We’ve been watching the 2003 movie Luther, starring Joseph Fiennes, in confirmation and high school youth group this month in preparation for our Reformation 500 commemorations.
There are some great things about this movie (for instance, I think all of our students are now clear on the difference between Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr!), but there are also parts of the movie that can be really confusing.
One recommendation I have is to watch the entire movie with English subtitles turned on. We’ve also stopped after a few scenes to recap and discuss what’s happening. A few particular points we’ve needed to clarify are what an indulgence is, who Luther’s father is in the ordination scene versus his confessor, Staupitz, who he addresses repeatedly as “Father,” and who the pope is, since he’s shown sometimes in full papal regalia, and other times in more casual dress while hunting and feeding his birds.
To help a little bit, I made this character cheat sheet – this document contains the biographies shown here as well as pictures from the movie for each character. Here it is as a PDF: Luther Movie Character Guide.
In addition, here it is as a Word docx for editing: Luther Movie Character Guide.
Martin Luther – German priest troubled by his sin, questioned whether he could ever be good enough to earn God’s love. Sought to reform the Roman Catholic Church to refocus on God’s grace.
Prince Frederick of Saxony (Frederick the Wise) – German prince who respects Luther. Makes money from his large collection of sacred relics, charging people to view them so they can spend less time in purgatory. Had Luther kidnapped to protect him from his enemies in the church.
Johann Tetzel – Priest who toured Germany selling indulgences to raise money for Roman church. His hard selling tactics prompted Luther to write his 95 Theses.
Johann von Staupitz – Luther’s mentor and superior in the Augustinian order. Encourages Luther to read the Bible for himself. Also listens to Luther’s confessions.
Katerina von Bora (Katie) – German nun who escaped a convent and eventually married Luther. Devoted wife, household manager, and mother of 6 children.
Girolamo Aleandro – Italian scholar who attacked Luther, accusing him of heresy.
Cardinal Cajetan – Catholic cardinal who judged Luther’s teachings to be heretical.
Pope Leo X – Head of the Roman Catholic Church. He was raising money by selling indulgences to build bigger churches, like St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Issued a bull (statement) condemning Luther. Luther burned it.
Emperor Charles V – As Holy Roman Emperor, he called Martin Luther to the Diet of Worms in 1521, promising him safe passage if he would appear. Initially dismissed Luther’s idea of reformation as “An argument between monks”. Later outlawed Luther and his followers.
Andreas Karlstadt – Professor at University of Wittenberg who supported Luther, but felt he didn’t go far enough in his reforms.