LUTHER: The 2003 film with Joseph Fiennes


#1

Has anyone seen the 2003 film LUTHER with Joseph Fiennes? It also stars Peter Ustinov. I saw it and found it an interesting presentation of Martin Luther. Surprisingly, it did a good job of focusing on the man and what lead him to his actions. I highly recommend it. Although it is a Hollywood presentation with some liberties, it is worth a view. Check it out on www.imdb.com and see the reviews and posts on it.


#2

I saw it when I was a Lutheran with a group of my friends. I had just started looking into the Catholic faith. I thought our reaction to the movie was so interesting. I felf that Luther was potrayed as a very mentally ill individual who was full of pride. It was going to be his way or nothing & no one could convince him differently, even his very kind Priest friend who tried to stick by him. I saw others take up his cause for purely political & financial reasons & in the end, many many people died. The scene where the churches were destroyed - I thought that was so sad.

My friends, on the other hand saw him as a great revolutionary. They thought he was tormented because of Catholic teaching that you have to keep working for salvation. They saw the Church as totally corrupt & in need of someone like brave Martin Luther.

How we could watch the same movie & see it so differently…?


#3

i havent seen this yet, but my friend is lutheran and goes to a lutheran college. him and his roomates have a poster of the movie in their apartment. i dont like what the poster says, though - it says “rebel, genious, liberator”. yeah, right. liberator. give me a break. the poster also shows the guy that plays luther dressed up like a nobleman…luther was a monk. i heard that some things they put into the movie never actually happened and it just made luther look better and the church look worse.


#4

It is interesting how perceptions can be different based on how you view the character and the subject matter. I have to say that I am not surprised that people who are Catholic or have Catholic leanings would dislike the film and those who are not Catholic or are strongly Protestant would find the movie well done.
I think the movie does a good job at portraying the corruption that existed in the hierarchy of the church offices as well as the questionable practices that were involved in the selling of indulgences. The movie had a good focus on Luther’s personal journey that went from his love of the church, to his trying to introduce reform, to his need to break away based on the reform that the church rejected.


#5

[quote=Rand Al’Thor]i havent seen this yet, but my friend is lutheran and goes to a lutheran college. him and his roomates have a poster of the movie in their apartment. i dont like what the poster says, though - it says “rebel, genious, liberator”. yeah, right. liberator. give me a break. the poster also shows the guy that plays luther dressed up like a nobleman…luther was a monk. i heard that some things they put into the movie never actually happened and it just made luther look better and the church look worse.
[/quote]

In the actual film, Luther is not portrayed as an acting nobleman. He is shown as a man of the church.


#6

I didn’t realize there was a movie called “Luther”, however, I agree with everyone else. As we perceive Luther differently in our lives based on our religion, we would certainly watch a movie about him with our own religious perspective. When I see “Luther”, I see “Heretic”.


#7

[quote=Eden]I didn’t realize there was a movie called “Luther”, however, I agree with everyone else. As we perceive Luther differently in our lives based on our religion, we would certainly watch a movie about him with our own religious perspective. When I see “Luther”, I see “Heretic”.
[/quote]

You might enjoy the movie. Whatever your feelings about him, the movie is well done. Good casting with well known actors too.


#8

I don’t know how easy the film is to find on dvd. However, I know you can rent it on www.netflix.com


#9

I’d like to see a film on Luther done from a Catholic perspective, sort of evens out one’s perspective as well.


#10

I doubt very seriously that the film went into Martin Luther’s strong antisemiticism. Now, the time period that he lived in was very anitsemetic anyway, but he was unusually strong in his venom toward the Jewish people. Do a web search on the book On Jews and Their Lies by Martin Luther. There are quotes from the book all over the web.

Here is a review about the movie from a Catholic view pointwww.awitness.org/books/luther It is interesting.


#11

I watched this movie around Christmas. Although it was not too anti-Catholic, it did distort Catholic teachings. The movie only gave a brief explenation of what an indulgence is. They never botherd to talk about purgatory. Luther in the film took the church’s teaching of no salvation outside of the church out of context. They show Luther showing remorse over the peasent rebellion, when he’s the one who wrote to the nobility telling them to crush the rebellion. They show him being the “hero” who finally translated the Bible into German. (My Uncle fell into that trap.) I hate to say it, but there were German Bibles before Luther, and English at that matter. They also show that no Catholic Theologian would not take Luther on. Between June 27th and July 15 in 1519, there was a public debate between Luther and John Eck. Luther did not win the debate. I take it with a hand full of salt, I know my faith, so I know the movie is not telling the whole story.


#12

The film appears to be a gloss of Luther’s life, whitewashing his major faults, (attacking the Jews, violent language, massacre of the peasants, allowing bigamy) and highlighting the traditional misconceptions about catholic “corruption” etc.


#13

Hi Catherine,

I saw the Luther movie on its opening day, so my memory on all the particulars is a little fuzzy at this point. Overall I enjoyed the movie, and it is always a treat to see a movie on someone whose writings I have studied closely, and who’s life and work have had such an impact on me. I think it is a good movie for all interested parties- if anything it points out what even Roman Catholic historians have noted- the corruption within the 16th Century Church. I think serious Catholics and Protestants can stand together against any corruption in any church, Protestant or Catholic.

There were though some factual problems with the movie. Here is a farly well balanced review by the Lutheran scholar Rev. Dr. Eric W. Gritsch, a man who’s opinion on Luther is worth hearing.

Though well directed, acted and dramatically impressive, some caution needs to be exercised when the film might be used for education based on historical evidence. There is always room for “dramatic license”, but when dealing with such influential historical figures as Martin Luther a fundamental loyalty to historical facts must be preserved. I only focus on some basic facts which have been ignored, indeed abused, in the sequence of portraying Luther as a man who changed world history, as the film correctly assumes.

  1. Luther’s first celebration of the Mass revealed his great anxiety about the priestly power to bring Christ from heaven to the altar. He wanted to leave the altar, but was signaled by his prior to continue. There is no evidence that he spilled the wine. Moreover, his father attended with many members of the family, gave 20 guilders as a gift to the monastery and, despite some criticism of Luther for becoming a monk rather than a lawyer, the father stayed and enjoyed the celebration. He did not leave after a public outburst of anger, as the film alleges.

  2. The Uprising of the Peasants made Luther so angry that he called for their killing as a divine mandate since the peasants identified the freedom in the gospel with violent liberation from their feudal landlords. About 5000 peasants were finally massacred in the so-called battle of Frankenhausen, Saxony; their “noble” opponents lost six men. The spiritual leader of the rebellious peasants in Saxony was not Carlstadt, but Thomas Müntzer who was executed. All rebellious peasants in German territories numbered about 60.000. About 6000 were killed, not 100.000 or more, as the film alleges.

  3. The Augsburg Confession was developed and drafted by Melanchthon who met with and was supported by princes and other officials. Luther met with princes a year after the Diet of Augsburg, in 1531 at Smalcald when supporters founded the military Smalcald League to defend themselves against Catholic attacks. Luther never met with princes in connection with the Augsburg Confession and had no leading role in its production, as the film alleges.

  4. Luther and Frederick the Wise had only a relationship through Spalatin in order to protect the prince from any accusation of personal contact with the heretical professor. Consequently, Luther never saw him (except from a distance at the Diet of Worms in 1521). The moving scene of Luther handing his prince the German Bible never took place, as the film alleges.

  5. Luther at the Wartburg is the one part of his life when he agreed to hide, indeed change his appearance by being disguised as a German knight known as “Squire George” (“Junker Jörg”). While it is not necessary to show Luther with beard and knightly dress (though it would have enhanced the film), it is important that he returned to Wittenberg on his own, against the orders of Frederick the Wise. The prince did not issue a call for his return, as the film alleges.

Other minor historical flaws could be pointed out, such as the use of a legend that his spouse “Katie” had been smuggled in herring barrels with other nuns into Wittenberg. It is uncertain where the nuns were hidden during their secret journey. Some sources talk about empty barrels, others add “herring”. But no Luther scholar has confirmed the “smelly” part of the story.

Instead of highlighting a legend, the film could have portrayed in some fashion one of the most dramatic events in Luther’s career, the Leipzig Debate on July 4, 1519 with John Eck—the only occasion when he was granted his wish for a free, scholarly disputation. The American audience would have enjoyed this “Fourth of July” event in Luther’s life.

It should have been easy to receive some expert technical advice for the production of such a significant film which, after all, was sponsored by Lutherans in the United States and in Germany. History itself is a powerful medium. In the case of Luther, the historical facts themselves are just as dramatic as any film maker could make them through “dramatic license” without much concern for historicity.

Regards,
James Swan


#14

Here is one excerpt of a Catholic review that points out that Luther is presented as untainted - his negative qualities that could not be excluded where transferred onto a character named “Karlstadt” among others - however, the review concludes by saying that it’s “worth seeing”.

usccb.org/movies/l/luther.htm

Time and the desire for narrative clarity prohibit the filmmaker from lingering too long on any of the subsequent theological sparring matches between the firebrand Luther and his ecclesiastical adversaries, resulting in an oversimplification of the complex religious and political issues involved.

While many of the abuses documented are tragically based on verifiable truth, the film presents several arguments which contain skewed – if not outright false – interpretations of Catholic doctrine. The manipulative narrative seems to position the church and its hierarchy as self-indulgent vehicles of worldliness and repression, setting them against the egalitarian benevolence of Luther.

And though it misses no opportunity to spotlight ecclesiastical corruption and hypocrisy, Till’s film conveniently shies away from any unflattering facts that would cast Luther in an unfavorable light, including his endorsing violence to suppress the Peasants’ Revolt. This and other unpleasantries – which the broom of poetic license could not sweep under the narrative rug – are simply scapegoated onto another character, as in the case of Karlstadt.

The film presents Luther as an irreproachable folk hero whose crowning achievement was to free Scripture from its long imprisonment in Latin texts, making it accessible to laymen in their own tongue. This common misconception turns a blind eye to the fact that a number of versions of the Bible in the German vernacular predated Luther’s.

The film also promotes an erroneous understanding of indulgences. While it is certain that abuses involving their dispensation did occur, the film mistakes those abuses for official church teaching.

To its credit, not all of the film’s Catholic clergy are caricatured. Perhaps the most interesting and emotionally nuanced character is that of Staupitz, who remains loyal to the church throughout the film while maintaining a paternal bond with Luther, imploring him to channel his passion into reforming the church from within rather than attacking its doctrines. While shaded by a suspect reading of the issues involved, the historical importance of the subject matter and its central character offer much in the way of thoughtful discussion. And while its oversimplifications and revisionist tendencies warrant caution when viewing the film with adolescents, “Luther” imbues the personalities involved with an appealing humanity, breathing new vitality into events and ideas which, though fossilized by centuries of academic debate, still affect us as Christians today. For that reason alone, “Luther” is worth seeing.


#15

[quote=deb1]I doubt very seriously that the film went into Martin Luther’s strong antisemiticism. Now, the time period that he lived in was very anitsemetic anyway, but he was unusually strong in his venom toward the Jewish people. Do a web search on the book On Jews and Their Lies by Martin Luther. There are quotes from the book all over the web.
[/quote]

Hi Deb,

Just wanted to point out that the movie dealt with the beginings of Luther’s career. Most of his “anti-Judaism” comments are from the end of his life. The movie did not cover the entire career of Luther (how could it?!?!).

You may not know this, but Luther began his career favorably to the Jews. In 1523 he published Jesus Christ was born a Jew. He expressed his sympathy to them saying that he would not have become a Christian either if he had been born a Jew under the papacy. He had high hopes that a proper understanding of the gospel would bring the Jews to faith. Luther was very naïve in this, not taking into account the situation of medieval Jewry in Europe.

After twenty years of failing to convert the Jews through his writings, Luther became rather virulent in his criticism of the Jews. He believed the stories about the Jews attempts to convert Christians and he saw them as disturbers of the Christian faith. He wrote things no Christian should have written.

It should be kept in my mind though that he wrote them from a position far different than current anti-Semitism. Luther was born into a society that was anti-Judaic, but it was not the current anti-Judaic type of society that bases it racism on biological factors. Luther had no objections to integrating converted Jews into Christian society. He had nothing against Jews as “Jews.” He had something against their religion because he believed it denied and blasphemed Christ.

I would not go so far as to malign the entire career of Luther based on Luther’s comments about the Jews. Luther did direct abusive language against these groups: Anabaptists, lawyers, the papacy, and the Jews. Luther felt these four groups were united in the conviction that men were ultimately made right before God by the law. Anabaptism held a moralistic view of the gospel with an emphasis on the heavy burden of righteousness placed upon men in order to be accepted before God. Lawyers made their living by imposing the law. The papacy was viewed as the antichrist, which promoted a false religion with a false view of salvation through obedience to the law. The Jews had a religion based upon works righteousness. When Luther attacked these groups it was an attack on the devil who is the underlying spirit of works righteousness.

[quote=deb1]IHere is a review about the movie from a Catholic view pointwww.awitness.org/books/luther It is interesting.
[/quote]

That link is from a Catholic point of view? There is a link at the bottom that says, "The Campaign to Impeach George W. Bush-Click here for more information. Click on their link to their homepage- some really “interesting” material- a lot of prophecy stuff. I’m very suspicious that this web site is a bit “fringe” if you know what I mean.

Regards,
James Swan


#16

[quote=TertiumQuid]Hi Deb,

Just wanted to point out that the movie dealt with the beginings of Luther’s career. Most of his “anti-Judaism” comments are from the end of his life. The movie did not cover the entire career of Luther (how could it?!?!).

You may not know this, but Luther began his career favorably to the Jews. In 1523 he published Jesus Christ was born a Jew. He expressed his sympathy to them saying that he would not have become a Christian either if he had been born a Jew under the papacy. He had high hopes that a proper understanding of the gospel would bring the Jews to faith. Luther was very naïve in this, not taking into account the situation of medieval Jewry in Europe.

After twenty years of failing to convert the Jews through his writings, Luther became rather virulent in his criticism of the Jews. He believed the stories about the Jews attempts to convert Christians and he saw them as disturbers of the Christian faith. He wrote things no Christian should have written.

It should be kept in my mind though that he wrote them from a position far different than current anti-Semitism. Luther was born into a society that was anti-Judaic, but it was not the current anti-Judaic type of society that bases it racism on biological factors. Luther had no objections to integrating converted Jews into Christian society. He had nothing against Jews as “Jews.” He had something against their religion because he believed it denied and blasphemed Christ.

I would not go so far as to malign the entire career of Luther based on Luther’s comments about the Jews. Luther did direct abusive language against these groups: Anabaptists, lawyers, the papacy, and the Jews. Luther felt these four groups were united in the conviction that men were ultimately made right before God by the law. Anabaptism held a moralistic view of the gospel with an emphasis on the heavy burden of righteousness placed upon men in order to be accepted before God. Lawyers made their living by imposing the law. The papacy was viewed as the antichrist, which promoted a false religion with a false view of salvation through obedience to the law. The Jews had a religion based upon works righteousness. When Luther attacked these groups it was an attack on the devil who is the underlying spirit of works righteousness.
[/quote]

i find it interesting that luther was a monk (catholic clergy) and didnt seem to have any problem with the papacy until the pope didnt implement his reforms. then all of a sudden he’s the antichrist and has been tricking us with the interpretation of "you are peter."
how is salvation by faith AND works (which is what the catholic church has always taught - living your faith) the work of the devil? if luther was so concerned about taking everything in the bible word for word, why did he change that passage when he translated it into german?
his “the jews and their lies” sounded like i was reading mein kampf with scripture being quoted. hitler was raised as a catholic and was an artist…and then later in his life blamed the jews for everything and began to hate them. that sounds a lot like luther, since at first as you say didnt hate the jews. frustration at not being able to convert someone (especially when you say that had you been a jew you wouldnt have converted either) is no excuse for hatred.


#17

I didn’t say that I agreed with the entire web site. I like George BUsh myself, but I also don’t necessarily look down on people who have different opinions on him.I did see the impeach George Bush slogan, but hey, on most politic manners I don’t demand that people agree with me. I just thought that the writer’s opinion on the movie had more of a Catholic review and I thought CatherineofA might be interested. Did you read the writer’s review? I only got a third of the way through, due to kids, but it sounded fair. It seemed to be pointing out what was good and bad in the movie.


#18

[quote=Rand Al’Thor]i find it interesting that luther was a monk (catholic clergy) and didnt seem to have any problem with the papacy until the pope didnt implement his reforms. then all of a sudden he’s the antichrist and has been tricking us with the interpretation of “you are peter.”
[/quote]

Interestingly, the Catholic Church eventually began to deal with the corruption and abuse that Luther pointed out. go figure. The problem, as i’ve studied it, has more to do with one man standing against a monolith that refused to even listen to what he was saying- a little like what happened to Athanasius.

[quote=Rand Al’Thor] how is salvation by faith AND works (which is what the catholic church has always taught - living your faith) the work of the devil?
[/quote]

Not sure how this is relevant, but ‘Faith,’ wrote Luther, ‘is *a living, restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith’.*Lutheran scholar Paul Althaus agrees: “[Luther] also agrees with James that if no works follow it is certain that true faith in Christ does not live in the heart but a dead, imagined, and self-fabricated faith.” In The Disputation Concerning Justification, Luther answered this spurious proposition: “Faith without works justifies, Faith without works is dead [Jas. 2:17, 26]. Therefore, dead faith justifies.” Luther responded:

“The argument is sophistical and the refutation is resolved grammatically. In the major premise, “faith” ought to be placed with the word “justifies” and the portion of the sentence “without works justifies” is placed in a predicate periphrase and must refer to the word “justifies,” not to “faith.” In the minor premise, “without works” is truly in the subject periphrase and refers to faith. We say that justification is effective without works, not that faith is without works. For that faith which lacks fruit is not an efficacious but a reigned faith. “Without works” is ambiguous, then. For that reason this argument settles nothing. It is one thing that faith justifies without works; it is another thing that faith exists without works.”

[quote=Rand Al’Thor] if luther was so concerned about taking everything in the bible word for word, why did he change that passage when he translated it into german?
[/quote]

I guess you’re referring to Romans 3. Here is Luther’s answer to you: bible-researcher.com/luther01.html -Make sure to read the whole thing, as the detailed answer is given late in the treatise.

[quote=Rand Al’Thor]his “the jews and their lies” sounded like i was reading mein kampf with scripture being quoted.
[/quote]

I appreciate your concern for love and hate. However, the situation with Luther and the Jews is complicated, and not really easy to tackle in a brief post. I guess you could begin by posting quotes comparing and contrasting mein kampf to prove your point… But remember what I posted, Luther was not against Jews as “Jews”- it was their religion that provoked him.This is vastly different than Luther. In his zeal, I admit Luther went to far, and said awful things. If you would like to research this issue, I can suggest some excellent sources.

Further, “On the Jews and Their Lies” was a response to a letter from Count Schlick of Moravia. The letter contained a Jewish attack against Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and Christian exegesis of the Old Testament that the Count wanted answered. Unfortunately, this letter and attack have been lost, so we are unaware of the exact tone of argument Luther was responding to.

The first few sections were Biblical in nature, dealing with biblical arguments put forth by Jews (allegedly). Luther defended Mary in the third section against charges that the Holy Mother was a prostitute, and that her offspring was a demon’s child.

Luther wrote in a polemical tone that used vulgarity and harshness as a deliberate rhetorical tactic. The language used was usually consistent with the tenor of whichever polemical contest he was engaged in. It is also important to understand that Luther thought he was living in the last days, and that the papists, Anabaptists, Jews, and Turks were the Devil’s servants attacking the true church.

It should be immediately pointed out that scores of Christians (including Lutherans) were killed in the Holocaust. Luther never believed that a ruler could do whatever he wanted. He believed all rulers were subject to the Bible. Luther never wavered from his acceptance of Romans 13 as the classic statement of the Christian attitude toward civil government. He was against oppressive dictatorships.

Regards,
James Swan


#19

[quote=deb1]I didn’t say that I agreed with the entire web site. I like George BUsh myself, but I also don’t necessarily look down on people who have different opinions on him.I did see the impeach George Bush slogan, but hey, on most politic manners I don’t demand that people agree with me. I just thought that the writer’s opinion on the movie had more of a Catholic review and I thought CatherineofA might be interested. Did you read the writer’s review? I only got a third of the way through, due to kids, but it sounded fair. It seemed to be pointing out what was good and bad in the movie.
[/quote]

Hi again Deb,

I admit right now i’m attempting to multi-task (and men generally can’t do this)- I didn’t really see a review of the movie in that link when I skimmed through it- it appeared to be simply one of those “Luther hated the Jews” pages, of which I probably have 2 dozen saved in my “anti-Luther” folder.

If there was a review of the movie on that page somewhere, my apologies for not seeing it- I will go back later and look again.

Regards,
James Swan


#20

[quote=deb1]I doubt very seriously that the film went into Martin Luther’s strong antisemiticism. Now, the time period that he lived in was very anitsemetic anyway, but he was unusually strong in his venom toward the Jewish people. Do a web search on the book On Jews and Their Lies by Martin Luther. There are quotes from the book all over the web.

Here is a review about the movie from a Catholic view pointwww.awitness.org/books/luther It is interesting.
[/quote]

I don’t have time to read all the responses due to off computer needs! :slight_smile: I will read them later. However, I think that it is important to remember that anti-semitism was a very strong sentiment amongst Catholics at that time as well. You only have to look at Ferdinand and Isabella and the Inquisition in Spain for one.


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