanzero (1851), published while he was severely ill.

In 1847 Heine had an attack of paralysis, and shortly became blind. It was only then that Heine said he believed in God: "Dieu me pardonnera. C'est son métier": "God will forgive me. It's his job." He told his friends of his conversion that they could "put it down to morphia and poultices." Heine died in Paris on 17 February 1856. "It must require," he said, "an inordinate share of vanity and presumption, too, after enjoying so much that is good and beautiful on earth, to ask the Lord for immortality in addition to all." Heine's works carry many caustic references to religion — and a warning, in Almansor (1820-21): "Wherever books will be burned, men also, in the end, are burned."

* C. Pützfeld, Heine's Verhältniss zur Religion, 1912, p. 50.
** "...Dort, wo man Bücher / Verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen," from Almansor, (1820-21), I, 245.
NB: German-language versions of Heine's "Die Grenadiere" can be read at this link; "Lorelei" can be read at this link; Almansor can be read at this link; Buch der Lieder can be read at this link; and Romanzero can be read at this link, all courtesy of Project Gutenberg.

Want to comment on this essay? Send me an e-mail!


Paul III

Julius III

Pius IV

The three Popes of the
Council of Trent

Council of Trent (1545)

It was also on this date, December 13, 1545, that the Council of Trent met in the Italian border town of Trento. The Council was urged on a reluctant Pope to clean up the sewer of corruption and vice that had been the Roman Church for the past two centuries, and even the Catholic Encyclopedia admits some of this. What is seldom admitted is that the Church was hurting from the loss of income to the Protestant churches, and stipulated a meeting in an Italian town — so that the Inquisition could finish off the heretics.

The Council of Trent, 1545-1563

A Council plan was formulated by Clement VII (1523-34), a luxury-loving bastard son of the Medici family, but failed to materialize until called by his successor, Pope Paul III (1534-49), who owed his office to the influence of his sister, the favorite mistress of Pope Alexander VI. But when the announced date of the Council arrived, the plan of the papacy to suppress the heretics rather than listen to them was so obvious that only 25 prelates showed. Only 15 more wandered in by the next June (1546), so Paul suspended the Council.

Paul died in 1549, but the cardinals were so contemptuous of the reformers, and so addicted to luxury and corruption, that they elected Julius III, widely known to practice sodomy and other vices (1550-55). Julius was compelled to resume the Council, but again the meeting had to be suspended. The Council did not effectively begin until 1562, three Popes later, under Pius IV (1559-65).

The legates and delegates managed to avoid reform measures. They concentrated instead on formulating a code to guide the Inquisitors in crushing the political power of the Reformers in a war the Papacy hoped to incite (Rome attempted this in the Thirty Years War). The Council closed at last on 4 December 1563, and the decrees were confirmed, on 26 January 1564, by Pius IV in the Bull Benedictus Deus. The Council of Trent is still played up in Church histories as part of the mostly fictitious Counter-Reformation. In fact, there was no reform anybody outside the Church could see.

Want to comment on this essay? Send me an e-mail!


Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.
Wordcount 645