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Video | Most notable in this vivid re-creation of Reformation history is the high-powered cast

Issue: "Rice: Starboard at State," Dec. 4, 2004

The movie Luther, which saw limited release last year and was a surprise hit in secularized Germany, is out on video and DVD.

Most notable in this vivid re-creation of Reformation history is the high-powered cast. Joseph Fiennes makes a fine young Luther, and Peter Ustinov, in his final role before his death, steals his scenes as the thoughtful, wily head of Saxony, Frederick the Wise, who becomes Luther's protector against the pope and emperor.

The film was shot on some actual historical locations, and for the most part is historically accurate. Luther's disillusioning trip to Rome, the financial scheme that led to the indulgence sale, Cardinal Cajetan's attempt to silence Luther, Carlstadt's change from being his scholastic theology professor to being a follower to being an enemy from the other extreme, the peasant rebellion-it is all there. The movie ends with the princes' confession of faith before the emperor at Augsburg. Luther had once stood alone before the emperor at Worms, but now at Augsburg whole nations were standing with him.

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The "Tower Experience," in which Luther discovered the gospel while studying the book of Romans, is not shown. But Luther preaches the gospel throughout the movie. The centrality of the Bible as God's Word is also a continual theme. Sometimes the script has him invoking the love of God in a more generic way than Luther would have. He knew that God's wrath remained and that we know His love only through the cross of Jesus Christ.

Many episodes are simplified or compressed. For example, the way Luther dealt with a suicide is based on his counsel to another priest, not something he dealt with himself. The peasant girl, ripped off by indulgences and killed in the peasant rebellion, is an invention.

Still, watching this movie is a good way for evangelicals to learn that they have a history.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith


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