The Rev. Hans Fiene has a knack for addressing Christian teachings and events in a humorous way, and he’s honest enough to poke fun at the divisive nature of the Protestant Reformation, even if he can’t bring himself to become Catholic.
As a Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor, Fiene takes on Christian controversies and characters in cartoon form, typically spending two to seven minutes on a subject at his Luther Satire website. That he has more than 57,000 subscribers testifies to Fiene’s skills in “teaching the orthodox Lutheran faith through the use of humor,” and he has more than a few Catholic fans, as comments on some of his animated satires show.
Fiene ranges widely in his subjects, including addressing the non-Christian doctrines of the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses; and, in another satire that may both amuse and offend Catholic charismatics, he presents C-3PO—the robot of “Star Wars” film fame—as taking issue with Pentecostal Christians on the spiritual validity of praying in tongues.
His most popular satire is on “St. Patricks’ Bad Analogies” in teaching the Trinity, the central mystery of the Christian Faith (CCC 234; 261). Fiene depicts the Apostle of Ireland as attempting to explain the Godhead to two ancient Irishmen, Donall and Connall, who say they lack Patrick’s “fancy education, and books, and learnin.’” However, the pair go on to frustrate Patrick, accusing him of teaching modalism and Arianism through his faulty analogies.
Patrick then employs the classic Trinitarian analogy of the cloverleaf, but Donall and Conall object that he’s confessing “partialism,” a heresy that professes that the Triune persons “are not distinct persons of the Godhead, but are different parts of God, each person composing one-third of the divine.” This heresy, Donall adds, was espoused “in the first season of the cartoon program Voltron.” When Patrick says he’s never heard of Voltron, Donall replies, “Of course you haven’t! It’s not gonna exist for another 1,500 years now, Patrick!”
Finally, when the Irishmen object to two more analogies, Patrick simply professes the Athanasian Creed (see CCC 266). Despite their initial feigned ignorance, Donall and Conall reply that Patrick should’ve simply opened with that precise, erudite exposition on Christian doctrine! And then Conall concludes with a dig at the excesses of Irish and other Catholics: “Now let’s all put on some giant green foam hats, get riotously drunk, and vomit in the Chicago River to celebrate our conversion!”
Of greater apologetics interest is Fiene’s “Reformation Piggybackers,” which has more than 236,000 views. Credit the Lutheran pastor for honestly—and hilariously—grappling with Martin Luther’s decision to break with the Catholic Church, and the related fallout when others followed his religious lead. Indeed, despite the doctrinal claim of “sola Scriptura,” someone has to replace the Pope in particular and the Magisterium in general in authoritatively interpreting Scripture, whether that person be Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin or King Henry VIII.
Early on in Fiene’s satire, all seems to be going well until Luther discovers Zwingli doesn’t believe the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Jesus. (While not confessing the Eucharist as the sacramental re-presentation of Christ’s one Sacrifice of Calvary, Luther did vigorously argue for consubstantiation, which affirms the Real Presence in a different way.)
Luther admonishes Zwingli that true reformation requires fidelity to God’s biblical word, “not to just be as un-Catholic as possible.”
“Well that’s the point of my Reformation,” a defiant Zwingli responds. Then John Calvin comes on the scene, and Zwingli tells him that Luther “wants to join my Reformation, but he still wants to be a little, halfway, papist sissy-baby.” Calvin rebukes Zwingli for his purely symbolic view of the Eucharist, yet also disappoints Luther in arguing for a divine presence in the sacrament that is simply spiritual.
Enter Henry VIII, who, though not historically considered a Protestant Reformer, and despite in real life having called Luther a heretic, is cleverly depicted as needing Luther to rationalize his own break from the Pope, which for him was based on his adulterous remarriage to Anne Boleyn.
“That’s not a good reason for leaving the Church of Rome,” Luther chides Henry regarding his marital problems. No matter, replies Henry, who then adds—fictitiously, though humorously—that Luther’s “shortsighted attitude is precisely the reason why the Church of England has chosen Mr. Calvin here to be the chief theological advisor for our ecclesiastical brexit.” But Calvin and Henry’s solidarity quickly dissolves over Calvin’s doctrine that Jesus died only for a limited number of people, which means God predestines some to hell.
After trading insults with Calvin, Henry asks Zwingli and Calvin to come together to thank Luther for providing each of them permission to go his own religious way. The other leaders oblige in singing “a rousing rendition of the Reformation Song,” an ode to Luther, because, as Henry says, “you set us free from the shackles of Rome, so we could follow your example—by quitting our Church bodies and starting a new one the second we don’t like the cut of someone’s theological jib.”
“We are the Protestants,” they sing. “We’re on the same team as Luther.”
“No you’re not Luther!” interjects.
“We are the Protestants,” they continue, “but our traditions are equally valid!”
“This is not true!” Luther protests further, even though Fiene is correct in showing the subjective basis for each leader’s break with Rome, and how they can thank Luther for blazing that religious trail.
At this point, you might infer that this is actually a Catholic satire, and an uproariously effective one at that, as Henry & Co. go on to sing that their differing views on fundamental Christian teachings like the sacraments and the atonement don’t matter. Rather, “the most important thing, is the common song we sing, ‘We all hate the Pope!’”
As they continue to sing, Luther laments, “I’m going home now,” realizing the divisive precedent his attempted reform has caused.
But just when you think it’s over, Fiene knows he needs to take on the Catholic Church and how she has allegedly contradicted herself in doctrine and related practice over the centuries, lest he alienate his core Protestant followers. To do so, he provides an addendum after the credits roll in which Pope Leo X, Luther’s contemporary, complains to Pope Francis that “this Luther, he make-a me so mad.” When Francis concurs, Leo responds, “Oh good. So you future Popes, you no change-a my teachings?”
In a liberal “Valley Girl” dialect, Francis then recites a litany of changes, including “hating on the Latin Mass”; giving Communion to the divorced (actually the divorced and invalidly remarried who aren’t living in “complete continence”); and how Vatican II supposedly changed the Church’s fundamental teaching on religious liberty in the 1960s (see CCC 1738 and 1747 in particular and CCC 1730–48 in general for a Catholic corrective). “Which is also,” Fiene has Francis add, “when we decided that people who don’t believe in Jesus at all can totally go to heaven,” and that “Muslims totally worship the same God as us and theirs is a religion of peace” (emphasis added; see CCC 841–48 and Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate 3 for an accurate Catholic view).
In response to what he would say to such a future pontiff, Leo tells Francis, “I say I’m gonna cutta offa his head. Why you ask?” “Oh,” Francis concludes, “a, no reason.”
Of course, Fiene doesn’t clarify, for example, that Francis’ encouragement to let the divorced and remarried receive the Eucharist is not a change in doctrine, but a disciplinary novelty of his own pontificate. And that the Church’s recent teaching on religious liberty exemplifies genuine doctrinal developments, while her recognition of Islam’s monotheism and Abrahamic roots is an interfaith effort to foster unifying dialogue, not codify religious indifference.
On the other hand, Catholics have to recognize that Fiene would’ve been in hot water with his Lutheran confreres had he not provided his papal putdown. In any event, as Fiene strives to “teach the faith by making fun of stuff,” Catholics can appreciate and agree on much of his funny forays into matters religious. And let us pray that he takes his insightful satire on Luther, et al., to its logical Catholic conclusion.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!