The Radicals (1990)




Director:     Raul V. Carrera.

Starring:      Norbert Weisser (Michael Sattler), Mark Lenard (Eberhard Hoffman), Leigh Lombardi (Margaretha Sattler), Christopher Neame (Ulrich Zwingli), Daniel Perrett (Wilhelm Reublin), Jerry Nelson (George Blaurock), Liza Vann (Countess Von Zollern), Aaron Chadwick (Felix Mantz), Sherwin Frey (Conrad Grebel), Lynn Mathis (Count Von Zolbern), Richard Levitt (Abbot Jodocus Kaiser), Norman Koeth (Dethelm Roist), Edwin Ford (Jacob Grebel), Anthony Feehan (Wine merchant), Jacky Jaloux (Banker).

the story of the radical Anabaptists


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"A true story based on the lives of Michael and Margaretha Sattler."

The year is 1525.  The Roman Catholic Church has united Europe for 1,000 years.  Now, Rome's authority is under attack on three fronts.  The Turkish invaders from the East threaten to overrun Europe.  Reformation has split Europe into two worlds:  Catholic and Protestant.  And, peasants are beginning to rebel against heavy taxes."

A bloodied man runs down the path through the forest.  He is being chased by a crazed mob.  The man comes to a church and seeks safety there.  The priest tries to protect the man from the mob, but someone takes a crucifix and throws it into the chest of the priest, who goes down. 

A man in the forest shadows has seen this drama unfold.  He says to himself that before Martin Luther and Protestantism the people saw the Catholic Church as their savior, but now they see it as their oppressor.  The poor, starving peasants have been gathering into mobs and going into open rebellion.  The man's name is Wilhelm Reublin.  He himself has left the priesthood.  He sees in this open rebellion a chance to really break with the old church and start a church that follow the original principles of the Scripture. 

He says he began following his calling while Michael Sattler still collected taxes as prior of St. Peter's Monastery.  Michael comes under a lot of pressure from Lord Hoffmann who believes that not enough taxes are being brought in.  Michael has worked his hardest trying to squeeze more taxes out of the poor, but there is nothing left to squeeze. 

Lord Hoffmannr comes to speak with Michael about the taxes.  He says the Turks have taken everything east of Vienna.  He adds that what they need to stop the infidels is gold.  And gold comes from taxes.  Michael sighs and says:  "It always comes down to that, doesn't it."

Some of the people have become Anabaptists and Lord Hoffman doesn't like it one bit.  He sees them as radicals.  And to him their ways are disturbing, such as refusing to baptize their children.  And when children don't get baptized their names go missing from the tax collector's book.

Wilhelm says:  "It was the day of the Anti-Christ."  But just who was the Anti-Christ?  Some said the Turks, other said the Reformers:  Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli.  And some even said it was the Anabaptists.

A minister named Zurich had broken from the Catholic Church, but still kept many Catholic rituals like Baptism.  During a baptism three men burst into hiis church saying that the ceremony is not a baptism at all.  The men are Anabaptists chastising Zurich for following the orders of the Pope.  They say, for instance, that Christ never baptized a child.  Guards come and take the men men out of the church.

Wilhelm observes:  "The Swiss Canton of Zurich, presided over by the pastor and politician, Ulrich Zwingli, was a close ally, we believed would help complete the restoration of the Church."  Ulrich is mad that the three men interrupted a church service.  He says this type of behavior will just bring about more resistance to social change.  He promises to gather the different speakers for and against the idea of baptism and have them dispute the issue.  The decision of the city councilmen, will decide which doctrine is the legal one. 

Austrian Empire.  Catholic Territory.  Michael goes on his rounds collecting taxes.  If the people say they don't have any money, then goods will be taken from them in lieu of a monetary payment.  Livestock is a favorite thing to take from the poor. 

A woman comes over to Margaretha and asks Margaretha to come with her.  A newly born child has died.  The mother won't hand over the child to anyone.  Margaretha says she will feed the baby from her breast.  The mother now willingly hands over the baby to Margaretha. 

Michael comes over to speak to Sister Margaretha.  He asks her if they can talk and she says no because she is too busy trying to feed starving people.  She says the law should flog the tax collector.  Michael takes her to the side and she tells him that she wants him to get a chicken for her to feed the starving people.  He says he would have to steal the chicken.  Margaretha says she won't complain about it. 

Michael speaks to the priest and tells him:  "The Beguines, your Grace.  They exhaust their resources to feed the hungry that come."  The priest says:  "We give them all we can."  Michael says the Sisters fear that if something is not done there may be open rebellion by the poor.  The priest is more concerned about the radicals  -- the Anabaptists.  He complains about the radicals printing up notices that say that each man can become a theologian.  ""They promote heresy."  He adds:  "Without interpretation, it incites rebellion."

Zurich, Switzerland.  Protestant Territory.  Wilhelm speaks before the city council.  He has a lot of complaints about the Protestant churches being set up too much like the Catholic churches.  In the city council meeting, the councilmen argue about baptism.  One councilman says that baptism is just the tip of the sword of radicalism.  There are many issues that the Anabaptists disagree with.  Furthermore, the radicals even threaten the ability to govern Zurich.  Ulrich speaks up:  "Zurich must remain united as one people  -- a fortress whose foundation is the baptism of all its citizens at birth.  Only then can we stand united against our enemies."  Jacob warns Ulrich that the Anabaptists will not accept that ruling.

The ruling is read a loud to the disputing groups.  "Any parent with unbaptized children after seven days of this ruling will lose the rights of citizenship and will be banished from the Canton of Zurich."  Furthermore, the radicals are not allowed to speak out for their positions anymore.  And the non-citizens like Wilhelm will have to leave all territories within the Council's jurisdiction. 

The radicals speak about what they want to do about the new ruling.  Different people take up wildly different positions.  A fellow named George asks that the new church baptize him.  So they baptize George.  Wilhelm as narrator says:  "And so, we came to be known as the Anabaptists  -- those who rebaptized."  This was regarded by many European counties as being the ultimate act of treason!

At night Michael washes and dries his face.  News comes for Michael from Sister Margaretha.  There's a crisis because the soldiers are taking away the printing press in town.  The soldiers in fact are burning the press while someone is strapped to the press.  Michael arrives too late to save either the press or the pressman. He goes over to Lord Hoffmann asking what was this man's crime that he should be burned basically at the stake of the printing press.  Hoffman shows Michael the flyer printed by the pressman.  The flyer contains the quote from the Bible:  "They shall know the truth and the truth will set them free."  Michael says this is just a declaration of faith.  Hoffman snarls:  "Of treason!"

Michael comes to see Margaretha.  He tells her that he is leaving the monastery, the church.  She warns him that this will make him a marked man who won't be able to stay in Austrian Territory.  He tells her that he will offer his hand in marriage to her.  They embrace and kiss.  Michael and Margaretha marry. 

As narrator, Wilhelm says:  "It was at a rural church on the outskirts of Zurich that I first met Michael and his new wife, Margaretha."  After the church service, Wilhelm speaks to the couple and explains what he and others hope to accomplish.  And their task is to complete the Reformation and Restore the Church to the purity of its early days.  Wilhelm mentions that when the peasants overthrow the Lords, the pure church will be born.  Margaretha does not like the sound of that and she walks out of the room.  Later Wilhelm speaks with Margaretha and she says that his schemes are dangerous ones. 

At night a soldier comes and tells Michael that he has to go with him back to Zurich.  In Zurich Michael is put in a big cell.  Ulrich comes to speak with him.  Ulrich asks him a lot of questions, but Michael is saved because he has joined no Anabaptist church.  Therefore, he can give answers that are closer to the views of Ulrich.  Now Ulrich gives him a document to sign that says that Michael has not been re-baptized and does not take loyalty with those who are.  Michael signs the statement. 

Michael gets out of jail the very next morning.  He reunites with his wife.  Michael tells Margaretha that:  "Zwingli was beginning to show the same enthusiasm as Rome for enforcing the rules of the Church with the power of the state."

Catholic Territory.  Wilhelm sees a band of his own Protestants attack a band of Catholics and then run away.  He returns to the house of Michael and Magaretha.  Wilhelm says that maybe he put too much faith in the peasants as the Protestant ones killed the Catholic ones.  Thinking more about what Wilhelm has said, Michael and Margaretha are re-baptized. 

Lord Hoffman is getting ready to go to Vienna to fight the Turks. 

The narrator says:  "We became a hidden church, forced to meet secretly in caves, barns and forest glens."

Michael starts to preach to the Anabaptists.  Wilhelm takes exception to some of what Michael preached.  He doesn't like the part about the Church not accepting any protection from the Duke.  Wilhelm tells Michael that he fills these people's heads with pipe dreams.  He also tells Michael that they need to go to Strasbourg.  They will build their church there.  Martin Bucer and Wolfgang Capito are there and they are strong, educated and wealthy.  Wilhelm says:  "We need the protection Strasbourg can offer."  He repeats the oft-told sentence to Michael:  "You are needed."  Michael is fast becoming an important leader in the Church. 

Strasbourg.  The city had become known as the city of hope.  The Turks continued their advance across Europe.  With fear of the Turks spreading, it became a bad time for the Anabaptists.  They became outlaws in both Catholic and Protestant territories.  And there are many Anabaptists in prison.

A spy reports to Lord Hoffmann that the Anabaptists will hold a meeting on St. Matthias's Day.  

Anabaptist leaders from Switzerland, Germany and Austria will meet at the Swiss border town of Schleitheim.  The spy joins with the group. 

The meeting is a showdown of two different views of the Church in society.  Michael speaks for a Church that is very unconnected to the larger society.  He feels this way they can be free enough to worship the way that they want to.  Wilhelm argues that the Church must be a part of the larger society.  He wants Anabaptists to take important jobs and even to become officers in the military.  Michael is more of a pacifist.  Wilhelm says if they are a part of the larger society, they will be less persecuted by that very society.  

Michael seems to be the one who captured the imagination of the Anabaptist leaders.  They will follow a strict separation of God's world and man's world. 

Lord Hoffmann, having heard from his spy, brings soldiers to attack the Anabaptist leaders.  The Anabaptists are enjoying their dinner when the soldiers approach.  Wilhelm shouts out:  "We've been found!"  The Anabaptists are arrested and thrown into the dungeon where they are tortured.  Wilhelm escaped arrest by hiding himself. 

Catholic Territory.  The trial of Michael begins.  The judges warn Lord Hoffmann that as the acting prosecutor, he should not make this a religious debate.  The region they are in has a lot of supporters of the Anabaptists.  They will take a break and after the break, the charges brought by the prosecutor shall be civil ones and not religious ones.  They must appease the people and to do this the prosecutor must bring charges that the people understand. 

Margaretha is able to pay her husband a visit in his jail cell.  Michael is very happy to see her.  They talk about the fact that there is going to be a lot of recantations among the Anabaptists for fear of the punishments. 

Back in court, the prosecutor is able to turn the crowd against Michael.  They especially didn't like that Michael said that he would rather fight for the Turks than the Christians.  Michael actually said he would prefer to fight against those Christians that are hypocrites and use God's name to fight unnecessary wars.

The Countess of Hechingen, wife of the principal judge, Count Von Zollern, comes to the cell to speak to Margaretha.  The Countess says that if Margaretha will recant, she will be able to save her life.  She can also offer her protection and work in her home.  Margaretha will not recant. 

Michael is brutally executed.  His tongue is cut off and seven pieces of flesh are ripped from his head.  And then he is burned alive.  Margaretha is drowned in the Neckar River. 

"Wilhelm Reublin recanted his Anabaptist beliefs in 1535.  He grew old and wealthy in the employ of the same authorities who executed Michael and Margaretha Sattler.  The persecution of Anabaptists continued in Europe for 200 years.  The Anabaptist movement survived.  Today, its members include:  Mennonites, Amish, Hutterites, Baptists, Brethren, Brethren in Christ and other groups of the Free Church tradition."


Interesting story about the origin of, beliefs of and persecution of the Anabaptists.  The Anabaptists were regarded as much too radical because they followed a theology closer to Christ than that of the Catholic and Protestant churches.  Another reason why the Anabaptists were feared was that there were a lot of peasant revolts and many of these people were Anabaptists.  The film follows the love story of Prior Michael and Sister Margaretha.  As soon as they became outstanding leaders in the Anabaptist movement, they were hunted down and put in prison.  And then worse things happened to them.  It's amazing how far the modern world has come to include people of different faiths into the larger society. But in the 16th century in Europe such was not the case.  And yet, today we do not harass the faiths like those of the Amish and the Mennonites.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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