Why, Martin Luther, of course!

The other day SJ and I watched a film  based on the life of Martin Luther.  It’s been a while since I’ve read much about Luther’s life, so I can’t say how accurate it was down to the details. (Actually, I take that back: Wikipedia kindly provides a list of inaccuracies. So long as we can assume the writer or writers know what they’re talking about, all is well.) I did think Luther on screen was considerably better-looking than Luther would have been in real life, but that’s hardly surprising. More surprising was that that most famous of all phrases in Luther’s life, “the just shall live by faith” was not mentioned once. While the film shows clearly that Luther trusted in Christ alone for salvation, it’s a bit strange that what we, looking back, consider to be his life’s battle cry, was not included.

That being said, I appreciated the film very much. It was well produced and acted and it made me think. Rather than giving you a plot outline, let me share some thoughts that it prompted and that SJ and I chatted about.

One striking thing for me (and this may sound a bit silly) is seeing historical characters looking so, well, real, and in such real settings. To remember that they’re just like any other person today (if rather more strikingly dressed). It’s not that I suffer from any doubt, theoretically speaking, that people such as Luther were not real people, but I guess somehow I forget it on a more practical level. Even a book cannot give the vividness that a film can here. I’m more of a book person that a film person, but even with a book, these people can still feel far away and impersonal. With a film, the flesh-and-blood-ness is harder to forget. They’re people, just like us, who coughed and sneezed and laughed and hugged and hoped and dreamed and feared and had bad hair days and all the rest of it. All the humanity of it. Of them.

And when you really realise they’re really real (not to repeat my words or anything) then you can better see how brave they are, and wonder whether you could be that brave too. Of course, Luther at the Diet of Worms (such an unfortunate name) is brave, but what struck me was the German electors, who told the Emperor that sooner than give up their faith, they would kneel before him for him to cut off their heads—and kneel before him they did, man by man. The emperor didn’t take them up on their invitation, but that doesn’t negate their bravery. (Apparently all the electors kneeling is one of the inaccurate parts. Ah well—it makes a good film scene and makes me think all the same.)

Such bravery in the face of great opposition. How small my own problems are in comparison! Sure, I have hard things to deal with, but no one has threatened my life yet because of my faith. Not even close. I have it so easy.

I have to mention the sweetest part in the film, almost at the very end, when Luther thinks that his enemies are about to pounce on him. He turns to his wife and says, “I am so happy to have been loved by you, Katherine von Bora.” Isn’t that precious? He does not tell her he loves her, although undoubtedly he did. It’s not about what he’s done at all. He is simply glad that this woman has loved him. There seems a humility in that which touches me. The undeservedness of love.

(Two cautions if you’re considering watching this particular film: there are some unpleasant scenes of dead bodies after the peasants’ revolt and a brief scene of a martyr being burned. Also, one of the men looking at Luther’s 95 theses on the church door takes God’s name in vain.)

I am glad that I do not have to face Luther’s challenges. I am glad to be reminded of what he and other brave men and women faced and overcame.

We are in their debt.


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