History of the World According to the Movies: Part 18 – The Reformation


Luther: a movie starring Joseph Fiennes about one of the guys who got the Reformation started. Of course, a movie pertaining to the Protestant Reformation isn’t going to cast Catholics in a positive light (though it does more than it’s fair share to be as rabidly anti-Catholic as possible). Of course, they had to in order to make Martin Luther look good because he doesn’t seem like a likeable guy in this at all. Also, you wouldn’t have seen him in the role of a parish priest, c’mon. He was an Augustinian monk and theology professor at Wittenburg! Then again, perhaps he’s taking over for somebody. Oh, and is the congregation sitting in pews? Holy shit!

So we’re back in Europe which is now in a period of great social and cultural change called the Renaissance, a period of rebirth in the arts and sciences as well as philosophy. You have artists like Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Donatello who created great masterpieces before becoming the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (I’m just kidding on that one). You also have Giotto, Botticelli, Titian, and others even though the most famous were Italian. You have writers like Dante and Shakespeare writing works that would help shape their respective languages for generations. You have scientists like Copernicus, Galileo, Vesalius, and others who’d shape our perception of the world for later generations and pave way to men like Newton and Kepler. Then you have philosophies like Humanism, secularism, and individualism celebrating the glory of humanity and all it’s wonders. Also, you have Johannes Gutenberg whose printing press would bring this period into a new information and revolutionize communication in such a way that A&E will make him Man of the last Millennium. Of  course, I probably wouldn’t be able to write this post or anything at all if he wasn’t around because movable type made life so much easier for me.

However, this is also a time period saw the coming of what’s known as the Protestant Reformation when countries and peoples of Western Europe started breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church. There were a lot of things that led to the Protestant Reformation like indulgences, the Avignon Papacy, urbanization, proto-nationalism, popular piety, Christ-centered theology, Christian humanism, as well as fears and superstitions relating to death. Since Northern Europe was more religious than places like Spain or Italy, it was there where Protestantism took root. And because of the printing press and secular rulers wanting their own church to better control their people, you could see why Martin Luther became as successful creating his own denomination as he did. Still, even though everyone in Europe knew that the Catholic Church was corrupt as well as had their own ideas about reforming it, doesn’t mean that people were willing to break away from the Church or became Luther’s disciples, because Lutheranism only reached parts of Germany and Scandinavia. Erasmus and Thomas More might’ve had their own ideas at reforming the Catholic Church but both of them remained in the flock and greatly bashed Luther and his ideas. John Calvin would later come up with his more exportable brand with his Reformed movement in Geneva and others would follow like Zwingli, some more radical than others. However, Hollywood usually focuses on Luther since he started it all though they’re not always 100% accurate on facts and tend to have a very anti-Catholic slant on it. Of course, who could blame them since Martin Luther wasn’t the kind of guy you would’ve wanted to have a beer with. Nevertheless, here are the inaccuracies I shall list.

Martin Luther:

Martin Luther was a prudish man. (This was a guy who’d write to his friends about his bowel movements.)

Martin Luther was a timid man. (No, but he was a man forged with passion and rage nonetheless.)

Protestantism began with Martin Luther. (There were heretical movements before Martin Luther going on in Europe since the Middle Ages. Luther’s brand of Protestantism was one of the first to have any kind of staying power.)

Luther referred to Biblical passages by book, chapter, and verse while starting his reformation. (Biblical passages weren’t listed like this until 1551 and even then, the divisions weren’t ubiquitous until the Geneva Bible.)

All the nobles stood up to Charles V during the Augsburg Confession. (Only the Duke of Saxony and Louis V of Palatine did.)

Martin Luther and Spalatin went to law school together. (They didn’t meet until later in life.)

Frederick of Saxony was given a golden rose as a bribe to deliver Luther to Rome. (It was to bribe him to run for Holy Roman Emperor against Charles V.)

Martin Luther was a saintly iconoclastic hero. (He may have caused a stir with his religious views but he was basically a social conservative. Also, he hated the Jews.)

Andreas Karlstadt radically distorted Luther’s views while he was in seclusion in Wartburg and insisting on being addressed “Brother Andreas.” (Though Karlstadt actually orchestrated the reforms, they were more peaceful. Yet, they were too radical for Luther {like Mass vernacularization} and he tried to either undo them or slow them. Also, Karlstadt didn’t renounce his professor title until Luther’s return.)

Martin Luther returned to Wittenburg with modest growth of a beard and was under the name “Knight George.” (He had returned with a beard “sufficient to deceive his mother” and under the name “Junker George” {which means “Knight George.”})

Johann Tetzel was at the Augsburg Confession. (He was never at the meeting.)

Johann von Staupitz was alive in 1526. (He died in 1524.)

Martin Luther’s 1520 treatises were in print by that June when Exsurge Domine was issued. (They were not.)

Martin Luther told Karlstadt to leave Wittenburg in 1522. (He pleaded with him in Orlamunde to return after Karlstadt had voluntarily left.)

Martin Luther was in Wittenburg during the Diet of Augsburg in 1530. (He was staying in Coburg.)

Ein’ feste Burg existed in Luther’s time. (It didn’t. According to Wikipedia, “it was a product of the later Pietistic movement which found faultwith early rhythmic chorale melodies because their dance-like rhythms were too secular in nature.”)

Martin Luther spent his years in exile translating the New Testament into German, having visions of the devil, and ranting rhetorically in thin air. (Yes, but it gets weirder with Martin Luther according to the Guardian, “Luther believed poltergeists were attacking his ceiling with walnuts, and once threw a dog out of a window because he thought it was Satan. He also suffered physically. “The Lord has struck me in the rear end with terrible pain,” he complained to a friend. To another, more prosaically: “My arse has gone bad.” This does at least explain why he was so grumpy.” Oh, and he got fat.)

Martin Luther was the primary reformer of the Reformation. (Yes, but he wasn’t the only one. You had John Calvin in France who founded Calvinism and ran Geneva on it. Also, you have the radical reformers behind the peasant revolts in Germany as well as others.)

Tetzel made it to Wittenburg and Saxony. (He never made it there thanks to Frederick the Wise banning him. However, he did go to nearby border towns drawing Saxony coin to the ire of both Frederick and Luther.)

Luther succeeded by theology and faith. (His success also had more to do with politics and economics as well as the fact that some German princes were tired of their gold going to Rome. And Luther knew this.)

Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the Cathedral door of Wittenburg. (He actually sent them in a letter to his superiors. He never mentioned actually nailing his 95 Theses on a cathedral door.)

Martin Luther insisted on burying someone who committed suicide in his parish cemetery. (There’s no record of this. Also, he probably would’ve never preached outside the pulpit. Also, he didn’t come to Wittenburg as a parish priest.)

Martin Luther was intense, uncertain, humorless, and generally liberal cleric with passion with fits of melancholy and depression. (He actually did have a sense of humor and also possessed  a gregarious personality. He loved beer, lively conversation, and hearty laughter. And he was no neurotic introvert by any standards as well as a social conservative.)

Martin Luther was mostly disturbed by the use of indulgences on his trip to Rome. (True, but he was also disturbed by the moral laxity he observed among the clergy as well as developed an aversion toward relics, purgatory, and prayers to the saints.)

During the Diet of Worms Martin Luther said, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” (He never said this.)

Martin Luther showed genuine remorse over the massacres during the Peasants’ Rebellion caused by their misunderstanding of him. (He may have actually been calling for the princes to show no mercy upon the uprising.)

Martin Luther’s stand on the Bible was accountable for the Peasants’ War of 1525. (It wasn’t. It was how the peasants misunderstood him and distorted his teaching.)

Martin Luther met Frederick the Wise personally. (They never did.)

Frederick the Wise lamented over the Peasants Rebellion of 1525. (He was dead and buried in Wittenburg castle by that time.)

Martin Luther never associated the Pope as the Anti-Christ. (Uh, he actually did before he published his 95 theses in 1517.)

Luther’s heart was really with the peasants. (No, it was in his own theology. He certainly didn’t like it when they revolted.)

Karlstadt advocated political egalitarianism. (He never did.)

Frederick the Wise paid Martin Luther’s salary. (He didn’t.)

Martin Luther returned to Wittenburg on Elector Frederick’s behest. (He returned very much against the ruler’s will.)


Northern Europeans in Protestant countries willingly broke away from the Catholic Church. (If Europeans, you mean resident nobles, then yes, but if you mean everyone else, then not really except in France. And parts of the English population remained Catholic and are to this day.)

Protestants were open to scientific thought during the Reformation. (Actually, even though it was the Catholic Church who put Galileo on house arrest, but he probably wouldn’t be safe with the Protestants either at least in the 1500s. Sometimes they were more willing to interpret scripture more literally than the Catholic Church would. Also, the pope didn’t put Galileo on house arrest, cardinals did and the Catholic Church’s motive didn’t have much to do with Galileo’s ideas than his attitude to the pope. Galileo also published another scientific book without incident after that. Not to mention, it was the secular scientists who were more critical of Galileo’s ideas. And wasn’t the Catholic Church behind the Gregorian calendar that was more scientifically accurate than the Julian calendar most of Europe had been using? And weren’t the British one of the last European nations to adopt that?)

Heretics were peaceful and/or eccentric evangelists who were just persecuted by the Catholic Church for speaking their mind. (Many heretical movements from the Middle Ages to the Reformation were anything but and also strove not only to reform religion but also secular life and some actually tried to do so quite forcefully by physical elimination of the nobility and clergy, attracting simple criminals. To compare them to fascists, Bolsheviks, or Middle East terrorists isn’t much of a stretch.)

Protestants were more tolerant of new ideas than the Catholic Church and didn’t believe in superstition. (It was the Protestants who were burning the witches.)

Protestants celebrated Christmas. (The Calvinists and the Puritans didn’t for they thought it was too Papist and pagan.)

Protestants were anti-establishment types. (Just because they were religious radicals doesn’t mean that they were social radicals either for many certainly weren’t such as the reformers who found favor with resident nobles. And those who were as much social as well as religious radicals didn’t find much favor in Europe, even in Protestant entities.)

Early Protestants were champions of conscience, freedom, and toleration. (Uh, when it came to their own ideas perhaps, but no. Protestants during the Reformation were also hostile to Catholics and other Protestants outside their denomination. Leaders in Protestant domains set up their own state churches which people had to attend and adhere to. Lutheran princes suppressed Catholic monasteries in their territories and Luther supported the expulsion of Catholics who were banned from Saxony in 1527. Also, John Calvin and his followers ran Geneva as a Protestant theocracy. Still, just because you had a group willing to break away from the Catholic Church doesn’t mean they believed in religious toleration, because they certainly didn’t.)

People unhappy with the Church joined the Protestant faith. (Many did not and actually bashed these Protestant movements like Erasmus {who also bashed the Catholic Church a lot to but remained faithful}.)


Congregants were seated in pews during this time. (They weren’t a common fixture of churches until after the Reformation.)

Confession wasn’t necessary for those who bought indulgences. (If the buyer didn’t purchase them for oneself. Otherwise, indulgences specified that the buyer had to go to confession.)

The sale of indulgences brought upon the Reformation. (Yes, but it wasn’t the only factor.)

Pre-reformation priests lived wealthy lifestyles. (Not by our standards. Also, one of the calls for the Reformation was the abundance of uneducated priests from the ranks of the poor and peasants. The Catholic Church knew this and tried to correct this in the Counter-Reformation.)

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