Luther (2003)




Director:     Eric Till.

Starring:    Joseph Fiennes (Martin Luther), Alfred Molina (John Tetzel), Jonathan Firth (Girolamo Aleander), Claire Cox (Katharina von Bora), Peter Ustinov (Frederick the Wise), Bruno Ganz (Johann von Staupitz), Uwe Ochsenknecht (Pope Leo X), Mathieu Carrière (Cardinal Cajetan), Benjamin Sadler (Spalatin), Jochen Horst (Professor Carlstadt), Torben Liebrecht (Charles V), Maria Simon (Hanna), Lars Rudolph (Melanchthon), Marco Hofschneider (Ulrick), Christopher Buchholz (von der Eck).

Made for TV movie.

Luther of the Protestant Reformation. 



The first part of the movie is a little hard to take because it deals with a lot of the details of the religious debate of the day  -- details about which we don't care as much as our predecessors.   It was, however, interesting to see some of the excesses of the Catholic Church, especially the sale of indulgences. (Pay your money to the church collector, walk up the steps of the church on your knees, and save a wayward uncle now deceased.)

Lutheranism and the Reformation were extremely important events in European history.  It unleashed more than a century of religious conflict that tore nations apart. Many of the movies listed on this website that follow Luther deal with this religious conflict.  For instance, the film Elizabeth shows how England was so divided that they young Elizabeth has to fear for her life for she might well have been an early victim of the religious conflict in her nation.  The film Queen Margot deals with the effects of the religious conflict in France, home of the St. Bartholomew's massacre of French Protestants (known as Huguenots). 

Now please don't blame religion for causing all this religious conflict, because this conflict was primarily the result of the desire of some kings and princes to gain independence from the very powerful Catholic Church.  They used Protestantism to justify and disguise their real desires for independence from Rome.  

The movie picks up pace in the second half with the direct conflicts over the various religious factions fighting for their own self-interests. 


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

1440-1493 – the Habsburg emperor was Frederick III.  

1483 – birth of Martin Luther in Eisleben, Saxony. Eisleben was a prosperous industrial center.  Martin's father, Hans, owned copper mines and encouraged his son to be a lawyer (as this would have been extremely useful for his business).

1493-1519 – Maximilian I (son of Frederick III) became the next Habsburg Emperor.  Within the empire, relations between the empire, princes and ecclesiastical states were often tense.

1501 – Luther enrolled in the University of Enfurt.

1502 – Luther received his Bachelor’s degree.

1505 – he received his Master’s Degree. (Per his father’s wishes, he entered law school)

1505 (summer) – during a thunderstorm a lightning bolt struck near him as he was returning to school. Terrified, he cried out for help from above promising that if his life was spared, he would become a monk.  As he survived, he kept his promise by leaving law school and entering the monastery. Luther proved to be overwhelmed by his own excessive ruminations and self-doubts.  Johann von Staupitz, Luther's superior, ordered the monk to pursue an academic career.

1507 --  Luther was ordained to the priesthood.

1508 – he was sent to Wittenburg and studied moral philosophy.  He soon was teaching theology at the University.

1508 (March 9)  --  Luther received his Bachelor's degree in Biblical Studies.

1509 –Luther received a Bachelor's degree in the Sentences by Peter Lombard (the main theology textbook of the Middle Ages).

1511  -- Luther visits Rome.

1512 (October 19)  he received the degree Doctor of Theology.

1512 (October 21)  --  he was "received into the senate of the theological faculty" and called to the position of Doctor in Biblia.

Luther was very bothered by some of the practices of the Catholic Church.  This was especially true of the sale of indulgences. This eventually led to his own one-man rebellion.

1517 – Martin Luther, a professor of theology at Wittenberg University in Saxony, posted ninety-five theses on a church door. The theses were originally written in Latin, but the theses were so popular that they were soon translated into German for a wider distribution.  Needless to say, this brought Luther into direct conflict with the Catholic Church. 

1519-1556 –  Charles V became the next emperor only after he paid large bribes to the seven electors and agreed to many restrictions on his powers.  (Later he often ignored these restrictions.)

1520 – Luther wrote his three most famous tracts, in which he attacked the papacy and exposed church corruption.  He acknowledged the validity of only two of the seven sacraments and argued for the supremacy of faith over good works.

1521 – Luther was summoned to appear before Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms. He refused to recant and was banned under the Edict of Worms.

Frederick the Wise, elector of Saxony, protected Luther.  He arranged for Luther to be seized on his way from the Diet by a company of masked horsemen, who carried him to Wartburg Castle at Eisenach, where he stayed for about a year. Here he worked upon his translation of the New Testament.

With the success of Lutheranism, it was not long before conflict broke out in Europe framed in religious language.   

1522-23 – in the Knights' War the lower nobility's rebellion in southwestern Germany was quickly crushed. (Some of the knights were ardent supporters of Luther.)

1524-1525 – the Peasants' War broke out in southwestern and central Germany.  As many as 300,000 peasants were involved.  The revolt was soon put down with some 100,000 casualties.

1525 (June 13) – Luther's marriage to Katharina von Bora began a movement for clerical marriage.

1530s – the Anabaptists, a radical Christian sect, seized several towns.  They were likewise brutally suppressed.

Luther himself did not support these many rebellions.  This would make Protestantism even more popular with the ruling princes as they could have their rebellion against the Catholic Church but not the need to enact reforms to improve the plight of the poor. 

1546 – he preached his last four sermons in St. Andrew’s Church in his birthplace Eisleben.  He died here on February 18. 


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