Monday, 7 April 2008

Luther the Movie

I really enjoyed this film of Luther having read many of his writings and several biographies of him in the last 30+ years. He is a real hero type character who delivers ordinary people as well as men of influence from the bondage of the authoritarian manipulative church of the time. He had his share of sufferings, he had a real problem with constipation among other troubles. But he also had his joys: he loved music, preaching and of course his wife Katie and family.
I hope this will inspire people to read some of the great biographies of him, in particular 'Here I stand ' the classic book by Roland are selling the DVD for about £6/$10. Thanks to Thomas Scarborough a minister of a Congregational Church in Sea Point, Cape Town who has written the review.

The influences on the life of Luther are particularly interesting, and I shall highlight just a few of the more important relationships, and draw some conclusions at the end. All quotations are from the film.

The most important early influence on Martin Luther was undoubtedly his father Hans. Hans was an ambitious, self-assertive peasant, who rose to the status of entrepreneur. It was his ambition to have Martin educated in law -- a career which was on the ascendancy at that time. He actively encouraged Martin's early intellectual development towards this end. As it happened, however, this was ultimately used by God to enable Martin to engage with crucial issues in the Church. On learning of his decision to enter a monastery, Martin's father was bitterly disappointed, and opposed his call: "We scraped to save you for the law, to elevate you to a noble profession . . . Is that how you interpret the commandment, to honour your father and mother?"

The most important spiritual influence on Martin Luther was his supervisor John von Staupitz. Rather than being prescriptive, Von Staupitz listened well, and gave Martin crucial pointers at critical times: "Have you ever read the New Testament, Martin? . . . I am sending you to the source, the Scriptures, Christ Himself." He further encouraged Martin to review his attitude towards God: "God isn't angry with you, you are angry with God . . . Bind yourself to Christ, and you will know God's love." He sponsored Martin's career path, which included a life-changing diplomatic mission to Rome, and doctoral studies -- sometimes pressing against Martin's own sense of unworthiness. Eventually, of necessity, Von Staupitz famously released Martin from his authority: "In the name of Christ I release you . . . I am no longer your father!" Yet the love between them remained, and ultimately Von Staupitz referred to himself as Martin Luther's "servant".

A crucial influence in Martin Luther's life was, needless to say, the Elector Frederick. Although the two only had a personal meeting at a relatively late stage in the Reformation, Frederick observed events quietly from the sidelines, and afforded Martin crucial protection, without making himself too obvious. His abduction of Martin Luther was a famous turning point of the Reformation.

An important influence, not to be underestimated, is the anonymous printers who recognised the importance of his 95 theses in particular, and saw to their publication. And finally, the German nobility "bought into" the Reformation, and carried it through to its completion. Without the weight of their support, the Reformation would likely have faltered

Broadly speaking, I had the sense that those who exercised an influence on Martin Luther's life had a profound and powerful impact on him in many ways. A central message of the film would seem to be: The potential power of such influence should not be underestimated.

The film further showed that it matters that "incidental" people should take a stand -- provided that this is supported by spiritual vision, and by a recognition of genuinely important ideas. I was surprised how many people did take a stand at that time, which for some was in the face of significant peril.

As the Reformation unfolded, Martin Luther began to see the consequences of his thought. Although these caught him by surprise at first, he saw their significance far sooner than most. It took John von Staupitz longer to understand the significance of what was happening. He said to Martin, "I hoped you'd help reform the Church, not destroy . . . You are tearing the world apart." Martin replied, "That day that you sent me out so boldly to change the world, did you really think there wouldn't be a cost?" Martin Luther understood the reality. In fact the film conveyed that it matters whether one is able to see the future or not -- to see the wider implications, the long-range importance, of thought and action.

All in all, Martin Luther was portrayed as a man who was mostly moderate in his demeanour -- a compassionate and well balanced man -- and it was not originally his intention to sever from the Roman Catholic Church. Such moderation surely is difficult when one comes under great pressure, and many would-be Reformers of the past made the mistake of recklessness. Martin was not a visionary -- at least not at first. However, he did some visionary things as he began to understand the consequences of his thought and action.

Somewhat surprisingly, those who opposed him were depicted as reasonable and civil people, who were well educated and competent, albeit spiritually mistaken to the extent of doing serious harm. One notable exception was John Tetzel, who is univerally reviled today for his "road-show" which encouraged the purchase of indulgences.

There was an extraordinary convergence in this film -- encompassing Martin Luther's call, his various promotions, the protection of Elector Frederick, the laws of the Holy Roman Empire, the vacillation of Pope Leo X, to name but a few examples. In this sense, the film imparted a sense of God's providence throughout, which might serve as a type, or "picture", for one's own ministry and Church.


I considered this to be a very good film, and would warmly recommend it, both for personal viewing and for showing in Church groups. It takes one back to the roots of modern Protestantism, and does so in an accurate, informative, and lively way.


Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Yeah, this is one of my favorite inspirational movies, and I watch it three or four times a year. The acting and the casting are excellent. There's just a touch of unreality here and there, historically speaking. For example, I wish the scene of Luther saying his first mass had been more realistic, instead of the mumbo jumbo pseudo-Latin and the nervous spilling of communion wine. My other criticism of the film is that it was too short, giving barely enough time to events and persons that should have been treated at greater length and depth.

Yet, the scenes that were most pivotal in the film's message of Christian liberty were done with sufficient vigor, clarity and realism. Too bad the millions of dollars wasted on love gifts to Christian broadcasting empires like TBN couldn't be diverted to the folks who made the Luther movie, allowing them to turn it into a mini-series. This is how I picture Martin Luther, one of my heros. And I thank God that the film was made. I heartily recommend it.

Unknown said...

Nice Blog Brother...
Full of Live Information.
Nice knowing you thru Georgeverwer's site.

Andrew Kenny said...

Thanks for your comments Romanos. Have you read Baiton's 'Here I stand'?
I first read it in the school library when I was 16. A few years before was like heaven on earth for me but by the time I started reading this book I felt my whole relationship with God had broken down. The harder I tried to seek God the further he seemed to hide himself. So when Luther spoke of his sense of God's anger towards him I could empathize with it. Actually while reading it I remember thinking: It worked out OK for Luther but it won't for me (such was my depression).

Finally I was able see again that my salvation was not based on my own goodness but on Christ's- His free grace. What a joy it was when I came through from the valley of despond.I've since watched the movie again a few times.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Yes, Andrew, the book Here I Stand by Roland Baiton is not only in the list of my favorite books in my blog profile, but it is always at hand, being read and studied over and over again by yours truly, being either on my desk on a small shelf near my PC keyboard, or on my nightstand (where it is today and has been for a week). I never tire of it, nor do I ever cease learning from it. I am without doubt a rare bird—a Greek Orthodox lover of Martin Luther. But, despite historical accidents and prejudices, and the grave but often silly misunderstandings between brothers in Christ, I consider Luther one of the very greatest church fathers. Luther was not infallible nor perfect. His very weaknesses revealed God's strength and faithfulness. Neither were the Greek church fathers infallible or perfect. Both Luther and John Chrysostom wrote and endorsed ideas that were anti-Semitic. I stand against those ideas in them just as I stand against them in Black American racists who blame and hate the Jews. But our lives together in Christ are not to be diminished by these things, because if we are looking to anyone on earth for a source of ultiumate and infallible authority or perfection in anything whatsoever, we are looking in vain.

I admit, brother, that I love Martin Luther more than almost any other saint of God for what he allowed God to accomplish through him—the restoration of the freedom of the Christian from Papal tyranny—and this biography that you also love I heartily recommend, even more than the film.

Anonymous said...

Great film.

Andrew Kenny said...

Thanks Sam-keep up the good work in India.