Luther, the controversy.

Position:Correspondence - Letter to the Editor

I noted with interest Edward T. Oakes' review of Luther ("Luther, the Movie," January). His remarks about the film's theological deficiencies were well founded. What I found disappointing were Father Oakes' wholly unnecessary swipes at Lutheranism. Two can play at this game. For example, the striking inconsistency between what the Vatican says and what American Catholics believe. A recent survey reveals that average worship attendance in Roman Catholic parishes nationwide lags behind Protestant congregations (though neither group has much to boast of in this respect). Fr. Oakes saved his cheapest shot for a comment on the contrast between celibacy and clerical marriage. Does Fr. Oakes really want to do this? In response, would it be unfair to wonder if such an imposed celibacy does not provide a breeding ground for immoral homosexual and heterosexual behaviors in the Roman priesthood in this country? My point in mentioning these things is simply to ask that FIRST THINGS help its authors exercise restraint when they are tempted to indulge in such polemics. Indulgences, of this and other kinds, strike this Lutheran as, to say the least, unhelpful.

(The Rev.) Paul T. McCain


Concordia Publishing House St. Louis, Missouri

One does not expect a Jesuit commentator to offer a paean of praise for a movie about Martin Luther.

The first paragraph of Edward T. Oakes' review of Luther informs us that the Church of England is in a bad way. He then segues into comments about Lutheranism's diminishing numbers.

That out of the way, in the third paragraph Father Oakes speculates darkly that the movie "might be a total bomb." He was not disappointed. He found fewer than twelve patrons in the theater, judged the film to be "monumentally dull," and was astonished that it "makes no effort to give the viewer any notion of what the real Luther was like." Worse, he is alarmed that so much money went into producing such a flop.

But there is more. Fr. Oakes is surprised that the "lumpy" word "justification" is not once mentioned, that the Diet of Worms scenario is given such cavalier treatment, that Frederick the Wise and Luther are caught off guard by the event they have precipitated, that Luther's wife, Katherina von Bora, comes across as a "sex-starved Long Island housewife"--a curious observation coming from a Jesuit--and, finally, that when the going gets tough the writers and director "resort to shameless hokum."

Did I see the same movie? We all...

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