A n advocate of the abandonment of celibacy for the clergy, and creator of the Protestant distinction between the merely huge and the obese, Luther's is the central theological statement of a distinction that remained in place until at least the mid-twentieth century, which sees a difference between a "healthy" and a "pathologically" fat body. Luther condemned the excesses of Catholic fasts, yet he advocated moderate fasting to make the body able to care for others' needs. There is a none-too-subtle view that religious fasting must have consequences in this world. For Luther, the distinction is always between the healthy and the diseased body, rather than between the fat and thin body.
This distinction is found in Martin Luther's commentary on 1 Cor. 15, the text that set the modern image of the bloated body (Luther 1973: 28 and 196). Man must bear his earthly body as a confinement for the soul. He drags his heavy paunch about with him, and the mortal body is symbolized by the paunch, the sack of stench, which man must endure. He stuffs himself, evacuates, discharges mucus, and suppurates, as a consequence of his mortality (Luther 1973: 172). The ailments that plague fat bodies are sickness, misfortune, frailty, filth, blemishes, and stench, which are always attributed to the influence of Satan (Luther 1973: 203). This heavy existence contrasts with the heavenly body that will move though all the heavens as swiftly and lightly as lightning and soar over the clouds among the dear angels (Luther 1973: 143, 188, 196). Above all, it will be devoid of all infirmities and wants (Luther 1973: 172). The contrast between heavy and light bodies, which Luther occasionally employs, is common among the Greek and Latin fathers. Luther's text depicts only fat bodies this side of heaven (Cornfield 1996). Indeed, any of the Commentary's descriptions of life on earth are bound to mention the paunch and the gut that extends out in front of us, a perpetual reminder of our fleshiness. This paunch eclipses the genitalia as the most salient image of carnality.
However, Luther also differentiates good fat from bad fat and Christian bodies from diabolical bodies in describing distinct types of fat bodies: the bloated and solid. Each of these bodies corresponds to a mode of being in the world. The bloated body relies on the image of the puffed up body from Paul. When Luther observes that the opponents of Paul in Corinth claimed that they knew better than he about God, Luther compares them to Isaiah's audience whom he describes as "arrogant and miserly paunches" and "vexatious windbags" (Luther i973 : i58). Their proud bellies are expansive but only because they are filled with air. These bodies are fat but certainly not solid. In keeping with this image, Luther continually invokes the image of the pig which, although bulky, has a reputation as perhaps the least solid of all animals. It waddles on stubby legs, fat jiggling, and resembles a curious balloon more than a mass of solid flesh. Invoking this fat flimsiness, Luther makes an explicit connection between the pig and the arrogant, bloated body (Luther 1973: 148). "Swinish" becomes his preferred adjective for this type of existence. For Luther the swinish man stuffs his paunch until it covers his penis, thereby eliminating his sexuality.
The opposite of this puffy, bloated figure of false belief is the fat but solid body. These are healthy bodies. Every human being, without exception, gains weight for the slaughter (i.e., death) when Satan will devour us. The difference is that the swinish herd actively fatten themselves, while true Christians passively endure being stuffed by Satan. Luther writes of the bloated ones: "Let those people go their way with their mocking, their carousing and swilling and living like swine that wallow around among the husks and fatten themselves until they are slaughtered" (Luther 1973: 164). But regarding the Christians he writes: "Satan dispenses no other food than pestilence and every other sickness and pours no other wine of drink than pure poison. Therefore we can expect nothing else than that he will fill us with this and then butcher and flay us" (Luther 1973: 111-12). The bloated body and the solid body acquire their fat differently and mean something quite different. True Christians possess a remedy for Satan's poisonous edibles, and that is nourishment from God's Word. Unlike the bloated glutton who is always looking for food to consume, the Christian (again passively) receives sustenance from God. Luther writes: "See to it that you remain in the Word. By it God wants to bear you up and sustain you, so that you will not be lost" (1973: 75). The Christian has access to God's nourishment through the Word and is, thereby, given a healthy supplement to his or her diabolical diet.
For Erik Erikson, this passivity is a return to the mother who "taught him to touch the world with his searching mouth and his probing senses." He writes that "I think that in the Bible Luther at last found a mother whom he could acknowledge: he could attribute to the Bible a generosity to which he could open himself, and which he could pass on to others, at last a mother's son" (Erikson 1993: 208). A mother with her suckling child (Mary and Jesus) is Luther's crucial image for establishing a healthy relation to the Word. Above all, the solid constitution is characterized by its passive relation to external powers, both to Satan who inflicts disease and to God whence flows the maternal milk of the Word. Thus, the moral order of Pauline Christianity and its image of the fat body are converted into a diet culture rooted in belief and sustenance.
See also Christianity; Religion and Dieting
Cornfield, Thomas (1996) "Luther, Paracelsus, and the
Spirit," Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago. Erikson, Erik H. (1993) Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History, New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc. Luther, Martin (1973) "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15," in Hilton C. Oswald (ed.), Luther's Works, Vol. XXVIII, Saint Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House.
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