To Europeans, the 16th century was a time of paganism and demons, woven together with the rope of Catholic theology. The Catholic Church demanded utter obedience from the people, and without access to Scripture, many lived in fear, hostage to a proliferation of superstitions. Even Christ Himself was believed to be a “relentless avenger,” in dread of a furious God.
In 1505, a young German law student, Martin Luther (Niall MacGinnis), gave up his studies in law to become a friar in the Augustan Order, which required him to be bound by poverty, chastity and obedience. But monastic practice of such long suffering didn’t give peace to Luther’s soul. He couldn’t connect with a loving Father image — only that of an angry judge. The indulgence-based system had failed him. (Webster’s Dictionary defines an indulgence as “a remission of part or all of the temporal and especially purgatorial punishment … that is due for sins …)
Luther was driven with a passion for God’s Truth, and wasn’t able to reconcile the saving Truth with using relics ostensibly owned by Peter and Paul or the morsel of bread used at the last supper, etc. He scorned the premise of forgiveness granted via costly indulgences purchased from the Church. Convinced the Bible was God’s only veracious word to us, revealing His true relationship to us, Luther continued to study.
In two years he had earned the title of Priest, which gave him the “ability” to perform transubstantiation, the conversion of one substance into another. For example, wine actually being transformed into the blood of Christ. More and more he immersed himself into the Bible, which teaches salvation by faith alone, not by any outward ritual. He was certain the Word proclaimed the doctrine of salvation through faith alone. Preaching and writing this freeing doctrine generated many followers for faith. Sales of indulgences were very profitable to both the Emperor and the Pope, and the more Luther preached, the less the sale of indulgences.
In an effort to “re-program” Luther, the monastery sent him walking to Rome where he visited various Catholic-protected sites. These hailed sites, when kissed would act as a sin eraser. Although he went through the obligatory motions of kissing these sites, he was convinced further of their inadequacy to save souls. One important holy site was worth 17,000 years of indulgence (buying time away from Hell) in the subject’s savings account.
Year 1511 moved him to Wittenberg, where he earned his doctorate in Theology and where he became increasingly doubtful of the doctrine of transubstantiation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther first posted his famous 95 theses composed in Latin, aimed at scholars for debate. Today we might say these theses went viral. So popular was the truth of the theses, that the printers had them translated into the common German language. The Roman Catholic Church was at first tolerant, but soon saw the writing on the wall.
At one point, Luther evaded both Emperor and Pope and was forced into 10 months of exile, using the time to translate the New Testament into German, the people’s language.
This 1953 film, filmed in Wiesbaden, Germany, gives us the sense of dire importance to get Christian doctrine right. The piece I viewed was a copy of the film in black and white, with a some B movie blur. The film is appropriately dark but not harsh, emphasizing the sternness of the subject matter. Still there are odd-scenes-out. Seeing Luther kiss a cross at a crowded religious site, a question comes to mind: How many site-kissers brought their Lysol?
A few times we see technical problems, like the background artwork moving, but details of the story overcome these B-movie blunders. Accomplished performers seamlessly usher us into the dark, cavernous cathedrals, and dank, austere living quarters. With the light of The Reformation on their heels, the superstitious Medieval Ages were quickly fading and we enjoy seeing Martin Luther as a victor. (That wasn’t a spoiler alert — we know his story.)
Martin Luther boasts a docudrama which poses no harm to small children. I don’t think they would stay too long watching anyway. It is a good piece for anyone interested in Martin Luther’s story and the doctrine of saving faith. Posting a fact notice, the producers write: “This dramatization is the result of careful research of facts and conditions in the 16th century as reported by historians of many faiths.) Dove awards Martin Luther the All Ages Seal of Approval.
The Dove Take
This 1953 movie is a detailed account of Martin Luther’s young adult life and the building of his discovery that only faith in Christ is sufficient for salvation and Scripture sufficient for understanding true Christian doctrine, (Sola Scriptura).