How Historically Accurate is "Luther"?

I’ve been reading Christian reviews on the movie Luther, and they all say one of two things:

  1. Catholic reviewers say it’s historically inaccurate.

  2. Protestant reviewers praise its historical accuracy.

So, are there any atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, etc., who have seen the movie and know about the history of the Reformation?

I’m actually going to see it in a few hours so I’ll let you know. I’m not a historian by any stretch other than I’ve read a LOT of history, much of it focused on the Early Modern period (~1450-1648, from the printing press to the Peace of Westphalia). I just wanted to bump this thread so I wouldn’t have to subject myself (and others) to another 5 minute long hamster-killer search.

Oh, and I’m Catholic as well. But I’ll probably side with the Protestants as I’m a big admirer of Luther and the effects he had on modern civilization.

That part when Luther photocopied and mailed his 95 Theses to the German bishops — not accurate.

“That part when Luther photocopied and mailed his 95 Theses to the German bishops — not accurate.”
Obviously not. The real Luther just put it on his website.

Does the movie contain a scene of him nailing the theses to the churchdoor, a legend which is popular but not grounded in fact?


How can you nail feces to a churchdoor? Doesn’t your staple gun get all, ya’ know, messy and stuff? :eek:

If he didn’t send the theses to the bishops or nail them to the door, how did he get them out? Or was the only part about the bishops that was false was the photocopying?

Alright, to answer the question.

In a general sense the history in Luther is pretty much accurate - the liberties taken with history were few, but there were a number of errors which include:

  1. The use of a couple of terms and concepts that were not fully developed/in use in Luther’s times or not accepted by Luther. Frederick the Great used the word inertia, which, iirc, was an invention of Newtons (or Galileos). Luther also mentioned “fixed stars” which do not exist in the geocentric universe that he accepted.

  2. Johann Tetzel never made it to Wittenberg, much less Saxony, as Frederick the Great banned him from his territories. But Tetzel, not to be outsmarted, went to towns close to the border thereby still drawing Saxony coin, which drew the ire of both Luther and Frederick.

  3. Ulrich von Hutton is a lot calmer in the movie than the accounts I’ve read of him. IIRC, he was banned even before Luther was in Worms.

A number of things were also understated or completely omitted:

  1. Luther’s influence in creating a German identity was understated (except for the translation plot.)

  2. It is never revealed that the main reason the German princes supported Luther was because they were tired of their gold going to Rome.

  3. Luther’s anti-semitism and the reasons for it? Not touched on at all.

  4. Luther had rather psychotic and abusive parents who constantly beat him and treated him in ways that would get them arrested today. His treatment at their hands had profound effects on his psyche, effects that were completely ignored.

Odds and ends that they included but didn’t have to:

  1. Luther’s scatalogical obsessions.

  2. His spells where he saw and spoke to the Devil. He even claims to have beaten back the Devil with Luther’s own fecal matter.

Now about the movie…

While Joseph Fiennes did a good job expressing how deeply Luther believed in his God, overall he did a pretty poor job of portraying Martin Luther. Luther was not a timid man - he was forged of anger and rage, passion and fire. Except for a period immediately following the publishing of the Theses he wasn’t a person given to self doubt and quiet talk. Luther hated, and hated well.

Luther was also more worldly than the script gave him credit for. He knew what he was doing when he crouched his arguments in the terms of German nationalism and the Volk. One of the biggest weaknesses of the movie was the complete lack of Latin and German - in the real world, when Luther was at Worms the entire trial had been conducted in Latin, until the very last pronouncement by Luther, which he made in German. That would’ve helped driven home the point that Luther succeeded not because of theology and faith, but because of politics and economics. And the “real” Luther knew this.

Fiennes (or the script) didn’t portray any of this at all - Fiennes’ Luther was the sort of man who’d get his ass kicked up and down the Elbe and would’ve been of even lesser import than Jan Hus. Fiennes’ Luther just kinda floated along in the world, largely propped up by the machinations of others…

until, in one bizarre scene before the Augsburg meeting, Luther is sitting at the head of the table issuing the Princes their marching orders for when they meet the Emperor. :rolleyes:

But what the hell - I’ve been waiting for a big-screen biopic of Luther’s life and am pleased that I actually got one. I’ll give it an 8.5 on a scale of 10, but I will say that you probably won’t miss much if you wait until it comes out on DVD.

There is really no reason to doubt that Luther did not nail the theses to the Church door - after all, the Church is the center of the community and using the door to advertise wares or college debates or what have you was a common practice.

What Luther did was make a copy of the Theses in German and then sent them to sympathetic printers asking them to make copies and sell them if they so desired. While the Archbishop of Mainz (where, incidentally, Gutenberg invented the printing press, thereby making the Reformation possible - no press, no Reformation) was reading Luther’s Theses’ for the first time, so were hundreds of other Germans.


Wasn’t the term used to mean the stars that remained at constant positions in a firmament turning around Polaris, to contrast them with the “planets” (incl. sun and moon) that moved amont the constellations?

And why wasn’t there any mention of Superman in this movie?

As Luther said: “Upon this rock I found my church.”

The rock, of course, was kryptonite.


Didn’t even think of that at all. Given the times, I just assumed they put a sly Copernicus reference in the movie.