Luther

7 09 2008

AG and I watched the 2003 American film, Luther, on Saturday. This portrayal of the renegade monk who founded the Protestant movement was surprisingly fair, which was interesting because of its funding by Lutheran interests. Not only does it show the “big bad Papists” who hocked indulgences to feed the vices of the Roman clergy, but it also shows Luther as a mentally ill, moody, and overly scrupulous man who could not separate his own neuroses from the theology he preached. It also shows the violent aftermath of the religious wars that Luther’s moverment started, and it was quite accurate in revealing the laws of motion and turmoil involved in any revolutionary movement. Catholics will come away feeling that their reservations towards the Reformation are not unjustified, and Protestants will not come away feeling completely vindicated. Only a little blurb about religious freedom at the very end of the movie betrays its true interests, but it is nothing that can change the viewer’s sense of Luther as an unbalanced anti-hero.

But the best part is the Roman Catholic eye candy. Of course, it shows the young Luther heading off to Rome to see all of the misbehaving clergy hustling people out of their money using relics and other Catholic tricks. To tell the truth, for me, this was the coolest part of the movie. Vendors sold little statues of saints who were good for certain ailments. People lined up to venerate relics, the uncaring clergy eager to collect the mandatory coin beforehand. And of course, the pivotal moment in his Roman trip was the climbing of some holy steps on his knees in order to free a dead relative from purgatory, having said a “Pater Noster” on each step. I don’t know if the director is trying to portray all of the other people doing this as superstitious and worthy of disdain, but it certainly doesn’t come across to me that way. For me, people climbing steps on their knees is something that was common growing up, and I always thought it a sublime act of faith. I guess the Teutonic and Anglo types in the audience are not supposed to see it that way.

Another cool scene was one of Pope Julius II riding through the streets of Rome in a golden suit of armor. There was a lot of quality “ecclesiastical porn” in this movie: shots of reliquaries, Passion plays, bishops with a lot of bling, and all kinds of other Catholic goodies. I also came away with a much more sympathetic view of Johann Tetzel himself; the Lutheran “devil incarnate”. Hey, anyone who has as much faith in the Church as thinking that your dead relatives can be freed from their bonds of suffering for a few coins is someone to be respected. I think we concede too much to the Protestants thinking that the Church at the point of the Reformation “needed reforming”. The Church is always in crisis, and in a way, it is always worse and better than we think. On the one hand, we can never know just how ugly sin really is: the problem is not of God’s mercy, but of the depth of human evil. We cannot really fathom how evil evil really is. On the other hand. and for this reason, “crisis” is probably the fifth mark of the Church, according to Father Maximos. It is nothing to panic over, and it is certainly no reason to throw everything out the window but the kitchen sink.

The closing thought, however, is about Martin Luther himself. In Luther, we have the first major Christian thinker who is not a saint, and who doesn’t really admit to being a sinner. He is the enshrinement of lukewarmness, of something worthy of being spit out of the mouth. Sanctity in most of our daily encounters is certainly a myth, but it is a necessary one; it is one that we have to believe in. Luther looked at the Gospel and saw something insurmountable, an ideal that he couldn’t live up to. I look at the Gospel in the exact same way. The difference is that I wish to believe that there ARE people who CAN live up to it. True, I have seen people aspire, try, and fail, and fail badly at the way of perfection. Bad monks, bad priests, bad nuns, people who were close to me who I have seen do horrible things. But in the course of it all, I have seen saints. Yes, I have. I know it’s possible because God’s grace is not a system, it is not a justification of who we are and how we act. It is, rather, an apparition, a haunting that appears randomly where we least expect it. It is not democratic, and it’s as erratic as the autumn breeze. Our cult of the saints, of their merits, their relics, and the sacraments mean that God doesn’t play by our rules, and He can show up, truly and with all His power, in the weakest of vessels and the most unexpected of places. The contrary belief, that of Luther and his followers, is merely a slippery slope towards a universe with an absent God. And we all know where that leads.


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31 responses

17 09 2008
Andrea Elizabeth

I can’t seem to get italic programming right in these posts – could you edit to only include “Luther”? Thanks.

17 09 2008
Andrea Elizabeth

Arturo,

I agree with you about argument being less convincing than demonstration.

I was Protestant when I saw Luther and I though it proved the Protestant argument against the Catholics. Now that I’m Orthodox, I think they are both wrong, but the Catholics less so than I used to believe. Is there anyone who approaches “Christianity” with a clean slate nowadays? Since it seems not, it makes evangelism, beyond having someone come to believe in “God in general” difficult, which is what it seems Protestant are most concerned with and why they have moved the discussion to creation debates. But the Athiests already have an informed religion of their own. I guess I’ll come back to your point about evangelism being through a lifestyle (inadequate word) instead of an argument – if I understand you correctly.

13 09 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Steven,

It is more important to show people that they are wrong than to prove to them that they are wrong. Very few people are talented or charitable enough to “prove” someone wrong. More often than not, our own ego and prejudices get in the way, even if we are right.

In that sense, I could never really do apologetics because I in particular could only antagonize people and be antagonized. Therefore, one must let the truth speak through you; that I suppose is the true nature of what is now known as “witnessing”. If the Holy Ghost is with you, He will speak through you in spite of who you are. I know since I’ve seen it. Those who I have most admired in life made no direct arguments as to the truth of the Catholic Church, nor were they particularly adept at proving its doctrines. They were Catholic, or better yet, they were Catholicism, and they were right, not in the sense of having truth, but rather, of BEING truth. That is beyond human comprehension a lot of the time.

I should know since this is how I was brought back to the Church. You must remember, I was once an atheist. But at a certain point, I was shown the Truth. It wasn’t proven to me; it was manifested to me. And I yielded.

13 09 2008
Steven W

Arturo,

I agree with your notion of convictions and avoiding a false ecumenicism. Indeed, I’m trying to say that I think you’re dead wrong on this, and thus, that I am right.

So we’re in agreement on something. 😉

11 09 2008
Michael Tinkler

oooh – I just added it to the Netflix queue. Sounds good!

11 09 2008
Solitary mestizo

The second article made me sad.

10 09 2008
Arturo Vasquez

“Many of us, though not Catholic, found this confusing. Hey, we said, we get along with the Catholics on campus. Our organizers said only one thing: Mexican Catholicism isn’t like Catholicism here, and I think we all knew what he meant, even if we couldn’t put it into words.”

Recently, I have read a couple of articles by American Catholic authors citing that immigration might be good for the Church but bad for America, on the one hand, and that Catholics from Latin America aren’t really good Catholics, on the other. This is due to the statistic that 46% of immigrants who come to this country are Catholic, most of whom are from Latin America. The first article uses the example of Mayan syncretism in the Yucatan to insinuate that Catholics in Mexico aren’t really Catholics because they go to the priest in one instance, and the shaman in the other. Of course, the author was guilty of an error of over-generalization: the Maya Yucatan and Chiapas are not like the rest of Mexico. The other article insinuates that even if Mexican Catholics come to this country, they will just become like everyone else, and thus they should stay where they are: poor and Catholic in a traditional society. I thought it ironic that he was so concerned with Mexican Catholic spiritual welfare, when the rest of the article treated these immigrants as an invading brown horde.

The bottom line is that many white conservative Catholics in this country want a Catholicism without actual Catholics. Some are converts, and some have gone through a purification of Catholic memory by living in the cultural vacuum of the suburbs. So when they think of Catholicism, their ideas are filled with clean suburban churches, parking lots full of SUV’s and BMW’s, choirs that sing Gregorian chant, technicolor pictures of the Pope, and so on and so forth. Even among the traditionalists (one of these writers I think identifies with traditionalism), their idea of Catholicism is framed by this American cultural rupture: the enshrining of Puritan cultural ideals in the creation of an a-historical reality. Christianity is Tradition because God is Tradition, and you can’t have a real tradition without actual people who can truly pass it on. Again, they are people who like Catholicism but are scared of actual Catholics from Catholic societies.

It is in the end a real Gnostic error (I know the use of such a term is tendentious) since God is made flesh, but an idealized flesh. The divine enters human reality, but an idealized human reality. In the end, it is a false religion, just as Protestantism is a false religion.

10 09 2008
M.J. Ernst-Sandoval

Evangelicals and Catholics are finally together, as they should be one some issues, but all it will take is one good family reunion where all the relatives show up to remind many protestants that there was and still is a good reason for the Reformation.

With outlooks like this we will never agree. As a Catholic, in good conscience I cannot believe that the Church was at any time taken over by the forces of Satan. If I did, I would be calling Jesus a liar. (St. Matthew 16: 18.) We have 2000 years of continuous tradition on our side from the Gospels to the Early Church Fathers to the Doctors of the Church. Our theology is rational, complex, well-defined and based on Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Perhaps this is why classical Protestantism is dying; it is lacking a memory. The oft-quoted George Santayana’s “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it” is perhaps all too fitting.

Maybe we Catholics should quit dialogue (not necessarily friendly relations), and focus on evangelization instead, with heretics since out words fall on deaf ears. There’s something to be said for the old adage “error has no rights.”

10 09 2008
triunepieces

Barth and von Balthasar might be all chummy-chummy, but when the rubber hits the road, our religions really don’t look the same, and that is a big deal.

Some years ago I traveled to Central Mexico to help in some odd jobs in a couple of free Baptist churches there. I went with a group of evangelical college students that was hosted by local church members, who must have done so at considerable cost, I imagine. It was just another mission vacation. (In the older generations they had the chutzpah to call it what it is: slumming.)

We were politely asked to refrain from wearing any Christian adornment, like crosses, out of respect for our hosts, many of which had done away with any reminder of the national religion. Crucifixes were to be avoided at all costs.

Many of us, though not Catholic, found this confusing. Hey, we said, we get along with the Catholics on campus. Our organizers said only one thing: Mexican Catholicism isn’t like Catholicism here, and I think we all knew what he meant, even if we couldn’t put it into words

We didn’t know any Catholics who lit fireworks on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, made pilgrimages for the souls of dead relatives, or took the evil eye seriously…

It almost seems safe now to have a movie like Luther because in our suburban Catholic parishes and evangelic mega-churches we’re centuries away from the Catholic spectacle that marks, for example, Advent preparations in a place like the old section of Quito, Ecuador. Evangelicals and Catholics are finally together, as they should be one some issues, but all it will take is one good family reunion where all the relatives show up to remind many protestants that there was and still is a good reason for the Reformation.

It might even convince some to leave their crosses at home next time.

9 09 2008
The Scylding

Amen to your last comment, Arturo. Fuzziness is not an asset, unless you want to be lulled to sleep…

9 09 2008
Arturo Vasquez

I think if I have learned something from this thread, it’s that we really don’t understand each other, and I don’t think it such a bad thing. Look, I would like to get along with everyone around me, I would like to “listen” more than I talk in general. But when it comes to some things, I am proudly deaf. And I think we have to be honest about it. No one is going to tell me that my “Mary-worshipping idolatry” isn’t what Christ willed for the Church, or that it isn’t a laudable act to pray to the finger of a holy man’s corpse, or that I can’t prostrate myself to a wafer that I think is substantially the Son of God. In short, we can try to sound the same: Barth and von Balthasar might be all chummy-chummy, but when the rubber hits the road, our religions really don’t look the same, and that is a big deal. We are not going to just gloss over that for the sake of “understanding each other”. I think that is the most dishonest exercise of all.

In the end, I go to sleep at night knowing that the Roman Catholic Church is the One True Church that Christ founded, and I sleep quite soundly too. I would expect any interlocutors of mine to be equally as blunt and honest. I can at least respect that.

9 09 2008
Steven W

Arturo,

Luther would say that the Romanists had turned the gospel into law, and it seems that you are agreeing that this is what has happened, but that it is actually good.

As for dung hills, I think you are probably familiar with the Pauline language that Luther was drawing from. I consider Paul to be a member of the early church and a saint.

8 09 2008
Boyer

Cardinal Cajetan was my favorite character in the movie.

Luther was a neurotic heretic who caused the division of Christendom and even more demonic heresies like Calvin.
Luther and moreso Calvin are pure Evil

8 09 2008
M.J. Ernst-Sandoval

He’s condescending, he’s callous (one of the most disturbing scenes for me was of the young peasant mother showing him the certificate insuring the salvation of her crippled child – he furrows his brow, pouts, and crumples up the paper while telling her to care for the physical well-being of her child at which point I thought, “wow, are the filmmakers also trying to convince us that Luther doesn’t really believe in God?”)

Wow. No, the film was funded by Lutherans, and it was well-received by most Lutherans. And this scene is a great example of Lutherans showing both Luther’s strong faith in God and his care for the people. The whole point of this scene (in the context of Luther’s protests) was to show that an indulgence doesn’t do anything — it is worth less than the piece of paper it is written on. God is merciful to those who believe, not to those who work, because it is by grace. I am baffled that you took this scene as possibly demonstrating that Luther does not really believe in God. The whole point was precisely the opposite.

The two above paragraphs show where Catholic and Protestant thought cannot always comprehend each other. I’m sure everyone is aware of all this, but he’s my simplification.

For the Catholic the emphasis is on the spiritual world i.e. attaining salvation (“All flesh is grass, and all the glory thereof as the flower of the held”. Isaias 40: 6.); for the Protestant there is no need to be concerned with one’s salvation if one has faith. Thus the Catholic is focused primarily on his spiritual state (“Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they?” St. Matthew 6: 26.) and “working out his salvation with fear and trembling”, and the Protestant feels freed from this so that he can focus primarily on his material state.

This is not to say that the Catholic neglects corporal works of mercy, however, they will, in some ways, be secondary to spiritual works of mercy. The Catholic seeks justification through good works as well as faith. (“What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him?” St. James 2: 14.) In addition he has respect for the dignity of man since he is made in God’s “image and likeness”. For the Protestant, sola fide seems to hold a central spot in his theology. Articles IV, VI, XX, and XXVI of the Augsburg Confession are devoted to this. As well, Articles XII, XIII, XIV of the (Anglican) Thirty-Nine Articles deal with this. Article XIV has this to say: “Voluntary Works besides, over and above, God’s Commandments, which they call Works of Supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety: for by them men do declare, that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for his sake, than of bounden duty is required: whereas Christ saith plainly When ye have done all that are commanded to you, say, We are unprofitable servants.” Perhaps it is this last statement on works of supererogation where Catholic and Protestants differ most.

We often forget that these differences contribute to vastly divergent world-views.

8 09 2008
M.J. Ernst-Sandoval

For me, people climbing steps on their knees is something that was common growing up, and I always thought it a sublime act of faith. I guess the Teutonic and Anglo types in the audience are not supposed to see it that way.

These types of practices are still found in Bavaria and Austria, so I’d clip the Teutonic bit from that statement.

8 09 2008
The Scylding

At least we know were you stand ….. 😉

8 09 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Steven,

No one is saying that crazy people can’t be saints. Read the lives of the fools for Christ in Russia, there are things in there that would absolutely shock you. I was left scratching my head, and I’ve pretty much seen everything. Also, St. Benedict Joseph Labre was certified, grade-A crazy, but he was still a saint. What Luther had was what the Russians would call prelest. He was spiritually deceived by his demons, supernatural or otherwise. The saint is often eccentric but he was obedient and humble. Luther was a disobedient heretic, neither obedient nor humble, and far from a saint. And they certainly don’t create systems in which the soul is compared to a dunghill covered in a light layer of snow.

And Luther’s problems don’t seem to be just with the Law vs. Gospel. We are speaking of the state after baptism, as there were not a whole lot of people running around unbaptized in Luther’s day anyway.

And lukewarmness and moderation are not equivalent terms. Luther was a zealot of the Christian mediocre.

8 09 2008
Steven W

After re-reading this, I’m still rather amazed.

First,

Since when did being totaly crazy hinder someone from being a catholic saint? (I’m being serious here)

Second,

Arturo wrote, “Luther looked at the Gospel and saw something insurmountable, an ideal that he couldn’t live up to. I look at the Gospel in the exact same way. The difference is that I wish to believe that there ARE people who CAN live up to it.”

This is puzzling, and I can only suspect that it is not intended to be theologically precise or “technically” correct.

Luther looked at the *Law* and saw something insurmountable. The *Gospel* was the message of forgiveness, mercy, and acceptance in Christ.

So, if Arturo is then saying that he knows people who CAN live up to the law, then he seems to be denying original sin and its ongoing effects. I don’t think he’d want to say that, but I can’t make any more sense out of what’s been said so far. The Roman position, of course, would agree that no one can “live up to it,” which is why baptism washes away sins and purgatory burns off the remaining ones after death.

Third,

Luther was anything but “lukewarm.” He was a zealot. He called the Pope the antichrist and burned his papal bull. That’s hardly moderation.

8 09 2008
The Scylding

It has been some years since I’ve seen the movie, but from what I can remember, I liked it. I would agree with Jesse (JS Bangs) – those were some of the best things. It has been fairly well documented that Luther had a life-long struggle against depression. That does not “unmake” him as a saint. I think we (and I mean all Trinitarian Christians) often view sainthood as pelagian perfection, and miss that sainthood does not necessarily equate to perfection. And in some cases, very much not.

And the most “balanced” people I’ve ever met gave me the creeps – with Vulcan-like servitude of reason and logic, they depart from their humanity into machine-like coldness. No – give me a raving saint (or Luther, if you don’t think him one) any day.

8 09 2008
AG

That was me above, not A.V.

It’s not clear that he’s writhing and screaming at the Devil – again, that’s something one has to have already editorialized into the movie. The comments of von Staupitz indicate that he needs to trust the mercy of God – the next thing he’s shown doing is beiing overzealous about cleaning the floor tiles. This is the way “crazy” is portrayed in most films, and I was rather shocked that in a movie supposdly favorable to Luther, the filmmakers would introduce him in this way.

8 09 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Mr. Davis, I know the film was funded by Lutherans, which makes the treatment of Luther all the more surprising. As your own comments indicate, the only way to “read” this movie favorably towards Luther is to already have pre-existing prejudices about the subject and other knowledge that the movie never provides. Cynically, I think the filmmakers managed to make a rather anti-religious film on the Lutheran dime.

8 09 2008
J.S. Bangs

I have to say that Luther writhing and screaming at the Devil was probably the best part of his character, from a catholic and Christian perspective.

8 09 2008
Kevin Davis

Reading Mr. Vasquez and A.G.’s responses, I’m truly amazed. I’m not trying to make value judgments here, I’m just amazed at how differently we read this movie.

First, the screaming at the devil is certainly not eccentric by Catholic standards. This was common to Padre Pio, to give a recent famous example. In fact, it seems that with Padre Pio it was a physical battle of some sort, while in his monastery cell. Second, Luther was not a moody jerk in the translation scene. He was freakin’ locked-up, away from his parish and his teaching. He wanted to “do” something more than sit locked-up. He was “moody” because he was passionate and wanted to change things. Third, the slaughter of the peasants was certainly a very bad judgment on Luther’s part (which Luther himself recognized and which all Protestants have recognized), but it was in reaction to a radicalization of his ideas, and thus, the peasant’s revolt was a threat to both the church and society which he wanted to “reform,” not overthrow. Hence, we are shown Luther’s falling out with Carlstadt, just prior to the slaughter, for ransacking the church. Yet, despite Luther’s immoral counsel to slaughter the peasants, masses of German peasants and other Northern Europeans would still follow him and his teachings, especially from the 1530’s and beyond. Fourth, I fail to see how Luther and his friends’ living it up in the medieval finery is not Protestant propaganda. It was calculated to show the joy of throwing-off the Church’s shackles and oppressive vows (of celibacy and poverty).

Also, A. G. wrote,
He’s condescending, he’s callous (one of the most disturbing scenes for me was of the young peasant mother showing him the certificate insuring the salvation of her crippled child – he furrows his brow, pouts, and crumples up the paper while telling her to care for the physical well-being of her child at which point I thought, “wow, are the filmmakers also trying to convince us that Luther doesn’t really believe in God?”)

Wow. No, the film was funded by Lutherans, and it was well-received by most Lutherans. And this scene is a great example of Lutherans showing both Luther’s strong faith in God and his care for the people. The whole point of this scene (in the context of Luther’s protests) was to show that an indulgence doesn’t do anything — it is worth less than the piece of paper it is written on. God is merciful to those who believe, not to those who work, because it is by grace. I am baffled that you took this scene as possibly demonstrating that Luther does not really believe in God. The whole point was precisely the opposite.

8 09 2008
MCH

Wow, and to I was just looking at that scene of Julius II in the golden armour on YouTube! Strange. Here’s the clip in question:

8 09 2008
AG

I suspect that this is one of those films where one’s own existing prejudices determine one’s response to the film more than its actual content. As objectively as I can be, I have to admit that I thought the filmmakers were either agnostic or completely lacked a point of view about the subject. As A.V. wrote, the scenes of Roman Catholic “corruption” are balanced by Luther living it up in his own finery while peasants get killed. This is only a serious religious film if we’re comparing it to something like “The Da Vinci Code.”

An additional problem for me was the casting of Joseph Fiennes as Luther – I do not understand how this guy gets major roles other than by being the brother of a more famous – and far superior – actor. He’s such a lightweight, always coming across on film as petulant, with only good (British) diction and doe eyes going for him. Paul Scofield or Richard Burton he ain’t. When gravitas is required, he furrows his brow. When righteous indignation is required, he furrows his brow AND pouts, heaven help him.

The scenes at the very beginning of the movie, of Luther being tormented by his conscience I guess (visually shown by him rolling in the mud, writhing on the floor or screaming into empty space in his cell) establishes the Luther of this movie as, well, pretty crazy, and he’s the only person in the movie portrayed as manifesting quite that level of craziness (and he does this even after having had his moment of revelation about grace). He’s not the only religious figure to get the crazy treatment in film – St. Joan of Arc has often been portrayed similarly, except her “self-righteousness” for her cause results in her choosing martyrdom, not the slaughter of one hundred thousand others while she gets to live happily with spouse and six children, as the filmmakers inform us was Luther’s awful fate. He’s condescending, he’s callous (one of the most disturbing scenes for me was of the young peasant mother showing him the certificate insuring the salvation of her crippled child – he furrows his brow, pouts, and crumples up the paper while telling her to care for the physical well-being of her child at which point I thought, “wow, are the filmmakers also trying to convince us that Luther doesn’t really believe in God?”) The filmmakers really don’t seem to like this guy – in fact, they didn’t seem to like anyone except for Johann von Staupitz who is calm, and perhaps most-importantly, portrayed as completely non-judgmental.

Similar to A.V., I was brought up by a mother who crawls on her knees up stairs when praying the Stations of the Cross, and the amount of time in purgatory “remitted” for saying certain prayers and performing certain sacrifices was well known to me at a young age, as was the treasury of merit. So if the filmmakers expected me to recoil in horror over these practices, well, their intended audience must have been exclusively Protestants and secularized (and religiously ignorant) Catholics. Strangely, I found Tetzel to be the greatest believer in the mercy of God in the movie.

But back to Luther. Just at the moment that I thought this petulant brat was having a light-bulb moment – the scene of the dead peasants in his old church and the arrival of his future wife, clearly having suffered – it evaporates. Here, we were seeing suffering, a chance to embrace the Cross, a chance for piety, and even repentance or at least sorrow over where this has all led. Instead, a few scenes later we see them garbed in fine clothes (and the camera lingers over this scene, as it did in the scenes of Roman Catholic finery), drinking, making music, and a marriage proposal. Embrace suffering? No thank you, the filmmakers seem to be saying. Perhaps they are prosperity gospel believers, or completely cynical (we also never again see any indication of Luther worshipping, praying, or even really talking about God after the Diet of Worms). They sure nailed Luther as an anti-hero. I got a good laugh out of the final comments about “religious freedom” considering that the action in the movie ends with the beginning of centuries of religious wars. Ironic, indeed.

8 09 2008
Matthew David Nelson

Any thoughts on the new Scandinavian, “Orthodox”-take on Luther?

8 09 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Steven,

To say that “I can’t live this therefore no one can” is pretty much tantamount to saying that nothing is wrong with you; you’re just a victim of “the system”. The Catholic mind does not believe that: I know for a fact that Padre Pio was less of a sinner than I am from the judgment of the Church and the miracles God has worked through him; and especially from his humility and obedience, which are signs of his love of God. For these people, the Sermon on the Mount is not some nice set of counsels that remind us that we are sinners, as they often become in the Reformed tradition, but rather a challenge of love to the soul to ascend to God. And the Church says that there are people who succeed. People are succeeding now: there are now people walking the earth who are in union with God and are less of a sinner than I am. Yes, in them, God is crowning His own gifts, as the liturgy tells us. We don’t know who they are: their lives are often hidden from us. But I have known some of them, and they have put me to shame, and they have also given me hope.

You cannot democratize vice and virtue, nor can you abolish the ascetical tradition with theological tricks. Holiness is real, and I am not just speaking of the holiness that all Catholics have in the state of grace as members of the Body of Christ. There is something that grows out of the same holiness but is at the same time more astounding than that.

8 09 2008
Steven W

Oh I just saw that you are actually not too bothered by that whole system. I always admire your honesty.

But I do differ with you on which persons need to be spit out of the mouth.

PS- You really think that Luther never admitted to being a sinner?

8 09 2008
Steven W

Art,

Forking over the cheddar for remission of sins and then finding out that the vicar of Christ was holding the purse strings would get me down too.

8 09 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Mr. Davis,

Perhaps you are right in your observations, but the scenes of Luther writhing on the floor and screaming at the Devil show a man who is far from normal, even from our Catholic/Orthodox eccentric standards of holiness. (i.e. the fools for Christ in Russia and St. Martin of Porres smashing his hand against a wall). Also, the scene where he is translating the Bible into German makes him seem like a childish and moody jerk. As for sympathy with the peasants, the mass slaughter of 100,000 peasants (and the oblique references in the movie of Luther condoning it) seem to pretty much demolish any image of Luther as a man of the people. Even the scene in the sacked church where he meets for the first time his disheveled and shaven future wife is followed a few scenes later by a party in which Luther and his cadres are living it up in the best of late medieval finery. If this was a piece of Protestant propaganda, it certainly wasn’t a very good one.

I think your prejudices, and the prejudices of some Catholic critics if we are to accept your assesment, are due to the fact that the Catholic world portrayed in the movie is so different from the reality of Christianity in this country. If you had grown up in Mexican or Filipino culture, such Catholicism would not seem so bizarre. Maybe the filmmaker was intending to shock the American public with the “superstitious” Catholicism of late medieval piety. To those of us who grew up with this stuff, it is not so bizarre after all, and far from “superstitious”.

8 09 2008
Kevin Davis

t also shows Luther as a mentally ill, moody, and overly scrupulous man who could not separate his own neuroses from the theology he preached.

I’ve seen the movie about 3-4 times now, and this is certainly not how I would characterize their portrayal of Luther. “Passionate,” to be sure, and in that regard, “moody.” But, “mentally ill,” “overly scrupulous,” and “neurotic” — no, not at all. The “scrupulosity” is characterized in the movie as a realist apprehension of man’s pride and rebellion, by a pious and sincere Christian and, later, an intellectual who finds legitimation for his views in St. Paul. It is the uneducated and naive masses who go along with the Roman system because it is the only thing presented to them as the path to God in a cold, merciless world. Luther instead brings a humanistic warmth and hope through his proclamation that we are already free in Christ, and thus do not have to worry about works or guilt. Luther is the humanist; the Catholic masses and their mendicant seducers are negative and perverse. That is how it is all presented in the movie, and both Catholic and Protestant reviewers have seen this quite clearly.

As for whether Luther himself was neurotic and overly scrupulous, James F. McCue, a professor of church history at the University of Iowa, published some work in this exact area in the 1970’s and 80’s. I’d recommend looking it up through ATLAS/Ebscohost. In short, McCue argues that the “scrupulosity” of Luther was quite normal during the later Middle Ages, as the church increasingly preached the necessity of confessing all of ones moral sins or else damnation. Depending on geographic location, many ignored it, many did not, and the more seriously one took his or her faith, the more introspective they became of their sins.

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