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Psalm 78
. . . we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. .
so the next generation would know them . . . and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Men for all Seasons

The Edwards Academy has been studying the Reformation in Europe and in England these past weeks. For fun we've reinforced our readings about Martin Luther and Henry VIII with two films that are both, as of this posting, available for viewing through Netflix instant streaming.

Martin Luther (1953)
Starring Niall MacGinnis as Martin Luther

This black and white biopic of the monk who started it all faithfully portrays Luther's journey from a young man studying law, to a monk struggling to please God, to a daring reformer of the church. The movie is very well done, but probably not very accessible to young viewers unless they have already read about Luther in advance. In other words, I don't recommend it as a way of teaching about Luther, but as a supplement to your studies about Luther.

Lane, 8 years old, balked when the film first opened with its black-and-white documentary-like images and narration, but he was soon drawn into the dialogue-driven action that follows.  Hope and Sydney, who had read Luther's story from several sources, recognized that some of Luther's statements were direct quotes from historical sources.  In particular, the depiction of the Diet of Worms matched up exactly with what they had read.



A Man for all Seasons (1966)
Starring Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More, Robert Shaw as Henry VIII, and Orsen Welles as Cardinal Wolsey

The reformation in England can be a confusing string of events for students. Whereas Germany's Luther is clearly a "good guy" that kids can cheer for (even non-Protestants can be thankful for Luther's stand against the corrupt Roman Church officials and their sale of Indulgences), the struggle between English Henry VIII and the Pope over Henry's sought-after divorce gives us no obvious hero. Although Henry ultimately overthrows the papal authority over the English church, he does so for selfish and sinful reasons.

Robert Bolt's play A Man for all Seasons takes this episode in history and finds a hero in Sir Thomas More, Henry's Chancellor.  In the play, Thomas is heroic for his stand on principle, refusing to sign the Act of Succession which declared Henry VIII head of the Church of England (freeing him to divorce Katharine of Aragon). Unfortunately, the real Thomas was no friend of religious freedom and persecuted those in England following Luther's doctrinal reforms. His loyalty to the church trumped his loyalty to the state, but biblical authority was secondary to both. A Man for All Seasons ignores this entirely.

The play and film elevate personal conviction as the ultimate virtue, in this embracing moral relativism. Thomas declares that he earns his way to heaven by staying true to his conscience. If his opposers are acting true to their consciences, they too earn their salvation. Both men then, believing in conflicting truths, can please God by their faithfulness to their belief. This idea that personal sincerity is more important for salvation than the object of belief is contrary to Christian orthodoxy and I doubt that the historic Sir Thomas More would say such a thing.

Nevertheless, I recommend A Man for all Seasons as good theater to compliment the study of this time period, even with its anachronistic themes. My kids enjoyed seeing characters they know from their reading dramatized and in period costume.

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