Thursday, May 27, 2004

Catholic Response to the Movie "Luther" (2003): "Good to Hear Both Sides of the Story"

I. Cinematically Excellent

II. Some Fair Portrayals of Catholics, But . . .

III. 16th-Century Corruption in the Church and How Catholics View it

IV. The One Glaring Distortion of History: Catholics and the Bible

V. Why Catholics Opposed Certain Bible Translations (St. Thomas More)

VI. Luther's Censorship of Catholic Bibles and Books of Other Protestants

VII: Early Protestants: Champions of Conscience, Freedom, and Toleration?

VIII. Salvation "Outside the Church"

IX. Indulgences: True Excesses, False Myths, and Other Assorted Tidbits

X. Diet of Worms and "Here I Stand" (1521): A Closer Look

XI. The Real Diet of Augsburg (1530): "The Whole Truth and Nuthin' But the Truth"

XII. Philip Melanchthon on the Noble, Pious, Spiritually-Minded German Protestant Princes (?)

XIII. A Plea to the Fair-Minded, and Further Reading

XIV. Counter-Response to a Critique of This Review: "Catholics vs. the Bible" Revisited

I. Cinematically Excellent

I watched Luther a few hours ago. Some visitors to my blog might be familiar with my many articles about Martin Luther, from the Catholic perspective. I would like to comment on the movie itself and then on some related historical and theological issues.
First of all, the movie qua movie was superb. The script, sets, costumes, direction, acting, cinematography, dramatic pace, locations were all excellent. As a lover of history -- particularly Church history and the Middle Ages -- I enjoyed the "period" aspect of the movie immensely. The film plainly exhibits the Protestant perspective (over against Catholicism), as would and should be expected. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with presenting a piece of important history from one particular viewpoint. Everyone has an outlook, and this is altogether normal.

II. Some Fair Portrayals of Catholics, But . . .

Someone (I don't remember who) once made a statement (about the media, I believe) to the effect that "we don't expect a partisan to be unbiased, but we can rightfully expect him to be fair, in presenting multiple viewpoints." The film Luther is fair in some respects, in this sense.
Particularly, Luther's confessor and mentor in the Augustinian order, Johann von Staupitz (c. 1460-1524), was presented realistically and sympathetically. It was shown that he was a lifelong Catholic, who wasn't swayed by Luther's diverging theological views. The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia stated concerning him:
Staupitz was no Lutheran but thoroughly Catholic in matters of faith (especially as regards the freedom of the will, the meritoriousness of good works, and justification). This has been established by Paulus from the writings of Staupitz.
Protestants viewing the movie might form the impression that Staupitz was a good evangelical almost-Protestant Christian (since he was shown as a "good guy" and told Luther about Jesus -- a notion supposedly few Catholics stress). Church historian Philip Schaff tries valiantly to make him into one, with caricatured, unnecessarily dichotomy-strewn statements like:
He cared more for the inner spiritual life than outward forms and observances, and trusted in the merits of Christ rather than in good works of his own . . . He was evangelical, without being a Protestant. He cared little for Romanism, . . .
But even in the context of this partisan treatment, Schaff (characteristically) fairly presents Staupitz's thoroughly Catholic beliefs:
Staupitz was Luther's spiritual father, and "first caused the light of the gospel to shine in the darkness of his heart" . . . But when Luther broke with Rome, and Rome with Luther, the friendship cooled down. Staupitz held fast to the unity of the Catholic Church and was intimidated and repelled by the excesses of the Reformation. In a letter of April 1, 1524, he begs Luther's pardon for his long silence and significantly says in conclusion:
May Christ help us to live according to his gospel which now resounds in our ears and which many carry on their lips; for I see that countless persons abuse the gospel for the freedom of the flesh . . .
The sermons which he preached at Salzburg since 1522 breathe the same spirit and urge Catholic orthodoxy and obedience. His last book, published after his death (1525) under the title, Of the Holy True Christian Faith, is a virtual protest against Luther's doctrine of justification by faith alone and a plea for a practical Christianity which shows itself in good works. He contrasts the two doctrines in these words:
The fools say, he who believes in Christ, needs no works; the Truth says, whosoever will be my disciple, let him follow Me; and whosoever will follow Me, let him deny himself and carry my cross day by day; and whosoever loves Me, keeps my commandments . . . The evil spirit suggests to carnal Christians the doctrine that man is justified without works, and appeals to Paul. But Paul only excluded works of the law which proceed from fear and selfishness, while in all his epistles he commends as necessary to salvation such works as are done in obedience to God's commandments, in faith and love. Christ fulfilled the law, the fools would abolish the law; Paul praises the law as holy and good, the fools scold and abuse it as evil because they walk according to the flesh and have not the mind of the Spirit.
(History of the Christian Church, New York: Charles Scribner's sons, 1910, vol. 7: The Reformation From A.D. 1517 to 1648, Section 22, "Luther and Staupitz")
One is happy to see Catholics fairly portrayed at all in any such movie, even if the impression is left that they are quasi-Protestants, "born again" in the evangelical sense or what-not (because so many Protestants don't understand that all Christians have the gospel of Grace Alone by Means of Jesus Atoning Death on the Cross in common; thus they believe that any Catholic who grasps these elementary things must be a Protestant or on the way to being one). In any event, we're so used to the tired, timeworn stereotypes of Catholics that even partially-sympathetic dramatizations are refreshing and most welcome, even under these semi-pretentious conditions.
Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony (1463-1525), played by the delightful Sir Peter Ustinov, comes off as a lovable, endearing, teddy-bear-like, but principled and wise ruler, concerned for Luther's well-being (as one of his subjects and fellow German) -- beyond the religious disputes. He did indeed protect Luther (which is commendable). But the whole truth about him -- as with Luther himself, warts and all --, is far more interesting. Catholic historian Hartmann Grisar, S.J., writes:
In the letter which Luther wrote to Albrecht of Brandenburg, he referred to the general degradation of the clergy manifested by "various songs, sayings, satires," and by the fact that priests and monks were cartooned on walls, placards, and lastly on playing cards. This systematic defamation was common particularly in electoral Saxony, during the reign of Frederick, the protector of the "Reformation," who knowingly permitted the attacks upon Catholicism to increase in every department of life. The deception and duplicity which he practiced casts a dark shadow upon his character and places his customary surname, "the Wise" in a peculiar light.

Up to his death, on May 5, 1525, Frederick practiced double-dealing in religious matters. He never married, but had two sons and a daughter by a certain Anna Weller . . . [and was not] distinguished by high moral qualities . . .

A new sermon in which Luther fulminated against the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, was delivered on November 27, 1524. The princes and the authorities, he exclaimed, ought finally to force "the blasphemous servants of the Babylonian harlot" to stop the devilish practice of saying Mass . . . The town-council and the university threatened with the wrath of God the priests who still held out. Finally, Frederick "the Wise" abandoned them ignominiously to their fate. A vigorous word from him, reinforced by his guard, would have silenced the opponents, at least in the city . . . On Christmas, 1524, Mass was suspended for the first time, never to be resumed.

(Hartmann Grisar, Martin Luther: His Life and Work, translated from the 2nd German edition by Frank J. Eble, Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1950; originally 1930, 241-243)
Grisar states that Frederick died as an adherent of Luther; "the first German prince thus to pass away" (p. 243), and that he and Luther had never met personally. His brother John, who succeeded him in his office, was a committed Lutheran, by whose assistance:
Luther was able to exterminate Catholic worship in the electorate of Saxony. As the Reformation was imposed in electoral Saxony by pressure from above, so, too, in other German territories . . . by recourse to penal measures enforced by the civil authorities.

(Grisar, ibid., 243-244)
The issue of religious freedom and toleration and the movie's skewed presentation of it will be further discussed at length in sections VI, VII, and XI.
Catholic writer and film critic Steven D. Greydanus, in an Internet review entitled: "Luther: Well Made, but Flawed", noted some of the most significant historical biases that appeared in the film:
Relentlessly hagiographical in its depiction of Luther and one-sidedly positive in its view of the Reformation, the film also distorts Catholic theology and significant matters of historical fact, consistently skewing its portrayal to put Luther in the best possible light while making his opponents seem as unreasonable as possible . . .
The film similarly shows Luther’s horror and grief over the massacre of over 100,000 peasants by the German princes in response to the peasant uprising — but fails to reveal that Luther himself, in a vituperative essay called “Against the Murdering and Thieving Hordes of Peasants,” specifically called upon the princes to show no mercy in crushing the uprising. This selective depiction creates the impression that the guilt and remorse we see Luther feeling over the peasant massacre is simply due to his awareness of how distortions of his own teachings played a role in the peasant revolt — which, since that seems not to have been Luther’s fault, implies that Luther was in no way implicated in the peasant massacre, when in fact he was.

The film is equally careful to exculpate Luther of rebellious intent regarding the pope, showing his respect and deference for Leo as late as his 1518 interview with Cardinal Cajetan — yet it never hints at Luther’s identification of the pope as the Antichrist years earlier, even before the 1517 publication of his 95 Theses. In fact, we never hear Luther associating the papacy with the Antichrist, though he did so repeatedly.

In Luther, representatives of Catholic orthodoxy, especially papal representatives such as Cardinal Cajetan, are always shown dismissively refusing to debate or engage Luther, instead imperiously insisting that he recant without argument. Certainly Luther did meet with such treatment at times; yet the impression conveyed by the film is that no one on the Catholic side was ever interested in engaging and refuting Luther’s novel ideas. That Johann Eck, for example, publicly debated both Luther and Carlstadt — and seems to have had the best of the debates, incidentally — is not something one would ever guess from this film. Of course the filmmakers can’t show everything; but why must they consistently omit whatever facts might suggest that Luther’s adversaries were anything but unreasonable and imperious?

. . . The film alleges that Leo X put a bounty on Luther’s head, but neglects to show Leo sending orders that Luther’s safe passage from the Diet of Worms was to be respected.

Tetzel comes off even worse. Luther is as ready to believe and represent the worst of him as it is to believe the best about Luther. For example, the film credits the scandalous rumor, alluded to by Luther, that Tetzel claimed to absolve with his indulgences even one who (per impossibile) “violates the mother of God,” though Tetzel indignantly denied saying this and had eyewitness testimony to back up his claims . . .

. . . von Staupitz is clearly the exception to the rule. And certainly the film shows nothing that in any way reflects negatively on its hero . . .

. . . This is a shame, because in many ways Luther is an admirable effort. Had the filmmakers been willing to allow a bit of ambiguity, take a more critical warts-and-all look at its hero, and give the 16th-century Catholic Church its due, they might have created a film one could recommend Catholics and Protestants watching together and discussing and debating afterwards.
III. 16th-Century Corruption in the Church and How Catholics View it
The corruption of the time was dramatically and effectively presented. Catholics have never denied that corruption existed (after all, all Christians are also fallen human beings). The film even shows several Catholics decrying the corruption-in-morals and practice. I appreciated this, for this is how human reality always is: there are good and bad people in any given group (including all Christian circles). Catholics disagree with the Protestant solution to the problems. In my first paper on Martin Luther after my conversion to Catholicism, written in 1991, I cited the German Catholic theologian Karl Adam, with regard to corruption in the Church during Luther's time:
Catholics today (more so than formerly) freely admit that the Church in Luther's time sorely needed reforming. The eminent German Catholic theologian Karl Adam, in his book The Roots of the Reformation, [translated by Cecily Hastings, New York: Sheed & Ward, 1951; portion of One and Holy, 1948], devotes nearly a third of its space to "weakness in the Church." He states that "the Renaissance Popes seem to have carried out in their own lives that cult of idolatrous humanism, demonic ambition and unrestrained sensuality" (p. 14). He quotes the words of Pope Adrian VI (1522-23), who in turn cited St. Bernard: "Vice has grown so much a matter of course that those who are stained with it are no longer aware of the stink of sin" (p. 20). He is quite frank and descriptive of other abuses:
    The majority of this clerical proletariat had neither the intellectual nor the moral capacity to so much as guess the profundity of the questions raised by Luther . . . In this waste of clerical corruption it was impossible for the Spirit of our Lord to penetrate into the people . . . There was no sacramental impulse towards an interiorizing and deepening of religion. So the attention of the faithful was directed towards externals . . . This hideous simoniacal abuse of indulgences corrupted true piety . . . indulgences were perverted to a blasphemous haggling with God. Night fell on the German Church . . . (pp. 22-26)
Adam also reminds us of positive aspects of the late Middle Ages (typically neglected by Protestant and secular historians):
    The common people of the Church . . . were genuinely devoted to their Catholic faith despite all the abuses . . . Even the simple people knew how to distinguish between the office and the person's own piety and to apply our Lord's words to the gloomy contemporary scene: 'All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do; but according to their works do ye not' (Matt 23:3) . . . Amidst the general decline there were still of course plenty of morally upright priests . . . (pp. 17,19)
In this context he laments the loss of the Luther that might have been:
    Had Martin Luther then arisen with his marvellous gifts of mind and heart, his warm penetration of the essence of Christianity, his passionate defiance or all unholiness and ungodliness, the elemental fury of his religious experience, his surging, soul-shattering power of speech, and not least that heroism in the face of death . . .- had he brought all these magnificent qualities to the removal of the abuses of the time . . . had he remained a faithful member of his Church, humble and simple, sincere and pure, then indeed we should today be his grateful debters. He would be forever our great Reformer . . . comparable to Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi. He would have been the greatest saint of the German people . . .But -- and here lies the tragedy of the Reformation . . .- he let the warring spirits drive him to overthrow not merely the abuses in the Church, but the Church Herself . . . what St. Augustine calls the greatest sin . . . he set up altar against altar and tore in pieces the one Body of Christ. (pp. 27-28)
The Catholic -- bottom line -- always contends that Luther "threw the baby out with the bathwater." We also affirm that the Church could have been --indeed, must be, and was, in fact -- reformed without splitting it up. There are different solutions and "answers" to the excesses of the doctrine of indulgences which the film accurately portrays. Catholics responded by reforming the abuses in practice, but not throwing out the doctrine itself. But Protestants threw out this doctrine, and several others (see more on the indulgences issue and treatment of the Diets of Worms and Augsburg below).
IV. The One Glaring Distortion of History: Catholics and the Bible

Granted, a film is not a theological treatise. Nor is it a formal debate. It's not possible to present both sides of the issues comprehensively. And even if this were done (adding an hour to the length), most of the audience would not grasp even the main points of the disputes. Many of the issues involved are complex and multi-faceted and could hardly be dealt with except in a lengthy treatment in a more academic documentary form: fit primarily for students of theology (perhaps only advanced students at that). I understand this limitation from a "cinematic" standpoint.

My beef with Luther was not, therefore, what it presented (the Protestant emphases were in no way surprising to anyone who knows the outline of the story), but what it inexcusably omitted, in terms of indispensable factual information. In courts of law, witnesses are enjoined to "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." There was one major area in which Luther not only did not tell the "whole truth," but also inexcusably communicated outright falsehoods.
That subject matter is the Catholic viewpoint towards the Holy Scriptures, and particularly the Scriptures in the vernacular (native languages of each country, as opposed to Latin). Here the movie went from substantially-accurate history (told from a Protestant theological perspective) to myth and propagandizing. And that is unacceptable and (in my opinion) unethical. Thankfully, Luther is not in the same league as the sheer mythmaking or fiction of historically-farcical movies such as Amadeus or Gandhi (where central aspects of the film's protagonist or of the plot itself are fundamentally botched or deliberately fudged), but it was bad enough, as far as it went.
Before I analyze this shortcoming and reply with what I think are absolutely compelling factual counter-arguments, I would like to submit why it is that this fault occurred, in such glaring contrast to the easily-documented facts of history. I believe that it was required because it ties in so closely to what might be called the "Protestant myth of its own origins" -- or a sort of Protestant "folklore."
Central to Protestant self-understanding is the notion that Protestants are the "Bible people"; the ones who are Bible-centered (as well as "gospel-centered," of course) and who reject the "traditions of men" and arbitrary rulings of a powerful ruling class with a vested interest in the status quo. Many Protestants assume that they more or less have a "monopoly" on love and respect for the Bible. The questionable (quite-disputable from even the Bible itself) formal Protestant Rule of Faith, sola Scriptura (the belief that the Bible is the ultimate formal authority, over against Church and Tradition) is assumed almost without argument.
And because of the human tendency to dichotomize differing viewpoints and to create "good guys" and "bad guys" in the most sweeping terms, it becomes almost "psychologically necessary" to come up with a villain, historically speaking. If Protestants are for the Bible, then (in this mindset) someone has to be the "bad guy" and against the Bible. Therefore, in a movie of this sort, which deals with the myth and folklore of Protestant origins, the Catholic Church "must" be the "bad guy" and enemy of the Holy Scriptures (otherwise, much of the Protestant self-understanding and historical importance and rationale for the very movement itself is greatly hindered). Alongside this is the commonly-held Protestant caricature of claiming that the Catholic Church "feared" the Bible, and how it would expose the falsity of Catholic beliefs, which is why she allegedly forbade it to the common people, in the common tongue, and discouraged its study.
The only problem with such embellishment of one's own epic and noble tale of origins is that it can't hold a candle to the true history concerning the Catholic high reverence for Scripture. It is a simple, indisputable historical fact that the Catholic Church was the guardian, translator and preserver of the Bible for the nearly 1500 years between the time of Jesus Christ and Martin Luther. Anyone at all familiar with the Middle Ages knows about learned monks copying the Scriptures laboriously by hand.
Had the Catholic Church hated or feared the Bible as is so often absurdly claimed, it was an easy matter during this period to destroy all copies. Nor were the masses ignorant of the Bible in the Middle Ages before the Protestants came into the picture. If anything, Bible literacy in the fifty years before Luther's revolt (1467-1517) among lay non-scholars was arguably greater than in our own time.
Before the modern printing press was invented in the mid-15th century, Bibles were chained at libraries not in order to "keep them from the people," as the stereotype goes, but rather, to protect them from thieves, so the common people could have more access to them, as books were very expensive. This practice persisted long after 1517 in Protestant countries such as England, since older books would have continued to be very valuable. Every Protestant (even the most anti-Catholic sort) ought to be profoundly thankful to the Catholic Church, without which they would not possess their Bible.
Nor is it at all true that the Catholic Church was opposed to the printing and distribution of Bible translations in vernacular languages (it did oppose some Protestant translations which it felt were inaccurate). For instance (utterly contrary to the myths in this regard which are pathetically promulgated by the movie Luther), between 1466 and the onset of Protestantism in 1517 at least sixteen editions of the Bible appeared in German, with the full approval of the Catholic Church:
    High German:Strasburg: 1466, 1470, 1485
    Basel, Switzerland: 1474
    Augsburg: 1473 (2), 1477 (2), 1480, 1487, 1490, 1507 [also in 1518]
    Nuremburg: 1483
    Low German:
    Cologne: 1480 (2)
    Lubeck: 1494
    Halberstadt: [1522]
    Delf: [before 1522]
    (From Johannes Janssen, History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages, 16 vols., translated by A.M. Christie, St. Louis: B. Herder, 1910 [orig. 1891], vol. 1, 56-57, vol. 14, 388)
Was the Bible unknown in German before 1466 and the printing press? Hardly. Raban Maur (c. 776-856), had translated the Bible into the Teutonic, or old German, language. Valafrid Strabon (c. 809-849) did the same, as did Huges of Fleury. Ottfried of Wissemburg rendered it in verse. So we see that the "conspiracy" of the Catholic Church to eliminate the Bible from the common man by banning the vernacular was singularly unsuccessful. Protestant scholar Philip Schaff, wrote in his History of the Christian Church:
During the fourteenth century some unknown scholars prepared a new translation of the whole Bible into the Middle High German dialect. It slavishly follows the Latin Vulgate. It may be compared to Wiclif's English Version (1380), which was likewise made from the Vulgate, the original languages being then almost unknown in Europe. A copy of the New Testament of this version has been recently published, from a manuscript in the Premonstratensian convent of Tepl in Bohemia. Another copy is preserved in the college library at Freiberg in Saxony. Both are from the fourteenth century, and agree almost word for word with the first printed German Bible, . . .

After the invention of the printing-press, and before the Reformation, this mediaeval German Bible was more frequently printed than any other except the Latin Vulgate. No less than seventeen or eighteen editions appeared between 1462 and 1522, at Strassburg, Augsburg, Nürnberg, Cöln, Lübeck, and Halberstadt (fourteen in the High, three or four in the Low German dialect). Most of them are in large folio, in two volumes, and illustrated by wood-cuts. Besides the whole Bible, there were numerous German editions of the Gospels and Epistles (Plenaria), and the Psalter, all made from the Vulgate.

Luther could not be ignorant of this mediaeval version. He made judicious use of it, as he did also of old German and Latin hymns. Without such aid he could hardly have finished his New Testament in the short space of three months. But this fact does not diminish his merit in the least; for his version was made from the original Hebrew and Greek, and was so far superior in every respect that the older version entirely disappeared. It is to all intents a new work . . .

NOTE: The Pre-Lutheran German Bible

According to the latest investigations, fourteen printed editions of the whole Bible in the Middle High German dialect, and three in the Low German, have been identified. Panzer already knew fourteen; see his Gesch. der nürnbergischen Ausgaben der Bibel, Nürnberg, 1778, p. 74.

The first four, in large folio, appeared without date and place of publication, but were probably printed: 1, at Strassburg, by Heinrich Eggestein, about or before 1466 (the falsely so-called Mainzer Bibel of 1462); 2, at Strassburg, by Johann Mentelin, 1466 (?); 3, at Augsburg, by Jodocus Pflanzmann, or Tyner, 1470 (?); 4, at Nürnberg, by Sensenschmidt and Frissner, in 2 vols., 408 and 104 leaves, 1470-73 (?). The others are located, and from the seventh on also dated, viz.: 5, Augsburg, by Günther Zainer, 2 vols., probably between 1473-1475. 6, Augsburg, by the same, dated 1477 (Stevens says, 1475?). 7, The third Augsburg edition, by Günther Zainer, or Anton Sorg, 1477, 2 vols., 321 and 332 leaves, fol., printed in double columns; the first German Bible with a date. 8, The fourth Augsburg edition, by A. Sorg, 1480, folio. 9, Nürnberg, by Anton Koburger (also spelled Koberger), 1483. 10, Strassburg, by Johann Gruninger, 1485. 11 and 12, The fifth and sixth Augsburg editions, in small fol., by Hans Schönsperger, 1487 and 1490. 13, The seventh Augsburg edition, by Hans Otmar, 1507, small folio. 14, The eighth Augsburg edition, by Silvan Otmar, 1518, small folio.

Several of these Bibles, including the Koburger and those of Cologne and Halberstadt, are in the possession of the Union Theol. Seminary, New York. I examined them . . . Dr. Krafft illustrates the dependence of Luther on the earlier version by several examples . . .
"Saved sinner," a Catholic poster on the CARM Catholic board, noted:
. . . the earliest Germanic version of the Bible was done by Ulfilas in 381. That's more than 1100 years before Luther. And more than 20 years before the publication of the Jerome's Latin Vulgate. Charlemagne had the Bible translated into the vernacular in the 9th century. That was more that 600 years before Luther. The Augsburger Bible of 1350 was a complete translation of the New Testament into German. The Wenzel Bible of 1389 had a complete translation of the Old Testament into German.

Myths die hard, though (unfortunately). Thus, the oft-heard claim that Martin Luther "rescued the Bible [in German] from the ashes" or from oblivion and cynical, diabolical Catholic oppression (and the repeated strong implication in Luther of the same), is not only false, but outrageously so.
The situation was no different in other European countries. From 1450 to 1550, for example, there appeared (with express permission from Rome) more than forty Italian editions or translations of the Bible (from 1471 to 1520) and eighteen French editions (ten appearing before 1520), as well as others in Bohemian (two), Belgian, Russian, Danish, Norwegian, Polish, and Hungarian. Spain published editions starting in 1478 with the full approval of the Spanish Inquisition. A total of 626 editions appeared, of which 198 were in the vernacular languages, with the sanction of the Catholic Church, before any Protestant version saw the light of day.
(See: Janssen, ibid.; Henry G. Graham, Where We Got the Bible, St. Louis: B. Herder, 3rd ed., 1939, 98, 105-108, 120) Graham asks:
What, then, becomes of the pathetic delusion of 'Evangelical' Christians that an acquaintance with the open Bible in our own tongue must necessarily prove fatal to Catholicism? . . .

Many senseless charges are laid at the door of the Catholic Church; but surely the accusation that, during the centuries preceding the 16th, she was the enemy of the Bible and of Bible reading must, to any one who does not wilfully shut his eyes to facts, appear of all accusations the most ludicrous . . .
(Graham, ibid., 106, 108)
Furthermore, Latin was not a "dead language" When St. Jerome first produced the Latin Vulgate (itself meaning "vulgar" or "common" tongue), but the universal language of Europe, much like English is today. Whoever could read, read Latin.
The state of affairs in England and for English-speaking peoples was no different. The famous preface of the translators of the King James Bible (1611) tells of the history of English translations, most of which predated Protestantism:
    To have the Scriptures in the mother tongue is not a quaint conceit lately taken up . . . but hath been . . . put in practice of old, even from the first times of the conversion of any nation.
Thus, John Wycliffe was not the first person to give English people the Bible in their own tongue in the 14th century, as a popular misguided myth would have it. We have copies of the work of Caedmon from the 7th century, and that of the Venerable Bede, Eadhelm, Guthlac, and Egbert from the 8th (all in Saxon, the prevalent language at that time). From the 9th and 10th centuries come the translations of King Alfred the Great and Aelfric, Archbishop of Canterbury. Early English versions include that of Orm around 1150, the Salus Animae (1250), and the translations of William Shoreham, Richard Rolle (d. 1349), and John Trevisa (c. 1360) (see Graham, ibid.).
Prominent Protestant Bible scholar F.F. Bruce mentions these translations and others in his book, History of the Bible in English (New York: Oxford University Press, 3rd edition, 1978) in his chapter, "The Beginnings of the English Bible," pages 1-11. He didn't make up these vernacular Bibles. They existed. This is historical fact. Henry Graham writes:
. . . we shall . . . refute once more the common fallacy that John Wycliff was the first to place an English translation of the Scriptures in the hands of the English people in 1382. To anyone that has investigated the real facts of the case, this fondly-cherished notion must seem truly ridiculous; it is not only absolutely false, but stupidly so, inasmuch as it admits of such easy disproof; one wonders that nowadays any lecturer or writer should have the temerity to advance it . . .
(Graham, ibid., 98)
V. Why Catholics Opposed Certain Bible Translations (St. Thomas More)
When the Catholic Church did oppose translations, it was not because she was against the vernacular, but because she thought particular translations were bad ones (thus harmful to the people). This was true of both Wycliffe's and Tyndale's translations. Protestant scholars themselves often take the same stance with regard to the relative worth of the many translations of the Bible. So it is most unfair to charge the Catholic Church with being "anti-Bible" when she was merely trying to safeguard the Scriptures for the people by making sure it was translated properly -- just as Protestants themselves do. In fact, there is an excellent example (one of many) of Protestants trying to repress the English language New Testament produced by Catholics at Rheims in 1582. Bible scholar D. Turner described the "battle":
When Father [Gregory] Martin published his A Discouverie of the Manifold Corruptions of the Holy Scriptures (1582) as a companion handbook to the Rheims New Testament, William Fulke’s rage could not be contained. His A Defense of the sincere and true Translations of the holie Scriptures into the English tong, against the manifolde cavils, frivolus quarrels, and impudent slanders of Gregorie Martin, one of the readers of Popish divinitie in the trayterous Seminarie of Rhemes ... (1583) expressed a venom unexcelled by other controversialists of the period. Fulke accused Martin of every moral and intellectual sin he could think of, and Fulke’s ability to cut his enemies into little bits was highly developed and recognized.

However, this was just the first round. With his 1589 publication of The Text of the New Testament of Jesus Christ, translated out of the vulgar Latine by the Papists of the traiterous Seminarie at Rhemes ... whereunto is added the Translation out of the Original Greeke, communly used in the Church of England , Fulke hoped to crush and destroy forever the Rheims New Testament by putting the Bishops’ Bible in parallel columns for comparison. He reasoned that if the differences in the texts could be seen, the Rheims would be laughed out of court.

It did not prove so! What Fulke did was to give the Rheims a great circulation and joined two major streams leading to the textual peace of the King James Version. Fulke’s gift to the Rheims was not death but immortality.
As an interesting side note, Turner commented that the Douay-Rheims Bible (entire Bible completed in 1610) had a significant influence on the King James Version (1611):
. . . it was to make a major contribution to English biblical text in the 1611 King James Version, but credit for this contribution was denied for almost three centuries.

. . . some of the most cherished phrases in the King James Version were taken unacknowledged from the Rheims New Testament: "Bethlehem of Judea;" "rejoiced with exceeding great joy;" "a very great multitude;" "pieces of silver;" "to publish and blaze abroad;" "as sheep not having a shepherd;" "an evil eye;" "behold a multitude;" and "the only begotten of the Father," to cite only a few of the more felicitous phrases.

"Abused but used" would be an apt description of the Rheims New Testament. Its verbal legacy touches our lives daily, but only with the publication of the Revised New Testament (1881) was any acknowledgment made of its contribution. Two hundred and ninety-nine years is a long time to wait!
Debates over good and bad translations are not debates over the merit and worth of the Bible itself. This is shown, for example, by St. Thomas More's reaction against Tyndale's translation. F.F. Bruce noted this:
In 1529 Sir Thomas More . . . published a work in which he launched a fierce attack upon the English version of the New Testament lately completed by William Tyndale. In the course of this attack he refers to the "great arch-heretic Wycliffe", who undertook "of a malicious purpose" to translate the Bible into English and "purposely corrupted the holy text." It was Wycliffe's activity, he says, that led to the ban on unauthorized versions of the Bible in the Constitutions of Oxford. But it was by no means intended that all Bible versions should be indiscriminately banned. For, he goes on, "myself have seen, and can shew you, Bibles fair and old written in English, which have been known and seen by the bishop of the diocese, and left in laymen's hands, and women's, to such as he knew for good and Catholic folk.

(Bruce, ibid., 22-23, citing More's A Dialogue Concerning Heresies)
Bruce adds, "If the owners were orthodox and practising Catholics, no one would forbid them to read these books." Now, whatever one thinks of St. Thomas More's particular opinion on Wycliffe's and Tyndale's translations and the faults or motives of these two men, this proves beyond doubt that the Catholic attitude was one of opposing translations thought to be corrupted by heretical teaching and bias, not vernacular translations, period.
More biographer E.E. Reynolds quotes his subject's words about the necessity of proper exposition of the Scripture from "preachers" -- but not in the sense that laypeople should not read the Bible in their native tongue, or that they do not profit from Bible-reading:
More had no difficulty in showing that the constitution referred to, that of Archbishop Arundel in 1408, was misunderstood; it enacted that only translations that had been approved by the Bishops were permissible . . .
[More] . . . that is the preacher's part, and theirs that after long study are admitted to read and expound it. And to this extent weigh all the words, as far as I perceive, of all holy doctors that anything have written in this matter. But never meant they, as I suppose, the forbidding of the Bible to be read in any vulgar tongue. Nor I never yet heard any reason laid why it were not convenient to have the Bible translated into the English tongue . . .

There is no treatise of scripture so hard but that a good virtuous man, or woman either, shall somewhat find therein that shall delight and increase their devotion . . . the whole audience may without harm have read and have ready the scripture in mind that he shall in his preaching declare and expound . . . every man may take good thereby and no man harm but he that will in the study thereof lean proudly to the folly of his own wit.

(St. Thomas More, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1957, 176-177, again citing A Dialogue Concerning Heresies)
Along these lines, the Preface of the (Catholic) Rheims New Testament (1582) stated:
Now since Luther's revolt also, diverse learned Catholics, for the more speedy abolishing of a number of false and impious translations put forth by sundry sects, and for the better preservation or reclaim of many good souls endangered thereby, have published the Bible in the several languages of almost all the principal provinces of the Latin Church, no other books in the world being so pernicious as heretical translations of the Scriptures . . .

VI. Luther's Censorship of Catholic Bibles and Books of Other Protestants

Given these little-known historical counter-facts, it is greatly ironic (especially in light of the mythical folklore in Luther about attitudes toward the Bible), that Luther himself also wished to deliberately suppress Catholic translations of the Bible:

"The freedom of the Word," which he claimed for himself, was not to be accorded to his opponent Emser . . . When . . . he learnt that Emser's translation . . . was to be printed . . . at Rostock, he not only appealed himself to his follower, Duke Henry of Mecklenburg, with the request that "for the glory of the evangel of Christ and the salvation of all souls" he would put a stop to this printing, but he also worked on the councillors of the Elector of Saxony to support his action. He denied the right and the power of the Catholic authorities to inhibit his books; on the other hand he invoked the arm of the secular authorities against all writings that were displeasing to him.

(Janssen, ibid., vol. 14, 503-504 -- referring to an incident in 1529, a year before the Diet of Augsburg, portrayed in the movie)
This attitude of censorship from Luther and his cohorts extended to other religious publications as well. Luther was certainly no advocate of free speech as we know it today. In this respect he was not a whit different than Catholics (arguably much more hypocritical because of his supposed first principles of freedom of conscience and religion). When the controversy on the Lord's Supper was started at Wittenberg, the utmost precautions were taken to suppress the writings of the Swiss Reformed theologians and of the German preachers who shared the latter's views. At the instigation of Luther and Melanchthon, the Elector John of Saxony issued an edict in 1528 to the following effect:
    Books and pamphlets (of the Anabaptists, Sacramentarians, etc.) must not be allowed to be bought or sold or read . . . also those who are aware of such breaches of the orders laid down herein, and do not give information, shall be punished by loss of life and property.
    (Janssen, ibid., vol. 14, 232-233 / Bretschneider, ed., Corpus Reformation, Halle: 1846, vol. 4, 549; see also, Will Durant, The Reformation, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957, 424)
Philip Melanchthon (Luther's right-hand man and successor and the "hero" of Augsburg in the movie -- he wrote the Augsburg Confession) demanded in the most severe and comprehensive manner the censure and suppression of all books that were hindering to Lutheran teaching. For example, the writings of Zwingli and the Zwinglians were placed formally on the Index at Wittenberg. (See Janssen, ibid., vol. 14, 504) I've written about Protestant censorship in my paper, "The Protestant Inquisition ('Reformation' Intolerance and Persecution)".
VII: Early Protestants: Champions of Conscience, Freedom, and Toleration?

The other glaring error in the movie, Luther, of the same general nature, but lesser in degree, was implied mostly in the final scene at the Diet of Augsburg and the "editorial comment" or "moral of the story" with which the movie finished (and is very commonly held in both Protestant and secular culture at large). This was the subtle insinuation that early Protestants were almost exclusively the champions of religious freedom, while the Catholics were the ruthless persecutors and enemies of same. This ties in with the fundamental Protestant self-understanding and "myth of origins" as well.

The impression was given that Luther, distressed by the aftermath of the Peasants' Revolt, in which an estimated 100,000-130,000 died, had become particularly concerned with religious freedom. The Revolt was itself portrayed fairly, for the most part, because allusion was made to the fact that Luther had some responsibility in stirring up the peasants by his over-the-top quasi-violent rhetoric, and his pangs of guilt were also displayed.
Luther was shown as thoroughly opposed to the violent fanatic Carlstadt. That much is true. Although his rhetoric sometimes seemed contrary, Luther opposed destroying churches, insurrection, and iconoclasm (which considered any images of religious themes idolatrous -- Luther defended, for example, the use of crucifixes and other non-idolatrous images). There was no silly whitewashing of church interiors or banning of stained glass in Lutheran territories -- as there was in many Calvinist-dominated areas --, or prohibition of music.
For an in-depth (and, I think, very fair and impartial) treatment of the complex issue of Luther and his attitude towards the Peasants' Revolt, see my heavily-documented paper (mostly consisting of quotes from Luther and Church historians): "Martin Luther's Violent, Inflammatory Rhetoric and its Relationship to the German Peasants' Revolt (1524-1525)."
The "Luther-as-always-the-noble-hero-and slayer-of-hopelessly-corrupt-Rome-Babylon" myth, however, also holds that he was the champion of religious freedom and freedom of conscience, for men to worship as they please. This is simply not true (contrary to the film's implication that denial of same was mainly an attribute of only the fanatic hordes, led by Carlstadt). This mythology was contradicted by Luther's notion of the "State Church," where secular princes took the role previously held by bishops, with each region was declared to be of one religious persuasion or the other. And it is contradicted by a host of other decrees and acts of power, oppression and suppression.
I have compiled massive documentation for this claim in my papers, "The Protestant Inquisition ('Reformation' Intolerance and Persecution)", and "The Protestant Revolt: Its Pernicious and Tragic Initial Impact". I shall summarize some relevant facts briefly. Readers who want full documentation can consult the above papers:
1. "The Reformers themselves . . . e.g., Luther, Beza, and especially Calvin, were as intolerant to dissentients as the Roman Catholic Church." (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 1383)

2. "If any one still harbors the traditional prejudice that the early Protestants were more liberal, he must be undeceived . . . there is hardly anything to be found among the leading reformers in favor of freedom of conscience. As soon as they had the power to persecute they did." (Preserved Smith, secularist historian)
3. "The intolerance of Protestantism was certainly not less tyrannical than that with which Catholicism is so much reproached." (19th-century sociologist Auguste Comte)
4. "Toleration was now definitely less after the Reformation than before it." (Will Durant, secularist historian)
5. The Lutheran princes suppressed all Catholic monasteries in their territories (Durant).
6. Luther favored expulsion of Catholics. Melanchthon was in favor of proceeding against them with corporal penalties (Janssen). Saxony (Luther's home area) banned Catholics in 1527.
7. At a religious convention at Hamburg in April, 1535 the Lutheran towns of Lubeck, Bremen, Hamburg, Luneburg, Stralsund, Rostock and Wismar all voted to hang Anabaptists and flog Catholics and Zwinglians before banishing them (Janssen).
8. Luther (1533): "It is our custom to affright those who . . . fail to attend the preaching; and to threaten them with banishment and the law . . . In the event of their still proving contumacious, to excommunicate them . . . as if they were heathen."
9. "The Protestant states did not question that teachers of disapproved doctrines should be prevented from preaching." (Protestant historian Owen Chadwick)
10. Luther (1522): "It were better that every bishop were murdered . . . than that one soul should be destroyed . . . If they will not hear God's Word . . . what do they better deserve than a strong uprising which will sweep them from the earth? And we would smile did it happen. All who contribute body, goods . . . that the rule of the bishops may be destroyed are God's dear children and true Christians."
11. Luther (1522): "Some . . . will not treat our gospel rightly; but have we not gibbets, wheels, swords, and knives? Those who are obdurate can be brought to reason."
12. Luther (1536 [signatory to this pamphlet written by Philip Melanchthon]: "That seditious articles of doctrine should be punished by the sword needed no further proof . . . it becomes clear that the secular authorities are bound . . . to inflict corporal punishment on the offenders . . . Also when it is a case of only upholding some spiritual tenet, such as infant baptism, original sin, and unnecessary separation, then . . . we conclude that . . . the stubborn sectaries must be put to death."
13. "A regular inquisition was set up in Saxony, with Melanchthon on the bench, and under it many persons were punished, some with death, some with life imprisonment, and some with exile." (Preserved Smith)
14. At the end of 1530, Philip Melanchthon drafted a memorandum in which he defended a regular system of coercion by the sword (i.e., death for Anabaptists). Luther signed it with the words, "It pleases me," and added: "Though it may appear cruel to punish them by the sword, yet it is even more cruel of them . . . not to teach any certain doctrine -- to persecute the true doctrine."
15. In 1530 Melanchthon recommended the death penalty for rejection of infant baptism and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but changed his mind on the latter doctrine later in his life! Also, those who thought the heathen might be saved were to be put to death.
16. Melanchthon applauded Calvin's burning of Michael Servetus. In a letter to Calvin and Bullinger, gave "thanks to the Son of God" . . . and called the burning "a pious and memorable example to all posterity."
17. "At Augsburg, in the first half of the year 1528, about 170 Anabaptists of both sexes were either imprisoned or expelled by order of the new-religionist Town Council. Some were . . . burnt through the cheeks with hot irons; many were beheaded; some had their tongues cut out." (Janssen)
18. Luther (Letter to Anton Lauterbach, November, 1541): "I have well nigh given up all hope for Germany, for . . . the whole host of dishonesty, wickedness, and roguery are reigning everywhere . . . and added to all else contempt of the Word and ingratitude."
19. Luther (Letter to Amsdorf, October 29, 1542): "I am weary of living in this abominable Sodom . . . The Day of Judgment is at hand, the world deserves destruction."
20. Erasmus on the Protestant movement: "Nothing was ever seen more licentious, and, withal, more seditious; nothing, in a word, less evangelical than these pretended evangelists. . . All is carried to extremes in this new Reformation. They root up what ought to be pruned; they set fire to the house in order to cleanse it. Morals are neglected; luxury, debauchery, adulteries, increase more than ever; there is no order, no discipline among them . . . I find more piety in one good Catholic bishop than in all these new evangelists."
21. "The majority of Germans," wrote Melanchthon in 1548, "hate the Word of God as much as they hate us."
22. In 1545 Melanchthon aptly described "four types" of Protestants:
    "The first class . . . detest the bonds of Church laws and usages and prefer the dissolution of all discipline . . . the greater part of the common people who understand nothing of the grounds of the teaching . . . The second class are the . . . nobles . . . who approve . . . not because of conviction, but because they do not wish to oppose the princes. The third class . . . make a great pretence of piety . . . but under this cloak they seek only to gratify their own lusts . . . The fourth class is those whose convictions are based on their own understanding; but of these there are few." (Janssen)
23. "In 1530 Luther advanced the view that two offences should be penalized even with death, namely sedition and blasphemy . . . Luther construed mere abstention from public office and military service as sedition and a rejection of an article of the Apostles' Creed as blasphemy. In a memorandum of 1531, composed by Melanchthon and signed by Luther, a rejection of the ministerial office was described as insufferable blasphemy, and the disintegration of the Church as sedition against the ecclesiastical order. In a memorandum of 1536, again composed by Melanchthon and signed by Luther, the distinction between the peaceful and the revolutionary Anabaptists was obliterated." (Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, New York: Mentor, 1950, 295)
24. Under the various criteria thought by Luther to be heretical, seditious, or blasphemous, the following groups would be worthy of death: Baptists, Pentecostals, many independent evangelicals, Operation Rescue pro-life activists, civil rights activists, Abolitionists, the Founding Fathers of America, many Libertarians and Conservatives, Communists and socialists, many members of communes, Plymouth Brethren, Mennonites, Quakers, Amish, humanists and atheists, all religious non-Christians, most theological liberals, all cultists, draft dodgers and conscientious objectors, and some home schoolers.
25. In 1530, in his commentary on the 82nd Psalm, Luther advised governments to put to death all heretics who preached sedition or against private property, and "those who teach against a manifest article of the faith."
26. Luther on the Jews: ". . . Let their houses also be shattered and destroyed . . . Let their prayer books and Talmuds be taken from them, and their whole Bible too; let their rabbis be forbidden, on pain of death, to teach henceforth any more. Let the streets and highways be closed against them. Let them be forbidden to practice usury, and let all their money, and all their treasures of silver and gold be taken from them and put away in safety. And if all this be not enough, let them be driven like mad dogs out of the land." (About the Jews and Their Lies, 1543; also see Bainton, ibid., 296-298)
Despite all this, some Lutherans are blissfully unaware that Luther ever advocated these things. The wife of a Lutheran pastor (LCMS) wrote (10-25-03) on the large Protestant discussion board, CARM (where she is a moderator):
I plugged in "kill" and "murder" princes, kings, popes, Catholics, Anabaptists, and Baptists in our LutherWorks disc, and came up with exactly zilch--nada, nichts, nothing. The disc has nearly every thing Luther ever wrote, or even said, also from his Table-Talk. The good and the bad, the elevating and the embarrassing. I couldn't find it . . .

The RCC HAD become terribly corrupt, and bloated with power. And the sweet, simple message of the gospel had become buried under centuries of man-made doctrines and superstitions, chief of which was that one could pay money to shorten a loved one's stay in Purgatory a few hundred years . . . Rome was all about politics, and power and keeping that power, at all costs, even at the cost of the truth in Scripture!

. . . if they want to show me how their ancestors were supposedly under Luther's sword, they can do so . . . He didn't kill them, and I have never been able to find anything in any of his writings in which he said that the Anabaptists should be killed, either. Please see that quote, above, that I cut and paste in, from Noland . . . You have yet to prove that Luther encouraged anybody to be killed. Though perhaps his polemic writings were twisted by some to make it appear so.
She had cited Martin R. Noland, Director of Concordia Historical Institute. He wrote to her:
Luther did engage in strong polemics, which are not palatable to our modern,
tolerant ear. I have studied most of Luther's writings in English, and I am not
aware that he "called for killing priests, monks, and kings and for washing our
hands in the blood of bishops."
He did, but it was rhetorical only, and must be understood in that sense (as he later explained himself). This was dealt with at length in my paper on Luther's violent, inflammatory rhetoric. He did indeed write, in a reply to the Dominican Sylvester Prierias, dated June 25, 1520, in which he referred to killing "these Cardinals, these Popes, and the whole swarm of the Roman Sodom," and asked rhetorically: "Why do we not rather assault them with arms and wash our hands in their blood?" This can be found and verified on page 115 of Roland Bainton's famous biography, Here I Stand (New York: Mentor Book, 1950) and in Gordon Rupp's well-known book, Luther's Progress to the Diet of Worms (New York: Harper & Row, Torchbook edition, 1964, p. 93).
Luther was outspoken in arguing that the Reformation would not come through the sword, but through the Word of God preached and taught. I am not aware that Luther ever called for physical violence against any of his opponents, much less whole classes of people.
Protestant Church historians are well aware that Luther regarded Anabaptists as seditious (worse than the dreaded, evil Catholics) and sanctioned capital punishment in their case (see, e.g., #23 above, from Bainton, ibid., p. 295), most notably in his Commentary on the 82nd Psalm (vol. 13, pp. 39-72 in the 55-volume set, Luther's Works, edited by Pelikan et al). How is it that Mr. Noland is unaware of this? I knew about it as far back as 1984, when I read Here I Stand as a Protestant. Mr. Noland continues:
. . . Luther was not in favor of rebellion of any sort, because rebellion always led
to the shedding of blood and the overturning of the law. He urged the princes to
uphold the laws, whether or not there was a rebellion. Rebels had to be
punished, in accordance with the laws of the land.
That's true, but he also (at least after 1536) considered even peaceful Anabaptists (not the violent ones that Mr. Noland also referenced in his letter) seditious rebels, as Bainton notes (again, #23 above), and on the basis of their rejection of "infant baptism" and their "unnecessary separation" (see #12 above).
Everything ever published or written by Martin Luther has been published
numerous times in many collected editions, such as the Weimar Edition in German, and the American Edition in English. If those who slander Luther can find such statements in those works, then I will believe it. Otherwise such things cannot be substantiated. I hope that this is of some assistance!

The time has obviously come, then, for Mr. Noland to "believe it." He need go no further than Roland Bainton (I assume he has read that very famous work; perhaps a "refresher reading" is in order). For readers, see #11, 12, 14, 23, 25, and 26 above for documentation that Luther advocated capital punishment for other brands of Christians (and Jews). And this is all separate and distinct from his plea to the princes to kill the rebels in the Peasants' Revolt (which is a different ethical issue altogether).
VIII. Salvation "Outside the Church"

Comments on three more aspects of the movie are in order: In an early scene, the first thing Luther was shown to disagree with in Catholic teaching was the idea that no one is saved outside the institutional Catholic Church. He asked whether Greek Christians were all damned, and the response (from a pre-radical Carlstadt, no less) implied that they could not be saved unless they became Catholics. This is a distortion of the Catholic position, which is often misunderstood. It is a fairly complex discussion, but in a nutshell, Catholics acknowledge many situations in which non-Catholics could be eschatologically saved (i.e., saved when they die). See my paper: "Dialogue on 'Salvation Outside the Church' and Alleged Catholic Magisterial Contradictions (Particularly in the Middle Ages; With Emphasis on St. Thomas Aquinas's Views)".
Nor has the Catholic Church ever taught that a person who commits suicide is automatically damned to hell (if the movie meant to impy that: I'm not sure). The Church leaves that judgment up to God. Objectively, suicide is objectively a mortal sin, but the subjective state of the person's soul (and thus his guilt) is known only to God. In order for a sin to be subjectively mortal, full consent of the will is required, and it is doubtful that many people in the severe stress preceding suicide are capable of that. We can rest assured that God is merciful and just in such tragic instances, as He always is.
IX. Indulgences: True Excesses, False Myths, and Other Assorted Tidbits

There was much disinformation and misinformation on indulgences in the film. I dealt with that topic in my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism:
Biblical Evidence for Indulgences
Matthew 16:19 / 18:18 / John 20:23 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

. . . Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
These passages form the biblical basis for priestly absolution (forgiveness), and broadly speaking, for both papal and Church jurisdiction (by extension, for the power to impose penance -- binding, retaining -- and to grant indulgences -- loosing, forgiving) . . .
1 Corinthians 5:3-5 / 2 Corinthians 2:6-8,10-11

. . . I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. {see 5:1-2}
For such a one this punishment by the majority is enough; so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him . . . Any one whom you forgive, I also forgive . . . in the presence of Christ, to keep Satan from gaining the advantage over us; for we are not ignorant of his designs.
St. Paul in his commands and exhortations to the Corinthians is in entire agreement with the Catholic tenets of penance and indulgences. He binds in 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 and looses in 2 Corinthians 2:6-7,10, acting as a type of papal figure in 2 Corinthians 2:10, much like St. Peter among the Apostles. He forgives, and bids the Corinthian elders to forgive also, even though the offense was not committed against them personally. Clearly, both parties are acting as God's representatives in the matter of the forgiveness of sins and the remission of sin's temporal penalties (an indulgence).
Catholic writer Bertrand Conway writes of the controversial history of indulgences:
Catholic historians -- Gasquet, Pastor, Janssen, Michaels, Paulus -- have frequently mentioned the abuses connected with the preaching of Indulgences in the Middle Ages. The medieval pardoner . . . was often an unscrupulous rascal, whose dishonesty and fraud were condemned by the Bishops of the time. We find orders for their arrest in Germany at the Council of Mainz in 1261, and in England by order of the Bishop of Durham in 1340. To indict the Church for these abuses . . . is manifestly dishonest . . .

It is comparatively easy today to get monies for any charitable enterprise, for we can appeal to thousands by letter, post, radio or the daily press. In the Middle Ages, when men wished to build a church or support a worthy charity, the Bishop or Pope granted an Indulgence, which first of all called upon the people to approach the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, and then 'to lend a helping hand' in some special work of charity. The Council of Trent, following the Councils of Fourth Lateran [1215], Lyons [1245 and 1274] and Vienne [1311-12], condemned in express terms 'the wicked abuse of quaestors of alms,' and, because of the great scandal they had given, 'abolished their name and use' (Session 24).
While Catholics believe that the building of St. Peter's in Rome was a matter of interest to the whole Catholic world, they heartily condemn with Grisar and Janssen [Catholic historians] the manner of financing the Indulgence, and the exaggerations of the preachers in extolling unduly its effects and privileges.
No one believes today the calumnies against Tetzel's character. Luther did not speak the truth when he asserted that 'Tetzel sold grace for money at the highest price.' As both Pastor and Grisar point out, we must carefully distinguish between Tetzel's teaching with regard to Indulgences for the living, and Indulgences applicable to the dead. With regard to Indulgences for the living, his teaching, as we know from his Vorlegung and his Frankfort Theses, was perfectly Catholic . . .
'As regards Indulgences for the dead,' Pastor writes, 'there is no doubt that Tetzel did, according to what he considered his authoritative instructions, proclaim as Christian doctrine that nothing but an offering of money was required to gain the Indulgence for the dead, without there being any question of contrition or confession. He also taught, in accordance with an opinion then held, that an Indulgence could be applied to any given soul with unfailing effect . . . The Papal Bull of Indulgence gave no sanction whatever to this proposition. It was a vague scholastic opinion, rejected by the Sorbonne in 1482, and again in 1518, and certainly not a doctrine of the Church' (History of the Popes, vol. 7, 349).
Cardinal Cajetan at the time condemned Tetzel's opinion, and taught that 'while we may presume in a general way that God is willing to accept Indulgences for the dead, we have no certainty whatever that He does so in any particular case. That is the secret of God alone.' In 1477 Pope Sixtus IV had expressly taught that the Church applies Indulgences for the dead 'by way of suffrage,' for the souls in Purgatory are no longer subject to her jurisdiction. They receive Indulgences not directly, but indirectly, through the intercession of the living."
(The Question Box, New York: Paulist Press, 1929, 296-297)
Tetzel was portrayed in the usual hackneyed, empty-headed fashion in the movie. I wrote in another paper that Tetzel:
. . . often represents in the mind of the non-Catholic all that is excessive, foolish, and evil in the Catholic Tradition. Luther lied when he said of Tetzel in a 1541 pamphlet: "He sold grace for money at the highest price." Tetzel's teaching was erroneous in some respects, according to Catholic dogma. But it was not identical to the silly stereotype . . . Luther (not immune to slander when it suited his polemical purposes) wrote of Tetzel:
    He wrote that an Indulgence is a reconciliation between God and man and takes effect even though a man performs no penance, and manifests neither contrition nor sorrow.
In point of fact, Tetzel's teaching, which we have in written form in his Vorlegung, states precisely the opposite:
    The Indulgence remits only the pain [i.e., the penalty] of sins which have been repented of and confessed . . . No one merits an Indulgence unless he is in a truly contrite state.
He did indeed exaggerate the monetary aspect of the indulgence, but not according to Church teaching. Even the silly saying about the "coffer" cannot be traced to Tetzel with any certainty. He did teach a version of what the saying conveys, but it was -- again -- not the official teaching of the Church, as is often ignorantly and slanderously implied. The view was not supported by the Papal Bulls of Indulgence, and the pope had not taught this, as Luther falsely charged.
(Background Source: Luther, Hartmann Grisar, S.J., tr. E.M. Lamond, ed. Luigi Cappadelta, London: 1914-1915, 6 volumes; taken from vol. 1: 342-334)
X. Diet of Worms and "Here I Stand" (1521): A Closer Look
Regarding Luther's stance at the Diet of Worms ("here I stand," etc.), the all-too-common perception of Protestants is the idea that Luther had the Bible and reason on his side, and that the Catholics were simply a bunch of spiritually-dead (and often whoring) knee-jerk reactionaries who didn't know a thing about the Bible, wished to suppress it because it exposed their fraudulent tradition-infested doctrines, and who were insufferably unreasonable and intolerant for demanding recantation and not letting Luther argue his case.
I certainly thought all these things when I was an evangelical Protestant (prior to 1990). Luther was one of my biggest heroes and I considered it self-evident that he was right and the Catholics wrong. After some reflection upon precisely what Luther was requiring the Church to do, however, a different picture emerges, where Luther is the one who plays the unreasonable and arrogant, impossibly demanding figure.

In the movie, it was mentioned that among his works that the Church wanted Luther to renounce were The Babylonian Captivity of the Church and To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation.

These were written in 1520, and the Diet of Worms occurred in 1521. Now, what sort of things were they advocating? I wrote elsewhere:
InThe Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Luther called for the abolition of five of the seven Catholic sacraments, and the Sacrifice of the Mass. So, again, the Catholic Church was supposed to just go along with Luther's radical program of "reform," rather than excommunicate a son who is clearly obstinate and not a faithful Catholic to begin with? I would contend that the honest thing for Luther to have done would have been to leave the Catholic Church, since he no longer accepted its doctrines -- rather than create a spectacle and a schism which had repercussions we still live with today. Surely he must have known that the violent rhetoric of his treatises of 1520 would have the effect they did. If not, then he had to be one of the most naive persons who ever lived.

. . . To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, [in which] he invited the German princes to take the reform of the Church into their own hands . . . This is a complete rejection of traditional Catholic authority, and a direct attempt to set up a State Church, which in fact occurred after Lutheranism became established. It is quite questionable, to put it mildly, that secular princes can do a better job at Christianity than bishops and popes . . .

So the Catholic Church is supposed to merrily accept this, as if it is not fatal to its ongoing structure? Just bow to all of Luther's demands? Of course this is absurd. No institution can operate in such a ludicrous fashion. That would change the Church into a dictatorship . . .
    I hope that all this wicked and lying terror with which the Romanists have long intimidated and dulled our conscience has been overcome, and that they, just like all of us, shall be made subject to the sword . . . . They have nothing at all of Christ except the name.
Luther comes close to calling for violent revolution: a call he later made more explicit, and one which culminated in the Peasants' Revolt of 1525, in which 100,000 were killed. Luther -- having largely stirred up the revolution -- quickly disavowed it and called (infamously) for the grisly slaughter of the peasants . . .
The seeds of all this violent revolution and anarchy were already there in Luther's ferocious anti-Catholic polemics of 1520. Yet the Catholic Church was supposed to blithely accept all this rhetoric and implicit threats? . . .

Then we have the common belief that Luther wished to reform, rather than revolutionize the Church. This makes no sense, once all the historical facts are taken into account. To ditch dozens of beliefs and practices of any institution, and revise it almost entirely is not reform, but rather transformation, evolution, or revolution. I have outlined above what Luther was calling for in 1520 -- before he was excommunicated. The Church had previously operated on the principle of preserving its Tradition, received in an unbroken line from the Apostles. Neither the pope, Luther, nor any other self-anointed "reformer" is at liberty to change apostolic doctrine at their whim and fancy . . .

How in the world anyone can maintain that Luther was not a heretic, by the criteria of Catholic dogma, is beyond me. Obviously, he is not by Lutheran criteria, but if one wishes to blame the Catholic Church for excommunicating him, then they must explain how his views were not heretical by Catholic standards (themselves in turn thoroughly biblical, as I seek to prove throughout my website). This simply cannot be done; it is impossible. He had a heretical view in many aspects (concerning justification and salvation) as early as 1515, with his commentaries on Romans and Galatians.

As for not wanting to start his own church, I think this desire is implicit in his radical rejection of the Catholic Church. After Luther asserted, e.g., in 1520 that the temporal princes ought to overthrow the rule of bishops and popes, is it reasonable to maintain that Luther thought he would play no central role in such a "counter-church"? That makes less than no sense to me.
In a dialogue with a Presbyterian, I made a humorous yet ultimately dead-serious analogy to a sort of theoretical Diet of Worms in Calvinist circles, with myself as the nonconformist, confrontational Luther-figure:
How about if I rush up to your Calvinist school (or Westminster Seminary or some place like that) and demand that they deny TULIP and if not, to show me from "Scripture and plain reason" how they can possibly defend their "clearly false" beliefs? Failing that, I will stomp my foot, cry "here I stand" and be carried out by you and other staunch defenders of Established Orthodoxy, perhaps fleeing to a present-day Wartburg Castle in the backwoods of Idaho, where I can come up with ideas for vulgar woodcuts of Calvin or R.C. Sproul being eliminated from the rear end of a Grizzly Bear. I'm sure I would be wildly popular in Calvinist circles, wouldn't I? Would this be accepted cheerfully, causing the Reformeds to repent en masse, tear their shirts (robes?) open and pour dust on their heads, acknowledging their gross errors and corruptions and the historically and biblically obvious? I think not. I have a sneaking suspicion that I would be extended infinitely less patience than Luther was accorded by the Catholic Church.
No one ever seems to analyze this historical situation and Luther's demands in this light. No Calvinist would give in to the demands of an Arminian or a Unitarian who insisted on them giving up their distinctive beliefs for a second. Yet the same people think that the Catholic Church should have done so, in response to one Augustinian monk. They expect the Church to have responded, in effect:
. . . sure, Fr. Luther; you know, you have a point. We have been wrongly teaching five "sacraments" all these years, and if we're honest with ourselves, we must admit that we're wrong about everything else you criticize us for. 1500 years of unbroken, developed tradition means nothing. You are here now: God's anointed; God's prophet and man of the hour [which Luther himself virtually claimed, in a certain fashion], and we bow to the self-evident nature of your biblical arguments. There we stood. We can now do other things, because God has brought you to us and it is a new dawn.
This is clearly absurd. No one expects this of any other institution, let alone one which claims to be divinely-protected from error by the Holy Spirit. It merely begs the question in a spectacular way, by reasoning (usually unconsciously) as follows:
1. Luther (L): The Catholic Church is incorrect in beliefs a, b, c, and d.
2. Catholic (C): Why do you say that?
3. L: Because what you teach is unbiblical.
4. C: What gives you the authority to determine such a thing?
5. L: My authority is the Word of God, to which my conscience is captive.
6. C: We grant your sincerity, but not everyone agrees with your interpretation of Holy Scripture. Why should we believe you over against Church Tradition?
7. L: Because God has appointed me as the restorer of the gospel.
8. C: How do you know that? Why should we believe it?
9. L: God's Word will make it manifest.
10. C: But what happens when your fellow Protestants disagree with you (e.g., Calvin, Zwingli, the Anabaptists)?
11. L: One must determine which view is more biblical.
12. C: How does one go about that, since your movement has no one leader, but rather, increasing numbers of sects who oppose each other on one or more grounds?
13. L: From now on I shall no longer do you the honor of allowing you—or even an angel from heaven—to judge my teaching or to examine it . . . Instead, I shall let myself be heard and, as St. Peter teaches, give an explanation and defense of my teaching to all the world -- I Pet. 3:15. I shall not have it judged by any man, not even by any angel. For since I am certain of it, I shall be your judge and even the angels’ judge through this teaching (as St. Paul says [I Cor. 6:3 ]) so that whoever does not accept my teaching may not be saved — for it is God’s and not mine. Therefore, my judgment is also not mine but God’s.
[actual words of Luther: Against the Spiritual Estate of the Pope and the Bishops Falsely So-Called, July 1522]
14. C: But Martin, don't you see that when Calvin or Zwingli disagree with you, that they do so on the same grounds you claim for yourself, and that no one can figure out who is telling the truth unless there is a "court of final appeal"?
15. L: My truth is plain in the Bible.
16. C: That's what Zwingli says too.
17. L: He is damned and out of the Church because he denies what has always been taught by the Church: that the body and blood of Jesus are truly present after consecration.
18. C: Precisely. The truth is that which has always been held by the Church. Why, then, do you deny other Catholic doctrines that have an equally long history?
19. L: Because they are unbiblical.
20. C: According to whom?
21. L: According to the Bible.
22. C: As interpreted by you?
23. L: Yes, because, like I said already, whoever does not accept my teaching may not be saved — for it is God’s and not mine.
24. C: So we either accept your authority and word as the preeminent Bible expositor and deliverer of Christian truth of all time, or so much the worse for us?
25. L: Yes, because God would have it so. You are obviously wrong and I am obviously right, because my teaching lines up with Scripture.
And so on and so forth. It goes on and on like this, but the underlying assumptions of Luther are never proven; they are merely assumed. He assumes that he is God's man of the hour and a quasi-prophet. No one can be saved who doesn't accept his teaching, which is identical with God's. If a pope dared to proclaim such an unspeakably outrageous thing, Protestants would throw a fit. But when Luther does it, it is fine and dandy, because, well, he is right, and the Catholics are wrong. One simply accepts Luther's authority with blind faith that he is right and the Catholics are wrong, because . . . well . . . because they are Catholics and "everyone knows" they are always wrong when they disagree with Protestants, and because Protestants are the "Bible people" and Catholics aren't! They follow crusty, dead traditions of men which were condemned by Jesus, and are like the Pharisees. Etc., etc.
That's what it always falls back on, because appeals of the Bible inescapably reduce to disputes over whose interpretation is correct. This is the circular nature of competing Protestant theologies. There is no way to choose between Calvin and Luther, except arbitrariness, irrational faith, or appeal to one's own judgment. Yet Calvin has no more authority than Luther did. They both simply proclaimed it and people followed them. They expected people to acknowledge and follow their authority (under pain of death for many dissenting opinions), while at the same time railing against the Catholic exercise of authority, which was self-consistent, and far easier to trace back through history, in an unbroken apostolic succession (precisely as the Church Fathers argued for their authority in proclaiming what was true doctrine and what wasn't). While (in theory only) asserting freedom of conscience and private judgment and freedom of religion for every Protestant individual, they set up state churches and persecuted other brands of Protestants.
This was the inner logic and dynamic of Luther's new perspective, set forth at the Diet of Worms. Yet few Protestants will admit that it is unreasonable or a circular argument, and far more objectionable and implausible than the Catholic stance in reaction to Luther. It sounds wonderful and noble and almost self-evidently true to choose the "Bible and plain reason" rather than the "traditions of men." But of course that is a false dilemma and caricature of Luther's choice from the get-go.
With regard to tradition, the question is not "whether" but "which?" Protestants have traditions just as Catholics do. But they are less grounded in history. They're arbitrary (excepting those which agree with the Catholic Church, because they can be traced back historically). Since Luther was starting a new tradition, he couldn't appeal to history and thus was forced (rather than admit he was actually wrong about anything) to rely on the Bible Alone. Yet the Bible itself points to an authoritative Church and Tradition (which Luther supposedly denied by appealing to the Bible as ultimate authority, over against entities that it points to itself!!). It's a vicious logical circle for Protestants, any way one looks at it.
XI. The Real Diet of Augsburg (1530): "The Whole Truth and Nuthin' But the Truth"

The movie ended with the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 between Protestants and Catholics, and the Protestant "triumph" -- as their "case" was allowed to be presented (announced on the hilltops by jubilant Protestants to the surprised Luther). Then writing appears on the screen to the effect that these momentous events heralded a huge step forward for the cause of religious liberty and freedom of conscience.
If the stereotypes of the movie are to be believed, the Protestant princes and other representatives were (to a man), noble, selfless, sincere, committed Christians who simply wanted to worship in peace and to read their Bibles in German without harassment. The Catholics, represented in the scene primarly by Emperor Charles V, only wanted (as the myth would have it) to suppress the Bible, so that no one would see the self-evident biblical truth that Catholicism was false.
The reality, was, of course, far more interesting and complex. Protestant historian Philip Schaff (the very definition of a "biased but fair-minded person") wrote in his History of the Christian Church:
The Emperor stood by the Pope and the Edict of Worms, but was more moderate than his fanatical surroundings, and treated the Lutherans during the Diet with courteous consideration, while he refused to give the Zwinglians even a hearing. The Lutherans on their part praised him beyond his merits, and were deceived into false hopes; while they would have nothing to do with the Swiss and Strassburgers, although they agreed with them in fourteen out of fifteen articles of faith . . .
Margrave George of Brandenburg declared that he would rather lose his head than deny God. The Emperor replied: "Dear prince, not head off, not head off" . . .
The only blot on the fame of the Lutheran confessors of Augsburg is their intolerant conduct towards the Reformed, which weakened their own cause. The four German cities which sympathized with the Zwinglian view on the Lord's Supper wished to sign the Confession, with the exception of the tenth article, which rejects their view; but they were excluded, and forced to hand in a separate confession of faith.
Catholic historian Warren Carroll described the proceedings and the lack of tolerance in the Lutheran party:
Early in July the bishops presented their complaints to the Diet of the plundering and destruction of churches, seizure of monasteries and hospitals, prohibition of Masses, and attacks on religious procesions by the Protestants. When Charles called upon the Protestants to restore the property they had seized, they said that to do so would be against their consciences. Charles responded crushingly: "The Word of God, the Gospel, and every law civil and canonical, forbid a man to appropriate to himself the property of another." He said that as Emperor he had the duty of guarding the rights of all, especially those Catholics unwilling to accept Protestantism or go into exile, who should at least be allowed to remain in their homes and practice their ancestral faith, specifically the Mass; the Protestants replied that they would not tolerate the Mass . . .

By July it was clear that on matters of doctrine the Lutherans at Augsburg were dissimulating, concealing their real beliefs in the hope of avoiding a final breach without making genuine concessions. On July 6 Melanchthon made the incredible statement: "We have no dogmas which differ from the Roman Church . . . We reverence the authority of the Pope of Rome, and are prepared to remain in allegiance to the Church if only the Pope does not repudiate us." As it happened, on the very same day Luther, in an exposition on the Second Psalm addressed to Archbishop Albert of Mainz, declared: "Remember that you are not dealing with human beings when you have affairs with the Pope and his crew, but with veritable devils!" . . .

On the 13th [of July] Luther announced from Coburg that the Protestants would never tolerate the Mass, which he called blasphemous, and said of the Emperor: "We know that he is in error and that he is striving against the Gospel . . . He does not conform to God's Word and we do" . . .

Luther stated in a letter to Melanchthon Agust 26: "This talk of compromise . . . is a scandal to God . . . I am thoroughly displeased with this negotiating concerning union in doctrine, since it is utterly impossible unless the Pope wishes to take away his power." In subsequent letters he declared that no religious settlement was possible as long as the Pope remained and the Mass was unchanged . . .
Luther prepared the final Protestant answer:
The Augsburg Confession must endure, as the true and unadulterated Word of God, until the great Judgment Day . . . Not even an angel from Heaven could alter a syllable of it, and any angel who dared to do so must be accursed and damned . . . The stipulations made that monks and nuns still dwelling in their cloisters should not be expelled, and that the Mass should not be abolished, could not be accepted; for whoever acts against his conscience simply paves his way to Hell. The monastic life and the Mass covered with infamous ignominy the merit and suffering of Christ. Of all the horrors and abominations that could be mentioned, the Mass was the greatest.
. . . no Catholic of spirit and courage could be expected, let alone morally required, to give up all his religious rights without a struggle; and few Protestants, at this point, would allow Catholics to exercise those rights if the Protestants were strong enough to deny them. These were the irreconcilable positions taken by the two sides at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, which made those long and bloody years of conflict inevitable.

(The Cleaving of Christendom; from the series, A History of Christendom, Volume 4, Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 2000, 103-107)
So we see that this supposedly wonderful newfound "tolerance" and freedom of worship among the early Protestants was shot through with hypocrisy. The Lutherans were obviously courting the Catholic Emperor's favor (putting politics above principle to some extent), whereas they would have "nothing to do" with their fellow Protestants, the Swiss and Strassburg theologians, even though they disagreed on one article of fifteen; and the Zwinglians wouldn't sign the confession because of dissent on one article. They held to a symbolic view of the Eucharist (identical to the view of the majority of evangelical Christians today).
And of course, at the same time or shortly thereafter, Luther and Melanchthon and the Zwinglians and Calvinists were executing Anabaptists (who weren't allowed to speak at all at the Diet of Augsburg) because they believed in adult baptism (like today's Baptists), and forbidding religious freedom to Catholics. Catholics were required to give up their belief in the authority of the pope and their central religious rite, the Mass; Catholic properties which were stolen and plundered would not be returned, in the name of "conscience," while the Augsburg Conession is an oracle from God; indeed the veritable "Word of God" itself, practically divinely inspired in every syllable (according to Quasi-Prophet Luther).
This is "tolerance" and "religious freedom"? How does one "negotiate" with such people, who consider every utterance in their statements inspired and infallible and their opponents "devils" who engage in "blasphemy" every Sunday when they worship? Truth is always stranger and more fascinating than fiction.
Nor were things very "tolerant" in Augsburg itself, in matters religious, following the Diet. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:
At the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, at which the so-called Augsburg Confession was delivered to Emperor V in the chapel of the episcopal palace, the emperor issued an edict according to which all innovations were to be abolished, and Catholics reinstated in their rights and property. The city council, however, set itself up in opposition, recalled (1531) the Protestant preachers who had been expatriated, suppressed Catholic services in all churches except the cathedral (1534), and in 1537 joined the League of Smalkald. At the beginning of this year a decree of the council was made, forbidding everywhere the celebration of Mass, preaching, and all ecclesiastical ceremonies, and giving to the Catholic clergy the alternative of enrolling themselves anew as citizens or leaving the city. An overwhelming majority of both secular and regular clergy chose banishment; the bishop withdrew with the cathedral chapter to Dillingen, whence he addressed to the pope and the emperor an appeal for the redress of his grievances. In the city of Augsburg the Catholic churches were seized by Lutheran and Zwinglian preachers; at the command of the council pictures were removed, and at the instigation of Bucer and others a disgraceful storm of popular iconoclasm followed, resulting in the destruction of many splendid monuments of art and antiquity. The greatest intolerance was exercised towards the Catholics who had remained in the city; their schools were dissolved; parents were compelled to send their children to Lutheran institutions; it was even forbidden to hear Mass outside the city under severe penalties.
To grasp the outrageousness and moral and legal absurdity of the Protestant stance towards plundered and stolen property and the religious freedom of Catholics (if it isn't evident already), imagine the following scenario, which is entirely analogous to what went on from 1520-1530 on the part of the Protestants. We'll turn the tables and do a reductio ad absurdum. Modern-day Catholics will (in this imaginary world) act like the Protestants did then, and modern-day Protestants will be treated as the Catholics and their right to worship were treated then:
In 1990 large unruly mobs of working-class Catholics (who called themselves "reformers") started gathering in several large cities, such as Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, Boston, and Detroit. Their leading behavioral characteristic was the destruction or plunder of Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and other Protestant churches. They would enter these Christian places of worship with handguns, smash the stained glass windows, burn organs, take away ornamental altars and beautiful woodwork, burn Bibles, decapitate statues of Jesus Christ or of Martin Luther (as at one Lutheran seminary), force and drag out worshipers and pastors, let wild animals run through the sanctuaries, and (finally) either destroy the churches with a wrecking ball or steal the properties and buildings for themselves.

At length the Protestants grew a bit tired of such treatment. By 1995 72% of all the Lutheran churches in America had been destroyed or taken over by Catholics, and Lutheran congregations were not allowed to enter. 56% of the Methodist churches and a whopping 81% of the Presbyterian congregations suffered a similar fate. Most shocking of all were the Baptists, who were deprived of 88% of their buildings. Seminaries and Protestant colleges suffered a similar fate. In some cases pastors were murdered or exiled. Protestants were often beaten. The city councils of Philadelphia and New York in due course outlawed all Protestant services and forced citizens to attend the Catholic Mass or be banished or imprisoned. Other cities followed with penal measures to more or less degrees.

Because of all this strife and discord (which was beginning to get on peoples' nerves), a national conference was planned for 2000, in which Catholics and Protestants could talk reasonably with each other, make a mutually-acceptable compromise, and try to live together in peace. This was put together by the UN and the Department of Justice and various ecumenical Christian groups on both sides, and was presided over by Billy Graham. When the eminent evangelist at one point asked the Catholics to justify their actions legally and morally, and inquired as to whether they would be willing to return the stolen property that they had confiscated from the Protestants, since this was clearly contrary to both Christian and Constitutional law and rudimentary justice and civil rights, the Catholics replied:
We cannot, because whoever acts against his conscience simply paves his way to Hell. The Protestant life and belief-system is blasphemous and makes a mockery of the suffering of Christ. It is against the Gospel, it is unChristian; all practicing Protestants are devils and deceived, and so we are duty-bound to disallow these religious practices for the sake of souls. Even if an angel of light appeared and condemned our actions, it would really be a demon, for we are sure we speak for God and that these wretched Bible-worshiping Protestants who follow men like Luther and Calvin, are ultimately followers of Satan, and are damned. Here we stand. We can do no other. God help us. Amen.
Billy Graham, shocked and exasperated and visibly shaken, pleaded with the Catholics to simply let Protestants worship as they chose, even if their property was never returned. The Catholics steadfastly refused. Their condition remained firm and unyielding, on principle: Protestants must give up their property and abolish their services (along with their beliefs in Faith Alone and Scripture Alone), or else there could be no lasting compromise. This was required by Christianity, which was exclusively Catholic.

At length the conference dissolved with inconclusive and most disappointing results. The stolen property was never returned; nor were the Protestants compensated monetarily for the pillage and ransacking that went on. Virtually all Protestant properties were now in the hands of the Catholics, and legal sanction for this was passed by a narrow margin in the congress (after carefully studying how Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell had accomplished this task in England in the 1530s). The Catholic President signed the bill. Protestant schools were dissolved; parents were compelled to send their children to Catholic institutions; and it was forbidden for anyone to attend a Protestant service, under severe penalties. Even certain extremists among Catholics were executed, because they were considered seditious blasphemers. They were drowned in Lake Huron.
I trust that the injustice which was visited upon Catholics during the "Reformation" is now made very clear. Yet it was all justified and rationalized on pretentious, utterly self-serving Christian grounds, from the highest Protestant authorities, including Martin Luther himself. You can't argue with a prophet; you can only submit.
XII. Philip Melanchthon on the Noble, Pious, Spiritually-Minded German Protestant Princes (?)

Philip Melanchthon himself wrote many discouraged and disgusted utterances concerning the "saintly, noble" German Protestant princes. For example:
They do not care in the least about religion; they are only anxious to get dominion into their hands, to be free from the control of bishops . . .
(from a statement in 1527; in Durant, ibid., 438; from Janssen, ibid., vol. 4, 62)
Under cover of the Gospel, the princes were only intent on the plunder of the Churches.
(statement in 1530; in Durant, ibid., 438; from Janssen, ibid., vol. 6, 534)
He even appears to have regretted his push for control of Christian affairs by the princes rather than the bishops:
If only I could revive the jurisdiction of the bishops! For I see what sort of Church we shall have if the ecclesiastical constitution is destroyed.
(Bretschneider, ed., Corpus Reformation, Halle, 1846, vol. 2, 334; Letter to Camerarius)
XIII. A Plea to the Fair-Minded, and Further Reading
It is difficult, admittedly to incorporate a discussion such as this into a dramatic presentation (though how hard would it be to show the Protestants refusing to give back stolen property or to allow the Mass?), but in any event, it is good for fair-minded people to learn how Catholics reply to Protestant arguments. There is another side to hear, after all, for those who wish to examine both sides and to make a more objective appraisal of the noteworthy events of the 16th century in the Christian world. Protestantism is not self-evidently true, nor is Catholicism self-evidently false (and in fact, they are both Christian belief-systems). Reality and truth are never that simple. I urge inquirers (as always) to read both sides of the Protestant-Catholic theological and historical disputes: from the advocates of each position. 
XIV. Counter-Response to a Critique of This Review: "Catholics vs. the Bible" Revisited

  A public response to my review appeared on a Protestant discussion board (CARM) on 10-17-03 (links no longer available). Subsequent to that time, this person asked that his/her name be removed from my website. But I have retained my reply:

In my opinion, the movie did not leave an impression that what was new was the significance of Luther's Bible for German language and culture, or the translation from Greek and Hebrew (rather than from the Latin Vulgate), etc. (which indeed is unquestionably true). This doesn't mean that it ignored those things altogether (there was probably a line or two about it: I can't remember complete scripts). The overall impression that I got, however, was the same old standard myth and stereotype: that the Catholic Church opposed all translations into the vernacular and was somehow deliberately keeping the Bible from the common man.
Look, e.g., at the scene where Ulrich the lovable monk-friend of Luther's, was setting off for the Netherlands (I believe it was) so that they, too, could read the Bible in their language and share the wonderful experience that he had just had, courtesy of Herr Luther. The Dutch already had such vernacular versions. But that was not the impression left by the movie at all (at least not from where I sit, and I am simply giving my perception of the movie, which is as valid as anyone else's). This man was caught and burned by the "anti-Bible" Catholic Church, probably because he was trying to simply share the Bible (or so the impression is left, by what facts are omitted).
I believe this would be the point of view (vis-a-vis Catholicism and the Bible) that people who knew nothing about the history would get from the film. I think that if someone interviewed such people after they left the movie (sort of an "exit poll") my impression would be amply supported. And it would be easy enough to back it up from official Lutheran sources which discuss Luther's Bible or the supposed "dark ages" biblically speaking which preceded it. Catholic film critic Steven Greydanus wrote in his review (cited above):
. . . in having a character describe the very notion of a German Bible as “the thing Rome fears most,” Luther both falsely maligns Rome, and perpetuates the Protestant canard of the Church “forbidding” the scriptures to the laity.
The beginning of the 1953 movie on Luther, which was literally anti-Catholic propaganda about the Middle Ages, would be one prominent case-in-point. I heard that this new movie was also financially-backed by conservative Lutherans, so one would expect to find in it the views of that group (or at least a bias towards same). And if you know what these groups believe about the Catholic Church and the Bible, then you have the background to possible and likely biases that I (as a Catholic) observed in the film.
My impression wasn't based on the one scene, either, but on several insinuations, including at the Diet of Augsburg. Early on (if I remember right), I believe Luther was asked if he had read the New Testament and he said "no." He was an Augustinian monk at this time. Do you really think he was that unfamiliar with the New Testament; in the order inspired by the great St. Augustine? What a joke! Perhaps it was his first day "on the job," in which case, it might be a true presentation. But the standard anti-Catholic stereotype of Catholicism and the Bible was that even priests and monks were not taught the Bible in the Middle Ages (with many thinking this is true today as well). This is sheer nonsense. A Lutheran, Bonnie, the wife of a pastor in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, confirms this impression of mine, as to how certain Protestants view Catholics:
Do you remember the part in the movie, where, Staupitz, I think, asked Luther, a full-fledged monk and priest, if he had read the New Testament? Luther said, "very little." Imagine, a priest and monk who hadn't even read the New Testament for himself??? How outrageous! Instead, they read commentaries by Catholic theologians on them--but not the New Testament itself.

Poster "Panoply" is rightly suspicious of your hypothesis about what the film was trying to show about Luther's Bible (emphases his):
My spider sense is tingling. Yes, I've not seen the film. But it seems unlikely that a moving cinematic moment in this film would have made the refined distinction that this is the first Germanic Bible from the original languages. Now I'm very interested to see that scene (if not the whole film), to fully form my impression. Where does one get it? . . . It sounds like the script writer for the film was indeed doing disservice to the truth in favor of dramatic effect . . . Did the movie or any of the sources point out that Frederick was Catholic and remained Catholic throughout Luther's relationship with him? . . . I think it would be interesting to see someone post an example from a prior Germanic translation that had botched the message of the Gospel due to its rendering from Latin.

On this same discussion board we see comments regularly made by Protestants that Catholics are somehow threatened by this movie because it shows how we allegedly repressed the Bible, and so forth:
"Carol": Frankly, I think Catholics feel threatened by the Luther movie.
Catholics never think to question anything.
Reading Catholic commentaries instead of the Word itself. No wonder the Catholic Church is what she is.
"shunammite," who calls himself "sort of Protestant": It was incredible that even the leaders in the church had never read the bible...and the stark terror that the leaders felt if it were made available to the common people.
"maranathaheart": Do Catholics realize that the only reason they are able to read scripture is that the reformers desired to change the Bible in the vernacular (common language) so that everyone could read it for themselves?
That theme is as old as the hills: we're scared of the Bible, especially because it will expose the fraudulent nature of our Catholic distinctive beliefs. And so we must be scared of this movie and Luther himself. Dream on . . . continue with the patronizing, condescending rhetoric if you must.
A website was cited:
The editions present one and the same version (or rather two versions,--one High German, the other Low German) with dialectical alterations and accommodations to the textual variations of the MSS. of the Vulgate, which was in a very unsettled condition before the Clementine recension (1592). The revisers are as unknown as the translators.

The spread of this version, imperfect as it was, proves the hunger and thirst of the German people for the pure word of God, and prepared the way for the Reformation. It alarmed the hierarchy. Archbishop Berthold of Mainz, otherwise a learned and enlightened prelate, issued, Jan. 4, 1486, a prohibition of all unauthorized printing of sacred and learned books, especially the German Bible, within his diocese, giving as a reason that the German language was incapable of correctly rendering the profound sense of Greek and Latin works, and that laymen and women could not understand the Bible. Even Geiler of Kaisersberg, who sharply criticised the follies of the world and abuses of the Church, thought it "an evil thing to print the Bible in German" . . .
First of all, one Archbishop does not speak for the Church. So this is insignificant and irrelevant to the discussion. The fact remains that there were many German vernacular versions of the Bible, with the full approval of the Church. And there were many versions in the vernacular in other languages, as I have documented. Whether they were good or bad on their own merits, or inherently inferior because of the "middle man" of the Latin Vulgate are separate and legitimate questions. But if the charge was that German versions did not exist, or that the Church was somehow opposed to the vernacular as a general principle, then those things are shown to be absolutely untrue. This one person's view of the inappropriateness of German is only his own (rather bizarre) opinion, not that of the Church.
Secondly, note the use of the description "unauthorized." This fits in with my point (illustrated with the example of St. Thomas More's opposition to William Tyndale) about the Church opposing what it felt were bad translations, with Protestant bias: a perfectly acceptable concern. In fact, in one Protestant board discussion thread, it was argued that St. Jerome's Latin Vulgate exhibited an egregious Catholic doctrinal bias concerning Mary. If that criticism can be made of Catholic translations, are we not allowed to "return the favor"? Or is it an unquestionable axiom that Protestant Bible translations are always pure as the driven snow and free of all mere doctrinal or confessional bias, and that only Catholic Bibles suffer from such problems?
Thirdly, Geiler von Kaisersberg (1445-1510) was simply a preacher and professor. Why would anyone think his opinion of a German Bible has any relevance whatsoever for the entire Church's view? He doesn't speak for the Church. This is typical Protestant anti-Catholic propaganda: some figure is trotted out, and it is ridiculously assumed that he somehow speaks for, or represents Mother Church. We are usually provided with no official Church-wide statements prohibiting the vernacular.
Fourthly, if the game is to produce isolated instances of "Catholic things" horrifying to the Protestant ear, why can the Catholic not turn the tables and find examples of pro-Bible and pro-vernacular sentiments? In fact, I will do that now, and thus cancel the effectiveness of the one-way isolated quotations.
    The publisher of the Cologne Bible [1480] writes . . . :
      All Christians should read the Bible with piety and reverence, praying the Holy Ghost, who is the inspirer of the Scriptures, to enable them to understand . . . The learned should make use of the Latin translation of St. Jerome; but the unlearned and simple folk, whether laymen or clergy . . . should read the German translations now supplied, and thus arm themselves against the enemy of our salvation.

    The rapidity with which the different editions followed each other and the testimony of contemporary writers point to a wide distribution of German Bibles among the people.
    (Johannes Janssen, History of the German People From the Close of the Middle Ages, 16 vols., translated by A.M. Christie, St. Louis: B. Herder, 1910 (orig. 1891), vol. 1, 58-60)
    It says at the end of a Koberger Vulgate of 1477:

      The Holy Scriptures excel all the learning of the world . . . All believers should watch zealously and exert themselves unremittingly to understand the contents of these most useful and exalted writings, and to retain them in the memory. Holy Scripture is that beautiful garden of Paradise in which the leaves of the commandments grow green, the branches of evangelical counsel sprout . . .

    These words admirably describe the attitude which the Church in the Middle Ages held with regard to Holy Scripture. That the Bible at that time was a book lying under a bank is an unhistorical assertion . . .
    First and foremost the study of the Bible was urgently enjoined on the priests . . . The Breviary and the Missal . . . are for the most part made up of words from Holy Scripture . . . Thomas a Kempis, in agreement with the Fathers, compares the Word of Christ with the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and declares that without the Eucharist and the Holy Scriptures, his food and his light, life would be unbearable to him.
    (Ibid., vol. 14, 381-383)
Fifthly, I can provide official teaching from Pope Leo X, the bull "Inter Sollicitudines," from the Fifth Lateran Council, Session X, 4th and 5th Decrees, dating May 4, 1515, before Luther ever nailed his 95 theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg. Note how there is no opposition to vernacular per se, only to unauthorized vernacular versions which taught things contrary to the Catholic faith (including Latin works):
. . . the art of printing, which through the divine goodness has been invented and in our own time greatly perfected, has brought untold blessings to mankind, because at a small cost a large number of books can be procured, by means of which . . . men versed in the languages . . . may conveniently improve themselves, and which are useful, moreover, for the instruction of infidels . . .

. . . nevertheless, many complaints have come to us . . . that some masters in the art of printing books in different countries presume to print and publicly sell books translated from the Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, and Chaldaic into the Latin language and different vernaculars, which contain errors in matters of faith and teachings contrary to the Christian religion.

(From: Official Catholic Teachings: Bible Interpretation, James J. Megivern, Wilmington, NC: McGrath Pub. Co., 1978, 176)
The pope and the Council then recommend a closer scrutiny and approval of books "by the bishops or by competent persons." This was a "theological quality control," so to speak. If the objection was to vernacular itself, then the pope and Council would have simply issued a blanket condemnation of all vernacular books, including the Bible. But that didn't happen, because the Church was not opposed to different languages, but to doctrinal error.
Pope Clement V, and the Council Of Vienne: Canon 11, from the year 1311, over 200 years previously, had decreed similarly (no "anti-Bible" or "anti-vernacular" sentiment can be found here, either):
Among the cares that weigh heavily upon us, not the least is our solicitude to lead the erring into the way of truth and with the help of God to win them for Him. This is what we ardently desire . . . for the attainment of our purpose an exposition of the Holy Scripture is particularly appropriate and a faithful preaching thereof very opportune. Nor are we ignorant that even this will prove of no avail if directed to the ears of one speaking an unknown tongue. Therefore, following the example of Him whose representative we are on earth, who wished that the Apostles, about to go forth to evangelize the world, should have a knowledge of every language, we earnestly desire that the Church abound with Catholic men possessing a knowledge of the languages used by the infidels, who will be able to instruct them in Catholic doctrine.

(in Megivern, ibid., 172)
Historian of Germany Johannes Janssen informs us that 198 Bible translations "were in the vernacular languages, with the sanction of the Catholic Church, before any Protestant version saw the light of day". In my understanding, there was a great need in Germany of a Bible which synthesized or brought together a common dialect. No one is denying that. The KJV served the same purpose for the English language.

198 approved vernacular versions in the 65 or so years (an average of three a year by my math) between Gutenberg's invention of the movable-type printing press and the onset of Protestantism ought to be enough to disprove the anti-Catholic Protestant self-serving, historically-ignorant claim concerning supposed Catholic animus against Scripture, and vernacular versions of the Bible for the masses. Perhaps 298 would make these critics differently? Or 598? 5980? Or do we have to go to 59,800 to prove to these folks that the Catholic Church was not against the laity reading the Holy Scriptures in their own languages?

The argument is also made that Luther's translation wouldn't have been so popular if there had been prior German translations. This doesn't follow at all. By the same "logic," we could also reason as follows:
1. The King James Version (KJV) was very popular when it came out in 1611 and has continued to be so to this day.
2. It would not have been so if there were other translations prior to its appearance "everywhere" in English to read.
3. In fact, however, there were many widely-used post-Middle English translations before the KJV: Wycliffe (1384), Tyndale (1534), Coverdale (1535), The Great Bible (1539), Geneva Bible (1560), Bishops' Bible (1568).
4. Therefore (assuming premise #2) the KJV must not have been popular. Or, conversely, if it was popular, there must not have been other translations readily available.
Moreover, one cannot minimize the factor of the printing press and increasing mass distribution at a reasonable price. Economics and inventive ingenuity came into play. Thus, Bibles and other Christian books were undoubtedly much more available to the common folk and peasants in 1530 compared to, say, 1480. This is a causative factor completely distinct from the theological disputes at the time or the relative merits of Luther's vs. other translations.
Of course, for the anti-Catholic, every time the Catholics did something right, there had to be some qualification to immediately nullify it, lest someone be so foolish and rash as to believe the historical truth where the Catholic Church is concerned. So the sanction of the Church for these publishing endeavors means nothing. Anti-Catholics will ignore what doesn't fit into their preconceived schema. This was simply capitalism at play: printers making money. If these vernacular Bibles hadn't been published, the Catholic Church would have been proven to be "anti-Bible," by that fact alone. If they were published, well, then, it is strictly a matter of capitalism, you see, not any noble, praiseworthy desire that the Church had to educate her people by means of God's written Revelation. Either way, the anti-Catholic perspective wins and the Catholic Church is the big bad diabolical wolf. How ingenious; how inventive and clever . . .
Because Luther's Bible was popular, somehow this "proves" in that the Catholic Church must have been nefariously engaged in a plot to keep the Bible from the people. But the historical facts (as opposed to groundless opinions based on wishful thinking) do not support this assertion. As Aldous Huxley stated: "facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." His grandfather Thomas Henry Huxley decried "a beautiful theory, killed by a nasty, ugly, little fact."

Catholic apologist Karl Keating makes a very interesting related comment concerning Dr. Samuel Johnson:
Let me return to Dr. Johnson and that Anglican's defense, in the very anti-Catholic eighteenth century, of the Catholic Church.
Boswell quotes him as saying, "The Papists have, indeed, denied to the laity the use of the Bible [not really true, but we can overlook this point]; but this prohibition, in few places now very vigorously enforced, is defended by arguments, which have for their foundation the care of souls."
Then comes the punch line: "To obscure, upon motives purely political, the light of revelation, is a practice reserved for the reformed; and, surely, the blackest midnight of popery is meridian sunshine to such a reformation."
Think about that for a moment. The Catholic Church restricted access to the Bible (in the vernacular) because it was trying to protect souls. Protestant churches "obscured" what the Bible said for "political" reasons, picking out what seemed helpful to the Reformed position, laying aside the awkward parts.

Which was the more worrisome approach? One could argue that the Catholic Church overreached when suppressing some vernacular translations. Just where, as an exercise of prudential judgment, should the line have been drawn? Good folks can differ about that.

The Reformed churches, while ostensibly making the Bible available in the common languages (this actually was done by the Catholic Church first!), focused on only portions of it and thereby made it say things it was not really saying.
Which side proved to be the better steward?

("Who Had the Bigger Problem With the Bible?," "e-letter" of 7-29-03)

Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 18 October 2003. Expanded on 28 October 2003.


CD-Host said...

Dave --

This review is almost a decade old but... just thought I'd mention something you seemed unaware of in terms of bias. The movie Luther was paid for by Thrivent Financial which is a large insurance, mutual fund ... company that serves the Lutheran church. Essentially the for profit arm of the Lutheran church. In other words this is a church film designed to serve a religious purpose not a historical movie, propaganda not history. Really really well done for a church movie, though.

I agree with your review BTW in that the movie is very a historical portraying Luther as a hero. I'd disagree with your part regarding religious persecution though I'll pick a crusades thread rather than a movie review to start that conversation.

Dave Armstrong said...

I knew that. It was mentioned in the post itself.

João Emiliano Neto said...

Sola Scriptura! "Cause only the Bible is the Word of God. Heart, soul and mind of the Lord Christ Jesus!

Gary said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dave Armstrong said...

This combox is not a place for preaching, Gary. If you have a comment that actually relates to my post; makes some sort of argument, you're welcome to give it.

Hit and run preaching . . . no! You can do that on your own site.