Friday Fundamentals in Film: Luther

This week’s movie might be controversial for some since it looks at the events leading up to the Protestant Reformation by dramatizing the life of Martin Luther. Though I’m not Lutheran or Catholic the interpretation I got from Luther is that it was about a man trying to save his faith, not start a new one. Even without the spiritual context, however, this is a compelling story of a basically timid and politically naive man trying to stand up for what he thought was right against incredible pressure and then trying to come to grips with the consequences of his actions.

It is also a very well made movie featuring an all-star cast that includes Joseph Fiennes, Peter Ustinov in his final movie, Alfred Molina and Bruno Ganz (who I loved in “Wings of Desire”, the German movie that was the basis for the Nicholas Cage/Meg Ryan “City of Angels” movie.) The movie is briskly paced (sometimes too briskly as you might miss the significance of some statments and political explanations) with evocative scenery and settings that really communicate the era.

As the movie was about Martin Luther you can expect that Pope Leo and the cardinals don’t fare well or have much chance to present their positions sympathetically, but the movie appears to take pains to present Luther’s conflict as being with the leadership of the church and not with the faith itself. Indeed, just as the early Jews who followed Christ still considered themselves Jews, not Christians, it occurred to me that Luther and his followers would still have thought of themselves as Catholic (or at least catholic). From my experience and observation, the faithful of every religion and denomination have to constantly be on guard against elevating the traditions (and “wisdom”) of man over the word of God, and the compelling part of this story for me wasn’t Luther resisting the Catholic hierarchy but resisting his own inner fears and self-doubts so that he could later rise against his physical fears and doubts.

Luther is an inspiring and thought-provoking movie that will stay in your mind for days after you see it.

Questions to answer:

  1. What was the stumbling block for Luther in his understanding of God at the beginning of the movie? How and when did this begin to change?
  2. Fr. Johann von Staupltz was Luther’s “spiritual father”. What do you think his purpose was in sending Luther first to Rome and then to Wittenberg?
  3. What was Luther’s original intent when he reported the practice of selling indulgences to the Pope? What led him to believe the practice was wrong?
  4. What is the disturbing realization that Prince Frederick the Wise experiences when Rome sends him a gilded rose? What does it change, and why?
  5. Dr. Carlstadt claimed he was a supporter of Luther, yet his objectives were ultimately something different. Describe.
  6. Who said, “Before I let anyone take from me the word of God and ask me to deny my belief I will kneel and let him strike off my head,” and what was the significance of that statement at that time?

Points to ponder:
Consider the turmoil and violence in Germany after Luther left Worms. What, if any, similar schisms do you see in today’s world? Are the differences spiritual or political at their core? Why do you think so?

Great Quotes:

  • “Those who see God as angry do not see him rightly, but look upon a curtain as if a dark storm cloud has been drawn across his face. If we truly believe Christ is our Savior, then we have a God of love and to see God in faith is to look upon his friendly heart. So when the devil throws your sin in your face and says you deserve death say, ‘I admit I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know one who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, son of God. Where He is, there I shall be also.'”
  • “I am Yours. Save me.”

3 thoughts on “Friday Fundamentals in Film: Luther

  1. I thought the movie would have been better if Luther had been played by Keanu Reeves: “Dude, be a sinner and sin strongly, but, like, more strongly have faith and rejoice in Christ.” and “I am afraid that the schools will prove the very gates of hell, unless they, like, diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures and engraving them in the heart of the youth. Whoa.”

  2. Great review. I have the movie (and the 1953 version), but have watched neither! I will take the challenge to watch them soon and respond to your points.

    I heartily agree with you, as most confessional Lutherans would, that Luther’s aim was to reform his beloved church and not leave it. He only grudgingly agreed to let the new church call itself Lutheran. It’s more proper and fitting name was and still is “Evangelical”.

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