I had the opportunity to rent ‘Luther’, the movie, over my vacation last month. Quite the example of Protestant hagiography. Fr. Oakes’ review (Luther, the Movie First Things 139 January 2004) rings true:
. . . the film is monumentally dull, primarily because the screenplay makes no effort whatever to give the viewer any notion of what the real Luther was like. It must be some kind of achievement to spend that much money on a Lutheran-sponsored movie and yet still insure that not once in the entire film does the character of Luther so much as quote, even in passing, from St. Paulís Epistle to the Romans or even enunciate that lumpy word justification. Thus the famous interrogation between Luther and the Dominican monk Johannes Eck at the Diet of Worms in 1521 (when Luther made his famous ìHere I Standî speech, thus making irreparable the rupture between Rome and the budding Reformation) comes across not as a theological dispute but more like the grilling of a Hollywood director before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the postwar era . . .
It was rather interesting watching it at this point in time in my life — a decade ago I would have been cheering on Luther in his revolt against the Church. (Tangent: Visit the Pertinacious Papist today, and readers might be suprised to find this the same man who read to his children after dinner from Fox’s Book of Martyrs).
If you asked anyone who knows anything about Church History in the West to pinpoint a specific moment or event which can be considered the beginning of the Reformation, the answer would probably be Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses on indulgences on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. By this act, Luther is seen as rejecting the whole medieval system of indulgences and their associated doctrines and practices; in so doing, he makes his break from Rome, or at least begins to do so in a definitive way. In fact, many Protestant churches celebrate October 31st as “Reformation Day”, indicating the importance of that date and Luther’s actions on it in 1517 vis. the Reformation churches and communities. This date, then, has been widely regarded as the beginning of the Reformation. However…
In all likelihood, it never happened. . . .
I have to admit, reading Burgwald’s post came as quite a shock to me . . . Almost as much as reading about discovery of the birthplace of the Reformation last October.
Likewise, the Catholic Enyclopedia bursts some stereotypes concering the infamous seller of indulgences, Johann Tetzel, which acknowledges both the legitimate errors in teaching on Tetzel’s part (concerning indulgences for the dead) and yet, condemns the demonizing of the poor monk by Protestant critics:
History presents few characters that have suffered more senseless misrepresentation, even bald caricature, than Tetzel. “Even while he lived stories which contained an element of legend gathered around his name, until at last, in the minds of the uncritical Protestant historians, he became the typical indulgence-monger, upon whom any well-worn anecdote might be fathered” (Beard, “Martin Luther”, London, 1889, 210). For a critical scholarly study which shows him in a proper perspective, he had to wait the researches of our own time . . .
(For those wanting to know more about the Church’s authentic teaching on this matter, see James Akin’s Primer on Indulgences Volume 5, Number 11. Nov. 1994.