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Monday, June 02, 2008


- Luther posts his 5 Theses on the castle church doors

I don't know a lot about the reformation, and I can tell you more about Lex Luther than Martin Luther :) so when the Netflix recommendation-bot suggested I watch Luther, I agreed.

Luther is a 2003 movie, starring Joseph Fiennes as the title character, Alfred Molina (Doc Octopus :) as Johann Tetzel, Jonathan Firth as Girolamo Aleander, and Sir Peter Ustinov as Frederick the Wise.

The movie was partially paid for by the Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and does tend, perhaps because of that, to show mostly the positive aspects of Luther (for instance, there's no mention of his acceptance of polygamy, or his his negative writings against the Jews), and I should mention that Roger Ebert didn't like the movie much (see his review), but having said all that, I did find the film interesting, especially the part about indulgences .... there's a funny part in the movie where Luther, speaking of relics, notes that 18 of the 12 apostles are buried in Spain :)

- Luther married an ex-nun and they had six children

I've written about indulgences before, so if you remember that post you'll not be surprised that I find the idea of them just weird and creepy. The idea that we are punished in purgatory for sins already forgiven, that we can spring someone else out of purgatory with certain actions, prayers of cash, just seems hinky. Here is a bit from a 2006 article from The Tablet - He who holds the keys to the kingdom ......

Many Catholics today, at least those on the progressive wing of the Church, probably never give indulgences a second thought. The notion that by securing an indulgence - quite simply the removal of the temporal punishment of sins that have already been forgiven by the Church - one can secure a fast track to heaven seems curiously outmoded to many. It is an aspect of Catholic life that belongs, if not to the Middle Ages, to the pre-Vatican II era.

But now there is clear evidence that indulgences are very much back at the heart of Catholic life as seen from the Vatican. In his first 10 months of office, Pope Benedict XVI has explicitly - and surprisingly - granted a plenary indulgence in connection with three major ecclesial events: last year's World Youth Day, the fortieth anniversary of the conclusion of Vatican II, and the recent World Day of the Sick ......

The practice of indulgences was never really addressed at Vatican II. And yet, some four decades later, a good number of Catholics - and many Protestants, too - continue to hold rather firmly but equally erroneously to the notion that the Council did away with indulgences - or, at least, severely altered them. It was actually Pope Paul who oversaw the "revision" of the practice. But the formula that Paul devised was only a partial reform that satisfied neither the Neo-Tridentines (such as the schismatic Lefebvrists) nor the so-called "progressives" more sympathetic to Luther's position .....

When the bishops arrived in Rome later in the autumn of 1965 for the fourth and final session of the Second Vatican Council the conference presidents were asked to state their views on the Positio, but when they did there was outrage among some. The feisty Antiochan Patriarch of the Melchites, Maximos IV, urged that indulgences be suppressed outright, saying they were "not only without theological foundation but the cause of innumerable grave abuses which (had) inflicted irreparable evils on the Church".

Then the German bishops added fuel to the fire. The Archbishop of Munich - Cardinal Dopfner - stated unabashedly: "The idea of a 'treasury' that the Church 'possesses' leads all too easily to a materialistic or quasi-commercial conception of what is obtained by indulgences." He recommended that the Positio be scrapped and that a group of international theologians (Karl Rahner was one such he had in mind) be selected to re-write it.

The Pope formed his new commission and in early 1967 issued the Apostolic Constitution, Indulgentiarum Doctrina, which looked similar to the original Positio. The new document said that a believer could gain the indulgence only by fulfilling three obligations: by doing the prescribed work, by having the proper disposition (attitude of the heart) while doing the work, and by acknowledging the authority of the Pope in the process.

Indulgentiarum Doctrina was in effect a restatement of the medieval Catholic doctrine of indulgences, with more personalistic language common in the theology of the initial post-Conciliar period. (This remains a criticism of the neo-Tridentines today.) And yet the anathema of Trent is still there. Partial indulgences were no longer calculated by days and years and the number of plenary indulgences was reduced. Yet critics from the other end of the spectrum are perhaps still most disturbed that indulgence theology likens divine justice to human justice and its need for reparation ......

Anyway, even after watching the movie, I'm still not sure I know much about Martin Luther, but there's a homily his character gives near the beginning of the film - I don't know if it's based on an actual homily by Luther or made up by the screenwriter - which did really touch me ......

Terrible. Unforgiving. That's how I saw God. Punishing us in this life, committing us to Purgatory after death, sentencing sinners to burn in hell for all eternity. But I was wrong. Those who see God as angry do not see Him rightly but look upon a curtain as if a dark storm cloud has been drawn across His face. If we truly believe that Christ is our Savior then we have a God of love, and to see God in faith is to look upon His friendly heart. So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this..."I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God. Where He is, there I shall be also."

- Luther's trial at the Diet of Worms


Blogger Susan said...

I was unfamiliar with the term indulgences, but I may have told you that when I was in convent school after my mom died, the nuns told me she was in Purgatory and it was up to me to get her out. They gave me prayers to say, each one good for a certain number of days. ("Say this prayer, dear, and your mother will get out of Purgatory 100 days earlier. This other one will get her out 500 days sooner."

Today, it seems inconceivable to me that any intelligent adult could actually believe this. It also seems very sad. I was only ten years old, and I took the responsibility very seriously.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Liam said...

Wait... Lex Luther and Martin Luther weren't the same person?

Does that mean St Ignatius wasn't Superman?

3:43 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Susan,

Yeah, what a crushing responsibility! The kind of God who would give credit for indulgences is not one I want to know.

3:56 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Lex Luther and Ignatius were both losing their hair - there may well be some connection between them, but Superman and Ignatius? Dude, now you're just talking crazy :)

4:05 PM  
Blogger Cura Animarum said...

I think they're ridiculous and I never fail to share my oppinion on this with anyone who wants it. On the other hand, a purgatiatory (did I just make up a word there?) experience such as Rolheiser describes as the experience of preparing oneself to enter into the presence of the One who is Love...that I can wrap my head around. Indulgences do not just fall flat in the face of theology or the gospels, but the whole notion of enternity as being outside of space and time kind of trumps the "100 days out of purgatory" card out of hand IMHO.

12:17 PM  
Blogger Cura Animarum said...

Oh, and thanks for reminding's Smallville night (on dvd) tonight! We're rationing our season 6 episodes so they last right up to the season 7 dvd release. We're such nerds!

12:18 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Purgatatory :) Teah, it's almost like earning frequent flyer miles :)

I've never seen Smallville - yay! A new tv series to rent! I'm almost done with Babylon 5.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Cura Animarum said...

Teamouse and I rented Season 1 last year on a whim and got hooked after the first episode. A completely different take on the story but in a very good way. Well cast too! We got spoiled watching it on DVD and not having to watch comercials or wait until next week to resolve cliffhangers that we've refused to watch it on TV and instead just wait (rather impatiently I just say) for the next season to come out to DVD in the fall. Season 7 just wrapped up and word is they're doing an 8 but I would imagine it will be pretty much done by then.

1:01 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I used to read Superman and Superboy comics. I always wished I had my own robot like Superboy - he had a Clark Kent robot that would go to school for him when he had better things to do, and thus he could be in two places at once :) I did like the Christopher Reeve movies too - his Clark Kent was funny.

2:39 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Cajetan rocks.

7:39 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Jeff. According to Wikipedia, there are two Cajetans, the other of which was a saint. I did like the actor who played him :)

11:40 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...


Not the saint, the Tommy De Vio Cajetan. :-) I never saw this movie, but I loved the way Cajetan's lines were written up in John Osborne's play 'Luther'.

Indulgences rock, too. They paid for a wicked cool basilica. Couldn't have done it without them. Ever been in St Peter's? ;-D

2:39 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Yeah, he had some good lines in the movie too. Towards the end, he even mentioned that Luther might make a good next pope if only he wasn't just about to get married :)

I have seen it - that one trip to Europe with my mother and sister after college. The Vatican museum too. Wish I could remember them better. When I watched that movie The Order, it had scenes in St. Peter's and I thought - wow!

4:05 PM  

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